Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXIII, 5

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XXXIII, 4 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXIII, 6

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXIII, chapter 5
The Palais-Royal – Conversations – A last political temptation – Monsieur de Saint-Aulaire

The Royal family, by leaving, reduced me to my own resources. I no longer thought of what I might be called upon to say in the Chamber of Peers. To write was impossible: if an attack had come from the enemies of the crown; if Charles X had been overthrown by a conspiracy from outside, I would have picked up my pen, and having been left my independence of thought, I would have worked hard to rally a large party to the remnants of the monarchy; but the attack came from the crown itself; the ministers had violated the twin principles of liberty, they had made royalty break its oath, not intentionally doubtless, but in fact; by that they had also stolen my power. What could I dare to say in favour of the decrees? How could I still boast of the sincerity, candour, and chivalry of the Legitimacy? How could I claim that they were the best guarantee of our interests, our laws, and our freedom? A champion of the ancient royalty, that royalty had robbed me of my weapons, and left me naked to my enemies.

So I was quite surprised when, reduced to this state of weakness, I found myself sought after by the new royalty. Charles X had disdained my services; Philippe made an effort to attach me to him. First of all Monsieur Arago spoke to me in an elevated and forceful manner on behalf of Madame Adélaïde; then Comte Anatole de Montesquiou came to Madame Récamier’s one morning and found me there. He told me that Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans and Monsieur le Duc d’Orleans would be charmed to see me, if I would go to the Palais-Royal. At that time they were occupied with the declaration which would transform the Lieutenant-Generalship of the Kingdom into a monarchy. Perhaps, before I could make any pronouncements, His Royal Highness may have judged it opportune to try and weaken my opposition. He may also have thought I might consider myself freed by the flight of the three kings.

Monsieur de Montesquiou’s overtures surprised me. Yet I did not reject them, since, without flattering myself regarding any chance of success, I thought I might be able to communicate some honest truth. I went to the Palais-Royal with the future queen’s Knight of Honour. Escorted to the entrance giving on the Rue de Valois, I found Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans and Madame Adélaïde in their little apartment. I had been honoured by being presented to them previously. Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans made me sit beside her, and immediately said; ‘Ah! Monsieur de Chateaubriand, we are most unfortunate. If all the parties would unite, perhaps they might yet save the situation! What do you think?

‘– Madame,’ I replied, ‘nothing is so straightforward: Charles X and Monsieur le Dauphin have abdicated: Henri is now King; Monseigneur le Duc d’Orléans is Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom: let him act as Regent during Henri V’s minority and all is settled.’

‘– But, Monsieur de Chateaubriand, the people are agitating; we will descend into anarchy.’

‘– Madame may I ask you what Monseigneur le Duc d’Orléans’ intentions are? Will he accept the crown if it is offered to him?’

The two Princesses were hesitant in replying. Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans replied after a moment’s silence:

‘– Think, Monsieur de Chateaubriand of the evils that could arise. All honest people must work together to save the Republic. In Rome, Monsier de Chateaubriand, you might render great service, or even here, if you do not wish to leave France!’

‘– Madame do not forget my devotion to the young King and to his mother.’

‘– Oh, Monsieur de Chateaubriand, have they treated you so well!’

‘– Your Royal Highness would not have me deny my whole existence.’

‘– Monsieur de Chateaubriand, you do not know my niece: she is so thoughtless…poor Caroline! ...I am going to find Monsieur le Duc d’Orleans, he will be better at persuading you than I am.’

The Princess gave an order, and after a few minutes Louis-Philippe arrived. He was untidily dressed and looked extremely tired. I rose, and the Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom tackled me:

‘– Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans must have told you of the unfortunate position we are in.’

And suddenly he uttered idyllic words on the happiness which he found in the countryside, and on the tranquil life which his tastes led him to enjoy with his children. I seized the opportunity of a pause between two verses to add a respectful comment of my own, and to repeat virtually what I had said to the Princesses.

‘Ah,’ he cried, ‘that would be my wish! How I would love to be the tutor and guardian of that child! I think as you do, Monsieur de Chateaubriand: to accept the Duc de Bordeaux would certainly be the best thing to do. Only I fear that events may prove too powerful for us.’ – ‘Too powerful for us, Monseigneur? Are you not invested with every power? Let us rejoin Henri V; summon the Chambers and the army to you, outside Paris. At the first rumour of your departure, all the excitement will cease, and they will seek to shelter beneath your enlightened and protective power.’

While I was speaking, I was watching Philippe. My advice caused him great uneasiness; I saw the desire to be king written on his brow. ‘Monsieur de Chateaubriand,’ he said without looking at me, ‘the matter is more complicated than you think; it is not like that. You do not understand the danger we are in. A furious attack could be mounted on the Chambers, with every excess of force, and we have nothing left to defend ourselves with.’

That sentence falling from Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans’ lips pleased me because it furnished me with the opportunity for a peremptory reply. ‘I understand the difficulty, Monseigneur; but there is a way of surmounting it. If you find yourself unable to rejoin Henri V as I have just proposed, you can take another route. The Session is about to open: whatever may be the first proposition put by the Deputies, declare that the present Chamber lacks the necessary powers (which is indeed true) to settle the form of government; say that France must be consulted, and a new assembly must be elected with ad hoc powers to settle so great a matter. Your Royal Highness in that way will be adopting the most popular position; the Republican Party, which is a risk to you today, will praise you to the skies. During the two months it will take to form a fresh legislature, you can re-organise the National Guard; all your friends and those of the young King will work alongside you in the provinces. Let the Deputies come then and plead the cause I am defending, publicly, at the rostrum. That cause, secretly supported by you, would obtain the largest majority of the votes. The moment of anarchy having passed, you will have nothing more to fear from Republican violence. I do not even think it very difficult for you to bring General Lafayette and Monsieur Lafitte over to your side. What a role for you Monseigneur! You will reign for fifteen years in your pupil’s name; in fifteen years, it will be time for us all to rest; you will have had the glory, unique in history, of being in a position to take the throne and of having left it to the legitimate heir; and at the same time you will have helped that child become one of the luminaries of the century, and will have rendered him capable of ruling France: one of your daughters might one day bear the sceptre with him.’

Philippe’s gaze wandered vaguely somewhere over my head: ‘Excuse me, Monsieur de Chateaubriand,’ he said, ‘I have left a deputation in order to speak to you, to whom I must return. Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans will have explained to you how happy I would be to do what you desire; but, be aware, that it is only I who hold back the threatening tide. If the Royalist party is not massacred, it will owe its survival to me alone.

‘– Monseigneur,’ I replied, to this statement which was so unexpected and so far from the subject of our conversation, ‘I have witnessed massacres: those who passed through the Revolution were hardened. Greybeards do not allow themselves to be frightened by things which make conscripts fear.’

His Royal Highness withdrew, and I went to find my friends:

‘– Well?’ they cried.

‘– Well, he wants to be King.’

‘– And Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans?

‘– She wants to be Queen.

‘– They told you so?

‘– The one spoke to me of sheep-pens, the other of the perils which threaten France and the thoughtlessness of poor Caroline; both wished me to understand that I could be useful to them, and neither would look me in the face.’

Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans wished to see me again. Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans did not involve himself in this conversation. Madame Adélaïde was there as before. Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans explained clearly the favours with which Monseigneur le Duc d’Orléans proposed to honour me. She had the goodness to mention what she called my influence over public opinion, the sacrifices I had made, and the aversion which Charles X and his family had always shown for me, despite my services. She told me that if I would join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, His Royal Highness would have great delight in re-establishing me there; but that I might perhaps prefer to return to Rome, and that she (Madame la Duchesse d’Orléans) would take great pleasure in seeing me adopt this last suggestion, in the interests of our sacred religion.

‘Madame,’ I replied immediately in a forceful manner: ‘I see that Monsieur le Duc d’Orleans’ mind is made up; I assume that he has weighed the consequences, and has seen the years of misery and danger which he will have to pass through; I have therefore nothing more to say. I have not come here to demonstrate any lack of respect for the Bourbon line; moreover I have only gratitude for Madame’s kindness. Leaving the major objections to one side, reasons deriving from principles and events, I beg Your Royal Highness to allow me to speak of what concerns myself.

You have chosen to speak of what you call my influence over public opinion. Well, if that influence is real, it is founded on public esteem; now, I would lose that esteem the moment I changed flags. Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans might consider he had acquired a supporter, but he would merely have a wretched phrase-maker in his service, an oath-breaker whose voice would no longer be heard, a renegade whom anyone would have the right to throw mud at, or spit in his face. To the wavering words he might stammer in favour of Louis-Philippe, would be contrasted whole volumes he has published in support of the line which has abdicated. Am I not the person, Madame, who wrote the pamphlet Of Bonaparte and the Bourbons, the articles on the arrival of Louis XVIII at Compiègne, the Report of the King’s Council at Ghent, and the History of the life and death of Monsieur le Duc de Berry? I do not know if there is a single page of mine in which the name of my former kings’ family does not count for something, and in which it is not surrounded by my protestations of love and loyalty; something which admits a character of personal attachment all the more remarkable, in that Madame knows I do not believe in kings. At the mere thought of desertion, a blush mounts to my face; I would go and throw myself in the Seine tomorrow. I beg Madame to excuse the force of my words; I am filled with my sense of her kindness; I will retain a deep and grateful memory of it, but she would not wish me to be dishonoured: have pity on me, Madame, have pity!’

I had remained standing and, bowing, I took my leave. Mademoiselle d’Orléans had said not a word. She rose, and as she departed, said to me: ‘I do not pity you, Monsieur de Chateaubriand, I do not pity you!’ I was astonished at those few words, and the accent with which they were pronounced.

That was my last political temptation; I could have considered myself an honourable man according to Saint Hilaire, since he affirms that men are exposed to devilish enterprises because of their holiness: Victoria ei est magis, exacta de santis: his victory is greater when won against the holy. My refusal was that of a fool; where is the public who would value it? Could I not have ranged myself with those men, virtuous sons of this earth, who serve their country before everything else? Unfortunately, I am not a creature of the present age, and never bow to fortune. There is nothing in common between me and Cicero; but his weakness is not an excuse: posterity cannot pardon a moment of weakness in one great man for the sake of another great man; what would have become of my poor life if it had lost its only virtue, its integrity, for the sake of Louis-Philippe d’Orléans?

On the evening of the conversation above at the Palais-Royal, I met Monsieur de Saint-Aulaire at Madame Récamier’s. I took no pleasure in asking about his affairs, but he asked about mine. He was fresh from the country and still full of the events he had witnessed: ‘Ah!’ he cried, ‘How pleased I am to see you! Here’s a fine thing! I hope we of the Luxembourg will do our duty. It would be strange if the Peers were to dispossess Henri V of the crown! I am sure you will not leave me to take to the rostrum alone.’

As my decision was made, I was quite calm; my response to Monsieur de Saint-Aulaire’s ardour appeared cool. He left, spoke to his friends, and left me to take the rostrum alone: long live men of spirit with light hearts and frivolous minds!