Chateaubriand's memoirs, I, 2

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Chapter 2
Birth of my brothers and sisters - I arrive in the world.



La Vallée-aux-Loups, 31st December 1811.

My mother gave birth at Saint-Malo to a son who died in infancy, and who was named Geoffroy, like nearly all the eldest sons in my family. This son was followed by another and by two daughters who lived only a few months.

These four children died of a rush of blood to the brain. Finally, my mother brought a third boy into the world, named Jean-Baptiste: it was he who later became the grandson-in-law of Monsieur de Malesherbes. After Jean-Baptiste four daughters were born: Marie-Anne, Bénigne, Julie and Lucile, all four of rare beauty: and of whom only the two eldest survived the storms of the Revolution. Beauty that serious frivolity remains when all the rest have gone. I was the last of these ten infants. It is probable that my four sisters owe their existence to my father’s desire to see his name secured by the arrival of a second boy; I tarried, I had an aversion for life.

Here is my baptismal certificate:

‘Extract from the civil register of the Commune of Saint-Malo for the year 1768.

François-René de Chateaubriand, son of René de Chateaubriand and Pauline-Jeanne Suzanne de Bedée, his wife, born on the 4th of September 1768, baptised on the following day by us, Pierre-Henry Nouail, Vicar-General to the Bishop of Saint-Malo. Stands godfather, Jean-Baptiste de Chateaubriand his brother, and godmother, Françoise-Gertrude de Contades, who sign with the father. As signatories to the register: Contades de Plouër, Jean-Baptiste de Chateaubriand, Brignon de Chateaubriand, De Chateaubriand and Nouail, Vicar-General.’

One sees that I was mistaken in my writings: I set myself down as being born on the 4thOctober not the 4th September; my Christian names are François-René, and not François-Auguste.

The house my parents occupied at that time is situated in a dark, narrow street in Saint-Malo, called the Rue des Juifs: today the house has been converted into an inn. The room in which my mother gave birth overlooks a deserted stretch of the city walls, and from the windows of that room one can perceive the sea, stretching as far as the eye can see, breaking on the reefs. My godfather, as one can see from my baptismal certificate, was my brother, and my godmother was the Comtesse de Plouër, daughter of the Maréchal de Contades. I was near death when I entered the world. The roaring of the waves, whipped up by a squall heralding the autumn equinox, prevented my cries being heard: these details have often been told to me; their sadness has never been erased from my memory. There is never a day that, thinking of what I have been, I do not picture again in my thoughts the rock on which I was born, the room where my mother inflicted life on me, the tempest whose roaring lulled my first sleep, the unfortunate brother who named me, with a name that I have almost always trailed amidst misery. Heaven seems to have brought these diverse circumstances together in order to place an image of my destiny over my cradle.