Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXV, 25

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXXV, chapter 25
Extract from my Memoir on the Captivity of Madame la Duchesse de Berry



Paris, Rue d’Enfer.

In France, the land of vanity, as soon as an opportunity presents itself to make a noise, a crowd of people seize on it: some make a stir from kindness of heart, others because of the belief they have in their own merit. I therefore had plenty of competition; like me, they appealed to Madame la Duchesse de Berry, for the honour of defending her. At least my presumption in offering myself as the Princess’ champion was somewhat justified by my previous services: if I could not throw Brennus’ sword onto the scale, I could place my name there: unimportant as it is, it had once won some small victories for the monarchy. I opened my Memoir on the Captivity of the Duchesse de Berry with a series of thoughts with which I was greatly taken; I have often reproduced them, and I shall likely do so again.

‘One never ceases to be astonished,’ I said, ‘at the course of events, one always imagines one has reached the end; but always the revolution recommences. Those who have spent forty years marching in order to arrive at their goal can only groan; they thought they might be able to rest for a few hours on the edge of the tomb: a vain hope! Time prods those panting voyagers and forces them onwards. Suddenly, while they are journeying, the old monarchy falls at their feet! Barely escaping from the successive collapses, they are obliged to traverse anew the dust and rubble. What century will see an end to it?

Providence wished the passing generations, destined to these unmemorable days, to be of little account, so the damage would be of little account. Do we not see too how all fails, how all comes to naught, how no one can be themselves or embrace their destiny completely, how no event delivers what it contains or ought to deliver. Will the superior men of this age who die, extinguished, have successors? The ruins of Palmyra vanish in the sands.’

Passing from this general observation to specifics, I show, in my argument, that one might act in an arbitrary manner towards Madam la Duchesse de Berry by considering her a prisoner of the police, of war, or of State, or in demanding a bill of attainder from the Chambers; that one might submit her to the judgement of the law by applying Briqueville’s law of exception to her, or the code of common law; or that one might regard her person as sacred and inviolable.

The Ministers maintained the first opinion, the men of July the second, the Royalists the third.

I ran through these various suppositions: I proved that if Madame la Duchesse de Berry had entered France, she had only been enticed there by listening to opinions that demanded a different Present, and called for a different Future.

Disloyal to its popular origins, the revolution emerging from the July Days repudiated glory and courted shame. Other than in those hearts worthy of giving it shelter, liberty, which became an object of derision among those who made liberty their rallying cry, liberty which those jugglers dismissed with a blow of the foot, liberty bruised then strangled when the tourniquet of the laws of exception had been applied, will transform the revolution of 1830, by its annihilation, into a cynical deception.

Given that, and in order to deliver us, Madame la Duchesse de Berry arrived. Fate betrayed her; Deutz sold her, Thiers bought her. If there was no wish to take police measures against her it only remained to bring her before the assize court. I supposed this to be so, and brought the Princess’ defence counsel on stage; then having made the speech for the defence, I addressed myself to the prosecution:

‘Prosecuting Counsel, arise:
‘You will establish, my learned friend, that Caroline-Ferdinande of Sicily, Berry’s widow, niece of the late Marie-Antoinette of Austria, Capet’s widow, is guilty of complaint against a man renowned as the uncle and tutor of an orphan named Henri; the said uncle and tutor being, according to the calumnies of the accused, a usurper of the crown of his pupil, which pupil impudently claims to have been king since the abdication of the former Charles X and of the ex-Dauphin, until the election of the King of the French.
In support of your case, let the judges first call Louis-Phillippe as a witness for the prosecution or the defence, if he prefers not to give an opinion as a relative. Then let the judges confront the descendant of the arch-traitor with the accused; let the Iscariot into whom Satan entered, intravit Satanas in Judam, speak of the money he received for the sale, etc, etc.
Then, according to the evidence as to place, show that the accused was for six hours in a fiery Gehenna in too narrow a space, where four persons could barely breathe who spoke in a manner injurious to the victim saying they would torment her like Saint Lawrence. Now, that Caroline-Ferdinande, being pressed by these accomplices against the fire-back, her clothes must twice have caught fire, and at each blow the police dealt the burning hearth from outside, the commotion would have been felt in the accused person’s heart and would have made her vomit drops of blood.
Then, in the presence of Christ’s image, the burnt robe shall be deposited on the desk as evidence: since in these Judas markets there is always a robe cast to fate.’

Madame la Duchesse de Berry has been set at liberty by an arbitrary act of power, now they consider her to have been dishonoured. The picture I painted of the proceedings made Philippe conscious of the odium of a public trial, and made him decide on an act of mercy towards one he had thought to torment: the pagans, in the reign of Severus, threw a recently freed young Christian girl to the wild beasts. My pamphlet, of which only a few paragraphs now remain, achieved a historically important result.

I am still moved when copying the speech which terminates my effort; it is, I agree, a foolish waste of tears.

‘Illustrious captive of Blaye, Madame, may your historic presence on a soil which has known much heroism lead France to repeat to you what my political independence has earned me the right to say to you: Madame, your son is my king! If Providence still grants me a few moments, shall I see your triumphs, after having had the honour to embrace your adversity? Shall I receive that reward for my faith? At the hour of your happy return, I would go joyfully to end in retirement the days I began in exile. Alas! I am sorry to be unable to do anything for your present fate! My words prove useless against the walls of your prison: the sound of the wind, waves and men, at the foot of your solitary fortress, will not even allow these last accents of a faithful voice to rise to you.’