Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXV, 3

Free texts and images.
Jump to: navigation, search

XXXV, 2 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXV, 4

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXXV, chapter 3
Madame la Duchesse de Berry goes to Provence and arrives in the Vendée.

Paris, Rue d’Enfer, the end of July 1832.

Madame la Duchesse de Berry had no sooner sanctioned the expenditure of her 12000 francs than she embarked on her notorious adventure. An attempt to rouse Marseilles failed; only the West remained open to an attempt: but the glory of the Vendée is another thing; it lives on in the splendour of our history, yet nine tenths of France chose a different glory, the object of jealousy and antipathy; the Vendée is an Oriflamme, venerated and admired, in the treasury of Saint-Denis, beneath which youth and the future no longer range themselves.

Madame, disembarking like Bonaparte, on the coast of Provence, saw no white banners flying from steeple to steeple: deceived in her expectations, she found herself almost alone with Monsieur de Bourmont in the field. The Marshal wanted her to cross the frontier again immediately; she asked for a night to consider; she slept well on the cliffs to the sound of the sea; on waking in the morning she pursued a noble dream with the thought: ‘Since I am on French soil, I will not leave: let us go to the Vendée.’ Monsieur de Villeneuve-Bargemont, warned by a loyal follower, took her in his carriage with his wife, crossed the whole of France, and deposited her at Montaigu, where she stayed for a while, in a château, without being recognised except by a priest of the place; Marshal Bourmont was to rejoin her in the Vendée, by another route.

Informed of all this in Paris, it was easy for us to foresee the result. The enterprise presented another problem for the royalists; it would reveal the weakness of their cause and dispel illusions. If Madame had not gone to the Vendée, France would have continued to think there was, in the West, a Royalist force-in-waiting, as I dubbed it.

But there was still, in the end, a means of rescuing Madame and casting a fresh veil over the reality: the Princess must leave immediately; meeting with danger and peril, like a brave general reviewing an army, tempering impatience and ardour, she could have declared that she had hastened there to tell the soldiers that the time for action was not yet favourable, and that she would return to place herself at their head when the occasion demanded. Madame would at least have shown the inhabitants of the Vendée a Bourbon for once; the shades of Cathelineau, d’Elbée, Bonchamp, La Rochejaquelein, and Charette would have rejoiced.

Our committee assembled; while we were in discussion, a captain arrived from Nantes who told us where our heroine was staying. The captain was a fine young man, tough as a sailor, a Breton original. He disapproved of the enterprise; he thought it was foolish; but he said: ‘If Madame does not leave, it will prove mortal and that’s that; then, gentlemen of the council, you may hang Walter Scott, it will be he who is the guilty party.’ I was advised to write and inform the Princess of this sentiment. Monsieur Berryer, who was arranging to go to Vannes to plead a case, generously proposed to carry the letter and see Madame if he could. When it became necessary to pen the note, no one cared to write it: I took on the task.

Our messenger left, and we waited on events. I soon received the following letter, by post, which had not been concealed and had doubtless passed beneath the eyes of the authorities:

‘Angoulême, the 7th of June.’
Monsieur le Vicomte,
I had received and transmitted your letter of last Friday, when on Sunday the Prefect of the Lower Loire invited me to leave Nantes. I was en route and at the gates of Angoulême; I have just been brought before the Prefect who has informed me of an order of Monsieur de Montalivet’s which requires me to be taken back to Nantes under police escort. Since my departure from Nantes, the department of the Lower Loire is in a state of siege: by this illegal action they are subjecting me to the laws of ‘exception’. I have written to the Minister asking him to have me summoned to Paris; he has my letter by this courier. The aim of my journey to Nantes seems to have been completely misinterpreted. Judge whether in your prudence it would be appropriate to speak to the Minister. I ask your pardon for making this request of you; since I can address no one but you.
Believe, Monsieur le Vicomte, in my sincere and lasting attachment, as in my profound respect.
Your devoted servant,
P.S. – There is no time to be lost if you wish to see the Minister. I am on my way to Tours, where his fresh orders would find me on Sunday; he could transmit them by telegraph or despatch rider.’

I informed Monsieur Berryer, in this reply, of the action I had taken:

‘Paris, the 10th of June 1832.
Sir, I have received your letter dated from Angoulême on the 7th of this month. It was too late to see the Minister of the Interior, as you would have wished me to; but I wrote to him immediately and passed him your letter enclosed with mine. I hope that the mistake which has led to your arrest will soon be acknowledged, and that you will be returned to freedom and your friends, among whom I beg to be included. A thousand compliments to you, and a fresh assurance of my sincere and complete devotion.

This was my letter to the Minister of the Interior:

I have just received the enclosed letter. As it is likely that I will be unable to see you as swiftly as Monsieur Berryer desires, I have adopted the course of sending you his letter. His summons seems right to me: he will be as innocent in Paris as at Nantes; the authorities will acknowledge this, and will, by allowing Monsieur de Berryer’s recall, avoid applying the law retrospectively. I dare to rely totally, Monsieur le Comte, on your impartiality.
I have the honour, etc, etc.