Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXIX, 10

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


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXIX, chapter 10
A letter to Monsieur Villemain



I have said that at first I experienced boredom at the start of my second trip to Rome and that I ended by bringing myself back to the ruins and the sunlight: I was still under the influence of my first impressions when, on the 3rd of November 1828, I replied to Monsieur Villemain:

‘Your letter, Sir, has reached my solitude in Rome at just the right moment: it has subdued the homesickness that I am feeling so intensely. The sickness is nothing more than age which prevents my eyes seeing as they once saw; my ruin is not great enough to solace itself with that of Rome. When I walk alone at present in the midst of all this debris of the centuries, it merely serves me for a scale on which to measure time; I return to the past, I see what I have lost and the end of that short future I have before me; I consider all the delights that might remain to me, and find none. I return home to endure myself, oppressed by the sirocco or pierced by the tramontane. My whole life is there beside a tomb which I have not yet found the courage to visit. They give the crumbling monuments a deal of care; they prop them up; they clear them of their plants and flowers; the women I left behind when young are old now, and the ruins look younger: what am I doing here?
And, Sir, I assure you that I only aspire to return to the Rue d’Enfer in order to leave it no more. I have fulfilled my whole duty to my country and my friends. Once you are in the Council, with Monsieur Bertin de Vaux, I will have nothing more to ask, since your talents will soon take you higher. My withdrawal has contributed somewhat, I hope, to the cessation of any formidable opposition; public liberty is ensured for ever in France. My sacrifice should now end with my role. I ask nothing but to return to my Infirmary. I have only praise for this country: I have received a wonderful welcome; I find a government full of tolerance and well aware of events outside Italy, but in the end nothing would please me more than the idea of disappearing completely from the world scene: it is good to be preceded to the grave by the silence that one will find there.
I thank you for having wished to speak to me of your work. You will create an output worthy of you which will add to your fame. If you have any research to do here, be good enough to indicate it to me: a trawl through the Vatican may discover riches for you. Alas, I think of poor Monsieur Thierry only too often! I assure you that I am haunted by memory of him; so young, so full of the love of his work, and yet fading away! And, as he always achieves real merit, his mind was improving, and reason in him was taking the place of system: I still hope for a miracle. I have written after him; no one has replied at all. I have been happier about yourself, and a letter from Monsieur de Martignac leads me at last to hope that justice, though late and incomplete, will be done you. I only look to my friends now, Sir; you will permit me to include you in the number of those who remain to me. I remain, Sir, with as much sincerity as admiration, your most devoted servant. CHATEAUBRIAND’

(God be thanked, Monsieur Thierry has revived and taken up his fine and important work with new vigour; he works at night, but like a chrysalis: ‘The nymph with joy itself encloses, within its tomb of silk and gold, which to all eyes in turn itself discloses’)