Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXV, 26

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XXXV, 25 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXV, 27

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXV, chapter 26
My trial

Paris, March 1833

Various newspapers, having repeated the phrase: Madame, your son is my king, were brought before the courts for Press offences; I found myself involved in the legal proceedings. This time I could not deny the competence of the judges; I had to try and save, by my presence, the men attacked on my behalf; it was a matter of honour that I must answer to my works.

Moreover, on the eve of my summons to the tribunal, the Moniteur published the Duchesse de Berry’s declaration of her secret marriage; if I had been absent, they would have thought the Royalist party had retreated, that it had abandoned misfortune and blushed for the Princess whose heroism it had celebrated.

There was no lack of timid counsellors who told me: ‘Do not go. You will be embarrassed no end by your phrase: Madame, your son is my king. –

I will shout it the more loudly,’ I replied. I entered the very room where the Revolutionary Tribunal had once been installed which Marie-Antoinette had appeared before, and where my brother had been condemned. The July Revolution had removed the crucifix whose presence, while consoling the innocent, had made the judge tremble.

My appearance before the judges had a happy result, it offset for a moment the announcement in the Moniteur, and kept Henri V’s mother on the heights where her courageous attempt had placed her; doubt set in when people saw that the Royalist party dared to brave the outcome and did not consider itself defeated.

I did not wish for a lawyer, but Monsieur Ledru, who was attached to me during my detention, wished to speak: he became confused and upset me so much Monsieur Berryer, who was pleading on behalf of the Quotidienne, indirectly took up my defence. In the summing up, I called the jury the universal peerage which contributed not a little to our complete acquittal.

Nothing remarkable distinguished this trial in the dreadful room that had echoed to the voices of Fouquier-Tinville and Danton; there was only the amusement of Monsieur Persil’s arguments; wishing to prove my culpability, he cited this phrase from my pamphlet: It is difficult to crush what crawls beneath one’s feet, and cried out: ‘Gentlemen, feel the scorn which emanates from that phrase, it is difficult to crush what crawls beneath one’s feet?’ and he made a movement like a man who crushes something underfoot. He continued, triumphantly: the laughter of the audience continued also. This fine gentleman saw neither the audience’s delight in the unfortunate phrase, nor how perfectly ridiculous he appeared stamping in his black robe as if he were dancing, his face pale with inspiration and his eyes wild with eloquence.

When the jury returned and pronounced the verdict of not guilty, applause broke out, I was surrounded by a throng of young men who had donned lawyer’s robes to gain entry: Monsieur Carrel was there.

The crowd grew on my emergence: there was a scuffle in the courtyard of the palace between my escort and the police. I finally reached home, with great difficulty, in the midst of the crowd which followed my cab, shouting: ‘Long Live, Chateaubriand!’

At another time this acquittal would have been very significant; to declare that it was not a crime to say to the Duchesse de Berry: Madame, your son is my king was to condemn the July Revolution; but today that decision signifies nothing, because there is no conviction or durability in anything. In twenty-four hours all changes; I would be condemned tomorrow on the evidence with which I have been acquitted today.

I went to leave my card at the jurors’ houses and notably that of Monsieur Chevet, one of the members of the universal peerage.

It was easier for an honest citizen in all conscience to make a decision in my favour than it was to find the money in my pocket to add to the happiness of my acquittal the pleasure of providing my judge with a good dinner: Monsieur Chevet had pronounced more fairly on the Legitimacy, the Usurpation, and the author of Le Génie du Christianisme than most of the publicists and censors.