Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXIII, 8

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XXXIII, 7 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXIII, 9


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXXIII, chapter 8
Charles X embarks at Cherbourg



Now, where was Charles X? He was travelling towards exile, accompanied by his Bodyguards, escorted by three Commissioners, crossing France without even exciting the curiosity of the peasants ploughing their furrows beside the highroad. In two or three little towns, hostile demonstrations were mounted; in others, the bourgeois and the women showed signs of pity. One must remember that Bonaparte made no more noise passing from Fontainebleau to Toulon, that France was no more moved, and that the victor in so many battles was nearly massacred at Orgon. In this weary land, the greatest events are no more than dramas played for our amusement: they occupy the spectator while the curtain is raised, and when it falls it leaves a vain memory. Sometimes Charles X and his family halted at miserable transport-stops to eat a meal at the end of a dirty table at which the carters dined with them. Henri V and his sister amused themselves in the yard among the innkeeper’s pigeons and pullets. As I have said: the monarchy departed, and people went to their windows to watch it pass.

Heaven was pleased at this moment to insult the victors and the vanquished. While it was still being claimed that the whole of France had been indignant at the decrees, King Philippe received various addresses from the provinces, sent to King Charles X to congratulate the latter on the salutary measures he had taken which would preserve the monarchy.

The Bey of Tittery, for his part, sent to the dethroned monarch, who was travelling towards Cherbourg, the following submission:

‘In the name of God, etc, I recognize as absolute sovereign Charles X, the great and victorious; I will pay him tribute, etc.’ One could not have toyed more ironically with the fortunes of each. Today revolutions are engineered mechanically; they are manufactured so swiftly that a monarch, still king at the borders of his State, is already no more than an exile in his own capital.

In the country’s indifference to Charles X, there was something more than weariness: one must recognise the progress of democratic ideas and the assimilation of rank. In a former epoch, the fall of a King of France would have been an enormous event; time has toppled monarchy from the heights on which it was placed, kings have been brought close to us, the distance separating them from the popular classes has diminished. If one was hardly surprised to meet the descendant of Saint Louis on the highroad like the rest of the world, it was not through any spirit of hatred or design, it was quite simply through a feeling of social levelling, which had penetrated minds and acted on the masses without them being aware.

Curses, Cherbourg, on your ominous environs! It was near Cherbourg that the winds of anger deposited Edward III to ravage our country; it was not far from Cherbourg that the winds of an enemy victory shattered Tourville’s fleet; it was at Cherbourg that the winds of deceptive prosperity nudged Louis XVI towards the scaffold; it was to Cherbourg that a wind from who knows what shore carried our former Princes. The coast of Great-Britain, where William the Conqueror landed, witnessed the disembarkation of Charles the Tenth without lance or pennon; he went to find at Holyrood, the memories of his youth, hung on the walls of that palace of the Stuarts, like old engravings yellowed by time.