Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVII, 6

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XXVII, 5 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXVII, 7


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXVII, chapter 6
Portraits of the Ministers



Lord Londonderry was particularly impenetrable: he hindered one by his sincerity as a Minister and at the same time his reserve as a man. He explained his political views frankly in a most frigid manner and kept a profound silence where events were concerned. He seemed as indifferent about what he said as about what he did not; one did not know what to think of what he revealed or of what he hid. He would not have budged if you had exploded a firecracker in his ear, as Saint-Simon has it.

Lord Londonderry possessed a kind of Irish eloquence which often caused hilarity in the Lords, and gaiety amongst the public: his blunders were celebrated, but he sometimes attained marks of eloquence which swayed a crowd, for example his speeches regarding the battle of Waterloo: I reminded him of them.

The Earl of Harrowby was Lord President of the Council; he spoke with propriety, lucidity and knowledge of the facts. It would have been considered unseemly in London if the President had expressed himself with prolixity and loquacity. Otherwise he was a perfect gentleman in manner. One day, in the Paquis, at Geneva, an Englishman was announced: Lord Harrowby entered; I barely recognised him: he had lost his former king; mine was in exile. It was the last time the England of my period of grandeur appeared before me.

I have mentioned Mr Peel and Lord Westmoreland in The Congress of Verona.

I do not know if Lord Bathurst is descended from and is the grandson of the Lord Bathurst of whom Sterne wrote: ‘This nobleman, I say, is a prodigy! For at eighty five he has all the wit and promptness of a man of thirty, a disposition to be pleased, and a power to please others, beyond what-ever I knew.’ Lord Bathurst, the Minister of whom I am speaking, was educated and polite; he kept up the traditions of old French manners and good company. He had three or four daughters who ran, or rather flew like sea terns, beside the waves, slender, white, and weightless. What has become of them? Have they fallen into the Tiber like the young Englishwoman of that name?

Lord Liverpool was not, like Lord Londonderry, the leading Minister; but he was the Minister who was most influential and most respected. He enjoyed reputation as a religious man and one of good will, a thing so potent for those who possess it; the man was approached with the trust one bestows on one’s father; no action appeared good if it was not approved by this saintly person, invested with an authority greatly superior to that of mere talent. Lord Liverpool was the son of Charles Jenkinson, Earl of Liverpool, Baron Hawkesbury, favourite of Lord Bute. Almost all the English Statesmen first pursued a literary career, in pieces of verse of varying quality, and in articles, generally excellent, inserted in the reviews. There is a portrait of this 1st Earl of Liverpool when he was private secretary to Lord Bute; his family was in great distress: vanity, puerile at all times, is doubtless still more so today; but let us not forget that our most fiery revolutionaries acquired their hatred of society from natural disadvantage or social inferiority.

It is possible that Lord Liverpool, inclined to reform, and to whom Mr Canning owed his last Ministry, was influenced, despite the strictness of his religious principles, by unpleasant memories. At the time when I knew Lord Liverpool, he was an inspired Puritan almost. He lived alone, though habit, with an elderly sister, some miles from London. He spoke little; his expression was gloomy; he often cupped his ear with the air of listening to something sad: one would have said he was listening to his last years falling, like drops of winter rain on the paving stones. For the rest, he had few passions, and lived according to God’s law.

Mr Croker, Secretary of the Admiralty, celebrated as an author and orator, belonged to the school of Mr Pitt, as did Mr Canning; but he was more disillusioned than the latter. He occupied one of those gloomy apartments in Whitehall, from a window of which Charles I emerged to walk to his scaffold erected on the same level. One is astonished on entering London at the buildings where the Directors of organisations sit whose power is felt at the ends of the earth. A handful of men in black frock coats at a bare table: that is all you will find: yet these are the directors of English shipping, or the members of that company of merchants, successors to the Mogul emperors, who claim two hundred million subjects in India.

Two years ago, Mr Croker came to visit me at the Marie-Thérèse Infirmary. He remarked on the similarity of our opinions and fates. Events separated us from society; politics creates it solitaries as religion creates its anchorites. When man inhabits the desert, he finds there some distant image of the infinite being who, living alone in the immensity, watches worlds complete their revolutions.