Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXIII, 4

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXIII, chapter 4
The flight of the King – I leave with Madame de Chateaubriand – Problems on the way – The Duc d’Orléans and the Prince de Condé – Tournai, Brussels – Memories – The Duc de Richelieu – The King halts at Ghent and summons me



It was evident that they were about to decamp: due to the fear of being detained, they did not even warn those who, like me, might have been shot an hour after Bonaparte entered Paris. I met the Duc de Richelieu on the Champs Elysees: ‘They are deceiving us,’ he said to me; ‘I am mounting guard here, since I do not intend to wait for the Emperor alone in the Tuileries.’

Madame de Chateaubriand had sent a servant to the Carrousel on the evening of the 19th, with orders not to return unless he was certain of the King’s flight. At midnight, the servant not having returned, I went off to bed. I was just getting ready for sleep, when Monsieur Clausel de Coussergues entered. He told us that His Majesty had left and was heading for Lille. He brought me this news on behalf of the Chancellor, who knowing I was in danger, violated security on my behalf and brought me twelve thousand francs, due to me on my appointment as Minister for Sweden. I insisted on staying, not wishing to leave Paris until I was absolutely sure of the Royal move. The servant sent to discover it, returned: he had seen the carriages file out of the courtyard. Madame de Chateaubriand pushed me into her carriage at four in the morning on the 20th of March. I was in such a fit of rage I knew neither where I was going nor what I was doing.

We left by the Barrière Saint-Martin. At dawn, I watched the crows, descending peacefully from the elms by the highway where they had spent the night, about to breakfast in the fields, without bothering about Louis XVIII or Napoleon: they were not, those crows, obliged to leave their country, and thanks to their wings, they scorned the dreadful road I was jolting over. Old friends from Combourg! We were more akin when long ago at daybreak we dined on blackberries among the dense thickets of Brittany!

The road had broken up, the weather was wet, and Madame de Chateaubriand felt ill: she looked constantly through the window at the rear of the vehicle to see if we were being pursued. We slept at Amiens, where Du Cange was born; then at Arras, Robespierre’s home city: there, I was recognised. Having despatched a request for horses, on the morning of the 22nd, the post-master said they had been commandeered by a general who was carrying news to Lille of the Emperor’s triumphant entry into Paris; Madame de Chateaubriand was dying of fear, not for herself, but for me. I hastened to the stables and, with money, removed the difficulty.

Arriving beneath the ramparts of Lille on the 23rd, at two in the morning, we found the gates closed; the order was not to open them to anybody. They could not or would not say if the King had entered the city. I engaged a coachman for a few louis, to take us to the other side of the city via the exterior of the glacis, and then conduct us to Tournai; in 1792, I had taken this same road, at night, on foot, with my brother. Reaching Tournai, I learnt that Louis XVIII had definitely entered Lille with Marshal Mortier, and that he counted on defending it. I sent a courier to Monsieur Blacas, begging him to send me a permit allowing me to enter the city. My courier returned with a permit from the commandant but no word from Monsieur Blacas. I was setting out in a carriage to return to Lille, leaving Madame de Chateaubriand at Tournai, when the Prince de Condé arrived. We learnt from him that the King had left and that Marshal Mortier had provided an escort for him to the border. After this explanation, it was obvious that Louis XVIII had not been at Lille when my letter arrived there.

The Duc d’Orléans soon followed the Prince de Condé. Appearing discontented, he was content at heart to find he was out of the fight; the ambiguity of his declaration of support for the Charter and his conduct bore the imprint of his nature. As for the aged Prince de Condé, the Emigration remained his fixed point. He was not afraid of Monsieur de Bonaparte; he would fight if they wished, he would leave if they wished: things were a little confused in his brain; he did not know if he was stopping at Rocroi to give battle, or to go and dine at the Grand-Cerf. He struck camp a few hours before us, telling me to recommend the innkeeper’s coffee to those of his household whom he had left behind. He did not know I had handed in my resignation on the death of his grandson; he only felt about that name a certain halo of glory which may as well have clung to some Condé whom he did not recall.

         Do you remember my first passing through Tournai with my brother, during my first emigration? Do you remember, regarding it, the man changed into a donkey, the girl from whose ears sprang ears of corn, the cloud of rooks that spread fire everywhere? In 1815, we were like that cloud of rooks ourselves, except that we spread no fires. Alas! I was no longer accompanied by my unfortunate brother! Between 1792 and 1815, the Republic and the Empire had vanished: what revolutions had taken place in my life also! Time had ravaged me along with all the rest. And you, the younger generations of this age, let twenty-three years go by, and you will ask at my grave where all your present passions and illusions are.

The Bertin brothers had arrived at Tournai: Monsieur Bertin de Vaux returned to Paris; the other Bertin, the elder Bertin, was my friend. You will know from the fifteenth book of these Memoirs what attracted me to him.

From Tournai we travelled to Brussels: there I found no Baron de Breteuil, no Rivarol, nor all those young aides-de-camps, now dead or grown old which are the same thing. There was no sign of the barber who had given me refuge. I carried a pen and not a musket; I had turned from soldiering to scribbling on paper. I located Louis XVIII; he was in Ghent, where Messieurs Blacas and de Duras had escorted him: their intention at first had been to have the King embark for England. If the King had consented to that project, he would never have recovered the throne.

Entering a boarding house to look at a room, I found the Duc de Richelieu, smoking while reclining on a sofa, in the depths of a darkened chamber. He spoke of the Princes in a coarse manner, declaring that he was off to Russia, and wanted to hear no more of that lot. Madame the Duchesse de Duras, who had arrived in Brussels had the grief of her mother dying there.

The capital of Brabant is hateful to me; it has never served me for anything but a route to exile; it has always brought me, or my friends, trouble.

An order from the King summoned me to Ghent. The Royal volunteers and the Duc de Berry’s tiny army had been sent away to Béthune, to the mud and mess of a military debacle: there had been moving farewells. Two hundred men of the King’s household remained and were confined to Alost; my two nephews, Louis and Christian de Chateaubriand, were part of that corps.