Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXV, 12

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


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXV, chapter 12
The birth of the Duke of Bordeaux – The women of Bordeaux Market



Monsieur the Duc de Bordeaux entered the world on the 29th of September 1820. The newly-born infant was called the child of Europe and the miraculous child: nonetheless he would become the child of exile.

Some time before the Princess went into labour, three women of the Bordeaux market had a cradle made, and, on behalf of all their companions, chose me to present it, and them, to the Duchesse de Berry. Mesdames Dasté, Duranton, and Rivaille, arrived. I hastened to ask the gentleman in the Duchess’ service to ask for an audience according to etiquette. Behold, Monsieur de Sèze considered the right to such an honour belonged to him: it was said that I would never succeed at Court. I was still not reconciled with the government, and I did not appear to be worthy of the task of introducing my humble ambassadresses. I emerged from this grand negotiation as usual, by paying their expenses.

It all became an affair of State; the title-tattle concerning it made the newspapers. The ladies from Bordeaux, having heard of it, wrote the following letter to me, on the subject:

‘Bordeaux, the 24th of October 1820.
Monsieur le Vicomte,
We owe you thanks for your goodness in having placed our delight and respect at the feet of Madame la Duchesse de Berry: on this occasion at least no one will prevent you from acting as our interpreter. We have read with the greatest unhappiness the fuss Monsieur le Comte de Sèze has made, in the newspapers; and if we have kept silence, it was for fear of giving you pain. However, Monsieur le Vicomte, no one can be better equipped than you are to pay homage to the truth and correct Monsieur de Sèze’s error regarding our true intentions in our choice of someone to present us to her Royal Highness. We offer to relate everything that has occurred, in a journal of your choice; and, as no one has the right to select our guide, and even to the last moment we flattered ourselves that you would be that guide, what we would state in that regard would necessarily silence everyone.
That is what we have decided, Monsieur le Vicomte; but we thought it was our duty to do nothing without your agreement. Be assured that we would willingly publish, to the world, the details of the fine things you have done regarding the question of our being presented. If we have been a cause of anxiety, we are ready to repair the damage.
We are, and will be forever,
Monsieur le Vicomte,
Your very humble and respectful servants,
Mesdames DASTÉ, DURANTON, RIVAILLE.’

I replied to these generous women, who so little resembled the great ladies:

‘Thank you, dear ladies, for the offer you have made of publishing in a newspaper all that happened regarding Monsieur de Sèze. You are royalists, par excellence, and I too am a good royalist: we must remember above all that Monsieur de Sèze is a respectable man, and has been a defender of our King. That fine action is not erased by a trifling moment of vanity. Let us keep silent: I am satisfied with your good opinion of me among your friends. I have already thanked you for the excellent fruit: Madame de Chateaubriand and I eat the chestnuts every day and speak of you.
Now permit your host to embrace you. My wife sends her compliments, and I am:
Your servant and friend.
CHATEAUBRIAND.
Paris, the 2nd of November 1820.’

But who thinks of those futile arguments these days? The joy and the feasting of that baptismal day are far behind us. When Henri was born on St Michael’s day, would one not have thought that the archangel had trodden the dragon underfoot? It is to be feared, on the contrary, that the flaming sword was only drawn from its sheath to drive the innocent from the terrestrial paradise, and close the gates against them.