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Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXVII, 1

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XXXVI, 12 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXVII, 2


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXXVII - Chapter 1
The Castle of the Kings of Bohemia – A first interview with Charles X



Prague, the 24th of May 1833.

Entering Prague on the 24th of May at seven in the evening, I arrived at the Hôtel des Bains, in the old town on the left bank of the Moldau. I wrote a note to Monsieur le Duc de Blacas to alert him to my arrival; I received the following reply:

‘If you are not too tired, Monsieur le Vicomte, the King would be delighted to receive you this evening, at nine forty-five; but if you wish to rest, it would give His Majesty great pleasure to see you tomorrow morning at eleven thirty.
Accept, I beg you, my deepest compliments.
This Friday, the 24th of May, at seven.
BLACAS D’AULPS.’

I did not wait to profit from the alternative offered me: at nine thirty I set off: an employee of the inn, who knew a few words of French, escorted me. I climbed through silent, sombre streets, with barely an echo, to the foot of the tall hill crowned by the Castle of the Kings of Bohemia. The edifice etched its dark mass on the sky; no light shone from the windows: it possessed something of the solitariness, the setting, and the grandeur of the Vatican, or of the TempleMount of Jerusalem seen from the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The only sound was that of my footsteps and those of my guide; I was obliged to stop at intervals on the staged stone landings, so fast was the pace.

The more I climbed the more I could see of the city below. The chain of history, the fate of mankind, the destruction of empires, the designs of Providence presented themselves to my mind, mingling themselves with memories of my own life: having explored dead ruins I was summoned to the sight of living ones.

Arriving at the summit on which the Hradschin is built, we passed through an infantry post whose guards were positioned next to the exterior wicket. Beyond this door we penetrated a square courtyard, surrounded by battlements, uniformly deserted. We filed to the right down a long corridor on the ground floor lit at intervals by glass lanterns attached to the face of the walls, as in a barracks or a convent. At the end of this corridor a staircase ascended, at the foot of which two sentries walked to and fro. As I was climbing to the second storey, I met Monsieur de Blacas who was descending. With him I entered Charles X’s apartments; there, two more grenadiers were on guard. Those foreign guardsmen, those white uniforms at the King of France’s door made a painful impression on me: the idea of a prison rather than a palace came to mind.

We passed three darkened, virtually unfurnished rooms: I imagined I was wandering in the dreaded Monastery of the Escorial. Monsieur de Blacas left me in the third room in order to go and alert the King, according to the etiquette of the Tuileries. He returned to seek me, led me to His Majesty’s office, and withdrew.

Charles X approached me, and held out his hand cordially saying: ‘Good day, good day, Monsieur de Chateaubriand, I am delighted to see you. I was waiting for you. You had no need to come tonight, as you must be very tired. Do not remain standing: let us sit. How is your wife?’

Nothing tugs at the heart more than simple words among the highest ranks of society, and in the great catastrophes of life. I began to weep like a child; I had difficulty stifling the sound of my crying with my handkerchief. All the harsh things I had determined to say, all the vain and merciless philosophy with which I counted on arming my discourse, failed me. I, to become an instructor to misfortune! I, to dare lord it over my King, my white-haired King, my proscribed and exiled King, preparing to leave his mortal remains on foreign soil! My aged Prince took me again by the hand seeing the distress of his merciless enemy, of that fierce opponent of the July decrees. His eyes were moist; he made me sit beside a little wooden table on which there were two candlesticks; he sat near the same table, turning his good ear towards me to hear me more clearly, alerting me in that way to his years which united common infirmity with the extraordinary calamities of his life.

I found it impossible to recover my voice, as I gazed, in the residence of the Emperors of Austria, at the sixty-eighth King of France bent beneath the weight of those reigns and his seventy-six years: of those years, twenty-four had been spent in exile, five on a tottering throne; the monarch was ending his last days in a last exile, with a grandson whose father had been assassinated and whose mother was a prisoner. Charles X, in order to relieve the silence, asked me a few questions. Then I explained the object of my journey, briefly: I told him I was bearing a letter from Madame la Duchesse de Berry, addressed to Madame la Dauphine, in which the captive of Blaye confided the care of her children to that prisoner of the Temple, as one having experience of misfortune. I added that I also had a letter for the children. The King replied: ‘Do not give it to them; they are partly unaware of what has happened to their mother; you shall give me the letter. Anyway we will talk about all this tomorrow at two: go and get some rest. You will see my son and the children at eleven, and dine with us.’ The King rose, wished me goodnight and withdrew.

I left; I rejoined Monsieur de Blacas in the ante-room; my guide was waiting on the stairs. I returned to my inn, descending the streets, over the slippery paving stones, with as much rapidity as I had shown slowness in ascending.

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