Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXIV, 1

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XXXIII, 1 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXIV, 2


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXXIV - Chapter 1
Introduction.



Infirmerie de Marie-Thérèse
Paris, October 1830.

Emerging from the fracas of the Three Glorious Days, I was astonished at beginning the fourth part of this work with a feeling of profound calm; it seemed to me that I had doubled the Cape of Storms, and penetrated into a region of peace and silence. If I had died on the 7th of August of that year, the closing words of my speech to the Chamber of Peers would have been the last lines of my story; my catastrophe, being also that of the twelve centuries past, would have enhanced my memory. My drama would have ended magnificently.

But I am not living under threat; I have not been dragged to earth. Pierre de l’Estoile wrote this page of his journal the day after the assassination of Henri IV:

‘And here I finish, with the life of my King (Henry IV), the second book of my melancholy history and my vain and curious researches, public as well as private, often interrupted for a month at a time by the sad evenings and weary nights I have endured, especially this last, because of the death of my King.

I would have proposed to end my ephemeredes with this book; but so many new and curious occurrences have presented themselves because of that notable event, that I am continuing with another, which will be as lengthy as God pleases; and I doubt that will be very long.’

L’Estoile saw the death of the first Bourbon; I have just seen the fall of the last; should I not close here the register of my melancholy history and my vain and curious researches? Perhaps; but so many new and curious occurrences have presented themselves because of that notable event, that I am continuing with another.

Like L’Estoile, I lament the misfortunes of Saint-Louis’ line; yet, I must confess, there is a certain internal satisfaction mixed with my sadness; I reproach myself for it, but cannot avoid it: the satisfaction is that of a slave freed from his chains. When I quit being a soldier and a traveller, I felt sad; now I experience joy, a convict liberated as I am from the galleys of society and Court. Faithful to my principles and my oath, I have betrayed neither liberty nor the King; I carry away neither riches nor honour; I leave as poor as when I came. Happy to end a political career hateful to me, I return with delight to rest.

Bless you, my dear in-born freedom; the soul of my life! Come: recount to me my Memoirs, this alter ego whose confidante, ideal and Muse you are. Hours of leisure are suited to tales: shipwrecked, I will continue to tell the fishermen on shore of my disaster. Returned to my first feelings, I become again a free man and a traveller; I end my course as I began. The circle of my days, which closes, leads me back to my point of departure. On the road that I once trod as a carefree conscript I will march as an experienced veteran, demobilisation papers in my shako, stripes showing how long I have served on my arm, a haversack of years on my back. Who knows? Perhaps I will discover stage by stage the reveries of my youth? I will summon many dreams to my aid, to defend myself against that horde of realities which breeds in time past, like dragons hidden amongst the ruins. It is for me to tie together the two ends of my existence, to confound distant epochs, to intermingle the illusions of differing times, since the banished Prince I will meet on leaving my paternal hearth, I encounter now in exile in travelling to my last home.