Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXII, 6

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXII, chapter 6
The July Revolution: civil action on the 29th of July – Monsieur Baude, Monsieur de Choiseul, Monsieur de Sémonville, Monsieur de Vitrolles, Monsieur Lafitte and Monsieur Thiers

Monsieur le Duc de Mortemart arrived at Saint-Cloud on Wednesday the 28th, at ten in the evening, to take up his post as Captain of the Cent-Suisses: he was unable to see the King until the following day. At eleven o’clock on the 29th he made a tentative approach to Charles X urging him to repeal the decrees; the King said: ‘I do not wish to ride in a tumbril with my brother; I will not retreat a step.’ A little while later, he had retreated from a kingdom.

The Ministers arrived: Messieurs de Sémonville, d’Argout, and Vitrolles were there, Monsieur de Sémonville recounts that he had a long conversation with the King; and that he only managed to weaken his resolution by stirring his heart in speaking of the risk to Madame la Dauphine. He said: ‘Tomorrow, at noon there will no longer be a King, a Dauphin, or a Duke of Bordeaux.’ And the King replied: ‘You will surely give me till one.’ I don’t believe a word of all that. Bragging is a fault of ours: question a Frenchman and listen to his tales, he will always have done everything. The Ministers went in to see the king behind Monsieur de Sémonville; the decrees were revoked, the government dissolved, and Monsieur de Mortemart was named President of the new Council.

In the capital, the Republican Party had at last found a home. Monsieur Baude (the gentlemen involved in the struggle at the offices of Le Temps), while traversing the streets, found the Hôtel de Ville only occupied by a couple of individuals, Monsieur Dubourg and Monsieur Zimmer. He immediately claimed to be the envoy of the provisional government which was about to be installed. He called together the employees of the Prefecture; he ordered them to set to work, as if Monsieur de Chabrol were present. When government has become automatic, the wheels are soon in motion; everyone hastened to secure the empty seats: who would be secretary general, who head of division, who would make himself agreeable, who would appoint staff and distribute the staff amongst his friends; there were those who slept there in order not to be wrong-footed, and to be ready to immediately seize any position that might become vacant. Monsieur Dubourg, nicknamed the General, and Monsieur Zimmer, were deemed to be leaders of the military section of the provisional government. Monsieur Baude, representing the civil side of this previously unknown government, made the decisions and issued the proclamations. However posters emanating from the Republican Party had been seen, spelling out the formation of an alternative government, comprising Messieurs de Lafayette, Gérard and Choiseul. It is difficult to associate the last name with the other two; as Monsieur Choiseul has himself protested. That aged Liberal, who, to stay alive, had held himself stiff as a corpse, as an émigré shipwrecked at Calais, found nothing left of his paternal home, on returning to France, but a box at the Opera.

At three in the evening, there was fresh confusion. An order of the day called a meeting of the Deputies, in Paris, at the Hôtel de Ville, to confer on the measures to be adopted. The mayors were to return to their mayoralties; they were also to send one of their assistants to the Hôtel de Ville in order to form a consultative commission. This order of the day was signed: J. Baude, for the provisional government, and Colonel Zimmer, by order of General Dubourg. This audacity carried out by the three, speaking in the name of a government which only existed as advertised by themselves at the street-corners, proves the rare intelligence of the French during revolutions: men like these are clearly leaders destined to direct others. What misfortune that in delivering us from similar anarchy, Bonaparte snatched away our liberty!

The Deputies met again at Monsieur Lafitte’s. Monsieur de Lafayette, resuming where he left off in 1789, declared that he would resume command of the National Guard as well. He was applauded, and went off to the Hôtel de Ville. The Deputies appointed a municipal commission composed of five members, Messieurs Casimir Périer, Lafitte, de Lobau, de Schonen, and Audry de Puyraveau. Monsieur Odilon Barrot was elected secretary of this commission, which installed itself at the Hôtel de Ville as had Monsieur de Lafayette. All this sat awkwardly with Monsieur Dubourg’s provisional government. Monsieur Mauguin, sent on a mission to the commission, stayed there. The friend of Washington had the black flag that decorated the Hôtel de Ville, an idea of Monsieur Dubourg’s, removed. At half past eight in the evening Monsieur de Sémonville, Monsieur d’Argout and Monsieur de Vitrolles arrived from Saint-Cloud. As soon as they had learned of the repeal of the decrees at Saint-Cloud, the recall of the former Ministers, and the nomination of Monsieur de Mortmart as the President of the Council, they had hastened to Paris. They presented themselves there as representatives of the King to the Municipal Commission. Monsieur Mauguin asked the Grand Referendary if he had written credentials; the Grand Referendary replied that he had not thought to bring them. The negotiation with the official commissioners ended there.

The meeting at Monsieur Lafitte’s having learnt of what had gone on at Saint Cloud Monsieur Lafitte signed a pass for Monsieur de Mortemart, adding that the Deputies assembled at his house would wait for him until one in the morning. The noble Duke failing to arrive, the Deputies withdrew.

Monsieur Lafitte, with only Monsieur Thiers remaining, concerned himself with the Duc d’Orléans and the proclamations to be issued. Fifty years of revolution in France had provided practical people with skills in government re-organisation, and found the theorists used to drawing up charters, and preparing the tackle and cradle by means of which governments are docked, and with which they are launched.