Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXV, 9

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XXV, 8 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXV, 10

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXV, chapter 9
The Conservateur

I felt that my battles at the rostrum, in a closed Chamber, and in the midst of an assembly which was poorly disposed towards me, were an ineffective path to victory and that I needed another weapon. Censorship of the daily papers having been established, I could only fulfil my aim by means of a free paper, published irregularly, by the aid of which I could attack both the governmental system and the extreme left-wing opinions expressed by Monsieur Étienne in the Minerve. In the summer of 1818, I was at Noisiel, the home of Madame the Duchesse de Lévis, where my publisher Monsieur Le Normant came to see me. I explained the idea which preoccupied me; he took fire, offering to run all the risks and cover all the costs. I spoke to my friends Messieurs de Bonald and de Lamennais, asking them if they would collaborate with me: they agreed, and the paper soon appeared under the name of the Conservateur.

That newspaper caused an extraordinary revolution: in France it affected the majority in the two Chambers; abroad it transformed government attitudes.

Thus the Royalists did me the favour of emerging from the nothingness into which they had fallen vis-à-vis nations and kings. I set a pen in the hands of the greatest families of France. I presented the Montmorencys and Lévis as journalists; I summoned the arrière-ban, and made feudalism march to the aid of the freedom of the Press. I brought together once more the most brilliant lights of the Royalist party, Messieurs de Villèle, de Corbière, de Vitrolles, de Castelbajac etc. I could not help blessing Providence every time I draped the red robe of a Prince of the Church over the Conservateur to act as a cover, or had the pleasure of reading an article signed in full: the Cardinal de La Luzerne. But it so happened that after leading my knights to the constitutional crusade, as soon as they had overcome power and delivered freedom, as soon as they had become princes of Edessa, Antioch and Damascus, they shut themselves in their new States with Eleanor of Aquitaine, and left me to mope at the foot of the wall of Jerusalem where the infidels had recaptured the Holy Tomb.

My polemic, begun in the Conservateur, lasted from 1818 until 1820 that is to say until the re-establishment of censorship, for which the pretext was the death of the Duc de Berry. At this first stage of my polemic, I brought about the fall of the current minister and brought Monsieur de Villèle to power.

I began speaking out immediately after the Hundred Days; it was then that I set about educating Royalists in the constitution. After 1824, when I took up the pen again in pamphlets and in the Journal des Débats, the situation had altered. Yet what did they matter to me, those wretched futilities, to me who have never believed in the times in which I have lived; to me who might have belonged to the past, to me without faith in kings, lacking conviction in nationalism, to me who never cared for anything but dreams, on condition however that they did not last longer than a night!

The first article in the Conservateur sketched out the state of affairs at the moment when I entered the lists. During the two years the newspaper existed, I depicted successively the events of the day, and examined key interests. I had occasion to note the cowardice represented by that private correspondence which the Paris police had published in London. Those private correspondences might libel, but they could not dishonour: what is base has no power to debase; honour alone can inflict dishonour. ‘Anonymous calumniators’ I proclaimed, ‘have the courage to state who you are; a little shame is soon overcome; add your surname to your articles, it will only add one despicable word more.’

I sometimes made fun of Ministers and I expressed that ironic tendency that I always disapprove of in myself.

The Conservateur of the 5th of December 1818 contained a serious article concerning the morality of various interests and the morality of duty: from that article, which made a stir, derives the phraseology concerning moral interests and material interests, first mooted by me, and then adopted by everyone. Here it is, highly abridged; elevated beyond the usual level of a newspaper, it is one of my works to which my reason ascribes some value. It has not aged, because the ideas it contains are timeless.