Chateaubriand's memoirs, IV, 10

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book IV - Chapter 10
Trip to Brittany – Garrison in Dieppe – Return to Paris with Lucile and Julie

Berlin, March 1821.

All that has been written so far of this fourth book was written in Berlin. I have returned to Paris for the baptism of the Duc de Bordeaux, and I have resigned my embassy out of political loyalty to Monsieur de Villèle who has left the Ministry. My freedom restored, let me write. The more these Memoirs are filled with the passing years, the more they remind me of the lower bubble of a sand-glass showing how many grains of my life have fallen: when all the sand has passed through, I would not turn over my timepiece of glass, even if God gave me the power to do so.

The new solitude I entered into, in Brittany, after my presentation, was no longer that of Combourg; it was neither as total, nor as profound, nor to tell the truth, as mandatory: I was free to leave; it lost some of its value. An old escutcheoned lady, an old emblazoned baron watching over the last of their sons and daughters in a feudal manor, represented what the English call characters: there was nothing provincial or limited about that life, because it was not an ordinary life.

At my sisters’ homes, the province gathered in the midst of the fields: neighbours danced at neighbours’ houses, or put on plays in which I occasionally acted badly. In winter one suffered the small town society of Fougères, with its balls, assemblies, and dinners, and I could not live forgotten, as in Paris.

On the other hand, I had not viewed the Army and the Court without a change taking place in my ideas: in spite of my natural inclinations, something in me, rebelling against obscurity, urged me to quit the shadows. Julie detested the provinces: while the instinct of genius and beauty impelled Lucile towards a wider stage.

Thus I experienced a feeling of dissatisfaction with my existence which informed me that this existence was not my destiny.

Nevertheless, I still loved the country, and that around Marigny was delightful. (Marigny has changed greatly since the time when my sister lived there. It was sold, and now belongs to the Pommereuls, who have rebuilt and embellished it, significantly.) My regiment had changed quarters: the first battalion was stationed at Le Havre, the second at Dieppe: I rejoined the latter: my presentation made me a personage. I acquired a taste for my profession; I worked at drill; I was put in charge of raw recruits whom I exercised on the pebbly beach: that sea has formed the background to almost all the scenes of my life.

La Martinière occupied himself at Dieppe, with neither his namesake Lamartinière, nor with Le Père Simon, who wrote opposing Bossuet, Port-Royal and the Benedictines, nor with the anatomist Pecquet, whom Madame de Sévigné called Little Pecquet; but La Martinière was in love in Dieppe as in Cambrai: he languished at the feet of a formidable lady of Normandy, whose headdress and coiffure were three feet high. She was not young: by a singular coincidence she was named Cauchie, apparently a grand-daughter of that Anne Cauchie of Dieppe, who in 1645 was a hundred and fifty years old!

It was in 1647 that Anne of Austria, looking as I did at the sea through the window of her room, enjoyed watching fire-ships consumed for her diversion. She allowed the people who had remained faithful to Henri IV to guard the young Louis XIV; she blessed them endlessly, despite their vile Norman language.

One found again at Dieppe certain feudal taxes that I had seen levied at Combourg: to a gentleman named Vauquelin were due three pig’s heads each with an orange in its mouth, and three sous stamped from the oldest known coinage.

I returned to Fougères on six months’ leave. There, a noble spinster reigned, named Mademoiselle de La Belinaye, the aunt of that Comtesse de Trojolif, of whom I have spoken. A pleasant but ugly sister of an officer in the Condé Regiment attracted my attention: I would not have been bold enough to raise my eyes to beauty; it was only in the presence of a woman’s imperfections that I dared to venture a respectful homage.

Madame de Farcy, always ailing, finally resolved to leave Brittany. She persuaded Lucile to accompany her; Lucile in turn overcame my reluctance: we took the road to Paris; a sweet association of the three youngest fledglings from the nest.

My brother had married: he was living at the house of his father-in-law, Président de Rosanbo, in the Rue de Bondi. We arranged to settle in the neighbourhood: through the good offices of Monsieur Delisle de Sales, living in the Saint-Lazare villas at the top of the Faubourg Saint-Denis, we secured an apartment in these same villas.