Chateaubriand's memoirs, XIII, 2

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

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XIII - Chapter 2
The stage my Memoirs have reached

What has happened with me is what happens with all who undertake a work on a grand scale: I have, first of all, set up a flag at both ends then, planting and replanting my scaffolding here and there, I have raised the stones and cement of intervening constructions; it takes several centuries to create a Gothic cathedral. If Heaven allows me to live, the monument will be completed throughout my life, the architect, ever the same, will only vary in his age. For the rest, it is painful to keep the intellectual self intact, imprisoned in a worn material envelope. Saint Augustine feeling his body weakening, said to God: ‘Be the tabernacle of my soul’; and he said to men: ‘When you find me in this book….pray for me.’

Thirty-six years have elapsed between the events which formed the first part of my Memoirs, and those which I am involved in today. How to recommence with ardour the narration of subjects one filled for me with passion and warmth, when the people are no longer alive with whom I can discuss them, when it is a question of waking frozen effigies from the depths of Eternity, of descending into a burial vault to play at life there? Am I not myself already half-dead? Have not my opinions altered? Can I see things from the same viewpoint? Those personal events which so troubled me, the prodigious public events which accompanied or followed them, have they not diminished in importance in the world’s eyes, as in my own? Whoever has a long life feels his days grow colder; he finds that tomorrow no longer bears the interest it did of old. When I search my thoughts, there are names, and people almost, who escape my memory, however much they may have made my heart beat: the vanity of man, forgetting and forgotten! It is not enough to say to our dreams, our loves: ‘Renew!’ for them to do so; one cannot enter the realm of shadows without the golden bough, and it needs a young man’s strength to pluck it.