Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVIII, 16

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XXVIII, 15 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXVIII, 17


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXVIII, chapter 16
The Review – The disbanding of the National Guard – The Elected Chamber is dissolved - The new Chamber – The Refusal to Contest - The fall of Villele’s ministry – I contribute to the formation of the new ministry and I accept the Rome embassy.



Madame la Dauphine and Madame la Duchesse de Berry, were insulted on their way to the Review; the King was generally received well; but one or two companies of the 6th Legion shouted: ‘Down with the Ministers! Down with the Jesuits!’ Charles X, offended, replied: ‘I have come here to receive homage, not instruction.’ He often had noble words on his lips which did not always survive the heat of action: his mind was daring, his character timid. Charles X, on returning to his palace, said to Marshal Oudinot: ‘The total effect has been satisfactory. Though there are a few unruly elements, the bulk of the National Guard is fine: tell them of my satisfaction.’

Monsieur de Villèle arrived. The Legions on their return passed in front of the Finance Ministry and shouted: ‘Down with Villèle!’ The Minister, irritated by all the preceding attacks on him, was no longer proof to a display of cold fury; he proposed to the Council the disbanding of the National Guard. He was supported by Messieurs de Corbière, de Peyronnet, de Damas, and de Clermont-Tonnerre, opposed by Monsieur de Chabrol, the Bishop of Hermopolis, and the Duc de Doudeauville. A decree of the King’s announced the disbandment, the most fateful blow inflicted on the monarchy until the final coup of July: if at that time the National Guard had not already been dissolved, the barricades would not have been erected. Monsieur le Duc de Doudeauville gave in his resignation; he wrote the King a letter of justification in which he proclaimed the future events that everyone else foresaw.

The Government began to be afraid; the newspapers doubled their audacious attacks, and a bill of censure, as usual, was proposed against them; there was talk at that time of a ministry under La Bourdonnaye, in which Monsieur de Polignac would have figured. I had incurred the misfortune of naming Monsieur de Polignac as Ambassador to London, in spite of everything Monsieur de Villèle could say: on that occasion he saw further and more clearly than I did. On entering government, I had been urged to do something agreeable to MONSIEUR. The President of the Council had managed to reconcile the two brothers, in anticipation of an imminent change of reign: this would fit the bill for him; I, aware for once in my life of desiring to do something subtle, was foolish. If Monsieur Polignac had not become an Ambassador, he would not have gained control of the Foreign Office.

Monsieur de Villèle, haunted on the one hand by the Royalist liberal opposition, harried on the other by the demands of the Bishops, deceived by consultations with the Prefects, who were themselves deceived, decided to dissolve the elected Chamber, despite the three hundred who remained loyal. The re-establishment of censorship preceded the dissolution. I attacked it more vigorously than ever; the opposition united; the votes in the electoral colleges were all against the government; in Paris the left triumphed; seven colleges nominated Monsieur Royer-Collard, and the two colleges where a Minister, Monsieur de Peyronnet, presented himself, rejected him. Paris was once more illuminated: there were bloody scenes; barricades were erected, and the troops sent to restore order were obliged to open fire: so the last and fateful days loomed. At this juncture, there came news of the battle of Navarino, a success in which I might have claimed a part. The greatest misfortunes of the Restoration were announced by victories; they had difficulty freeing themselves from the heirs of Louis le Grand.

The Chamber of Peers enjoyed public favour by its resistance to oppressive laws; but did not know how to defend itself: it allowed itself to be organised into blocks against which I was almost the only one to complain. I predicted that such nominations would vitiate its principles and in the long run cause it to lose its influence with public opinion: was I wrong? Those blocks, with the aim of preventing a majority forming, have not only destroyed the French aristocracy, but they have become the means to be used also against the English aristocracy; the latter will be stifled in a plethora of robes, and will end by losing its hereditary component, as the denatured Peerage of France has.

The new Chamber when it met pronounced its noted ‘refusal to contest’: Monsieur de Villèle, reduced to extremities, thought to dismiss some of his colleagues and negotiate with Messieurs Lafitte and Casimir Périer. The two leaders of the left-wing opposition lent an ear: the cat was out of the bag; Monsieur Lafitte dare not take the plunge; the President’s hour struck, and the portfolio fell from his hands. I roared, on my withdrawal from government; Monsier de Villèle was couchant: he had a vague desire to remain in the Chamber of Deputies; a course he ought to have taken, but he had neither a deep enough understanding of representative government, nor sufficiently great an authority over external opinion, to play a like role: the new Ministers demanded his banishment to the Chamber of Peers and he accepted. Consulted on nominations for the Cabinet I invited them to choose Monsieur Casimir Périer and General Sébastiani: my suggestions were ignored.

Monsieur de Chabrol, tasked with assembling the new government, put me at the head of his list; I was erased indignantly by Charles X. Monsieur Portalis, the most miserable character there ever was, a Federalist during the Hundred Days, crawling at the feet of the Legitimacy of whom he spoke as the most ardent Royalist would have blushed to speak, who is now bestowing his banal adulation on Louis-Philippe, received the Justice Ministry. At the War Ministry, Monsieur de Caux replaced Monsieur de Clermont-Tonerre. Monsieur le Comte Roy, the clever creator of his own immense fortune, was charged with Finance. The Comte de La Ferronnays, my friend, took the Foreign Affairs portfolio. Monsieur de Martignac became Interior Minister; the King was not slow to dislike him. Charles X followed his tastes rather than his principles: though he rejected Monsieur de Martignac because of his penchant for pleasure, he liked Messieurs Corbière and Villèle who did not go to Mass.

Monsieur de Chabrol and the Bishop of Hermopolis remained in the government provisionally. The Bishop, before retiring, came to see me; he asked me if I would take over Education: ‘Have Monsieur Royer-Collard’, I told him, ‘I have no desire to be a Minister; but if the King absolutely wished me to rejoin his Council, I would only return as Foreign Minister in reparation for the affront I received. Now, I have no pretensions to that portfolio, which is so well placed, in the hands of my noble friend.’

After the death of Monsieur Mathieu de Montmorency, Monsieur de Rivière had become tutor to the Duc de Bordeaux; he worked from that time at the overthrow of Monsieur de Villèle, since the party devoted to the Court was opposed to the Minister of Finance. Monsieur de Rivière met me in the Rue de Taranne, at Monsieur de Marcellus’ residence, to put the same proposition to me, in vain, that the Abbé Frayssinous later put to me. Monsieur de Rivière died, and Monsieur le Baron de Damas succeeded him as tutor to Monsieur le Duc de Bordeaux. There was then an ongoing question of the succession of Monsieur de Chabrol and the Bishop of Hermopolis. The Abbé Feutrier, Bishop of Beauvais, was installed as Minister of Religious Affairs, which was separated out from Education, which fell to Monsieur de Vatimesnil. The Minister for the Navy remained to be decided: I was offered the post: I declined. Monsieur le Comte Roy asked me to indicate someone I felt suitable to be chosen in accord with my views. I designated Monsieur Hyde de Neuville. It was also necessary to find a tutor for the Duc de Bordeaux; Monsieur le Comte Roy spoke to me: Monsieur de Chéverus immediately came to mind. The Minister of Finance hastened to Charles X; the King said: ‘So be it: Hyde to the Navy; but why will Chateaubriand not take part in government himself? As for Monsieur de Chéverus, the choice would be excellent: I am annoyed at not having thought of it; two hours ago, the thing was done: tell Chateaubriand, fine, but Monsieur Tharin has been appointed.’

Monsieur Roy came to tell me of the success of his negotiations; he added: ‘The King would like you to accept an Embassy; if you wish you can have Rome.’ That word Rome had a magical effect on me; I experienced the temptation the anchorites were exposed to in the desert. Charles X, by accepting the friend I had suggested for the Ministry of the Navy, had made the first advance; I could no longer refuse what was held out to me: I agreed to yet another exile. At least, this time, it was one that pleased me: Pontificum veneranda sedes, sacrum solium: the venerable seat of the Pontiffs, the sacred throne. I was seized by a desire to end my days, with a wish to die (with the very self-interest of fame), in the city of funerals, at the moment of my political triumph. I would no longer raise my voice, except like Pliny’s fateful bird, to say Ave each morning to the Capitol and the dawn. Perhaps it was helpful for my country to disembarrass itself of me: from the weight I felt myself, I guessed the burden I must be for others. Minds possessed of some power which gnaw at themselves and turn on themselves are wearying. Dante placed his tortured souls on a bed of fire in Hell.

Monsieur le Duc de Laval, whom I was to replace at Rome, was appointed Ambassador in Vienna.