Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXV, 6

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XXXV, 5 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXV, 7


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXXV, chapter 6
The Examining Magistrate – Monsieur Desmortiers



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

Madame de Chateaubriand obtained permission to see me. She had spent three months, during the Terror, in prison at Rennes with my two sisters Lucile and Julie; her imagination, still sensitive to it, could not bear the idea of prison. My poor wife had a violent attack of nerves on entering the Prefecture, and that was one more thing for which I was obliged to the ‘Centre Ground’. On my second day of detention, the examining magistrate, Monsieur Desmortiers, arrived accompanied by his clerk.

Monsieur Guizot had named a certain Monsieur Hello as public prosecutor as the Royal Court of Rennes, a writer and hence envious and irritable as all are who scribble on paper in a victorious cause.

Monsieur Guizot’s protégé, finding my name and that of Monsieur Hyde de Neuville mixed up in the trial he was pursuing at Nantes against Monsieur Berryer, wrote to the Minister of Justice, saying that if he were in charge, he would lose no time in arresting us and including us in the trial, both as accomplices and exhibits. Monsieur de Montalivet thought he should bow to Monsieur Hello’s advice; there had been a time when Monsieur de Montalivet had come to my house, humbly, to seek my advice and ideas on the elections and the freedom of the Press. The Restoration, which made a Peer of Monsieur de Montalivet, could not make a man of him, and that is no doubt why it sickens him these days.

Monsieur Desmortiers, the examining magistrate, thus entered my little chamber; his sugary manner hid, like a layer of honey, a tense and violent face.

My name it is Loyal, I come from Normandy,
And I’m Sergeant of the Rod, despite your enmity.’

Monsieur Desmortiers was formerly of the congregation, a great communicant, a great legitimist, a great partisan of the decrees, and became a fanatical supporter of the Centre Ground. I begged this creature to take a seat with all the politeness of the ancien régime; I pulled up an armchair for him; I placed a little table before his clerk, with pen and ink on it; I sat facing Monsieur Desmortiers, and he, in a benign voice, read me the petty accusations which, duly proven, would have tenderly cut my throat: after which, he began his interrogation.

I declared once more that, as I did not recognise the existing political order, I had nothing to say, that I would sign nothing, that all this judicial process was superfluous, that they could spare themselves the effort and go; that, as for the rest, I was always charmed to receive Monsieur Desmortiers. (I set an initial example in refusing to recognize the judges which several Republicans have since followed. Note: Paris, 1840)

I saw that this manner of proceeding enraged the saintly man, who, having once shared my opinions, found my conduct made a mockery of his own; to this resentment was added the pride of a magistrate who thinks he is blessed by his function. He wished to argue with me; I could never have made him comprehend the difference between the social order and the political order. I would submit, I explained to him, to the former, since it represents natural law; I would obey civil, military and financial laws and those of the police and public order; but I owed no allegiance to political laws except in as much as they derived from Royal authority consecrated by the centuries, or from the sovereignty of the people. I was not stupid enough or devious enough to believe that the nation had been summoned, or consulted, and that the political order established had been the result of a national decision. If I were put on trial for theft, murder, arson or other social crimes and offences, I would respond to justice; but since a political process had been started against me, I had nothing to say to an authority which had no legal power, and in consequence, nothing to demand of me.

A fortnight passed away in this manner. Monsieur Desmortiers, whose fury I detected (a fury which he tried to communicate to the judges), tackled me with a confiding air, saying: ‘So you will not even tell me your illustrious name?’ During one of his interrogations, he read me a letter from Charles X to the Duke of Fitz-James, in which there was a phrase honouring myself. ‘Well, Sir,’ I said, ‘what does this letter signify? It is widely known that I remain loyal to my former King, and that I did not take the oath to Philippe. Apart from that, I am deeply moved by this letter of my exiled sovereign’s. In the course of his prosperity, he never said anything similar to me, and that sentence rewards me for all my efforts.’