Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXIII, 6

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXIII, chapter 6
THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT, CONTINUED – The Ghent Moniteur – My report to the King: the effect of that report in Paris – Falsification

A Moniteur was established in Ghent: my report to the King of the 12th of May, inserted in this paper, show that my sentiments regarding the freedom of the press and regarding foreign domination have been identical at all times and in all places. I can cite these passages today; they do not contradict my record in any way:

‘Sire, you should begin to set a crown on the institutions whose foundations you have laid…You have specified a date for the commencement of hereditary peerages; the Government should have acquired greater unity; the Ministers should have become members of the two Chambers, according to the true spirit of the Charter; a law should have been proposed whereby one could be elected as a member of the Chamber of Deputies at under forty years of age and citizens could enjoy a genuine political career. Work was going to start on a legal code covering press offences, after the adoption of which the press would have been entirely free, since that freedom is inseparable from representative government………………...

Sire, this is the moment to register a solemn protest: all your Ministers, all the members of your council, are indissolubly attached to wise principles of freedom; they draw from their proximity to you that love of law, order, and justice, without which there is no happiness for a nation. Sire, may we be permitted to say to you, we are ready to shed our last drop of blood for you, to follow you to the ends of the earth, to share with you the tribulations which it may please the Almighty to send you, because we believe before God that you will maintain the constitution you have granted to your people, that the sincerest wish of your royal spirit is the liberty of the French. If it had been otherwise, Sire, we would always have died at your feet in the defence of your sacred person; but we would merely have been your soldiers, we would have ceased to be your councillors and ministers.....

Sire, at this moment we share your Royal grief; there is not one of your councillors and ministers who would not give his life to prevent the invasion of France. Sire, you are French, we are French! Sensitive to the honour of our country, proud of the glory of our arms, admirers of our soldiers’ courage, we would wish, at the heart of their battalions, to shed our last drop of blood to show them their duty or to share with them the triumphs of the Legitimacy. We cannot view without the most profound sorrow the evils that are ready to fall upon our country.’

Thus, at Ghent, I proposed to give the Charter what it still lacked, and I showed my sorrow at the new invasion which threatened France: I was as yet only an exile whose hopes lacked the events which could re-open the gates of my country to me. Those pages were written in a State belonging to a royal ally; among princes and émigrés who detested the freedom of the Press; and in the midst of armies marching to conquest of whom we were, so to speak, prisoners: those circumstances added some power perhaps to the sentiments I dared to express.

My report, arriving in Paris, caused a great stir; it was reprinted by Monsieur Le Normant the younger, who risked his life on that occasion, and for whom I took all the trouble in the world to obtain a fruitless patent as printer to the King. Bonaparte acted or sanctioned action, in a manner barely worthy of him: when my report appeared they did as the Directory had done on the appearance of Cléry’s Memoirs, they doctored the piece: I was supposed to have suggested to Louis XVIII inanities regarding the restoration of feudal rights, church tithes, and the return of national assets, as if the original publication in the Ghent Moniteur, at a precise and known date, did not contradict this imposture; but they needed a timely deception. The pseudonymous author charged with this dishonest pamphlet was a military man of reasonably high rank: he was destitute after the Hundred Days; his destitution was accounted for by his conduct towards me; he sent his friends to me; they begged me to intervene in order that a worthy man should not lose his only means of existence: I wrote to the Minister of War, and obtained a retirement pension for the officer. He is dead: the officer’s wife remained devoted to Madame de Chateaubriand with a gratitude which I was far from entitled to. Certain things are over-valued; the most ordinary of people are susceptible to these acts of generosity. A reputation is granted to stale virtue: the superior soul is not that which forgives; it is that which has no need of forgiveness.

I am not sure why Bonaparte decided, on St Helena, that I had rendered a vital service at Ghent: if he assessed my role too favourably, at least he felt some appreciation of my political worth.