Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVII, 5

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXVII, chapter 5
The resumption of Parliamentary activity – A ball given on behalf of the Irish – A duel between the Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Buckingham – Dinner at Royal Lodge – The Marchioness of Conyngham and her secret



On the 17th of May I was at Covent Garden, in the Duke of York’s box. The King appeared. That prince, once detested, was welcomed with acclamation such as he would never have received from the monks who once inhabited that ancient monastery. On the 26th, the Duke of York came to dine at the Embassy: George IV was tempted to do me the honour also; but he feared diplomatic jealousy on the part of my colleagues.

The Vicomte de Montmorency refused to enter into negotiations over the Spanish colonies with the Court of St James. I learnt, on the 19th of May, of the sudden death of Monsieur le Duc de Richelieu. That honest man had patiently endured his first dismissal from government; but events causing him to lose too much time he missed any further opportunity, since he lacked a second life to replace that which he had lost. The great name of Richelieu has only been transmitted to us via the female line.

Revolution continued in the Americas. I wrote to Monsieur de Montmorency:

London, 28th May 1822.
‘Peru has just adopted a monarchical constitution. European politics must exert all its energies on achieving a like result in the colonies which have declared their independence. The United States specifically fears the establishment of an empire in Mexico. If the New World remains republican as a whole, the monarchies of the Old World will die out.’

There was much talk of distress among the Irish peasantry, and peopled danced for consolation. A grand ball held at the Opera, engaged all feeling souls. The King, encountering me in the corridor, asked me what I was doing there, and taking me by the arm, led me to his box.

The stalls, in the days when I was an exile, were rough and rowdy; sailors drank beer there, ate oranges, and shouted at the boxes. I once found myself next to a sailor who had arrived in a state of intoxication; he demanded to know where he was; I told him: ‘Covent Garden. – A pretty garden, indeed!’ he exclaimed, seized, like the gods in Homer, with inextinguishable laughter.

Invited recently to an evening at Lord Lansdowne’s, His Lordship presented me to a severe-looking lady of sixty-six: she was dressed in crepe, wore a black veil like a tiara on her white hair, and resembled some queen who had abdicated. She greeted me in solemn tones, with three mispronounced quotations from Le Génie du Christianisme; then she told me with no less solemnity: ‘I am Mrs Siddons.’ If she had said: ‘I am Lady Macbeth’, I would have believed her. I had seen her previously on the stage at the height of her powers. It was necessary only to have lived long enough to find the debris of one century hurled onto the shore of another by Time’s waves.

The visitors from France I received in London were Monsieur le Duc and Madame la Duchesse de Guiche, whom I will speak about in talking of Prague; Monsieur le Marquis de Custine, whom I had known when he was a child at Fervaques; and Madame la Vicomtesse de Noailles, as pleasant, spiritual and gracious as if she were still fourteen and wandering through the lovely gardens at Méréville.

People tired of receptions; the Ambassadors dreamed of going on leave: Prince Esterhazy prepared to depart for Vienna; he hoped to be summoned to the Congress, since they were already talking of a Congress. Monsieur Rothschild returned to France, he and his brother having arranged the Russian loan of 23 million roubles. The Duke of Bedford fought with the high-spending Duke of Buckingham, at the bottom of a hollow, in Kensington Gardens; a song injurious to the King of France, brought from Paris and printed in the London papers, amused the radical English scoundrels who laugh without knowing at what.

I left on the 6th of June for Royal Lodge, where the King was. He had invited me to dinner, and to stay the night.

I saw George IV again on the 12th, 13th and 14th, at a levee, at a drawing-room reception, and at a ball given by his Majesty. On the 24th, I gave a dinner for the Prince and Princess of Denmark; the Duke of York was invited.

The kindness, with which the Marchioness of Conyngham treated me, might have been a thing of importance once: she told me that His Majesty’s idea of a trip to the continent had not been entirely abandoned. I hid this great secret religiously in my breast. What important despatches might have been written about this word from a favourite, in the age of Mesdames de Verneuil, de Maintenon, Des Ursins and de Pompadour! Besides, it would have been inappropriate for me to stir myself to obtain information from the Court of St James: you speak in vain, no one hears.