Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXIX, 1

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XXXVIII, 10 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXIX, 2

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXIX - Chapter 1
What Madame la Duchesse de Berry had been doing – Charles X’s Council in France – My ideas regarding Henri V – My letter to Madame la Dauphine.

Paris, Rue d’Enfer, 6th of June 1833

On descending from the carriage, and before going to bed, I wrote a letter to Madame la Duchesse de Berry to give an account of my mission. My return had caused a commotion amongst the police; the telegraph announced the news to the Prefect of Bordeaux and the commander of the fortress of Blaye: they were ordered to redouble their surveillance; it seemed they had even forced Madame to embark before the day fixed for her departure. My letter missed Her Royal Highness by a few hours and was sent on to her in Italy. If Madame had not made her declaration; if even after that declaration she had denied the consequences; moreover, if, on arrival in Sicily, she had continued to protest about the role she had been constrained to play to escape her gaolers, France and Europe would have believed what she said, Philippe’s government being so suspect. All the Judases would have been punished for the spectacle they had given the world, by the murkiness of Blaye. But Madame did not wish to preserve her political character by denying her marriage; what is gained by a lie regarding one’s reputation for ability, is lost in lack of esteem; the sincerity you have been able to claim scarcely aids you. Let someone valued by the public debase themselves, and they are no longer protected by their fame, but are forced to shelter behind their fame. Madame, by confessing, escaped the shadow of prison: the female eagle, like the male, desires freedom and sunlight.

In Prague, Monsieur le Duc de Blacas, announced the formation of a Council which I was to lead, with the former Chancellor, and Monsieur le Marquis de Latour-Maubourg: I (according to Monsieur le Duc) was to be the only one of Charles X’s councillors to act in absentia in various matters. They showed me a plan: the workings were very complicated; Monsieur de Blacas’ draft retained several arrangements made by the Duchesse de Berry, while, on her side, she intended to organise the State, by coming foolishly, but courageously, to place herself at the head of her kingdom in partibus. That adventurous woman’s ideas did not lack sense: she had divided France into four large military enclaves, designated their leaders, named the officers, formed the soldiers into regiments, and without worrying whether everyone was for the flag, she hastened to bear it herself; she had no doubts of finding in the field Saint Martin’s cope, or the Oriflamme, Galaor or Bayard. Blows from war-axes, musket-balls, retreats through the forest, danger at the hearths of loyal friends, caves, castles, cottages, and scaling-ladders: all that was fine and pleasing to Madame. There was something odd, original and attractive in the character which gave her life; the future found her willing, despite correct advisors and wise cowards.

If they had summoned me, I would have brought the Bourbons the popularity I enjoyed under my twin titles of writer and Statesman, since I had received support from all shades of opinion. This was not expressed in generalities; each told me what he expected from events; several confessed their genius and freely pointed out the position to which they were eminently suited. Everyone (friends and enemies) sent me to see the Duc de Bordeaux. Because of my various shades of opinion and my chequered fortune, because the ravages of death had removed in succession the men of my generation, I seemed to be the Royal Family’s sole remaining choice.

I might have been tempted by the role they assigned me; there was something flattering to my vanity, I, the servant ignored and rejected by the Bourbons, to be a prop to their race, to clasp the hands of Philippe-Auguste, Saint-Louis, Charles V, Louis XII, Francis I, Henri IV, Louis XIV in their tombs; to defend with my feeble renown the blood, the crown, the shades of so many great men, I, alone against faithless France and a debased Europe.

But to achieve it what would I have to do? What the humblest spirit had done: flatter the Court in Prague, overcome its antipathy, and conceal my thoughts from it until I was in a position to develop them.

And indeed, those ideas went far: if I had been the young Prince’s tutor, I would have tried hard to win his confidence. If he were destined to recover his crown, I would have counselled him to wear it only in order to sacrifice it at a future time. I wished to see the Capets depart in a manner worthy of their greatness. What a fine and noteworthy day that would be when, having exalted religion, perfected the constitution of the State, extended the rights of citizens, broken the last shackles of the Press, emancipated the boroughs, destroyed monopolies, matched salaries fairly to the work done, strengthened the rights of property while curbing its abuses, re-invigorated industry, lowered taxes, re-established our honour among the nations, and assured, by extending our borders, our freedom from foreign interference; what a fine day that would be when, all of the above being accomplished, my pupil could say to the nation in solemn conclave:

‘People of France your education has ended with mine. My first ancestor, Robert the Strong died for you, while my own father demanded mercy for the man who took his life. My forefathers created France and raised it from barbarism: now the march of the centuries, the progress of civilisation no longer requires that you have a tutor. I relinquish the throne; I confirm all my ancestors’ benefactions and deliver you from your oaths to the monarchy.’ Tell me whether that end would not surpass whatever was most marvellous about that race? Tell me if as great a temple could ever be erected in its memory? Compare that end, to the one the decrepit sons of Henri IV achieved, obstinately clinging to a throne submerged by democracy, trying to retain power with the aid of police measures, violence, corrupt votes, dragging on a degraded existence for a few instants? ‘Let them make my brother King,’ said the young Louis XIII, after the death of Henri IV, ‘as for me, I do not wish to be King.’ Henri V has no brother other than his people: let them make him King.

To achieve this outcome, chimerical as it may seem to be, he must feel the greatness of his race, not because he is descended from an ancient line, but because he is the heir of men through whom France became powerful, enlightened and civilised.

Now, as I have explained but a short while ago, the means of being summoned to put my hand to that plan was to fawn on the weak people in Prague, to fly ‘shrikes’ with the heir to the throne in imitation of Luynes, to flatter Concini as Richelieu did. I had started well in Carlsbad; a little communiqué full of deference and gossip would have advanced my affairs. To inter myself while still alive in Prague, it is true, would not be easy, for I would not only have to overcome the repugnance of the Royal Family, but also hatred for a stranger. My ideas are odious to government; they know I detest the Treaty of Vienna, that I would embrace war at any price to give France back its required frontiers, and re-establish the balance of power in Europe.

Yet by signs of repentance, tears, expiating my sins against national honour, beating my breast, admiring, as a penance, the genius of the fools who govern the world, perhaps I would be able to crawl to the place occupied by Baron Damas; then, suddenly straightening myself, I would throw away my crutches.

But alas! My ambition, where is it? My ability to deceive where is it? My prop to support the constraint and boredom, where is it? My means of attaching importance to everything that happens, where is that? I picked up my pen two or three times; I began two or three deceitful drafts in obedience to Madame la Dauphine who had commanded me to write to her. Swiftly, rebelling against myself, I wrote in one go, in my own style, the letter which was to end things for me. I knew it well; I weighed the consequences carefully: they mattered little to me. Today, even though the thing is done, I am delighted to have sent it all to the devil and thrown my tutorship through a high enough window. People will say: ‘Could you not have expressed the same truths but enunciated them with less crudity?’ Yes, yes, by prevaricating, writhing, flattering, squirming about, and trembling:

….His penitent eye weeps only holy water.

I know not how to do it.

Here is the letter (abridged however by almost half) which made the hairs of our drawing-room diplomats bristle. The Duc de Choiseul shared a little of my mood; and he ended his life at Chanteloup.

‘Paris, Rue d ‘Enfer, 30th of June 1833.
The most precious moments in my long career have been those that Madame la Dauphine has allowed me to spend with her. On a humble mission to Carlsbad a Princess, the object of universal veneration, has deigned to speak to me in confidence. In the depths of her soul Heaven has placed a treasure, of magnanimity and religion, which excessive misfortune has failed to exhaust. I had before me the daughter of Louis XVI in a new exile; that orphan of the Temple, whom the martyred king had pressed to his heart before going to win the palm! God’s name alone is to be spoken when one loses oneself in contemplation of the impenetrable designs of his providence.
Praise addressed to prosperity is suspect: regarding the Dauphine, admiration may be unrestrained. I have said Madame that your misfortunes have mounted so high they have become one of the glories of the Revolution. I have therefore met once in my life with a destiny so elevated, so individual, as to be able to speak, without fear of harming it or of not being understood, about the future state of society. One can discuss with you the fate of empires, you who would see all the kingdoms of the earth pass before your feet without regret, kingdoms several of which have already fallen at the feet of your race.
The catastrophes that made you their most illustrious witness and most sublime victim, as great as they may seem, are nevertheless only particular events within a general transformation operating on the human species; the reign of Napoleon, who shook the world, is no more than a link in the revolutionary chain. One must begin with that reality in order to understand what is possible for a third Restoration, and by what means that Restoration might be framed within the envisaged social change. If it is not incorporated as a homogenous element, it would inevitably be rejected by an order of things inimical to its nature.
Thus, Madame, if I were to tell you that there was a possibility of the Legitimacy returning, with the aristocratic nobility and clergy and all their privileges, with the Court and its distinctions, royalty with its prestige, I would be deceiving you. The Legitimacy in France is no more than a sentiment; it is a principle as long as it guarantees property and interest, rights and freedoms; but if it were to demonstrate that it refused to defend, or was powerless to protect, that property and interest, those rights and freedoms, it would cease even to be a principle. If anyone were to claim that the Legitimacy could return by force, that people cannot do without it, that it would only have to appear for France to offer thanks to it on her knees, they would be in error. The Restoration will never re-appear nor last more than a moment, if the Legitimacy seeks power where it no longer resides.
Yes, Madame, and I say this sadly, Henri V may remain a foreign, exiled Prince; a young and recent ruin of an ancient building that has already fallen, but still a ruin. We former servants of the Legitimacy, we will soon have expended the little fund of years remaining to us, we will shortly rest in the grave, slumbering among our outdated ideas, like knights of old in their ancient armour gnawed by time and rust, armour that no longer fits nor is adapted to modern use.
Everything that in 1789 militated in favour of the old regime, religion, laws, customs, habits, ownership, class, privilege, institutions, no longer exists. A general ferment is in evidence; Europe is hardly more safe from it than ourselves; no mode of society has wholly vanished, none is wholly secure; everything is either worn-out or a novelty, either decrepit or rootless; everything shows the weakness of old age or infancy. Kingdoms born of territorial limitation mapped out by former treaties are things of yesterday; attachment to country has lost its force, because the concept of country is vague and transient for populations sold at auction, hawked like second-hand furniture, now annexed to alien populations, now handed over to unknown masters. Trampled, furrowed, ploughed, the soil was thus ready to receive the democratic seed that the July Days have nurtured.
Kings believe that by keeping watch from their thrones, they will halt the progress of ideas; they imagine that by issuing a description of principles they can have them seized at their frontiers; they are persuaded that by increasing the number of customs men, gendarmes, police spies, and military commissions, they will prevent them circulating. But ideas do not travel on foot, they are in the air, they fly about, people breathe them in. Absolute governments that establish telegraph posts, railways, steamboats, and yet at the same time wish to keep thought at the level of fourteenth century political dogma are neither here nor there; at once progressive and reactionary, they mire themselves in the confusion that results from theory and practice in contradiction one with the other. One cannot divorce industrialisation from the principle of liberty; one is forced to suppress both or accept both. Everywhere the French language extends, ideas arrive with passports issued by the century.
You will see, Madame, how essential it is to make the right start. The child of hope under your protection, the innocent protected by your virtues and misfortune as beneath a royal dais, I know no more imposing spectacle; if the Legitimacy has any chance of success, there it stands in its entirety. The France of the future might bow, without lowering itself, before the glory of its past, halting dumbfounded before this mighty apparition of its history represented by the daughter of Louis XVI, leading the latest Henri by the hand. As Royal protector of the young Prince, you would bring to bear on the nation the influence of vast memories which merge with your august person. Who will not feel an unaccustomed confidence if the orphan of the Temple oversees the education of the orphan of Saint Louis’ race?
It would be desirable, Madame, if that education, directed by men whose names are popular in France, were to be to some degree public. Louis XIV, who otherwise justified his pride in his motto, did his nation great harm by isolating the sons of France within the confines of an oriental education.
The young Prince seemed to me to be endowed with a lively intelligence. He should finish his studies by visiting ancient lands and even the New World, to understand politics and so fear neither institutions nor doctrines. If he has the opportunity to serve as a soldier in some distant foreign war, one should not fear to expose him to it. He has a resolute air; he seems to have his father’s and mother’s heart; but if he ever knows anything other than a feeling of glory when faced with danger, let him abdicate: without courage, in France, no crown.
In seeing me project Henri V’s education into the distant future, Madame, you will naturally assume that I do not consider him destined to remount the throne for a long time. I will try to explain impartially my contrasting reasons for hope and doubt.

The Restoration could take place today, or tomorrow. Something abrupt and inconstant is so much a part of the French character that change is always likely; the odds are :always a hundred to one in France of something failing to last long: it is when the government seems most secure that it falls. We have seen a nation adore and detest Bonaparte, abandon him, re-adopt him, desert him once more, forget him in exile, erect altars to him after his death, then lose its enthusiasm for him. This flighty nation, which loves freedom only on whim, but is always terrified by equality; this multiform nation, was fanatical under Henri IV, factious under Louis XIII, serious under Louis XIV, revolutionary under Louis XVI, sombre under the Republic, bellicose under Bonaparte, and constitutional under the Restoration: it prostitutes its freedom today to a so-called republican monarchy, altering its nature perpetually according to the minds of its leaders. Its changeability has increased since it freed itself from family customs and the yoke of religion. So, some mischance may lead to the fall of the government of the 9th of August; but mischance may be expected: an abortion has been born to us; but France is a robust mother; she can, with her breast-milk, correct the vices of a depraved paternity.

Though the present monarchy does not seem viable, I still fear lest it survive beyond the term one might assign to it. For forty years, each government in France has only perished through its own mistakes. Louis XVI could have saved his life and his crown twenty times; the Republic only succumbed to the excesses of its own fury; Bonaparte could have established his dynasty, and yet hurled himself from the heights to the depths of his glory; without the July ordinances, the Legitimacy would still be in place. The leader of the present government will not commit any of the faults that kill; his reign will never commit suicide; all his skill is employed in self-preservation: he is too intelligent to die by folly, and does not have in him whatever makes one guilty of the errors of genius, or the frailties of honour and virtue. He has realised he might perish in war, he will not make war; let France be lowered in the eyes of foreign powers: it matters little to him: the publicists will show that disgrace is good for industry and ignominy for credit.
The quasi-Legitimacy wants everything the Legitimacy wants, except for the royal personage: it wants order; it can obtain it by arbitrary power more effectively than the Legitimacy. To act despotically, while employing words of freedom and so-called royalist institutions, is all it desires: every deed accomplished enhances its right to exist: every hour its legitimacy increases. The age employs twin powers: with one hand it overthrows, with the other it builds. Moreover time works on minds by the mere fact that it passes; people are completely alienated from those in power, they attack them, they want nothing to do with them; then lassitude intervenes; success reconciles them to their cause; soon only a few elevated souls remain independent, whose perseverance makes those who have surrendered ill at ease.
Madame, this long dissertation obliges me to explain myself to Your Royal Highness.
If I had not raised a free voice in the days of good fortune, I would not have the courage to speak the truth in times of misfortune. I did not go to Prague on my own account; I would not have dared annoy you with my presence: the risks of devotion are in France, not in the neighbourhood of your august person: it is there I have sought them. Since the July Days I have not ceased fighting on behalf of the Legitimist cause. I was the first to dare to proclaim Henri V’s royalty. A French jury, by acquitting me, allowed my proclamation to stand. I only wish for peace, the need of my old age; yet I have not hesitated in sacrificing it whenever decrees extended and renewed the royal family’s proscription. Offers were made to me to attach myself to Louis-Philippe’s government; I did not merit that kindness; I showed how incompatible it was with my nature, by claiming what might be due to me of my aged King’s adversities. Alas! I did not cause those adversities, and I tried to prevent them. I do not recall these circumstances to give myself a false importance or create a merit I do not possess: I only did my duty; I am merely justifying myself, in order to excuse my freedom of expression. Madame will pardon the frankness of a man who would delight in going to the scaffold in order to grant her a throne.
When I appeared before Your Majesty at Carlsbad, I may say that I had never had the pleasure of being known there. You had barely had the honour of addressing a word to me during my whole life. You may have felt in private conversation with me that I was not the man others had described to you; that my independence of spirit has not altered my innate sense of moderation, and above all has not broken the bonds of my admiration and respect for the illustrious daughter of kings.
Yet I beg Your Majesty to reflect on the fact that the series of truths developed in this letter, or rather this memo, are what constitutes my power, if I have any: it is through them that I move men of diverse parties and bring them back to the royal cause. If I had repudiated the opinions of this century, I would have had no hold on my times. I seek to rally round the ancient throne those modern ideas which, inimical though they may be, become friends by passing the gate of my loyalty. If the flood of Liberal opinion is not diverted to the benefit of legitimate monarchy, European monarchy will perish. There will be a battle to the death between the two principles of monarchy and republicanism, if they remain separate and distinct: the consecration of a unique edifice constructed from the diverse material of the two edifices will belong to you Madame, who have been admitted to the most elevated as well as the most mysterious of initiations, unmerited misfortune, to you who have been marked at the altar with the blood of innocent victims, to you who by winning a saintly austerity will open the gates of the new temple with pure hands.
Your intelligence, Madame, and your superior powers of reason will clarify and rectify whatever is doubtful or erroneous in my sentiments concerning the present situation in France.
My emotion, in terminating this letter, is greater than I can say.
The Palace of the Kings of Bohemia is now the Louvre of Charles X and his royal and pious son! The Hradschin is young Henri’s Château of Pau! And you Madame, what Versailles do you inhabit? To what can one compare your religiosity, your greatness, and suffering, if not to that of the women of the House of David who wept at the foot of the cross? May Your Majesty see the royal line of Saint Louis rise radiantly from the tomb! May I proclaim it, while recalling the age which bears the name of your glorious ancestor; for, Madame, nothing is yours, nothing is contemporary with you but the great and the sacred:
‘... O happy day for me!
With what ardour I will recognize my King!’
I am, Madame, with the profoundest respect for Your Majesty,
Your very humble and obedient servant,

Having written this letter, I lapsed back into my usual life: I sought out my old priests again, the solitary corner of my garden which appeared more beautiful to me than that of Count Choteck, my Boulevard d’Enfer, my Cemetery of the West, my Memoirs recalling past days, and above all the little select society of the Abbaye-aux-Bois. The kindness of a deep friendship creates a plenitude of thoughts; a few moments of commerce between souls satisfies the needs of my nature; I then atone for that expenditure of intellect by twenty-four hours of idleness and sleep.