Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVIII, 10

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XXVIII, 9 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXVIII, 11

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXVIII, chapter 10
A trip to Lausanne

Madame de Chateaubriand, being ill, took a trip to the south of France, and feeling no better, returned to Lyons, where Doctor Prunelle condemned her condition. I went to meet her; I took her to Lausanne, where she gave the lie to Monsieur Prunelle. I stayed at Lausanne alternately with Monsieur de Sivry and Madame de Cottens, an affectionate, spiritual but unfortunate woman. I met Madame de Montolieu; she lived in retirement on a lofty hillside; she pined away amongst romantic illusions, like Madame de Genlis, her contemporary. Gibbon had composed his History of the Roman Empire at my very door: ‘It was among the ruins of the Capitol’, he wrote, in Lausanne, on the 27th of June 1787 ‘that I first conceived the idea of a work which has amused and exercised near twenty years of my life.’ Madame de Staël had appeared in Lausanne with Madame Récamier. All the émigrés, a whole past world, stayed for a while in that sad and smiling city, a kind of imitation Granada. Madame de Duras has evoked the memory in her Memoirs and this letter told me of a fresh loss to which I was condemned:

‘Bex, 13th of July 1826.
‘It is finished, Monsieur, your friend exists no more. She has rendered her soul to God, painlessly, this morning at a quarter to eleven. She was still out in her carriage yesterday evening. Nothing suggested so immediate a death; what can I say, we did not think her illness would end thus. Monsieur de Custine, whose grief does not allow him to write to you himself, was even out in the mountains round Bex yesterday morning, to arrange a daily delivery of mountain milk for the dear invalid.
I am too oppressed by grief myself to enter into lengthy details. We are preparing to return to France with the precious remains of that best of mothers and friends. Enguerrand will lie between his two mothers.
We will pass through Lausanne, where Monsieur de Custine will seek you out as soon as we arrive.
Accept, Monsieur, the assurance of respectful attachment with which I am, etc.’

See my earlier and later comments, to discover what I have had the pleasure and misfortune to recall regarding my memories of Madame de Custine.

The Letters written from Lausanne, a work of Madame de Charrière, gives a good description of the scenery that met my eyes each day, and the feelings of grandeur it inspired: ‘I take my rest in solitude,’ says Cécile’s mother, ‘by an open window which overlooks the lake. I thank you, mountains, snow, sunlight, for all the pleasure you give me. I thank You, Creator of all I see, for having made these things so delightful to see. Fine and glorious beauties of nature! My eyes admire you every day, and every day you register yourself within my heart.’

In Lausanne, I began my Notes on the first work I wrote, the Essai sur les Revolutions anciennes et modernes. From my windows I could see the rocks of Meillerie:

‘Rousseau,’ I wrote in one of these Notes, ‘only really goes beyond other authors of his age in sixty or so letters of La Nouvelle Héloïse, in a few pages of his Rêveries and his Confessions. There, revealing the true nature of his talent, he arrives at a passionate eloquence before him unknown. Voltaire and Montesquieu proved stylistic models for writers of the century of Louis XIV; Rousseau, and to some extent Buffon, in another genre, created a language unknown to that great century.’