Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXV, 24

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XXXV, 23 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXV, 25

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXV, chapter 24
A circular to the editors-in-chief of the newspapers – Letters to the Minister of Justice, the President of the Council, and Madame la Duchesse de Berry – I write my Memoir on the Princess’ captivity

Paris, Rue d’Enfer, January 1833.

I often dreamt of that impending future I had created for myself and which I believed I would achieve. At the fall of day, I would wander the windings of the Arve, beneath the flanks of the Salève. One evening, I met Monsieur Berryer; he was returning from Lausanne and told me of the arrest of Madame la Duchesse de Berry; he knew no details. My plans for repose were yet again overturned. When Henri V’s mother thought she had achieved success, she gave me leave of absence; her misfortune tore up that previous document, and summoned me to her defence. I immediately left Geneva having written to the Ministers. Reaching the Rue d’Enfer, I addressed the following circular to the editors-in-chief of the newspapers:

Having arrived in Paris on the 17th of this month (November 1832), I wrote on the 18th to the Minister of Justice to ask if the letter which I had the honour to have sent him from Geneva, on the 12th, on behalf of Madame la Duchesse de Berry, had reached him and if he would have the goodness to send it on to Madame.
I sought from the Keeper of the Seals, at the same time, the necessary authorisation to visit the Princess at Blaye.
The Keeper of the Seals kindly replied to me, on the 19th, that he had sent my letters to the President of the Council and that it was he whom I must address. I therefore wrote on the 20th to the Minister of War. Today, the 22nd, I received his reply of the 21st: he regrets the necessity of having to inform me that the government has not judged itself able to accede to my requests. That decision has put an end to my approaches to the authorities.
I have never had the pretension, Sir, to believe myself capable in isolation of defending the cause of the unfortunate in France. My plan, if I had been granted permission to reach the feet of the august prisoner, would have been to suggest to her on this occasion the formation of a council of more brilliant men than I. Beyond the honourable and distinguished names already offered, I would have taken the liberty of indicating for Madame’s endorsement, Monsieur le Marquis de Pastoret, Monsieur Lainé, Monsieur Villèle etc.
Now, Sir, having been repulsed by officialdom, I fall back upon my rights as a private citizen. My Memoirs of the life and death of Monsieur le Duc de Berry, wrapped in the hair of the widow who is today a captive, rest beside the heart which Louvel rendered more like that of Henri IV. I have not forgotten that signal honour, for which the present moment demands I account, and which makes me feel the whole weight of my responsibility.
I am, Sir, etc, etc.

While I was writing this circular for the newspapers, I found the means to send this letter to Madame la Duchesse de Berry:
‘Paris, this 23rd of November 1832.
I had the honour to send you a previous letter, addressed from Geneva, and dated the 12th of this month. That letter, in which I begged you to do me the honour of selecting me as one of your defenders, has been printed in the newspapers.
Your Royal Highness’ cause may be taken up individually by all those who, without being so authorised, have useful truths to impart; but if Madame desires someone to work in her own name, it is not one man, but a group of political and legal minds that must be charged with that great matter. In that case, I ask Madame to add to myself (and whomever she has already chosen) Monsieur le Comte de Pastoret, Monsieur Hyde de Neuville, Monsieur de Villèle, Monsieur Lainé, Monsieur Royer-Collard, Monsieur Pardessus, Monsieur Mandaroux-Vertamy, and Monsieur de Vaufreland.
I also consider Madame that one could summon to such a council several men of significant talent with opinions contrary to ours; but perhaps that would be to place them in false position, and oblige them to sacrifice honour and principle, which elevated minds and honest consciences will not agree to do.

Being an old soldier, used to discipline, I therefore hastened to join the ranks and march to my officers’ orders: driven by the wishes of the powerful to duelling, I accepted the challenge. I barely paused, in coming from the husband’s grave, before fighting in front of the widow’s prison.

Even supposing I was isolated, and had misunderstood what was appropriate for France, I was nevertheless on the path of honour. Now, it is valuable to mankind for a man to sacrifice himself for his conscience; it is fine for him to consent to destroy himself in order to remain true to principles of which he is convinced and which appertain to whatever is noble in our nature: such men deceived are the necessary opponents of brute fact, victims charged with pronouncing a veto on behalf of the oppressed against the triumph of force. Men praise the Poles; is their devotion anything other than sacrifice? They can achieve nothing; they could never have achieved anything; in my adversarys’ minds, is such loyalty worthless to the human race?

I prefer, they say, one family to my own country: no, I prefer faithfulness to oath-breaking, the moral world to material society; that is all; as to that family, I dedicate myself to it in the sole belief that it has been of vital assistance to France; I associate its prosperity with that of the country, and when I deplore the misfortunes of one, I deplore the disasters that strike the other: vanquished, I pursue my duty, while the conquerors pursue their interests. I am endeavouring to retire from the world with my self-esteem intact; in solitude, one must be careful whom one chooses for company.