Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVIII, 12

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XXVIII, 11 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXVIII, 13


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXVIII, chapter 12
More of my polemics



I resumed my polemics. Every day I skirmished, and fought battles in the vanguard, with the soldiers of the Ministerial staff; they did not always use their swords effectively. In the first two centuries of Rome, they punished horsemen who held back from the charge, because they were too heavy, or not brave enough, condemning them to suffer heavy losses: I tasked myself with their punishment.

‘The universe around us is changing,’ I said: ‘new nations are appearing on the world-scene; ancient nations are reviving in the midst of ruin; astonishing discoveries promise an imminent revolution in the arts of peace and war: religion, politics, ways of life, all take on a new character. Do we take note of this movement? Are we in tune with society? Are we pursuing the trend of the age? Are we ready to hold our place in the transformation or development of civilisation? No: the men who lead us are as much strangers to the state of things in Europe as the latest tribes to be discovered in the heart of Africa. What do they understand? The Stock Exchange! And they understand that inadequately. Are we condemned to bear the burden of obscurity, to punish ourselves for having suffered the yoke of glory?’

The transactions regarding Santo Domingo supplied me with the opportunity to develop several arguments regarding our public rights, which no one had considered.

Reaching the noblest of conclusions and announcing the transformation of the world, I replied to those opponents who cried: ‘What! We may be Republicans some day? Drivel! Who dreams of a Republic these days? etc etc.’

‘Rationally devoted to monarchical order,’ I replied, ‘I consider constitutional monarchy the best form of government possible at this stage of society.

But if one wishes to reduce everything to personal interests, if one supposes that I believe I would have anything to fear personally from a RepublicanState, one is in error.

Could it treat me any worse than the monarchy has? Twice or thrice despoiled by it, or by the Empire, which would have done everything for me if I had wished, could it have repudiated me more savagely? I have a horror of slavery; liberty delights my innate love of independence; I prefer that liberty expressed in a monarchical order of things, but I can conceive of it in a popular form. Who has less to fear from the future than I? I possess what no revolution can steal from me: without post, without honour, without wealth, any government not so foolish as to ignore public opinion is obliged to assign me some value. Popular governments especially are composed of individuals, and create common worth from the particular worth of each citizen. I will always be sure of public esteem, because I will never do anything to forgo it, and I may find more justice perhaps among my enemies than among my so-called friends.

Thus, all things considered, I would be unafraid of a republic, as I would be without antipathy towards its freedom: I am not a king; I am not waiting to be crowned; it is not my own cause I plead.

I have said, under another government, and regarding that government, that one morning they would seat themselves at the window to watch the monarchy go by.

I said to the present Ministers: “If you go on as you are, the whole revolution would, in due time, boil down to a new version of the Charter in which one would be content merely to alter one or two words.”’

I have highlighted these final phrases to fix the reader’s eye on a striking prediction. Now that even opinions are in disorder, and every man utters wrongly and awry whatever passes through his brain, these Republican ideas expressed by a Royalist during the Restoration still seem daring. As regards the future, so-called progressive spirits own the initiative in nothing.