Chateaubriand's memoirs, II, 5

Free texts and images.
Jump to: navigation, search
II, 4 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> II, 6


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book II - Chapter 5
Invasion of France – Games – The Abbé de Chateaubriand



Vallée-aux-Loups, December 1813.

From Dieppe where the police injunction had obliged me to take refuge, I was allowed to return to the Vallée-aux-Loups, where I continue my story. The earth trembles under the feet of foreign soldiers, who at this very moment are invading my country; I write like one of the last Romans, amidst the sounds of the Barbarian invasion. By day I trace pages as troubled as the events of the day (De Bonaparte et des Bourbons. Note: Geneva, 1831); at night, while the rumble of distant cannon expires among my woods, I return to the silence of years that sleep in the tomb, to the tranquillity of my earliest memories. How narrow and brief a man’s past is, beside the vast present of nations and their immense future!

Mathematics, Greek and Latin occupied the whole of my winter at school. What was not dedicated to study was given up to those childhood games played in ever place. The little English boy, the little German, the little Italian, the little Spaniard, the little Iroquois, the little Bedouin all bowl the hoop and throw the ball. Brothers in one great family, children lose their common features only when they lose their innocence, which is the same everywhere. Then the passions, modified by climate, government and customs, differentiate the nations; the human race ceases to speak and hear the same language: society is the true tower of Babel.

One morning I was engrossed in a game of prisoner’s base in the great courtyard of the school; someone came to tell me I was wanted. I followed the servant to the main gate. There I found a stout, red-faced man with a brusque and impatient manner, and a fierce voice, with a stick in his hand, wearing an untidy black wig, a torn cassock with the ends tucked into the pockets, dusty shoes, and stockings with holes in the heels: ‘Little scamp,’ he said, ‘aren’t you the Chevalier de Chateaubriand de Combourg?’ ‘Yes, Monsieur,’ I replied, ‘amazed by his form of address. ‘And I,’ he continued, almost foaming at the mouth, ‘I am the last of the elder branch of your family, I am the Abbé de Chateaubriand de la Guerrande; take a good look at me.’ The proud Abbé put his hand into the fob pocket of an old pair of plush breeches, took out a mouldy six-franc crown piece wrapped in dirty paper, flung it in my face, and continued his journey on foot muttering his matins with a furious air. I have since learnt that the Prince de Condé had offered this country rector the post of tutor to the Duc de Bourbon. The vain priest replied that the Prince, as owner of the Barony of Chateaubriand, ought to know that the heirs to that barony could have tutors, but not be tutors themselves. This pride was my family’s main fault; in my father it was odious; my brother took it to ridiculous lengths; it has passed in some degree to his eldest son. I am not sure, despite my republican leanings, that I am completely free from it myself, though I have carefully concealed it.