Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXIII, 20

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XXIII, 19 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXIV, 1


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXIII, chapter 20
Chapter 20: From Mons to Gonesse – With Monsieur le Comte Beugnot I oppose Fouché’s nomination as a Minister: my reasons – The Duke of Wellington gains the upper hand – Arnouville – Saint-Denis – A last conversation with the King



Leaving Mons at last, I arrived at Cateau-Cambrésis; Monsieur de Talleyrand re-joined me: we looked as though we were there to recreate the Peace Treaty of 1559 between Henri II of France and Philip II of Spain.

At Cambrai, it emerged that the Marquis de La Suze, Marshal of Lodgings à la the age of Fénelon, had disposed of the rooms reserved for Madame de Lévis, Madame de Chateaubriand and I: we stood in the street, amidst the bonfires, the crowd milling around us, and the citizens shouting: ‘Long live the King!” A student, discovering I was there, led us to his mother’s house.

Friends of the various monarchies of France began to appear; they came to Cambrai not to join the league against Venice, but to combine against the new constitution; they hastened to lay at the King’s feet their successive loyalties and their hatred for the Charter: a passport they judged necessary to get closer to Monsieur; I and two or three other reasonable Gilles, we already smelt like Jacobins.

On the 28th of June, the Proclamation of Cambrai appeared. The King said in it: ‘I only wish to banish from my presence those men whose reputation is a subject of pain to France and dread to Europe.’ Now, the name of Fouché was pronounced with gratitude by the Pavillon Marsan! The king laughed at his brother’s new passion and said: ‘It has not come to him by divine inspiration.’

In Book IV of these Memoirs I have told you that in passing through Canbrai after the Hundred Days, I searched in vain for the lodgings I occupied in my days with the Navarre Regiment, and the café I frequented with La Martinière; all had vanished with my youth.

From Cambrai, we went to stay at Roye: the innkeeper’s wife took Madame de Chateaubriand for Madame la Dauphine; she was led in triumph to a room where there was a table set for thirty: the room, lit by candles, tapers and a large fire, was suffocating. The hostess wished to receive no payment, and said to her: ‘I consider myself at fault for not having found a way of dying on behalf of our monarchy’ It was the last spark of that fire which animated the French for so many centuries.

General Lamothe, Monsieur Laborie’s brother-in-law, arrived, sent by the authorities in the capital, to inform us that it would be impossible for us to present ourselves in Paris without the tricolour cockade. Monsieur de Lafayette and the other Commissioners, having been very badly received by the Allies elsewhere, went cap in hand from one headquarters to another, begging the foreigners for a master of some kind for France: any king, even one chosen by Cossacks, was fine, provided he was not descended from Saint Louis or Louis XIV.

At Roye, a council was held: Monsieur de Talleyrand had two old nags harnessed to his carriage and drove to His Majesty’s. His equipage occupied the whole breadth of the square, from the Minister’s inn to the King’s door. He descended from his chariot with a memoir which he read to us: he considered the policy which would have to be adopted on arrival; he ventured a few words on the necessity of allowing everyone, indiscriminately, to participate in the appointments to be made; he took it as understood that it would even extend, generously, to those who had judged Louis XVI. His Majesty flushed, and striking both hands on the arms of his chair, cried: ‘Never!’ A never lasting twenty-four hours.

At Senlis, we presented ourselves at a canon’s house: his servant received us like dogs; as for the canon, who was not St Rieul patron saint of the town, he only wished to avoid seeing us. His maid had orders not to render us any service other than to sell us whatever we wished to eat, for money: the Génie du Christiansime counted for nothing. Yet Senlis ought to have provided us with a good omen, since it was there that Henri IV escaped from the hands of his gaolers in 1576: ‘I only regret,’ wrote the King, a compatriot of Montaigne, after escaping, ‘ two things that I have left behind in Paris: the mass and my wife.’

From Senlis we travelled to Philippe-Auguste’s cradle, otherwise known as Gonesse. Approaching the town, we saw two men advancing towards us; they were Marshal Macdonald and my faithful friend Hyde de Neuville. They stopped our carriage and asked us where Monsieur de Talleyrand was; they quickly gave me to understand that they were looking for him in order to inform the King that His Majesty must not dream of entering the gates of Paris without having adopted Fouché as a Minister. Anxiety gripped me, since, despite the manner in which Louis XVII had made his decision at Roye, I was not totally reassured. I questioned the Marshal: ‘What! Monsieur le Maréchal,’ I said, ‘is it certain that we cannot enter except under such harsh conditions? – ‘Faith,’ Monsieur le Vicomte, the Marshal replied, ‘I am not so convinced of it.’

The King stopped at Gonesse for two hours. I left Madame de Chateaubriand in the middle of the main street in her carriage, and went to the council meeting at the town hall. There a discussion took place on which depended the future fate of the monarchy. The discussion began: I maintained, with only Monsieur Beugnot’s support, that Louis XVIII should not admit Monsieur Fouché to his council under any circumstances. The King listened: I saw that personally he would have stuck to his words at Roye; but he was dominated by Monsieur, and urged on by the Duke of Wellington.

In a chapter of La Monarchie selon la Charte, I summarised the reasons I put forward at Gonesse. I was inspired; the spoken word has a power which is lost to the written word: ‘Wherever there is a public forum,’ I said in that chapter, ‘whoever may be exposed to reproaches of a certain nature cannot be placed in charge of Government. There have been certain speeches, certain words, which would oblige a like Minister to hand in his resignation and leave the Chamber. It is that unacceptability resulting from the principles of free and representative government that cannot be confirmed if all illusions combine to carry a well-known individual to Ministerial power, despite the only too well-founded repugnance of the Crown. The elevation of this man will produce one of two results: either the abolition of the Charter, or the fall of the Minister when the session opens. Imagine the Minister of whom I speak listening, in the Chamber of Deputies, to the debate of the 21st of January, able to be harangued at every moment by some deputy from Lyons, and threatened continually with a terrible Tu es ille vir! (Thou art the man!) Men of this sort can only be employed, ostensibly, among the mutes of Bajazet’s Seraglio or the mutes of Bonaparte’s Legislature.’ I said: ‘What will become of the Minister if a deputy, mounting to the rostrum, Moniteur in hand, reads the report of the Convention of the 9th of August 1795; if he demands the expulsion of Fouché as unworthy by virtue of that report which drove him out, he Fouché (I cite the text), like a thief and a terrorist, whose atrocious and criminal conduct would bring dishonour and opprobrium on every assembly of which he might become a member?’

These are the things they had chosen to forget!

After all that were they so wretched as to believe that a man of that kind could ever be of benefit? He needed to be left behind the scenes, to meditate on his sad experiences; but to do violence to the Crown and public opinion, to summon bare-facedly such a Minister to office, a man whom Bonaparte, at that very moment, treated as vile, was that not to declare a renunciation of liberty and virtue? Is the Crown worth such a sacrifice? It no longer had the power to banish anyone: who could one banish having accepted Fouché?

The parties acted without considering the form of government they had adopted; everyone spoke of the constitution, liberty, equality, the rights of nations, and no one wanted any of it; fashionable verbiage: they asked, without thinking about it, for news of the Charter, while all hoping it would soon die. Liberals and Royalists inclined towards absolute government, modified by custom: it is the French temperament and style. Material interests dominated; they had no wish to renounce, they said, what they had done during the Revolution; each was responsible for his own life and intended to charge his neighbour with his: wrong-doing, they assured us, had become an element of public life, which from now on was a factor in government, and penetrated society like a vital principle.

My whim, in supporting a Charter directed by religious and moral action, was the source of the ill will certain parties bore towards me: as far as the Royalists were concerned, I loved liberty too much; to the Revolutionaries, I was someone who spurned their crimes too obviously. If, to my great detriment, I had not happened to be there to make myself master of the Constitutionalist school, the Ultras and the Jacobins would, from the start, have stuffed the Charter into the pockets of their morning-coats decorated with fleur-de-lys, or their carmagnoles à la Cassius.

Monsieur de Talleyrand did not like Monsieur Fouché; Monsieur Fouché detested and, what is stranger, despised Monsieur Talleyrand: it was difficult to be successful that way. Monsieur de Talleyrand, who had at first been content not to be coupled with Monsieur Fouché, feeling that it was inevitable, gave his support to the project; he did not realise that given the Charter (especially if he were united with the man who bombarded Lyons) there was hardly a credible position any longer for Fouché.

What I had predicted was quickly born out: no advantage would accrue from the admission of the Duke of Otranto, it would receive only opprobrium; the mere shadow of the Chambers being imminent sufficed to make Ministers who were too exposed to the freedom of the rostrum, vanish.

My opposition was useless: according to the custom of weak characters, the King rose from the session with nothing agreed; the decree was to be decided at the Château d’Arnouville.

No proper council was held in this latter residence; the intimates and affiliates alone met in secret. Monsieur de Talleyrand, having arrived before us, spoke to his friends. The Duke of Wellington arrived; I saw him pass in a barouche; the feathers in his hat waving in the air; he had come to bestow Monsieur Fouché and Monsieur Talleyrand on France, a twofold gift which the victor of Waterloo was granting to our country. When it was suggested to him that the Duke of Otranto’s regicide might perhaps be a drawback, he replied: ‘That’s a mere detail.’ An Irish Protestant, a British General foreign to our way of life and our history, a mind which saw in the France of 1793 only its English antecedent of 1649, was charged with deciding our fate! Bonaparte’s ambition had brought us to this wretched state.

I roamed alone through the gardens from which the Controller General Machault, at the age of ninety-three, went to die in the Madelonnettes; since at that time death in his grand review forgot no one. I was no longer summoned; the familiarities of mutual misfortune had ceased between sovereign and subject: the King was preparing to enter his palace, I my retreat. The void reforms around monarchs as soon as they regain power. I rarely traversed the silent uninhabited halls of the Tuileries that brought me to the King’s bureau, without serious reflection: to me, only deserts of another sort, infinite solitudes where worlds themselves vanish before God, are real.

We lacked bread at Arnouville; without an officer of the name of Dubourg, driven from Ghent along with us, we would have starved. Monsieur Dubourg went foraging; he brought us, in flight, a shoulder of mutton from the Mayor’s residence. If the Mayor’s servant, a heroine from Beauvais alone there, had possessed any weapons, she would have received us like Jeanne Hachette.

We went on to Saint-Denis: along both sides of the road stretched the bivouacs of the Prussians and English; the spires of the Abbey could be seen far off: into its foundations Dagobert hurled his jewels, within its vaults successive dynasties buried their kings and great men; four months earlier we had deposited the bones of Louis XVI there to replace the dust of his predecessors. When I returned from my first exile in 1800, I had crossed this same plain of Saint-Denis; as yet only Napoleon’s soldiers were camped there; Frenchmen were yet again replacing the old bands of the Constable de Montmorency.

A baker housed us. At nine in the evening, I went to pay my court to the King. His Majesty was lodged in the Abbey buildings: it was all anyone could do to prevent the little girls of the Legion of Honour from shouting: ‘Long Live Napoleon!’ I went into the church first; a piece of wall next to the cloister had fallen: the ancient Abbey Church was lit by a single lamp. I said my prayers at the entrance to the vault into which I had seen Louis XVI lowered: full of fear as to the future, I do not know if I have ever felt my heart flooded by a more profound and religious sadness. Next I took myself to His Majesty’s: shown into one of the rooms leading to that of the King, I found no one there; I sat in a corner and waited. Suddenly a door opened: silently Vice entered leaning on the arm of Crime, Monsieur de Talleyrand walking in supported by Monsieur Fouché; the infernal vision passed slowly before me, penetrated to the King’s room, and vanished. Fouché had come to swear fealty and do homage to his lord; the faithful regicide, on his knees, laid the hands which caused Louis XVI’s head to fall, between the hands of the Royal Martyr’s brother; the apostate bishop went surety for the oath.

On the following day, the Faubourg Saint-Germain arrived: all things were confounded in Fouché’s nomination which had already been achieved, religion with impiety, virtue with vice, royalist with revolutionary, foreigner with Frenchman; on every side the cry went up; ‘Without Fouché there is no security for the King, without Fouché there is no security for France; he alone has already saved the country, he alone can finish the job.’ The old Duchesse de Duras was one of the most animated singers of the hymn; the Bailli de Crussol, a survivor of Malta, made up the chorus; he declared that if his head was still on his shoulders, it was because Monsieur Fouché had allowed it. The timorous had received such a fright under Napoleon they took the perpetrator of the massacre at Lyons for a new Titus. For more than three months the salons of the Faubourg Saint-Germain considered me a miscreant because I disapproved of the nomination of their Ministers. Those poor wretches, they prostrated themselves at the feet of parvenus; they gossiped as ever about their nobility, their hatred for revolutionaries, their unfailing loyalty, the inflexibility of their principles, and they adored Fouché!

Fouché had realised the incompatibility between his ministerial existence and the play of representative monarchy: as he could not involve himself with the elements of legal government, he tried to render the political elements compatible with his own nature. He created an artificial Terror; assuming imaginary dangers, he intended to force the Crown to acknowledge Bonaparte’s two Chambers and receive the declaration of rights which was hurriedly perfected; several words were even muttered concerning the necessity of exiling Monsieur and his sons: the masterwork would have been to isolate the King.

People continued to be taken in: the National Guard traversed the walls of Paris, in vain, to come and protest their devotion; we were assured that the Guard was ill-disposed towards us. The faction had closed the gates in order to prevent the people, who had remained loyal during the Hundred Days, from rushing through, and it was asserted that the people had threatened to kill Louis XVIII as he passed by. The blindness of it all was amazing, since the French Army had withdrawn to the Loire, five hundred thousand Allies occupied the positions around the capital, and yet it was continually claimed that the King was not powerful enough to enter a city where not one soldier remained, where there were only citizens left, quite capable of containing a handful of Federalists, if they had stirred into life. Unfortunately the King, through a series of fatal coincidences, appeared to be the leader of the English and Prussians; he thought he was surrounded by liberators, and he was accompanied by enemies; he appeared to be encircled by a guard of honour, and that guard was only in reality made up of policemen who would conduct him from his kingdom: he only crossed Paris in the company of foreigners the memory of whom would serve one day as a pretext for banishing his race.

The Provisional Government formed since Bonaparte’s abdication was dissolved by a kind of act of prosecution lodged against the Crown: a foundation stone on which they hoped to construct a new revolution one day.

At the First Restoration I was of the opinion that they should have kept the tricolour cockade: it shone in all its glory; the white cockade was forgotten; retaining the colours which had legitimised so many victories, did not imply readying an emblem to rally around in some anticipated revolution. Not to adopt the white cockade would have been wise; to abandon it even though it had now been worn by Bonaparte’s grenadiers was cowardice: one cannot pass the Caudine Forks with impunity; what dishonours is fatal: a slap in the face does you no lasting physical harm, and yet it may kill you.

Before leaving Saint-Denis, I was received by the King, and had the following conversation with him:

‘Well?’ said Louis XVIII, opening the dialogue with this exclamation. – ‘Well, Sire, you have decided on the Duke of Otranto?

– It was essential: from my brother down to the Bailli de Crussol (and he is above suspicion), everyone said we could not do otherwise: what do you think?

– Sire, the thing is done: I ask Your Majesty’s permission to say nothing.

– No, no, speak: you know how I have resisted it since leaving Ghent.

– Sire, I am only obeying your command; pardon my loyalty: I think the monarchy is done for.’

The King remained silent; I was beginning to tremble at my boldness, when His Majesty continued:

– Well, Monsieur de Chateaubriand, I am of your opinion.’

This conversation concludes my account of the Hundred Days.