Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXXV, 8

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XXXV, 7 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXXV, 9


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXXV, chapter 8
A letter to the Justice Minister and his reply.



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

After the decree dismissing the case, I was left with one duty to fulfil. The offence of which I had been accused was linked to that for which Monsieur Berryer had been detained in Nantes. I had been unable to explain this to the examining magistrate since I had refused to recognize the tribunal’s competence. In order to repair the damage my silence may have caused Monsieur Berryer, I wrote the letter you are about to read, to the Minister of Justice, and made it public through the newspapers.

Paris, this 3rd of July 1832.
Monsieur le Ministre de la Justice,
Allow me, in writing to you, to fulfil a duty of conscience and honour in the interests of a man who has been deprived of his liberty for too long.
Monsieur Berryer the Younger, during his interrogation by the examining magistrate in Nantes on the 18th of last month, replied: That he had seen Madame la Duchesse de Berry; that he had advised her with the respect due to her rank, her courage and her misfortunes, of his personal opinions and that of his honourable friends regarding the present situation in France, and on the consequences of her Royal Highness’ presence in the West.
Monsieur Berryer, expanding on this vast subject with his usual skill, had summarised it for her in this way: No war, foreign or civil, even supposing it crowned with success, can suppress or rally opinion.
Questioned about the honourable friends of whom he had just spoken, Monsieur Berryer said markedly: That serious men having maintained in the present circumstances an opinion in agreement with his own, he had thought it a duty to support his advice with their authority; but that he could not name them without their consent.
Monsieur le Ministre de Justice, I am one of those people Monsieur Berryer consulted. Not only did I approve his advice, but I even wrote a letter construed in that sense. It would have been handed to Madame la Duchesse de Berry, in the event that the Princess had really been on French soil, which I did not believe to be the case. That first note being unsigned, I wrote a second which I signed and in which I begged that intrepid mother of Henri IV’s scion, with more insistence, to leave a land split by such discord.
Such is the statement I owe Monsieur Berryer. The true guilt, if there is guilt, is mine. This statement will serve I hope to initiate a prompt deliverance for the prisoner of Nantes; it will only leave the burden of a deed weighing on my head which was innocent without doubt, but whose consequences, in the final result, I accept completely.
I have the honour to be, etc.
CHATEAUBRIAND.
84, Rue d’Enfer-Saint-Michel.
Having written to Monsieur le Comte de Montalivet, on the 9th of last month, regarding the affairs of Monsieur Berryer, Monsieur le Ministre de l’Interieur did not even think it necessary to let me know he had received my letter; as I am greatly concerned to learn the fate of this one, which I have the honour to write to Monsieur le Ministre de Justice today, I would be infinitely obliged to him if he would have his office acknowledge its receipt.
CH.’

The Justice Minister’s reply was prompt; here it is:

‘Paris, the 3rd of July.
Monsieur le Vicomte,
The letter which you have addressed to me, containing information which may aid the course of justice, I have had sent on immediately to the King’s Prosecutor on the Nantes tribunal, so that it may be included in the evidence in the case that has commenced against Monsieur Berryer.
I am with respect, etc,
Keeper of the Seal,
BARTHE.

By this response Monsieur Barthe graciously reserved the right to institute fresh proceedings against me. I remember the proud disdain of the great men of the ‘Centre Ground’ when I let slip the possibility of violence against myself or my writings. What! Goodness, why ward off imaginary dangers? Who could be embarrassed by my opinions? Who would dream of touching a single hair of my head? Friends and supporters of the cooking-pot, intrepid heroes of peace at any price, nevertheless you must own to your Terror, that of the police and the law, your Paris under siege, your thousand Press trials, your military commission to condemn the author of Cancans to death; you still plunged me into gaol; the punishment applicable to my crime was nothing less than capital punishment. It would have been a pleasure to lose my head, if, thrown into the scales of justice, that might have tilted them towards the side of honour, glory and my country’s freedom!