Chateaubriand's memoirs, IV, 7

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book IV - Chapter 7
Return to Brittany – A stay with my eldest sister – My brother summons me to Paris

Berlin, March 1821.

I was given a furlough. Monsieur d’Andrezel, appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the Picardy Regiment, was leaving Cambrai: I acted as his courier. I passed through Paris, where I did not wish to stop for even a quarter of an hour; I saw the moors of my Brittany again with more joy than a Neapolitan banished to our climes would look once more on the shores of Portici, the fields of Sorrento. My family gathered at Combourg; we divided the inheritance; that done we dispersed like birds leaving the paternal nest. My brother, who had arrived from Paris, returned; my mother settled at Saint-Malo; Lucile went with Julie; I spent part of my time with Mesdames de Marigny, de Chateaubourg, and de Farcy.

Marigny, my eldest sister’s chateau, seven miles from Fougères, is pleasantly situated between two lakes among woodland, rocks and meadows. I lived there tranquilly for a few months; a letter from Paris arrived to trouble my peace.

On the point of entering the service, and marrying Mademoiselle de Rosanbo, my brother had not yet abandoned the magistrate’s long robe; for this reason he was not entitled to ride in the royal coaches. His relentless ambition urged on him the idea of obtaining for me the enjoyment of Court honours, in order to prepare the way more readily for his own elevation. Our proofs of nobility had been drafted for Lucile, when she was admitted to the Chapter of L’Argentière; so that all was prepared: the Marshal de Duras would act as my sponsor. My brother wrote to tell me I was on the road to fortune; that I had already been granted the rank of cavalry captain, an honorary, courtesy ranking; that it would be an easy matter next to have me admitted to the Order of Malta, by means of which I would enjoy rich benefices.

This letter struck me like a thunderbolt: to return to Paris, to be presented at Court – and I someone disturbed to the point of illness when I met two or three unknown people in a drawing-room! To fill me with ambition, I who only dreamed of living in obscurity!

My first instinct was to reply to my brother that being the eldest it was for him to uphold his name; that, as for me, an obscure Breton younger son, I would not resign from the service, because there was a possibility of war; but that if the king needed a soldier for his army, he did not need a poor gentleman at his Court.

I lost no time in reading this romantic reply to Madame de Marigny, who uttered piercing cries; Madame de Farcy was sent for, who mocked me; Lucile would have genuinely supported me, but she dare not oppose her sisters. They snatched my letter away, and weak as always where I am concerned, I wrote to my brother that I was ready to go.

And so I went; I went to be presented at the first Court of Europe, to commence life in the most brilliant manner, and I had the air of a man being dragged to the galleys, or on whom a sentence of death is about to be pronounced.