Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVII, 9

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


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXVII, chapter 9
The death of Lord Londonderry



My final despatch, dated the 9th of August, announced to Monsieur de Montmorency that Lord Londonderry was leaving for Vienna, between the 15th and the 20th. A sudden momentous curtailment of mortal plans was revealed to me; I thought I would only have to communicate news of human affairs to the Very Christian King’s council, and I had to give an account of the affairs of God:

‘London, 12th of August 1822: 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
Despatch transmitted to Paris via the Calais telegraph-station.
The Marquis of Londonderry died suddenly at nine this morning, in his country house at North-Cray.’
No. 49. ‘London, the 13th of August 1822.’
Monsieur le Vicomte,
If the weather caused no delay to my telegraphed despatch, and if no accident occurred to my special courier, who left here at four, I anticipate that you will have received the first news on the Continent of Lord Londonderry’s sudden death.
His death is tragic in the extreme. The noble Marquis was in London on Friday; he had a minor headache; he had himself bled between his shoulder-blades. After which he left for North-Cray, where the Marchioness of Londonderry had been staying for the past month. Fever declared itself on Saturday the 10th and Sunday the 11th; but it seemed to recede between Sunday night and Monday morning, and on the Monday morning, the 12th, the illness appeared so improved, that his wife who was looking after him, thought she might leave him for a moment. Lord Londonderry, whose mind was disturbed, finding himself alone, rose, went into his office, seized a razor, and slit his jugular at the first stroke. He fell, bathed in blood, at the feet of the doctor who came to his aid.
This deplorable incident has been concealed as much as possible, but it has reached the public in garbled form, and given birth to all kinds of rumours.
Why should Lord Londonderry cut short his life? He had neither passions nor misfortunes; he was more secure in his position than ever. He was preparing to leave the following Thursday. He would have turned what is a business journey into a pleasant excursion. He was due to return on the 15th of October for a shooting trip arranged in advance, to which he had invited me. Providence has decreed otherwise, and Lord Londonderry has followed the Duc de Richelieu.’

Here are a few details which did not appear in my despatches.

On returning to London, George IV told me that Lord Londonderry had brought him the plan of instruction which he had drawn up for himself and which he would follow at the Congress. George IV took the manuscript, to consider its terms more closely, and began to read in a loud voice. He noticed that Lord Londonderry was not listening, and that his gaze was directed towards the ceiling of the room: “What is the matter, Milord? the King asked. – Sire,” replied the Marquis, “here is that insupportable John (a jockey) at the door; he won’t go away, though I am always ordering him to do so.” The King, astonished, folded the document and said: “You are ill, Milord: go home; have yourself bled.” Lord Londonderry left and went off to buy the knife with which he cut his throat.

On the 13th of August, I continued my despatch to Monsieur de Montmorency.

‘They have sent couriers everywhere, to the spas, to the coastal resorts, to the country houses, to seek the absent Ministers. At the moment when the incident occurred none of them were in London. They are expected today or tomorrow; they will hold a council meeting, but will be unable to decide anything, since, in the final result, it is the King who will nominate one of them, and the King is in Edinburgh. It is probable that His Majesty will not hasten to make a choice during the holiday season. Lord Londonderry’s death is a disaster for England: he was not loved, but he was feared; the Radicals detested him, but they were afraid of him. Singularly brave, he impressed the Opposition who dared not insult him too much at the despatch box or in the newspapers. His imperturbable sang-froid, his profound indifference to men and things, his despotic instinct and secret contempt for constitutional freedoms, made him a Minister fitted to struggle with success against the tendencies of the century. His faults appeared qualities in an age when extremism and democracy threaten society.
I have the honour, etc.’
‘London, the 15th of August 1822.
‘Monsieur le Vicomte,
Subsequent information has confirmed what I had the honour to tell you regarding the death of the Marquis of Londonderry, in my regular despatch, no. 49, of the day before yesterday. Only, the fatal instrument with which the unfortunate Minister cut his jugular vein was a pen-knife and not a razor as I advised you previously. The Coroner’s report, which you will see in the newspapers, will tell you all. An inquest into the death of Great-Britain’s leading Minister, as over the body of a murderer, adds something even more dreadful to that event.
You doubtless now know Monsieur le Vicomte that Lord Londonderry had shown signs of mental alienation a few days before his suicide, and that the King himself perceived them. A small circumstance to which I paid no attention, but which I have recalled since the tragedy, is worth relating. I went to see the Marquis of Londonderry, a fortnight or so ago. Contrary to his custom, and to that of the country, he received me familiarly in his dressing-room. He was about to shave himself, and while laughing with a sardonic laugh he made me a eulogy on English razors. I complimented him on the impending closure of the Parliamentary session. “Yes,” he said, “It will have to end or I will.”
I have the honour, etc.’

All that the English Radicals and the French Liberals have said of the death of Lord Londonderry, namely: that he killed himself because of political depression, feeling that the principles opposed to his own would triumph, is a pure fable invented by the imagination of some, the party bias and foolishness of others. Lord Londonderry was not the man to repent of having sinned against humanity, for which he scarcely cared, nor the intellectuals of the period, for whom he had a profound contempt: his insanity was introduced into the Castlereagh family through the female line.

It was decided that the Duke of Wellington, accompanied by Lord Clanwilliam, would take Lord Londonderry’s place at the Congress. The official instructions were reduced to these: forget about Italy completely: don’t get involved with affairs in Spain: negotiate regarding those of the Orient, towards maintaining the peace without adding to Russia’s influence. Luck as always was with Mr Canning, and the Foreign Affairs portfolio was only entrusted to Lord Bathurst, Minister for the Colonies, for the interim. I was present at Lord Londonderry’s funeral, at Westminster, on the 29th of August. The Duke of Wellington seemed moved; Lord Liverpool was obliged to cover his face with his hat to hide his tears. Outside cries of insult could be heard, and of delight when the body entered the Abbey: were Colbert and Louis XIV any more respected? The living can teach the dead nothing; the dead, on the contrary, instruct the living.