Chateaubriand's memoirs, XVI, 11

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XVI, 10 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XVII, 1

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XVI- Chapter 11
Chantilly Deserted

Will Bonaparte’s ashes be disinterred as those of the Duc d’Enghien have been? If I could have my way, that latter victim would still sleep without honours in the moat of the Castle of Vincennes. That excommunicate would have been left, like Raymond of Toulouse, in an open coffin; no man’s hand would have dared to hide the sight of a witness to the incomprehensible judgement and wrath of God beneath a plank. The forsaken skeleton of the Duc d’Enghien and Napoleon’s lonely grave on St Helena would have made a fine pair: there could have been no more fitting a commemoration than those remains, opposing each other, at the ends of the earth.

At least, the Duc d’Enghien does not rest on foreign soil, like the exiled of nations: the latter took care to return his country to the former, somewhat cruelly it is true; but will it be so forever? France (as so much of the dust winnowed by the Revolution’s breath testifies) is not loyal to remains. The elder Condé, in his will, declares that he is not sure what country he will inhabit on the day of his death. O Bossuet! What could you not have added to your eloquent masterpiece, if, speaking of the Great Condé’s grave, you had been able to foresee the future!

It is here, at Chantilly, that the Duc d’Enghien was born: Louis-Antoine-Henri de Bourbon, born the 2nd of August 1772 at Chantilly, says the death sentence. On this lawn he played as a child: the traces of his footsteps have vanished. And the victor of Freiburg, Nördlingen, Lens and Seneff, where has he gone with his victorious hands now lifeless? And his descendants, the Condé of Johannisberg and Berstheim; his son and his grandson, where are they? That château, those gardens, those fountains silent neither by day nor night: what has become of them? The mutilated statues, the lions with a claw or jaw restored; the trophies sculpted on a crumbling wall; the coats of arms with faded fleur-de-lis; the foundations of razed turrets; marble coursers above empty stables no longer animated by the neighing of the charger of Rocroi; a tall unfinished gate beside the riding-school: that is what remains of the memories of a heroic race; a will hanging by a rope altered the ownership of the inheritance.

On various occasions the whole forest has fallen under the axe. People of past days have hunted these chases, silent today, once so full of noise. What age were they, and what were their feelings, when they halted at the foot of these oaks? What day-dreams occupied them? O my useless Memoirs, I could not say to you now:

May Condé read you at Chantilly now and then;
May Enghien be moved!’

Obscure men, what are we besides those famous men? We will vanish, never to return: you will be reborn, oeillet de poète, sweet-william that lies on my table beside this paper, you, whose little late flower I have picked among the heather; but we, we shall not live again like the scented solitary that has distracted me.