Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXIII, 10

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

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXIII, chapter 10
THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT, CONTINUED – The Pavillon Marsan’s equivalent at Ghent – Monsieur Gaillard, Councillor to the Royal Court – A secret visit by Madame la Baronne de Vitrolles – A note from Monsieur – Fouché

In Ghent, as in Paris, there was a Pavillon Marsan. Each day brought news to Monsieur, from France, which gave birth to interest or a stimulus to imagination.

Monsieur Gaillard, former member of the Oratory, councillor to the Royal Court in Paris, intimate friend of Fouché, arrived among us; he made himself known and was put in touch with Monsieur Capelle.

When I went to Monsieur’s, which was rarely, his entourage spoke to me in hushed tones and with many sighs of a man who (it must be admitted) has behaved marvellously well: he has hindered all of the Emperor’s operations; he defended the Faubourg St Germain, etc, etc, etc. The faithful Marshal Soult was the object of Monsieur’s predilection too, and after Fouché, the most loyal man in France.

One day, a carriage arrived at the door of my inn, and I saw Madame the Baronne de Vitrolles emerge: she was arriving charged with powers by the Duc d’Otrante. She brought a note in Monsieur’s own hand, in which the Prince declared that he would preserve an eternal gratitude towards those who had saved Monsieur de Vitrolles. Fouché needed no more; armed with this note, he was sure of his future in the event of a second Restoration. From that moment there was no longer any question in Ghent of the immense obligation owed to the excellent Monsieur Fouché of Nantes, or of the impossibility of returning to France except through the goodwill of this keeper of the law: the only problem was how to make this new Redeemer of the Monarchy acceptable to the King.

After the Hundred Days, Madame de Custine pressed me into dining with Fouché at her house. I had met him one before, six months previously, regarding the sentence passed against my poor cousin Armand. The former Minister knew that I had opposed his nomination at Roye, Gonesse, and Arnouville; and as he supposed I possessed some power, he wanted to make peace with me. The best of him was shown in the death of Louis XVI: he was a regicide in all innocence. Verbose, like all the revolutionaries, threshing the air with empty phrases, he churned out a mass of commonplace stuff about destiny, necessity, the law of things, mingling with this nonsensical philosophy other nonsense concerning the advance and progress of society, impudent maxims benefiting the strong in favour of the weak; finding no fault with bold confessions regarding the rightness of success, the worthlessness of severed heads, the fair-mindedness of those who prosper, the unfair attitudes of those who suffer, affecting to speak casually and indifferently of the most terrible disasters, as a genius above such stupidities. There escaped from him, concerning everything, not one choice idea, or remarkable insight. I left shrugging my shoulders at crime.

Monsieur Fouché never forgave my dryness and the slightness of the effect he had on me. He thought I would be fascinated by seeing the blade of the fatal machine rising and falling in front of my eyes, as if it were some glory of Sinai; he imagined that I would think that lunatic a colossus who, speaking of the soil of Lyons, said: ‘This soil will be ploughed over; on the ruins of this proud and rebellious town will be raised scattered cottages which the friends of equality will hasten to inhabit…………………………..

We shall have the energy and courage to cross vast graveyards of conspirators…………………………………………………………………...

The blood-stained corpses must be thrown into the Rhone, offering to its twin shores and its mouth the imprint of terror and the mark of the all-powerful people……………………………………………………………….

We shall celebrate the victory of Toulon; tonight we will give two hundred and sixty rebels to the lightning-bolt.’

His dreadful embellishments failed to impress me, since Monsieur de Nantes had mixed those Republican crimes with Imperial mud; that the sans-culotte, metamorphosed into a Duke, had twined the lantern-rope with the cord of the Legion of Honour did not seem to me to be either clever or grand. Jacobins detest men who think little of their atrocities and who scorn their murders; their pride is irritated like that of authors whose talent one contests.