Chateaubriand's memoirs, XL, 6

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XL- Chapter 6
Unexpected news – The Governor of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia



Padua, the 20th of September 1833.


History has just arrived to strangle romance. I had barely finished reading Zanze’s defence, at The Golden Star, when Monsieur Saint-Priest entered my room saying: ‘Here is news.’ A letter from Her Royal Highness informed us that the Governor of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia had been presented to her at Cataio and had announced to the Princess the impossibility of his allowing her to continue her journey. Madame requested my immediate departure.

At that instant an aide-de-camp of the Governor knocked at my door and asked if it would suit me to receive the General. In response I went to His Excellency’s apartment, as he was staying like me at The Golden Star.

The Governor was an excellent fellow.

‘Know, Monsieur le Vicomte,’ he said, ‘that my orders concerning Madame la Duchesse de Berry were dated the 28th of August: her Royal Highness tells me she has passports of a later date and a letter from the Emperor. Behold, on the 17th of this month I receive a despatch in the middle of the night: a despatch, dated the 15th, from Vienna, telling me to execute my orders of the 28th August, and not allow Madame la Duchesse de Berry to travel beyond Udine or Trieste. Witness, my dear and illustrious Vicomte, the extent of my misfortune! To arrest a princess I admire and respect, if she will not conform to my sovereign’s wishes! For the Princess did not welcome me; she told me she would do as she pleased. Dear Vicomte, if you could persuade Her Royal Highness to remain in Venice or Trieste while I await fresh instructions from the Court? I will stamp your passport for Prague; you can go there swiftly with experiencing the least impediment, and you can arrange everything; since my Court will certainly only yield to a formal request. Render me this service, I beg you.’

I was touched by the candour of the noble officer. Comparing the date of the 15th of September with my departure from Paris on the 3rd I was struck by an idea: my interview with Madame and the coincidence of Henri V’s majority may well have frightened Louis Philippe’s cabinet. A despatch from Monsieur de Broglie, sent with a note from Monsieur le Comte de Saint-Aulaire, may have decided the Vienna Chancellery in favour of a renewal of the ban of the 28th of August. It is possible that I guess wrongly and that the event I suspect did not take place; but two gentlemen, both Peers of France under Louis XVIII, both violators of their oath, were worthy of being the instruments, after all, of so ungenerous a policy against a woman, and the mother of the legitimate king. Is it so astonishing that the France of today increasingly confirms the high opinion in which it holds the people of the courts of former times?

I took care not to show my private thoughts. Persecution had altered my feelings on the subject of the trip to Prague; I was now so desirous of working alone in my royal mistress’ interest, that I had opposed undertaking it with her when the roads were open to her. I concealed my true sentiments, and wishing to maintain the Governor’s good will in granting me a passport, I added to his loyal disquiet; I replied:

‘Monsieur le Gouverneur, you are proposing what is difficult for me. You know Madame la Duchesse de Berry; she is not the woman to be led where one wishes; if she has made up her mind nothing will change it. Who knows? Perhaps it suits her to be arrested by the Emperor of Austria, her uncle, since she has previously been thrown in a dungeon by Louis-Philippe another uncle! Legitimate kings and illegitimate kings act in the same way. Louis-Philippe dethroned Henri IV’s descendant, while Francis II will prevent a mother being reunited with her son; Prince von Metternich will replace General Bugeaud in his role wonderfully well.’

The Governor was beside himself: ‘Oh! Vicomte, how right you are! Such propaganda everywhere! Youth will no longer listen to us! No more in Venetia than in Lombardy or Piedmont.’– ‘Or the Romagna!’ I cried, ‘or Naples! Or Sicily! Or on the banks of the Rhine! Or anywhere!’ – ‘Oh, oh oh!’ cried the Governor,’ things cannot remain so: always sword in hand, an army in arms, without fighting. France and England setting our people an example! Now, after the Carbonari, Young Italy! Young Italy! Who ever heard of such a thing?’

‘– Sir,’ I said, ‘I will bend all my efforts to persuading Madame to grant you a few days grace; have the goodness to grant me a passport: that kindness alone may prevent Her Royal Highness from pursuing her initial resolution.’

‘– I will take it upon myself,’ the Governor told me, having been reassured,’ to allow Madame to pass through Venice to reach Trieste; if she dawdles a little on the way, she will reach the latter city along with the orders you go to seek, and we will be saved. The representative in Padua will grant you a visa for Prague, in exchange for which you will leave him a letter announcing Her Royal Highness’ resolve not to travel beyond Trieste. What an age we live in! What an age! I am pleased to be old, my dear and illustrious Vicomte, so I will not be forced to see what is coming next.’

In insisting on the passport, I reproached myself silently for no doubt taking advantage of the Governor’s utter lack of guile, since he might well be more culpable in letting me enter Bohemia than if he had yielded to the Duchesse de Berry. My whole anxiety was lest some idiot in the Italian police made difficulties regarding the visa. When the representative in Padua came to see me, I found about him the look of the secretariat, an air of protocol, the mark of the prefecture as if he had been nurtured by French administration. That talent for bureaucracy made me tremble. The moment he told me he had been a commissary in the allied army in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, my hopes revived: I attacked my enemy by swiftly enhancing his self-esteem. I declared that the strict discipline of the troops stationed in Provence had been noticeable. I knew nothing about it, but the representative, replying with overflowing admiration, hastened to expedite my business: the moment I had obtained my visa I ceased to worry.