Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVII, 8

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

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXVII, chapter 8
Discussion about the Congress of Verona – A letter to Monsieur Montmorency; his reply which allows me to sense a refusal – Monsieur Villèle’s letter is more favourable – I write to Madame de Duras – A note from Monsieur de Villèle to Madame de Duras

Since the Congresses of Vienna and Aix-la-Chapelle, the Princes of Europe were obsessed with congresses: it was there that one amused oneself and divided things up between the nations. Scarcely had the Congress, begun at Troppau and continued at Laibach, ended, than they thought of convoking another in Vienna, Ferrara, or Verona: the affairs of Spain offered an opportunity to expedite the event. Each country had already designated its Ambassador.

In London I witnessed everyone preparing to leave for Verona: as my head was full of the events in Spain, and as I dreamed of a project to bring France honour, I thought I might be of some use at the new Congress by making myself known in a connection which had not been considered. I had written to Monsieur de Montmorency on the 24th of May; but did not find favour. The Minister’s lengthy reply was evasive, embarrassed, and tortuous; a marked distancing of himself seemed to me to be ill concealed beneath the benevolence; he finished with this paragraph:

‘Since I am writing confidentially, dear Vicomte, I will tell you what I would not say in an official despatch, but what personal observation, and the advice too of those who well know the terrain in which you are placed, have prompted. Have you considered firstly that, vis-à-vis the English Minister, one must be cautious of certain effects of jealousy and mood that are always likely to be engendered regarding any direct marks of favour from the King, or of credit in society? Tell me, have you not chanced to notice traces of such?’

Through whom had complaints concerning my credit with the King and in society (that is to say, I assume, with the Marchioness Conyngham) been transmitted to the Vicomte de Montmorency? I do not know.

Anticipating, by this private despatch, that my cause was lost with the Foreign Minister, I addressed myself to Monsieur de Villèle, then my friend, and who was not greatly inclined towards his colleague. In his letter of the 5th of May 1822, he at first replied favourably to me.

‘Paris, the 5th of May, 1822.
‘I must thank you,’ he says, ‘for all you have achieved on our behalf in London; the decisions of that Court regarding the Spanish colonies should not influence our own; our position is quite different; we must avoid above all being prevented, by a war with Spain, from acting as we ought to elsewhere, should affairs in the Orient lead to new political alignments in Europe.
We will not allow the French government to be dishonoured by failing to participate in events which may arise from the current world situation: others may intervene to greater advantage, none with greater courage and loyalty.
Others are greatly mistaken, I believe, concerning both our country’s true means, and the power that the King’s government can still exercise through prescribed forms; these command more resources than they appear to think, and I trust that we will know how to reveal them on occasion.
You will support us, my dear friend, during these major events if they occur. We know it, and count on it; the honour will be yours, and not merely according to your share in the matters currently in question, but according to services rendered; let us vie with all zeal as to who will distinguish themselves most.
I do not know in truth if all this will turn into a Congress; but, in any case, I will not forget what you have said to me.

At this first sign of good intent, I put pressure on the Minister of Finance through Madame la Duchesse de Duras; she had already leant me the support of her friendship regarding the Court’s neglect in 1814. She soon received this note from Monsieur de Villèle:

‘All we could say has been said; all that it is in my heart and my judgement to do for the public good, and for my friend, has been done and will be done: be certain of it. I have no need of being preached at, nor converted, I repeat; I act from conviction and sentiment.

Accept, Madame, the homage of my affectionate respect.’