Chateaubriand's memoirs, II, 10

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II, 9 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> III, 1


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book II - Chapter 10
College at Dinan – Broussais – I return to my parents’ house



I have spoken of my return to Combourg, and how I was received there by my father, mother and sister Lucile.

Perhaps it has not been forgotten that my other three sisters were married, and that they lived on their new families’ estates near Fougères. My brother, whose ambition was beginning to develop, was more often in Paris than at Rennes. He first bought a post as maître des requêtes which he sold in order to take up a military career. He entered the Royal Cavalry Regiment; he then joined the diplomatic corps and accompanied the Count de la Luzerne to London, where he met André Chenier: he was on the point of obtaining the Vienna Embassy when our troubles broke out; he applied for that of Constantinople; but he faced a formidable rival, Mirabeau, to whom the embassy had been promised as a reward for joining the Court party. My brother had therefore only just left Combourg at the moment when I came to live there.

Entrenched in his manor, my father no longer left it, not even during the sittings of the States of Brittany. My mother went to Saint-Malo every year for six weeks, around Easter; she waited for that moment as one of release, since she detested Combourg. A month before the trip, it was discussed as though it was a hazardous enterprise; preparations were made; the horses were rested. On the eve of departure, they went to bed at seven in the evening, in order to rise at two. My mother, to her great satisfaction, set off at three in the morning, and spent the whole day covering thirty miles.

Lucile, who had been received as a canoness in the Chapter of L’Argentière, was to transfer to that of Remiremont: awaiting the move, she remained buried in the country.

As for myself, after my escape from Brest, I declared that my firm wish was to embrace the ecclesiastical state: the truth is that I was only trying to gain time, since I did not know what I wanted. I was sent to Dinan College to complete my humanities course. My Latin was better than that of my teachers; but I started to learn Hebrew. The Abbé de Rouillac was the Principal of the College, and the Abbé Duhamel was my tutor.

Dinan, adorned with ancient trees, fortified with old turrets, was built on a picturesque site, beneath a high hill at the foot of which the Rance flows, a tidal river; it overlooks pleasantly wooded sloping valleys. The mineral waters of Dinan have some renown. This town, full of history, the birthplace of Duclos, possesses among other antiquities Du Guesclin’s heart: heroic dust which, stolen during the Revolution, was on the verge of being ground down by a glazier for use in decorating stained glass; was it destined for various tableaux of victories achieved over our country’s enemies?

Monsieur Broussais, my compatriot, studied with me at Dinan; the students were taken off to bathe every Thursday, like the clerks under Pope Adrian I, or every Sunday, like the prisoners under the Emperor Honorius. Once I thought I would be drowned; on another occasion Monsieur Broussais was bitten by thankless leeches, lacking knowledge of the future. Dinan was equidistant from Combourg and Plancoët. I would go in turn to see my uncle De Bedée at Monchoix, and my family at Combourg. Monsieur de Chateaubriand, who sought economy in my upkeep, and my mother who wished me to persist in the religious vocation, but had scruples about urging me, no longer insisted on my residence at college, and I found myself, imperceptibly, a fixture in the paternal home.

I would still take pleasure in recalling my parent’s ways, were they merely a fond memory to me; but I will paint the portrait all the more readily in that it seems as if traced precisely from the vignettes in medieval manuscripts: between the present time and the time I am going to depict centuries have elapsed.