Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXI, 4

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXXI, chapter 4
Journalistic sycophancy



When the swallows near the time for their departure, there is one that is first to take flight and announce the imminent journey to the others: I was the first winged messenger to anticipate the last flight of the Legitimacy. Did the praises with which the newspapers showered me delight me? Not in the least. Some of my friends thought to console me by assuring me that I was on the verge of becoming First Minister; that a round of the game freely played would decide my future: they assumed an ambition in me of which I had not a trace. I doubt that any man who lived with me for even a week would be unable to see my total lack of that passion, otherwise perfectly legitimate, which allows one to pursue a political career to the end. I was always anticipating the moment of my resignation: if I was passionate about the Rome Embassy, it is precisely because it could lead nowhere, and was a retreat into a cul-de-sac.

Finally, I had in the depths of my conscience a certain fear of already having pushed my opposition too far; I would inevitably become its location, centre, and focal point: I was afraid of it, and that fear increased my regrets for the tranquil retreat I had lost.

Be that as it may, one is obliged to burn incense before the wooden idol descended from its altar. Monsieur de Lamartine, a new and brilliant representative of France, wrote to me on the subject of his candidacy for the Academy, and ended his letter thus:

‘Monsieur de La Noue, who has just spent a few minutes with me, told me that he left you occupying your noble leisure with raising a monument to France. Each of your voluntary and courageous resignations has thus brought its tribute of esteem to your name, and glory to your country.’

This noble letter by the author of Poetic Meditations was followed by that of Monsieur de Lacretelle. He wrote to me in his turn:

‘What a moment they chose to insult you, a man of sacrifice, you whose fine actions cost you no less than do your fine works! Your resignation and the formation of a new government seem to me two events linked to each other in advance. You have acquainted us with acts of devotion, as Bonaparte acquainted us with victory; but he had many companions, and you have few imitators.’

Two highly literate men, writers of great merit, Monsieur Abel Rémusat, and Monsieur Saint-Martin, alone had the temerity to set themselves up against me; they were associates of Monsieur le Baron de Damas. I understand why they might have been somewhat annoyed with these people who scorn public office: there is a kind of insolence in it that they cannot abide.

Monsieur Guizot himself deigned to visit me at home; he thought he might bridge the immense distance that nature had placed between us; in approaching me he said these words full of everything that was proper: ‘Monsieur, it is all different these days!’ In that year of 1829, Monsieur Guizot needed me to aid his election prospects; I wrote to the electors of Lisieux; he was nominated; Monsieur de Broglie thanked me in this note:

‘Permit me to thank you, dear Sir, for the letter you have been good enough to address to me. I have made use of it as I ought, and am convinced that, like all which flows from you, it will bear fruit and beneficial fruit. For my part, I have also taken note of what concerns myself, since there is no event with which I am more closely identified and which inspires in me a more lively interest.’

The advent of July finding Monsieur Guizot a deputy, it transpired that I was partly the reason for his political rise; the prayer of the humble is sometimes heard in Heaven!