Chateaubriand's memoirs, XV, 6

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XV, 5 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XV, 7

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XV- Chapter 6
The year 1803: Letters fom Monsieur Chênedollé, Monsieur de Fontanes, Monsieur Necker, and Madame de Staël

Paris, 1838.

If one considers on the scale of public events the calamities of private life, those calamities ought scarcely to occupy a word in a set of Memoirs. Who has not lost a friend? Who has not seen one die? Who has not had to recall a similar scene of mourning? The reflection is just, however none of us are cured of retelling our own adventures; on the ship that carries them, the sailors are like a family ashore, who are of interest to and mutually support each other. Every man encloses within himself a world apart, a stranger to the laws and common fate of the centuries. It is, moreover, an error to believe that revolutions, celebrated events, and resounding catastrophes, are the only splendours unique to our nature: one by one we all labour at the links of common history and the mortal universe is in God’s eyes formed of all those individual existences.

In gathering together these regrets around Madame de Beaumont’s ashes, I only seek to lay on her grave the wreaths destined for it.

‘You cannot doubt, my dear unfortunate friend, how much I share in your affliction. My grief is not as great as yours, since that is impossible; but I am most profoundly affected by this loss, and it comes to darken yet further this life, which for a long time has been no more than a burden to me. So passes then and effaces itself from earth all that is good, kind and sensitive. My poor friend, hasten to return to France; come and seek solace with your old friend. You know how I love you: do come.
I was full of the greatest anxiety about you; I have not received news of you for more than three months, and three letters of mine remain without reply. Did you receive them? Madame de Caud suddenly stopped writing to me, two months ago. It has caused me mortal pain, and yet I am not aware of having done any wrong to her with which I could reproach myself. But whatever she may do, it cannot affect the lifetime’s tender friendship and respect I have vowed for her. Fontanes and Joubert have also stopped writing to me; so, all those I love seem to be united together in forgetting me. Do not forget me, oh you, my kind friend, that in this world of tears one heart yet might remain on which I might count! Farewell! I embrace you, while weeping. Be certain, my kind friend, that I feel your loss as one must feel it.
23rd November, 1803.’
‘I share all your regrets, my dear friend: I feel the sadness of your circumstances. To die so young and after surviving all her family! But, at least, that fascinating and unfortunate woman did not lack the aid and tokens of friendship. Her memory will live in hearts worthy of her. I have passed to Monsieur de La Luzerne the touching description destined for him. Old Saint-Germain, your friend’s manservant, was charged with bringing it. That good servant has made me weep by speaking about his mistress. I have told him that he has been left a legacy of ten thousand francs; but he was not interested in it for a moment. If it were possible to talk of business in such dismal circumstances, I would tell you that it was quite natural to leave you at least the usufruct of a property which is to act as remote and almost unknown collateral.’ (Monsieur de Fontanes’ friendship goes far too far; Madame de Beaumont judged me better; she knew without doubt that if she left me her fortune, I would not accept it.) ‘I approve of your conduct; I know your delicacy; but I cannot show the same disinterestedness towards my friend as he shows towards himself. I swear that such self-forgetfulness astonishes and pains me. Madame de Beaumont on her death-bed spoke to you, with the eloquence of parting words, of the future and your destiny. Her voice must have greater force than mine. But did she counsel you to renounce eight to twelve thousand francs of your appointment monies when your path was being cleared of its first thorns? Can you be rushing into an even more important step, my dear friend? You cannot doubt the great pleasure I would have in seeing you again. If I consulted only my own happiness, I would say to you: Come at once. But your interests are as dear to me as mine, and I fail to see resources imminent enough to compensate you for advantages which you relinquish voluntarily. I know that your talent, name and efforts will never leave you at the mercy of your fundamental needs; but I see more of glory than of wealth in them. Your education and your habits demand a modicum of expenditure. Fame alone is not sufficient for life’s wants and that wretched art of beef and two vegetables comes before all others if you wish to live in tranquillity and independence. I keep hoping that nothing will persuade you to seek your fortune among foreigners. Ah, my friend, you can be sure that after the first welcome they will still prove to be worth less than your compatriots. If your dying friend had considered all this, her last moments would have been troubled a little by them; but I trust that at the foot of her grave you will find counsel and superior insight in all that your remaining friends can grant you. That kindly woman loved you: she will advise you well. Her memory and your heart will guide you surely: I am no longer anxious if you listen to both. Farewell, my dear friend, I embrace you tenderly.’
Monsieur Necker wrote me the only letter I ever received from him. I had been a witness to the joy at Court on the dismissal of this Minister, whose honest opinions contributed to the overthrow of the monarchy. He had been a colleague of Monsieur de Montmorin. Monsieur Necker was soon to die in the place from which his letter is dated: lacking Madame de Staël by his side, he himself found a few tears for his daughter’s friend:
‘My daughter, Sir, on setting out for Germany begged me to open any large packets which might be addressed to her, in order to decide it if was worth the trouble of sending them on to her by post: that is the reason that I am advised, before she is, of Madame de Beaumont’s death. I have sent your letter on to Frankfurt, Sir, from where it will probably be transmitted further, perhaps to Weimar or Berlin. Do not be surprised then, Sir, if you do not receive Madame de Staël’s reply as rapidly as you have right to expect. You may indeed be sure, Sir, of the grief Madame de Staël will experience in learning of the loss of a friend of whom I have always heard her speak with profound sentiment. I associate myself with her pain, I associate myself with yours, Sir, and I share a part of it myself especially, when I think of the unfortunate fate of my friend Monsieur de Montmorin’s whole family.
I see that you are on the verge of quitting Rome, Sir, in order to return to France; I hope you will make your way via Geneva, where I will be spending the winter. I would be very willing to do you the honours of a town where you are already known by reputation. But where are you not so, Sir? Your last work, sparkling with incomparable beauties, is in the hands of all those who love to read.
I have the honour to present you, Sir, with assurances and the homage of my most distinguished feelings.
Coppet, 27th November 1803.’
‘Frankfurt, 3rd December 1803.
‘Oh, my dear Francis, what sorrow seized me on receiving your letter! Already yesterday, this dreadful news sprung at me from the newspaper, and your heart-rending description will be engraved on my heart forever in letters of blood. How can you speak to me, how can you, of differing opinions on religion, and priests? Are there two opinions where there is only one sentiment? I could not read your description except through the saddest of tears. My dear Francis, recall the time when you felt greater friendship for me; do not forget that period especially when my whole heart was attracted towards you, and tell yourself that those feelings, more tender, deeper than ever for you, exist in the depths of my soul. I loved; I admired Madame de Beaumont’s character: I have never known anyone more generous, more grateful; more passionately sensitive. Ever since I entered society, I have not ceased to communicate with her, and I always felt that even in the midst of our differences I was bound to her by every tie. My dear Francis, keep a place for me in your life. I admire you, I love you; I loved her whom you regret. I am a devoted friend; I will be a sister to you. More than ever, I must give way to your opinions: Mathieu who shares them, has been an angel to me in the last trouble I experienced. Give me a new reason to consider them; allow me to be useful or kind to you in some way. Have they written to tell you that I have been exiled forty leagues from Paris? I have taken the opportunity to make a tour of Germany; but, in the spring, I will return, to Paris itself if my exile is revoked, or close to Paris, or Geneva. Let us be reunited somehow or other. Do you not feel that my spirit and soul understand yours, and do you not sense how we resemble one another, despite the differences? Monsieur de Humboldt wrote a letter to me, a few days ago, in which he spoke of your work with a degree of admiration that must flatter you coming from a man of his worth and opinions. But what am I doing speaking to you of your success at such a moment? Yet, she loved that success; she attached her glory to it. Continue to render illustrious that which she loved so. Farewell, my dear François, I will write to you from Weimar in Saxony. Reply to me, at Messieurs Desport, my bankers. What heart-rending words there are in your description! And that commitment to look after poor Saint-Germain; you shall bring him to my house sometime.
Farewell, tenderly: sorrowfully farewell.

This prompt letter, swift in its affection, written by an illustrious woman, redoubled my emotion. Madame de Beaumont would have been happy at that moment, if heaven had allowed her to be re-born! But our attachments, which gain us a hearing among the dead, lack the power to free them: when Lazarus rose from the grave, his hands and feet were tied with bandages and his face covered by a shroud: now, friendship can only say, as Christ did to Martha and Mary: ‘Loose him, and let him go.’

Those who consoled me are also gone, and they ask of me the regrets for themselves that they showed for another.