Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVIII, 9

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XXVIII, 8 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXVIII, 10

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXVIII, chapter 9
I refuse the pension the Minister of State wishes to pay me – The Greek Committee – Monsieur Molé’s note – A letter from Canaris to his son – Madame Récamier sends me an extract from another letter – My complete works

When they drove me from government, they did not give me my pension as a Minister of State; and I did not claim it; but Monsieur de Villèle, following a remark of the King’s, decided to despatch a fresh pension certificate to me via Monsieur de Peyronnet. I rejected it. Either I had the right to my former pension, or I did not: in the former case, I did not require a new certificate; in the latter, I did not wish to owe my pension to the President of the Council.

The Hellenes shook of their yoke: a Greek committee was formed in Paris of which I made one. The committee met at Monsieur Ternaux’s, in the Place des Victories. The members of the society would arrive in succession at the debating chamber. General Sebastiani would declare, as soon as he was seated, that it was a shocking business; he would elaborate endlessly: which displeased our energetic president Monsieur Ternaux, who was happy to manufacture shawls for Aspasia, but would not waste his time on her. Monsieur Fabvier’s speeches made the committee suffer; he grumbled at us a great deal; he held us responsible for what did not take place according to his views, it was we who failed to win the battle at Marathon. I devoted myself to Greek independence: it seemed to me like fulfilling a filial duty towards one’s mother. I wrote a Note on Greece; I addressed myself to the successors of the Russian Emperor, as I had addressed myself to the Emperor in person at Verona. The Note was printed and then reprinted at the front of the Itinerary.

I worked for the same cause in the Chamber of Peers, in order to stir the body politic into life. This note of Monsieur de Molé’s reveals the obstacles I encountered and the round-about methods I was forced to employ:

‘You will find us all ready tomorrow, at the opening session, to follow your lead. I am going to write to Lainé if I cannot find him. It is only necessary for him to allow for the phrasing concerning the Greeks; but be careful they do not counter your move by restricting any amendments and, rulebook in hand, refuse you. They may suggest lodging your proposal with the bureau: you could do that as well, after saying all you need to say. Pasquier happens to be quite unwell, and I fear he will not be on his feet tomorrow. As for a vote, we will have one. What will do better still is the arrangement you have made with your booksellers. It is a fine thing to restore by means of it all that the injustice and ingratitude of men has taken from us.
Yours for life,

Greece was freed of the Islamic yoke; but, instead of a federal republic, as I desired, a Bavarian monarchy was established in Athens. Now, since Kings are lacking in memories, I who had done a little service to the Argives’ cause, heard tell of them in future only in Homer. Greece, once free, did not say: ‘Thank you.’ She ignored my name as much as, and more than, in the days when I wept over her ruins while crossing her wastes.

Hellas, before royalty, had been more grateful. Among various children the Committee educated was young Canaris: his father, distinguished as a naval commander by his efforts at Mycale, wrote him a note which the child translated into French on a blank sheet at the end of the letter. The boy sent me the dual text; I have kept it as a tribute to the Greek Committee:

‘My dear boy,
Not every Greek has the good fortune you have had: that of being selected by the benevolent Committee which interests itself in us in order to teach men their duties. I begot you; but these commendable gentlemen will give you an education which will truly make a man of you. Be dutiful as regards the counsels of your new fathers, if you would console the last years of one who gave you to the light. Be well.
Your father,
Napflion (Napoli de Romanie), the 5th of September 1825.’

Republican Greece gave witness to private regrets when I left the government. Madame Récamier wrote to me from Naples on the 29th of October 1824:

‘I have received a letter from Greece which made a long detour before reaching me. In it I found several lines regarding you which I would like you to know of; these are they:

“The decree of the 6th of June has arrived, and has had a strong effect on our leaders. Their deepest hopes being vested in France’s generosity, they are asking themselves anxiously what the dismissal of a man whose character presaged future support for them might mean.”
If I am not wrong this homage will please you. I enclose the letter: its first page only concerns me.’

You will soon read about Madame Récamier’s life: you may guess how sweet it was to me to receive a memory of the land of the Muses from a woman who adorns them.

As for the note from Monsieur Molé given above, it makes allusion to the contract I had agreed regarding the publication of my Complete Works. That arrangement should, indeed, have assured me a life of ease; it nevertheless turned sour, even though it has worked out well for the publishers to whom Monsieur Ladvocat, after his bankruptcy, left my Works. Vis à vis Plutus or Pluto (the mythologists confuse the two) I am like Alcestis, I am forever seeing the fatal barque; like William Pitt, and that is my excuse, I am a leaking basket; but I did not myself make the hole in the basket.

At the end of the general preface to my Works (1826, Volume I) I address France thus:

‘O France, my dear country, my first love, one of your sons, at the end of his career, displays beneath your gaze any title he might have to your kindness. If he can do no more for you, you can do all for him, by declaring that his attachment to your religion, your king, and your freedom, has been acceptable to you. Famous and beloved land, I have only desired glory in order to add to yours.’