Chateaubriand's memoirs, III, 5

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book III - Chapter 5
First breath of the Muse



The life which my sister and I led at Combourg heightened the exaltation natural to our age and character. Our principal distraction consisted of walking side by side in the Great Mall, in spring on a carpet of primroses, in autumn on a bed of dry leaves, in winter on a sheet of snow embroidered with the tracks of birds, squirrels, and stoats. Young as the primroses, sad as the withered leaves, pure as the fresh snow, there was harmony between us and our pastime.

It was during one of these walks that Lucille, listening to me speaking rapturously about solitude, said to me: ‘You ought to write all that down.’ This remark revealed the Muse to me; a divine breath passed over me. I began stammering out verse, as if had been my native language; day and night I sang of my pleasures, that is to say my woods and valleys; I composed a host of little idylls or portraits of nature. (See my Complete Works. Note: Paris, 1837) I wrote in verse long before writing in prose: Monsieur de Fontanes claimed that I had been equipped with both abilities.

Did this talent promised to me by friendship ever show itself in me? How many things I have waited for in vain! In the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, a slave, posted as sentry on the heights of the palace of Argos; strains his eyes to make out the agreed signal for the return of the fleet; he sings to relieve the tedium of his vigil, but the hours pass, the stars set, and the beacon does not shine. When after many years its tardy flame appears over the waves, the slave is bent beneath the weight of years; nothing remains to him but to reap misfortune, and the Chorus tells him that: ‘an old man is a shadow wandering in the light of day.’ Όναρ ήμερόφαντον νλαίνει.