Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXX, 5

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXX, chapter 5
The Marquis Capponi, letters and a despatch

The Marquis Capponi arriving from Florence has brought me letters of recommendation from his female friends in Paris. I replied to one of these letters on the 21st of March 1829:

‘I have received both your letters; the services I can render you are trivial, but I am always at your command. I was not to be told what the Marquis Capponi was like: I tell you that he is always excellent; he has held fair in contrast to the weather. I did not reply to your first letter so full of enthusiasm for the sublime Mahmud and his disciplined barbarians, those slaves beaten into soldiers. That women might be transported with admiration for men who marry hundreds at a time, and might take that for enlightened and civilised progress, I can conceive; but I hold fast to my poor Greeks; I wish for their liberty as I do that of France; I also desire frontiers that will protect Paris, and assure our independence, and it is not by means of the triple alliance of Constantinople’s impalements, Vienna’s canes, and London’s fists that you will win the banks of the Rhine. Small thanks for the cloak of honour that our glory could obtain from the invincible leader of the true believers, who has not yet emerged from the surroundings of his seraglio: I prefer that glory naked; she is feminine and beautiful: Phidias would have taken great care not to give her a Turkish dressing gown.’
‘Rome, the 21st of March 1829.
Well! I am right, not you! Yesterday I went to Sant’Onofrio, between two ballots, while waiting for a Pope: there are two orange trees in the cloister, the green oak is elsewhere. I am quite proud that my recollection was correct. I hastened, almost eyes closed, to the little stone which covers your friend; I prefer it to the grand tomb they are going to raise for him. What delightful solitude! What a wonderful view! What happiness to rest there between frescoes by Domenichino and those of Leonardo da Vinci! I would like to stay there: I have never been more tempted. Were you allowed to enter the interior of the monastery? Did you see, down a long corridor, that ravishing head, though almost half-effaced, of a Leonardo Madonna? Did you see in the library Tasso’s death-mask, his withered crown of laurel, a mirror he used, his writing case, his pen and a letter in his handwriting, placed on a shelf below his bust? In the letter in small faded writing, but easy to read, he speaks of friendship and the winds of fortune; the latter scarcely blew favourably for him, and friendship often failed him.
No Pope yet, we await one from hour to hour; but if the choice has been delayed, if obstacles are raised on every side, it is not my fault: they should have listened to me a bit more and not acted in almost a contrary manner to what they seem to want. For the rest, it seems to me that at present all the world wants to be at peace with me. The Cardinal de Clermont-Tonnerre himself has just written to me requesting my former kindness towards him, and then that he is to stay with me, and is resolved to vote for the most moderate Pope.
You have read my second speech. Thank Monsieur Kératry who spoke so obligingly about the first; I hope he will be more pleased still with the other. We are both trying to bring back Christian liberty, and we will succeed. What do you think of the response Cardinal Castiglioni made? Was I praised enough in open Conclave? You could not have done better in your days of flattery.’
‘24th of March 1829.
‘If I were to believe the rumours in Rome, we shall have a Pope tomorrow; but I am discouraged at the moment, and do not choose to believe such happiness. You surely understand that the happiness I speak of is not a political one, the joy of triumph, but the happiness of being free and meeting you once more. If I talk to you about the Conclave so much, I am like a man with an obsession who thinks the world is only concerned with his obsession. And yet, who thinks of the Conclave in Paris, who cares about the Pope and my tribulations? French levity, the interests of the moment, the debates in the Chambers, the stir of ambition, provide other things to worry about. When the Duc de Laval wrote to me of his concerns about the Conclave, preoccupied as I was with the War in Spain, I said on receiving his despatches: Oh! Good God, it’s hardly the time to be worrying about that!! Monsieur Portalis today ought to subject me to a like sentence. Yet it is true to say that things at that time were not as they are today: religious ideas were not confounded with political ideas as they are all over Europe; the dispute was not there; the nomination of a Pope could not, as now, disturb or calm the nations.
Since the letter which told me of the extension to Monsieur de La Feronnays’ leave and his departure for Rome, I have heard nothing: yet I think the news is true.
Monsieur Thierry has written me a moving letter from Hyères; he tells me he is dying, and yet he wants a place in the Académie des Inscriptions and asks me to write on his behalf. I will do so. My excavation continues to yield sarcophagi; the dead can only provide us with what they have. The Poussin monument advances. It will be great and noble. You would not believe how much the painting of the Shepherds in Arcady was made for bas-relief and how suitable it is for sculpture.’
‘28th of March.
‘Monsieur le Cardinal de Clermont-Tonerre, who is staying with me, entered Conclave today; it is the age of miracles. I have with me Marshal Lannes’ son and the Chancellor’s grandson; gentlemen of Le Constitutionnel dine at my table next to gentlemen of La Quotidienne. That is the benefit of being sincere; I allow each to think as he wishes, so long as they accord me the same freedom. I merely try to ensure my opinion retains the majority, since I find it, with reason, better than others. It is to my sincerity that I attribute the tendency for the most divergent opinions to cluster about me. I exercise right of sanctuary towards them: no one can arrest them under my roof.’

‘Rome, the 24th of March 1829.
I am truly annoyed, Monsieur le Duc, that a sentence in my letter could have caused you any distress. I have no complaint at all to make of a man of sense and intelligence (Monsieur Fuscaldo) who only speaks diplomatic commonplaces to me. Do we Ambassadors speak of anything else? As for the Cardinal whom you did me the honour of mentioning, the French government has not designated any particular individual; it is relying entirely on what I have said. Seven or eight moderate and peaceable Cardinals, who seem to be attracting the support of all the Courts, are the candidates among whom we hope to see the votes cast. But if we have no pretensions to impose a choice on the majority of the Conclave, we will oppose with all our powers and by any means the three or four extreme Cardinals, inept or involved in intrigue, supported by a minority.
I have no means, Monsieur le Duc, of transmitting this letter to you; so I will simply put it in the post, since it contains nothing that you or I would not admit to in public.
I have the honour, etc.’

‘Rome, the 31st of March 1829.
Monsieur de Montebello has arrived and has brought me your letter with letters from Monsieur Bertin and Monsieur Villemain.
My excavation goes well, I have found plenty of empty sarcophagi; I can choose one of them for myself, without which my dust will be forced to follow that of the ancient dead which the wind has already dispersed. Bodiless sepulchres offer the suggestion of resurrection and yet they only await a more profound death. It is not life but nothingness that has left these tombs deserted.
To complete my little diary of the moment, I will tell you that the day before yesterday I climbed to the ball on the top of St Peter’s during a storm. You cannot imagine the roar of the wind from the depths of the sky, round Michelangelo’s cupola, and above that temple of the Christians, which erased ancient Rome.’
‘31st of March, evening.
Victory! I have one of the Popes whom I placed on my list: it is Castiglioni, the very Cardinal I supported for the Papacy in 1823, when I was Minister, he who has replied to me recently in this Conclave of 1829, giving me plenty of praise. Castiglioni is a moderate and devoted to France: it is a complete triumph. The Conclave, before dispersing, has ordained that the Nuncio in Paris be asked to express to the King the satisfaction the Sacred College has found in my conduct. I have already sent the news to Paris by telegraph. The Prefect of the Rhône is the intermediary in this aerial correspondence, and that prefect is Monsieur de Brosses, the son of that Comte de Brosses, the flippant traveller to Rome, often cited in the notes I gather while writing to you. The courier who brings you this letter carries my despatch to Monsieur Portalis.
I no longer have two days of good health together; and that enrages me, since I have energy for nothing in the midst of my woes. Yet I await with some impatience the results of the Pope’s nomination in Paris, what will be said, what will be done, what will become of me. The most certain is the leave I asked for. I have seen in the newspapers the fine dispute the Constitutionnel has started regarding my speech; it accuses the Messager of not having printed it, and yet in Rome we have the Messager of the 24th of March (the dispute began on the 24th and 25th) which carried the speech. Is that not odd? It seems clear that there were two editions, one for Rome and the other for Paris. Poor people! I am thinking of the setback to another paper; it assures us that the Conclave would have been very dissatisfied with the speech: what will it say when it sees the praise that Cardinal Castiglioni, who has been made Pope, bestowed on me?
When will I be able to stop talking to you about all this wretched stuff? When will I be free to do no more than finish the memoirs of my life and my life with them, with the last page of my Memoirs? I have much need of it; I am very weary, the burden of years increases and weighs on my brow; I amuse myself by calling it rheumatism, but one is not cured of this disease. A single word sustains me, I keep repeating: “Soon.”’
‘3rd of April.
I forget to tell you that since Cardinal Fesch behaved very well in the Conclave, and voted with our Cardinals, I have made an approach and invited him to dinner. He has refused in a note full of moderation.’

‘Rome, this 2nd of April; 1829.
Monsieur le Comte,
Cardinal Albani has been named as Secretary of State, as I had the honour of informing you in my first letter which was carried to Lyons by the mounted courier sent on the evening of the 31st of March. The new Minister displeases both the Sardinian faction, the majority in the Sacred College, and even Austria, because he is a violent anti-Jesuit, harsh in manner, and an Italian before everything. Rich and exceedingly avaricious, Cardinal Albani is mixed up in all sorts of enterprises and speculations. I went to visit him for the first time yesterday; as soon as he saw me, he cried: “I am a pig! (He was indeed very dirty.) You can see I am no enemy.” I inform you, Monsieur le Comte, of his very words. I replied that I was far from regarding him as an enemy. “It is water not fire that is needed for your people”, he continued: “do I not know your country? Have I not lived in France? (He speaks French like a Frenchman). You will be content and your master too. How is the King? Good day! Let us go to St Peter’s.”
It was eight in the morning; I had already seen His Holiness and all Rome was hurrying to the ceremony of adoration.
Cardinal Albani is a man of spirit, false of character, yet of an open humour; his violence foils his cunning; one can take advantage of him by flattering his pride and satisfying his avarice.
Pius VIII is very knowledgeable, especially on theological matters; he speaks French, but with less grace and facility than Leo XII. He is afflicted by a semi-paralysis of his right side and subject to convulsive movements: supreme power will heal him. He will be crowned next Sunday, the 5th of April, Passion Sunday.
Now that the main business which kept me in Rome is concluded, Monsieur le Comte, I would be infinitely obliged if you would obtain a few months leave of absence for me, with His Majesty’s blessing. I would not employ it until after handing Pius VIII the letter which His Majesty will send in reply to that which Pius VIII has written or is about to write to him, to announce his elevation to the chair of St Peter. Allow me to solicit anew on behalf of my two secretaries to the legation, Monsieur Bellocq and Monsieur de Givré, the favour towards them that I previously sought of you.
Cardinal Albani’s intrigues in the Conclave, the supporters he acquired, even among the majority, made me fear some unexpected coup which would carry him to the sovereign Pontificate. It seemed unacceptable to me to allow him to surprise us thus and allow the Austrian Chargé d’Affairs to place the tiara on his head under the eyes of the French Ambassador: I profited then from the arrival of Monsieur le Cardinal de Clermont-Tonnerre, charging him, at all events, with the enclosed letter in which I made those arrangements within my responsibility. Happily he did not have to make use of the letter in the matter; he returned it to me and I have the honour of sending it to you.
I have the honour, etc, etc.’