François de Chateaubriand
Translated by A. S. Kline © 2005 All Rights Reserved.
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
Revised: December 1846.
Here in its place in time comes Le Congrès
de Vérone which I published in two volumes. If anyone should wish to read
it again, they will find it everywhere. My Spanish War, the great political
event of my life, was an immense undertaking. For the first time, the
Legitimacy was going to burn powder under the white banner, to fire its first
cannon after that cannon-fire of the Empire that will echo to all posterity. To
In our joy over the telegraph message which announced the King of Spain’s release, we Ministers hastened to the palace. There I had a presentiment of my fall: I met with a bucket of cold-water over my head which restored me to my usual humility. The King and Monsieur did not notice us. Madame la Duchesse d’Angoulême, overjoyed by her husband’s triumph, had eyes for nobody. That immortal victim wrote a letter of Ferdinand’s deliverance ending with this exclamation, a sublime one issuing from the mouth of Louis XVI’s daughter: ‘So here is the proof that one can save an unfortunate king!’
On the Sunday, I
returned before the meeting of the council to pay my court to the Royal Family;
the august Princess gave each of my colleagues a pleasant word: to me she
addressed no comment. I did not merit, it is true, such an honour. Silence from
the Orphan of the
I hung on, after that,
till Whitsuntide; yet my friends were not without their anxieties; they often
said to me: ‘You will be fired tomorrow. – Straight away if you like,’ I would
reply. On Whit
‘Monsieur le Vicomte,
I am obeying the King’s command in at once communicating to Your Excellency an order His Majesty has just issued.
“The Sieur Comte de Villèle, President of our Council of Ministers, is entrusted for the interim with the Foreign Affairs portfolio, replacing the Sieur Vicomte de Chateaubriand.”’
This order was in Monsieur de Rainneville’s handwriting, he who is so good as to be embarrassed by it still, when he meets me. Ah! Goodness me! Do I know Monsieur de Rainneville? Have I ever given him a thought? I encounter him often enough. Has he ever perceived my knowledge of his handwriting on the ordinance which erased me from the list of Ministers?
And yet, what had I
done? Where were my supposed intrigues and ambitions? Did I go for secret solitary
walks in the depths of the
The problems of wealth and the inconveniences of poverty followed me to my lodgings in the Rue de l’Université: on the day of my dismissal, I had an immense dinner booked at the Ministry; I had to send my apologies to the guests, and squeeze three vast courses for forty persons into my little kitchen for two. Montmirel and his staff set to work, and cramming dripping-pans, saucepans, and bowls into every corner, he found shelter for his re-heated masterpiece. An old friend came to share my first meal as a marooned sailor. Town and Court hastened to me, since there was an outcry at the brutality of my dismissal, after the service I had just rendered; they were convinced my disgrace would be of short duration; they adopted liberal airs in consoling me for my few days bad luck, at the end of which they would be able to provide a fruitful reminder to the unfortunate man on his return to power that they had not abandoned him.
They were wrong; their courage was wasted on me: they had counted on my being commonplace, on my snivelling, on my possessing the ambition of a lap-dog, on my willingness to confess myself at fault, to go stalking after those who had chased me away: that was to comprehend me badly. I departed, without even claiming the salary that was due to me, without accepting a single favour or a single farthing from the Court; I shut my door on those who had betrayed me; I spurned the crowd’s condolences and took up weapons. Then they all dispersed; universal condemnation erupted, and my stance, which had appeared admirable at first to the salons and ante-chambers, seemed appalling.
After my dismissal, would it not have been better to keep silent? Had not the brutality of the proceedings rallied the public to me? Monsieur de Villèle has repeatedly said that the letter of dismissal was delayed; because of this accident, it had unfortunately been handed to me at the Palace; perhaps it was so; but when one plays a game, one should take account of chance; above all one should not write, to a friend that one values, a letter of the sort one would be ashamed to address to a guilty valet, whom one would kick out onto the pavement, without ceremony or remorse. The Villèle party’s irritation with me was all the greater in that they wanted to appropriate my success, and because I had displayed a grasp of matters about which I was supposed to know nothing.
No doubt (as they said at the time) with silence and moderation I would have won praise from that species that lives in perpetual adoration of the portfolio; by doing penance for my innocence, I would have prepared my way for re-joining the Council. It would have been better in a commonplace way; but that was to take me for what I am not; it assumed a desire to grasp the helm of State once more, a wish to make my way; a desire and a wish that would not have occurred to me in a thousand years.
The idea I had of
representative government led to my joining the opposition; systematic
opposition seems to me the only kind suitable for that kind of government; the opposition
called that of conscience is
powerless. Conscience can judge a moral issue,
but not an intellectual one. There is
no choice but to place oneself under a leader, one who can distinguish between
good and bad law. If not, then a representative may mistake his own stupidity
for conscience, and vote accordingly. The opposition called that of conscience consists in drifting between
parties, gnawing at the leash, even voting, according to circumstance, for the
government, being magnanimous in one’s rage; an opposition of mischievous
mutiny among soldiers, of calculated ambition among leaders. To the extent that
My downfall made a great noise: those who appeared most satisfied criticized the manner of it. I have since learnt that Monsieur de Villèle hesitated; Monsieur de Corbière decided the matter: ‘If he returns through one door of the Council chamber’, he is supposed to have said, ‘I leave through the other.’ They allowed me to depart: it was obvious that they would prefer Monsieur de Corbière to me. I did not like him: I troubled him, he drove me out: he did right.
‘For a second time Monsieur de Chateaubriand has undergone the ordeal of formal dismissal.
He was dismissed in 1816, as Minister of State, for attacking, in his immortal work Monarchy according to the Charter, the famous decree of the 5th of September, which proclaimed the dissolution of the ‘Unparalleled Chamber’ of 1815. Messieurs de Villèle and Corbière were simply Deputies then, leaders of the Royalist opposition, and it was for taking on the mantle of their defence that Monsieur de Chateaubriand became a victim of Ministerial wrath.
In 1824, Monsieur de Chateaubriand is again dismissed, and it is by Messieurs de Villèle and Corbière, now Ministers, that he is sacrificed. A remarkable thing! In 1816, he was punished for speaking out; in 1824, they punish him for saying nothing; his crime is to have kept silent during the debate regarding the interest rate on Government bonds. Disgrace is not always a disaster; public opinion, the ultimate judge, will tell us in which class Monsieur de Chateaubriand’s must be placed; it will also tell us to whom today’s order will be most fatal, the vanquisher or the vanquished.
Who said, at the start of the session, that in this manner we would spoil the whole outcome of the Spanish enterprise? What is needed this year is simply the law regarding the seven-year term (but the whole law), and the budget. The business of Spain, the Orient and the Americas, conducted as it was being, prudently and silently, would have been resolved; the brightest of futures would have been before us; they wanted to gather unripe fruit; it has not fallen, and they thought to remedy haste by violence.
Anger and envy are bad counsellors; States are not governed by passion, or in fits and starts.
P.S. The law regarding the seven-year term was passed, this
evening, in the Chamber of Deputies. One might say that Monsieur de
Chateaubriand’s doctrines have triumphed after that Minister’s departure. This
law, which he conceived some time ago, as an addition to our institutions, will
forever, along with the War in
As for ourselves, it is with the greatest regret that we return to our path of struggle, from which we had hoped to be freed forever by the unification of the Royalists; but honour, political loyalty, the well-being of France, do not allow us to falter in the course which we must take.’
The signal for action was thus given. Monsieur de Villèle was not too alarmed at first; he failed to realise the weight of opinion. It took several years to defeat him, but he fell at last.
I received a letter from the President of the Council, in final settlement, which proved that, in my great simplicity, I had failed to appropriate anything of that which renders a man respectable and respected:
Monsieur le Vicomte,
I hastened to submit to His Majesty the order by means of which he might consider you wholly and completely discharged of the sums you received from the Royal treasury, for private expenses, during the period of your Ministry.
The King has approved all the terms of this order, the original of which I have the honour of enclosing.
Accept, Monsieur le Vicomte, etc.’
My friends and I soon despatched a volley of correspondence:
MONSIEUR DE CHATEAUBRIAND TO MONSIEUR DE TALARU.
‘I am no longer a
Minister, my dear friend; they say you will be. When I obtained the
MONSIEUR DE CHATEAUBRIAND TO MONSIEUR DE RAYNEVAL.
‘I am finished, dear Sir; I hope you will still be in place for some time. I have made sure you shall have no grounds to complain of me.
It is possible that I
will retire to Neuchâtel, in
MONSIEUR DE CHATEAUBRIAND TO MONSIEUR DE CARAMAN.
‘Monsieur le Marquis, I have received your letters of the 11th of this month. Someone other than me will advise you of the course you must follow from now on; if it conforms to what you have already heard, it will take you far. It is probable that my dismissal will give great pleasure to Monsieur von Metternich, for a fortnight.
Monsieur le Marquis, accept my farewells and fresh assurance of my devotion and my highest consideration.
MONSIEUR DE CHATEAUBRIAND TO MONSIEUR HYDE DE NEUVILLE.
No doubt you have learned of my dismissal. It only remains for me to say how happy I have been with the relations between us, which are not severed. Continue, dear friend, to render service to your country, but do not count too much on recognition for doing so, and don’t expect your successes to provide a reason for keeping you in place or for showing you any honour.
I wish you dear Sir, all the happiness you deserve, and I embrace you.
P.S. I have just received your letter of the 5th of this month, in which you inform me of the arrival of Monsieur de Mérona. Thank you for your firm friendship; be certain I have found nothing but that in your letters.
MONSIEUR DE CHATEAUBRIAND TO MONSIEUR LE COMTE DE SERRE.
‘My dismissal will have proven to you, Monsieur le Comte, my inability to serve you; it only remains for me to express my wish to see you in the situation to which your talents summon you. I am retiring, happy to have contributed to returning France her military and political freedom, and to have introduced the seven-year term into the electoral system; that is not all I would have done; the change in qualifying age is a necessary consequence of it; but the principle is finally established; time will do the rest, if it does not undo it. I dare to flatter myself in believing, Monsieur le Comte, that you have had nothing to complain of in our relationship; and I congratulate myself always on having met a man of your worth in government.
Accept, with my farewells, etc.
MONSIEUR DE CHATEAUBRIAND TO MONSIEUR DE LA FERRONNAYS.
‘If by any chance you
are still in
The reply to this
parting note arrived in early August. Monsieur de La Ferronays had agreed to
function as Ambassador during my Ministry; later I became in turn an Ambassador
during Monsieur de La Ferronnay’s Ministry: neither thought the other had been risen
or fallen. Compatriots and friends, we rendered each other mutual justice.
Monsieur de La Ferronays had endured the harshest trials without complaint; he
remained loyal despite his sufferings and his noble poverty. After my fall, he
acted on my behalf in
MONSIEUR DE LA FERRONAYS TO MONSIEUR DE CHATEAUBRIAND.
The Russian courier, who
arrived the day before yesterday, handed me your little note of the 16th; to me
it is one of the most precious of all those I have had the pleasure of
receiving from you; I will retain it as if it were a title I had been honoured
with, and I have the firm expectation and intimate conviction that I will soon
present it to you in less mournful circumstances. I will follow, Monsieur le
Vicomte, the example you have shown me, and not allow myself to reflect on the
event which has so brusquely and so unexpectedly interrupted the relations
which the service established between us; yet the nature of those relations,
the confidence with which you honoured me, and the gravest of considerations,
since they are not exclusively personal, will provide sufficient explanation of
the motives and the whole extent of my regrets. What has happened still remains
entirely inexplicable to me; I have no knowledge of the cause, but I see the
effects of it; they were so easy, so logical, to foresee, that I am astonished
so little concern is shown as to defy them. Yet I know too well the nobility of
feeling that animates you, and the purity of your patriotism, to doubt that you
will approve the course which I felt I should pursue in this situation; it was
dictated by duty, by my love of country, and was even in the interests of your
own glory; and you are too much of a Frenchman to accept the protection and
support of strangers, in the circumstances in which you find yourself. You have
gained the trust and esteem of
Adieu, Monsieur le Vicomte: if the relationship I have had the happiness to enjoy with you has been able to provide you with a true idea of my character, you should know that changes of circumstance cannot influence my sentiments, and you will never doubt the attachment and devotion of one who, in the present circumstances, esteems himself the most fortunate of men in being considered one of your friends.
Messieurs de Fontenay and de Pontcarré feel most strongly the value of
the memory of them which you choose to retain: witnesses, like me, to the
increase in respect which
I began the battles of
my newly-established opposition immediately after my downfall; but they were
interrupted by the death of Louis XVIII,
and were not actively resumed until after Charles X’s coronation. In July, I
re-joined Madame de Chateaubriand
at Neuchâtel, she having gone there to await
me. She had rented a cottage by the lake-shore. Before us, the Alpine chain
stretched north and south to a great distance: we had our backs to the Jura, whose slopes black with fir-trees rose
steeply above our heads. The lake was deserted; a wooden gallery served me for
exercise. I recalled Milord Maréchal.
When I climbed to the heights of the Jura, I could see
Neuchâtel has known
moments of importance; it belonged to the Duchesse de Nemours; Jean-Jacques Rousseau
walked, dressed as an Armenian, on its heights, and Madame de Charrière, so delicately observed by
Monsieur de Saint-Beuve, described its
society in her Lettres neuchâteloises:
though Juliane, Mademoiselle de La Prise, and Henri Meyer, were not there; I only saw poor Fauche-Borel, out of the émigré past: he later threw
himself from a window. Monsieur Pourtalès’
tidy gardens charmed me no more than did a rock from
The King’s illness
recalled me to
I found the following notes, written at Rheims, among my papers:
‘The King arrives the day after tomorrow: his coronation will be on Sunday the 29th; I will see a crown placed on his head, a sight no one could have conceived of when I raised my voice in 1814. I helped to open the gates of France for him; I gave him champions, by conducting the Spanish War successfully; I ensured the Charter was adopted, and I knew how to raise an army, the two things with which the King could rule at home and abroad: what role was reserved for me at the coronation: that of an outcast. I have received a decoration, one indiscriminately awarded to a whole crowd of people, not even handed out by Charles X. The people I served, and won places for, have turned their backs on me. The King will take his hands in mine; he will see me at his feet without being moved, when I take the oath, as he has watched me recommence my woes without interest. Does it bother me? No. Delivered from any obligation to visit the Tuileries, freedom compensates me for everything.’
‘I write this page of my Memoirs in a room where I am forgotten amidst the noise. This morning I visited Saint-Rémi and the Cathedral decorated with hangings. I only have a clear idea of this last building because of the scenery in Schiller’s Jeanne d’Arc, which was performed before me in Berlin: theatrical design allowed me to see on the banks of the Spree what theatrical design will hide from me on the banks of the Vesle: for the rest, I entertain myself among the ancient dynasties, from Clovis and his Franks, and his pigeon descending from heaven, to Charles VII with Joan of Arc at his side.
“I come from my own country
no higher than a boot, yet,
it’s with a la, with a si,
And with my marmot.
One little sou, Monsieur, if you would!”
That was what a little Savoyard
who had just arrived in
That was not true: I had come to the Coronation without a marmot, and a marmot is a great resource: in my coffers I only had an old daydream and I would scarcely be given a little sou by a passer-by to see that climb a stick.’
‘Louis XVII and Louis
XVIII had no coronation; that of Charles X followed in succession that of
Louis XVI. Charles X was present at his brother’s coronation; he represented
the Duke of Normandy, William the
Conqueror. Under what happy auspices Louis XVI mounted the throne! How popular
he was, succeeding Louis XV! And yet, what became of him? The actual Coronation
will not be a Coronation, but merely the representation of a Coronation: we
will behold Marshal Moncey, who acted at
Napoleon’s Coronation: that Marshal, who once celebrated the death of the
tyrant Louis XVI among his troops, we will see brandishing the Royal sword at
‘Ah! Deep in their dusty tombs, the noble shades
Of all those valiant kings, what will they say?
Pharamond say, or Clodion or
Our Pepins, our Martels, our Charles, and Louis,
Who, in the heat of war, with their own blood
Won, for their scions, this land so fair and good?’
‘In the end, has not the
new style of coronation, when the Pope anointed a man as great as the founder
of the second dynasty, destroyed, by transmuting the head anointed, the effect
of our ancient and historic ceremony? The nation has been led to think that a
pious rite sets someone on the throne, and renders it a matter of indifference
which brow is chosen to receive the sacred oil. The extras at Notre-Dame de
Paris, corresponding to those in the cathedral at
I watched the King’s entry; I saw the gilded coaches of a monarch who had scarcely a horse to ride not long ago; I watched those carriages, filled with courtiers who found themselves unable to defend their master, roll by. That gang were off to the Cathedral to chant the Te Deum, while I went to view a Roman ruin and walk alone in a wood of elms known as the Wood of Love. I heard far off the jubilation of the bells, and I gazed at the towers of the Cathedral, age-old witnesses of that ceremony which is always the same and yet varies with history, the age, ideas, manners, practices and customs. The monarchy perished, and for some years the Cathedral was used as a stable. Does Charles X, seeing it today, remember that he saw Louis XVI anointed in the same place where he is to be anointed in his turn? Does he think that a Coronation can provide a defence against misfortune? There is no longer a hand virtuous enough to heal the King’s evil, no longer a holy phial so powerful as to render kings inviolable.’
I wrote what you have just read hurriedly on the half-empty pages of a pamphlet entitled: ‘The Coronation; by Barnage of Rheims, lawyer’ and on a printed letter of the Grand Referendary, Monsieur de Sémonville, reading: ‘The Grand Referendary has the honour to inform his Lordship, Monsieur le Vicomte de Chateaubriand, that places are reserved in the chancel of Rheims Cathedral for such of the Peers who wish to be present the day after the Coronation of His Majesty at the reception ceremony for the Grand Master of the Orders of the Holy Ghost and of St Michael and the reception for Messieurs the Knights and Commanders.’
X, however, intended to make his peace with me. The Archbishop of
At the ceremony for the Knights of the Orders, I found myself kneeling at the King’s feet, just as Monsieur de Villèle was taking the oath. I exchanged a few polite words with my companion in knighthood, regarding a feather which had come loose from my hat. We left the Sovereign’s presence and all was done. The King, having had some difficulty in removing his gloves to take my hands in his, said to me with a laugh: ‘A gloved cat catches no mice.’ It was thought that he had spoken to me at length, and a rumour spread of my return to favour. It is probable that Charles X, thinking that the Archbishop had told me of his goodwill, expected a word of gratitude from me and was offended by my silence.
I was present at the last Coronation of the successors of
Before reproducing this prayer, recorded by Du Tillet, in my pamphlet, ‘Le Roi est mort: vive le Roi!’ I exclaimed: ‘Let us humbly beseech Charles X to imitate his ancestors: thirty-two sovereigns of the third dynasty have received the Royal unction.’
my duties being fulfilled, I left
Since, in 1820, censorship had finished off the Conservateur, I lost no time recommencing, seven years afterwards, the same polemic in another form and using another printer. The men who fought alongside me on the Conservateur demanded, like me, freedom of thought and the pen: they were in opposition as I was, in disgrace like me, and they called themselves my friends. Achieving power in 1820, by my efforts even more than their own, they turned against the freedom of the press: from the persecuted, they became the persecutors; they ceased to be or to call themselves my friends; they maintained that Press licence only began on the 6th of June 1824, the day of my dismissal from government; their memories were short: if they had re-read the opinions they had stated, the articles they had written against another government, and in favour of the freedom of the Press, they would have been forced to admit that in 1818 and 1819 they were at least the seconds-in-command of licence.
On the other side, my former adversaries gathered round me. I tried to link the partisans of freedom to legitimate Royalty, with more success than I had rallied the servants of throne and altar to the Charter. My public had altered. I was obliged to warn the Government of the dangers of absolutism, after having protected it from popular preaching. Accustomed to show my readers respect, I did not deliver them a line that I had not written with all the care of which I was capable: so many of those little works of a day cost me more pain, in proportion, than the longest works from my pen. My life was incredibly busy. Honour and my country called me onto the field of battle. I had arrived at an age when a man needs peace and quiet; but if I had judged my years by the ever-increasing hatred that oppression and baseness aroused in me I would have thought myself young again.
I gathered around me a group of writers to give unity to my struggles. Among them were Peers, Deputies, Magistrates, and young authors starting out on their careers. There flocked to me Messieurs Montalivet, Salvandy, Duvergier de Hauranne, and plenty of others who were my pupils and who churn out today, as new, reflections on representative monarchy, things which I taught them, and appear throughout my works. Monsieur de Montalivet became Interior Minister and a favourite of Louis-Philippe; those who enjoy following the vagaries of destiny will find this letter quite interesting:
‘Monsieur le Vicomte,
have the honour to send you a statement of the errors I have found in the table
of judgements of the
Deign to accept, my dear Vicomte, the homage of profound respect with which I have the honour to be,
Your very devoted colleague and sincere admirer,
That did not prevent my devoted colleague and sincere admirer, Monsieur le Comte de Monalivet, so great a partisan in his time of the freedom of the Press, having me, as a protagonist of that freedom, committed to Monsieur Gisquet’s gaol.
A summary of my fresh
polemics which lasted five years, but which finished by my triumphing, will
convey the power of ideas that opposed events, even those backed by force. I
was dismissed on
‘We have had the courage and sense of honour to carry out a risky war in the presence of a free Press, and it is the first occasion that this noble spectacle has been demonstrated to the monarchy. We have quickly repented of our trust. We have braved the newspapers when they could only have been harmful to the success of our soldiers and officers; it is necessary to subjugate them when they dare to speak of clerks and ministers.
If those who administer
the State appear to ignore the spirit of
The riches which the Legitimacy expends on the arts exceed the aid that the usurper’s government accorded them; but how are they allocated? Sworn to omission by nature and taste, the dispensers of these riches seem to possess an antipathy for the famous; their obscurity is so invincible, that in approaching the illustrious they make them fade; one might say that they pour money over the arts in order to extinguish them, as over our freedom in order to stifle it.
Yet if the rack on which they place France to her discomfort resembles those detailed models which one examines with a magnifying glass in amateur collections, the minuteness of that inspection might interest for a moment but no more: it is a petty thing badly executed.’
‘We have said that the system followed by the administration at present harms the French spirit: we will try to prove that it equally misunderstands the nature of our institutions.
Monarchy has been re-established in France without effort, because it is dominant in our history, because the Crown is borne by a family which almost witnessed the birth of our nation, which formed it, civilised it, gave it all its liberties, rendered it immortal; but time has reduced that monarchy to something mundane. The age of myth in politics is over; we can no longer have a government of worship, religion and mystery: everyone knows their rights; nothing is possible if it ignores the bounds of reason; and including the granting of favours, the last illusion of absolute monarchy, everything now is weighed, everything is assessed.
Let us not deceive
ourselves; a new era has begun for all nations; will it be a happy one?
Constitutional monarchy was not born among us systematically in writing, even though there is a printed Code; it is the child of time and event, like the ancient monarchy of our forefathers.
Why could freedom not survive within the edifice constructed by despotism, where it has left its traces? Victory, still adorned with the tricolour so to speak, has taken refuge in the Duc d’Angoulême’s tent; the Legitimacy occupies the Louvre, even though one can still see the eagles there.
In a Constitutional monarchy, public freedoms are respected; they are considered safeguards of the monarch, the people and the law.
We mean something different by Representative government. These people form a company (one might even say two rival companies, since competition is essential) to bribe newspapers with money. They do not hesitate to take scandalous action against proprietors who do not wish to sell themselves; they would prefer to oblige them to endure erroneous court arrest. Men of honour, repugnant to the calling, are enlisted, to support a Royalist government, libellers who have pursued the Royal family with their calumnies. They recruit all who served in the former police force and the Imperial ante-chambers; as among our neighbours, who, when they want to recruit sailors, press the taverns and suspect places. These galley-slaves of free writers have taken to the waves, in five or six bought newspapers, and yet what they say is called public opinion by Ministers.’
That is a much abridged, but perhaps still too lengthy, specimen of my polemic in my pamphlets and in the Journal des Débats: in it are found all the principles that people proclaim today.
When they drove me from government, they did not give me my pension as a Minister of State; and I did not claim it; but Monsieur de Villèle, following a remark of the King’s, decided to despatch a fresh pension certificate to me via Monsieur de Peyronnet. I rejected it. Either I had the right to my former pension, or I did not: in the former case, I did not require a new certificate; in the latter, I did not wish to owe my pension to the President of the Council.
The Hellenes shook of
their yoke: a Greek committee was formed in
I worked for the same cause in the Chamber of Peers, in order to stir the body politic into life. This note of Monsieur de Molé’s reveals the obstacles I encountered and the round-about methods I was forced to employ:
‘You will find us all ready tomorrow, at the opening session, to follow your lead. I am going to write to Lainé if I cannot find him. It is only necessary for him to allow for the phrasing concerning the Greeks; but be careful they do not counter your move by restricting any amendments and, rulebook in hand, refuse you. They may suggest lodging your proposal with the bureau: you could do that as well, after saying all you need to say. Pasquier happens to be quite unwell, and I fear he will not be on his feet tomorrow. As for a vote, we will have one. What will do better still is the arrangement you have made with your booksellers. It is a fine thing to restore by means of it all that the injustice and ingratitude of men has taken from us.
Yours for life,
‘My dear boy,
Not every Greek has the good fortune you have had: that of being selected by the benevolent Committee which interests itself in us in order to teach men their duties. I begot you; but these commendable gentlemen will give you an education which will truly make a man of you. Be dutiful as regards the counsels of your new fathers, if you would console the last years of one who gave you to the light. Be well.
Napflion (Napoli de Romanie),
Republican Greece gave witness to private
regrets when I left the government. Madame Récamier wrote to me from
‘I have received a letter from
“The decree of the 6th of June has arrived,
and has had a strong effect on our leaders. Their deepest hopes being vested in
If I am not wrong this homage will please you. I enclose the letter: its first page only concerns me.’
You will soon read about Madame Récamier’s life: you may guess how sweet it was to me to receive a memory of the land of the Muses from a woman who adorns them.
As for the note from Monsieur Molé given
above, it makes allusion to the contract I had agreed regarding the publication
of my Complete Works. That
arrangement should, indeed, have assured me a life of ease; it nevertheless turned
sour, even though it has worked out well for the publishers to whom Monsieur Ladvocat, after his bankruptcy, left my
At the end of the general preface to my Works
(1826, Volume I) I address
‘O France, my dear country, my first love, one of your sons, at the end of his career, displays beneath your gaze any title he might have to your kindness. If he can do no more for you, you can do all for him, by declaring that his attachment to your religion, your king, and your freedom, has been acceptable to you. Famous and beloved land, I have only desired glory in order to add to yours.’
Madame de Chateaubriand, being ill, took a
trip to the south of
‘Bex, 13th of July 1826.
‘It is finished, Monsieur, your friend exists no more. She has rendered her soul to God, painlessly, this morning at a . She was still out in her carriage yesterday evening. Nothing suggested so immediate a death; what can I say, we did not think her illness would end thus. Monsieur de Custine, whose grief does not allow him to write to you himself, was even out in the mountains round Bex yesterday morning, to arrange a daily delivery of mountain milk for the dear invalid.
am too oppressed by grief myself to enter into lengthy details. We are
preparing to return to
will pass through
Accept, Monsieur, the assurance of respectful attachment with which I am, etc.’
See my earlier and later comments, to discover what I have had the pleasure and misfortune to recall regarding my memories of Madame de Custine.
Letters written from
‘Rousseau,’ I wrote in one of these Notes, ‘only really goes beyond other authors of his age in sixty or so letters of La Nouvelle Héloïse, in a few pages of his Rêveries and his Confessions. There, revealing the true nature of his talent, he arrives at a passionate eloquence before him unknown. Voltaire and Montesquieu proved stylistic models for writers of the century of Louis XIV; Rousseau, and to some extent Buffon, in another genre, created a language unknown to that great century.’
Regarding the Jesuits, I received this letter from Monsieur de Montlosier, and sent him the reply which you will find following the letter.
Ne derelinquas amicum antiquam,
Novus enim non erit similes illi. (Ecclesiastes IX,10)
(Do not forsake an old friend, since the new cannot equal him)
dear friend, those words are not only very ancient, they are not only very
wise; for Christians, they are sacred. I invoke in you all the authority they
may possess. Reconciliation is never necessary between old friends, or between
good citizens. To close ranks, to
tighten the bond between us, by emulation to strengthen all our vows, increase
all our efforts, stimulate all our feelings, is a duty demanded by the
eminently deplorable state of king and country. In addressing these words to
you, I do not ignore the fact that they will be received by a heart torn by
ingratitude and injustice; and yet I still address them to you with confidence,
certain as I am that there is light beyond the darkness. On this delicate
issue, my dear friend, I do not know whether you are pleased with me; but, in
the midst of your tribulations, if I have chanced to hear you accused, I have
not troubled to defend you: I have not even listened. I said to myself: and if
that should be so? I am not sure that Alcibiades
was not showing a little too much anger when he threw a rhetorician out of his
own house for not possessing the works of Homer.
I am not sure that Hannibal was not
showing a little too much violence when he ejected a senator, who spoke against
his opinion, from his headquarters. If I were to confess my thoughts on the
subject of Achilles, perhaps I would not
approve his exiling himself from the Greek army because of some young girl who
was stolen from him. After that, it is enough to pronounce the names
Alcibiades, Hannibal, Achilles, for all disagreement to be over: it is the same
today with the iracundus and inexorabilis, the irascible and inexorable, Chateaubriand. Once his
name is pronounced, all is said. At that name, when I say to myself: he is complaining, I feel my tenderness
stirred; when I say to myself:
My dear friend, you and I have struggled for many years. It is left to us to preserve the King and the State from the preponderance of ecclesiastics who call themselves religious. In former times, the evil and its roots were within us; we could circumvent and master it. Today the branches which cover us within have their roots outside us. The private doctrines of the race of Louis XVI and Charles I have given way to the tainted doctrines of Henri IV and Henri III. Neither you nor I surely can support this state of things; it is in order to unite with you, to receive your approbation which will encourage me, and offer you like a soldier my loyalty and arms, that I write to you.
It is with these sentiments of admiration for you and a true devotion to you that I tenderly and respectfully implore you.
Comte de MONTLOSIER.
TO MONSIEUR DE MONTLOSIER
Your letter, my dear old friend, is very serious, and yet it made me smile in regard to myself. Alcibiades, Hannibal, Achilles! You cannot be serious regarding all that. As for the son of Peleus’ young girl, if that refers to my portfolio, I protest that I barely loved the faithless one three days, and have not experienced a quarter of an hour’s regret. My resentment: that is another matter. Monsieur de Villèle, whom I sincerely and cordially like, has not only foregone the duties of friendship, the public signs of attachment I showed him, the sacrifices I made for him, but even the simplest of courtesies.
The King no longer
requires my services, nothing then is more natural than to dismiss me from his
Council; but the manner of it means everything to a gentleman, and as I have
not stolen the King’s clock from his mantelpiece, I ought not to be hunted down as if I had. I merely made
But this is all about me: let us speak of something more important. I am afraid I do not agree with you on weighty matters, and I am sorry for it! I desire the Charter, the whole Charter, the freedom of the public to its whole extent. Do you wish that?
I desire religion as you do; I hate the congregation and these associations of hypocrites who make spies of my servants, and who only seek power at the altar. But I believe that the clergy, once rid of these parasitic plants, can easily form part of a constitutional regime, and even become the prop for our new institutions. Do you not seek too strongly to sow division among the political order? Here I give you a proof of my extreme impartiality. The clergy, who, I hate to say it, owe me so much, do not like me, and have never defended me, nor rendered me any service. Does it matter? It is a question of being just, and seeing what is fitting for religion and the monarchy.
My dear friend, I do not doubt your courage; you will do, I am convinced, everything which seems right to you, and your talents guarantee you victory. I await your future communications, and I embrace with all my heart my loyal companion in exile.
I resumed my polemics.
Every day I skirmished, and fought battles in the vanguard, with the soldiers
of the Ministerial staff; they did not always use their swords effectively. In
the first two centuries of
‘The universe around us
is changing,’ I said: ‘new nations are appearing on the world-scene; ancient
nations are reviving in the midst of ruin; astonishing discoveries promise an
imminent revolution in the arts of peace and war: religion, politics, ways of
life, all take on a new character. Do we take note of this movement? Are we in
tune with society? Are we pursuing the trend of the age? Are we ready to hold
our place in the transformation or development of civilisation? No: the men who
lead us are as much strangers to the state of things in
The transactions regarding Santo Domingo supplied me with the opportunity to develop several arguments regarding our public rights, which no one had considered.
Reaching the noblest of conclusions and announcing the transformation of the world, I replied to those opponents who cried: ‘What! We may be Republicans some day? Drivel! Who dreams of a Republic these days? etc etc.’
‘Rationally devoted to monarchical order,’ I replied, ‘I consider constitutional monarchy the best form of government possible at this stage of society.
But if one wishes to
reduce everything to personal interests, if one supposes that I believe I would
have anything to fear personally from a
Could it treat me any worse than the monarchy has? Twice or thrice despoiled by it, or by the Empire, which would have done everything for me if I had wished, could it have repudiated me more savagely? I have a horror of slavery; liberty delights my innate love of independence; I prefer that liberty expressed in a monarchical order of things, but I can conceive of it in a popular form. Who has less to fear from the future than I? I possess what no revolution can steal from me: without post, without honour, without wealth, any government not so foolish as to ignore public opinion is obliged to assign me some value. Popular governments especially are composed of individuals, and create common worth from the particular worth of each citizen. I will always be sure of public esteem, because I will never do anything to forgo it, and I may find more justice perhaps among my enemies than among my so-called friends.
Thus, all things considered, I would be unafraid of a republic, as I would be without antipathy towards its freedom: I am not a king; I am not waiting to be crowned; it is not my own cause I plead.
I have said, under another government, and regarding that government, that one morning they would seat themselves at the window to watch the monarchy go by.
I said to the present Ministers: “If you go on as you are, the whole revolution would, in due time, boil down to a new version of the Charter in which one would be content merely to alter one or two words.”’
I have highlighted these final phrases to fix the reader’s eye on a striking prediction. Now that even opinions are in disorder, and every man utters wrongly and awry whatever passes through his brain, these Republican ideas expressed by a Royalist during the Restoration still seem daring. As regards the future, so-called progressive spirits own the initiative in nothing.
My later articles even stirred up Monsieur de Lafayette who, as sole compliment, sent me a laurel leaf. The effect of my views, to the great surprise of those who had no belief in them, made itself felt, from the booksellers who sent a deputation to me, to the parliamentarians who were initially furthest from my politics. The signature on the letter shown below, as proof of what I claim, caused some astonishment. It is only necessary to note the signature of this letter, and the alteration in the ideas and position of him that wrote it and him that received it: as for the wording, I am Bossuet and Montesquieu, that goes without saying; we authors, that is our daily bread, just as Ministers are always Sully and Colbert.
‘Monsieur le Vicomte,
Permit me to associate myself with the general admiration for you: I have experienced the sentiment for far too long to resist the desire to express it to you.
You have united the pride of Bossuet with the profundity of Montesquieu: you have rediscovered their pen and their genius. Your articles provide a great education for Statesmen.
In the new style of warfare you have initiated, you recall the powerful hand of he who, in other battles, also filled the world with glory. May your successes be more lasting: they concern our country and mankind.
All those who, as I do, embrace the principles of constitutional monarchy, are proud to find in you their noblest interpreter.
Accept, Monsieur le Vicomte, fresh assurance of my highest esteem.
Sunday, the 30th of October.’
Thus friends, enemies, adversaries fell at my feet at the moment of victory. All the faint-hearts and ambitious types who thought me lost saw me rise again, radiant, from the clouds of dust shrouding the lists: it was my second Spanish War; I triumphed over all the parties at home as I had triumphed abroad over France’s enemies. It had been necessary to pay with my person, just as with my despatches I had paralysed and rendered vain the despatches of Prince von Metternich and Mr Canning.
General Foy and the Deputy, Manuel, had died and stolen from the left-wing opposition its finest orators. Monsieur de Serre and Camille Jordan had also descended into the grave. Even from my chair in the Academy I was obliged to defend the freedom of the Press despite the whimpering pleas of Monsieur de Lally-Tolendal. The law on policing the Press, which was named the law of love and justice, owed its rejection principally to my attacks. My Opinion on this proposed law is a historically interesting work; I received a number of compliments among which two names are worth noting.
‘Monsieur le Vicomte,
I am sensible of the thanks you have chosen to address to me. You term a kindness something which I regarded as a debt, and I was happy to pay it to the eloquent writer. All true friends of letters associate themselves with your triumph and ought to regard themselves as identified with your success. Far off, as near, I will support you with all my power, if it is possible that you have need of efforts as feeble as mine.
In an enlightened century like ours, genius is the sole force which can rise above the consequences of disgrace; it belongs to you, Monsieur, to furnish living proof of it to those who rejoice in it, as well as those who have had the misfortune to grieve over it.
I have the honour to be, with the most distinguished esteem, yours etc, etc.
‘I am rather late,
Monsieur, in thanking you for your admirable speech. Trouble with my eyes, work
in the Chamber, and furthermore the dreadful sessions of that Chamber, must
serve as my excuse. You know moreover how my mind and spirit agree with all you
say and are in sympathy with all the good you strive to do our unfortunate
country. I am happy to add my feeble efforts to your powerful influence, and
the madness of a government which is tormenting
Accept, Monsieur, the homage of sincere admiration, profound respect and the highest esteem.
It is at the moment of which I speak that I
attained the summit of my political importance. With the War in
The King’s name day arrived, and I took the opportunity to express a loyalty which my liberal opinions had not altered. I published this article:
‘A truce with the King!
Peace today to the Ministers!
Glory, honour, long life and lasting
happiness to Charles X! It is
The history of Charles X should be asked of me especially, as a former companion in exile of our monarch.
You, French men and women who have not been forced to leave your country, you moreover who have only welcomed a Frenchman who would relieve you of Imperial despotism and the foreign yoke, inhabitants of a great and fine city, you who have only seen a fortunate Prince: when you pressed round him on the 12th of April 1814, touching the sacred hands with tears of emotion, when you discovered all the grace of youth on a brow ennobled by age and misfortune, as one sees beauty through a veil, you saw only virtue triumphant, and you led the son of kings to the royal seat of his ancestors.
But we, we have seen him sleeping on the ground, like us without a refuge, like us proscribed and despoiled. Well, that kindness which charms you was the same then; he bore misfortune as he bears the crown today, without finding the burden too great, with that Christian mildness which tempers the brightness of his influence, as it softens the brightness of his prosperity.
Charles X’s benefactions are added to all the benefactions his ancestors lavished on us: the name-day of a Christian king is a feast of thanksgiving for the French: allow us then the transports of gratitude with which it should inspire us. Let nothing enter for a moment into our souls that might render our joy less pure! For Heaven’s sake…! We would break our truce! Long Live the King!’
My eyes filled with tears while copying out my polemic, and I no longer have the courage to continue with my extracts. Oh! My King! You whom I saw on foreign soil, I saw you again on that same soil where you went to die. When I fought with such ardour to snatch you from the hands which were beginning to destroy you, judge by the words which I have just transcribed whether I was your enemy or rather the most tender and sincere of your servants! Alas! I speak and you can no longer hear me.
The proposal regarding a law to police the Press having been withdrawn, Paris was illuminated. I was struck by this public display, an evil omen for the monarchy: opposition had passed to the people, and the people, by its very nature, transformed opposition into revolution.
Hatred for Monsieur de Villèle began to increase; the Royalists, as in the days of the Conservateur, were ranked behind me again as supporters of the constitution: Monsieur Michaud wrote to me:
‘My honourable Lord,
Yesterday I printed the announcement of your work on the censure; but the entry, comprising two lines, has been deleted by the Censors. Monsieur Capefigue will explain to you why we have not set it in black and white.
If God does not come to our aid, all is lost;
Royalty is like the unhappy
The Opposition had finally provoked Monsieur de Villèle’s cool temperament into irascibility, and rendered Monsieur de Corbière’s destructive spirit despotic. The latter had stripped the Duc de Liancourt of seventeen charitable posts. The Duc de Liancourt was no saint, but in him one knew a benefactor, to whom philanthropy had awarded the title venerable; through the sanctity time gives, former revolutionaries are no longer referred to except with an epithet like Homer’s gods: it is always the respectable Monsieur so and so, always the inflexible citizen so and so, who, like Achilles, never ate pap (a-chylos). On the occasion of a scandal arising during Monsieur de Liancourt’s obsequies, Monsieur de Sémonville, in the Chamber of Peers, said: ‘Be at ease, Gentlemen, it will not happen again; I will conduct you to the cemetery myself.’
In April 1827, the King decided to review the National Guard on the Champ-des-Mars. Two days before that fateful review, urged on by my zeal and only asking to lay down my arms, I addressed a letter to Charles X which was passed on to him by Monsieur de Blacas and whose receipt he acknowledged by this note:
‘I have not lost an instant, Monsieur le Vicomte, in passing on to the King the letter which you have had the honour to address to His Majesty; and if he deigns to entrust a reply to me, I will be no less eager in ensuring it reaches you.
Accept, Monsieur le Vicomte, my most sincere compliments.
TO THE KING.
Permit a loyal subject, whom troubled times will always find at the foot of the throne, to communicate a few reflections he thinks useful to the glory of the throne, as to the happiness and security of the King.
Sire, it is only too true, there is danger to the State: but it is equally certain that this danger will be trivial if the principles of government themselves are not thwarted.
A great secret has been
revealed, Sire: your Ministers have had the misfortune to inform
But popular gatherings, so dangerous to absolute monarchies, because they take place in the presence of the monarch himself, are of little note in representative monarchies, because they are not in contact with him except via his Ministers or the law. Between the monarch and his subjects lies a barrier which restrains everyone: the two Chambers and the public institutions. Outside of these movements, the King will always see his authority and his sacred person protected.
But, Sire, there is one condition which is indispensable to general security, it concerns the spirit of the institutions: your council’s resistance to that spirit renders the popular movements as dangerous in a representative monarchy as in an absolute one.
From theory I pass to practice:
Your Majesty will appear at the review: you will be received there as you should be; but it is possible that among the shouts of ‘Long Live the King!’ other shouts will be heard which will make known to you the opinion of the public regarding your Ministers.
Furthermore, Sire, it is
false that there is at present, as is claimed, a Republican faction; but it is
true that there are supporters of illegitimate monarchy: now, the latter are
too skilful not to take advantage of the occasion and mingle their cries on the
29th with those of
What should the King do? Should he sacrifice his Ministers to popular acclamation? That would be to yield power. Should the King protect his Ministers? Those Ministers will draw down on their august master’s head all the unpopularity that they attract. I know that the King would indeed have the courage to accept personal suffering in order to evade danger to the monarchy; but disaster can be avoided by the simplest means; allow me, Sire, to explain to you: it can be achieved by returning to the spirit of our institutions: the Ministers have lost their majority in the Chamber of Peers and in the nation: the natural consequence of that critical situation is for them to resign. How, in the awareness of their duty, could they persist, by staying in power, in compromising the Crown? In offering their resignations at Your Majesty’s feet, they would calm everything, and bring it all to an end: it would no longer be the King who yielded it would be the Ministers who deferred according to all the customs and principles of representative government. The King could then resume, with those he chose to retain, at a suitable time: there are two whom opinion singles out, Monsieur le Duc de Doudeauville and Monsieur le Comte de Chabrol.
The Review would be free of drawbacks and would be merely an unmixed triumph. The session will bring about tranquillity, with blessings showered on my King’s head.
Sire, the fact of my having dared to write this letter to you shows that I am persuaded of the necessity of taking action, and that an imperative sense of duty has urged me to it. The Ministers are enemies of mine; I am theirs; I forgive them as a Christian; but I will never forgive them as a man: that being the case, however, I would never speak to the King of their resignations unless it was for the good of the monarchy.
I am, etc.
Madame la Dauphine and Madame la Duchesse de Berry, were insulted on their way to the Review; the King was generally received well; but one or two companies of the 6th Legion shouted: ‘Down with the Ministers! Down with the Jesuits!’ Charles X, offended, replied: ‘I have come here to receive homage, not instruction.’ He often had noble words on his lips which did not always survive the heat of action: his mind was daring, his character timid. Charles X, on returning to his palace, said to Marshal Oudinot: ‘The total effect has been satisfactory. Though there are a few unruly elements, the bulk of the National Guard is fine: tell them of my satisfaction.’
Monsieur de Villèle arrived. The Legions on their return passed in front of the Finance Ministry and shouted: ‘Down with Villèle!’ The Minister, irritated by all the preceding attacks on him, was no longer proof to a display of cold fury; he proposed to the Council the disbanding of the National Guard. He was supported by Messieurs de Corbière, de Peyronnet, de Damas, and de Clermont-Tonnerre, opposed by Monsieur de Chabrol, the Bishop of Hermopolis, and the Duc de Doudeauville. A decree of the King’s announced the disbandment, the most fateful blow inflicted on the monarchy until the final coup of July: if at that time the National Guard had not already been dissolved, the barricades would not have been erected. Monsieur le Duc de Doudeauville gave in his resignation; he wrote the King a letter of justification in which he proclaimed the future events that everyone else foresaw.
The Government began to
be afraid; the newspapers doubled their audacious attacks, and a bill of
censure, as usual, was proposed against them; there was talk at that time of a
ministry under La Bourdonnaye,
in which Monsieur de Polignac
would have figured. I had incurred the misfortune of naming Monsieur de
Polignac as Ambassador to
Monsieur de Villèle, haunted
on the one hand by the Royalist liberal opposition, harried on the other by the
demands of the Bishops, deceived by consultations with the Prefects, who were
themselves deceived, decided to dissolve the elected Chamber, despite the three
hundred who remained loyal. The re-establishment of censorship preceded the
dissolution. I attacked it more vigorously than ever; the opposition united;
the votes in the electoral colleges were all against the government; in
The Chamber of Peers enjoyed public favour by its resistance to oppressive laws; but did not know how to defend itself: it allowed itself to be organised into blocks against which I was almost the only one to complain. I predicted that such nominations would vitiate its principles and in the long run cause it to lose its influence with public opinion: was I wrong? Those blocks, with the aim of preventing a majority forming, have not only destroyed the French aristocracy, but they have become the means to be used also against the English aristocracy; the latter will be stifled in a plethora of robes, and will end by losing its hereditary component, as the denatured Peerage of France has.
The new Chamber when it met pronounced its noted ‘refusal to contest’: Monsieur de Villèle, reduced to extremities, thought to dismiss some of his colleagues and negotiate with Messieurs Lafitte and Casimir Périer. The two leaders of the left-wing opposition lent an ear: the cat was out of the bag; Monsieur Lafitte dare not take the plunge; the President’s hour struck, and the portfolio fell from his hands. I roared, on my withdrawal from government; Monsier de Villèle was couchant: he had a vague desire to remain in the Chamber of Deputies; a course he ought to have taken, but he had neither a deep enough understanding of representative government, nor sufficiently great an authority over external opinion, to play a like role: the new Ministers demanded his banishment to the Chamber of Peers and he accepted. Consulted on nominations for the Cabinet I invited them to choose Monsieur Casimir Périer and General Sébastiani: my suggestions were ignored.
Monsieur de Chabrol, tasked with assembling the new
government, put me at the head of his list; I was erased indignantly by Charles
X. Monsieur Portalis, the most miserable
character there ever was, a Federalist during the Hundred Days, crawling at the
feet of the Legitimacy of whom he spoke as the most ardent Royalist would have
blushed to speak, who is now bestowing his banal adulation on Louis-Philippe,
received the Justice Ministry. At the War Ministry, Monsieur de Caux replaced Monsieur de Clermont-Tonerre. Monsieur le
Comte Roy, the clever creator of his own
immense fortune, was charged with Finance. The Comte de La Ferronnays, my friend, took the Foreign
Affairs portfolio. Monsieur de Martignac
became Interior Minister; the King was not slow to dislike him. Charles X
followed his tastes rather than his principles: though he rejected Monsieur de
Martignac because of his penchant for pleasure, he liked Messieurs Corbière and
Villèle who did not go to
Monsieur de Chabrol and the Bishop of Hermopolis remained in the government provisionally. The Bishop, before retiring, came to see me; he asked me if I would take over Education: ‘Have Monsieur Royer-Collard’, I told him, ‘I have no desire to be a Minister; but if the King absolutely wished me to rejoin his Council, I would only return as Foreign Minister in reparation for the affront I received. Now, I have no pretensions to that portfolio, which is so well placed, in the hands of my noble friend.’
After the death of
Monsieur Mathieu de Montmorency,
Monsieur de Rivière had become tutor to
the Duc de Bordeaux; he worked from that time at the overthrow of Monsieur de
Villèle, since the party devoted to the Court was opposed to the Minister of
Finance. Monsieur de Rivière met me in the Rue de Taranne, at Monsieur de Marcellus’ residence, to put the same
proposition to me, in vain, that the Abbé Frayssinous
later put to me. Monsieur de Rivière died, and Monsieur le Baron de Damas succeeded him as tutor to Monsieur
le Duc de
Monsieur Roy came to
tell me of the success of his negotiations; he added: ‘The King would like you
to accept an Embassy; if you wish you can have
Monsieur le Duc de Laval, whom I was to replace at
Before changing the subject, I request permission to backtrack and relieve myself of a burden. It is not without pain that I enter into the details of my lengthy differences with Monsieur de Villèle. I have been accused of contributing to the fall of the Legitimacy; it befits me to examine that reproach.
The events which occurred during the Ministry
of which I was part possess an importance which makes them part of
These incontestable facts one can explain as one will; if they give my political career a value it does not in itself possess, I feel no vanity as a result; I take no malicious joy in those chances which involved my transient name in the events of an age. Whatever the various accidents of my adventurous course have been, or whatever names and events have revealed to me, the landscape’s last horizon is always sad and threatening.
‘…Juga coepta moveri
Silvarum, visaeque canes ululare per umbram:
…The wooded hills began to move,
and dogs seemed to howl from the shadows.’
But if the public scene has altered, I must, they say, accuse myself alone: in order to take vengeance for what seemed to me an injury, I caused division everywhere, and that division produced in the final analysis the overthrow of the throne. Let us see.
Monsieur de Villèle has claimed that one could not govern with me or without me. With me, that was his error; without me, at the moment when Monsieur de Villèle spoke the words, he spoke truly, since the most diverse opinions made up my majority.
Monsieur the President
of the Council never understood me. I was sincerely attached to him; I had
helped him to his first Ministry, as the letter of thanks from Monsieur le Duc
de Richelieu and the other letters
I have cited prove. I gave in my resignation as Plenipotentiary at
Nothing in public life agreed with me, except perhaps the Foreign Ministry. I was not insensible to the idea the country owed to me, at home liberty, abroad independence. Far from seeking to overthrow Monsieur de Villèle, I told the King: ‘Sire, Monsieur de Villèle is a President full of intelligence; Your Majesty must keep him at the head of your Councils forever.’
Monsieur de Villele did not perceive that my mind tends towards domination, but it is subject to my character; I take pleasure in obedience, because it takes away the need for willpower. My capital fault is boredom, disgust with everything, perpetual doubt. If I had met with a Prince who, understanding me, had forced me to keep working for him, perhaps he would have got something out of me; but Heaven rarely sees the birth of both the man who wishes to and the man who can. In the final analysis, is it something one would give oneself the trouble of getting out of bed for today? One falls asleep to the sound of kingdoms falling in the night that are swept away each morning from one’s doorstep.
Moreover, after Monsieur
de Villele split with me, politics was in disorder; the ultras against whom the
wisdom of the President of the Council still struggled overwhelmed him. The
opposition he experienced from opinion at home and the trend of opinion abroad
made him irritable: hence the Press hobbled, the National Guard disbanded, etc.
Should I have allowed the monarchy to perish, in order to acquire a reputation
as a moderate, hypocritically lying in wait? I thought, quite sincerely, that I
was fulfilling a duty in fighting at the head of the Opposition, too attentive
to the danger I saw on one side, not apprised enough of the opposite risk. When
Monsieur de Villèle was overthrown, they consulted me on the nomination of one
of the other Ministers. If they had accepted, as I proposed, Monsieur Casimir Périer, General Sébastiani, and Monsieur Royer-Collard, things might have been
different. I did not wish to accept the Navy Department and I had it given to
my friend Hyde de Neuville; equally
I refused the Education brief twice; I would never have entered Government
again without being in control. I went to
Yet I faithfully confess excess of resentment does not justify me according to the word and ancient rule of virtue, though my whole life serves as my excuse.
An officer in the
Navarre Regiment, I returned from the forests of
That large tribute paid,
I returned to
With the help of the
popularity I then enjoyed, anti-constitutional
That long perseverance in the same sentiments merits perhaps some regard. Sensible to affront, it was also impossible for me to ignore what I should be worth, to forget absolutely that I was a restorer of religion, author of Le Génie du Christianisme.
My agitation further
increased of necessity at the thought that a petty quarrel could lose our
country a moment of the greatness it would not find again. If someone had said
to me: ‘Your scheme will be followed; we will execute without you what you have
planned’, I would have suppressed all for
I was wrong perhaps, but I was persuaded that Monsieur de Villèle did not understand the society he was in charge of; I am convinced that the solid qualities of that skilful Minister were inadequate to his hour of government: he came too early in the Restoration. The operations of finance, commercial groups, industrialisation, canals, steamships, railways, arterial roads, a materialistic society which only wanted peace, which only dreamed of a comfortable life, which wanted to make of the future a perpetual today, in that scheme of things, Monsieur de Villèle would have been King. Monsieur de Villèle wished for an age which could not be his, and, honourably, could not accept the age that was made for him. Under the Restoration, all the faculties of the spirit were alive; every party dreamed of realities or chimeras; all, advancing or retreating, jostled about in tumult; no one intended to stay where he was; the constitutional Legitimacy did not appear to any active mind the last word in republicanism or monarchy. One could feel armies and revolutions moving the earth under one’s feet, offering themselves to extraordinary destinies. Monsieur de Villèle was alive to this stirring; he saw the fledgling wings, that urging on the nation, would release it to its element, the air, to space, immense and light as that is. Monsieur de Villèle wanted to hold the nation to the ground, fasten it down here, but he had not the strength to do so. I wished to occupy the French with glory, attach them to the heights, and try to lead them to reality by dreams: that is what they love.
It would have been better to be humbler, bow more, and be more of a Christian. Unfortunately, I am subject to error; I lack angelic perfection; if a man strikes me, I do not turn the other cheek.
If I had divined the outcome, I would certainly have abstained; the majority who voted for the clause regarding the ‘refusal to contest’ would not have voted if they had foreseen the consequences of their vote. No one seriously wanted a disaster, except a few solitary individuals. It was only a revolt at first, and the Legitimacy alone transformed it into a revolution: when the moment came, it abandoned intelligence, prudence, and the willpower that might still have saved it. After all, it was merely a fallen monarchy; plenty of others will fall: I owed it only my loyalty; it will have that forever.
Devoted to the monarchy in its first adversities, I am consecrated to it in its final misfortunes: wretchedness always finds a second in me. I have forsaken everything, place, pension, and honours; and in order not to have to ask anyone for anything, I have even contracted against my coffin. Austere and unbending judges, virtuous and infallible Royalists, who have added an oath to your riches, as you sprinkle salt on the meat for your table to preserve it, show a little indulgence in respect of my past bitterness, I expiate it today in my own way, which is not yours. Do you think that at the evening hour, at that hour when the labouring man rests, he no longer feels the weight of life, when that weight is shifted onto his arms? And yet, I could have not borne the burden, I saw Louis-Philippe in his Palace, from the 1st to the 6th of August 1830, and I will speak of it in its proper place; it was for me to decide whether to listen to generous words.
Later, if I had happened
to repent of having done the right thing, it was still possible for me to retreat
from the first actions dictated by my conscience. Monsieur Benjamin Constant, then in power, wrote to me
Not feeling that my debts had yet been paid, I defended the widow and the orphan, I suffered prosecution and imprisonment, which even Bonaparte, at his most angered, had spared me. I am present from my resignation on the death of the Duc d’Enghien to my outcry for the disinherited child; I am there in support of a Prince who was shot and a Prince who was banished; they sustain my old arms interlinked with their powerless ones: Royalists are you as well companioned?
But the more I bound my life with ties of devotion and honour, the more I exchanged freedom of action for independence of thought; that thought has returned to its natural self. Now, free of it all, I appreciate government for what it is worth. Can one believe in future kings? Must one believe in the people of our age? The wise man un-reconciled to this century without conviction, finds wretched peace only in political atheism. Let the younger generations lull themselves with hope: before reaching their goal, they will have to wait many years; the ages are tending towards a universal levelling, but they will not hasten their march at our beck and call: time is the measure of eternity appropriate to mortal things; it counts nations and their sorrows as nothing while accomplishing its work.
The deduction from what you have just read is that if what I had counselled had been done; that if the satisfaction of narrow desires had not been preferred to the interests of France; that if the powerful had better appreciated their relative capabilities, that if Foreign governments had judged, as Alexander did, that the health of the monarchy lay in liberal institutions; that if those governments had not supported established authority in defiance of the principles embodied in the Charter, the Legitimacy would still occupy the throne! Ah, what is done is done! One may well return to the past, journey back to the place one departed from, one will find nothing of what one left behind: men, ideas, and circumstances, all have vanished.
Let us return once more to times past.
A letter published in Le Mercure had caught Madame de Staël’s attention. I have said that Madame Bacciochi, at Monsieur de Fontane’s request, had solicited and obtained my erasure from the list of émigrés with which Madame de Staël had concerned herself. I went to thank Madame de Staël, and it was at her house that I saw Madame Récamier for the first time, so highly regarded for her fame and her beauty. Madame Recamier had established, with that illustrious woman, a friendship which became deeper each day. ‘That friendship was strengthened,’ Benjamin Constant said, ‘by a profound sentiment which both experienced: a sisterly love.’
Madame de Staël,
threatened with exile, decided to establish herself at Maffliers, in the countryside twenty miles
or so from
Madame de Staël, who
planned to return to Coppet, was forced to
leave on her first journey to
At her house in
There is only one name one can set beside that of Napoleon and that is Moreau, though Moreau had his own unique virtues.
When Moreau found
himself implicated in the trials of Pichegru
and Georges Cadoudal, Madame Récamier remained
persuaded that he was not involved in the Generals’ plot against Napoleon, and
had not wished to involve himself with Bernadotte’s plans. The night preceding
the sentencing, all
Moreau, condemned to
deportation, set out for
General Moreau wrote this letter to his generous friend from Cadiz:
Madame, you will
doubtless learn with some pleasure news of two fugitives in whom you have shown
so much interest. After suffering every kind of discomfort, on land and sea, we
were hoping to rest in
Though my wife’s childbirth obliged us to remain here for more than a month during the plague, we have been so fortunate as to escape contagion: only one of our people was affected.
At last we are at
Chiclana, a very pretty village a few miles from
Persuaded that you take as much interest in that event as in all which happens to us, she charges me with informing you of it and recalling her to your memory.
I will not describe the kind of life we lead: it is exceedingly boring and monotonous; but at least we can breathe freely, even in the land of the Inquisition.
I beg you, Madame, to accept assurance of my respectful attachment and believe me always,
Your very humble and obedient servant,
This letter is dated from Chiclana, a place which seemed to promise the certainty of the throne, as well as glory, to Monseigneur le Duc d’Angoulême: and yet his appearance on that shore was merely as inevitable as Moreau’s, whom one had thought devoted to the Bourbons: Moreau, in the depths of his heart, was devoted to liberty. When he had the misfortune to join with the Coalition, it was simply a question in his eyes of combating Bonaparte’s despotism, Louis XVIII said to Monsieur de Montmorency who deplored Moreau’s death as a great loss to the Crown: ‘Not so great: Moreau was a Republican.’
The General returned to
Moreau reminds me of another illustrious officer, Masséna: the latter joined the Army of Italy; he asked Madame de Recamier for a white ribbon from her finery. One day she received this note in Masséna’s hand:
‘The charming ribbon donated by Madame Récamier has been carried by General Massena in battle and at the siege of Genoa: the General has never been parted from it, and it has continually favoured him with victory.’
The old style of manners
penetrated the new style of which it forms the basis. The gallantry of a noble
knight revealed itself in the plebeian soldier; a memory of the Tournaments and
the Crusades was buried in those feats of arms with which modern
At that time, Monsieur Récamier’s bankruptcy entailed that of his wife. Madame de Staël at Coppet was soon informed: she immediately wrote a quite admirable letter to Madame Récamier which is often quoted. Her friends remained to her ‘and this time,’ as Monsieur Ballanche has said, ‘wealth alone vanished.’
Madame de Staël lured her friend to Coppet. Prince
Prince Augustus, thinking that Madame Récamier might consent to a divorce, proposed marriage to her.
A monument to this passion is the painting of Corinne which the Prince obtained from Gérard; he made Madame Récamier a present of it as a deathless memento of the feeling which had inspired him, and the glorious friendship which united Corinne and Juliette.
The summer passed in celebrations: the world was turned upside down, but the echoes of disaster mingled with the delights of youth redoubled their charm; one gives oneself up to pleasures all the more eagerly, when one feels one is close to losing them.
Madame de Genlis has written a novel on this attachment of Prince Augustus’. I found her one day in all the ardour of composition. She lived in the Arsenal in the midst of dusty books in a gloomy apartment. She expected no one; she was dressed in a black gown; her white hair veiled her face; she held a harp between her knees and her head was bowed on her chest. Touching the strings of the instrument, she brushed two pale thin hands across either side of the sonorous frame from which she drew delicate sounds, like distant and indistinct voices of the dead. What was this ancient Sibyl singing of? She was singing of Madame Récamier.
At first she had disliked her, but in the event she was conquered by her beauty and unhappiness.
Madame de Stael, in the prime of her life, loved Madame Recamier. Madame de Genlis in her old age found for her the accents of youth. I was unknown then, I who have since lost everyone, I whose friends have vanished, I who hear only the cries of shades from the other shore; I will soon go to meet again those predecessors who call to me. The things which have escaped me would destroy me if I were not on the brink of the tomb; but so close to eternal oblivion, truths and dreams are equally helpless; at life’s end all is merely time lost.
Madame de Staël left for
Madame de Staël, having
Madame Récamier joined
Madame de Staël at Chaumont. The latter edited the proofs of her work on
I take the liberty of
presenting to Your Majesty my work on
This previously unknown letter is worth conserving. Madame de Staël was heard no more than I was, when I also felt obliged to address myself to Bonaparte, to ask him for the life of my cousin Armand. Alexander or Caesar would have been moved by this letter and its noble tone, written by so illustrious a woman; but that knowledge of self-worth that judges itself and identifies itself with supreme power, that kind of mental familiarity that places itself on a level with the master of Europe, to deal with him head to head, seemed like the arrogance of self-interest, to Bonaparte: he considered himself challenged by all which showed any independent greatness; fawning was loyalty to him, pride defiance; he forgot that true talent only recognises Napoleons by their genius, that it has entrance to palaces as to temples because it is immortal.
Madame de Staël
returned to Coppet; Madame Récamier hastened to join her again;
Monsieur Mathieu de Montmorency
remained equally devoted to her; both were punished; the same punishment they
had gone to relieve was inflicted on them. The forty leagues distance from
Madame Récamier withdrew to Châlons-sur-Marne, her choice being influenced by the neighbouring presence of Montmirail where Messieurs de La Rochefoucauld-Doudeauville lived. A host of details of Bonaparte’s tyrannies were lost in the general oppression: the persecuted dreaded their friends’ visits, fearing to compromise them; their friends dared not seek them out, afraid of causing them some increased severity. The unfortunate person became a plague-victim isolated from humankind, living in quarantine due to a despot’s hatred. Welcomed while one suppressed one’s freedom of opinion, as soon as it became evident, all turned their backs on you; around you, remained only officials spying on your relationships, your sentiments, your correspondence, your thoughts. Such were those days of freedom and happiness.
Madame de Staël wrote to Madame Récamier saying that she did not wish to see her at Coppet because of her apprehension of the ill-luck she might bring her; but she did not tell all: she had secretly married Monsieur Rocca, resulting in an embarrassing complication from which the Imperial police profited. Madame Récamier was rightly astonished at the obstinacy with which Madame de Staël forbade her to visit Coppet. Hurt by her friend’s insistence, a friend for whom she had already sacrificed herself, she no less persisted in her resolution to share the dangers of Coppet.
A whole year went by in this state of uncertainty. Madame de Staël’s letters reveal the sufferings of those times, when the talented were threatened at every instant with being flung in jail, when one aspired to flee as the only deliverance: when freedom vanishes, a country remains, but not a homeland.
End of Book XXVIII
Previous Book Next Book