Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVII, 2

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XXVII, 1 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXVII, 3


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXVII, chapter 2
A conversation with George IV regarding Monsieur Decazes – The nobility of our diplomacy under the Legitimacy – The Parliamentary Session



The thing which the King had particularly charged me to raise with George IV concerned Monsieur le Duc Decazes. I fulfilled the obligation a little later: I told George IV that Louis XVIII was troubled by the coolness with which the Ambassador of His Very Christian Majesty had been received. George IV replied:

‘Listen, Monsieur de Chateaubriand, and I will make you a confession: Monsieur Decaze’s appointment did not please me; I was presented with it somewhat cavalierly. My friendship for the King of France alone made me tolerate a favourite who had no other merit than that of his attachment to his master. Louis XVIII has often relied on my goodwill, with good reason; but I could not permit the indulgence of treating Monsieur Decazes with a distinction which would have harmed England. However, tell your King that I am concerned by what he has charged you with telling me, and that I will always be happy to show him my true attachment.’

Emboldened by these words, I made George IV aware of all that came to mind in favour of Monsieur Decazes. He replied, partly in French, partly in English: ‘À merveille! You are a true gentleman.’ On my return to Paris, I recounted this conversation to Louis XVIII: he seemed grateful to me. George IV had spoken like a noble prince but also like an independent spirit; he was without bitterness because he was thinking of other things. It did not do however to gamble with him except in moderation. One of his gaming friends had bet that he would ask George IV to pull the bell-cord and that George IV would obey. Indeed, George IV did pull the cord and said to the gentleman of his establishment: ‘Show Monsieur the door.’

The idea of returning our armies to power and splendour possessed me continually. I wrote to Monsieur de Montmorency, on the 13th of April: ‘An idea has come to me, Monsieur the Vicomte, which I submit to your judgement: would you find me at fault if in conversation with Prince Esterhazy, I were to tell him that if Austria should need to withdraw a section of its troops from Piedmont, we might replace them? Rumours which spread of an intended mobilisation of our troops in the Dauphiné offered me a favourable pretext. I had proposed to the former minister to send a garrison to Savoy, during the revolt of June 1821 (see one of my despatches from Berlin). He rejected the measure, and I think that in doing so he made a capital error. I persist in believing that the presence of French troops in Italy would have produced a fine effect on public opinion, and that the King’s government would have gained much glory from it.’

Proofs abound of the nobility of our diplomacy during the Restoration. What did it matter to anyone? Did I not read only this morning, in a left-wing newspaper, that the Alliance had forced us to be its policemen and to make war in Spain, when the records of the Congress of Verona exist, when the diplomatic documents show in an irrefutable manner that all Europe, with the exception of Russia, did not want war; that not only did she not want it, but that England openly rejected it, and Austria thwarted us in secret by less noble measures? That will not prevent some new lie tomorrow; no one will give themselves the trouble of investigating the matter, of reading that which they speak of knowingly without having read! Every lie repeated becomes a truth: one cannot have too much contempt for human opinion.

Lord John Russell put forward, on the 25th of April, in the Commons, a motion regarding the state of national representation in parliament: Mr Canning opposed it. The latter in turn proposed a bill to repeal part of the act which deprived Catholic Peers of the right to vote and sit in the Lords. I was present at the sessions in the Lords, on the Woolsack, where the Lord Chancellor made me sit. Mr Canning was present in 1822 at the session of the Chamber of Peers which finally rejected his bill; he was offended by a phrase of the aged Lord Chancellor; the latter, speaking of the author of the bill, exclaimed disdainfully: ‘We are assured that he is leaving for India: ah! Let him go, this fine gentleman, let him go! Farewell!’ Mr Canning said to me on emerging: ‘I will see him again.’

Lord Holland spoke very well, without however recalling Mr Fox. He twisted himself about, so that he often presented his back to the assembly and addressed his sentences to the wall. They shouted: ‘Hear! Hear!’ No one was shocked by his eccentricity.

In England everyone expresses themselves as they wish; formal advocacy is unknown; nothing is consistent in the voices or declamation of the orators. They are listened to patiently; no one is shocked if the speaker lacks ability; let him stammer, let him drone on, let him struggle to find the words, he has nevertheless made a fine speech if he has said something sensible. This variability of men, left as nature made them, ends by being agreeable; it breaks the monotony. It is true that only a small number of Lords and Members of the Commons got to their feet. We, always on stage, we hold forth and gesticulate, we serious puppets. It was a useful lesson for me that passage from the silent and secretive monarchy of Berlin to the noisy public monarchy of London: one might receive some instruction by comparing two nations at either end of the scale.