Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXIX, 2

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XXXIX, 1 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXIX, 3

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXIX, chapter 2
A letter from Madame la Duchesse de Berry

Paris, Rue d’Enfer, 25th of August 1833.

While I was regaining my breath, I witnessed the entry to my house one morning of the traveller who had taken a letter of mine to Madame la Duchesse de Berry in Palermo; he brought me this reply from the Princess:

‘Naples, 10th of August 1833.
I have written a word to you, Monsieur le Vicomte, to acknowledge receipt of your letter, desiring a sure opportunity of speaking to you of what you have seen and done in Prague. It seems to me that they allowed you to see very little, yet enough to judge that despite the means employed the result, as regards our dear child, gives no grounds for fear. I am very relieved to have had your assurance about the matter; but they tell me from Paris that Monsieur Barrande has been dismissed. What is to be made of that? How I long to take up my rightful place!
As for the requests I asked you to make (which were not exactly welcome) they have shown that they were no better informed about it than I: since I have no need of what I requested, having relinquished none of my rights.
I am going to ask your advice in replying to the solicitations made to me on all sides. In your wisdom, you may make what use you deem suitable of what follows. Royalist France, people devoted to Henri V, await a proclamation from his mother, free at last.
I left a few lines behind at Blaye which should be known by now; they expect more from me; they want to know the sad history of my detention for seven months in that impenetrable fortress. It shall be known in all its terrible detail; let them see the cause of the many tears and sorrows that have broken my heart. They will understand the moral torments I had to suffer. Justice ought to be rendered to the guilty; but also those atrocious measures should be revealed, taken against a woman, defenceless since they always refused her a lawyer, by a government headed by her relative, in order to drag from me a secret which, in any event, should not have concerned politicians, and whose discovery could not alter my position if I was an object of fear to the French government, which had the power to imprison me, but not the right, without a trial which I have more than once demanded.
But my relative, my aunt’s husband, head of a family to which, despite the opinions so generally and justly levelled against it, I had wished to marry my daughter, Louis-Phillipe himself, believing me pregnant and unmarried (which would have resulted in any other family opening the prison gates for me) inflicted every moral torment on me to force me to take steps by which he thought to establish his niece’s dishonour. Moreover, if I have to explain in a positive way my declarations and what motivated them, without entering into details of my private life, of which I need account to no one, I say truthfully that they were dragged from me by vexation, moral torment and the hope of recovering my freedom.
The bearer will give you details and tell you of the inevitable uncertainty at the time regarding the date of my embarkation and its destination, which thwarted the desire I had to profit from your obliging offer in asking you to meet me before your arrival in Prague, having great need of your advice. Now would be too late, since I hope to be with my children as soon as possible. But since nothing is certain in this world, and since I am accustomed to setbacks, if, against my will, my arrival in Prague is delayed, I certainly count on seeing you wherever I am forced to stop, from where I will write to you; if on the contrary, I am with my son as soon as I wish, you know better than I whether you ought to come. I can only assure you of the pleasure I would have in seeing you at any time and in any place.
‘Naples, 18th of August 1833
Our friend having been unable to leave as yet, I am receiving reports about what is happening in Prague which do nothing to diminish my desire to go there, but also make my need of your advice more urgent. If then you can travel to Venice without delay you will find me there, or letters waiting at the post-office, which will tell you where you can find me. I will be making part of the journey with people for whom I have great friendship and know well, Monsieur and Madame Bauffremont. We often speak of you; their devotion to me, and our Henri, makes them wish to see your arrival. Monsieur de Mesnard shares that desire as well.’

Madame de Berry mentions in her letter a little manifesto published on leaving Blaye which was worth little since it said neither yes nor no. The letter however is interesting as a historical document in revealing the Princess’ sentiments regarding the relatives who were her gaolers, and indicating the suffering she had endured. Marie-Caroline’s reflections are just; she expresses them with animation and pride. One loves to see that devoted and courageous mother, imprisoned or free, still constantly preoccupied with her son’s interests. There, in that heart at least, was youth and life. It would cost me something to start a long journey once more, but I was too moved by that poor Princess’ confidences to refuse her wishes and forsake her on the highroad. Monsieur Jauge hastened to relieve my distress as on the first occasion.

I went on campaign with a dozen or so volumes scattered around me. Now, while I journeyed once more in the Prince of Benevento’s calash, he dined in London at the expense of his fifth master, in hopes of some accident which might lead him to sleep at Westminster, among the saints, kings and sages; a sepulchre justly due his religiosity, loyalty and virtue.