Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXII, 13

Free texts and images.
Jump to: navigation, search

XXXII, 12 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXII, 14

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXII, chapter 13
Neuilly – Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans – Le Raincy – The Prince arrives in Paris.

Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans had the desire, throughout his life, that all high-born spirits have for power. That desire varies according to character: impetuous and aspiring, or weak and insidious; imprudent, overt, assertive in some, circumspect, hidden, bashful and humble in others: one, in order to rise, may indulge in every crime; another, to climb, may descend to any baseness. Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans belonged to the latter class of ambitious men. Examine this Prince’s life, and he never says or does anything fully, always leaving the door open to evasion. During the Restoration, he flatters the Court and encourages liberal opinion; Neuilly is a rendezvous for dissatisfaction and malcontents. They sigh, they shakes hands while raising their eyes to the heavens, but fail to pronounce a single word important enough to be mentioned in high places. If a member of the opposition dies, they add their carriage to the procession, but the carriage is empty; their livery is admitted at every door and grave. If, at the time of my disgrace at Court, I find myself on the same path as Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans at the Tuileries, and he has to salute me from the right-hand side in passing, I being on the left, he does it in such a manner as to turn his shoulder away. It will be noticed, and it is sufficient.

Did Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans know about the July decrees in advance? Was he told by someone who had the secret from Monsieur Ouvrard? What did he think? What were his hopes and fears? Had he conceived a plan? Did he urge Monsieur Lafitte to do what he did, or merely allow him to do so? From Louis-Philippe’s character one would assume that he made no decisions, and his political timidity, shrouded in duplicity, waited on events as a spider waits for a fly to be caught in its web. He allowed the moment to conspire; he himself only conspired in his desires, which he probably feared.

Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans had two courses of action open to him: the first, and most honourable, was to hasten to Saint-Cloud, and interpose himself between Charles X and the nation, in order to save the Crown for the one, and liberty for the other; the second was to hurl himself onto the barricades, tricolour flag in hand, and place himself at the head of the popular movement. Philippe had a choice between being an honest man and a great man: he preferred to conjure away the King’s crown and the people’s liberty. A criminal, during the disturbance and misfortune of a fire, will quietly rob the burning palace of its most precious contents, without hearing the cries of a child surprised in its cradle by the flames.

Once the rich prize had been trapped, it was necessary to set the dogs on the quarry: then all the old corruptions of previous regimes appeared, those receivers of stolen goods, foul toads half-crushed, on which one has stamped a hundred times, and which live on, flattened though they may be. Yet these are the men they praise, whose cleverness is lauded! Milton thought otherwise when he wrote this passage from a sublime letter: ‘Whatever the Deity may have bestowed upon me in other respects, he has certainly inspired me, if any ever were inspired, with a passion for the good and the beautiful…Hence, I feel an irresistible impulse to cultivate the friendship of him, who, despising the prejudiced and false conceptions of the vulgar, dares to think, to speak, and to be that which the highest wisdom has in every age taught to be the best. But if my disposition or my destiny were such that I could without any conflict or any toil emerge to the highest pitch of distinction and of praise; there would nevertheless be no prohibition, either human or divine, against my constantly cherishing and revering those, who have either obtained the same degree of glory, or are successfully labouring to obtain it.’

Charles X’s blinkered mind never knew where it was or who it was dealing with: they could have summoned Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans to Saint-Cloud, and it is probable that in the heat of the moment he would have obeyed; they could have removed him from Neuilly on the day of the decrees: they took neither course.

On being given the information Madame de Bondy carried to him at Neuilly on the night of Tuesday the 27th, Louis Philippe rose at three in the morning, and withdrew to a location known only to his family. He had the dual fear of being affected by the insurrection in Paris or arrested by a Guards captain. So he went off to listen, in Raincy’s solitude, to the sound of distant cannon fire from the fighting at the Louvre, as I, beneath a tree, had listened to that of the battle of Waterloo. The feelings which no doubt agitated the Prince would scarcely have resembled those which oppressed me in the Ghent countryside.

I have told you that, on the morning of the 30th of July, Monsieur Thiers failed to find the Duc d’Orléans at Neuilly; but Madame la Duchesse d’Orleans sent someone to look for His Royal Highness; Monsieur le Comte Anatole de Montesquiou was charged with the message. Arriving at Raincy, Monsieur de Montesquiou had endless trouble persuading Louis-Philippe to return to Neuilly to await the deputation from the Chamber of Deputies.

Finally, persuaded by the knight of honour to the Duchess of Orleans, Louis-Philippe entered his carriage. Monsieur de Montesquiou went in advance; at first he travelled quite swiftly; but when he looked behind he saw that His Royal Highness’s calash had stopped and turned back on the way to Raincy. Monsieur de Montesquiou returned in haste, and implored his future majesty, who was hastening to hide himself in the wilderness like those illustrious Christians who once fled the burdensome dignity of the episcopate: the loyal servant won a last unhappy victory.

On the evening of the 30th, the deputation of a dozen members of the Chamber of Deputies, who were to offer the Lieutenant-General-ship of the Kingdom to the Prince, brought him a message at Neuilly. Louis-Philippe received the message through the park railing, read it by torchlight and instantly set out for Paris, accompanied by Messieurs de Berthois, Haymès and Oudart. He wore a tricolour cockade in his buttonhole: he was off to steal an old crown from the stores.