Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXII, 12

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XXXII, 11 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXII, 13

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXII, chapter 12
Saint-Cloud – A Scene: Monsieur le Dauphin and the Duke of Ragusa.

I left the troops, on the 29th, falling back on Saint-Cloud. The bourgeois of Chaillot and Passy attacked them, killed a captain of carabineers, and two officers, and wounded a dozen soldiers. Lemotheux, the captain of the guard, was struck by a shot from a child whom he chose to spare. This captain had given in his resignation at the time when the decrees were published; but, seeing the fighting on the 27th, he rejoined his corps to share in his comrades’ danger. Never, to the glory of France, has there been a nobler contest of opposing parties between liberty and honour.

The children, bold because they were unaware of danger, played a melancholy role during the Three Days: sheltering behind their youth, they fired at point-blank range on the officers who would have considered themselves dishonourable in firing back. Modern weapons place death at the disposal of the weakest of hands. Ugly and sickly monkeys, libertines before possessing the power to be so, cruel and perverse, those little heroes of the Three Days gave themselves over to assassination with all the abandon of innocence. Let us beware, through imprudent praise, of generating the emulation of evil. The children of Sparta went out hunting Helots.

Monsieur le Dauphin received the soldiers at the gate of the village of Boulogne, in the woods, then he returned to Saint-Cloud.

Saint-Cloud was guarded by four companies of Bodyguards. A battalion of students from Saint-Cyr had arrived: out of rivalry, and in contrast to the École Polytechnique, they had embraced the Royal cause. The exhausted troops, returning from a three day battle, wounded as they were and in a sorry state, spoke of nothing but their astonishment at the titled, gilded and sated domestics who ate at the King’s table. No one thought of cutting the telegraph lines; couriers, travellers, mail-coaches and carriages passed freely on the roads, showing the tricolour flag which stirred the villages they traversed to insurrection. Attempts to bribe the soldiers to desert, by means of money and women, began. The proclamations of the Paris Commune were hawked here and there. The King and his Court did not wish to be persuaded that they were yet in danger. In order to show that they scorned the actions of a few mutinous bourgeois, and that there was no Revolution, they allowed everything to continue: the hand of God was visible in it all.

At nightfall on July 30th, about the same hour that the commission of Deputies was leaving for Neuilly, an aide, a major, announced to the troops that the decrees had been repealed. The soldiers shouted: ‘Long live, the King!’ and went cheerfully to their quarters; but this announcement of the aide’s, initiated by the Duke of Ragusa, had not been communicated to the Dauphin, who a great amateur disciplinarian, entered in a rage. The King said to the Marshal: ‘The Dauphin is unhappy: go and explain to him.’

The Marshal could not find the Dauphin at his residence, and waited for him in the billiard-room with the Duc de Guiche and the Duc de Ventadour, aides de camp to the Prince. The Dauphin re-appeared: seeing the Marshal he reddened to the eyes, crossed his ante-chamber with those giant strides of his, which were so singular, arrived at his salon and said to the Marshal: ‘Enter!’ The door closed once more: a great row could be heard; the volume of his voice increased; the Duc de Ventadour, anxiously opened the door; the Marshal emerged, pursued by the Dauphin, who called him doubly traitorous. ‘Give me your sword! Give me your sword!’ and, throwing himself upon him, wrested away his sword. The Marshal’s aide de camp, Monsieur Delarue, wanted to intervene between him and the Dauphin, but was restrained by Monsieur de Montgascon; the Prince tried hard to break the Marshal’s sword and cut his hands. He shouted: ‘To me, Bodyguards! Arrest him!’ The Bodyguards rushed in; if the Marshal had not moved his head, their bayonets would have touched his face. The Duke of Ragusa was led to his apartment, under arrest.

The King resolved the matter as best he could, it being all the more regrettable in that the participants inspired no great interest. When Le Balafré’s son killed Saint-Pol, Marshal of the League, that sword blow evidenced the pride and race of the Guise; but when Monsieur le Dauphin, a more powerful lord than a Prince of Lorraine, wished to cleave Marshal Marmont in two, what did that signify? If the Marshal had killed Monsieur le Dauphin, it would only have been a little strange. Caesar, the descendant of Venus, and Brutus, great-nephew of Junius, might pass in the street and no one would notice. Nothing is great these days, because nothing is noble.

That is how the monarchy’s last hour was spent at Saint-Cloud: that pallid monarchy, disfigured and blood-stained, resembled the portrait d’Urfé paints for us of a great person dying: ‘His eyes were wild and sunken; the lower jaw, clothed only by a little skin, seemed to have shrunken; the beard bristling, the complexion yellow, the gaze wandering, the breath laboured. From his mouth there now no longer issued human words, but oracles.’