Chateaubriand's memoirs, XLI, 5

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XLI, 4 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XLI, 6


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XLI- Chapter 4
Bustehrad – Charles X’s sleep – Henri V – The young men’s reception



Prague, the 30th of September 1833.


Bustehrad is a large villa belonging to the Grand-Duke of Tuscany, about fifteen miles from Prague, on the road to Carlsbad. The Austrian princes have patrimonial estates in their own country and beyond the Alps are only owners for life: they hold Italy on lease. You reach Bustehrad through a triple alley of apple trees. The villa is not showy; with its outbuildings, it resembles a large tenant farm, and in the midst of a bare plain overlooks a hamlet consisting of young trees and a tower. The interior of the building is an Italian aberration on the 50th parallel: vast rooms without fireplaces or stoves. The apartments are sadly enriched by the spoils of Holyrood. James II’s Palace, refurnished by Charles X, provided Bustehrad after the move with its armchairs and carpets.

The King had a fever and was in bed when we arrived at Bustehrad on the 26th at eight in the evening. Monsieur de Blacas showed me into Charles X’s room, as I explained to the Duchesse de Berry. A little lamp burnt on the mantelpiece; in the shadowy silence I heard only the noble respiration of the thirty-fifth successor to Hugh Capet. O my aged King! Your sleep was painful; time and adversity, those nightmare burdens, were seated on your chest. A young man approaches the bed of his young wife with less love than the respect I felt in walking with furtive steps towards your solitary couch. At least I was not an evil dream like that which woke you to go to your son’s deathbed! I addressed these words to you in my mind which I would have been unable to pronounce aloud without dissolving in tears: ‘Heaven guard you from all future ill! Sleep in peace through these nights that verge on your last sleep! Too long your vigils have been those of grief. May this bed of exile lose its harshness awaiting God’s visitation! He alone can make this foreign soil lie lightly on your bones.’

Yes, I would have given all the blood in my body, joyfully, to render the Legitimacy credible to France. I imagined that it might be for the old monarchy as it was for Aaron’s dry rod; taken from the Temple in Jerusalem, it grew green and bore almond blossom, a symbol of the renewal of the covenant. I have not tried to stifle my regrets, or hold back the tears with which I sought to wash away the last traces of royal suffering. The feelings I experience, of various kinds, on the subject of these same people, witness to the sincerity with which these Memoirs are written. Charles X, the man moved me, while the monarch wounded me: I display those differing impressions as they succeed one another, without seeking to reconcile them.

On the 27th of September, after Charles X had received me in the morning at his bedside, Henri V summoned me: I had not asked to see him. I said a few serious words to him on the subject of his coming of age and the loyal Frenchmen who had offered him golden spurs in their ardour.

For the rest, it is impossible to be treated better than I was. My arrival had sounded the alarm; they feared my account of my trip to Paris. For me then every attention; the others were neglected. My companions, scattered, dying of hunger and thirst, wandered the corridors, stairs, and courtyards of the château, amidst the panicking masters of the house and their preparations for escape. There were oaths and outbursts of laughter.

The Austrian guard marvelled at these moustachioed individuals in bourgeois dress; they suspected them of being French soldiers in disguise, who were about to take Bohemia by surprise.

While the storm went on outside, inside Charles X said to me: ‘I am occupied with editing the decree regarding my government in Paris. You will have Monsieur de Villèle as a colleague, as you requested, the Marquis de Latour-Maubourg, and the Chancellor.’

I thanked the King for his kindness, while admiring the delusions of this world. While society collapsed, while monarchies ended, while the face of the earth changed, Charles in Prague established a government for France on the advice of his ruling council. Let us not scoff too much: who of us does not have his illusions? Who of us does not nourish nascent hopes? Who of us does not establish their government in petto on the advice of their ruling passions? Mockery would ill befit me, the man of dreams. Are not these Memoirs that I scribble in transit my government on the advice of my ruling vanity? Do I not think to speak quite seriously of the future, which is as little under my control as France was under Charles X’s command?

Cardinal Latil, not wishing to get into a quarrel, had gone to spend a few days with the Duc de Rohan. Monsieur de Foresta passed by mysteriously, a portfolio under his arm; Madame de Bouillé made me a profound reverence, like a follower, with lowered eyes which wished to gaze upwards beneath their eyelids; Monsieur Lavilatte was waiting to take his leave; there was no sight of Monsieur Barrande, who hoped vainly to return to grace and hung about in some corner of Prague.

I went to pay court to the Dauphin. Our conversation was brief:

‘How is Monseigneur, at Bustehrad?’

‘– Growing old.’

‘– As is everyone, Monseigneur.’

‘– And your wife?’

‘– Monseigneur, she has the toothache.’

‘– An abscess?’

‘– No, Monseigneur: age.’

‘– You dine with the King? We shall meet again there.’

And we quit each other.