Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXV, 7

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXV, chapter 7
Further speeches of mine in 1817 and 1818

After the publication of Monarchy according to the Charter, and at the opening of the new session in November 1816, I continued my struggle. In the Chambers of Peers on the 23rd of that month, I put forward a proposal by which the King was humbly implored to have investigations made into what had transpired during the recent elections. The corruption and force employed by the government in those elections had been flagrant.

Regarding my opinion on a legal matter relating to the finances (the 21st of March 1817), I objected to item XI of that proposal: it concerned the intention to allocate the State forests to a sinking fund, and the desire then to sell off a hundred and fifty thousand hectares. These forests comprised three sorts of property: the ancient domains of the Crown, several Commanderies of the Order of Malta and the remaining Church assets. I am not sure why, even today, I take a melancholy interest in my words; they find echoes in my Memoirs:

‘With all due respect to those who have only been administrators during the troubles, it is not material tokens, but the morals of a nation that create public credit. Will the new owners be worthy of their new properties? They will be called to account for despoiling these, the legacies of nine centuries stolen from their former possessors. Instead of those immutable patrimonies in which the same family lived, like a succession of oak trees, you will have disposable properties where the reeds scarcely have time to grow and die before they have changed masters. Houses will cease to be the guardians of domestic morality; they will lose their traditional authority; highways open to all comers, they will no longer be consecrated, as ancestral seats and cradles of the new-born.

Peers of France, it is your cause I plead here and not mine: I speak to you on behalf of your children; I shall have no concern with posterity; I have no children; I have lost my father’s estate, and the few trees I have planted will soon be mine no longer.’