Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXII, 10

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XXII, 9 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXII, 11

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXII, chapter 8
I begin printing my pamphlet – A note from Madame de Chateaubriand

Minds were greatly agitated: the hope of seeing the end, cost what it might, of the cruel war which had weighed on a France sated for twenty years with glory and misfortune overcame national pride among the masses. All were concerned with the part they would have to play in the imminent catastrophe. Every evening my friends came to Madame de Chateaubriand’s to talk, to recount and comment on the day’s events. Messieurs de Fontanes, de Clausel, and Joubert, came with a crowd of those transient friends whom events bring and events take away. Madame la Duchesse de Lévis, beautiful, tranquil and devoted, whom we will meet again in Ghent, kept Madame de Chateaubriand faithful company. Madame la Duchesse de Duras was also in Paris, and I often went to see Madame la Marquise de Montcalm, the Duc de Richelieu’s sister.

I continued to be persuaded, despite the approach of fighting, that the Allies would not enter Paris, and that a national uprising would put an end to our fears. My obsession with that idea prevented me reacting to the presence of the foreign armies as keenly as I might have done: but I could not help reflecting on the calamities which we had inflicted on Europe, seeing Europe bringing them upon us in turn.

I did not stop working at my pamphlet; I was preparing it like a remedy for the time when anarchy would burst upon us. We no longer write like that today, at our ease, and with nothing to fear but newspaper skirmishes: at night I locked myself in; I put my papers under my pillow, a pair of loaded pistols on my table: I slept between those two Muses. My text was a double one; I had composed it in the form, which it retained, of a pamphlet, and also as a speech, differing in some respects from the pamphlet; I assumed that when France met, it would gather at the Hôtel de Ville, and I was doubly prepared.

Madame de Chateaubriand took notes at various times in our life together; among these notes, I find the following paragraph:

‘Monsieur de Chateaubriand wrote his pamphlet De Bonaparte et des Bourbons. If this pamphlet had been seized, punishment was not in doubt: the sentence would have been the scaffold. Yet the author betrayed unbelievable negligence in hiding it. Often, when he went out, he left it forgotten on the table; his prudence never went beyond placing it under his pillow, which he did in front of his manservant, a very honest lad, but one who might have succumbed to temptation. As for me, I was in mortal fear: as soon as Monsieur de Chateaubriand went out, I went to get the manuscript and hid it about me. One day, crossing the Tuileries, I realised I no longer had it, and, sure it was there when I went out, I was certain I had lost it en route. I saw the fatal writing already in the hands of the police, and Monsieur de Chateabriand arrested: I fell down, unconscious, in the middle of the gardens; some kind gentlemen came to my assistance, and took me back to the house which was not far away. What torment as I climbed the stairs, torn between fear, which was almost certainty, and a faint hope of having forgotten to pick up the pamphlet! Nearing my husband’s room, I felt a new faintness: I entered finally, nothing on the table: I went towards the bed; I first felt the pillow: I could feel nothing; I lifted it: I saw the scroll of paper! My heart quivers every time I think of it. I have never in my life experienced such a joyous moment. Certainly, I can truthfully say, it could have been no greater if I had found myself saved at the foot of the scaffold: since it was in fact someone dearer to me than my self who had been saved.’

How unhappy I would have been if I had realised I was capable of causing Madame de Chateaubriand a moment of pain!

However I had been obliged to entrust a printer with my secret; he had agreed to take the risk; according to the news of the hour, he returned or came to collect the half-composed proofs, as the sound of cannon fire approached or receded from Paris: for almost a fortnight I played heads or tails like this with my life.