Chateaubriand's memoirs, III, 7

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III, 6 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> III, 8


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book III - Chapter 7
<div The last lines written at the Vallée-aux-Loups – A disclosure
concerning my secret life style="font-size: 100%;">The last lines written at the Vallée-aux-Loups – A disclosure
concerning my secret life



Valleé-aux-Loups, November 1817.

Back from Montboissier, these are the last lines I will write in my hermitage: I am forced to leave it, filled with fine striplings which in their serried ranks already hide and crown their father. I will never again see the magnolia which promised its blossom for my girl of Florida’s tomb, the Jerusalem pine and cedar of Lebanon consecrated to the memory of Jerome, the laurel of Grenada, the Greek plane-tree, the Armorican oak, at the foot of which I depicted Blanca, sang of Cymodocée, invented Velléda. These trees were born and grew with my dreams; of which they were the Hamadryads. They are about to pass under another’s power: will their new master love them as I have loved them? He will let them die, or cut them down, perhaps: I can keep nothing on this earth. In bidding farewell to the woods of Aulnay, I will recall the farewell which I bade to the woods of Combourg: all my days are farewells.

The taste for poetry which Lucile inspired in me was like oil thrown onto the fire. My feelings acquired a new degree of strength; vain ideas of fame passed through my mind; for a moment I believed in my talent, but soon recovering a proper mistrust of myself, I began to doubt that talent, as I have always doubted it. I regarded my work as an evil temptation; I was angry with Lucile for engendering in me an unfortunate tendency: I stopped writing, and began to mourn my future glory, as one mourns a glory that has gone.

Returning to my former idleness, I became more aware of what my youth lacked: I was a mystery to myself. I could not look at a woman without being stirred; I blushed if she addressed a word to me. My shyness, already excessive with everyone, was so great with a woman that I would have preferred any torment to being left alone with that woman: she was no sooner gone than to recall her was my deepest wish. The portraits drawn by Virgil, Tibullus, and Masillon, presented themselves to my memory of course; but the images of my mother and sister, covering everything with their purity, made those veils denser which nature tried to lift; filial and brotherly tenderness deceived me as to any less disinterested tenderness. If the loveliest slaves of the seraglio had been handed over to me, I would not have known what to ask of them: chance enlightened me.

A neighbour of the Combourg estate came to spend a few days in the château with his very pretty wife. Something occurred in the village; everyone ran to the windows of the great hall to see. I arrived first; our fair guest was hard on my heels, and wishing to yield her my place I turned towards her: she involuntarily blocked my way, and I felt myself pressed between her and the window. I no longer knew what was happening around me.

At that moment, I became aware that to love and be loved in a manner as yet unknown to me, must be the supreme happiness. If I had done what other men do, I would have soon have learnt of the pains and pleasures of that passion whose seeds I carried; but everything in me took on an extraordinary character. The ardour of my imagination, my shyness, and my solitariness were such that instead of going abroad I fell back upon myself; lacking a real object of love, I evoked, through the power of my vague longings a phantom which never left me. I do not know if the history of the human heart offers another example of this kind. </div>