Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVIII, 3

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXVIII, chapter 3
My final diplomatic letters

I received a letter from the President of the Council, in final settlement, which proved that, in my great simplicity, I had failed to appropriate anything of that which renders a man respectable and respected:

‘Paris, 16th June 1824.
Monsieur le Vicomte,
I hastened to submit to His Majesty the order by means of which he might consider you wholly and completely discharged of the sums you received from the Royal treasury, for private expenses, during the period of your Ministry.
The King has approved all the terms of this order, the original of which I have the honour of enclosing.
Accept, Monsieur le Vicomte, etc.’

My friends and I soon despatched a volley of correspondence:

‘Paris, the 9th of June 1824.
‘I am no longer a Minister, my dear friend; they say you will be. When I obtained the Madrid embassy for you, I said to several people, who still remember: ‘I have just named my successor.’ I wish to have been a prophet. Monsieur de Villèle holds the portfolio ad interim.
‘Paris, the 16th of June 1824.
‘I am finished, dear Sir; I hope you will still be in place for some time. I have made sure you shall have no grounds to complain of me.
It is possible that I will retire to Neuchâtel, in Switzerland; if that happens, please ask His Prussian Majesty in advance for his protection and goodwill; offer my respects to Count von Bernstorff, my friendship to Monsieur Ancillon, and my compliments to all your secretaries. I beg you, dear Sir, to believe in my devotion and my sincere attachment to you.
‘Paris, the 22nd of June 1824.
‘Monsieur le Marquis, I have received your letters of the 11th of this month. Someone other than me will advise you of the course you must follow from now on; if it conforms to what you have already heard, it will take you far. It is probable that my dismissal will give great pleasure to Monsieur von Metternich, for a fortnight.
Monsieur le Marquis, accept my farewells and fresh assurance of my devotion and my highest consideration.
‘Paris, the 22nd of June 1824.
No doubt you have learned of my dismissal. It only remains for me to say how happy I have been with the relations between us, which are not severed. Continue, dear friend, to render service to your country, but do not count too much on recognition for doing so, and don’t expect your successes to provide a reason for keeping you in place or for showing you any honour.
I wish you dear Sir, all the happiness you deserve, and I embrace you.
P.S. I have just received your letter of the 5th of this month, in which you inform me of the arrival of Monsieur de Mérona. Thank you for your firm friendship; be certain I have found nothing but that in your letters.
‘Paris, the 23rd of June 1824.
‘My dismissal will have proven to you, Monsieur le Comte, my inability to serve you; it only remains for me to express my wish to see you in the situation to which your talents summon you. I am retiring, happy to have contributed to returning France her military and political freedom, and to have introduced the seven-year term into the electoral system; that is not all I would have done; the change in qualifying age is a necessary consequence of it; but the principle is finally established; time will do the rest, if it does not undo it. I dare to flatter myself in believing, Monsieur le Comte, that you have had nothing to complain of in our relationship; and I congratulate myself always on having met a man of your worth in government.
Accept, with my farewells, etc.
‘Paris, the 16th of June 1824.
‘If by any chance you are still in St Petersburg, Monsieur le Comte, I would not wish to end our correspondence without expressing all the esteem and friendship you have aroused in me: be well; be happier than me, and believe that you may see me again through all life’s circumstances. I am writing a note to the Emperor.

The reply to this parting note arrived in early August. Monsieur de La Ferronays had agreed to function as Ambassador during my Ministry; later I became in turn an Ambassador during Monsieur de La Ferronnay’s Ministry: neither thought the other had been risen or fallen. Compatriots and friends, we rendered each other mutual justice. Monsieur de La Ferronays had endured the harshest trials without complaint; he remained loyal despite his sufferings and his noble poverty. After my fall, he acted on my behalf in St Petersburg as I would have acted on his: an honest man is always sure of being understood by an honest man. I am happy to produce this moving testimonial of Monsieur de La Feronnays’ courage, loyalty and nobility of soul. At the moment when I received this letter, it was a compensation for me, far beyond the capricious and banal favours of fortune. Here alone, and for the first time, I feel I ought to violate the honourable privacy that friendship urges.

‘St Petersburg, the 4th of July 1824.
The Russian courier, who arrived the day before yesterday, handed me your little note of the 16th; to me it is one of the most precious of all those I have had the pleasure of receiving from you; I will retain it as if it were a title I had been honoured with, and I have the firm expectation and intimate conviction that I will soon present it to you in less mournful circumstances. I will follow, Monsieur le Vicomte, the example you have shown me, and not allow myself to reflect on the event which has so brusquely and so unexpectedly interrupted the relations which the service established between us; yet the nature of those relations, the confidence with which you honoured me, and the gravest of considerations, since they are not exclusively personal, will provide sufficient explanation of the motives and the whole extent of my regrets. What has happened still remains entirely inexplicable to me; I have no knowledge of the cause, but I see the effects of it; they were so easy, so logical, to foresee, that I am astonished so little concern is shown as to defy them. Yet I know too well the nobility of feeling that animates you, and the purity of your patriotism, to doubt that you will approve the course which I felt I should pursue in this situation; it was dictated by duty, by my love of country, and was even in the interests of your own glory; and you are too much of a Frenchman to accept the protection and support of strangers, in the circumstances in which you find yourself. You have gained the trust and esteem of Europe forever; but it is France you serve, it is her alone to whom you belong; she may prove unjust but neither you nor your true friends will ever allow your cause to be rendered less fine or pure by its defence being entrusted to foreign spokesmen. I have therefore suppressed all private feelings and considerations in favour of the common interest; I have avoided steps whose first effect would be to create dangerous division among us, and strike at the dignity of the throne. It is the last service I rendered here before my departure; you alone, Monsieur le Vicomte, have knowledge of it; confidence is due you, and I know the nobility of your character too well to doubt that you will keep my secret, and will find that my conduct, in the circumstances, conforms to the sentiments you have the right to demand of those you honour with your esteem and friendship.
Adieu, Monsieur le Vicomte: if the relationship I have had the happiness to enjoy with you has been able to provide you with a true idea of my character, you should know that changes of circumstance cannot influence my sentiments, and you will never doubt the attachment and devotion of one who, in the present circumstances, esteems himself the most fortunate of men in being considered one of your friends.
Messieurs de Fontenay and de Pontcarré feel most strongly the value of the memory of them which you choose to retain: witnesses, like me, to the increase in respect which France has gained since your entry into government, it is obvious that they share my sentiments and regrets.’