Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXIII, 10

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XXXIII, 9 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXIV, 1

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXIII, chapter 10
The end of my political career

Here ends my political career. That career should also close my Memoirs, there being nothing left but to continue with the experiences of my life. Three disasters marked the three preceding sections of my life: Louis XVI was executed during my career as traveller and soldier; at the end of my literary career, Bonaparte vanished; Charles X, in falling, has ended my political career.

I fixed the age of revolution in literature, and likewise in politics I formulated the principles of representative government; my diplomatic correspondence, I think, was worthy of my literary compositions. It is possible that both of them may count for nothing, but it is certain that they are of equal value.

In France, at the rostrum of the Chamber of Peers and in my writings, I exercised such an influence, that I first obtained Monsieur de Villèle’s entry into government, and then forced him to resign because of my opposition, after he had become my enemy. All of that is demonstrated by what you have read.

The great event of my political career was the War in Spain. It was for me, in that career, what Le Génie du Christianisme had been in my literary career. Fate chose to entrust me with the great adventure, which under the Restoration, might have guided the march of society towards the future. It snatched away my dreams, and turned me into a conductor of events. At the table where she made me gamble, she placed as adversaries the two first ministers of the day, Prince Metternich and Mr Canning; I won my game against them. All serious minds who counted in government in those days agreed that they had found me a Statesman. (See the letters and despatches of various Courts, in Le Congrès de Verone, and also consult L’Ambassade de Rome.) Bonaparte had foreseen that before them, despite my books. I think therefore, without boasting, that politicians valued the writer in me; but I attach no value to the fame acquired from politics; that is why I allow myself to speak of it.

If, after the Peninsular adventure, I had not been thrown away by blind men, the course of our destiny would have been altered; France would have taken back her frontiers, the equilibrium of Europe would have been re-established; the Restoration, in glory, might still have had long to run, and my diplomatic work would have also counted for something in our history. Between my two lives, there is only a difference in outcome. My literary career, completely achieved, has produced all that it should, because it depended only on myself. My political career was halted suddenly in the midst of success, because that depended on others.

Nevertheless, I recognise that my form of politics was only applicable to the Restoration. If a transformation takes place in principles, men and society what was good yesterday seems obsolete and out-dated today. With regard to Spain, the relationship between the royal families ceased with the abolition of Salic Law, there is no longer any question of creating an impenetrable frontier beyond the Pyrenees; we must accept the field of battle that Austria and England may one day offer us there; things must be regarded from the position they have now reached; and we must abandon, not without regret, a firm yet reasonable course, whose benefits were certain, in the long run it is true. I am conscious of having served the Legitimacy as it should be served. I saw the future as clearly as I see it now; only I would have reached it by a less perilous route, so that the Legitimacy, familiar with our constitutional teaching, would not have stumbled into a dangerous path. Now, my projects are no longer realisable: Russia is turning elsewhere. If I went now to the Peninsula, where minds have had time to alter, it would be with different thoughts: I would occupy myself only with an alliance between the nations, suspicious, jealous, passionate, uncertain and volatile though she is, and I would no longer dream of relations between kings. I would say to France: ‘You have left the beaten track, for a path among precipices; well, explore the marvels and the perils. To us, innovation, enterprise, discovery! Come, and with the weapons, if necessary, that you favour. Where is the new? Is it in the East? Let us go there. Where shall we bear our courage and intelligence? Hasten to those shores. Place us at the head of the great upsurge of the human race; let us not be overtaken; let the name of France be ahead of others in that crusade, just as it long ago reached Christ’s tomb.’ Yes, if I was admitted to my country’s councils, I would try to be useful to her given the dangerous principles she has adopted: to restrain her at present would be to condemn her to an ignoble death. I would not be satisfied with speech alone: joining the work of faith, I would organise soldiers and money, I would build vessels, like Noah, foreseeing the deluge, and if I were asked why, I would reply: ‘Because it is France’s wish.’ My despatches warned the cabinets of Europe that nothing might stir in the world without our intervention; that if they were sharing out fragments of the world, the lion’s share comes to us. We would cease to ask our neighbours humbly for the right to exist; the heart of France would beat freely, without any hand being applied to that heart to count its throbs; and since we seek new suns, I would throw myself down before their splendour and would no longer wait for nature’s dawn to break.

Heaven send that those industrial interests in which we hope to find a new form of prosperity do not deceive anyone, that they are fertile also, as civilising as those moral interests from which the old society emerged! The age will teach us whether they are an infertile dream of sterile minds that have not the ability to emerge from the material world.

Even though my role with the Legitimacy has ended, all my wishes are for France, whatever may be the powers her heedless whims make her obey. As for me, I no longer ask for anything; I would merely wish not to outlast the ruins crumbling at my feet. But the years are like Alps: scarcely has one ascended the first, than one sees others rising. Alas! Those last and highest peaks are uninhabited; whitened; arid.