Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXIV, 8

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


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXXIV, chapter 8
My journal continued – Vain endeavours in Paris



At Pâquis, near Geneva.

Oh money, that I have scorned so greatly and cannot love as I should, I am forced to confess that you yet have some merit: source of freedom, you provide a thousand things in our existence, where everything is difficult without you! Except glory, what can you not procure? With you everything is beautiful, young, adored: we have esteem, honours, qualities, and virtues. You will tell me that with money we only have the semblance of all that: what does it matter if I think true what is false? Deceive me cleverly and I will quit you of the rest: is life anything other than a lie? When one has no money, one is dependant on everything and everybody. Two creatures who do not suit each other might go their own ways; well, lacking funds, they must sit there face to face sulking, muttering, in a sour mood, chewing their tongues with boredom, consuming their souls to the whites of their eyes, enraged, making a mutual sacrifice of their tastes, their desires, their in-born way of life: misery grips them both, and in these beggars’ bonds, instead of embracing each other they bite each other, but not as Flora bit Pompey. Without money, there is no means of flight; one cannot go to find another dawn, and possessing a proud spirit, one bears everlasting chains. Happy you financiers, sellers of crucifixes, who govern Christendom today, who decide on peace or war, who eat like pigs on the proceeds of old clothes, who are the favourites of kings and beauties, foul and ugly as you are! Ah, if you could change places with me! If I could rummage a moment in your safes, take from you what you have stolen from the sons of the nobility, I would be the happiest of men!

I ought to have a fine means of subsistence: I could address myself to the monarchs; as I have lost everything on behalf of their crown, it would only be right for them to support me. But that idea which should strike them never does strike them; and strikes me even less. Rather than sitting at royal banquets, I would do better to take up that diet again which I followed in London with my poor friend Hingant. But the happy days of living in garrets are past, not that I would not be there again, but I would be ill at ease there, I would take up too much space with the trappings of my fame; I would no longer be there in my single shirt, with the slender waist of an unknown who has not dined. My cousin de La Bouëtardais is no longer there to play his violin on my pallet-bed in the red robe of a Councillor of the Breton Parliament, and keep warm at night clothed in a chair instead of a counterpane; Peltier is no longer there to give us dinner with King Christophe’s money, and above all the magician is no longer there, Youth, who with a smile changes poverty into wealth, who brings you her younger sister Hope for a mistress; the latter as deceptive as her elder sister, but returning still when the former has fled forever.

I was forgetting the miseries of my first emigration and I imagined that it would be enough to quit France to maintain in peace the honour of exile: roasted skylarks only fall to those who harvest the fields not those who sow them: if it was merely a matter of myself in some alms-house, I would not mind; but Madame de Chateaubriand? So I felt quite uncertain in gazing at the future, anxiety gripped me.

I heard from Paris that my house in the Rue d’Enfer could only be sold at a price which was insufficient to cover the mortgage with which that hermitage was burdened: but something might yet be done if I were there. After this news, I made a useless journey to Paris, since I found neither goodwill nor purchaser; but I saw the Abbaye-aux-Bois again and some of my new friends. On the eve of my return there, I dined at the Café de Paris with Messieurs Arago, Pouqeville, Carrel and Béranger, all more or less discontented and disappointed with the best of republics.