Chateaubriand's memoirs, XII, 6

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


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XII - Chapter 6
The Émigrés return to France – The Prussian Minister grants me a false passport under the name of Lassagne, a resident of Neuchâtel, in Switzerland – The end of my career as a soldier and traveller – I land at Calais



London, April to September 1822.

I began to turn my eyes towards my native land. A great Revolution had occurred. Bonaparte, having become First Consul, was re-establishing order by despotism; many exiles were returning; the noble émigrés, in particular, were hurrying to gather in the remainder of their wealth: loyalty faded at the head, while its heart still beat in the breasts of a few half-clothed provincial gentlemen. Mrs Lindsay had departed; she wrote to Auguste and Christian de Lamoignon telling them to return; she also extended an invitation to Madame d’Aguesseau, their sister, to cross to France. Fontanes summoned me, to complete the printing of Le Génie du Christianisme in Paris. Though full of memories of my country, I felt no desire to see it again; gods more powerful than the paternal Lares held me back; I no longer had possessions or sanctuary in France; my motherland had become a bosom of stone to me, a breast without milk: I would not find my mother, brother or sister Julie there. Lucile was still alive, but she had married Monsieur de Caud, and no longer bore my name; my young widow had known me through a union of only a few months, through misfortune and an eight-year absence.

Left to myself, I do not know if I would have had the strength to leave; but I saw my small circle breaking up; Madame d’Aguesseau offered to take me to Paris: I allowed myself to go. The Prussian Minister procured a passport for me, under the name of Lassagne, a resident of Neuchâtel; Dulau and Co ceased printing Le Génie du Christianisme, and gave me the sheets that had been composed. I separated the sketches of Atala and René from Les Natchez; I placed the rest of the manuscript in a trunk and entrusted its transit to my hosts in London, and I set out en route for Dover with Madame d’Aguesseau: Madame Lindsay waited for us at Calais.

Thus I left England in 1800; my heart was otherwise engaged than it is at the time of writing, in 1822. I brought nothing back from the land of exile but regrets and dreams; today, my head is full of displays of ambition, politics, and Court splendours, so ill-suited to my nature. What events pile up in my present existence! Go on, gentlemen, go on; my turn will come. I have merely unrolled a third of my life before your eyes; if the trials I endured weighed on my springtime serenity, now, entering a more fruitful time, the germ of René will develop, though bitterness of a different kind will be blended with my narrative! What will I not have to tell you, in speaking of my country, of her revolutions, of which I have already shown you the initial outline; of that Empire and the colossus whose fall I saw; of that Restoration in which I played so large a part, glorious as it is today in 1822, but which nevertheless I see only through a kind of fateful mist?

Here, I end this twelfth book, which has brought me to the spring of 1800. Arriving at the end of my first career, the career of a writer opens before me; from a private man I am about to become a public man; I am leaving the silent virginal sanctuary of solitude to enter the noisy, dusty cross-roads of the world; broad daylight will illuminate my life of dreams, light will penetrate the kingdom of shadows. I cast a tender glance over these books which enclose my unremembered hours; I seem to be saying a last goodbye to my paternal home; I take leave of the thoughts and chimeras of my youth as of sisters, as of sweethearts I am leaving by the family hearth, never to see them again.

We took four hours to cross from Dover to Calais. I slipped into my country protected by a foreign name: doubly hidden beneath the obscurity of the Swiss, Lassagne, and my own, I entered France with the century.