Chateaubriand's memoirs, XL, 7

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XL, 6 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XLI, 1


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XL- Chapter 7
A letter from Madame to Charles X and Henri V – Monsieur de Montbel – My note to the Governor – I leave for Prague



Padua, the 20th of September 1833.


The Duchesse de Berry returned from Cataio at nine in the evening: she seemed very animated; as for me, the more at peace I had been, the more I wished for combat: if people attacked us, we must defend ourselves. I proposed, half in jest, to Her Royal Highness, that I would take her to Prague in disguise, and the two of us would kidnap Henri V. It only remained to consider where we might deposit our prize. Italy was not suitable because of the weakness of its princes; the absolutist grand monarchies could not be considered for a thousand reasons. Holland and England remained: I preferred the former because along with a constitutional government it possessed an able king.

We deferred this extreme measure; we fell back on more reasonable ones: the weight of the whole affair fell on my shoulders. I would leave alone with a letter fromMADAME: I would demand the certificate of majority; following the grandparents’ reply, I would send a courier to Her Royal Highness who would await my dispatch in Trieste. MADAME added a letter for Henri to that for the old king; I would hand it to the young prince dependent on the circumstances. The address on the note was itself a protest against the reservations expressed in Prague. Here are the letter and the note:

‘Ferrara, 19th of September 1833.

My dear father-in-law in a moment as crucial to Henri’s future as this one, allow me to address you in complete confidence. I am not relying solely on my own ideas regarding so important a subject; in this grave matter, I have chosen, on the contrary, to consult those who have shown me most loyalty and devotion. Monsieur de Chateaubriand is naturally to be found at their head.

He has confirmed what I already thought, that in France all the royalists, with regard to the 29th of September, consider a decree certifying Henri’s majority and rights, as indispensable. If the faithful M*** is with you at the moment, I invoke him as witness that I know the situation to be in accord with what I say.

Monsieur de Chateaubriand will explain his ideas on the question of the decree to the King; he says with reason, it seems to me, that it should simply certify Henri’s majority and not be a manifesto: I think you will approve his manner of viewing the matter. Finally, my dear father-in-law, I leave it to him to obtain your attention and bring about a decision on this vital point. I am occupied with much more, I assure you, than what concerns me, and the interests of my Henri, which are those of France, take precedence over mine. I think I have shown him that I know how to expose myself to danger on his behalf, and that I do not shrink from any sacrifice; he will find me ever the same.

Monsieur de Montbel handed me your letter on his arrival: I read it with a lively sense of gratitude; to see you again, to embrace my children, will always be my dearest wish. Monsieur de Montbel will have written to you saying that I have done all you asked; I hope you will be satisfied with my eagerness to please you and display my respect and tenderness towards you. I have now only one desire, to be in Prague for the 29th of September, and, though my health is much altered, I hope to be there. In any event, Monsieur de Chateaubriand will precede me. I beg the King to receive him with kindness and to hear what he will say on my behalf. Believe, my dear father, in all my deepest sentiments, etc.

P.S. Padua, the 20th of September. – My letter was complete when I was told of the order that I was not to continue my journey: my surprise matches my sorrow. I cannot believe that such an order could emanate from the heart of the King; my enemies alone must have dictated it. What will France say? And how Philippe will triumph! I can only insist on the departure of the Vicomte de Chateaubriand, and charge him with saying to the King what it is too painful for me to write to him at this instant.’

Note addressed to: ‘HIS MAJESTY HENRI V, MY VERY DEAR SON, PRAGUE.

‘Padua, the 20th of September 1833.
I was on the brink of arriving in Prague to embrace you, my dear Henri, when an unforeseen obstacle halted my journey.
I am sending Monsieur de Chateaubriand in my place to handle your affairs and mine. Trust, my dear friend, in what he says to you on my behalf and have faith in my most tender affection. In embracing you and your sister, I am
Your affectionate mother and friend,
CAROLINE.’

Monsieur de Montbel reached Padua from Rome in the midst of our discussions. The little court of Padua was in a sulk; it blamed Monsieur de Blacas for the order from Vienna. Monsieur de Montbel, a very sensible gentleman, had no recourse but to take refuge with me, though he feared me; on seeing this colleague of Monsieur de Polignac’s, I told myself that he had written, without realising it, the history of the Duc de Reichstadt, and had admired the Archdukes, all of two hundred miles away from Prague, the place of exile of the Duc de Bordeaux; if he, Monsieur de Montbel, had chosen to throw Saint Louis’ monarchy out of the window along with the monarchies of this earthly world, it was a minor event that he had not anticipated. I was gracious towards le Comte de Montbel; I spoke to him about the Coliseum. He returned to Vienna to place himself at Prince von Metternich’s disposal and serve as an intermediary in any correspondence with Monsieur de Blacas. At eleven, I wrote the letter we had agreed upon to the Governor: I was careful of MADAME’s dignity, not committing her Royal Highness in any way, and preserving her complete freedom of action.

‘Padua, this 20th of September 1833.
Monsieur le Gouverneur,
Her Royal Highness, Madame la Duchesse de Berry wishes to conform, for the moment, to the orders which you have communicated. Her intention is to travel to Venice on her way to Trieste; there, after receiving the information which I shall have the honour of sending her, she will decide further.
Accept, I beg you, my most sincere thanks, and the assurance of my deepest regard, with which I am.
Monsieur le Gouverneur,
Your very humble and obedient servant,
CHATEAUBRIAND.’

The representative, on reading this letter, was quite content. Once MADAME had left the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia he and the Governor were no longer responsible for her; the actions and intentions of the Duchesse de Berry at Trieste only concerned the authorities of Istria or Frioul; it was for each to rid themselves of the problem: there is a certain game where one hastens to pass a piece of burning paper to one’s neighbour.

At ten, I took leave of the Princess: she gave the fate of herself and her son into my hands. She made me a king of France after a fashion. There was a village in Belgium that once gave me four votes in their search for a successor to mount the throne that Philippe’s son-in-law occupies. I said to MADAME: ‘I submit to Your Royal Highness’ will, but I fear to ruin her hopes. I may obtain nothing in Prague.’ She pushed me towards the door: ‘Go, you can do it.’

At eleven, I climbed into my carriage: it was a wet night. It felt as though I was returning to Venice since I took the road to Mestre; I would rather have been going to see Zanze again than Charles X.