Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXX, 3

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXX, chapter 3
Despatches and letters



DESPATCH TO MONSIEUR LE COMTE PORTALIS
‘Rome, the 17th of February 1829.
Monsieur le Comte,
I am unclear whether the King will be pleased to send a special Ambassador to Rome or whether it may suit him to accredit me to the Sacred College. In the latter case, I would have the honour to observe to you that I allocated to Monsieur le Duc de Laval, in 1823, in similar circumstances, a sum, to defray his exceptional expenditure which, as far as I can remember, amounted to 40,000 to 50,000 francs. The Austrian Ambassador, Count von Nagy-Appony received a sum of 36,000 francs for his initial needs, a supplement of 7,200 francs a month to his normal salary during the Conclave, and for the costs of gifts, the chancellery etc. 10,000 francs. I have no pretensions, Monsieur le Comte, to compete in magnificence with Monsieur the Ambassador of Austria, as Monsieur le Duc de Laval did; I will not be hiring horses, carriages, or livery to dazzle the people of Rome; the King of France is a great enough master to pay for his Ambassador’s pomp if he wishes: borrowed magnificence is wretched. I will go to the Conclave with my people and my ordinary carriages then in a modest manner. It remains to be known whether His Majesty might not think that during the Conclave I might be obliged to put on a display for which my ordinary salary might be inadequate. I am not requesting anything; I am simply submitting a question to your judgement and the Royal decision.
I have the honour, etc.’
‘Rome, the 19th of February 1829.
Monsieur le Comte,
Yesterday, I had the honour of being presented to the Sacred College and giving the little speech of which I sent you an advance copy with my despatch no. 17, which left Tuesday, the 17th of the month, by special courier. I was heard with signs of satisfaction which augurs well, and the Cardinal-Dean, the venerable La Somaglia replied in terms showing great affection for the King and France.
Having fully informed you in my last despatch, I have absolutely nothing new to tell you today, except that Cardinal Bussi arrived yesterday from Benevento; today we await Cardinals Albani, Macchi and Opizzoni.
The members of the Sacred College will be locked in the QuirinalPalace on Monday evening, the 23rd of this month. Ten days are then allowed for the arrival of foreign Cardinals, after which the serious business of the Conclave will commence, and if they agree quickly the Pope could be elected in the first week of Lent.
I await, Monsieur le Comte, the King’s orders. I assume you sent a courier to me once Monsieur de Montebello reached Paris. It is urgent for me to receive news of an extraordinary ambassador or fresh letters of accreditation for me, with the government’s instructions.
When will the five French Cardinals arrive? Politically speaking, their presence is hardly necessary here. I have written to Monsignor the Cardinal de Latil to offer him my services in the event that he decides to come.
I have the honour, etc.
P.S. I enclose a copy of a letter which Monsieur le Comte de Funchal has written to me. I have not replied in writing to the Ambassador, I only intend to speak to him.’
TO MADAME RÉCAMIER.
‘Rome, Monday the 23rd of February 1829.
Yesterday the Pope’s obsequies ended. The pyramid of paper and the four candelabras were fine, since they were of immense proportions and reached the cornice of the church. The final Dies Irae was admirable. It was composed by an unknown musician belonging to the Pope’s chapel, who seemed to me to possess a genius quite different to that of Rossini. Today we pass from sadness to joy; we sing the Veni Creator to open the Conclave; next we shall go each evening to see if the ballot is signalled or not, whether that is the smoke rises from a particular chimney: the day on which there is no smoke, the Pope will be named, and I will come to meet you once more; that will be the end of my business here. The King of England’s speech is very offensive to France! What a deplorable expedition this one to the Morea! Has that been understood yet? General Guilleminot has written me a letter on the matter, which made me smile; he could only write to me thus because he thinks I am still a Minister.’
‘25th of February.
Death is here; Torlonia departed yesterday evening after two days of illness: I have seen him ‘all made up’ on his funeral bier, sword at his side. He granted loans against securities; but what securities! Against antiques, paintings hung pell-mell in an old dusty palace. Not the shop though where the Miser kept a lute from Bologna furnished with all its strings, or nearly all, a lizard’s skin three feet long, and a four poster bed decorated with Hungarian lace.
One sees only the dying whom they take out for walks in the street fully dressed; one of them passes regularly beneath my windows whenever we sit down to dinner. Moreover, everything announces a spring departure; people are beginning to disperse; they are leaving for Naples; they will return for a while for Holy Week, and then depart for good. Next year there will be other visitors, other faces, and another society. There is something sad in this scurrying through the ruins: the inhabitants of Rome are like the debris of their city: the world passes by at their feet. I imagine people returning to their families in various European countries, young Misses returning in the midst of fog. If by chance, thirty years from now, one of them was brought to Italy, who would remember having seen them in this Palace whose masters no longer exist? St Peter’s and the Coliseum; that is all they themselves would recognise.’