Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXI, 5

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXI, chapter 5
Monsieur de Polignac’s first Cabinet

Monsieur de Polignac’s first colleagues were Messieurs de Bourmont, de La Bourdonnaye, de Chabrol, Courvoisier and Montbel.

On the 17th of June 1815, being in Ghent and staying in the Royal residence, I met a man at the foot of the stairs, in a frock coat with muddy boots, going up to see his Majesty. I recognised in that spiritual face, that slender nose and those fine mild serpent-like eyes, General Bourmont; he had deserted Bonaparte’s army on the 14th. Comte de Bourmont is a worthy officer, used to navigating difficult actions; but one of those men who, when placed in the front line, see obstacles and cannot overcome them, formed as they are to be led and not to lead: fortunate in his sons, Algiers will ensure his name survives.

The Comte de Bourdonnaye, once my friend, is quite the most awkward customer ever: he lets fly at you if you approach him; he attacks the speakers in the Chamber, as he does his neighbours in the countryside; he quibbles over a word, as he does over a lawsuit concerning a ditch. On the very day I was named Foreign Minister, he came to tell me he was breaking with me: I was a Minister. I smiled and let my male shrew go, who smiling himself, looked like a thwarted bat.

Monsieur de Montbel, initially Minister for Public Education, replaced Monsieur de la Bourdonnaye at the Interior Ministry when the latter retired and Monsieur Guernon-Ranville took over from him at Education.

The two sides prepared for war: the government party issued ironic pamphlets against the Representative grouping; the opposition organised its affairs and spoke of refusing to pay taxes if the Charter was violated. A public association was formed to resist those in power, called the Breton Association: my compatriots had often taken the initiative in previous revolutions; Breton minds own to something of the storm-winds that torment the shores of our peninsula.

A newspaper, produced with the avowed aim of overthrowing the existing dynasty, inflamed opinion. The fine young bookseller Sautelet, driven to suicide by madness, had often wished to assist his party by dying in some startling manner; he was filled with the Republican paper’s ideas; Messieurs Thiers, Mignet and Carrel were its editors. The National’s patron, Monsieur le Prince de Talleyrand, brought not a sou to the coffers: he merely soured the journal’s spirit by pouring his share of treason and corrosion into the common fund. I received the following note from Monsieur Thiers at the time:

Uncertain whether delivery of our new journal will be made correctly, I am sending you the first edition of the National. All my collaborators agree with me in begging you to consider yourself in truth, not as a subscriber, but as our unpaid reader. If in this first issue, a matter of great concern to me, I have succeeded in expressing opinions of which you approve, I will be reassured and certain of being on the right track.
Accept, Sir, my homage,
                                                                              A. THIERS.’

I will return to the editors of the National; I will tell you how I came to know them; but for the present I must single out Monsieur Carrel: superior to Messieurs Thiers and Mignet, he had the lack of pretension to consider himself, at the time when I associated with him, as a supporter of the writers he headed: he defended with his sword the opinions those men of the pen unsheathed.