Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVIII, 6

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXVIII, chapter 6
Reception of the Knights of the Orders



I wrote what you have just read hurriedly on the half-empty pages of a pamphlet entitled: ‘The Coronation; by Barnage of Rheims, lawyer’ and on a printed letter of the Grand Referendary, Monsieur de Sémonville, reading: ‘The Grand Referendary has the honour to inform his Lordship, Monsieur le Vicomte de Chateaubriand, that places are reserved in the chancel of Rheims Cathedral for such of the Peers who wish to be present the day after the Coronation of His Majesty at the reception ceremony for the Grand Master of the Orders of the Holy Ghost and of St Michael and the reception for Messieurs the Knights and Commanders.’

Charles X, however, intended to make his peace with me. The Archbishop of Paris spoke to him at Rheims about those in opposition: the King said: ‘Those who want nothing to do with me, I ignore.’ The Archbishop replied: ‘But Sire, Monsieur de Chateaubriand? – Oh, him I regret!’ The Archbishop asked the King if he could tell me so: the King hesitated, took two or three turns round the room and replied: ‘Well, yes, tell him!’ and the Archbishop forgot to say anything to me.

At the ceremony for the Knights of the Orders, I found myself kneeling at the King’s feet, just as Monsieur de Villèle was taking the oath. I exchanged a few polite words with my companion in knighthood, regarding a feather which had come loose from my hat. We left the Sovereign’s presence and all was done. The King, having had some difficulty in removing his gloves to take my hands in his, said to me with a laugh: ‘A gloved cat catches no mice.’ It was thought that he had spoken to me at length, and a rumour spread of my return to favour. It is probable that Charles X, thinking that the Archbishop had told me of his goodwill, expected a word of gratitude from me and was offended by my silence.

Thus I was present at the last Coronation of the successors of Clovis; I had initiated it by the pages where I urged the Coronation, and described it in my pamphlet ‘Le Roi est mort: vive le Roi!’ Not that I had the slightest belief in the ceremony; but since the Legitimacy lacked all credibility, I had to use every argument to support it, however worthless. I recalled Adalbéron’s pronouncement: ‘The Coronation of a king of France is a public matter, not a private affair: publica sunt haec negotia, non privata’; I quoted the admirable prayer reserved for the Coronation: ‘O God, who by Thy virtues counsel Thy peoples, grant to this Thy servant the spirit of Thy wisdom! May these days see equity and justice born for all: succour for friends, hindrance for enemies, for the afflicted consolation, for the young correction, for the rich instruction, for the needy pity, for the pilgrim hospitality, for the poorer subject peace and protection in his homeland! Let him (the King) learn self-control, and to govern all men moderately according to their condition, so that, O Lord, he may set all people an example pleasing to Thee!’

Before reproducing this prayer, recorded by Du Tillet, in my pamphlet, ‘Le Roi est mort: vive le Roi!’ I exclaimed: ‘Let us humbly beseech Charles X to imitate his ancestors: thirty-two sovereigns of the third dynasty have received the Royal unction.’

All my duties being fulfilled, I left Rheims and could say like Joan of Arc: ‘My mission is over.’