Chateaubriand's memoirs, IV, 11

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IV, 10 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> IV, 12

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book IV - Chapter 11
Delisle de Sales – Flins – Life of a man of letters

Paris, June 1821.

Madame de Farcy was acquainted, I know not how, with Deslisle de Sales, who had once been imprisoned at Vincennes for philosophical inanities. At that time, one became an important celebrity when one had scrawled a few lines of prose or inserted a quatrain in the Almanach des Muses. Delisle de Sales, a man of extreme kindness, a cordial mediocrity, had great mental flexibility, and let the years roll by him; this old man had employed his works to collect a fine library which he leant out to strangers and which no one in Paris read. Each year, in spring, he replenished his ideas in Germany. Fat and slovenly, he carried about a roll of filthy paper which one saw him drag from his pocket; on street corners, he consigned to it his thought of the moment. On the pedestal of his marble bust, he had traced this inscription with his own hand, borrowed from Buffon’s bust: God, Man, Nature, he explained them completely. Delisle de Sales explained completely! Those proud words are quite amusing, but quite disheartening. Who can flatter himself he has true talent? Might it not be that, as long as we live, we are all under the power of an illusion like that of Delisle de Sales? I would wager that whichever author penned that phrase thought himself a writer of genius, and yet was no better than a fool.

If I have spent too much time on my account of this worthy man of the Saint-Lazare villas, it is because he was the first literary man I met: he introduced me to the society of others.

The presence of my two sisters rendered my stay in Paris less intolerable; my affinity for study further weakened my distaste. Delisle de Sales seemed an eagle to me. I met Carbon Flins des Oliviers at his house, who fell in love with Madame de Farcy. She teased him; he took it well, since he had pretensions to being good company. Through Flins I met Fontanes, his friends, who became mine also.

Son of a head keeper of lakes and forests at Rheims, Flins education had been severely neglected; for all that he was a man of wit and occasionally talent. No one fatter could be imagined: short and corpulent, with large protruding eyes, tousled hair, blackened teeth, and despite all that a not ignoble air. His mode of life, which was that of almost all the men of letters of Paris at that time, is worth recounting.

Flins lived in an apartment on the Rue Mazarine, quite near Laharpe, who lived in the Rue Guénégaud. Two Savoyards, dressed as lackeys by virtue of their silk livery, served him: in the evenings they followed him about, and they introduced visitors to his house in the mornings. Regularly Flins attended the Théâtre-Français, then in the Place à l’Odéon, and excellent above all for comedy. Brizard was nearing the end of his career; Talma was commencing his, Larive, Saint-Phal, Fleury, Molé, Dazincourt, Dugazon, Grandmesnil, Mesdames Contat, Saint-Val, Desgarcins, Olivier, were at the height of their powers, in the wings was Mademoiselle Mars, daughter of Monvel, ready to make her debut at the Montansier Theatre. Actresses gave their patronage to authors and sometimes made their fortune for them.

Flins, whose allowance from his family was only modest, lived on credit. When Parliament was not sitting, he pawned his Savoyards’ liveries, his two watches, his rings and his linen, paid what he must with the loan, and left for Rheims, stayed there for three months, returned to Paris, redeemed, with the money his father had given him, what he had deposited at the Mont-de-Piété, and recommenced the circle of his life, always cheerful and received everywhere.