Chateaubriand's memoirs, XVII, 1

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XVI, 11 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XVII, 2


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XVII - Chapter 1
<div The year 1804 – I take up residence in the Rue de Miromesnil – Verneuil – Alexis de Tocqueville –
Le Mesnil – Mézy - Méréville style="font-size: 100%;">The year 1804 – I take up residence in the Rue de Miromesnil – Verneuil – Alexis de Tocqueville –
Le Mesnil – Mézy - Méréville



From this point on, removed from active life, but nevertheless saved from Bonaparte’s anger by Madame Bacciochi’s protection, I left my temporary lodgings in the Rue de Beaune, and went to live in the Rue de Miromesnil. The little house I rented has since been occupied by Monsieur de Lally-Tollendal and Madame D’Hénin, his best beloved, as they said in Diane de Poitiers’ day. My small garden ended at a builder’s yard, and next to my window was a tall poplar which Monsieur de Lally-Tollendal, in order to breathe less humid air, cut down himself with his broad hand, which he considered emaciated and transparent: one illusion followed another. The paved road then terminated at my door; further on, the road or street, climbed through a vague patch of land called La Butte-Aux-Lapins. La Butte-Aux-Lapins, with a scatter of isolated houses, adjoined the Tivoli Gardens on the right, where I had said goodbye to my brother before emigrating, and the Parc de Monceaux on the left. I often walked in that deserted park; the Revolution began there amidst the Duc d’Orléans orgies: its retreat had been embellished by marble nudes and imitation ruins, symbols of the foolhardy and debauched politics that caused France to be filled with prostitutes and debris.

I had nothing to do; at the very most I talked to the rabbits in the park, or chatted to a trio of rooks about the Duc d’Enghien, on the bank of an artificial stream hidden beneath a carpet of green moss. Divorced from my Alpine legation and my Roman friendships, as I had been separated suddenly from my London attachments, I did not know what to do with my imagination and feelings; every evening I set them to following the sun, but its rays could not carry them beyond the seas. I returned home and tried to sleep, to the rustling of my poplar.

Yet my resignation had added to my fame: a little courage always goes down well in France. Various members of Madame de Beaumont’s former circle introduced me to unfamiliar châteaux.

Monsieur de Tocqueville, my brother’s brother-in-law and tutor to my two orphaned nephews, lived in Madame de Senozan’s country house: such legacies due to the scaffold were everywhere. There, I saw my nephews growing up alongside their three de Tocqueville cousins, of whom Alexis made one, the author of De La Démocratie en Amérique. He was more fortunate in Verneuil than I had been in Combourg. Was the last of fame I shall have seen unknown to his infancy? Alexis de Tocqueville has travelled a civilised America, while I visited its forests.

Verneuil has changed owners; it has become the possession of Madame de Saint-Fargeau, celebrated because of her father and the Revolution which adopted her as its daughter.

Near Mantes, at Mesnil, lived Madame de Rosanbo: my nephew, Louis de Chateaubriand, was married there later to Mademoiselle d’Orglandes, the niece of Madame de Rosanbo. The latter no longer parades her beauty round the lake and beneath the beech trees of that country house; she is gone. When I travelled from Verneuil to Mesnil, I passed Mézy en route: Madame de Mézy was romance withdrawn into virtue and maternal grief. If only her daughter, who fell from a window and broke her neck, had been able to fly over the château, like the young quail we used to chase, and take refuge on Île-Belle, that happy island in the Seine: Coturnix per stipulas pascens (a quail feeding amongst the grasses)

On the other bank of the Seine, not far from Marais, Madame de Vintimille introduced me to Méréville. Méréville was an oasis created by the smile of a Muse, but one of those Muses whom Gallic poets call learned Faeries. Here the adventures of Blanca and Velléda were read before elegant generations, who, falling past one another like blossoms, hear today the plaints of my age.

Little by little my mind, tired of idleness, in my Rue de Miromesnil, found distant phantoms forming. Le Génie du Christianisme inspired me with the thought of demonstrating the truth of that work, by mingling together Christian and mythological characters. A shade, whom, much later, I named Cymodocée, sketched itself in my mind: not a feature was missing. One day, having divined the presence of Cymodocée I shut myself up with her, as always happens with the daughters of my imagination; but before they may leave that state of reverie, and arrive at the banks of the Lethe through the Gate of Ivory, they often change their form. If I have created them through love, I have unmade them through love, and the unique and beloved object I later reveal to the light is the product of a thousand infidelities.

I only stayed in the Rue de Miromesnil for a year, since the house was sold. I came to an arrangement with Madame la Marquise de Coislin, who rented me an attic room in her hôtel, on the Place Louis XV. </div>