Chateaubriand's memoirs, XVII, 4

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XVII - Chapter 4
Return to Lyons

On returning to Lyons, I found letters from Monsieur Joubert: they told me of the impossibility of his being at Villeneuve before the month of September. I replied: ‘Your departure from Paris is too far-off, and bothers me; you know that my wife would never wish to arrive at Villeneuve before you: also she has a mind of her own, and since she is with me, I find myself minding two minds that are very difficult to manage. We will stay at Lyons, where they make us eat so prodigiously that I scarcely have the courage to leave this excellent town. The Abbé de Bonnevie is here, having returned from Rome; he is marvellously well; he is cheerful, he sermonizes; he no longer thinks of his misfortunes; he embraces you and will write to you. At last the whole world is joyful, except me; it is only you who grumble. Tell Fontanes that I have dined with Monsieur Saget.’

This Monsieur Saget was the patron of canons; he lived on the hill of Sainte-Foye, in a region of fine vineyards. One ascended to his house more or less by way of the place where Rousseau spent the night by the banks of the Saône.

‘I have often spent a delightful night,’ he writes, ‘near the town on a path that borders the Saône. Gardens raised in terraces lined the path on the opposite side: it was so warm in those days: the evenings were charming, dew dampened the withered grass; no breeze, the tranquil night; the air was fresh without being cold; the setting sun had left red clouds behind in the sky, whose reflections turned the water a rose colour; the trees on the terraces were filled with nightingales who replied to one another. I walked along in a sort of ecstasy, giving over my heart and senses to the pleasure of it all, and only sighing a little in regret at enjoying it alone. Absorbed in my sweet reverie, I extended my walks far into the night, without realising that I was tired. At last I did realise it: I lay down voluptuously on the ledge of a sort of niche or false doorway, let into the wall of a terrace: the roof of my bed was formed by the tops of the trees, a nightingale was perched exactly above me; I fell asleep to its singing: my rest was sweet; my awakening more so. It was a fine day: my gaze, on opening my eyes, fell on water, greenery, a delightful countryside.’

Rousseau’s charming itinerary in hand, one arrived at Monsieur Saget’s residence. This lean and ancient fellow, married long ago, wore a green cap, a grey woollen coat, nankeen trousers, blue stockings and beaver shoes. He had lived for many years in Paris and had a relationship with Mademoiselle Devienne. She wrote him very spiritual letters, scolded him and gave him excellent advice: he took no heed, since he refused to take the world seriously, apparently believing like the Mexicans that the world had already experienced four suns, and that during the fourth (which lights us at the moment) men had been changed into apes. He jeered at the martyrdoms of Saint Pothin and Saint Irénée, at the massacre of Protestants in ranks side by side by order of Mandelot, the Governor of Lyons, all their throats being cut in the same way. Regarding the killing field of Les Brotteaux, he told me the details, while walking among his vines, enlivening his tale with lines from Loyse Labbé: he had not missed a blow during the late executions at Lyons, under the Charte-Vérité.

On certain days, at Sainte-Foye, they laid on a particular meal of calf’s-head marinaded for five days, cooked in Madeira wine and stuffed with exquisite ingredients; very pretty young peasant girls served at table; they poured excellent vintage wine, cellared in demi-johns with a capacity of three bottles. We collapsed, I and the chapter in cassocks, beneath the weight of Saget’s dinner: the hill was black with them.

Our dapifer (master of the feast) quickly came to the end of his provisions: among the ruins of his last moments, he was taken in by two or three of his former mistresses who had plundered him throughout his life, ‘a species of woman,’ said Saint Cyprian, ‘who live as if they may be loved, quae sic vivis ut possis adamari.