Chateaubriand's memoirs, IV, 2

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IV, 1 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> IV, 3

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book IV - Chapter 2
My Brother – My Cousin Moreau – My sister the Comtesse de Farcy

Berlin, March 1821.

A woman mounted a steep, dark staircase in front of me, holding a labelled key in her hand; a Savoyard followed me with my little trunk. Reaching the third floor, the servant opened a door; the Savoyard placed the trunk across the arms of a chair. The servant said: ‘Does Monsieur require anything? – ‘No’, I replied. Three loud whistles were emitted; the servant shouted: ‘I’m on my way!’ rushed out, closing the door, and tumbled down the stairs with the Savoyard. When I found myself shut in, alone, my heart tightened in such a strange manner I was near to taking the road back to Brittany. Everything I had heard about Paris returned to my mind; I was embarrassed in a hundred ways. I would have liked to go to bed, and the bed was unmade; I was hungry but I did not know how to dine. I was afraid of not knowing how to act: ought I to call the hotel staff? Ought I to go downstairs? To whom should I speak? I ventured to put my head out of the window: I could only see a little inner yard, as deep as a well, where people went to and fro without a thought in their life for the prisoner on the third floor. I went and sat down again near the dirty alcove where I was to sleep, reduced to contemplating the personages on the paper with which its walls were hung. A distant sound of voices was heard, grew louder, neared, my door opened: in came my brother and one of my cousins, son of one of my mother’s sisters who had made rather a poor marriage. Madame Rose had taken pity on the half-wit after all; she had sent word to my brother, whose address she had been given at Rennes, to say that I had arrived in Paris. My brother embraced me. My cousin Moreau was a large, fat man, smeared all over with snuff, who ate like an ogre, talked a great deal, was always moving about, puffing, choking, mouth half-open, tongue half-out, who knew everybody, and spent his life in gambling dens, ante-rooms, and salons. ‘Well, Chevalier,’ he cried, ‘here you are in Paris; I’m going to take you to Madame Chastenay’s! Who was this woman whose name I heard pronounced for the first time? The suggestion turned me against my cousin Moreau. ‘No doubt the Chevalier is in need of rest,’ said my brother; ‘we will go and see Madame de Farcy, then he shall return for dinner and go to bed.’

A joyful feeling entered my heart: the memory of my family in the midst of an indifferent world was like balm to me. We went out. Cousin Moreau raised a storm on the subject of my wretched room, and urged my host to install me at least one floor lower down. We climbed into my brother’s carriage, and drove to the convent where Madame de Farcy lived.

Julie had been in Paris for some time, to consult the doctors. Her charming face, her elegance and her wit had soon made her much sought after. I have already said that she was born with a true poetic talent. She has become a saint, having been one of the most attractive women of her generation: the Abbé Carron has written her life. Those apostles who travel everywhere seeking souls, feel the love for them that a Father of the Church attributed to the Creator: ‘When a soul arrives at God’: said this Father, with the simplicity of heart of an early Christian, and the naivety of Greek genius, ‘God takes her on his knees, and calls her his daughter.’

Lucile has left behind a poignant lamentation: ‘To the sister I no longer have’. The Abbé Carron’s admiration for Julie explains and justifies Lucile’s words. The life written by a holy priest also shows that I spoke the truth in the preface to my Génie du Christianisme, and serves as proof of certain elements of my Memoirs.

Julie an innocent gave herself to repentance; she devoted the riches won from her austerities to redeeming her brothers; and following the example of the illustrious African woman who was her patron saint, she became a martyr.

The Abbé Carron, author of the Vie des Justes, is that ecclesiastic, my compatriot, the François de Paule of the exiles, whose fame attested to by the afflicted, even cut across the fame of Bonaparte. The voice of a poor proscribed clergyman was not stifled by the noise of a Revolution that overwhelmed society; he seemed to have been brought back expressly from a foreign country to pen my sister’s virtues: he sought amongst our ruins; he discovered a victim and a forgotten tomb.

When the new hagiography depicted Julie’s sacred sufferings, one thought one was hearing Bossuet in his sermon on Mademoiselle de La Vallière’s profession of faith.

‘Shall it dare to be concerned about that body so tender, so dear; so gentle? Is no pity to be taken on that delicate complexion? On the contrary! The soul conducts itself towards the body as towards its most dangerous seducer; the soul sets out its boundaries; straightened on all sides, it can only breathe at the side of God.’

I cannot defend myself from a certain embarrassment on finding my name, once more, in the last lines concerning Julie, traced by the hand of the venerable historian. What am I with my frailties doing juxtaposed with such great perfections? Have I adhered to all that my sister’s note made me promise, the one I received during my emigration to London? Does a book satisfy God? Is it not my life I must offer up to Him? And is that life in accord with the Génie du Christianisme? What matter that I have painted more or less brilliant pictures of religion, if my passions cast a shadow on my faith! I have not reached the ultimate; I have not adopted the hair-shirt: that tunic added to my viaticum would have drunk and dried up my sweat. But I, a weary traveller, sit by the side of the road: tired or not, I must rise again to reach the place my sister reached.

Julie’s fame lacks for nothing: the Abbé Carron has written her life; Lucile has mourned her death.