Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXII, 19

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XXII, 18 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXII, 20

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXII, chapter19
The arrival of the Comte d’Artois – Bonaparte’s abdication at Fontainebleau

On the 12th of April, the Comte d’Artois arrived in the capacity of Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom. Three or four hundred men rode before him; I was one of them. He charmed by his graciousness, a contrast with Empire manners. The delighted French recognised their former aspect in his person, their former politeness, and their former way of speaking; the crowd surrounded and pressed around him; a consoling apparition from the past, a dual recourse, being opposed to the foreign conquerors and opposed to the continuing menace of Bonaparte. Alas! That Prince only set foot on French soil once more in order to see his son assassinated and to return to die in the land of exile from which he had come: there are men over whose necks life is thrown like a chain.

I was presented to the King’s brother; he had been given my pamphlet to read, otherwise he would not have known my name; he recalled neither having seen me at Louis XVI’s court, nor in camp at Thionville, and unquestionably had never heard of the Génie du Christianisme: it was understandable. When one has suffered greatly for a long time, one only thinks of oneself; selfish adversity is a companion somewhat cold, and hard to please; it haunts one; it leaves no room for any other feeling, never leaves you, clasps your knees and your coat.

The day before the Comte d’Artois’ arrival, Napoleon, after fruitless negotiations with Alexander conducted by Monsieur de Caulaincourt, had published his act of abdication.

‘The Allied Powers having proclaimed that the Emperor Napoleon was the sole obstacle to the re-establishment of peace in Europe, the Emperor Napoleon, loyal to his oath, declares, on behalf of his thrones and heirs, that he renounces the thrones of France and Italy, because there is no personal sacrifice, even that of his life, which he is not ready to make in the interests of the French people.’

The Emperor wasted no time in giving the lie, in an equally resounding manner, to these resounding words, by his return: he needed only enough time to visit the island of Elba. He remained at Fontainebleau until the 20th of April.

The 20th of April having arrived, Napoleon descended the double flight of steps leading to the peristyle of the deserted palace of the Capet monarchy. A few grenadiers, the remnants of the soldiers who had conquered Europe, formed up in line in the great courtyard, as if on their final battlefield; they were surrounded by ancient trees, mutilated companions of Francis I and Henri IV. Bonaparte addressed these words to those last witnesses to his battles:

‘Generals, officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of my Old Guard, I bid you farewell: for twenty years I have been satisfied with you; I have always found you on the paths of glory.
The Allied Powers have armed the whole of Europe against me, sections of the army have betrayed their duty, and France herself has chosen another destiny.
With you and the brave men who have remained loyal to me, I could have carried on a civil war for three years: but France would have suffered, which is contrary to the aims I adopted.
Be faithful to the new King whom France has chosen; do not desert our beloved country, which has been unhappy for so long! Love her always, and love her well, that dear country of ours.
Do not pity my fate; I will always be happy if I know that you are happy.
I might have died; nothing would have been easier for me; but I will always follow the path of honour. I have still to write the history of all we have achieved.
I cannot embrace you all; but I will embrace your general! ...General, come here...’ (He clasped General Petit in his arms.) ‘Bring me the eagle! ...’ (He kissed it.) ‘Beloved eagle! May these kisses resound in the hearts of all my brave lads! …Farewell, my children! …My prayers will always be with you; preserve your memories of me.’

Having spoken, Napoleon struck his tent which covered the world.