Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXII, 7

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XXXII, 6 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXII, 8

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXII, chapter 7
I write to the King at Saint-Cloud: his verbal response – The aristocratic corps – The pillage of the Missionaries’ House on Rue d’Enfer.

The day of the 29th, following my return to Paris, was not without occupation as far as I was concerned. My plans were stalled: I wished to act, but only wished to do so with orders, from the King’s own hand, granting me the necessary powers to deal with the immediate authorities; to involve myself with it all and do nothing unsuitable. I had reasoned wisely, witness the affront suffered by Messieurs d’Argout, Sémonville and Vitrolles.

I then wrote to Charles X at Saint Cloud. Monsieur de Givré agreed to deliver my letter. I begged the King to tell me his wishes. Monsieur de Givré came back empty-handed. He had handed my letter to Monsieur le Duc de Duras, who had passed it to the King, who sent the reply that he had named Monsieur de Mortemart as his First Minister, and that he invited me to meet with him. Where to find the noble Duke? I searched for him on the evening of the 29th in vain.

Repulsed by Charles X, my thoughts turned to the Chamber of Peers; it could, as a sovereign court, invoke proceedings and judge disputes. If it was unsafe to convene in Paris, it was free to move elsewhere, even to the King’s residence, and there declare a national arbitration process. It had some chance of success; there is always room for daring. After all, in succumbing, it would suffer a useful defeat where principles were concerned. But would I find a score of men in that Chamber prepared for self-sacrifice? Of those twenty, might there be four who agreed with me regarding public freedoms?

Aristocratic assemblies rule gloriously when they are a sovereign power, alone invested with its rights and machinery: they offer the strongest security; but in collaborative government, they lose their value, and are useless when major crises erupt…powerless against the King, they will not prevent despotism; powerless against the people, they will not stop anarchy. In public disturbances, they only buy their continued existence at the cost of perjury or subservience. Did the House of Lords save Charles I? Did it save Richard Cromwell, to whom it had sworn an oath? Did it save James II? Will it save the Hanoverian Princes now? Can it even save itself? A presumed aristocratic counterweight only upsets the balance and sooner or later is thrown out of the pan. An ancient and wealthy aristocracy accustomed to public business, has only one means of holding onto power when it is slipping away: that is, to pass from the Capitol to the Forum, and set itself at the head of the new movement, unless it thinks itself not strong enough to risk civil war.

While I was awaiting the return of Monsieur de Givré, I was busy defending my quarter of the city. The suburbanites and quarrymen of Montrouge flowed through the Barrière d’Enfer. The latter resembled those quarrymen of Montmartre who caused such great distress to Mademoiselle de Mornay as she was fleeing the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre. Passing by the community of Missionaries situated on my street, they entered it: a score of priests were forced to save themselves: the den of fanatics was systematically pillaged, and their books and beds were burned in the street. No one spoke about this misfortune. Had they loaded themselves with whatever the propagandists had lost? I offered hospitality to seven or eight fugitives; they stayed hidden under my roof for several days. I obtained passports for them through the intermediary of my neighbour, Monsieur Arago, and they went off to preach the word of God elsewhere. ‘The flight of saints has often been useful to nations, utilis populis fuga sanctorum.’