Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXIX, 12

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XXIX, 11 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXIX, 13


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXIX, chapter 12
An explanation of the Memoir you are about to read



In my Congress of Verona I have spoken of the existence of my Memoir on the Orient. When I sent it from Rome, in 1828, to Monsieur le Comte de La Ferronays, then Foreign Minister, the world was not as it is now; in France, the Legitimacy still existed; Poland had not vanished into Russia; Spain was still Bourbon; England had not yet the honour of defending us. Many things in this Memoir have thus become dated: today my foreign policy, in its several relations, would not be the same; twelve years have changed diplomatic affairs, but their essential reality remains. I have inserted this Memoir in its entirety, to counter once more on behalf of the Restoration the absurd reproaches that people insist in heaping on it despite the factual evidence. The Restoration, as soon as it had appointed Ministers from amongst its supporters, never ceased to occupy itself with the honour and independence of France: it spoke out against the Treaty of Vienna, it reclaimed its defensive frontiers, not in order vaingloriously to extend its borders to the Rhine, but seeking security; it smiled when they spoke of European equilibrium, an equilibrium so unjustly tilted against it: that is why it desired, first of all, to cover itself in the south, since they had been pleased to disarm it in the north. At Navarino it regained a navy and the freedom of Greece; the question of the Orient has not taken it unawares.

I have maintained my opinions regarding the Orient, in three respects, since the period when I wrote this Memoir:

1. If European Turkey is to be parcelled out, we must have a share in the division by an increase in territory on our borders and by the possession of some military station in the Archipelago. To compare the partition of Turkey to the partition of Poland is an absurdity.

2. To treat Turkey as if we were in the reign of Francis I, as a power helpful to our policy, is to forget three centuries of history.

3. To attempt to civilise Turkey by giving her steamships and railroads, disciplining her army, and teaching her how to carry out fleet manoeuvres, is to fail to understand civilisation in the orient, and to introduce barbarism to the West: future Ibrahims could take us back to the age of Charles Martel, or that of the Siege of Vienna, when Europe was saved by that heroic Poland on which the ingratitude of kings weighs hard.

I must remark that I was the only person, apart from Benjamin Constant, to signal the lack of foresight of the Christian governments: a nation whose social structure is founded on slavery and polygamy is a nation that needs to be despatched to the Mongolian Steppes.

In the final result, European Turkey, which has become a vassal of Russia in virtue of the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, no longer exists: if the question needs to be resolved immediately, which I doubt, it would probably be better that an independent Empire had its seat in Constantinople, and was one with Greece. Is that possible? I do not know. As for Mehemet Ali, that pitiless tax and customs officer, Egypt, in the interests of France, is better in his keeping than it would be in that of the English.

But I am trying hard to demonstrate the honourable intentions of the Restoration; ah, who worries over what it has done, above all who will worry in a few years time? I might as well have been exerting myself in the interests of Tyre or Ecbatana: that past world is no more and will be no more. After Alexander, Roman power began; after Caesar, Christianity changed the world; after Charlemagne, feudal night engendered a new society; after Napoleon, nothing: there is no sign of a coming empire, or religion, or even the barbarians. Civilisation has reached its highest point, but a materialistic barren civilisation, which can produce nothing, since one can only create life through morality; one can only forge nations by Heavenly means: railroads only carry us more swiftly towards the abyss.

These are the preliminaries that seem necessary to me in order to aid understanding of the Memoir which follows here, but can equally be found in the archives of the Foreign Ministry.