Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXIX, 5

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXIX, chapter 5
The Ambassadors



My ambassadorial colleagues are Count Lutzow, the Austrian Ambassador, a very polite gentleman: his wife sings well, always the same air, and talks endlessly about her little ones; the learned Baron Bunsen, Prussian minister and friend of Niebuhr (I am negotiating with him the termination in my favour of the lease on his Palace on the Capitoline); and the Russian minister, Prince Gagarin, exiled among the ancient grandeurs of Rome, because of a transient affair: if he was preferred by the beautiful Madame Narishkin, living for the moment in my former hermitage of Aulnay she must have found some charm in his moodiness; one dominates more by one’s faults than one’s qualities.

Monsieur de Labrador, the Spanish Ambassador, a loyal gentleman, speaks little, walks alone, and thinks a great deal, or does not think at all, which one I can’t quite make out.

Old Count Fuscaldo represents Naples as winter represents spring. He has a large piece of cardboard which he studies through his spectacles, showing not the rose-fields of Paestum, but the names of foreign suspects to whom he must not issue passports. I envy him his Palace (Farnese), a fine unfinished structure, which Michelangelo crowned, which Annibale Carraci adorned, aided by his brother Augustino, the portico of which shelters the sarcophagus of Celicilia Metella, which has lost nothing by its change of mausoleum. Fuscaldo, wrecked in mind and body, has, they say, a mistress.

The Comte de Celles, Ambassador of the King of Holland, married Mademoiselle de Valence, now dead: he has two daughters, who, in consequence, are great grand-daughters of Madame de Genlis. Monsieur de Celles remained a Prefect, because he had been one: his character is that blend of loquacity and petty tyranny, of recruiting officer and quartermaster, which one never loses. If you meet a man to whom, instead of feet, yards and acres, you must speak of decimetres, metres and hectares, you have set hands on a Prefect.

Monsieur de Funchal, semi-official Ambassador of Portugal, is grotesque, agitated, grimacing, green as a Brazilian monkey, yellow as a Lisbon orange; yet he sings the praises of his Negress, this new Camoëns! A great amateur musician, he keeps a sort of Paganini in his pay, while awaiting the restoration of his King.

Here and there, I glimpsed the petty intrigues of the Ministers of various petty States, quite scandalised by the trivial value I set on my ambassadorship: their self-importance tight-lipped, muffled, silent, trod stiff-legged taking tiny steps: it seemed ready to burst with secrets, of which it had no knowledge.