Chateaubriand's memoirs, XI, 6

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XI, 5 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XII, 1

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XI - Chapter 6
My uncle, Monsieur de Bedée – His eldest daughter

London, April to September 1822.

Before continuing these literary considerations, I must interrupt them a moment, to take leave of my uncle Bedée: alas, that is to take leave of my life’s first joys: freno non remorante dies: there is no bridle to curb the flying days. Consider the ancient tombs in ancient crypts themselves conquered by age, blank and lacking titles, having lost their inscriptions, they are forgotten like the name of those they enclose.

I had written to my uncle on the subject of my mother’s death; he replied to me in a long letter, in which were touching words of regret; but three quarters of his double folio pages were dedicated to my genealogy. Above all he recommended me, when I returned to France, to research the arms quartered with Bedée, conferred on my brother. Thus, for this venerable émigré, there had been neither exile, nor ruin, nor the destruction of close relatives, nor the execution of Louis XVI, nor the warning presented by the Revolution; nothing had changed, nothing had occurred; he was still at the point of the Breton States, and the Assembly of Nobles. This fixity in the man’s ideas is most striking in the midst of and the presence of the alterations to his body, the flight of the years, the loss of his relatives and friends.

When the émigrés returned, my uncle Bedée retired to Dinan, where he died, seven miles from Monchoix, without seeing it again. My cousin Caroline, the eldest of my three cousins, is still alive. She remains an old maid, despite the respectful advances made to her former youth. She writes me letters devoid of spelling, where she addresses me as tu, calls me Chevalier, and talks of the good old days: in illo tempore: in those times. She was blessed with beautiful dark eyes and a pretty waist; she danced like La Camargo, and she thinks she remembers that in secret I bore her a shy love. I reply in the same tone, setting aside, as she has, my age, my honours and my fame: ‘Yes, dear Caroline, your Chevalier etc.’ It is thirty or so years since we met: Heaven be praised! For, God knows, if we ever came to embrace to each other, what a figure we should cut!

Gentle, patriarchal, innocent, honourable family friendship, your age has passed! We are no longer tied to the earth by a multitude of roots, shoots and flowers; we are born and die now, one by one. Those living are urged to hurl the dead into Eternity, and dispose of the corpse. Among friends, some attend the coffin to the church, muttering about the loss of time and the disturbance to their routine; others take their devotion as far as following the procession to the cemetery; the grave filled, all memory is effaced. You will never return, days of religion and tenderness, when the son died in the same house, the same chair, close to the same hearth where his father and grandfather had died, surrounded, as they had been, by weeping children and grandchildren, on whom the last paternal blessing descended!

Adieu, my dear uncle! Adieu, my mother’s family, which is vanishing like the rest of my family! Adieu, my long ago cousin, you who love me still, as you loved me when we listened to our good aunt Boisteilleul lamenting over The Sparrow-hawk, or when you assisted at the repetition of my nurse’s prayer, in the Church of Notre-Dame de Nazareth! If you survive me, accept the share of gratitude and affection I bequeath you here. Never think the smile that shaped itself on my lips, in speaking of you, was a false one: my eyes, I assure you, are full of tears.