Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXV, 8

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XXV, 7 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXV, 9


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXV, chapter 8
Meetings at Piet’s



Due to a meeting of minds, a close one at that time, camaraderie was established between the minority groupings in both Chambers. France educated itself concerning representative government: as I was so foolish as to stick to the letter of it, and felt a veritable passion for it, to my detriment, I supported those who espoused it, without concerning myself as to whether they exhibited in their opposition more of human motive than the pure love I conceived for the Charter; not that I was a complete fool, but I did idealize my mistress, and I would have traversed the flames to take her in my arms. It was during this constitutional fit, in 1816, that I met Monsieur de Villèle. He was calmer; he controlled his ardour; he also intended to win freedom; but he laid siege by rule; he cut trenches methodically; while I, who desired to assault the place, I scaled ladders and was often hurled down into the moat.

I encountered Monsieur de Villèle for the first time at the Duchesse de Lévi’s. He had become leader of the Royalist opposition in the elected Chamber, as I was in the hereditary Chamber. Monsieur de Corbière was a friend of his. That gentleman never left his side, and people spoke of Villèle and Corbière, as one says Orestes and Pylades, or Euryalus and Nisus.

To enter into fastidious detail regarding people whose names one will have forgotten tomorrow would be a foolish vanity. Obscure and tedious events, that one thinks of immense interest, and that interest no one; past machinations, that led to no major outcome, ought to be left to those happy optimists who consider themselves to be or have been the world’s object of attention.

Yet there were moments of pride when my arguments with Monsieur de Villèle seemed to me like the dissension between Marius and Sulla, or Caesar and Pompey. With the other members of the opposition, we quite often went to the Rue Thérèse, to spend the evening in discussion at Monsieur Piet’s. We would arrive in an extremely ugly mood, and would sit round the walls of a salon lit by a lamp which smoked. In that legislative fog, we talked of proposed laws, motions to be enacted, of approaches to be made to the secretariat, the administration, and various commissions. There was criticism on all sides. We looked considerably like those assemblies of the early church, as depicted by the enemies of the faith: we spewed out the direst news; we declared that things must change, that Rome would be troubled by division, that our armies would be defeated.

Monsieur de Villèle listened, summarised and concluded nothing: he was a great aid to business; a cautious sailor, he never set out to sea during a storm, and though he would enter a known harbour, skilfully, he could never have discovered the New World. I often remarked, regarding our discussions about the sale of church assets, that the most Christian among us were the most ardent in defending the constitutional position. Religion is a source of freedom: in Rome, the flamen dialis only wore only a hollow ring on his finger, because a solid ring might suggest a link of chain; on his clothing and his cap Jupiter’s high priest allowed no knots.

After a meeting, Monsieur de Villèle would withdraw, accompanied by Monsieur de Corbière. During those meetings, I studied many individuals, learnt many things, and occupied myself with the many subjects of our get-togethers: I was initiated into the elements of finance, something that I always sweated over; the army, the judicial system, and the administration. I left those conferences a little more of a Statesman and a little more persuaded of the poverty of all such science. All night long, half-asleep, I saw bald heads in various attitudes, the faces of those Solons, with various expressions on their visages, disarranged and separated from their bodies: it was all very respectable for sure; but I preferred the swallow that woke me in my youth and the Muses who filled my dreams: the rays of dawn, striking the swans in flight, that cast the shadows of those white birds onto a gilded wave; the rising sun appearing to me in Syria at the crest of a palm tree, as if in a phoenix’s nest, delighted me more.