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.
Paris, Rue d’Enfer,
I have brought the sequence of preceding events up to date: am I at free to resume my work? That work consists of the various parts of these Memoirs as yet incomplete. I shall have some difficulty in continuing ex abrupto (impromptu), since my mind is preoccupied with the things of the moment; I am not in a suitable state to retrieve my past from the repose in which it lies, agitated though it was when it was actually in being. I have picked up my pen to write; of what and with regard to what? I am not sure.
Casting a glance over the journal in which, for six months, I have kept an account of what I have done and what has happened to me, I see that most of the pages are headed Rue d’Enfer.
The house I live in near the city gate may be worth sixty thousand francs; but at a time of rising land prices, I bought it for much more, and have never been able to pay off the debt: there is the matter of preserving the Infirmerie de Marie-Thérèse founded through the efforts of Madame de Chateaubriand and adjacent to the property; a group of entrepreneurs proposed opening a café and building a roller-coaster on the said property, the noise hardly according with the sound of death-throes.
Am I unhappy with my
sacrifices? Of course, one is always happy to aid the unfortunate; I willingly shared
the little I possessed with the needy; but I am not sure my benevolent
disposition amounts to a virtue at home. I am virtuous as a condemned man is
who gives away what will not be his for more than an hour. In
My house once bought, I have done my best to live in it; I have made it such as it is. From the drawing-room windows one’s first view is of what the English call a pleasure-ground, a proscenium formed by a lawn and banks of shrubs. Beyond this enclosure, over a retaining wall topped by white lattice fencing, is a field variously cultivated and dedicated to providing fodder for the Infirmary’s cattle. Beyond this field is another piece of ground separated from the field by another retaining wall, with a green trellis interwoven with clematis and Bengal roses; that end of my estate consists of a clump of trees, a little meadow and a poplar alley. The corner is extremely secluded: it does not smile at me as Horace’s corner did: angulus ridet. Quite the contrary, I have often wept there. The proverb says: Youth must pass. Late autumn also has several extravagances to pass through:
‘Tears and pity,
A kind of love, possessing its charms.’
My trees are of various kinds. I have planted twenty-three cedars of Lebanon and two druid oaks: they mock their master with his slender longevity, brevem dominum. An avenue, a double alley of chestnut-trees, leads from the upper to the lower garden: along the intermediate field the ground slopes steeply.
I have not selected
these trees as I did at the Vallée-aux-Loups in memory of
places I have visited. He who delights in memories preserves his hopes, but
when one lacks children, youth, and homeland what attachment can one have to
trees whose leaves, flowers and fruits are no longer mysterious symbols used to
count the days of illusion? In vain they say to me: ‘You look younger’, do they
think I could confuse wisdom teeth with milk teeth though? The former were
given me to eat bitter bread under the monarchy of the 7th of August. Moreover
my trees scarcely know if they serve as a calendar for my pleasures or as death
certificates for my years; they grow each day, as I shrink: they marry
themselves to those of the Foundlings enclosure and
the Boulevard d’Enfer which envelop me. I see not one house; I would be less
divorced from the world six hundred miles from
The demolition of a wall has put me in communication with the Marie-Thérèse Infirmary; I find I am simultaneously part of a monastery, a farm, an orchard and a park. In the morning I wake to the sound of the Angelus; I hear in my bed the chanting of the priests in the chapel; from my window I can see a Calvary which rises between a walnut and an elder tree: cows, chickens, pigeons, and bee-hives; the sisters of charity in their robes of dark muslin and their white cotton caps, convalescent women, and aged ecclesiastics wander among the garden’s lilacs, azaleas, calycanthuses and rhododendrons, among the rose-bushes, redcurrants, raspberries and kitchen-garden vegetables. Some of my octogenarian priests were exiles when I was: after having shared my misery with them on the lawns of Kensington, I offer them the grassy tracts of my hospice; they drag their religious age behind them like the folds of the sanctuary veil.
For companion I have a fat
tabby cat, red with black transverse stripes, born in the
My house and the various Infirmary buildings with their chapel and Gothic sacristy have the air of a colony or a hamlet. On ceremonial days, religion, hidden away in my house, and the old monarchy hidden away in my hospital, set to marching. Processions, composed of all our invalids, preceded by the young girls of the neighbourhood, pass by with the Holy Sacrament, cross and banner, singing, beneath the trees. Madame de Chateaubriand follows them rosary in hand, proud of the participants, the object of her concern. The blackbirds flute, the warblers twitter, and the nightingales compete with the hymns. I think back to the Rogations whose rural pomp I have described: from the theory of Christianity, I passed to the practice.
My home faces west. In the evening, the crowns of trees, lit from behind, engrave their dark silhouetted indentations on the golden horizon. My youth returns at that hour; it revives those lost days which time has reduced to the insubstantiality of phantoms. When the constellations pierce the blue vault, I remember the splendours of the firmament I admired from the depths of the American forests, or the surface of the Ocean. Night is more favourable than day for a traveller’s reminiscences; she hides the landscape from him that reminds him of the place where he lives; she only allows him to see the stars, similar in aspect at different latitudes of the same hemisphere. Then he recognizes the stars he saw in such and such a country, at such and such a time; the thoughts he had, the feelings he experienced in various parts of the earth rise again, fixed to the same point in the heavens.
In the Infirmary, we only have news of the world outside at two public charity collections and to some extent on Sundays: on those days our hospice is turned into a kind of parish. The Sister Superior claims that the fine ladies come to Mass in hopes of seeing me; an industrious treasurer, she turns their curiosity into contributions: by promising to display me to them, she lures them into the dispensary; once caught in her net, they yield their money to her, willingly or unwillingly, for sugar-pills. She has me selling chocolate made here, to the profit of the invalids, as La Martinière once involved me in the flow of redcurrant syrup in which he drank to the success of his love affairs. The saintly piper also removes the used quills from Madame de Chateaubriand’s inkwell: she trades them amongst the Royalists of noble race, claiming that these precious quills wrote the superb Memoir on the Captivity of Madame la Duchesse de Berry.
Various fine paintings
of the Spanish and
All are welcome at the Marie-Thérèse. The poor women who are
obliged to leave when they have recovered their health lodge close to the Infirmary, priding themselves on falling
ill again and re-entering it. Nothing proclaims it a hospital; Jews,
Protestants, or Catholics, French people or foreigners receive a tactful
charity’s care disguised as an act of affection: each patient thinks to have
found a tender mother. I have seen a Spanish girl, as beautiful as Dorothea, the pearl of
A large number of widows of Knights of Saint-Louis are regular guests; they bring with them all that remains to them, portraits of their husbands in the uniforms of Infantry Captains: a white coat, the lining red or sky-blue, hair extravagantly curled ‘à l’oiseau royal’. The portraits are hung in the attic. I cannot view that ‘regiment’ without smiling; if the former monarchy had survived, I would have added one to the number of such portraits, in some neglected corridor I would have proved a consolation to my great-nephews: ‘It’s your great-uncle François, Captain in the Navarre Regiment: he was full of spirit! He had a riddle printed in the Mercure which began with the words: ‘Take off my head’ and an ephemeral piece in the Almanach des Muses: ‘The Cry from the Heart.’
When I am weary of my garden, the plain of Montrouge replaces it. I have seen the plain alter: what have I not seen alter! Twenty-five years ago it was when travelling to Méréville, to Marais, to the Vallée-aux-Loups, I passed through the Barrière du Maine; to right and left of the road one saw only windmills, the wheels of lifting gear in the quarry pits, and the nursery created by Monsieur Cels, a former friend of Rousseau. Desnoyers built his salons of a hundred covers for the soldiers of the Imperial Guard who came to clink glasses in the intervals between successful battles, between the subjugation of kingdoms. Various small restaurants with music and dancing rose around the mills, from the Barrière de Maine to the Barrière du Montparnasse. Higher up was the Moulin Janséniste and Lauzun’s little house by way of contrast.
Near the restaurants false acacias were planted, the indigent’s shade as soda-water is the poor man’s champagne. A fairground site attracted the nomadic population of the dance-floors; a village emerged with paved streets, cabaret artists and gendarmes, Amphions and Cecrops of the police.
As the living became established here, the dead claimed their place. Not without opposition from the drinkers, a cemetery was enclosed on ground containing a ruined mill, like a hunting tower: it is there the dead each day bring the grain they have garnered; a simple wall separates the dance, the music, the nocturnal din, the noise of the moment, and the marriages of an hour, from the silence without term, the night without end and the eternal wedding.
I often go to the cemetery which is younger than I, where the maggots that feed on the dead are still alive; I read the epitaphs: let women from sixteen to twenty become death’s prey! Happy to have lived only when young! The Duchesse de Gèvres, last drop of the blood of Du Guesclin, skeleton from another age, takes her rest among the plebeian sleepers.
In this new exile, I already
have old friends: Monsieur Lemoine lies
here. Secretary to Monsieur de Montmorin,
he was bequeathed to me by Madame de Beaumont.
Every evening, when I was in
My walks are shared between the cemetery and the boulevards that surround the Infirmary: I no longer dream there: having no future, I no longer have dreams. A stranger to the new generations, I seem to them like a powdered mendicant, quite naked; I am barely clothed now by these scraps of days, cut short by gnawing time as the herald at arms trims the tunic of an inglorious knight: I am happy to live apart. It pleases me to live a stone’s throw from the city gate, beside a highroad and always ready to depart. From the foot of the milestone, I watch the courier pass, a likeness of myself and of life: tanquam nuntius percurrens: like a messenger hurrying by.
When I was in
The wretched habit of employing paper and ink makes it impossible to stop scribbling. I took up my pen not knowing what I should write, and I have produced this description, too long by at least a third: if I had time, I would abridge it.
I must ask pardon of my friends for the bitterness of some of my thoughts. I only know how to smile with the lips; I have spleen, a physical melancholy, a true illness; whoever reads these Memoirs has seen what my fate has been. I’d barely set sail from my mother’s womb and already torments assailed me. I have voyaged from shipwreck to shipwreck; I feel a curse lies on my life, a weight too heavy for this cabin of reeds. May those I love then not think badly of me; may they forgive me, and allow my fever to ebb: between these fits, my heart is all theirs.
I was here amongst these disjointed pages, thrown pell-mell about my table, and blown away by the wind that my windows allowed to enter, when I was brought the following letter and note from Madame la Duchesse de Berry; let us enter once more into the second part of my dual life, the positive part.
‘From the Citadel of Blaye, 7th of May 1833.
I am painfully thwarted
by the refusal of the government to allow you to visit me despite having twice
requested it of them. Of all the vexations without number that I am forced to
experience, this is without doubt the most painful. I have so many things to
say to you! So much advice to ask of you! Since I must forgo seeing you, I will
at least try, using the only means left me, to tell you of the errand I wish to
send you on and which you will accomplish: for I count, without reservation, on
your attachment to me and your devotion to my son. I therefore charge you
especially, Sir, with going to Prague and
telling my relatives that if I refused to make known my secret marriage until
the 22nd of February, I thought to benefit my son’s cause and show that a
mother, a Bourbon, was not afraid to risk her life. I counted on revealing my
marriage only on my son’s majority; but government threats, and mental torture,
pushed to the furthest degree, forced me to make my declaration. In the state
of ignorance I am in regarding the date at which I might be freed, after so many
false hopes, it is time to give my family and the whole of
I ask you, O Monsieur de Chateaubriand, to bear to my children all my expression of tenderness for them. Be sure to tell Henri that I count, more than ever, on his efforts to become day by day worthy of the admiration and love of the French people. Tell Louise how happy I would be to embrace her and that her letters have been my sole consolation. Lay my homage at the King’s feet and offer my tender friendship to my brother-in law and my good sister-in-law. I beg them to communicate their future intentions to you. I ask you to report my family’s wishes to me wherever I may be. Enclosed by the walls of Blaye, I find consolation in having such a spokesman as Monsieur de Chateaubriand; he can, at all times, count upon my attachment.
I have experienced great satisfaction at the harmony that reigns between you and Monsieur le Marquis de Latour-Maubourg, placing great value on it with regard to my son’s interests.
You may communicate the letter I have written you to Madame la Dauphine. Assure my sister-in-law that as soon as I am set at liberty I will waste no time in sending her all the papers relative to my political affairs. All my wishes would be to go to Prague as soon as I am free; but the sufferings of all kinds that I have experienced have so destroyed my health that I will be obliged to stay in Italy for some time to recover a little and avoid frightening my poor children too much with how altered I am. Study my son’s character, his qualities, his inclinations, his faults even; tell the King, Madame la Dauphine and myself what needs correcting, changing, perfecting, and make known to France what she may expect from her young King.
Through my various
contacts with the Emperor of Russia, I
know he has strongly welcomed repeated suggestions of marrying my son to
Princess Olga. Monsieur de Choulot will give you more precise
information regarding the people you will meet in
Wishing to remain French
above everything, I ask you to obtain permission from the King for me to keep
my title as a French Princess and my name. The mother of the King of Sardinia is
always known as the Princesse de Carignan
despite having married Monsieur de Montléar,
to whom she gave the title of Prince. Marie-Louise,
I beg you to leave for
I would appreciate more
than anything that no one may know of your departure or at least that no one
may know you are carrying a letter from me, in order that my sole means of correspondence,
which is so precious to me however infrequent, may not be discovered. Count Lucchesi, my husband, is
descended from one of the four greatest and most ancient families of
Convinced that the only
way of being understood by the French is to speak to them only of honour and
lead them to dream of glory, I have thought of marking the beginning of my
son’s reign by bringing Belgium and France closer. Count Lucchesi has been
charged by me with making initial overtures on this subject to the King of Holland and the Prince of Orange; he has contributed
powerfully to making them feel welcome. I have not been fortunate enough as to
complete this treaty, the object of all my wishes; but I still think it has a
chance of success; before leaving the Vendée, I gave Marshal de Bourmont the authority to continue the
negotiations. No one is more capable than he is of concluding them successfully,
because of the esteem he enjoys in
Blaye, this 7th of May 1833.
Because I am uncertain of being able to write to the Marquis de Latour-Maubourg, try and see him before you leave. You may tell him all that you judge appropriate, but in the most absolute secrecy. Agree with him as to the management of the Press.’
I was moved on reading
these documents. A daughter of so many kings, this woman fallen from such a height,
after having shut her ears to my advice, had the courage in her nobility to
address me, and pardon me for having predicted the failure of her enterprise:
her faith in me went to my very heart and honoured me. Madame de Berry had not judged ill; the very nature
of that enterprise which had lost her everything had not estranged me. To play
for a throne, glory, the future, destiny is no common thing: the world knows a
Princess may prove a heroic mother. But that they should indulge in an abuse without
example in history, that is a shameful torment inflicted on a feeble woman,
alone, deprived of aid, overwhelmed by all the forces of government raised
against her, it is as if they were trying to overcome some mighty power. Her own
parents handing over their daughter to the ridicule of lackeys, holding her by
all four limbs in order that she might give birth in public, calling on the
local officials, gaolers, spies, and passers-by to watch the child emerge from their
prisoner’s womb, just as
Madame la Duchesse de
Berry’s letter and note are remarkable not merely for where they were written:
the section concerning the re-union of
O Madame la Duchesse de Berry! What can I do for you, I, a feeble creature already half-destroyed? But how can I refuse such words as these: ‘Enclosed by the walls of Blaye, I find consolation in having such a spokesman as Monsieur de Chateaubriand; he can, at all times, count upon my attachment.’
Yes: I will leave on the last and most glorious of my embassies; I will go on behalf of the prisoner of Blaye to seek the prisoner of the Temple; I will negotiate a new family pact, bear a captive mother’s affection to her exiled children, and hand over the letters in which courage and misfortune shall present my accreditation to innocence and virtue.
A letter for Madame la Dauphine and a note for the two children were included in the letter addressed to me.
A coupé remained to me from my past grandeurs in which I once shone at the Court of George IV, and a travelling calash formerly constructed for the Prince de Talleyrand. I had the latter re-furbished, in order to make it fit for unusual journeying: since, by origin and custom it was hardly prepared for chasing after fallen kings. On the 14th of May, the anniversary of Henri IV’s assassination, at in the evening, I left to seek Henri V, orphan and exile.
I was not without some
concerns regarding my passport; obtained from the Foreign Office, it lacked a
personal description, and was eleven months old; issued for
Avoiding the Frankfurt route which was too well policed, and that of Strasbourg which followed the line of telegraph stations, I took the road to Basel with Hyacinth Pilorge my secretary, who was wedded to my fortunes, and Baptiste, valet de chambre, when I was Monseigneur, and now plain valet again on the fall of His Lordship: we ascend and descend together. My cook, the famous Montmirel, resigned on my departure from government, declaring to me that he would not start up in business again except for me. He had wisely decided, after being introduced to the nature of ambassadors during the Restoration, that a defunct ambassador should return to private life; Baptiste had returned to domesticity.
Arriving at Altkirch, the frontier post, a gendarme
approached and asked for my passport. On seeing my name, he told me that he had
been a captain in the Dragoon Guards, under command of my nephew Christian during the
Spanish campaign of 1823. Between Altkirch and Saint-Louis I met a priest with his
parishioners; they were holding a procession to ward off cockchafers,
unpleasant insects that swarm during the days of July. At
The hotel manager
procured me a local servant called Schwartz,
a native of
On the same day, the 17th of May, at six in the evening, I left port. Climbing into the calash, I was astounded to see the Altkirch gendarme in the midst of the crowd; I was not sure if he had been dispatched to follow me: but he had simply been escorting the French mail-sacks. I gave him a toast to his former captain.
A student approached me and threw me a note with this inscription: ‘To the 19th Century Virgil’; on it was written this amended passage from the Aeneid: Macte animo, generose puer: bless your courage, noble child. Then the coachman whipped up the horses, and I departed proud indeed of my great fame in Basel, astonished indeed to be cast as Virgil, and delighted indeed to be called child, generose puer.
I crossed the bridge,
leaving the peasants and the bourgeois of Basel
at war in the midst of their republic, fulfilling in their own manner the role
they were called upon to play in the general transformation of society. I
ascended the right bank of the
The banks of the
On the next day, the
18th of May, before arriving at Schaffhausen,
I was guided to the
From Schaffhausen I continued my route towards Ulm. The countryside displays cultivated basins into which wooded hillocks, separated one from another, plunge their feet. In the woods which were being harvested at that time, there were oaks to be seen, some felled, others standing; the former lying on the ground stripped, their trunks and branches white and naked like the skeletons of some strange creature; the latter bearing the fresh verdure of spring on hairy boughs garnished with black moss: they united, in a way never seen among human beings, the dual beauty of age and youth.
In the fir plantations
of the plain, clearings had left empty spaces; the land had been converted to
meadows. These grassy racecourses amidst the slate-grey woods have something
both smiling and serious about them, and are reminiscent of the
Halting for dinner,
between six and seven in the evening at Moskirch,
I mused at the window of my inn: cattle were drinking at a fountain, and a
heifer leapt and frolicked like a deer. Everywhere where animals are treated
well, they are happy and fond of man. In
I was not the only one gaping; the women were doing as much at the windows of their houses. I am often asked as I pass through unknown hamlets: ‘Would you like to live here?’ I always reply: ‘Why not?’ Who, during the madcap days of his youth has not said with the troubadour Pierre Vidal:
‘Don n’ai mais d’un pauc cordo
Que na Raymbauda me do,
Quel reys Richartz ab Peitieus
Ni ab Tors ni ab Angieus.
Richer am I with a ribbon though
Given me by the sweet Raimbaude
Subjects for poetry exist everywhere; pleasure and pain exist in every place; had not those women of Moskirch gazing at the sky or at my carriage, gazing at me or gazing at nothing, joys and sorrows, affairs of the heart, fortune, or family, just as they have in Paris? I would have been far away in the depths of my neighbours’ histories, if dinner had not been announced poetically to the sound of a thunderclap: it was a lot of noise for such a small matter.
19th of May, 1833.
At ten in the evening, I
clambered into my vehicle; I slept to the patter of rain on the hood of my
calash. The sound of my coachman’s little horn woke me. I heard the murmuring
of a river I could not see. We had arrived at the gate of a town; the gate
opened; and someone enquired about my passport and my luggage. We were entering
the vast empire of His Majesty the King
of Württemberg. I saluted the memory of Grand-Duchess Hélène, a graceful and delicate
flower now shut in the greenhouses of the
No one searched me, here: though I had nothing against the rights of sovereigns, I who recognized those of a young monarch when sovereigns themselves no longer recognized them. The vulgarity, the modernity of the customs officer and passport contrasted with the storm, the Gothic gateway, the sound of the horn and the noise of the torrent.
Instead of a lady in distress whom I was prepared to rescue, I found, on leaving the town, an old fellow who, raising a lantern in his left hand to the level of his grey head, and holding out his right hand to Schwartz sitting on the coachman’s seat, opened his mouth like the jaws of a pike caught on a hook, and demanded six kreutzers: Baptiste, ill and wet, could not prevent himself laughing.
And this torrent I had just crossed, what was it? I asked the coachman, who shouted back: ‘Donau (the Danube).’ Another famous river which I had passed over without knowing it, as I lit without knowing it on the site of the oleanders of the Eurotas! What use has it been to me to drink the waters of the Mississippi, Po, Tiber, Cephisus, Hermus, Jordan, Nile, Guadalquivir, Tagus, Ebro, Rhine, Spree, Seine, and Thames and a thousand other rivers celebrated or obscure? Unknown, they have failed to grant me their peace; renowned, they have not communicated to me their glory: they can only say they have seen me pass by as their own banks watch the waves pass.
Hyacinthe, a member of the Legion of Honour, wore his ribbon: that decoration brought us incredible respect. Having only a little flower in my buttonhole, as is my custom, I passed, before anyone heard my name, as a mysterious being: my Mamelukes, at Cairo, wished me, whether I would or no, to be one of Napoleon’s generals disguised as a scholar; they refused to give up the idea and waited hour after hour for me to noose Egypt in the belt of my caftan.
Yet it is among the nations
whose villages we have burnt and whose fields we have ravaged that such sentiments
exist. I enjoyed the glory; if we had done
The evils of war are forgotten: we have left the flame of life alive in the soil we have conquered. That inert mass once activated continues to ferment, because intellect is working there. Travelling today one notices that the people are alert, knapsacks on their backs; ready to leave, they seem to be waiting for us to head up the column. A Frenchman is always taken for an aide-de-camp bringing the order to march.
I went to look at the Cathedral, a Gothic vessel with an elevated spire. The side aisles are split into narrow double vaults, supported by a single row of pillars, such that the interior of the edifice smacks of both cathedral and basilica.
The pulpit has an elegant steeple for a dais, tapering at the top like a mitre; the interior of this steeple is composed of a central core around which winds a helical vault with stone filigree. Symmetrical needles piercing the exterior seemed to have been designed to bear candles; they illuminate this tiara when the Pontiff preaches on feast days. Instead of the officiating priests I saw little birds hopping about in this granite foliage; they celebrated the Word which gave them voice and wings on the fifth day of Creation.
The nave was deserted; in the apse of the church two separate groups of boys and girls were receiving instruction.
The Reformation (as I have already said) was wrong to display itself among the Catholic monuments it invaded; there it is mean and ashamed. Those high porticos demand numerous clergy, solemn pomp, hymns, paintings, ornaments, silken veils, draperies, lace, silver, gold, lamps, flowers and altar incense. Protestantism would have said indeed that it had returned to primitive Christianity, the Gothic churches reply that it has disowned its ancestors: the Christian architects of these marvels were not the children of Luther and Calvin.
19th of May, 1833.
On the 19th of May, at , I left
Between Dillingen and Donauwörth, you cross the battlefield of Blenheim. The tread of Moreau’s armies over the same soil has not effaced those of Louis XIV; the Great King’s defeat overshadows in this country the success of the Grand Emperor.
The coachman who drove
me was from Blenheim: arriving at the top of the village he sounded his horn:
perhaps he was announcing his passage to the peasant-girl he loved; she would
have trembled with joy in the midst of the very fields where twenty-seven
French battalions and twelve squadrons were taken prisoner, where the Navarre
Regiment, whose uniform I once had the honour of wearing, buried its standards
to the mournful sound of trumpets: these are the commonplaces of the succeeding
centuries. In 1793 the Republic took back from the church at Blenheim the flags
torn from the Monarchy in 1704: she avenged royalty and killed a king; she
culled the head of Louis XVI, but would allow
Nothing reveals Louis
XIV’s grandeur more than discovering a token of him in the depths of the ravines
cut by the torrent of Napoleonic victories. That monarch’s conquests left our
country with borders that we still retain. The Brienne student, to whom the Legitimacy
gave a sword, locked
The unworthy tapestries of Blenheim House, which I viewed with Peltier, represent Marshal Tallart doffing his hat to the Duke of Marlborough, who postures like Rodomont. Tallart nevertheless remained the old lion’s favourite: a prisoner in London, he conquered, to Queen Anne’s mind, Marlborough who had beaten him at Blenheim, and died a member of the Académie des Sciences: according to Saint-Simon: ‘He was a man of average height with vigilant eyes, full of fire and spirit, but endlessly troubled by the demon of his ambition.’
I wrote history in my calash: why not? Caesar certainly wrote in his litter; and if he won the battles he tells of, I did not lose those of which I speak.
From Dillingen to
Donauwörth there is a rich plain with varying levels where fields of corn
mingle with meadows: you approach and retreat from the
You have scarcely left
one village before you see another; clean and welcoming; often the house walls
are decorated with frescoes. A certain Italianate character becomes evident the
nearer you approach
‘His chin to bushy beard gives welcome:
And his whole hairy person’s
The image of a bear, but badly groomed.’
But the Italian skies
are lacking here: the sun is pale and low; these market towns so thickly seeded
are not the little towns of the
At Donauwörth, I
regretted arriving too late in the evening to enjoy the fine view of the
When Trajan threw a bridge across the
‘Little book, you’ll go to
Which serves, now Catholic now Protestant,
Yet later sets at naught the Lutheran,
and likewise sets at naught the Roman,
Ending at last its wandering way
By even failing to be Christian.’
After Donauwörth one reaches Burkheim and Neuburg. At lunch, in Ingolstadt, I was served venison: it is a great pity to eat the flesh of so delightful a creature as the deer. I have always read with horror the description of the feast at the installation of George Neville, Archbishop of York, in 1466: four hundred swans were roasted, as a choir, singing their own funeral hymn! There was also a matter of three hundred and four porkers: I can well believe it!
On arriving via Donauwörth,
Regensburg, which we call Ratisbon,
offers a pleasant aspect. struck, on the 20th, as I arrived at the
post house. While the horses were being hitched, which always takes a long time
I hastened from the Old Chapel to the Cathedral. Smaller
than that of
I was unmoved by the mansion in which they once elected Emperors, which at least proves that they created elected sovereigns, even sovereigns whom they brought to justice. The eighteenth clause of Charlemagne’s will reads: ‘If any of our grandsons, living or yet to be born, are accused, let it be ordained that no one shave their head, blind them, cut off a limb, or condemn them to death without proper discussion and investigation.’ I forget which deposed German Emperor demanded sovereignty only of a vineyard which he was fond of.
At Ratisbon, once the
maker of sovereigns, they often minted emperors of low estate; that commerce
has lapsed: one of Bonaparte’s battles and
a princely Primate, dull sycophant of
our universal policeman, were unable to resuscitate the dying city. The
We left by way of the
bridge on the road to
From Kirn to Waldmünchen the barrenness of the countryside increases: hardly any hamlets; only pine-wood cabins, bonded with clay, as in the poorest Alpine passes.
France is the heart of
Europe; the further one travels from it the more social life diminishes; you
could estimate the distance you are from Paris by the greater or lesser languor
of the region in which you are staying. In
Yet one thing charms me about the German people, their religious sentiments. If I were not too tired, I would quit the inn at Nittenau where I am pencilling this journal; I would go this evening and pray with the men, women and children whom the sound of bells summons to church. That congregation, seeing me on my knees among them, would welcome me by virtue of our mutual faith. When will the day ever come on which philosophers in their temple will bless a philosopher arriving by coach, and offer up a similar prayer, with that stranger, to a God about whom all philosophers are in disagreement? The priest’s rosary is more certain: I will hold to it.
Waldmünchen, at which I arrived on the morning of Tuesday the 21st of May, is the last village in Bavaria this side of Bohemia. I congratulated myself on being able to fulfil my mission promptly; I was no more than a hundred and fifty miles from Prague. I plunged myself into icy water, I washed at a spring, like an Ambassador preparing for a triumphal entry; I left and a few miles from Waldmünchen I approached the Austrian Customs, full of confidence. A lowered barrier closed off the road; I clamber down with Hyacinthe whose red ribbon blazes. A young customs officer, armed with a rifle, leads us to the ground floor of a house, and into a vaulted chamber. There a fat old German customs officer-in-chief sits at his desk as though at a tribunal; with red hair, red moustache, thick slanted eyebrows over two half-open greenish eyes, and a nasty look about him; a blend of Viennese police spy and Bohemian smuggler.
He takes our passports
without saying a word; the young customs officer timidly brings me a chair,
while his chief, before whom he trembles, examines the passports. I do not sit
down and I go and look at the pistols hanging on a wall and a carbine placed in
a corner of the room; it recalls the rifle which the Agha of the Isthmus of Corinth fires at the Greek peasant. After a
five minute silence, the Austrian barks out a few words which my interpreter
An explanation commences:
‘Your signature is not
on the passport – My passport is a Foreign Office passport. – Your passport is
out of date. – It has no year on it; it is legally valid. – It has not been
stamped by the Austrian Ambassador in
Patience failed me; I began to wish the customs officer to the devil. As ambassador of a reigning king, it would have mattered little if I had lost a few hours; but as ambassador of a Princess in chains, I considered myself disloyal to misfortune, a traitor to my captive sovereign.
The man kept writing:
the interpreter from
27th of May, 1833.
My return surprised the
innkeeper not a whit. He spoke a little French, he told me that a similar thing
had happened before; foreigners had been obliged to stop at Waldmünchen and send their passports to
Monsieur le Gouverneur,
Having the honour to be
known personally to His Majesty the Emperor
I am with the deepest consideration, Monsieur le Gouverneur, your very humble and obedient servant.
Monsieur le Comte, pardon the liberty I am taking of adding an open message for Monsieur le Duc de Blacas.’
A degree of pride is apparent in this letter:
I felt hurt; I was as humiliated as Cicero
when, on returning in triumph from his Governorship of Asia, his friends asked
him whether he had come from Baiae or his
house at Tusculum. What! My name, which
had flown from Pole to Pole, had not reached the ears of a customs officer in
the mountains of Haselbach, a fact rendered all the more cruel given my success
in Basel! In
Yet who was to know whether the Haselbach customs officer actually knew of me! The police of all countries work hand in glove! A politician who neither approves nor admires the Treaties of Vienna, a Frenchman who loves only liberty and the honour of France, and who remains loyal to fallen greatness, might well be on the index in Vienna. What noble vengeance to handle Monsieur de Chateaubriand like one of those travelling clerks so suspicious to agents! What sweet satisfaction to treat an envoy, entrusted with treacherously bearing greetings from a captive mother to her exiled child, as a vagabond whose papers are not in order!
The courier left Waldmünchen on the 21st, at
eleven in the morning; I calculated that he might return by twelve-fifteen on
the next day but one, the 23rd; but my imagination was working vigorously: What
would become of my message? If the Governor was strong-minded and a student of
life, he would send the permit; if he was a timid man lacking in spirit he
would reply that my request was not within his jurisdiction, and that he was
obliged to refer it to Vienna. This little incident might both please and
displease Prince von Metternich at one and the same time. I knew how he feared
the Press; I had seen at
And what if the courier returned
empty-handed? What if the package were lost? What if the Supreme Burgrave
judged it inappropriate to reply to me? What if he were absent? What if no one
dared to act on his behalf? What would become of my passport? Where could I win
These were the dragons that flew through my mind; I thought the more of my separation from all I held dear: I had too little time left to live to waste that little. Horace says: ‘Carpe diem: seize the day.’ A counsel of pleasure at twenty, it is a counsel of commonsense at my age.
Weary of chewing over all these options in my mind, I suddenly heard the noise of a crowd outside; my inn was in the village square. Through the window I saw a priest bearing the last sacrament to a dying man. What did the affairs of kings, their servants, or the world matter to the dying? Everyone left their work and followed the priest; young girls, old women, children, mothers with infants in arms, repeated the prayers for those in their death throes. Arriving at the dying man’s door, the priest gave the benediction with the viaticum. His assistants fell to their knees, making the sign of the cross and bowing their heads. The passport to eternity will not be disregarded by He who distributes the bread and opens the inn to the traveller.
21st of May, 1833.
Though I had been seven
days without sleep, I could not stay in my room; after barely an hour, leaving
the village in the direction of Ratisbon
I noticed a white chapel, to the right, in the midst of a wheat field; I directed
my steps there. The door was shut; through a slanting window an altar with a
cross was visible. The date the sanctuary had been built, 1830, was written
over the doorway; a monarchy was overthrown in
Returning to the inn, I propped myself between two chairs in the hope of sleeping, but in vain; the stirrings of my imagination overcame my tiredness. I thought ceaselessly of my courier: dinner had nothing to do with it. I lay there amongst the lowing of herds being driven back to the fields. At ten at night another noise arose; the watchman sang out the time; fifty dogs barked; after which they went off to their kennels as if the watchman had ordered them to be silent; I recognized German discipline.
Having counted, by the light of my lamp, the mouldings on the ceiling, gazed at the engravings of the Milanese Girl, the Beautiful Swiss Girl, the French Girl, and the Russian Girl, the former King of Bavaria, and the former Queen of Bavaria, who looks like a lady I know but whose name I find it impossible to remember, I snatched a few moments sleep.
Emerging from my bed, on the 22nd at seven, a bath removed the rest of my fatigue, and I had only to amuse myself with my little market town, like Captain Cook with some Pacific isle he had discovered.
Waldmünchen is built on the slope of a hill; it resembles a decayed village in the State of Rome. Several house fronts painted with frescoes, a vaulted gateway at the entrance and exit to the main street, no visible shops, and a dried-up fountain in the square. Dreadful paving is interspersed with large slabs and cobbles, such as one no longer sees in the neighbourhood of Quimper-Corentin.
The people, whose appearance is rural, wear no particular costume. The women have their heads bare or wrapped in a kerchief like Parisian dairy-maids; their skirts are short; they have bare feet and legs like the children. The men are dressed partly like the labourers in our towns, partly like the ancient peasantry. God be praised! They only wear hats, and the infamous cotton caps of our bourgeois are unknown here.
Every day in Waldmünchen there is, ut mos (according to custom), an interesting spectacle at which I was present for the early stages. At six in the morning, an old shepherd, tall and lean, goes round the village to various locations; he sounds a straight horn, six feet long, which from afar looks like a speaking trumpet or a shepherd’s crook. He first sounds three quiet melodious metallic notes then he blows a kind of gallop or cattle-call (ranz des vaches), imitating the lowing of oxen and the grunting of pigs. The fanfare ends on a sustained note rising in pitch.
Suddenly from every gateway pour cows, heifers, calves and bulls; lowing, they invade the village square; they climb or descend from all the surrounding streets, and, formed up in column, they take their usual route to pasture. A squadron of pigs grunting like wild boars wheels round after them. Sheep and lambs, bleating, herded in line, compose the third section of the band; geese form the reserve: in a quarter of an hour all have vanished.
In the evening, at seven, the horn is heard again; the herds return. The order of the troop has altered: the pigs form the vanguard, to the same musical accompaniment; some, sent out as scouts, run around randomly or halt in every corner. The sheep file by; the cows, with their sons, daughters and husbands, end the procession; the geese waddle alongside. All these creatures regain their dwellings, none mistakes its own gate; but there are Cossacks who maraud around, scatter-brains who frisk about and balk at entering, bullocks that refuse to stay with a group that is not from their stable. Then come the women and children with their little goads; they force the laggards to rejoin the crowd, and the refractory to submit to rule. I rejoiced at the spectacle, as once Henri IV at Chauny was amused by a cowherd named Everyman who gathered in his herd to the sound of a trumpet.
Many years ago, at
Madame de Custine’s residence, the
Château de Fervaques in
There is a tribute to a creature of ill repute that I would be ashamed to have written about at such length, if Homer had not sung it. Indeed I realise that this section of my Memoirs is nothing less than an Odyssey: Waldmünchen is Ithaca; the shepherd is the faithful Eumaeus with his swine; I am the son of Laertes, returning from my travels on land and sea. I would perhaps have done better to get drunk on the nectar of Evanthe, to eat the flower of that plant moly, to languish in the land of the Lotus Eaters, rest with Circe or obey the song of the Sirens singing: ‘Come, come to us.’
22nd of May 1833.
If I were twenty, I would seek adventures in Waldmünchen as a means of shortening the hours; but at my age one no longer has a silken ladder except in memory, and one only climbs walls with the shades. Once I was a great friend of my body; I advised him to live wisely, in order to show himself a fine and vigorous fellow in forty years time. He mocked these soulful sermons, insisted on amusing himself and would not have given two figs to reach the day when he might be called a well-preserved individual: ‘To the Devil!’ he cried, ‘what would I gain by sparing myself in youth in order to enjoy life’s delights when no one wanted to share them with me?’ And he made himself happy enough.
So I am forced to take
him as he is now: I took him out walking on the 22nd to the south-east of the
village. Among the marshlands we followed a little stream of water that drives
the mills. They make cotton fabrics at Waldmünchen;
lengths of these fabrics were laid out in the meadows; girls, charged with dampening
them ran up and down in bare feet on the white zones preceded by the water
spurting from their watering cans, like gardeners watering a flower bed. Beside
the brook I thought of my friends, I was moved at memory of them then I asked
myself what they might be saying about me in
Returning to the
village, I passed the church; two shrines outside border the road; one shows St
Peter in Chains with a collection box
for prisoners; I gave a few kreutzers in memory of Pellico’s gaol and my cell at the
I hurried my dinner and rushed
off to evening prayers, summoned by bells. Turning the corner of the narrow
street by the church, a glimpse can be had of the distant hills: a gleam of
light still showed on the horizon and that dying light shone from the direction
I entered the church: it was utterly dark; with not even a lamp alight. Through the darkness, I only made out the sanctuary, in a Gothic recess, by its deeper obscurity. The walls, altars, pillars, seemed charged with ornamentation and shadowy paintings; the nave was full of dense rows of benches.
An old woman was telling the paternoster on her rosary in a loud voice in German; women young and old, whom I could not see, replied with Ave Maria. The old woman articulated well, her voice was distinct, her accents grave and full of pathos; she was two rows away from me; her head bowed slowly in the shadows each time she pronounced the word Christo, in adding a prayer to her paternoster. The rosary was followed by Litanies of the Virgin; the ora pro nobis, chanted in German (bitte für uns) by the invisible worshippers, sounded in my ears like the word hope (espérance, espérance, espérance!) We scurried off; I went to my bed with hope; I have not held her in my arms for a long time; but she never ages, and one always loves her despite her infidelities.
According to Tacitus the Germans believed night to be more ancient than day: nox ducere diem videtur. Yet I have counted brief night and never-ending days. The poets tell us also that Sleep is the brother of Death: I am not so sure of that, but certainly Old Age is his closest relative.
On the morning of the
23rd, Heaven added sweetness to my misfortune: Baptiste told me that a notable
person in the village, a brewer, had three daughters, and possessed my works somewhere
among his barrels. When I went out, the gentleman
and two of his daughters watched me
go by: where was the third young lady? A letter of admiration for Atala once arrived for me, from Peru, written
in some lady’s own hand, she being a cousin of the sun; but to be known at Waldmünchen, to a wolf’s-beard of Haselbach, was something a thousand times
more glorious: it is true that this occurred in Bavaria, a few miles from
Austria that mocked at my fame. Do you know what would have happened to me if
my excursion into
As Baptiste is recounting my triumph, a funeral bell summons me to the window. The priest goes by, preceded by a cross; affluent men and women, the men in cloaks, the women in robes and black wimples. Taken up three doors from mine, the corpse is carried to the cemetery: after half an hour, the members of the cortege return minus the cortege. Two young women have their handkerchiefs to their eyes; they are weeping for their father; the dead man was the one who had received the viaticum on the day of my arrival.
If my Memoirs reach Waldmünchen when I am no longer alive, the family bereaved today will know the date of its past grief. From the depths of his bed the dying man may have heard the sound of my carriage; it is the only sound from he would have heard on this earth.
The crowd having dispersed, I took the road I had seen the procession take in the direction of the winter sunrise. First I came across a pond of stagnant water, from the edge of which ran a swift stream like life on the brink of the tomb. Some crosses behind a hillock revealed the cemetery to me. I climbed a hollow lane, and a gap in the wall led me to the sacred enclosure.
Mounds of clay represented the bodies beneath the soil; crosses rose here and there: they marked the exits by which the travellers had entered the world beyond, as buoys at the mouth of a river indicate the open roads to vessels. A poor old man was digging a child’s grave; alone, sweating, his head bare, he did not sing, he did not jest like the clowns in Hamlet. Further on was another hole near to which lay a ladder, a crowbar and a rope for the descent into eternity.
I went straight up to this hole which seemed to cry out to me: ‘Here’s a fine opportunity!’ At the bottom of the grave lay the fresh coffin covered with a few spades of soil and awaiting the rest. A piece of canvas was bleaching on the grass: the dead need their shrouds.
Far from his country, the Christian always has a means of suddenly transporting himself there: by visiting man’s last sanctuary, in the churchyard: the cemetery is a family field, and religion the universal homeland.
It was midday when I returned; given all my calculations the courier would not be back before three; nevertheless every sound of hoof-beats sent me rushing to the window: the nearer the hour approached, the more I convinced myself that the permit would not arrive.
To pass the time, I asked for my bill; I set myself to totting up the number of pullets I had eaten: greater men than I have not disdained to do so. Henry Tudor, the seventh of that name, in whom the wars of the White Rose and the Red Rose terminated, as I was to unite the white and the tricolour cockade, Henri VII initialled every page of an account book I have seen: ‘To a woman for three apples, twelve pence; for having found three hares, six shillings and eight pence; to Master Bernard, the blind poet, one hundred shillings (that was more than Homer got); to a little man at Shaftsbury, twenty shillings.’ We have plenty of little men these days, but they cost more than twenty shillings.
At three, the hour at
which the courier might return, I went with Hyacinthe
to the Haselbach road. It was windy, the
sky was scattered with clouds that passed across the sun and cast shadows on
the fields and pinewoods. We were preceded by a crowd from the village who as
they marched raised the noble dust of the army of the Grand-Duke of Quirocia,
so valiantly fought by the Knight of
Baptiste had scarcely left my room when Schwartz appeared waving a large letter with a large wax seal in the air, and shouting: ‘Foilà le bermis.’ (Here’s the permit.) I leapt on the despatch, and tore open the envelope; it contained the permit and a note from Monsieur de Blacas with the Governor’s letter. Here is the letter from Count Choteck:
Monsieur le Vicomte,
I am sorry that on your
I have the honour to enclose a reply from Monsieur le Duc de Blacas, and I beg you if you will to receive the assurances of the deepest consideration with which I have the honour to be, etc.
This reply was polite
and fitting; the Governor could not criticise the junior officer who after all
had only been doing his duty. I had myself in
At eight in the evening, on the 23rd of May, I entered my carriage. Who would believe it? It was with a degree of regret that I left Waldmünchen! I was already accustomed to my hosts; my hosts had grown accustomed to me. I knew all the faces at the windows and doors; when I went out they welcomed me with a kindly air. The neighbourhood turned out to watch my calash depart, which was as dilapidated as the monarchy of Hugh Capet. The men doffed their caps; the women made me little signs of congratulation. My adventure was the subject of village conversation; everyone took my part: the Bavarians and the Austrians detest each other; the former were proud to allow me through.
Several times, I had noticed a young Waldmünchen girl, with a face like that of a virgin painted in Raphael’s early manner, at the door of her cottage; her father, with the bearing of an honest farmer, saluted me brushing the ground with his wide-brimmed felt hat, and gave me good day in German which I cordially returned in French: standing behind him, his daughter would blush while gazing at me over the old man’s shoulder. I found my virgin once more, but she was alone. I waved adieu; she remained motionless; she seemed astonished; I wished to believe that her thoughts were full of some vague regret: I left her behind like some wild flower, seen beside a ditch at the side of the road, which perfumes the journey. I drove through Eumaeus’ herds; he bared his head grown grey in the service of the sheep. He had completed his journey; he had returned to sleep among his ewes, while Ulysses departed to continue his wanderings.
Before I received the permit I had said: ‘If I obtain it, I will confound my persecutor.’ Arriving in Haselbach, it so happened that like Perrin Dandin my wretched kindliness intervened; I had not the heart to triumph over him. Like a true coward I huddled in a corner of the carriage while Schwartz presented the Governor’s permit; I would have suffered too much from the customs man’s confusion. He, for his part, did not show himself, and even failed to have my wallet searched. May peace be with him! May he forgive me the abuse I gave him, yet because of a residual rancour I will not erase him from my Memoirs.
O Moon, you are right; but if I spoke well of your charms, you know the services you have rendered me; you lit my footsteps when I walked with my phantom love; today my head is silvered like your face, and yet you are astonished to find me alone! And you scorn me! Yet I have passed whole nights enveloped in your veils; dare you deny our meeting among the lawns and beside the sea? How often you have seen my eyes fixed passionately on yours! Ungrateful mocking light, do you ask me where I am going so late: it is harsh to reproach me for my endless voyaging. Oh! Though I travel like you, I do not grow young again as you do, you who return to the bright crescent of your cradle every month! I will know no new moon: my waning has no other end but my utter vanishing, and when I am extinguished, I will not relight my flame as you do yours!
I travelled all night; I passed through Teinitz, Stankau and Staab. On the morning of the 24th I passed through Pilsen, through a fine barracks, in the Homeric style. The town is marked by that air of melancholy that reigns in this country. At Pilsen, Wallenstein hoped to seize the sceptre; I was also in quest of a crown, but not for myself.
The countryside is
sliced and intersected by hills, called mountains in
Villages are sparse. A
few fortresses, starved of prisoners, jut from the rocks like aged vultures.
From Zditz to Beraun
the hills on the right grow bald. You traverse a village, the streets are
spacious, the post stations well served with mounts; everything proclaims a
monarchy imitating the former
What sort of forest rides did Jan the Blind, at the time of Philippe de Valois, and the Ambassadors of King George at the time of Louis XI, pass through? What good are these modern German roads? They remain deserted since neither history, art, nor the climate, summon strangers to their solitary highways. For commerce, it is needless for the public roads to be so large and costly to maintain; the richest traffic on earth that of India and Persia is borne on the backs of mules, asses and horses, over narrow scarcely-visible tracks, through mountain chains or the desert sands. The vast roads of today, in sparsely populated countries, serve solely for warfare; overflows for the use of the new Barbarians who, emerging from the north with immense trains of guns, will inundate those regions favoured by intellect and the sun.
Beraun is traversed by
the little river of the same name, vicious as any little cur. In 1784, it
reached the level marked on the walls of the post-house. After Beraun, a
succession of gorges skirts the hills, then widens out at the entrance to a
plateau. From this plateau the road plunges into a vaguely-outlined valley with
a hamlet at its centre. There a long ascent begins which leads to Duschnick, a post station and the last
relay. Quickly descending towards the opposite hill, on whose summit rises a
cross, Prague is revealed on either bank of
the Moldau. It is in this city that the elder branch of the race of
End of Book XXXVI
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