Chateaubriand's memoirs, III, 3

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book III - Chapter 3
The passage from childhood to adulthood



I had barely returned from Brest to Combourg than a revolution took place in my existence; the child vanished and the man appeared with all his passing joys and lasting sorrows.

To begin with everything became a passion with me, pending the arrival of the passions themselves. When, after a silent dinner at which I had not dared to speak or eat, I succeeded in escaping, my delight was incredible; I could not descend the staircase with the same breath: I would have flown headlong. I was obliged to sit on a step to allow my excitement to subside; but as soon as I had reached the Green Court and the woods, I began running, jumping, leaping, skipping, gambolling about until I fell down, my strength exhausted, panting, drunk with frolics and freedom.

My father took me with him hunting. A taste for the sport gripped me and I pursued it with fury; I can still see the field where I killed my first hare. In autumn I would often stand up to my waist in water for four or five hours, waiting for wild duck at the edge of a pond; even today, I cannot stay calm when a dog halts and points. However, in my first ardour for the chase, there was a measure of independence; crossing ditches, tramping through fields, marshes, and moors, finding myself with a gun in a deserted spot, possessing strength and solitude, was my way of being close to nature. In my travels, I would stray so far that I could walk no further, and the gamekeepers were obliged to carry me on a litter of branches.

Yet the pleasures of the chase no longer satisfied me; I was stirred by a yearning for happiness, which I could neither control nor understand; my heart and mind ended by forming in me two empty temples, without altars or sacrifices; it was not yet known which god would be worshipped there. I grew up with my sister Lucile; our friendship filled our whole life.