Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXV, 19

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XXXV, 18 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXV, 20

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXV, chapter 19
Madame la Duchesse de Saint-Leu

On returning to Constance, we saw Madame la Duchesse de Saint-Leu and her son Louis-Napoléon; they had come to see Madame Récamier. I never knew the Queen of Holland under the Empire; I knew she had shown herself to be generous after my resignation on the death of the Duc d’Enghien, and when I tried to save my cousin Armand; under the Restoration, as Ambassador to Rome, I held only polite relations with Madame la Duchesse de Saint-Leu; unable to visit her myself, I allowed the secretaries and attachés to pay her court freely, and I invited Cardinal Fesch to a diplomatic dinner for the Cardinals. After the final fall of the Restoration, chance led me to exchange several letters with Queen Hortense and Prince Louis. These letters are a singular monument indeed to vanished glory; here they are:

‘Arenenberg, this 15th of October 1831.
Monsieur de Chateaubriand possesses too much genius not to comprehend the extent of the Emperor Napoleon’s. But his brilliant imagination requires more than admiration: memories of youth, and unfortunate illustriousness, have seduced his heart; he has sacrificed his person and his talent to them, and, like the poet who lends himself to every feeling which animates him, he dons what he loves of those features which inflame his enthusiasm. Ingratitude has not discouraged him, since misfortune was always there summoning him; however his spirit, his reason, his feelings all truly French make him despite himself the protagonist of his party. Of former times he only loves the honour which makes for loyalty, the religion which makes for wisdom, his country’s glory which gives him strength, the freedom of conscience and opinion which gives men’s faculties a noble breadth, the aristocracy of merit which opens careers to all intelligent men, and there is his domain, more than any other. He is then a Liberal, a Napoleonist and even a Republican rather than a Royalist. Also the new France, his new images, know how to appreciate him, while he will never be understood by those he has placed as near-divinities in his heart; and if he is only to sing of misfortune, even if it is more interesting, noble misfortune has become so common in our century, that his brilliant imagination, without an object or true motive, will be extinguished for lack of a fuel elevated enough to inspire his fine talent.


Monsieur de Chateaubriand is extremely flattered and cannot sufficiently acknowledge the kind sentiments expressed in the first part of the note; in the second is concealed a woman’s and a queen’s seductiveness which might have influenced a self-esteem less disillusioned than that of Monsieur de Chateaubriand.
It is certainly possible today to find an opportunity for disloyalty among so many such noble misfortunes; but at the age Monsieur de Chateaubriand has attained, his homage disdains reverses of only a few years duration: perhaps he should remain attached to his old misfortune, tempted though he might be by younger adversities.
Paris, this 6th of November 1831.’

‘Arenenberg, the 4th of May 1832.
Monsieur le Vicomte,
I have just read your last pamphlet. How happy the Bourbons are to have a genius such as you to support them! You take up a cause with the same weapons that have been used to destroy it; you find words which stir every French heart. The whole of our nation finds an echo in your soul; thus when you speak of the great man who represented France for twenty years, the nobility of your subject inspires you, your genius embraces it in its entirety, and then your soul, naturally expansive, surrounds the greatest glory with the greatest thoughts.
I too, Monsieur le Vicomte, am enthusiastic for all that does my country honour; that is why, giving way to an impulse, I dare to express the sympathy I feel for one who displays so much patriotism and so much love of freedom. But allow me to say to you that you are the only redoubtable defender of the former royalty; you would make it the national choice if one could believe that it thought as you do; thus, to do the matter justice, it is not enough to declare you of its party, but also to prove that it is of yours.
However, Monsieur le Vicomte, though we differ in our opinions, at least we agree in the wishes we express for France’s good fortune.
Accept, I beg you, etc, etc.

‘Paris, the 19th of May 1832.
Monsieur le Comte,
One is always ill at ease in responding to praise; when he who gives it with as much spirit as propriety is moreover of a social position to which are attached peerless memories, the embarrassment is redoubled. At least, Sir, we meet in a mutual sympathy; you wish in your youth, as I do in my old age, for France’s honour. Neither of us can fail to die of embarrassment or laughter, on seeing the Centre Ground incarcerated in Ancona by the Pope’s soldiers. Ah, Sir, where is your uncle? To anyone other than you I would say: Where is the teacher of kings, the master of Europe? In defending the cause of the Legitimacy, I am under no illusions; but I think every man esteemed by the public should remain loyal to his oaths: Lord Falkland, a friend of liberty and enemy of the Court, went to his death at Newbury as a member of Charles I’s army. You will live, Monsieur le Comte, to see your country free and happy; you will traverse the ruins among which I shall rest, since I am myself a portion of those ruins.
I was flattered momentarily with the hope of paying my respectful homage this summer at the feet of Madame la Duchesse de Saint-Leu: fate, accustomed to foil my plans, has deceived me on this occasion also. I would have been happy to thank you in person for your obliging letter; we might have spoken of great glory, and the future of France, two things, Monsieur le Comte, close to your heart.

Did the Bourbons ever write letters like those I have just reproduced? Did they ever consider I might be more than a versifier or a political columnist?

When, as a small boy, I wandered a companion of goatherds on the heaths of Combourg, would I have believed that the day would come when I would pace between two of the greatest powers on earth, defeated powers, giving one arm to the race of Saint-Louis, the other to that of Napoleon; opposing greatnesses leaning equally, in the misfortune in which they join, on a feeble but loyal man, formerly hated by the usurper and scorned by the Legitimacy.

Madame Récamier went to stay at Wolfberg, a château inhabited by Madame Parquin, in the neighbourhood of Arenenberg, the residence of the Duchesse de Saint-Leu; I remained at Constance for two days. I saw everything one can see there: the market-hall or public loft that they have baptised the Council Chamber, the so-called statue of Huss, the caricature paintings, the place where they say Jerome of Prague and John Huss were burned at the stake; in short, all the usual abominations of history and society.

The Rhine, on leaving the lake, announces itself in kingly fashion; yet it has failed to protect Constance, which, if I am not mistaken, was sacked by Attila, besieged by the Hungarians and the Swedes and twice taken by the French: everywhere a river leaves a lake there is a town.

Constance is the Saint-Germain of Germany; the old members of the old society have retired there. When I knocked on a door, enquiring for an apartment for Madame de Chateaubriand, I met some canoness, an elderly daughter; some prince of ancient race, an elector in his old age and on half-pay; all this in keeping with the town’s abandoned bell-towers and deserted convents. Condé’s army fought gloriously beneath the walls of Constance, and seems to have established its military hospital in the town. I had the misfortune to meet a veteran émigré; he did me the honour of having known me previously; he had more years than hair; his words had no endings; he could not hold back the years or let them go.