Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVI, 9

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


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXVI, chapter 9
Charlottenburg



In Berlin, and in the North generally, monuments are fortresses; their aspect alone grips the heart. When one finds these buildings on fertile inhabited terrain, they give birth to the idea of legitimate defence; women and children sitting and playing some way from these sentinels, contrast pleasantly enough with them; but a fortress on heath-land, in a waste, only brings to mind human wrath: against whom are they raised these ramparts, if not against poverty and freedom? You need to be me, to find any pleasure in roaming around at the foot of those bastions, listening to the gusts of wind in the ditches, in sight of those parapets raised in expectation of enemies who might never appear. Those military labyrinths, those silent guns facing each other at the angles of grassy salients, those sentries of stone where one sees no one and from which no eye looks out at you, are of an unbelievable gloominess. If, in the twin solitude of nature and war, you find a daisy sheltering beneath the slope of a field-work, that gift of Flora refreshes you. When, in Italian castellos, I glimpsed she-goats clinging to the ruins, and the goat-girl sitting under a pine tree for a parasol; when, on the medieval walls that encircle Jerusalem, my gaze plunged into the valley of the Cedron and fell on Arab women clambering up the escarpments among the stones; the spectacle was sad no doubt, but history was there and the silence of the present merely allowed me to hear the noise of the past more clearly.

I asked for leave on the occasion of the baptism of the Duc de Bordeaux. The request having been granted, I prepared to depart: Voltaire, in a letter to his niece, said that he was watching the Spree flow, that the Spree ran into the Elbe, the Elbe into the sea, and the sea received the Seine; thus he was heading towards Paris. Before leaving Berlin, I made a last visit to Charlottenburg: it was not Windsor, Aranjuez, Caserta, or Fontainebleau: the villa, attached to a hamlet, is surrounded by an English park of small extent from which one can see the fallows beyond. The Queen of Prussia enjoyed a peace here which the memory of Bonaparte could no longer disturb. What a row that exterminator once made in that sanctuary of silence, when he appeared there with his fanfares and his legions blood-stained from Jena! It was from Berlin, having wiped Frederick the Great’s kingdom from the map, that he denounced the Continental blockade and planned the Moscow Campaign in his mind; his words had already brought death to the heart of an accomplished Princess: she sleeps now at Charlottenburg, beneath a mausoleum; a tomb with her fine statue in marble, represents her. I made these verses about the tomb at the request of the Duchess of Cumberland:


THE TRAVELLER
Under the tall pines who guards these springs,
Say, keeper, this new monument’s for whom?
THE KEEPER
One day ‘twill mark for you the end of things:
Oh traveller, it is a tomb!
THE TRAVELLER
Who lies here?
THE KEEPER
A thing once full of charm.
THE TRAVELLER
That someone loved?
THE KEEPER
Who was adored.
THE TRAVELLER
Open then.
THE KEEPER
Enter not, if you fear the harm
Tears bring.
THE TRAVELLER
I have often wept before.
From Greece or Italy
They stole this marble for a sepulchre;
What tomb released it to enchant us here?
Cornelia’s perhaps or Antigone’s?
THE KEEPER
The beauty whose image stirs your words
spent her whole life among these trees.
THE TRAVELLER
Who then amidst these marble-clad walls
hung those faded crowns for her, in a row?
THE KEEPER
The beautiful children who with all
her virtues were crowned here below.
THE TRAVELLER
Someone comes.
THE KEEPER
A husband: this way he’ll often go,
Nurturing his sad private memories.
THE TRAVELLER
He lost all then?
THE KEEPER
No: his throne he keeps.
THE TRAVELLER
A throne cannot console.