Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVIII, 11

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XXVIII, 10 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXVIII, 12

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXVIII, chapter 11
Return to Paris – The Jesuits – A Letter from Monsieur de Montlosier and my reply

On returning to Paris, my life was occupied by my household on the Rue d’Enfer, my renewed struggles in the Chamber of Peers and my pamphlets opposing various proposed laws in conflict with public freedom; by my speeches and my writings in support of the Greeks, and my efforts towards my Complete Works. The Emperor of Russia had died, and with him the only Royal friendship that remained to me. The Duc de Montmorency had become tutor to the Duc de Bordeaux. He did not enjoy that weighty honour long: he died on Good Friday 1826, in the Church of Saint-Thomas-Aquinas, at the hour when Jesus died on the cross; he went to God with Christ’s last sigh.

Battle was commenced against the Jesuits; banal and tiresome declamations were made against that illustrious Order, which, it must be admitted, concealed something disturbing within it, for a mysterious cloud of darkness covered all the affairs of the Jesuits.

Regarding the Jesuits, I received this letter from Monsieur de Montlosier, and sent him the reply which you will find following the letter.

Ne derelinquas amicum antiquam,
Novus enim non erit similes illi. (Ecclesiastes IX,10)
(Do not forsake an old friend, since the new cannot equal him)
‘My dear friend, those words are not only very ancient, they are not only very wise; for Christians, they are sacred. I invoke in you all the authority they may possess. Reconciliation is never necessary between old friends, or between good citizens. To close ranks, to tighten the bond between us, by emulation to strengthen all our vows, increase all our efforts, stimulate all our feelings, is a duty demanded by the eminently deplorable state of king and country. In addressing these words to you, I do not ignore the fact that they will be received by a heart torn by ingratitude and injustice; and yet I still address them to you with confidence, certain as I am that there is light beyond the darkness. On this delicate issue, my dear friend, I do not know whether you are pleased with me; but, in the midst of your tribulations, if I have chanced to hear you accused, I have not troubled to defend you: I have not even listened. I said to myself: and if that should be so? I am not sure that Alcibiades was not showing a little too much anger when he threw a rhetorician out of his own house for not possessing the works of Homer. I am not sure that Hannibal was not showing a little too much violence when he ejected a senator, who spoke against his opinion, from his headquarters. If I were to confess my thoughts on the subject of Achilles, perhaps I would not approve his exiling himself from the Greek army because of some young girl who was stolen from him. After that, it is enough to pronounce the names Alcibiades, Hannibal, Achilles, for all disagreement to be over: it is the same today with the iracundus and inexorabilis, the irascible and inexorable, Chateaubriand. Once his name is pronounced, all is said. At that name, when I say to myself: he is complaining, I feel my tenderness stirred; when I say to myself: France needs him, I feel myself filled with respect. Yes, my friend, France needs you. She shall need you still more; through you she has recovered her love of her religion and her ancestors: that benefit must be maintained; and for that, she must be dragged away from the errors of her priests, to drag those priests themselves away from the fatal slope on which they are standing.
My dear friend, you and I have struggled for many years. It is left to us to preserve the King and the State from the preponderance of ecclesiastics who call themselves religious. In former times, the evil and its roots were within us; we could circumvent and master it. Today the branches which cover us within have their roots outside us. The private doctrines of the race of Louis XVI and Charles I have given way to the tainted doctrines of Henri IV and Henri III. Neither you nor I surely can support this state of things; it is in order to unite with you, to receive your approbation which will encourage me, and offer you like a soldier my loyalty and arms, that I write to you.
It is with these sentiments of admiration for you and a true devotion to you that I tenderly and respectfully implore you.
Randanne, the 28th of November 1825.’
‘Paris, this 3rd of December 1825.
Your letter, my dear old friend, is very serious, and yet it made me smile in regard to myself. Alcibiades, Hannibal, Achilles! You cannot be serious regarding all that. As for the son of Peleus’ young girl, if that refers to my portfolio, I protest that I barely loved the faithless one three days, and have not experienced a quarter of an hour’s regret. My resentment: that is another matter. Monsieur de Villèle, whom I sincerely and cordially like, has not only foregone the duties of friendship, the public signs of attachment I showed him, the sacrifices I made for him, but even the simplest of courtesies.
The King no longer requires my services, nothing then is more natural than to dismiss me from his Council; but the manner of it means everything to a gentleman, and as I have not stolen the King’s clock from his mantelpiece, I ought not to be hunted down as if I had. I merely made war in Spain and kept the peace in Europe during a dangerous period; through this alone I created an army for the Legitimacy, and I have been ejected from my place, by all the Restoration Ministers, without any mark of recognition from the Crown, as if I had betrayed Prince and country. Monsieur de Villèle thinks I will accept such treatment: he is mistaken. I have shown my sincerity: I will be an irreconcilable enemy. I am born under a cloud: the wounds I have received never close.
But this is all about me: let us speak of something more important. I am afraid I do not agree with you on weighty matters, and I am sorry for it! I desire the Charter, the whole Charter, the freedom of the public to its whole extent. Do you wish that?
I desire religion as you do; I hate the congregation and these associations of hypocrites who make spies of my servants, and who only seek power at the altar. But I believe that the clergy, once rid of these parasitic plants, can easily form part of a constitutional regime, and even become the prop for our new institutions. Do you not seek too strongly to sow division among the political order? Here I give you a proof of my extreme impartiality. The clergy, who, I hate to say it, owe me so much, do not like me, and have never defended me, nor rendered me any service. Does it matter? It is a question of being just, and seeing what is fitting for religion and the monarchy.
My dear friend, I do not doubt your courage; you will do, I am convinced, everything which seems right to you, and your talents guarantee you victory. I await your future communications, and I embrace with all my heart my loyal companion in exile.