Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXV, 5

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XXV, 4 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXV, 6

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXV, chapter 5
Monsieur Decazes

As soon as Monsieur Decazes was appointed a Minister, carriages jammed the Quai Malaquais each evening, to deposit whatever was noblest of the Faubourg Saint-Germain at the newcomer’s salon. The Frenchman has to do things well, he can never be merely a courtier; no matter what it is, as long as it will make him a power to be reckoned with.

A formidable coalition of idiocies soon formed around a new favourite. In a democratic society, you can chatter about liberty, claim that you can foresee the course of the human race and the future of things, while winning a few prize medals with your speeches, and you are sure of your place; in an aristocratic society, play whist, churn out commonplaces and pre-conceived witticisms with a profound and serious air, and your talent is assured of good fortune.

A compatriot of Murat, but a Murat without a kingdom, Monsieur Decazes came to us courtesy of Napoleon’s mother. He was friendly, obliging, and never insolent; he wished me well, I do not know why, since I was indifferent: from that arose the beginning of my problems. It was to teach me that one must never show lack of respect to a favourite. The King lavished kindnesses and wealth on him, and married him later to a very well-born lady, the daughter of Monsieur de Sainte-Aulaire. It is true that Monsieur Decazes served royalty almost too well; it was he who unearthed Marshal Ney in the mountains of the Auvergne where he was hiding.

Faithful to his ideas of royalty, Louis XVIII said of Monsieur Decazes: ‘I will elevate him such that he will be envied by the greatest of lords.’ That phrase, borrowed from another king, was merely an anachronism: to elevate others one must be certain not to descend oneself; now, at the period Louis XVIII had reached, what were monarchs? If they could still make a man’s fortune, they could not make him great; they were no more than their favourites’ bankers.

Madame Princeteau, sister of Monsieur Decazes, was a pleasant, modest, excellent person; the King was infatuated with the prospect of her. Monsieur Decazes the elder, whom I saw in the throne-room in full dress, sword at his side, hat under his arm, nevertheless had no success.

Finally, the death of Monsieur the Duc de Berry increased hostility on all sides and led to the favourite’s fall. I said that his feet were slippery with blood, which did not signify, God forbid, that he was guilty of murder, but that he fell into that crimson sea which formed beneath Louvel’s knife.