Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXV, 27

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XXXV, 26 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXVI, 1


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXXV, chapter 27
Popularity



Paris, April 1833

My Memoir on the Captivity of Madame la Duchesse de Berry made me extremely popular with the Royalist party. Deputations and letters arrived from all sides. From the north and south of France I received petitions covered with thousands of signatures. They all demanded in referring to my pamphlet that Madame la Duchesse de Berry should be set at liberty. Five hundred young Parisians came to compliment me, not without a great commotion among the police: I received a ruby-red goblet with this inscription: To Chateaubriand from the loyal citizens of the Villeneuvois (Lot-et-Garonne). A town in the Midi sent me some very good wine to charge the goblet with, but I do not drink. Finally, Legitimist France took for its motto the words: ‘MADAME, YOUR SON IS MY KING!’ and several journalists adopted it as their epigraph; it was engraved on pendants and rings. I was the first to have confronted the Usurpation with a truth that no one dared say, and strangely I believed in the return of Henri V less than the most miserable Centrist or the most violent Republican.

Moreover I do not understand the word Usurper in the narrow sense that the Royalist party gives to it; there may be much to say in regard to this word, as there is in regard to the word Legitimacy: but in reality there is usurpation and a worse sort of usurpation, that of a tutor who robs his pupil and proscribes an orphan. All the grand phrases about ‘the need to save the country’ are pretexts which furnish ambition with an immoral politics. No one, in truth, should regard the cowardice of your usurpation as an example of your virtue! Are you, by any chance, Brutus sacrificing his sons to Roman greatness?

I can compare, in my own life, literary fame with popularity; the first pleased me for a few hours, but that love of fame soon passes. As for popularity, it found me indifferent, since during the Revolution I saw far too many men surrounded by the masses who having raised them on a shield dropped them in the gutter. A democrat by nature, an aristocrat by habit, I would willingly abandon my fortune and my life for the people, so long as I had little to do with the crowd. However, I was extremely touched by the action of the young people of July in carrying me in triumph to the Chamber of Peers; it was not that they carried me aloft as their leader or because I thought as they did; they were merely rendering justice to an enemy; they recognised in me a man of liberty and honour; and that generosity of spirit moved me. But the other kind of popularity which I happened to acquire among my own party caused me no emotion; between the Royalists and I there is a degree of coolness: we desire the same king; apart from that, most of our wishes are contrary.