Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVI, 8

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

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXVI, chapter 8
A memoir I started: on Germany

During their sojourn in foreign parts, ambassadors were encouraged to write a memoir on the state of the nations and governments to which they were accredited. This spate of memoirs may prove useful historically. Nowadays the same injunction is made, but hardly any diplomatic agents submit one. I have been too brief a resident in my embassies to finish any lengthy studies; nevertheless, I have outlined some; my patient work has not been totally sterile. I found this sketch of my research on Germany which I began there:

‘After the fall of Napoleon, the introduction of representative government to the German Confederacy re-awoke in Germany those first innovative ideas that the Revolution had originally given birth to there. They fermented there often violently: youth was summoned to the country’s defence by the promise of liberty; that promise was avidly received by the students who discovered in their teachers the tendency to support liberal theory that science has posessed in this century. Under German skies, that love of liberty became a kind of fanaticism, sombre and mysterious, propagating itself by means of secret societies. Sand frightened Europe. That man, however, who revealed a powerful sect, was only a vulgar enthusiast; he erred, and mistook the commonplace spirit for a transcendental one: his crime will be forgotten as that of a scribbler whose genius could not rise to empire, and who had too little of the king and conqueror to be worthy of a dagger blow.

A kind of political tribunal of inquisition, and the suppression of freedom of the Press, has arrested that movement of minds; but one should not believe it has broken the spring of action. Germany now, like Italy, desires political unity, and with that idea, which stays dormant for a shorter or longer period of time depending on men and events, they will always be able, in waking it, to stir the Germanic peoples. The Princes or Ministers who may appear in the ranks of the Confederation of German States will hasten or retard the revolution in that country, but they will not stop the human race from developing: each century takes it own course. Today there is no one of note in Germany, nor even in Europe: we have passed from giants to dwarfs, and fallen from immensity into the narrow and limited. Bavaria, because of the government created by Monsieur de Montgelas, still promotes new ideas, though it went backwards as long as the Landgraviat of Hesse-Kassel refused to admit there had been a European Revolution. The Prince, who has just died, wished his soldiers, formerly soldiers of Jérôme Bonaparte, to wear powder and queues; he mistook the old fashions for the old ways, forgetting that one can copy the former, but can never bring back the latter.’