Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXIV, 11

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XXXIV, 10 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXIV, 12

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXIV, chapter 11
Baude and Briqueville’s proposal regarding the banishment of the elder branch of the Bourbons

Paris, Rue d’Enfer, the end of November 1831.

Returning to Paris on the 16th of October, I published my pamphlet towards the end of that same month; it was entitled: On the new proposal regarding the banishment of Charles X and his family, or a sequel to my last work: On the Restoration and the Elective Monarchy.

When these posthumous Memoirs appear, will the daily polemics, the events people are so impassioned about at the present moment, the opponents I am fighting against, even the act banishing Charles X and his family, count for anything at all? That is the trouble with all journals: therein lie animated discussions of topics which have ceased to be of interest; the reader sees a crowd of people pass by like shadows, whose names will not even be remembered: silent extras who fill up the background to the scene. Yet it is in these dry sections of chronicles that you find the observations on, and the facts of, the history of men and mankind.

At the beginning of the pamphlet I placed the decrees, first of all, proposed in succession by Messieurs Baude and Briqueville. Having examined the five courses of action that were to be taken after the July Revolution, I wrote:

‘The worst period we have been through seems that which we are now in, since anarchy reigns in the spheres of reason, morality and intellect. The existence of nations is longer than that of individuals: a paralysed man sometimes lies stretched out on his couch for several years before he vanishes; a sick nation lies in its bed for a long time before expiring. What the new monarchy needs is speed, youth, daring, the turning of one’s back on the past, marching alongside France to a meeting with the future.

Yet it comes offering no cure; it is presented, thin and ill, by the doctors who are treating it. It arrives pitiful and empty-handed, having nothing to give, and everything to receive, displaying its poverty, begging alms of everyone, and yet on the attack, declaiming against the Legitimacy and aping the Legitimacy, against Republicanism and yet trembling before it. This heavily-bandaged system only sees enemies in the twin oppositions it threatens. As supporters it has raised a phalanx of re-employed veterans: if they wore as many stripes on their sleeves as the oaths they have sworn, they would have arms more gaudily coloured than the Montmorency livery.

I doubt whether Freedom will long be pleased with this hotchpotch of a domestic monarchy. The Franks located Freedom, in a camp; she maintained among their descendants their love and desire for that first cradle; like ancient royalty, she wishes to be lifted high on a shield, and her deputies are soldiers.’

From that argument I pass to the details of the policy followed in our external relations. The immense mistake of the Congress of Vienna was to have placed a military country like France in a state of enforced hostility with the nations of the Rhine. I show all that the foreigners acquired in territory and power, all that we might have taken back in July. A fine lesson! A striking proof of the vanity of military glory and the works of conquerors! If one made a list of the Princes who have added to French possessions, Bonaparte would not figure there; Charles X would occupy a remarkable place!

Passing from item to item, I arrive at Louis-Philippe: ‘Louis-Philippe is King,’ I write, ‘he bears the sceptre for a child whose immediate heir he is, for that pupil whom Charles X has placed in the hands of the Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom, as in those of an experienced tutor, a loyal guardian, a generous protector. In that Château of the Tuileries, instead of an innocent couch, free of insomnia, rid of remorse, devoid of ghosts, what has the Prince found? An empty throne which reveals to him a headless spectre carrying another spectre’s head in its blood-stained hand…

Must he end by setting up Louvel’s blade in law, before striking a final blow at the proscribed family? If it is driven to these shores by a tempest; if, being too young as yet, Henri is not old enough for the scaffold, well, you are the masters, grant him an exemption to that age-limit on the death-penalty.’

Having spoken about the government of France, I returned to Holyrood and added: ‘May I take, respectfully, in finishing, the liberty of addressing a few words to the exiles? They have re-entered grief as if it were their mother’s womb: misfortune, a seduction I have barely been able to protect myself from, always seems to me to be in the right; I am afraid to bless its sacred authority, and the majesty which adds to their insulted grandeur which will now have only me to flatter it. But I will overcome my weakness; I will force myself to speak a language which, in days of misfortune, may prepare the way for my country’s hopes.

A Prince’s education should be suited to the form of government and the way of life of his country. Now, in France there is no longer any chivalry, no knights, no soldiers of the Oriflamme, no gentlemen cased in steel, ready to march behind the white banner. There is a nation which is no longer the nation of former times, a nation which, altering through the centuries, no longer possesses the old habits and antique way of life of its forefathers. Whether one deplores, or glories in, those social transformations, one must accept the nation as it is, events as they are, and enter into the spirit of the age, in order to affect that spirit.

All is in God’s hand, except the past which, once fallen from that potent hand, never returns to it.

The moment will certainly arrive when that orphan will leave the castle of the Stuarts, a sanctuary of ill omen, which seems to cast its fatal shadow over his youth: the last born descendant of the Béarnais must mix with the children of his own century, attend public schools, and understand everything which is now known. Let him become the most enlightened young man of his times; let him grasp the science of his era; let him join to the virtues of a Christian of the age of Saint-Louis the enlightenment of a Christian of our age. Let travel teach him about law and morality; let him traverse the oceans, comparing institutions and governments, free nations and nations enslaved; let him, if the occasion arises abroad, be a plain soldier exposing himself to the perils of war, since one is not suited to rule the French unless one has heard bullets flying. Then we will have done for him what humanly speaking can be done for him. But above all avoid nourishing in him the idea of divine right; far from encouraging him to mount to the level of his ancestors, prepare him never to ascend to it; raise him to be a man, not a king: that is the best path.

Enough; whatever God’s counsel may be, the recipient of my tender and pious loyalty, possesses the majesty of centuries that men cannot take from him. A thousand years placed on his young head adorn him always with pomp above all monarchs. If in private life he wears that coronet of years, memories and glory, if his hand lifts effortlessly that spectre of the centuries that produced his ancestors what empire has he need to regret?’

Monsieur le Comte de Briqueville, whom I contested the proposal with in this way, had printed various reflections on my pamphlet; he sent them to me with this note:

I have yielded to the need, to the duty, of publishing the reflections which your eloquent pages on my proposal roused in my mind. I obey a sentiment no less real in deploring my finding myself in opposition to you, Sir, you who, to the power of genius, add so many titles to public consideration. The country is in danger, and I cannot therefore believe there is any longer serious disagreement between us: France invites us to unite to save her; aid her with your genius; our manoeuvres will aid her with our weapons. On that field, Sir, is it not true that we will soon achieve an understanding? You will be the Tyrtaeus of a nation whose soldiers we are, and it will be a joy to me to proclaim myself then the most ardent of your political supporters, as I am already the sincerest.
Your very humble and obedient servant,
Le Comte Armand de BRIQUEVILLE.
Paris, this 15th of November 1831.

I did not remain in my tent, and broke a second lance courtoise against the champion.

Paris, this 15th of November 1831.
Your letter is worthy of a gentleman: forgive me this ancient word befitting your name, your courage and your love of France. Like you I detest a foreign yoke: if it is a question of defending my country, I will not ask to carry a poet’s lyre, rather a veteran’s sword in the ranks of your soldiers.
I have not yet read your reflections, Sir; but if the political situation leads you to withdraw your proposition which has greatly disturbed me, with what joy I would meet you, without reservation, on the field of freedom, of honour and of the glory of our country!
I have the honour to be, Sir, with the most distinguished consideration, your very humble and obedient servant,