Chateaubriand's memoirs, IX, 14

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IX, 13 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> IX, 15


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book IX - Chapter 14
Night by the weapon stacks – Dutch dogs – Remembrance of the martyrs – Who my companions were in the forward positions – Eudore – Ulysses



London, April to September 1822.

The siege continued, or rather there was no siege, since there was no digging of trenches, and since the troops to formally invest the place were lacking. We counted on intelligence, and waited for news of Prussian military success, or that of Clairfayt, with whom was the French corps of the Duc de Bourbon. Our limited resources were exhausted; Paris seemed far away. The foul weather was never ending; we were drenched while we worked; I sometimes woke in a ditch with water up to my neck: next day I felt paralysed.

Among my compatriots, I had found Ferron de la Sigonière, an old school-friend from Dinan. We slept badly in our lodging; our heads, projecting from the canvas, received the rain as if from a gutter. I would rise and, with Ferron, go and walk up and down in front of the stacks of weapons, since not all our nights were as cheerful as those with Dinarzade. We would trudge about in silence, hearing the shouts of the sentries, gazing at the lights from the paths and tents, just as we had once stared at the lamps in the school corridors. We talked about the past and the future, the errors we might have committed, the errors we might commit; we deplored the blindness of the Princes, who thought to return to their country with a handful of followers, and, by employing a stranger’s arm, re-place the crown on their brother’s head. I remember saying to my friend during those conversations that France would like to imitate England, that the king would die on the scaffold, and that our expedition against Thionville would probably be one of the chief grounds for accusation against Louis XVI. Ferron was struck by my prophecy: it was the first of my life. Since that time, I have made plenty of others, all of them likewise true, all of them little heeded; had the event already occurred? I headed for shelter, and there gave myself over to grappling with the tragedy I had foreseen. When the Dutch experienced a gale at sea, they retired into the depths of their ship, shut the hatches, and drank punch, leaving a dog on the bridge to bark at the storm; the danger passed, they sent Fido back to his kennel in the depths of the hold, and the captain returned to enjoy the fine weather on the poop. I have played the Dutch dog on the vessel of the Legitimacy.

The memories of my army life are engraved in my thoughts; it was them I retraced in the sixth book of the Martyrs.

A Breton barbarian in the camp of Princes, I carried Homer, along with my sword; I preferred my country, the tiny impoverished isle of Aaron, to the hundred cities of Crete. I said, like Telemachus: ‘The acrid country that feeds goats is pleasanter to me than those where horses are raised.’ My words would have drawn laughter from Menelaus of the loud war-cry, α̉γαθος Μενέλαος.