Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXIII, 15

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXIII, chapter 15
What was going on in Ghent – Monsieur de Blacas



We émigrés, in Charles V’s city, behaved like the women of that town: sitting beside their windows, they watched, in little angled mirrors, the soldiers passing by in the street. Louis XVIII was there, in a corner, completely forgotten; he merely received a note from time to time from the Prince de Talleyrand on his way back from Vienna, or a few lines from members of the diplomatic corps residing with the Duke of Wellington in the role of commissioners, Messieurs Pozzo di Borgo, Baron von Vincent, etc., etc. People had better things to do than think about us! A man strange to politics would never have dreamed that an invalid, hidden beside the Lys, would be helped back to the throne by the efforts of thousands of soldiers ready to slit throats: soldiers of whom he was neither king nor leader, who gave no thought to him, who knew nothing of his name or his existence. Of two places in such close proximity, Ghent and Waterloo, never has one seemed so obscure, the other so brightly-lit: the Legitimacy was laid up in store like an old broken wagon.

We knew Bonaparte’s forces were approaching; we had nothing to protect us but two small companies under the command of the Duc de Berry, a Prince whose blood would not serve us, since he was already summoned elsewhere. A thousand cavalry, detached from the French army, would be on us within a few hours. The fortifications of Ghent had been demolished; the defences which remained would be all the more easily overcome since the Belgian population was not sympathetic to us. The scene I had witnessed at the Tuileries was repeated: His Majesty’s carriages were secretly prepared; the horses were readied. We, the loyal Ministers, we would have to splash along behind, by God’s grace. MONSIEUR left for Brussels, charged with keeping a close eye on the action.

Monsieur de Blacas had become sad and anxious; I, poor man, consoled him. In Vienna things were not going well for him; Monsieur de Talleyrand mocked him; the royalists accused him of being the reason for Bonaparte’s return. Thus, on either hand, there was no longer an honourable exile for him in England, no longer highest office possible in France: I was his sole support. I met him quite often in the Horse-Market, where he trotted about alone; hitching myself to him, I fell in step with his sad thought. The man whom I had defended in Ghent and England, and did defend in France after the Hundred Days, and even in the later preface to La Monarchie Selon La Charte, that man has always opposed me: that would not have mattered if he had not been a drag on the monarchy. I do not repent of my past foolishness; but I must redress in these Memoirs the blows aimed at my judgement and my good-heartedness.