Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXX, 6

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXX, chapter 6
Further letters and despatches

‘Rome, this 28th of March 1829.
No longer being able to communicate with your colleagues the French Cardinals who are enclosed in the palace of Monte-Cavallo (Quirinal); being obliged to make plans in the interests of our country and to the benefit of the King’s service; knowing how often unexpected nominations have arisen in previous Conclaves, I regret the unfortunate necessity of entrusting Your Eminence with a potential veto.
Though Monsieur le Cardinal Albani seems to have no chance, he is nevertheless a man of ability, on whom, in a prolonged dispute, one might cast one’s eyes; but he is the Cardinal charged in Conclave with instructions from Austria; Monsieur le Comte de Lutzow, in his speech, officially designated him in that role. Now, it is impossible to allow a Cardinal with overt allegiance to a court, to the French court no more than to any other, to attain the Sovereign Pontificate.
In consequence, Monsignor, I charge you, by virtue of my full powers, as Ambassador of His Very Christian Majesty, and taking upon myself the whole responsibility, to exercise the veto against Monsieur le Cardinal Albani, if by a gathering in his favour on the one hand, or by a secret alignment on the other, he happens to gain a majority of votes.
I am etc, etc.’

This letter regarding the veto, confided to a Cardinal by an Ambassador who is not formally authorised to do so, is rash diplomacy: there is something in doing so which makes all Statesmen at home tremble, all the heads of departments, all the chief clerks, all the copyists in the Foreign Ministry; but since the Minister ignored the matter to the point of not even considering the possible use of the veto, I was forced to think about if for him. Suppose Albani had by chance been named Pope, what would have happened to me? I would have been consigned to oblivion as a politician.

I say this not for myself who care little for fame as a politician, but for future generations of writers to whom rumours of my mishap would carry and who would expiate my misfortune at the expense of their careers, as they whip his scapegoat (menin) when Monsieur the Dauphin has made a mistake. But my daring foresight, in taking the letter of exclusion upon myself, should not be admired over-much; what seemed an enormity, measured on the petty scale of ancient diplomatic thinking, was at bottom nothing at all in the order of actual society. That daring arose, on the one hand, from my insensibility to all disgrace, and on the other from my knowledge of current opinion: the world such as it is constituted today does not give two sous for the nomination of a pope, the rivalry of courts and the intrigues inside a Conclave.

Rome, this 2nd of April 1829.
Monsieur le Comte,
I have the honour to send you today the important documents which I told you of. They are nothing less than the official and private diary of the Conclave. They are translated word for word from the original Italian; I have only removed anything that might indicate too precisely the sources I have obtained them from. If the least part of these revelations, which are perhaps unique, ever gets out, it would cost the fortunes, freedom and lives of several individuals. That would be all the more regrettable in that these revelations are not the result of interest or corruption but are owed to confidence in French honour. These items then, Monsieur le Comte, must remain forever secret, after they have been read in the King’s council: for, despite the precautions I have taken to suppress the names and remove direct references, there is still enough in them to compromise their originators. I enclose a commentary, in order to aid in reading. The Pontifical government is accustomed to keeping a register where decisions, gestures and actions are noted from day to day, and so to speak from hour to hour; what historical riches if one searched among them back to the first centuries of the Papacy! It has been half-opened to me for an instant of time now. The King will see, from the documents I send you, what has never been seen before, the internal workings of a Conclave; the most intimate sentiments of the court of Rome may be known from it, and thus His Majesty’s ministers will not work in the dark.
The commentary on the diary, which I have written, frees me from any further reflection, and it only remains for me to offer you fresh assurance of the high consideration with which I have the honour, etc, etc.’

The original Italian of the precious document mentioned in this confidential despatch was burnt before my eyes here in Rome; I have kept no copy of the translation of the document which I sent to the Foreign Ministry, I have only a copy of the commentary or the remarks enclosed with the translation. But the same discretion which made me recommend that the Minister keep the documents forever secret obliges me to suppress my own remarks here; since, whatever the obscurity those remarks are enveloped in, due to the absence of the document to which they refer, that obscurity would still be penetrable in Rome. Now, resentment endures in the EternalCity; it might be that fifty years from now they would attack some great-nephew of the authors of this mysterious confidence. I will therefore content myself with giving a general survey of the contents of the commentary, stressing those passages which directly relate to the affairs of France.

Firstly one can see how the court of Naples deceived Monsieur de Blacas, or how it was itself deceived; for, while I was being told that the Neapolitan Cardinals would vote with us, they joined with the minority or Sardinian faction.

The minority of Cardinals imagined that the vote of the French Cardinals would have an influence on the shape of our government. How could that be? Apparently because of the secret orders with which they assumed they had been entrusted and because of their votes in favour of an extremist Pope.

Lambruschini, the Nuncio, asserted in Conclave that Cardinal de Latil had the King’s confidence: all the faction’s efforts were aimed at having it believed that Charles X and his government were not in accord.

On the 13th of March, Cardinal de Latil announced that he needed to make a declaration to the Conclave, purely as a matter of conscience; he was sent before four Cardinal-Bishops: the notes of this secret confession remain in the keeping of the Grand-Confessor. The other French Cardinals knew nothing of the contents of the Cardinal’s confession and Cardinal Albani tried in vain to discover them: the action is important and curious.

The minority composed sixteen solid votes. The Cardinals in that minority called themselves the Fathers of the Cross; they set a St Andrew Cross over their doorways to announce that, determined on their choice, they did not wish to discuss it with anyone. The majority of the Conclave displayed reasonable opinions and the firm resolution not to be involved in any way in foreign politics.

The minutes drawn up by the notary to the Conclave are worthy of note: ‘Pius VIII,’ they say in conclusion, ‘was determined to nominate Cardinal Albani as Secretary of State, in order to satisfy the Vienna Cabinet as well.’ The sovereign Pontiff shared the prizes between the two courts; he declared himself as Pope for France, and gave Austria the Secretary of State.

‘Rome, Wednesday the 8th of April 1829.
This very day I gave a dinner for the whole Conclave. Tomorrow I welcome the Grand-Duchess Helen. On Easter Tuesday, I have a ball to celebrate the end of the session; and then I will prepare to come and see you; judge my anxiety; at the instant I write to you, I still have no news of my mounted courier carrying the announcement of the Pope’s death, and yet the new Pope has already been crowned, and Leo XII is forgotten; I have started business with the new Secretary of State Albani; everything goes on as if nothing had happened, and I am not sure if you even know in Paris that there is a new Pontiff! How fine this ceremony of the Papal blessing is! The Sabine Hills on the horizon, then the empty countryside of Rome, then Rome herself, then St Peter’s Square and all the people on their knees beneath an old man’s hand: the Pope is the only Prince who blesses his subjects.
I was thus far with my letter when a courier arriving from Genoa for me brought me a telegraph despatch from Paris to Toulon, which despatch, replying to the one I had sent, tells me that on the 4th of April, at eleven in the morning, my telegraph despatch from Rome to Toulon was received in Paris, the despatch which announced the nomination of Cardinal Castiglioni, and that the King is very pleased.
The rapidity of these communications is prodigious; my courier left on the 31st of March, at eight in the evening, and on the 8th of April, at eight in the evening, I receive a reply from Paris.’
‘11th of April 1829.
Here we are at the 11th of April: in eight days time it will be Easter, in fifteen days my leave will start, and then I will see you! Everything vanishes before that hope; I am no longer sad; I no longer think of Ministers and politics. Tomorrow Holy Week begins. I will think of all you have said to me. If only you were here to listen to the lovely songs of mourning with me! We would go and walk in the wastes of the Roman Campagna, covered now with verdure and flowers. All the ruins seem re-born with the spring; I am one of them.’
‘Holy Wednesday, the 15th of April.
I have left the Sistine Chapel, having been present at Tenebrae and listened to the singing of the Miserere. I remember you speaking to me about that ceremony and because of it I was a hundred times more moved.
The day faded; the shadows slowly covered the Chapel frescoes and one could no longer see the mighty traces of Michelangelo’s brush. The candles, extinguished one by one, allowed a little white smoke to escape from their doused flames, a natural enough symbol of this life that Scripture compares to a little cloud. The Cardinals were kneeling, the new Pope prostrate before the same altar where I had seen his predecessor a few days ago; the fine prayer of penitence and mercy, which followed the Lamentations of the prophet, rose at intervals through the silence and the night. One felt overwhelmed by the great mystery of a God dying to redeem mankind’s sins. The Catholic heritage with all its memories was there, on the seven hills; but, instead of those powerful Pontiffs, those Cardinals who disputed precedence with monarchs, a poor old paralysed Pope, without family or support, princes of a Church lacking in splendour, announced the end of the power which civilised the modern world. The masterpieces of art vanished with it, fading on the walls and vaults of the Vatican, a half deserted palace. Curious foreigners divorced from the unity of the Church, were present in passing at the ceremony and replaced the community of the faithful. A dual sadness gripped the heart. Christian Rome while commemorating the agony of Jesus Christ seemed to be celebrating its own, repeating for the New Jerusalem the words Jeremiah addressed to the Old. It is a fine thing if Rome in order to forget everything, scorns everything and dies.’

‘Rome, this 16th of April 1829.
Monsieur le Comte,
Things are developing here, as I had the honour to prophesy to you; the words and actions of the new Sovereign Pontiff are perfectly in accord with the policy of moderation followed by Leo XII: Pius VIII goes further even than his predecessor; he expresses himself with great frankness on the subject of the Charter a word which he does not hesitate to pronounce and counsels the French to follow its spirit. The Nuncio, having continued to write about our affairs, took the order to confine himself to his own badly. Everything has been resolved regarding the Concordat with Holland, and Monsieur le Comte de Celles ends his mission here next month.
Cardinal Albani, in a difficult position, is obliged to make expiation: the protestations he makes me regarding his devotion to France annoy the Austrian Ambassador who cannot hide his ill-humour. As far as religious relations are concerned we have nothing to fear from Cardinal Albani; not very religious himself, he will not trouble us either by his own extremism, or the moderate opinion of his master.
As for political relations, they cannot manipulate Italy today through police intrigue and coded correspondence; let them occupy the legations, or put an Austrian garrison into Ancona on some pretext or other, that would be to stir up Europe and declare war on France: well we are no longer in 1814, 1815, 1816, or 1817; a greedy and unjust ambition cannot be gratified in front of our eyes with impunity. So, Cardinal Albani may receive a pension from Prince von Metternich; he may be a relative of the Duke of Modena, to whom he intends to leave his enormous fortune; he may be spinning some little plot with that prince against the heir to the crown of Sardinia; all that is true, all that would have been dangerous in an age when private and absolute governments might set soldiers on the march in secret, pursuing secret instructions: but today, with public government, with freedom of speech and the Press, with the telegraph and the speed of all communications, with the knowledge of affairs that has spread through every social class, we are protected from the sleights of hand and trickery of the old diplomacy. However, it should not be concealed that an Austrian Chargé d’Affaires, Secretary of State to Rome, presents difficulties; there are certain notes indeed (for example those which related to Imperial power in Italy) which should not be placed in Cardinal Albani’s hands.
No one has yet been able to penetrate the secret of a nomination which displeased everybody, even the Vienna Cabinet. Is it to do with foreign political interests? We are assured that Cardinal Albani is currently offering to advance the Holy Father 200,000 piastres which the government of Rome needs; others claim that the sum was loaned by an Austrian banker. Cardinal Macchi told me last Saturday that His Holiness not wishing to take back Cardinal Bernetti and desiring nevertheless to give him a senior position, could find no other means of arranging the matter than making the Bologna legation available. Wretched embarrassment often provides the motive for the most important decisions. If Cardinal Macchi’s version is true, everything said by Pius VIII to satisfy the courts of France and Austria is no more than a superficial justification, with the aid of which he seeks to hide his own weakness from himself. For the rest, no one thinks Albani’s Ministry will last long. As soon as he opens up relations with the Ambassadors, difficulties will arise on all sides.
As for the state of Italy, Monsieur le Comte, one should read with caution what is said to you by those in Naples or elsewhere. It is unfortunately only too true that the government of the Two Sicilies has fallen into utter contempt. The manner in which the court lives, surrounded by guards, ever-trembling, ever pursued by phantom fears, offering to the view nothing but gibbets and ruinous hunts, is contributing more and more in that country to the debasing of royalty. What are taken for conspiracies are only symptoms of a general malaise, the product of the century, the struggle of the former society with the new, the combat of old decrepit institutions against the energy of the younger generations; ultimately, the comparison everyone makes between what is and what might be. Let us not conceal the fact that the great spectacle of a powerful France, free and happy, that great spectacle striking the eyes of nations remaining or fallen beneath the yoke, excites dismay or nourishes hope. The blend of representative governments and absolute monarchies cannot last; one or the other must perish, so that politics can achieve balance as in Medieval Europe. A frontier-post can no longer separate freedom from slavery; a man can no longer be hung on one side of a river for principles held sacred on the other side of the same river. It is in that sense, Monsieur le Comte, and only in that sense, that there are conspiracies in Italy; it is again in that sense that Italy is French. The day when she begins to enjoy the rights that her enlightened minds perceive and that the march of progress brings towards her, she will be calm and purely Italian. It is not a few poor devils of carbonari, excited by the manoeuvring of the police, and sent to the gallows without mercy, that will rouse this country. Governments gain the most deluded ideas concerning the true state of things; they are prevented from doing what must be done for their own security, by having revealed to them as a specific conspiracy by a pack of Jacobins what is in effect a permanent and general cause.
Such, Monsieur le Comte, is the true position of Italy: each of her States, besides the mutual efforts of spirited men, is tormented by some local malady: Piedmont is in the hands of an extreme faction; Milan is devoured by the Austrians; the domains of the Holy Father are being ruined by poor financial administration.; taxes have been raised to close to fifty millions and leave proprietors only one per cent of their revenues; customs charges bring in hardly anything; smuggling is rife; the Prince of Modena in his Duchy has established (instead of exemption from all former abuses) stores of banned merchandise, which he ships at night into the Bologna legation.
I have already spoken to you of Naples, Monsieur le Comte, where a weak government only survives because of the cowardice of the people.
It is this absence of military virtue which will prolong Italy’s agonies. Bonaparte did not have the time to recreate that virtue in the land of Caesar and Marius. The habits of an idle existence and a delightful climate still contribute to robbing the southern Italians of the desire to improve matters. Antipathies born of territorial divisions add to the difficulties of movement in the interior; but if some impulse came from outside, or if some prince this side of the Alps granted his subjects a charter, a revolution would occur, because everything is ripening towards that revolution. Happier than us and instructed by our experience, thrifty nations can see the crimes and misfortunes of which we have been so prodigal.
I will doubtless soon receive, Monsieur le Comte, the notice of leave I asked for: perhaps I may use it. On the verge then of leaving Italy, I thought I should place before your eyes a few general insights, to assist the ideas of the King’s council and enable them to guard against the reports of narrow-minded spirits or blind passion.
I have the honour, etc, etc.’
‘Rome, this 16th of April 1829.
Monsieur le Comte,
Messieurs the French Cardinals are anxious to know what sum they will be accorded for their maintenance and expenses in Rome: they have asked me several times to write to you about the matter; I will thus be infinitely obliged if you will advise me as early as possible of the King’s decision.
Regarding my own affairs, Monsieur le Comte, when you chose to award me a salary of thirty thousand francs, you assumed I would not have a Cardinal staying with me: now, Monsieur de Clermont-Tonnerre and his suite are living here, comprising two conclavists, an ecclesiastical secretary, a lay secretary, a valet, two servants and a French cook, then a Roman house manager, a master of ceremonies, three footmen, a coachman, and all the Italian household a Cardinal is obliged to maintain here. Monsieur the Archbishop of Toulouse who cannot walk does not dine at my table; he has two or three sittings at various hours, and carriages and horses for his friends and table companions. My honest guest will certainly not pay his expenses here: he will depart and the memories will remain with me; I will be obliged to settle the bills not only for the cook, and the laundress, the hire of coaches etc, etc. but also those of the two doctors who attended to Monsieur’s leg, the cobbler who made him white and purple slippers, and the tailor who ran up cloaks, cassocks, and bands, all the complete trimmings for a Cardinal and his priests.
If you add to that, Monsieur le Comte, my exceptional expenses for entertaining before, during and after the Conclave, expenses increased by the presence of the Grand-Duchess Helen, Prince Paul of Wurtemberg and the King of Bavaria, you will surely realise that the thirty thousand francs you granted me will be easily exceeded. The first year of an Ambassador’s establishment is ruinous, since the assistance accorded that establishment being well below what is needed, it takes a stay of almost three years for a diplomatic agent to find the means to pay the debts he first contracted and balance expenses with income. I know all the budgetary difficulties of the Foreign Office; if I had a fortune of my own, I would not importune you in this way; nothing is more disagreeable to me, I assure you, than these monetary details into which I am forced to enter by dire necessity, despite my wishes.
Accept, Monsieur le Comte, etc.’