Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXII, 23

Free texts and images.
Jump to: navigation, search

XXII, 22 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXII, 24


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXII, chapter23
Were the Royalists to blame for the Restoration?



Were the Royalists to blame for the Restoration, as is claimed today? Not in the least: would that not imply that thirty million men stood by in consternation while a handful of Legitimists accomplished a detestable Restoration, against the will of all, by waving a few handkerchiefs and tying their wives’ ribbons round their hats? It is true that the vast majority of Frenchmen were delighted; but that majority was not Legitimist in the narrow sense of the word, applicable only to devoted supporters of the former monarchy. The majority was a mass of people of every shade of opinion, happy to be delivered from tyranny, and violently incensed against the man they accused of all their misfortunes; hence the success of my pamphlet. How many avowed aristocrats were numbered among those proclaiming the King’s name? Messieurs Matthieu and Adrien de Montmorency, the Messieurs de Polignac, released from gaol, Monsieur Alexis de Noailles, and Monsieur Sosthènes de La Rochefoucauld. Did these six, or perhaps there were eight men, whom the people neither knew nor followed, lay down the law to a whole nation?

Madame de Montcalm had sent me a purse containing twelve hundred francs to be distributed amongst the race of pure Legitimists: I sent it back to her, having been unable to place a single crown. A disreputable rope was slung around the neck of the statue surmounting the column on the Place Vendôme; there were so few Royalists to be found to jeer at glory and pull on the rope, that it was the authorities, Bonapartists to a man, who lowered their master’s effigy with the aid of a derrick: the colossus was forced to bow his head: he fell at the feet of the sovereigns of Europe, who had so often prostrated themselves before him. It was men of the Republic and the Empire who welcomed the Restoration with enthusiasm. The conduct and ingratitude of those elevated by the Revolution towards him whom today they pretend to regret and admire was abominable.

Imperialists and Liberals, it is you into whose hands power fell, you who knelt before the descendants of Henri IV! It was perfectly natural that Royalists should be happy to recover their princes and see the end of the reign of him whom they considered a usurper; but not that you, creatures of that usurper, should surpass the Royalists in your excesses of feeling. The ministers and grand dignitaries swore loyalty to the Legitimacy at every opportunity; all the civil and judicial authorities queued to protest their hatred for the newly proscribed dynasty, and their love for the ancient race they had condemned a thousand times. Who drew up those proclamations, those insulting and accusatory addresses for Napoleon, with which France was flooded? Royalists? No: the ministers, generals, and officials, chosen and maintained by Bonaparte. Where was the corruption of the Restoration carried out? Among the Royalists? No: at Monsieur de Talleyrand’s. With whom? With Monsieur de Pradt, chaplain to the god Mars and mitred mountebank. Where and with whom did the Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom dine on his arrival? At a Royalist house with Royalists? No: at the Bishop of Autun’s, with Monsieur de Caulaincourt. Where were receptions given for the infamous foreign princes? In Royalist palaces? No: at Malmaison, at the Empress Josephine’s. To whom did Napoleon’s dearest friends, Berthier for example, offer their ardent devotion? To the Legitimacy. Who spent their time with the autocratic Alexander, with that brutal Tartar? The Members of the Institute, the scholars, the men of letters, the philosophers of philanthropy, theo-philanthropy, and so forth; they returned charmed, laden with praise and snuff-boxes. As for us, poor devils of Legitimists, we were admitted nowhere; we counted for nothing. Now, we were told in the street to go home to bed; now, we were recommended not to shout ‘Long Live the King!’ too loudly, others being so charged. Far from forcing anyone to be a Legitimist, those in power declared that no one would be obliged to change their role or language, that the Bishop of Autun would no more be compelled to say Mass under the monarchy than he had been under the Empire. I saw no lady of the manor, no Joan of Arc proclaiming the rightful sovereign, falcon on wrist, or lance in hand; but Madame de Talleyrand, whom Bonaparte had pinned to her husband like a parchment, drove through the streets in a barouche, singing hymns about the pious family of the Bourbons. A few sheets hanging from the windows of the familiars of the Imperial Court made the simple Cossacks believe that there were as many fleurs-de-lis in the hearts of converted Bonapartists as there were white rags at their casements. Contagion is a marvellous thing in France, and a man would cry: ‘Off with my head!” if he heard his neighbour shout it. The Imperialists went so far as to enter our houses and make us, the other Bourbonists, display such white scraps as our linen-rooms contained, by way of spotless flags: that’s what happened in my house; but Madame de Chateaubriand would have none of it, and defended her muslins valiantly.