Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVIII, 18

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXVIII, chapter 18
Madame de Staël – Her first trip to Germany – Madame Récamier in Paris.

Let us return once more to times past.

A letter published in Le Mercure had caught Madame de Staël’s attention. I have said that Madame Bacciochi, at Monsieur de Fontane’s request, had solicited and obtained my erasure from the list of émigrés with which Madame de Staël had concerned herself. I went to thank Madame de Staël, and it was at her house that I saw Madame Récamier for the first time, so highly regarded for her fame and her beauty. Madame Recamier had established, with that illustrious woman, a friendship which became deeper each day. ‘That friendship was strengthened,’ Benjamin Constant said, ‘by a profound sentiment which both experienced: a sisterly love.’

Madame de Staël, threatened with exile, decided to establish herself at Maffliers, in the countryside twenty miles or so from Paris. She accepted a suggestion Madame Récamier made to her, on returning from England, of spending a few days with her at Saint-Brice, then returned to her previous refuge. She gives an account of what happened to her next in her Ten Years of Exile.

Madame de Staël, who planned to return to Coppet, was forced to leave on her first journey to Germany. It was then that she wrote to me about the death of Madame de Beaumont, a letter which I have cited during my first trip to Rome.

At her house in Paris, Madame Récamier brought together all the most distinguished members of the oppressed parties. Bonaparte could not tolerate anyone else’s success, especially that of a woman. He said: ‘Since when was the Council held at Madame Récamier’s?’ Bernadotte, who later became the Royal Prince of Sweden, was very attractive, Benjamin Constant says, ‘at first sight, but what places an obstacle in the way of any joint plan of campaign with him, is his habit of haranguing everyone, a result of his revolutionary education.’

There is only one name one can set beside that of Napoleon and that is Moreau, though Moreau had his own unique virtues.

When Moreau found himself implicated in the trials of Pichegru and Georges Cadoudal, Madame Récamier remained persuaded that he was not involved in the Generals’ plot against Napoleon, and had not wished to involve himself with Bernadotte’s plans. The night preceding the sentencing, all Paris was abroad, with floods of people heading for the Palais de Justice. George did not wish for a reprieve. He replied to those who wished to request one: ‘Will you show me a finer opportunity to die?’

Moreau, condemned to deportation, set out for Cadiz from where he travelled to America. Madame Moreau went to join him. Madame Recamier was with her when she left. She watched her embrace her son in his cradle, and watched her retrace her steps to hug him again: she led her to her carriage and received her last farewells.

General Moreau wrote this letter to his generous friend from Cadiz:

‘Chiclana (near Cadiz), the 12th of October 1804.
Madame, you will doubtless learn with some pleasure news of two fugitives in whom you have shown so much interest. After suffering every kind of discomfort, on land and sea, we were hoping to rest in Cadiz, when yellow fever, which in some respects can be compared to the ills we have just experienced, came and laid siege to that city.
Though my wife’s childbirth obliged us to remain here for more than a month during the plague, we have been so fortunate as to escape contagion: only one of our people was affected.
At last we are at Chiclana, a very pretty village a few miles from Cadiz, enjoying a healthy climate, and my wife is convalescing fully, after having given me a daughter who is also in very good health.
Persuaded that you take as much interest in that event as in all which happens to us, she charges me with informing you of it and recalling her to your memory.
I will not describe the kind of life we lead: it is exceedingly boring and monotonous; but at least we can breathe freely, even in the land of the Inquisition.
I beg you, Madame, to accept assurance of my respectful attachment and believe me always,
Your very humble and obedient servant,

This letter is dated from Chiclana, a place which seemed to promise the certainty of the throne, as well as glory, to Monseigneur le Duc d’Angoulême: and yet his appearance on that shore was merely as inevitable as Moreau’s, whom one had thought devoted to the Bourbons: Moreau, in the depths of his heart, was devoted to liberty. When he had the misfortune to join with the Coalition, it was simply a question in his eyes of combating Bonaparte’s despotism, Louis XVIII said to Monsieur de Montmorency who deplored Moreau’s death as a great loss to the Crown: ‘Not so great: Moreau was a Republican.’

The General returned to Europe only to be struck by a cannonball on which his name had been engraved by the hand of God.

Moreau reminds me of another illustrious officer, Masséna: the latter joined the Army of Italy; he asked Madame de Recamier for a white ribbon from her finery. One day she received this note in Masséna’s hand:

‘The charming ribbon donated by Madame Récamier has been carried by General Massena in battle and at the siege of Genoa: the General has never been parted from it, and it has continually favoured him with victory.’

The old style of manners penetrated the new style of which it forms the basis. The gallantry of a noble knight revealed itself in the plebeian soldier; a memory of the Tournaments and the Crusades was buried in those feats of arms with which modern France has crowned its ancient victories.