Chateaubriand's memoirs, XLI, 3

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XLI- Chapter 3
The Danube – Waldmünchen – Woods – Combourg – Lucile – Travellers – Prague



25th and 26th of September 1833.


I crossed the Danube at three in the morning: I had said to it in summer what I no longer found to say to it in autumn; they were no longer the same waters, nor were my days the same. I left my excellent village of Waldmünchen with its herds of pigs, the swine-herd Eumaeus, and the peasant girl who gazed at me over her father’s shoulder, far to the left. The ditch of corpses in its cemetery would have been filled in; the dead eaten by thousands of worms for having had the honour of being human.

Monsieur and Madame de Bauffremont, having arrived at Linz, were a few hours ahead of me; they were themselves preceded by several royalists: bearing messages of peace, they believed Madame to be travelling tranquilly behind them, while I was following them like Discord, with news of war.

Princesse de Bauffremont, née Montmorency, was going to Bustehrad to pay her compliments to the Kings of France nés Bourbons: nothing could be more natural.

On the 25th, at nightfall, I entered woodland. The crows were calling in the air; dense flocks of them wheeled above the trees whose summits they were preparing to adorn. There, I returned to my early youth: I saw again the crows in the mall at Combourg; I thought I was back again with my family in the old castle: O memories, you pass through the heart like a sword! O, my Lucile, so many years separate us! Now a host of my days has passed, and, in vanishing, allows me to see your image more clearly.

I reached Tabor at night: its square, surrounded by arcades, seemed immense; but moonlight is deceptive.

On the morning of the 26th, fog covered us in its boundless solitude. About six, I seemed to be passing between two lakes. I was only a few miles from Prague.

The fog lifted. The approach to the city by the Linz road is more interesting than that from Regensberg; the countryside is less flat. You see villages, and chateaux with plantations and ponds. I met a woman, a pious and resigned figure, overwhelmed by the weight of an enormous basket; two old fruiterers laying out their apples beside a ditch; a girl and her lad sitting on the grass, the young man smoking, the girl happy, next to her friend by day, in his arms at night; children playing at the cottage door with their cats or driving the geese to the common; and turkeys in a cage off to Prague like me for Henri V’s coming of age; then a shepherd sounding his horn, while Hyacinthe, Baptiste, the translator from Venice, and His Excellency, jolted along in our patched-up calash: such are life’s destinies. I would not give a sou for the best of them.

Bohemia offered me nothing new; my thoughts were fixed on Prague.

I entered Prague on the 26th at four in the afternoon. I stopped at the Hôtel des Bains. I did not see the young Saxon servant girl; she had returned to Dresden to soothe Raphael’s exiled paintings with the songs of Italy.

Prague, the 29th of September 1833.

Two days after my arrival in Prague (the 28th) I sent Hyacinthe with a letter to Madame la Duchesse de Berry, whom according to my calculations he should find in Trieste. The letter to the Princess said: ‘that I had found the Royal Family leaving for Leoben, that young Frenchmen were arriving for the coming-of-age of Henri V and that their King would evade them, that I had seen Madame la Dauphine, and that she had invited me to go at once to Bustehrad where Charles X might shortly be found; that I had not seen Mademoiselle because she was a little indisposed, that they had allowed me into her room where the shutters were closed, and that she had held out her burning hand to me in the darkness while begging me to save them all: that I has gone to Bustehrad, that I had seen Monsieur de Blacas and talked with him about the declaration of Henri V’s majority; that entering the King’s room I had found him asleep, and that having then presented Madame la Duchesse de Berry’s letter to him he had seemed quite hostile to my august client; that however the little decree I had drafted regarding the majority seemed to please him.’

The letter ended with this paragraph:

‘Now Madame, I must not hide from you that there is much wrong here. Our enemies would smile if they could see us debating a king without a kingdom, a sceptre which is only a stick on which we lean, during the pilgrimage, which will probably be lengthy, of our exile. Your son’s education is full of deficiencies, and I see no chance of them being remedied. I am returning to the poor folk whom Madame de Chateaubriand nurtures; there, I will always be at your command. If ever you take sole charge of Henri, and continue to believe that precious charge might be placed in my hands, I would be as pleased as I would be honoured to devote the remainder of my life to him, but I could not accept so fearful a responsibility except on condition of being, under your counsel, entirely free in my decisions and thoughts, and located on independent territory, beyond the circle of absolute monarchy.’

With the letter was enclosed this copy of my draft declaration of majority:

‘We, Henri V by name, having arrived at the age at which the laws of the kingdom have fixed the royal majority, wish the first action of that majority to be a solemn protest against the usurpation of the throne by Louis-Philippe, Duc d’Orléans. In consequence, and on the advice of our counsellors, we have issued this decree to maintain our rights and those of the French: given this thirtieth day of September, in the year of grace eighteen thirty three.’