François de Chateaubriand
Book XLII: Conclusion 1834-1841
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved
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- Book XLII: Chapter 1: THE PRESENT POLITICAL SITUATION: – Louis-Philippe
- Book XLII: Chapter 2: Monsieur Thiers
- Book XLII: Chapter 3: Monsieur de Lafayette
- Book XLII: Chapter 4: Armand Carrel
- Book XLII: Chapter 5: VARIOUS WOMEN: A Lady from Louisiana
- Book XLII: Chapter 6: Madame Tastu
- Book XLII: Chapter 7: Madame Sand
- Book XLII: Chapter 8: Monsieur de Talleyrand
- Book XLII: Chapter 9: The Death of Charles X
- Book XLII: CONCLUSION
- Book XLII: Chapter 10: Historic antecedents: from the Regency to 1793
- Book XLII: Chapter 11: The Past – The old European Order expires
- Book XLII: Chapter 12: Inequality of wealth – Dangers in the nature of intellectual and material growth
- Book XLII: Chapter 13: The demise of monarchy – The withering away of society and the progress of the individual
- Book XLII: Chapter 14: The Future – The difficulty of comprehending it
- Book XLII: Chapter 15: Saint-Simonians – Phalansterians – Fouriérists – Owenites – Socialists – Communists – Unionists - Egalitarians
- Book XLII: Chapter 16: The Christian ideal is the future of the world
- Book XLII: Chapter 17: A Recapitulation of my life
- Book XLII: Chapter 18: A summary of the changes which have occurred around the globe in my lifetime
Book XLII: Chapter 1: THE PRESENT POLITICAL SITUATION: – Louis-Philippe
Paris, Rue d’Enfer, 1837 (Revised, June 1847)
If, as I pass from the politics of the Legitimacy to politics in general, I re-read what I published on those politics in the years 1831, 1832, and 1833, my predictions have been accurate enough.
Louis-Philippe is an intelligent man whose tongue is set in motion by a torrent of commonplaces. He pleases a Europe which reproaches us for not recognising his worth; England loves to see that we, like her, have dethroned a king; the other sovereigns have deserted the Legitimacy which they have not found obedient. Philippe dominates those about him; he toys with his Ministers; he appoints them, dismisses them, re-appoints them, and dismisses them once more, having compromised them, if anything these days can compromise anyone.
Philippe’s superiority is real, but it is only relative; place him in an age when society was vibrant, and the mediocrity within would be revealed. Two passions detract from his qualities: his exclusive love for his children, and his insatiable desire to increase his wealth: on those two matters he will always show blindness.
Philippe does not feel for France’s honour as the elder branch of the Bourbons do; he has no need of honour: he has no fear of popular uprisings as those nearest to Louis XVI feared them. He is protected by his father’s murder; hatred for wealth does not touch him: he is an accomplice not a victim.
Understanding the exhaustion of the age and the baseness of men’s souls, Philippe takes comfort from the situation. Legal intimidation has suppressed our freedoms, as I predicted at the time of my farewell speech to the Chamber of Peers, and nothing has lessened it; arbitrary powers have been employed; murder has been done in the Rue Transnonain, protesters bombarded at Lyons, numerous prosecutions begun against the Press; citizens arrested and held in prison for months or years as a preventative measure, to public applause. The country, weary, no longer understanding anything, endures everything. There is scarcely a man one could not set against himself. Month after month, year after year, we have written, spoken and acted in a manner completely contrary to the way we have formerly written, spoken and acted. Through being forced to blush we no longer blush; our self-contradictions escape our notice, they have multiplied so. To end discussion we take the position of affirming that we have never changed, or that we have only changed through progressive modification of our ideas and through our century’s clarification of our understanding. The rapidity of events has aged us so swiftly that when we recall our actions of past days, we seem to be speaking of others rather than ourselves; and then, to have changed is only to have done as everyone else has.
‘Rue Transnonain, Lithograph by Honoré Daumier’
Skämtbilden och Dess Historia i Konsten - Carl Gustaf Johannes Laurin (p181, 1910)
Internet Archive Book Images
Philippe did not believe, as the restored monarchy did, that he was obliged to control every village in order to rule; he judged it sufficient to be master of Paris; now, if he could only put the capital on a war footing with an annual quota of sixty thousand praetorian guards, he would believe himself safe. Europe would allow it because he would persuade the sovereigns that he was acting with a view to stifling revolution in his old cradle, depositing as a guarantee, in the hands of foreigners, France’s liberty, independence and honour. Philippe is a police-sergeant: Europe might spit in his face, he would wipe it, say thank you, and show his royal patent. However, he is the only prince the French are currently capable of tolerating. The debasement of elected leadership is his strength: we find enough in him, momentarily, to satisfy our royalist habits and our democratic tendency; we obey a power that we think we have the right to insult; that is all we need of liberty: a nation on its knees, we snuffle round our master, privilege re-established at his feet, equality in his face. Cynical and cunning, a Louis XI for the age of philosophy, our chosen monarch skilfully sails his boat over a sea of mud. The elder branch of Bourbons has withered save for one bud; the younger branch is rotten. The leader inaugurated at City Hall thinks only of self; he sacrifices the French to what he believes to be his own security. When people discuss what is necessary for our country’s greatness, they forget the sovereign’s character; he is persuaded that he will perish by the very means which would save France; according to him, what would ensure the survival of the monarchy would destroy the king. Moreover, none have the right to hold him in contempt, since everyone is equally contemptible. But, in the final analysis, whatever prosperity he dreams of, neither he nor his children will prosper, because he abandons the people who brought him everything. Yet on the other hand, legitimate kings, abandoning legitimate kings, will fall: one cannot renounce principles with impunity. If Revolution has for an instant deviated from its course, it will no less add to the torrent that undermines the ancient edifice: no one has played his part, no one will be saved.
Since power among us is inviolable, since the hereditary sceptre has fallen to the ground four times in thirty-eight years, since the royal fillet tied by victory has twice been unbound from Napoleon’s head, since the July monarchy has been increasingly assailed, one must conclude that it is monarchy and not the Republic which is untenable.
France is under the domination of an ideal inimical to the throne: a crown whose authority is at first recognised, which is then trodden underfoot, then picked up to be trodden underfoot again, is no more than a vain temptation and a symbol of disorder. A master is imposed on men who appear to demand him for memory’s sake but will not support him morally; he is imposed on generations who, having forgotten social moderation and decency, know only how to insult the royal personage or replace respect with servility.
Philippe has within him something that hinders destiny; he has nothing within him that can halt it. The democratic party alone advances, because it is marching towards the future. Those who will not concede the general trends which are destroying the basis for monarchy will seek in vain for action from the Chambers to free us from the yoke; the Chambers will not consent to reform because reform would signal their death. The industrialised opposition, for its part, will never willingly bring the king products from its factories, as it did Charles X; it shifts about to create room for itself, it whines, and is difficult; but when it finds itself face to face with Philippe, it retreats, since though it wants to gain control of affairs, it does not want to reverse what it has created and what it lives for. Two fears inhibit it: fear of the Legitimacy’s return, fear of populist rule; it sticks to Philippe whom it does not love, but whom it treats as a protector. Satisfied by wealth and work, abdicating its will, the opposition obeys what it knows to be worthless and sleeps in the mud; that is the bed of down invented by an industrial century; it is not as pleasant but it costs less.
Notwithstanding all that, a sovereignty of a few months, or even a few years if you wish, will not alter the irrevocable future. There is hardly anyone now who does not consider the Legitimacy preferable to the usurpation, in terms of security, liberty, property, and foreign relations, since the principle behind our current monarchy is inimical in principle to European sovereignty. Though it pleased him to accept the investiture of the throne, at the pleasure of, and with the sure methods of democracy, Philippe has forgotten his point of departure: he should have leapt onto his horse and galloped to the Rhine, or rather he should have resisted the impulse that carried him to a crown regardless of conditions: the most durable and fitting institutions emerge from such resistance.
It is said that: ‘Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans could not have rejected the crown without plunging us into appalling problems’: the logic of cowards, dupes and rogues. Doubtless conflict would have occurred; but it would have been followed by a swift return to order. What has Philippe done for the country? Would there have been more blood spilt by his refusing the sceptre, in Paris, Lyons, Anvers and in the Vendée, than has been shed by his accepting it, without taking into account the rivers of blood that have flowed on account of our elective monarchy in Poland, Italy, Portugal and Spain? Has Philippe given us liberty, in compensation for these ills? Has he brought us glory? He has spent his time begging for legitimisation by the powers that be, degrading France by making her a servant of England, and leaving her a hostage; he has tried to make the century come to him, and render him and his race venerable, not wishing to renew himself with the century.
Why did he not marry his eldest son to some lovely plebeian girl of his own country? That would have been to wed France herself; that union of the people and royalty would have made foreign kings repent; since those kings, who have already taken advantage of Philippe’s subservience, will not be content with what they have gained: that popular power which is revealed behind our municipal monarchy terrifies them. The monarch of the barricades, in order to be completely acceptable to absolute monarchs, must above all destroy freedom of the Press and abolish our constitutional institutions. In the depths of his soul, he detests them as much as they do, but he has to act in moderation. All this procrastination irritates other monarchs; they cannot be made to tolerate it except by our giving way to them completely abroad: to accustom us to being Philippe’s bondsmen at home, we have begun by becoming the vassals of Europe.
I have said a hundred times and I will repeat it once more, the old society is dead. I am not enough of a common man, not enough of a charlatan, not deceived enough in my hopes, to take the least interest in what now exists. France, the most mature of present-day nations, will probably be first among them. It is likely that the elder branch of the Bourbons, whom I will support until death, will even now obtain scant shelter from the old monarchy. The successors of a murdered monarch have never worn his torn robe for long; there is mistrust on both sides: the prince no longer dares trust the nation; the nation cannot believe that a restored family will show forgiveness. A scaffold raised between a people and its king prevents them seeing one another: there are graves which never close. The head of Capet was so high, that the diminutive executioners were obliged to cut it off to take his crown, as the Caribs cut down a palm tree to gather its fruit. The Bourbon stock was propagated in various stems around it; it put out branches which in bowing took root in the earth and rose again as proud offshoots: that family, after having been the pride of other royal races, seems to have become their fate.
But would it be reasonable to believe that Philippe’s descendants have a greater chance of reigning than Henri IV’s young descendant? It is fine to combine diverse political concepts, but moral truth remains immutable. There is an inevitable reaction, educative, magisterial, and vengeful. The monarch who initiated our freedom was forced to expiate in his own person Louis XIV’s despotism and Louis XV’s corruption; and who is to say that Louis-Philippe, he or his descendants, will not pay a debt for the Regency’s depravations? Was that debt not contracted anew by Egalité on Louis XVI’s scaffold, and has not Philippe his son added to the paternal debt, when, as a disloyal tutor, he dethroned his pupil? Egalité bought nothing in the losing of his life; tears at the moment of death purchase nought: they merely wet the breast, but do not fall on conscience’s soil. If the Orléans branch were to reign by virtue of the vices and crimes of its ancestors, where then would Providence be? No more terrible temptation would ever have tried men of goodwill. Our illusion is that we can weigh the eternal design in the scale of our short life: we vanish too swiftly for God’s punishment always to occur in the brief moment of our existence; punishment descends at the right moment; it no longer strikes the initial offender, but strikes his race which provides it with space to act.
In the universal scheme of things, Louis-Philippe’s reign, whatever its duration, will be no more than an anomaly, a momentary offence against the enduring laws of justice: they are violated, those laws, in a narrow and relative way; they are followed in a limitless and general one. From an enormity apparently consented to by Heaven, one must draw the greatest of consequences: one must deduce a Christian proof of the coming abolition of royalty itself. It is that abolition, not some individual punishment, which must expiate Louis XVI’s death; no one will be allowed, according to this exercise of justice, to wear the crown, witness Napoleon the Great, and Charles X the Pious. It may have been permitted for the son of a regicide to lie down for a moment, in imitation of kingship, on a martyr’s blood-stained bed, in order to render monarchy odious.
‘Mort du Duc d'Orléans’
Le Dernier Roi - Alexandre Dumas (p603, 1854)
The British Library
Finally, all this reasoning, correct though it may be, will never weaken my loyalty to my young King: if I am all that is left to him in France, I will be forever proud to have been the last subject of one who may be the last king.
Book XLII: Chapter 2: Monsieur Thiers
The July Revolution found a king: has it found a representative? I have described the men of various epochs who have appeared on the scene from 1789 to the present day. Those men belonged more or less to the human race as was: there was a scale of proportion on which to measure them. We have arrived at generations who are no longer part of the past; studied beneath a microscope, they seem incapable of life, and yet they merge with the elements in which they move; they can breathe air one would have thought un-breathable. The future may invent formulas to calculate the rules of existence of these beings; but the present has no means of assessing them.
Without the power then to explain the altered species, here and there one notices a few individuals on whom one can seize, because specific faults or distinct qualities make them stand out from the crowd. Monsieur Thiers, for example, is the one man the Revolution has produced. He founded the school that admires the Terror, a school to which he belongs. If the perpetrators of the Terror, those deniers and denied of God, were such great men, the authority of their opinions would carry some weight; but those men, tearing each other apart, declared that the party whose throats they were cutting was a band of rogues. Read what Madame Roland says of Condorcet, what Barbaroux, principal actor of the 10th of August, says of Marat, what Camille Desmoulins writes in criticism of Saint-Just. Should Danton be assessed according to Robespierre’s view, or Robespierre according to Danton’s? When the members of the Convention had such a poor opinion of one another, how, without lacking in the respect one owes, dare one hold an opinion differing from theirs?
‘A. Thiers, from the Original Painting by Chappel’
Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America - Evert Augustus Duyckinck (p519, 1873)
Internet Archive Book Images
I very much fear however that those who been have taken for extraordinary individuals were brutes worth little more than the wheels on a machine. The machines and its cogs have been confused: the machine was powerful, but it was not the wheels that made it. Who invented it then? God: he created it for necessary ends that also derived from Him, at a moment of society which was foreseen.
With its materialistic approach, Jacobinism did not perceive that the Terror had failed, incapable of fulfilling the conditions for its continuation. It could not achieve its end because it could not cause enough heads to roll; it fell four or five hundred thousand or more short: now, time was lacking to execute these lengthy massacres; only unfinished crimes remained whose fruit no one knew how to gather, the last hours of the storm having failed to ripen it.
The secret of the contradictory nature of the men of today lies in a lack of moral sense, in the absence of settled principles and in the cult of force: whoever succumbs is guilty and without merit, at least without that merit that adjusts itself to events. One must be aware of what is hidden behind the liberal phraseology of devotees of the Terror: success deifies. To adore the Convention is merely to adore a tyrant. The Convention once overthrown, you pass with your bundle of freedoms to the Directory, then to Bonaparte, without suspecting your metamorphosis, without considering what you have done. A sworn dramatist, while considering the Girondins as feeble devils because they were vanquished, you will make of their deaths no less fantastic a picture: they are fine young men marching to the sacrifice crowned with flowers.
The Girondins, a cowardly faction, which spoke in favour of Louis XVI then voted for his execution, behaved marvellously well, it is true, on the scaffold; but who did not bow their head before death in those days? Women distinguished themselves by their heroism; the young girls of Verdun mounted the altar like Iphigenias; the workers, about whom they are discretely silent, those plebeians of whom the Convention made so great a harvest, braved the executioner’s steel as resolutely as our grenadiers did that of the enemy. For every priest and nobleman, the Convention destroyed thousands of working people in the lowest classes of society; that is what no one chooses to remember.
Does Monsieur Thiers proclaim principles? Not in the least; he advocated massacre, and would preach humanity in just as edifying a manner; he would give himself out to be fanatical about freedom, and yet he oppressed Lyons, fired on the Rue Transnonain, and has stood for and against all the September 1835 laws: if he were ever to read this, he would take it for a eulogy.
As President of the Council, and Foreign Minister, Monsieur Thiers is enraptured by diplomatic intrigues of the school of Talleyrand; he exposes himself to being taken for a serial parasite, lacking in nerve, gravity and discretion. One might disdain seriousness and grandeur of soul, but one should not say so, without having first led a subjugated world to take part in one’s orgies at Grand-Vaux.
Yet Monsieur Thiers combines inferior manners with noble instincts; while the surviving feudalists, now impoverished, become stewards on their own lands, Monsieur Thiers, a great Renaissance lord, travelling about like a new Atticus, buys works of art on the road and revives the prodigality of the ancient aristocracy: it is a kind of distinction: but while he sows with as much facility as he reaps, he needs to guard against his old habits of camaraderie: esteem is one of the ingredients of a public persona.
Stirred by his mercurial character, Monsieur Thiers set out to crush anarchy in Madrid as I suppressed it in 1823: a project all the braver in that Monsieur Thiers was in conflict with Louis-Philippe’s intentions. He may consider himself a Bonaparte; he may believe his letter-knife to be merely an elongation of a Napoleonic sword; he may persuade himself he is a great general, he may dream of conquering Europe, by reason of having constituted himself narrator, and in a very ill-considered move by having Napoleon’s remains brought back here. I accede to all these pretensions; I will merely say that, regarding Spain, at the moment at which Monsieur Thiers thought of invading it, his calculations were in error; he would have ruined his monarch in 1836, while I saved mine in 1823. The essential thing is to do what one desires at the right time: there are two forces: the force of men and the force of events; when the two are in opposition, nothing can be accomplished. At this moment, Mirabeau would sway no one, even though his corruption might not harm him: since no one is disparaged for vice these days; one is only denounced for one’s virtues.
Monsieur Thiers has one of three courses to take: name himself the representative of the republican future, cling to the counterfeit July Monarchy like a monkey on a camel’s back, or revive the Imperial order. The latter course is to Monsieur Thiers taste; but an empire without an emperor, is that credible? It is more natural to believe that the author of a History of the Revolution will allow himself to be consumed by vulgar ambition: he wishes to remain in or re-enter power; in order to keep or re-gain his place, he will utter all the palinodes that the moment or his interests would seem to require; there is a certain audacity in disrobing in public, but is Monsieur Thiers still young enough for his good looks to serve as a veil?
Setting Deutz and Judas aside, I recognize in Monsieur Thiers a supple mind, quick, subtle, flexible, heir to the future perhaps, understanding all, save the greatness that derives from the moral order; free of envy, without pettiness or prejudice, he stands apart from the dull and obscure crowd of mediocrities around him. His exaggerated pride is yet not odious, because it does not involve contempt for others. Monsieur Thiers has resource, variety, favourable gifts; he is scarcely bothered by differences of opinion, bears no grudges, never fears compromising himself, does another man justice, not through probity or because of what he thinks but because of his worth; which would not prevent him from strangling us of all if the need arose. Monsieur Thiers is not what he might be; age will alter him, to the extent that swollen pride does not inhibit it. If his mind holds firm and he is not carried away by some sudden impulse, events will reveal unknown superiorities in him. He will rise or fall swiftly; there is the possibility that Monsieur Thiers will become a great Minister or remain half-formed.
Monsieur Thiers has already shown lack of resolve when he held the fate of the world in his hands: if he had given the order to attack the English fleet, superior in strength as we then were in the Mediterranean, our success would have been assured; the Turkish and Egyptian fleets, combining in the port of Alexandria, would have augmented ours; victory over England would have electrified France. We would have instantly found 150,000 men to send into Bavaria and hurl at whatever positions in Italy were unprepared or had not foreseen an attack. The whole world might yet have been altered. Would our aggression have been justified? That is another matter; but we might have demanded of Europe whether she had acted in good faith towards us in those treaties through which, abusing the victory they had won, Russia and Germany were immeasurably swollen, while France was reduced to her former curtailed borders. Be that as it may, Monsieur Thiers dared not play his last card; analysing his life, he has never been sufficiently purposeful, and yet it is because he has committed nothing to the game that he should have been able to gamble everything. We are fallen at the feet of Europe: a similar opportunity to rise again may not present itself for some time.
But would it have been right to set the world ablaze once more? A profound question! Nevertheless, the President of the Council’s mistakes being bound up with national feeling, ennoble him.
Ultimately, Monsieur Thiers, to rescue his policy, has reduced France to a space of fifty leagues bristling with fortresses; we will see whether Europe has occasion to smile at this childish behaviour on the part of a great mind.
Behold how, led my by pen, I have dedicated more space to a questionable man of the future than I have to people whose remembrance is certain. It is the unfortunate result of having lived too long: I have entered a sterile epoch in which France faces nothing but meagre generations: Lupa .carca nella sua magrezza: a she-wolf. full in her leanness. These Memoirs diminish in interest with the passage of history, diminish in what they have borrowed from great events; their tail-end, I fear, will be shaped like those of the daughters of Acheloüs. The Roman Empire, announced magnificently by Livy, fades and dies obscurely in the works of Cassiodorus. You were happier, Thucydides and Plutarch, Sallust and Tacitus, when telling of the factions that divided Athens and Rome! You were at least certain to enliven them, not merely by your genius, but by the brilliance of Greek and the gravity of Latin! What can we say of our waning society, we Celts, in our jargon confined to its narrow and barbarous bounds? If these final chapters reproduced our courthouse repetitions, those eternal redefinitions of the law, our fighting over portfolios, would they, fifty years from now, be anything more than the unintelligible columns of an old newspaper? Of a thousand and one conjectures, would a single one prove true? Who can foresee the strange leaps and bounds of the mercurial French spirit? Who knows why its execrations and infatuations, its blessings and curses, transform themselves for no apparent reason? Who can divine why it strays from one political system to another, how, with freedom on its lips and slavery in its heart, it can believe in one version of the truth in the morning and a contrary version by evening? Let us toss a little dust about: like Virgil’s bees, we will cease our battles and fly elsewhere.
Book XLII: Chapter 3: Monsieur de Lafayette
If by any chance some measure of greatness still stirs here below, our country will continue to slumber. The loins of a decomposing society are fruitless; even the crimes it engenders are still-born, marred as they are by the sterility of their source. The age we are entering is like a tow-path along which generations, fatally condemned, haul the old world towards a world unknown.
In this year of 1834, Monsieur de Lafayette died. I may already have done him an injustice in speaking of him; I may have represented him as a kind of fool, with twin faces and twin reputations; a hero on the other side of the Atlantic, a clown on this. It has taken more than forty years to recognise qualities in Monsieur de Lafayette which one insisted on denying him. At the rostrum he expressed himself fluently and with the air of a man of breeding. No stain attaches to his life; he was affable, obliging and generous.
‘Marquis de Lafayette’
William Russell Birch (British, 1755 - 1834)
Yale University Art Gallery
Under the Empire he was noble and lived quietly; under the Restoration he did not preserve his dignity so effectively; he abased himself inasmuch as he allowed himself to be known as the father of the French Carbonari sections (ventes), and the leader of minor conspiracies; he was fortunate to escape justice at Belfort, as a common adventurer. At the commencement of the Revolution, he kept aloof from the murderers; he fought them weapon in hand and wished to save Louis XVI; but though abhorring the massacres, and obliged though he was to flee them, he found it in himself to praise those scenes where heads were carried along on the ends of pikes.
Monsieur de Lafayette is celebrated because he survived: there is a fame that arises spontaneously based on talent, which death enhances by arresting that talent in youth; there is another kind of fame, a tardy offspring of time, which is the product of age; deficient itself in greatness, it is so because of the revolutions in the midst of which it is placed by chance. The bearer of such fame, by dint of existing throughout, becomes involved in everything; his name becomes the insignia or banner of all: Monsieur de Lafayette will be eternally identified with the National Guard. The results of his actions were, in an extraordinary manner, often in contradiction to his ideas; a Royalist, in 1789 he overthrew a monarchy eight centuries old; a Republican, in 1830 he created a monarchy of the barricades: he was off to endow Philippe with the crown he had taken from Louis XVI. Moulded by events, his image will be found, when the alluvia of our misfortunes settle, embedded in the revolutionary sediment.
His enthusiastic reception in the United States uniquely enhanced his reputation; a nation, rising to salute him, covered him with the glory of its gratitude. Everett ended his speech of 1824 with this apostrophe: ‘Welcome, friend of our fathers, to our shores!...Enjoy a triumph such as never conqueror nor monarch enjoyed. Above all, the first of heroes and of men, the friend of your youth, the more than friend of his country, rests in the bosom of the soil he redeemed. On the banks of his Potomac he lies in glory and in peace. You will re-visit the hospitable shades of Mount Vernon, but him, whom you venerated as we did, you will not meet at its door. But the grateful children of America will bid you welcome in his name. Welcome, thrice welcome, to our shores, and whithersoever throughout the limits of the continent your course shall take you, the ear that hears you shall bless you.’
In the New World, Monsieur de Lafayette contributed to the creation of a new society; in the old world, to the destruction of an old one: freedom invokes him in Washington, anarchy in Paris.
Monsieur de Lafayette had only one idea, and happily for him it was that of the century; the fixity of that idea created his empire; it served to blinker him, it prevented him looking to right or left; he marched with a firm step on a single track; he advanced, without tumbling over precipices, not because he saw them, but because he did not; blindness took the place of genius in him: everything fixed is fatal, and whatever is fatal is powerful.
I can still see Monsieur de Lafayette, at the head of the National Guard, passing, in 1790, along the boulevards to reach the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. On the 22nd of May 1834, I saw him again, lying in his coffin, following the same boulevards. Among the cortege could be seen a band of Americans, each person with a yellow flower in their buttonhole. Monsieur de Lafayette had a quantity of earth transported to the United States sufficient to cover him in his grave, but his plan was not fulfilled.
‘And you shall ask instead of holy oil
A few urns of earth in American soil,
And then return that pillow sublime,
So that after death, his dear remains
Might, in his homeland, own six feet at least
Of free earth in which to sleep.’
At Picpus are interred victims of that Revolution begun by Monsieur de Lafayette; there stands a chapel where they say perpetual prayers in memory of the victims. To Picpus I accompanied Monsieur le Duc de Montmorency, a colleague of Monsieur de Lafayette in the Constituent Assembly; in the depths of the grave the rope twisted that Christian’s bier askew, as if he had turned on his side to pray once more.
I was in the crowd, at the entrance to the Rue Grange-Batelière, when Monsieur de Lafayette’s procession filed past: at the top of the boulevard the hearse halted; I saw it, gilded by a fugitive ray of sunlight, gleaming above the weapons and helmets: then the shadows returned and he vanished.
The multitude flowed by; women selling pastries (plaisirs) cried their wares, vendors of toys, here and there, hawked paper windmills that turned in the same breeze whose sighs had stirred the plumes of the funeral car.
At the session of the Chamber of Deputies on the 20th of May 1834, the President spoke: ‘The name of General Lafayette,’ he said, ‘will remain celebrated in history. In expressing to you the condolences of the Chamber, I add, dear colleague (Georges Lafayette), my personal assurances of affection.’ After these words, the note-taker to the session placed in parentheses the word: (Hilarity).
That is what one of the weightiest of lives is reduced to: hilarity! What remains of the deaths of the greatest men? A grey cloak and a cross of straw, like those over the body of the Duc de Guise, assassinated at Blois.
In earshot of the public news-vendor who, by the railings of the Tuileries Palace, sold the tidings of Napoleon’s death for a sou, I heard two charlatans singing the praises of their Venice treacle (orviétan); and in the Moniteur of the 21st of January 1793, I read these words beneath an account of Louis XVI’s execution:
‘Two hours after the execution, nothing proclaimed that he who was once leader of the nation had just suffered the punishment reserved for criminals.’ Following those words this announcement appeared: ‘Ambroise, a comic opera.’
The last actor in a drama played for fifty years, Monsieur de Lafayette was left behind on stage; the final chorus of the Greek tragedy proclaims the moral of the piece: ‘Learn, blind mortals, to turn your gaze on the last hour of life.’ And I, a spectator seated in an empty theatre, its boxes deserted, its lights extinguished, I alone, of all my age, remain before the lowered curtain, in silence and the night.
Book XLII: Chapter 4: Armand Carrel
Armand Carrel threatened Philippe’s future, as General Lafayette haunted his past. You know how I came to know Monsieur Carrel; since 1832 I never ceased to communicate with him until the day I followed him to the Saint-Mandé cemetery.
Histoire de la Révolution Française Depuis 1814 Jusqu'à 1830...Revue et Continuée par M. Auguis, Vol 04 - Jacques Antoine Dulaure (p998, 1838)
The British Library
Armand Carrel was anxious; he began to fear that the French were incapable of any rational feeling for freedom; he had some presentiment of the brevity of his life: as something on which he could not count and to which he attached scant worth, he was always ready to risk that life on a throw of the dice. If he had died in his duel with young Laborie, over Henri V, his death would have been in a great cause at least, and in itself a noble drama; his funeral would probably have been honoured by violent demonstrations; yet he has left us because of a wretched quarrel not worth a hair of his head.
He was in one of his innate fits of melancholy when he inserted an article in the National to which I replied in this note:
‘Paris, 5th of May 1834.
Monsieur, your article is full of that sensitive feeling for situations and conventions which elevates you above all the other political writers of our day. I do not speak of your rare talent; you know that, even before I had the honour of meeting you, I rendered it full justice. I will not thank you for your praise; I like to think it is due to what I regard now as an old friendship. Sir, you are rising higher; you are becoming more isolated as all men do who are made for great things; gradually the crowd, which cannot follow, deserts them, and they are seen all the more clearly for standing apart.
I sought to console him in another letter of the 31st of August 1834, after he had been condemned for a Press offence. I received this reply; it displays the man’s opinions, regrets and hopes.
‘TO MONSIEUR LE VICOMTE DE CHATEAUBRIAND.
Your letter of the 31st of August was only passed to me on my arrival in Paris. I would have thanked you earlier, if I had not been forced to spend the little time allowed me by the police, who were informed of my return, in preparations for my entering prison. Yes, Monsieur, here I am, condemned to six months in prison by the magistrates, for an imaginary offence and in virtue of an equally illusory law, because the jury intentionally dismissed the charge against me, on the most substantial accusation, after a defence which, far from attenuating my guilt in speaking the truth to Louis-Philippe, aggravated that crime by establishing it as the right of the entire opposition Press. I am pleased that the difficulties of so bold a thesis, in times like these, seemed to have been virtually overcome by that defence, which you have read, and in which it benefited me to invoke the authority of that book with which, eighteen years ago, you educated your own party as to the principles of constitutional responsibility.
I often ask myself sadly what end writings such as yours have served, Monsieur, and those of the most eminent leaders of public opinion to whom I myself belong, when that concurrence of the noblest intellects in the land, in constant defence of the laws of free speech, has not resulted for the mass of thinkers in France in a party determined from now on under all regimes, to demand from whatever politics may be victorious, freedom of thought, speech and writing, as the prime responsibility of whichever legitimate authority is in power. Is it not true, Monsieur, that when you demanded, under the previous government, total freedom of debate, it was not for the sake of the temporary benefit that your political friends might accrue, in their opposition to adversaries who had become masters of the power of intrigue? Some used the Press thus, as has indeed been shown since; but you, Sir, you demanded freedom of debate for the whole of society, a forum, and general protection, for all ideas past or current; it is that which has earned you, Sir, the recognition and respect of those thinkers whom the July Revolution brought fresh to the lists. That is why our work is linked to yours, and why we quote your writings, less as admirers of the incomparable talent that produced them than as aspirants from afar to the continuation of the same task, young soldiers as we are of a cause in which you are the most glorious of veterans.
What you have desired for thirty years, Monsieur, and what I would wish, if I am allowed to name myself alongside you, is to guarantee, to the interests that share in our noble France, more humane rules of engagement, laws more civilised, more fraternal, more decisive than civil war, and only debate can prevent civil war. When shall we succeed in replacing faction by ideas, and intrigue, egotism and greed by legitimate and worthy interests? When shall we see persuasion, and the word, control those inevitable transactions that the duelling of parties and the shedding of blood wearily bring about, but too late for the dead of both camps, and too often without benefit to the wounded survivors? As you have said, sadly, Monsieur, it seems that much that was learnt has been forgotten and that in France no one knows, any longer, what it costs to shelter beneath a tyranny promising silence and peace. Nevertheless we must continue to speak, write and publish; unforeseen benefits sometimes emerge from constancy. And, Sir, of all the fine examples you have given us that which is most constantly before my eyes is comprised in the single word: Persevere.
Accept, Sir, the feelings of undying affection with which I am happy to sign myself,
Your most devoted servant, A. CARREL.
Puteaux, near Neuilly, the 4th of October 1834.’
Monsieur Carrel was imprisoned at Sainte-Pélagie; I went to see him there two or three times a week: I found him standing at the bars of his window. He reminded me of his neighbour, a young African lion in the Jardin des Plantes: motionless behind the bars of his cage, that scion of the desert allowed his vague and melancholy gaze to wander over the objects outside; it was obvious he would not live. Then we went downstairs, Monsieur Carrel, and I; the servant of Henri V walked with the enemy of kings in a damp courtyard, sombre, narrow, and surrounded by high walls like a well. There were other Republicans walking up and down the courtyard too: young and ardent revolutionaries, with moustaches, beards, long hair, German or Greek caps, and pallid faces, looking about, with a threatening aspect, and the cast of ancient souls in Tartarus before their emergence to the light: they were ready to burst back into life. Their clothes acted on them as a uniform does on a soldier, like Nessus’ blood-stained shirt on Hercules: they represented a vengeful world hidden behind current society and prepared to make it tremble.
In the evenings they gathered in their leader, Armand Carrel’s, room; they talked about what they would do when they came to power, and the necessity of shedding blood. Debates took place about the mighty citizens of the Terror: some, partisans of Marat, were atheists and materialists; others, admirers of Robespierre, adored that new Christ. Did not Saint Robespierre say, in his speech on the Supreme Being, that belief in God gave the strength to brave misfortune, and that innocence on the scaffold would make the tyrant in his triumphal chariot grow pale? The equivocation of an executioner speaking tenderly of God, misfortune, tyranny, the scaffold in order to persuade men that he was only slaying the guilty, and indeed as an act of virtue; an anticipation of those miscreants, who, sensing the approach of punishment, stand like Socrates before the judge, seeking to ward off the blade by threatening him with their innocence!
His stay in Sainte-Pélagie did Monsieur Carrel harm: imprisoned with those ardent spirits, he contested their ideas, berated them, and defied them, nobly refusing to celebrate the 21st of January; but at the same time he was made irritable by suffering and his powers of reason were weakened by the murderous sophisms that rang in his ears.
Mothers, sisters, young men’s wives came to care for him each morning and carry out the domestic tasks. One day, passing through the dark corridor that led to Monsieur Carrel’s room, I heard a delightful voice coming from a neighbouring cell: a lovely woman hatless, hair unbound, sitting on the edge of a pallet bed, mending the tattered garments of a kneeling prisoner, who seemed less a captive of Philippe than of the woman at whose feet he was enchained.
Freed from captivity, Monsieur Carrel came in turn to visit me. A few days before his end, he came to bring me an issue of the National in which he had taken pains to include an article on my Essais sur la littérature anglaise, where he quoted with excessive praise the pages that terminate the Essais. Since his death, I have been sent this article in his own hand, which I will keep as a pledge of his friendship. Since his death! What words I have just traced without thinking!
Despite being an essential supplement to the law which does not recognise crimes of honour, duelling is dreadful, especially when it destroys a life full of promise and deprives society of one of those rare individuals who only appears after a century of effort, in the wake of certain ideas and events. Carrel fell in the woods that saw the Duc d’Enghien fall: the shade of the great Condé’s descendant served as the famous commoner’s witness and bore him away. Those fatal woods have twice made me weep: at least I cannot reproach myself for any lack of essential sympathy or grief engendered by those two catastrophes.
Monsieur Carrel, who, in other encounters, never thought of death, thought of it before this: he spent the night writing his last testament, as if he had been forewarned of the result of the duel. At eight in the morning, on the 22nd of July 1836, he went, swift and keen, to those leafy shadows at the very hour when the deer are at play.
‘Meeting of the Seconds’
The Praise of Paris...Illustrated - Theodore Child (p167, 1893)
The British Library
Placed at the measured distance, he walked rapidly forward, and fired without flinching, as was his custom; he seemed never to have enough of danger. Wounded to death and supported in his friends’ arms, as he passed before his adversary who was himself wounded, he said: ‘Are you much hurt, Sir?’ Armand Carrel was as thoughtful as he was intrepid.
On the 22nd, it was late when I heard of the incident; on the morning of the 23rd, I went to Saint-Mandé; Monsieur Carrel’s friends were extremely anxious. I wanted to enter, but the surgeon advised me that my presence might excite the dying man too much and extinguish the feeble ray of hope that still remained. I withdrew in consternation. On the following day, the 24th, Hyacinthe whom I had sent on ahead, came to tell me that the unfortunate young man had died at five-thirty, after having experienced severe pain: life despite all its efforts had lost its desperate struggle with death.
The funeral took place on Tuesday the 26th. Monsieur Carrel’s father and brother had arrived from Rouen. I found them shut in a little room with three or four of the closest friends of the man whose loss we deplored. They embraced me, and Monsieur Carrel’s father said: ‘Armand should have remained a Christian like his father, mother, brothers and sisters: the needle has but a few hours to move before reaching the final point on the dial.’ I will regret forever not having seen Carrel on his death-bed: I would not have despaired, at the supreme moment, of helping the needle travel that space beyond which it might have reached Christ’s hour.
Carrel was not as anti-religious as has been suggested: he had doubts; when from firm disbelief one passes to indecision, one is quite near to certainty. A few days before his death, he said: ‘I would give all this life to believe in the other.’ In giving an account of Monsieur Sautelet’s suicide he wrote these forceful paragraphs:
‘I have been able in thought to extend my life to that instant, rapid as lightening, when the sight of objects, motion, sound, and feeling shall escape me, and in which the last efforts of my spirit shall gather to form the idea: I am dying; but for the minute, the second that follows immediately upon that, I have always felt an indefinable horror; my imagination always refuses to distinguish anything further. To plumb the depths of hell seems a thousand times less fearful than that universal uncertainty:
“To die, to sleep,
To sleep! Perchance to dream!”
‘I have seen how all men, whatever their strength of character or belief, own to that same impossibility of going beyond their last earthly impression, and the mind is lost there, as if in arriving at that boundary you find yourself suspended above a ten thousand foot precipice. You dispel that fearful sight in order to go out and fight a duel, attempt an attack on a redoubt, or confront a stormy sea; you even appear to scorn life; you adopt a confident expression, calm and contented; but it is because your imagination holds out to you victory rather than death; it is because the mind dwells less on danger than on the means of escaping it.’
These words on the lips of a man destined to die in a duel are noteworthy.
In 1800, when I returned to France, I was ignorant of the birth of one of my friends in that land where I disembarked. In 1836, I saw that friend descend into the grave without those consolations of religion whose memory I brought to my country in the first year of the century.
I followed the coffin from the mortuary to the burial place; I walked next to Monsieur Carrel’s father and gave my arm to Monsieur Arago: Arago has measured the heavens I have sung.
Arriving at the gate of the little rural cemetery, the convoy halted; speeches were pronounced. The absence of the cross told me that the sign of my grief must remain buried in the depths of my soul.
Six years previously in the July Days, passing before the colonnade of the Louvre, near an open ditch, I met those young men who carried me off to the Luxembourg where I was to protest in support of a monarchy which they had just toppled; six years later, I returned, on the anniversary of the July celebrations, to associate myself with the sorrow of those young Republicans, as they had associated with my loyalty. Strange destiny! Armand Carrel sighed out his last breath at the house of an officer of the Royal Guard, who had not sworn the oath to Philippe; a royalist and a Christian, I had the honour of bearing a corner of the shroud which covers those noble remains but cannot hide them.
Many kings, princes, ministers, men who thought themselves powerful, have passed before me: I did not deign to raise my hat to their coffin or dedicate a word to their memory. I have found more to study and describe in the intermediate ranks of society than in those whose livery is displayed; a piece of silk embroidered with gold is not worth the fragment of flannel that the ball drove into Carrel’s chest.
Carrel, who remembers you? Only the mediocrities and cowards do, whom your death has freed from their fear of your superiority, and I who did not share your views. Who thinks of you? Who recollects you? I congratulate you on having completed that journey, with a single step, whose trajectory when prolonged becomes so sickening and empty, on having brought the goal of your travels within range of a pistol-shot, a distance which still seemed too great to you, and which you shortened by advancing to a mere sword’s length.
I envy those who have departed before me: like Caesar’s soldiers at Brundisium, I gaze at the open sea from the cliff-heights and look towards Epirus to see if I can glimpse the vessels that transported the earlier legions returning to carry me off in my turn.
A few days after the funeral, I went to Monsieur Carrel’s house: the apartment was shut: when the shutters were opened, the daylight which could no longer reach the absent owner’s eyes, flooded the deserted rooms. My heart was heavy contemplating his books, his table, which I have bought, his pen, the insignificant words scribbled at random on a few scraps of paper; everywhere traces of life, and death everywhere.
A person dear to Monsieur Carrel uttered not a word; she was sitting on a sofa, I sat down next to her. A little dog came to gaze at us. Then the young woman burst into tears. Pushing back the hair from her brow and seeking to gather her thoughts, she said: ‘You wish to see Monsieur Carrel?’
She rose, took up a picture covered by a cloth, removed the cloth and revealed a portrait of the unfortunate man drawn by Monsieur Scheffer a few hours after death. ‘When I saw him dead,’ the young woman said: ‘he was disfigured by his final agony; his face softened afterwards, and Monsieur Scheffer told me his smile looked like that.’ The portrait, a striking resemblance indeed, revealed something of the martyr, sombre and energised, but the mouth smiled sweetly as if the dead man smiled at being freed from this life.
She who would have married Carrel some day, covered up the portrait once more and added: ‘It would be well if you could give me a letter that I could show my relatives; they would be happy if you esteem me: I could use it in my defence.’
In order to try and distract her, I spoke about the papers Monsieur Carrel had left behind. ‘There they are,’ she said, ‘he had a great affection for you, Monsieur, and he valued very few people and kept only a handful of letters, there are not many here, some letters from yourself, and then a letter from his mother which he kept because of its harshness.’
I left that unfortunate house: from then on vainly I have thought myself incapable of sharing young women’s sorrows, since the years besiege and chill me; I force a way through them with difficulty, as the cabin-dweller in winter is obliged to open a path through the fallen snow at his door to seek out a ray of sunlight.
Having re-read this in 1839, I will add that having visited Monsieur Carrel’s tomb in 1837, I found it quite neglected, but I saw a black wooden cross that his sister Nathalie had planted near the grave. I paid Vaudran, the gravedigger, the eighteen francs still owing for the metal railings; I asked him to take care of the site, lay some turf and grow some flowers there. I go to Saint-Mandé as the seasons alter, to pay the fee and reassure myself that my intentions have been faithfully executed.
Book XLII: Chapter 5: VARIOUS WOMEN: A Lady from Louisiana
Preparing to complete my collection of portraits, and casting a glance around me, I glimpse various women I have involuntarily neglected; angels grouped at the foot of my painting, they lean on the frame to view the end of my life.
In the past I have met women variously known and celebrated. Women today are altered in manner: for the better or for the worse? It is simply that I incline towards the past; but the past is clothed with a mist in which objects take on a complexion pleasant but often deceptive. My youth, to which I cannot return, has left with me impressions of my grandmother; I barely remember her and should be delighted to see her again.
A lady from Louisiana arrived from the Mississippi to see me: I thought I was meeting the virgin of last love. Célestine wrote me several letters; they might have been dated the Moon of flowers; she showed me fragments of her memoirs composed in the savannahs of Alabama. Some time later, Célestine wrote saying that she was dressing for her presentation at Philippe’s court: I had donned my bearskin. Célestine had been changed into an alligator from the Florida swamps: may Heaven bring her peace and love, as long they endure!
Book XLII: Chapter 6: Madame Tastu
There are people who, interposed between you and the past, prevent your memories surfacing; there are others who immediately remind you of what you once were. Madame Tastu produced this latter impression. Her mode of speech is natural; she has abandoned Gallic patois to those who seek to appear younger by hiding in our ancestor’s costume. Favorinus told a Roman who affected the Latin of the Twelve Tables: ‘Are you trying to communicate with Evander’s mother?’
Voyage en France par Mme A. Tastu - Madame Sabine Casimire Amable (p479, 1852)
The British Library
Since I have touched on antiquity, I will say a few words of the women of those days while descending the scale towards our own day. Greek women were sometimes celebrated philosophers; more frequently they followed another divinity: Sappho remains the immortal sibyl of Gnidus; no more is known of Corinne after her conquest of Pindar; Aspasia taught Socrates about Venus:
‘Socrates, accept my teaching. Fill yourself with poetic inspiration: with its powerful charms you will learn to bind what you love; you shall enchain with the music of the lyre, bearing to the heart through the ear the living form of passion.’
The Muse’s sigh, passing over the women of Rome without leading them to create, animated Clovis’ nation, as yet in its cradle. The langue d’Oïl had its Marie de France; the langue d’Oc its Dame de Die, who, in her castle of Vaucluse, sang of her cruel lover.
‘I would know, my fine and handsome lover, why you treat me so cruelly, and so savagely: per que m’etz vos tan fers, ni tan salvatage.’
The Middle Ages transmitted such songs to the Renaissance. Louise Labé wrote:
‘Oh! Would I were snatched away into the lovely breast
Of him for whom I go languishing!’
Clémence de Bourges, nicknamed the Eastern Pearl, who was buried with her face uncovered and her head crowned with flowers because of her beauty, the two Marguerites and Mary Stuart, all three of them queens, expressed simple frailties in simple language.
I had an aunt about the time of our Parnassian era, Madame Claude de Chateaubriand; but I am more embarrassed by Madame Claude than by Mademoiselle de Boisteilleul. Madame Claude, disguised under the name of The Lover, addresses seventy sonnets to a mistress. Reader, pardon my aunt Claude’s twenty-two years: parcendum teneris: be indulgent to youth. If my aunt Boisteilleul was more discrete, well, she was seventy-seven when she sang, and the traitor Trémigon appeared to her aged thoughts as a warbler as much he did a Sparrow-hawk. Be that as it may, here are a few lines of Madame Claude’s, which truly set her among the ancient poetesses:
‘Oh, in love how strangely am I treated,
Since I dare not show my love’s truth plain,
Nor of my hardships dare to you complain,
Nor demand of you what I wish so deeply!
The eye then must serve me as a tongue,
Thus to ensure that I proclaim my song.
Hear, if you can, what I say with the eye.
Sweet invention, could you but find a way
To hear with the eyes what the eyes do say
The word that I am not bold enough to cry!
As the language became fixed, freedom of feeling and thought became restricted. There is barely a memory of that Madame Deshoulières, of Louis XIV’s day, over-praised and over-neglected. The elegy was maintained as a form through female sorrow, during Louis XV’s reign and into that of Louis XVI, when the grand elegies of the people commenced: the old school ended with Madame de Bourdic, now little known, yet who left us a noteworthy Ode to Silence.
The new school has cast its thought in another mould: Madame Tastu walks amidst the choir of modern women poets, in prose or verse, Allart, Waldor, Desbordes-Valmore, Ségalas, Revoil, Mercoeur etc: Castalidum turba: the Castalian throng. Must it not be regretted that they have failed, as regards the example given by the Aonides, to celebrate that passion which, according to antiquity, brightened Cocytus’ brow, and made him smile at Orpheus’ sighs? At Madame Tastu’s gatherings, love only speaks in hymns borrowed from foreign tongues. That reminds me of what is recounted of Madame Malibran: when she wanted to know the name of a bird she had forgotten she imitated its song. From the verse of several Maeonides, there breathe the regrets of women who, feeling time steal upon them, wish to hang their harp up as an offering: one would wish to rid them of the former and keep the latter in their hands! An indefinable complaint issues from our lives: the years are a long sad lament with one refrain.
Book XLII: Chapter 7: Madame Sand
I thanked Madame Dudevant, otherwise known as George Sand, for having mentioned René in the Revue des Deux Mondes; she did not reply. Some time later she sent me Lélia, and I did not reply! Soon a brief exchange, in the form of an explanation, took place between us.
‘I dare to hope that you will forgive me for not having replied to the flattering letter you were so good as to write me when I mentioned René, on the re-publication of Oberman. I know not how to thank you for all the kind expressions you have employed in regard to my work.
I have sent you Lélia, and sincerely hope that she will gain from you the same protection. The greatest privilege of an accepted and universal fame such as yours is to gather together, and encourage the debut of, inexperienced writers for whom there is no lasting success without your patronage.
Accept the assurance of my deepest admiration, and believe me, Monsieur, one of your most loyal followers.
At the end of October 1834, Madame Sand made me the present of a copy of her new novel, Jacques: I accepted the gift.
‘30th October 1834.
Madame, I hasten to offer you my sincerest thanks. I will read Jacques in the Forest of Fontainebleau or by the seashore. When I was younger, I would have been less brave; but my age will defend me from solitude, without detracting from the passionate admiration I profess for your talent and which I conceal from none. You have, Madame, given new prestige to that city of dreams from which I once left for Greece with a world of illusions: returning to his point of departure, René lately, on the Lido, paraded his regrets and his memories, between Childe-Harold who had vanished, and Lélia who was about to appear.
Madame Sand possesses a talent of the first order; her descriptions have the verisimilitude of Rousseau in his reveries, and Bernardin de Saint-Pierre in his Études. Her clear style is not flawed by any of the faults of the day. Lélia, painful to read, and lacking the delightful scenes of Indiana and Valentine, is nevertheless a masterpiece of its kind: extreme in nature, it is without passion, and yet disturbs one like a passion; soul is absent from it, and yet it weighs on the heart; depravity of maxim, abuse of moral rectitude, could go no further; but over this abyss the author casts her talent. In the vale of Gomorrah, dew falls by night over the Dead Sea.
Madame Sand’s works, her novels, the poetry of matter, are born of the age. Despite her superiority it is to be feared lest the author has, by the very nature of her writings, limited her circle of readers. George Sand will not suit all ages. Of two men, equal in genius, of whom one preaches order and the other disorder, the former will attract the greater audience: the human race denies universal applause to whatever harms morality, the pillow on which weakness and justice can rest; the books which cause our first blushes, and whose text has not been learnt by heart on emerging from the cradle, will hardly be associated with all our life’s memories; books only read in hiding, which have not been our sworn and cherished friends, which are part neither of the candour of our feelings, nor the integrity of our innocence. Providence has enclosed that success which does not have its source in the good, in narrow limits; and given universal glory to whatever encourages virtue.
‘Jeanne, lui Dit la Jeune Gracieus Châtelaine’
Œuvres illustrées de George Sand - George Sand (p282, 1852)
Internet Archive Book Images
I reason here, I know, as a man whose narrow-minded view fails to embrace the vast horizon of Humanity, as a man of the past, attached to a risible morality: an obsolete morality of long ago, at very best suitable only for unenlightened spirits, in society’s infancy. A new Gospel is constantly being born far beyond the commonplaces of that conventional wisdom which arrests the progress of the human species, and prevents the restoration of that impoverished body, so calumniated by the soul. When women run about the streets; when it suffices, for a marriage, to open a window and call God to the wedding as witness, priest and guest: then all modesty is destroyed; espousals will be everywhere and people will rise, like doves, to the heights of nature. My criticism of the genre in which Madame Sand writes has no value then, other than as part of the vulgar order of things past; thus I trust she will not be offended by it: the admiration I profess for her must excuse remarks which owe their origin to the misfortune of my age. In the past I would have been swept away more by the Muses; those daughters of heaven were once my sweet mistresses; today they are no more than old friends: they keep me company of an evening at the fireside, but leave me swiftly; because I go to bed early, and they go to watch over Madame Sand’s hearth.
Doubtless in this way she will display her intellectual omnipotence, and yet she will please less because she will be less original; she will think to augment her power by entering the depths of reveries beneath which we lie buried, we, the vulgar and deplorable: but she will be wrong: since she is far above that extravagance, that vagueness, that presumptuous nonsense. At the same time as a rare, but over-flexible, skill should be alerted to superior folly, it should also be warned that the penning of fantasies, intimate portraiture (as the jargon has it), is limited, that its source is in youth, that every instant its flow reduces, and that after a certain number of works, one ends in feeble repetition.
Is it so certain that Madame Sand will always take the same delight in what she now creates? Will not the merit and understanding of the passions of twenty be lowered in her estimation, as the works of my own youth have depreciated in mine? Only the works of the ancient Muse never alter, sustained as they are by a nobility of manners, beauty of language, and majesty of feeling belonging to the whole human race. The fourth book of the Aeneid will remain forever open to human admiration, because it is suspended in the heavens. The fleet which brings the founder of the Roman Empire; Dido the founder of Carthage stabbing herself after having predicted Hannibal’s birth:
‘Exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor;
From my bones may some avenger rise.’
Love making the rivalry between Rome and Carthage spurt from his torch, then setting fire with his flame to the funeral pyre whose blaze the fleeing Aeneas saw reflected on the waves, is all quite different from a dreamer walking through a wood, or a libertine vanishing by drowning himself in a lake. Madame Sand will, I hope, wed her talent one day to subjects as durable as her genius.
Madame Sand will only be converted by the preaching of that missionary with the bald head and white beard, called Time. A less austere voice currently holds the poet’s ear captive. Now, I am persuaded that Madame Sand’s talent is partially rooted in corruption; she would be commonplace if she were modest. It would be otherwise if she had permanently resided in that sanctuary unfrequented by men; her power of love, restrained and hidden beneath a virginal fillet, would have drawn from her breast those seemly melodies which belong to woman and the angels. However that may be, audacity in doctrine and voluptuousness in morals represent ground not yet tilled by a daughter of Adam, who, given over to feminine culture, has produced a harvest of unknown flowers. Let us suffer Madame Sand to give birth to such perilous marvels till winter approaches; she will sing no more when the North Wind blows; while waiting let us hope that, less lacking in foresight than the Cicada, she will make provision of her glory for the day when a dearth of pleasure strikes. Musarium’s mother told him: ‘You will not be eighteen forever. Will Chaereas always remember his vows, tears, and kisses?
Furthermore, many women have been seduced as if transported by their youth; nearer autumn, retreating to the maternal hearth, they have added a sombre or plaintive string to their cithara with which to express religion or misfortune. Old age is a traveller by night; the earth is hidden from it, it only sees the heavens glittering above its head.
I have not met with Madame Sand dressed as a man, or wearing the blouse and carrying the iron-shod staff of a mountaineer: I have not seen her drink of the Bacchantes’ cup, or smoke indolently while seated on a sofa like a Sultana: natural or affected idiosyncrasies which for me add nothing to her charm or genius.
Is she any more inspired, when she makes a cloud of vapour rise from her lips to wreathe her hair? Did Lélia escape from her mother’s brain as a puff of smoke, as Sin emerged in a wreath of flame from the head of the guilty Archangel, according to Milton? I do not know who passes to the sacred courts; but down here, Nemea, Phila, Lais, the spiritual Gnathene, Phryne, who made Apelles despair of his brush, Praxiteles of his chisel, Leaena who was loved by Harmodius, the two sisters surnamed Aphyes, because they were small and large-eyed, Doricha, whose hair-ribbon and scented robe were consecrated in Venus’ temple, all those enchantresses, in the end, knew only Arabia’s perfumes. Madame Sand, on her side, has, it is true, the authority of the Odalisques and young Mexican girls who dance with cigars between their lips.
What effect has the sight of Madame Sand had on me, following that of the few gifted women, and many delightful women whom I have known, following that of those daughters of the earth, who like Madame Sand said with Sappho: ‘Come, Mother of Love, to our delicious banquets, fill our cups with the nectar of roses?’ In my addressing now fiction now reality, the author of Valentine has made on me two very different impressions.
Regarding fiction I shall not speak, since I ought no longer to understand its language; regarding reality, as a man of mature age, cherishing notions of propriety, attaching as a Christian the highest value to the virtue of modesty in women, I have no idea how to express my unhappiness at such qualities bestowed on those prodigal and faithless hours that are consumed only to vanish.
Book XLII: Chapter 8: Monsieur de Talleyrand
In the spring of this year, 1838, I was occupied with The Congress of Verona, which I was obliged to publish according to the terms of my literary contract: I have spoken of it in the appropriate place in these Memoirs. A man has died; that guardsman of the aristocracy follows the powerful plebeians who have already vanished.
When Monsieur de Talleyrand first appeared on the stage of my political career, I spoke a few words to him. Now his whole existence is revealed to me by his last hour, in accord with that fine saying of the ancients.
I had dealings with Monsieur de Talleyrand; as a man of honour I was loyal to him, as you have seen, especially regarding the falling-out at Mons, when I sacrificed myself freely for him. Quite simply, I shared in disagreeable things that happened to him, and I pitied him when Maubreuil slapped his face. There was a time when he pursued me in a charming manner; he wrote to me at Ghent saying, as you have read, that I was a strong man; when I was lodging at the house on the Rue des Capucines, he sent me, with perfect gallantry, a Foreign Office seal, a talisman engraved no doubt under the sign of his constellation. Perhaps it was because I did not abuse his generosity that he became my enemy without any provocation on my part, when I achieved a little success which was not his work. His remarks travelled the world and failed to offend me since Monsieur de Talleyrand could not have offended anyone; but his intemperate language absolved me, and since he allowed himself to criticise me, he left me free to employ the same right in his regard.
Monsieur Talleyrand’s vanity deceived him; he mistook his status for genius; he thought himself a prophet in fooling everyone: his authority regarding future events was worthless: he saw nothing in advance, he only saw in retrospect. Lacking insight and the light of conscience he revealed nothing that superior intellect can, he valued nothing that probity does. He took a leading part in chance events, when those events, which he never foresaw, had occurred, but only on his own behalf. He was ignorant of that breadth of ambition, which submerges personal interests in public glory as the treasure most profitable to private interest. Monsieur de Talleyrand did not belong then to that class of beings fitted to become fantastic creations around which public opinion, deceived or disappointed, is forever weaving its fantasies. Nevertheless it is certain that various sentiments, in sympathy with diverse ideas, worked to create an imaginary Talleyrand.
Firstly that kings, governments, former foreign ministers, and ambassadors were erstwhile dupes of this man, and incapable of grasping him, is proof that they merely obeyed a higher reality: they would have doffed their hats to Bonaparte’s kitchen-boy.
Then, the members of the old French aristocracy linked to Monsieur de Talleyrand were proud to have a man among their ranks who was so kind as to reassure them of its importance.
Finally, the revolutionaries and the generations without morals, while ranting against titles, have a secret leaning towards aristocracy: these curious converts willingly seek baptism and think to acquire fine manners by it. At the same time, the Prince’s dual apostasy delighted the young democrats’ pride in another way: since they concluded from it that their cause was just, and that noblemen and priests are quite contemptible.
Whatever we make of these obstacles to the light, Monsieur de Talleyrand was not great enough to create a lasting illusion; he had not within him enough power of belief to turn his lies into heightened stature. He was seen too clearly; he will not live, because his life was linked neither to a national idea that has survived him, nor a celebrated action, nor peerless talent, nor some useful invention, nor some epoch-making concept. Remembrance with regard to virtue is denied him; danger did not even deign to honour his days; he spent the reign of Terror outside the country, he only returned when the forum transformed itself into the antechamber.
Diplomatic records prove Talleyrand’s mediocrity: you cannot cite an action of any worth which is due to him. Under Bonaparte, none of the important negotiations were his; when he was free to act alone he let the opportunity slip and marred what he touched. It is well attested that he brought about the death of the Duc d’Enghien; that bloody stain cannot be effaced: far from having pursued the Minister in my account of the prince’s death, I have been too lenient with him.
In his statements in defiance of the truth, Monsieur de Talleyrand displayed fearful effrontery. I have not spoken, in the Congress of Verona, of the speech which he made to the Chamber of Peers relative to my address regarding the War in Spain; his speech began with these solemn words:
‘It is sixteen years ago now that, summoned by the man who governed the world at that time, to give him my advice on engaging in conflict with the Spanish people, I had the misfortune to displease him by unveiling the future, by revealing to him all the host of dangers which would ensue from an aggressive action no less unjust than foolhardy. Disgrace was the fruit of my sincerity. A strange fate it is that brings me, after such an extent of time, to make the same effort, and to offer the same counsel, to a legitimate sovereign!’
There are fits of forgetfulness or deceit which terrify: you open your ears, you rub your eyes, not knowing whether you are awake or asleep. When the imperturbable individual to whom you owe such assertions descends from the rostrum and takes his seat impassively, you follow him with your gaze, suspended as you are between a kind of astonishment and a sort of admiration; you are unsure whether the man has not received some authority from nature giving him the power to recreate or annihilate the truth.
I did not reply; it seemed to me that the shade of Bonaparte would rise to speak, and repeat the terrifying rebuttal he had once given Monsieur de Talleyrand. Witnesses to that scene were still sitting among the Peers, including Monsieur le Comte de Montesquiou; the virtuous Duc de Doudeauville recounted it to me, having heard it from the lips of that same Monsieur de Montesquiou, his brother-in-law; Monsieur le Comte de Cessac, present at the time, repeated his account of it to whoever would listen: he had thought that on leaving the room, the Grand Elector would be arrested. Napoleon, in his anger, shouted at his whey-faced Minister: ‘That’s fine, for you to speak against the Spanish War, you who advised it, you from whom I have a pile of letters in which you sought to prove to me that such a war was as necessary as it was politic.’ Those letters vanished when the archives were removed from the Tuileries in 1814.
Monsieur de Talleyrand in his speech claimed that he had the misfortune to displease Bonaparte by unveiling the future, by revealing all the dangers which would ensure from an act of aggression no less unjust than foolhardy. Let Monsieur de Talleyrand console himself in his tomb, he had not that misfortune; he need not add that calamity to his life’s afflictions.
Monsieur de Talleyrand’s principal crime regarding the Legitimacy was to turn Louis XVIII away from the idea of concluding a marriage between the Duc de Berry and a Russian princess; Monsieur de Talleyrand’s inexcusable crime regarding France was to have agreed to the disgusting Treaty of Vienna.
The result of Monsieur de Talleyrand’s negotiations was to leave us without proper frontiers: the loss of a battle at Mons or Coblenz would lead in a week to enemy cavalry deploying beneath the walls of Paris. Under the old monarchy, not only was France encircled by a ring of fortresses, but she was protected on the Rhine by the independent States of Germany. An invasion of the Electorates or agreement with them was needed to approach us. On another front, Switzerland remained free and neutral; it possessed few roads; nothing would violate its territory. The Pyrenees were impassable, guarded by the Spanish Bourbons. Monsieur de Talleyrand understood none of this; such are the crimes that will condemn him forever as a statesman: crimes that robbed us in a day of Louis XIV’s labours and Napoleon’s victories.
They claim that he was Napoleon’s political superior: firstly it is necessary to bear in mind that in carrying the portfolio of a conqueror, who every morning issues a victory bulletin and alters the boundaries of States, one is a clerk pure and simple. When Napoleon was elated, he made enormous errors obvious to all: Monsieur de Talleyrand saw them as clearly as everyone else; but that required no lynx-eyed vision. He compromised himself in a curious manner in the affair of the Duc d’Enghien; he was wrong about the Spanish War, though he later sought to deny his advice and retract his words.
Yet an actor gains no prestige if he is utterly lacking in the means to entertain the stalls: and the Prince’s life was a perpetual deception. Knowing what he lacked, he hid from whatever might reveal him: his constant study was to avoid assessment; he withdrew into opportune silence; he concealed himself in the three silent hours he gave to whist. One marvels that such a genius could descend to vulgar amusement: who knows if that genius was not sharing out empires while arranging the suits in his hand? During those moments of evasion, he would dream up a witty phrase, whose inspiration came to him from a leaflet that morning, or a conversation that night. If he took you aside to distinguish you by his conversation, his principal means of seducing you was to shower you with praise, to call you the hope of the future, to predict a brilliant career for you, to give you a nobleman’s bill of exchange to be drawn on him and payable on sight; but if he found your faith in him the least bit suspect, if he perceived that you had insufficient admiration for a few brief phrases with pretensions to profundity, in which there was nothing, he shrank with fear lest he display the contents of his mind. He would happily have told all, were his pleasantries only to fall on some subaltern or a fool, with whom he could amuse himself without risk, or a victim attached to his person and a foil for his raillery. He could not pursue a serious conversation; when his lips had opened thrice, his ideas expired.
Old engravings of the Abbé de Périgord reveal a highly attractive individual; Monsieur de Talleyrand turned into a death’s-head as he aged: his eyes were dull, such that it was hard to read them, which served him well; as he was the frequent recipient of contempt, he had absorbed it, and it showed at the drooping corners of his mouth.
‘Portraits of Talleyrand’
François-Séraphin Delpech (French, 1778 - 1825)
Yale University Art Gallery
A grand manner belonging to his lineage, the rigorous observation of the proprieties, a cold and disdainful air, contributed to nourish the illusions adhering to the Prince of Benevento. His Imperial manner was practised on petty individuals and the men of the new society, who knew nothing of the society of the past. Formerly one met people, at every corner, whose allure resembled that of Monsieur de Talleyrand, and one took no notice of it; but almost alone among the democratic mores, he seemed a phenomenon: to suffer the yoke of propriety, it suited his self-esteem to imbue his Ministerial wit with the influence exercised by his education.
When while occupying high office one finds oneself involved in mighty revolutions, they give one a chance importance that the crowd takes for personal merit; lost in Bonaparte’s radiance Monsieur de Talleyrand nevertheless shone, under the Restoration, with the borrowed light of a destiny not his own. The accidental situation of the Prince of Benevento allowed him to attribute to himself the power of having overthrown Napoleon, and the honour of having re-established Louis XVIII on the throne; I myself, like all the idle onlookers, was I not foolish enough as to subscribe to that fable! Better informed, I understood that Monsieur de Talleyrand was no Warwick the Kingmaker: his arms lacked the strength that pulls down and restores monarchies.
Impartial simpletons said: ‘We admit he is a very immoral person, but how skilful!’ Alas, no! That last hope must be foregone, so consoling for his supporters, so desirable for the prince’s memory, the hope of making a daemon out of Monsieur de Talleyrand.
Beyond certain commonplace negotiations, in the course of which he was skilful enough as to place his own personal interests first, nothing much was required of Monsieur de Talleyrand.
Monsieur de Talleyrand prided himself on a few habits and maxims employed by his private hangers-on and wretched subjects. His appearance when in public, modelled on that of a Viennese Minister, was the peak of his diplomacy. He prided himself on never being under pressure; he said that time is our enemy and must be slain: based on that he promoted himself as rarely being busy.
But as, in the last result, Monsieur de Talleyrand could not transform his idle hours into masterpieces, it is likely that he was wrong to speak of the necessity of abolishing time: one conquers time only by creating immortal things; by effort with no future, by frivolous distraction, one does not slay it: one expends it.
Entering government on Madame de Staël’s recommendation, she obtaining his nomination from Chénier, Monsieur de Talleyrand, then quite destitute, made his fortune five or six times over: through the million he received from Portugal which hoped to sign a peace treaty with the Directory, a peace which was never signed; through buying Belgian bonds at the time of the Peace of Amiens, which he, Monsieur de Talleyrand, knew about before it was known to the public; through the creation of the transient kingdom of Etruria; through the secularisation of ecclesiastical property in Germany; and through passing on second-hand his opinions of the Congress of Vienna. It was not merely the old papers from our archives that the Prince wished to yield to Austria: duped on that occasion by Prince von Metternich, the latter religiously returned the originals having had a copy made.
Incapable of writing even a phrase, Monsieur de Talleyrand obtained competent work from those under him: when, despite deletions and alterations, his secretary managed to write his despatches to his liking, he copied them in his own hand. I have heard him read some pleasing passages, on his youth, from the beginning of his memoirs. As his tastes varied, he detesting the next day what he had loved the day before, then if those memoirs exist in their entirety, which I doubt, and if the contrasting versions have been preserved, his judgements on any given event and above all on any one individual will be outrageously self-contradictory. I do not believe there are any manuscripts stored in England; the command it is claimed that he gave not to publish them for forty years seems to me a posthumous juggling-trick.
Lazy and unstudied, of a frivolous and dissipated nature, the Prince of Benevento gloried in what should have humbled his pride, the feat of remaining standing after the fall of empires. Spirits of the first order who make revolutions vanish; spirits of the second order who profit from them remain. These latter-day industrialised personages assist in the march of generations; they are charged with stamping visas on passports, with ratifying decisions: Monsieur de Talleyrand was of that inferior species; he countersigned events, he did not create them.
To survive governments, to remain when power dissipates, to declare oneself a permanent fixture, to boast of belonging to the country alone, of being a man of things and not a man of individuals, is a fatuity of insecure egoism, which tries to hide its lack of height in lofty words. Today there are hosts of characters possessing that equanimity, hosts of those citizens of the earth: however, in order for there to be greatness in growing old like a hermit among the ruins of the Coliseum, they must be guarded by the cross; Monsieur de Talleyrand has trodden his underfoot.
Our species divides into two unequal parts: the men of death beloved of it, a select band that is re-born; and the men of life forgotten by life, a multitude of nobodies who are not. The transient existence of the latter consists of a name, credit, a position, wealth; their fame, their authority, their power vanish with their person: their rooms and their coffin once closed, so is their destiny. That is what has happened to Monsieur de Talleyrand; his mummy, before descending into the crypt, was exposed for a moment in London, as representing the royal cadaver that rules us.
Monsieur de Talleyrand betrayed every government, and, I repeat, he neither created nor destroyed one. He had no real superiority, in the true meaning of those words. A minnow of banal prosperity, so common among the aristocracy, cannot step two paces beyond the grave. Evil which does not manifest itself in some terrible explosion, evil parsimoniously employed by the slave to his master’s profit, is mere depravity. Vice, tolerant of crime, becomes domesticated. Imagine a plebeian Monsieur de Talleyrand, poor and obscure, possessing along with his immorality only his incontestable salon wit, and one would surely never have heard a word about him. Remove from Monsieur de Talleyrand the Grand Seigneur debased, the married priest, the degraded bishop, and what remains? His reputation and success depended on those three depravations.
The comedy with which the prelate crowned his eighty-four years was a pitiful thing: firstly, to prove his strength, he went to the Institute to pronounce the common eulogy on a poor German idiot whom he cared nothing for. Despite our eyes having had their fill of spectacle, people made haste to see the great man appear; then he died at home, like Diocletian, displaying himself to the world. The crowd gaped; in this three-quarters putrefied Prince’s last moments, a gangrenous wound in his side, his head falling onto his chest despite the bandage which restrained it, playing out minute by minute his reconciliation with Heaven, his niece playing a role arranged at a distance between a deluded priest and a deceived grand-daughter: he signed with wearisome difficulty (or perhaps did not even sign), when his speech was almost extinguished, a disavowal of his previous adherence to the constitutional Church; but without giving any sign of repentance, without fulfilling the last duties of a Christian, without retracting the immoral and scandalous actions of his life. Never has pride shown itself so wretched, admiration appeared so foolish, and piety been so deceived: Rome, ever prudent, has not made the retraction public, and with good reason.
Monsieur de Talleyrand, called at a late date to the great tribunal, was sentenced in absentia; death sought him on behalf of God, and found him at last. To analyse minutely a life as marred as that of Monsieur de Lafayette was whole, means confronting distasteful things that I am incapable of handling. Corrupt men resemble prostitutes’ corpses: the ulcers have gnawed them so much they cannot be dissected. The French Revolution was a vast act of political destruction at the heart of previous society: let us fear lest it creates a more fatal act of destruction, let us fear moral destruction hand in hand with that Revolution’s evils. What would become of the human race if people tried to bring back ways of life that have rightly atrophied, if they attempted to offer up for our enthusiastic reception odious examples, to present the century’s progress, the establishment of liberty, or depth of genius to us, in the form of abject natures or atrocious actions? Not daring to advocate evil under its true name, people employ sophistry: be careful not to mistake that brute for a spirit of darkness, it is an angel of light! All ugliness is beautiful; every disgrace is honourable; every enormity is sublime; and every vice has its attendant admirers. We have returned to that materialistic pagan society where every depravity had its altars. Behind such praise, lie the cowards, liars, and criminals, who warp the public conscience, debauch youth, discourage the good, who are an outrage to virtue, and who spit like the Roman soldier into Christ’s face!
Book XLII: Chapter 9: The Death of Charles X
When I was in Prague in 1833, Charles X said to me: ‘Is old Talleyrand still alive then?’ And yet Charles X left this life two years before Monsieur de Talleyrand; the private and Christian death of the monarch contrasted with the public death of the apostate bishop, dragged recalcitrant to the feet of divine incorruptibility.
On the 3rd of October 1836 I wrote the following letter to Madame la Duchesse de Berry and added a postscript on the 15th November of that year:
Monsieur Walsh has sent me the letter with which you choose to honour me. I would be ready to obey Your Royal Highness’ wishes, if writing could achieve anything at present; but public opinion has fallen into such a state of apathy that the greatest events would scarcely rouse it. You have allowed me, Madame, to speak to you with a freedom that my devotion alone might excuse: Your Royal Highness knows I have been opposed to almost everything that has been done; I even dared to disagree with your trip to Prague. Henri V is no longer a child; he will soon enter society with an education which has taught him nothing of the century in which we live. Who will be his guide, who will show him courts and men? Who will make him understand how to present himself to France from afar? Important questions which, probably and unfortunately, will be resolved in the same way as all the others have been. Be that as it may, the remainder of my life belongs to my young king and his august mother. My predictions as to the future will never make me forget my duty.
Madame de Chateaubriand begs permission to lay her respects at Your Majesty’s feet. I offer all my prayers to Heaven for the glory and prosperity of Henri V’s mother and I am with profound respect,
Your Royal Highness’ very humble and obedient servant,
P. S. This letter has been waiting a month for an opportunity to send it to Madame securely. Today I learnt of the death of Henri’s august grand-father. Will that sad news bring any change in Your Royal Highness’ fate? May I dare to beg Madame to permit me to share in all the feelings of sorrow that she must be experiencing, and to offer the respectful tribute of my grief to Monsieur le Dauphin and Madame la Dauphine?
Charles X is no more.
Sixty years of misfortune adorned the victim!
Thirty years of exile; death at seventy-nine in a foreign land! So that none might doubt the unfortunate fate with which Heaven had charged the Prince in this world, the scourge came seeking him.
Charles X at his last hour found the peace and equanimity of spirit which he sometimes lacked in his long career. When he learnt of the danger threatening him, he contented himself with saying: ‘I did not think this illness would end so quickly.’ When Louis XVI departed for the scaffold, the officer in charge refused to accept the condemned man’s last testament because time was short, and he, the officer, had to conduct the King to his execution: the King replied: ‘That is only right.’ If Charles X, at other times of danger, had treated his life with such indifference, what miseries he would have been spared! It seems the Bourbons believe in a religion which renders them noble in their final hour: Louis IX, blessing his descendants, sends his saintly courage to await them at the edge of the grave. That race indeed knows how to die: true, it has had more than eight centuries to learn death.
Charles X died persuaded that he was not mistaken: if he hoped for divine mercy, it is because of the sacrifice he believed he had made of his throne for what he considered to be the duty of his conscience and the good of his nation: conviction is too rare to be dismissed. Charles X was able in that way to bear witness that the reign of his two brothers and his own had not lacked freedom or glory: under the martyred king, America’s enfranchisement and France’s emancipation; under Louis XVIII, representative government for our country, and the re-establishment of a working monarchy in Spain; under Charles X, Greek independence achieved at Navarino, Africa left to us in compensation for the territory lost along with the conquests of the Republic and Empire: those are the results which still speak of our splendour despite stupid jealousies and vain enmities. Those results will become more glaring the deeper we sink in the abasement of the July Monarchy. But it is to be feared that those priceless ornaments will only redound to the glory of vanished days, as the chaplet of flowers on Homer’s brow was respectfully banished from Plato’s Republic. The Legitimacy seems now to have no desire to continue; it appears to have accepted its fall.
The death of Charles X would be a significant event if it put an end to the deplorable struggle over the crown and set a new direction for Henri V’s education: now, it is to be feared that the exiled crown will always be in dispute; that his education will be completed virtually without change. Perhaps, by sparing himself the pain of involvement, he will slumber among those habits dear to powerlessness, kind to family life, soothing to the lassitude that succeeds lengthy suffering. Misfortune when perpetuated produces the effect of old age on the body: one cannot stir: one rests. Misfortune even seems the executor of Heaven’s high justice: it strips the condemned man of everything, snatches away the king’s sceptre, and the officer’s sword; it robs the nobleman of his propriety, the soldier of his courage, and pushes them degraded into the crowd.
On the other hand, from extreme youth one derives reasons for procrastination: when one has plenty of time to expend one is persuaded one can afford to wait; there are years to gamble on events: ‘It will come to us,’ people say, ‘without us putting ourselves to any trouble; everything has to ripen, the monarchy’s day will arrive of its own accord; in twenty years the prejudice against it will have vanished.’ That calculation might be credible to some extent if generations did not pass and become gradually indifferent; but something may seem essential to one epoch that is not even considered by another.
Alas! How quickly things vanish! Where are the three brothers whose reigns I witnessed in succession? Louis XVIII is at Saint-Denis with the mutilated remains of Louis XVI; Charles X has just been laid to rest at Goritz, in a tomb with three locks.
The remains of that king fallen from on high have troubled his ancestors; they have turned about in their sepulchre; squeezing together they have said: ‘Take your places: here is the last of us.’ Bonaparte made less noise on entering eternal night: the ancient dead did not wake to greet the Emperor of the recent dead. They failed to recognize him. The French monarchy binds the ancient world to the modern. Romulus Augustus relinquished the crown in 476. Five years later, in 481, our first line of kings reigned, with Clovis, over the Gauls.
‘Bedford Hours - Legend of the Fleurs de Lys
God dispatches an angel to entrust the fleurs de lys to the hermit of Joyenval, who hands them to Clovis's wife Clothilda.
In the foreground she presents them, in the form of a shield, to Clovis, who is newly converted into a Christian knight.’
Master of the Munich Golden Legends - Paris (1414 - 1423)
The British Library
Charlemagne, in bringing Louis the Debonair to the throne, said: ‘My son, beloved of God, my years flee, and old age itself escapes me; the time of my death approaches. The land of the Franks saw my birth. Christ accorded me that honour. First among the Franks I took the name of Caesar and tied the Empire of the Franks to the race of Romulus.’
Under Hugh Capet, with the third lineage, the elected monarchy became hereditary. Heredity gave birth to legitimacy, permanence, duration.
The Christian Empire of the French may be said to have run its course between the baptismal font of Clovis and the scaffold of Louis XVI. The one religion stood beside those marks: ‘Gentle Sicambrian, bow your head, adore what you once burned: burn what you once adored,’ said the priest who administered baptism by water to Clovis. ‘Scion of Saint Louis, mount to Heaven,’ said the priest who assisted at Louis XVI’s baptism of blood.
When there was only this one ancient house in France, weathered by time whose majesty astonished, we could, by reason of illustrious events, display our superiority over all other nations. The Capets reigned when other European sovereigns were still subject. Our kings’ vassals became kings. Those sovereigns left us their names and titles which posterity has judged authentic: some were called august, saintly, pious, great, courteous, bold, wise, victorious, well-beloved; others father of the nation, father of learning. ‘As it has been maliciously written,’ says an old historian, ‘that all the good kings could easily be portrayed in a ring, the bad kings of France could be portrayed more easily still, so small is their number.’
Under the monarchy, the barbarian darkness was dissipated, the language formed, masterpieces of art and literature were produced, our towns were embellished, monuments raised, roads opened, harbours built, our armies astonished Europe and Asia, our fleets spanned the oceans.
Our pride is irked merely by the exhibition of those magnificent tapestries of the Louvre; ghosts, even embroidered ones, trouble us. Unknown this morning, yet more unknown this evening, we are no less convinced that we outshine what came before us. And yet, every moment, as we vanish, we ask ourselves: ‘What are you?’ and do not know what to reply. Charles X has replied; he has departed along with a whole age of the world; his dust has mingled with the dust of a thousand generations; history salutes him, the centuries kneel beside his tomb; everyone knew his lineage; it did not fail them, it was they who were found wanting.
Exiled king, men were able to proscribe you, but you will not be driven from history, you will sleep your harsh sleep in a monastery, beneath the last plank of a coffin once destined for some Franciscan. No heralds of arms attend your obsequies, only a crowd of ancient years blanched and withered; no great men cast their noble emblems into the vault, they have paid their homage elsewhere. Silent centuries are seated beside your bier: a long procession of past days, their eyes closed, lead the silent mourning round your tomb.
At your side rest your heart and entrails cut from your breast and side, as one places the abortive fruit of her womb that cost her life beside a dead mother. Each year, Christian monarch, a monk after your death, some brother will recite to you the prayers for the Old Year; you will only attract to your eternal resting place those descendants exiled with you: for even the tomb of Mesdames at Trieste is empty; their country has seen their sacred relics once more and you have paid those noble ladies debt to exile, by your exile.
Ah! Why do they not reunite those scattered remains now, as they bring together antiques found in different excavations? The Arc de Triomphe might bear Napoleon’s sarcophagus as a crown, the column of bronze might rise over the immortal remains of motionless victories. And yet the pillar cut by order of Sesostris now buries Louis XVI’s scaffold beneath the weight of centuries. The hour will come when that obelisk from the desert will once again know, in the place where murder was done, the silence and the solitude of Luxor.
Book XLII: CONCLUSION
25th of September 1841.
I began these Memoirs at the Vallée-aux-Loups on the 4th of October 1811; I have finished re-reading and correcting them in Paris this 25th of September 1841: for twenty-nine years, eleven months, and twenty-one days therefore, I have been exercising my pen secretly while composing my published books, in the midst of all the revolutions and vicissitudes of my existence. My hand is tired: may it not have weighed down my ideas which have never weakened and which I conceive as vividly now as at the start of my career! I intended to add a general conclusion to my thirty years’ labour; I planned, as I have often remarked, to comment on the state of the world when I entered it, and how it appears as I leave it. But the hour-glass is before me, I can see the hand sailors one believed they saw emerging from the waves at the moment of shipwreck: that hand bids me be brief; I will therefore reduce the scale of the picture without omitting anything essential.
Book XLII: Chapter 10: Historic antecedents: from the Regency to 1793
Louis XIV died. The Duc d’Orléans was Regent during the minority of Louis XV. War with Spain broke out, followed by the Cellamare conspiracy: peace was re-established with the fall of Alberoni. Louis XV attained his majority on the 15th of February 1723. The Regent succumbed ten months later. He had communicated his gangrene to France, placing Dubois in Fénelon’s chair, and elevating Law. The Duc de Bourbon became Louis XV’s First Minister, and he had as successor Cardinal Fleury whose genius consisted in his years. In 1734, the war broke out in which my father was wounded before Danzig. In 1745 the Battle of Fontenoy was fought; one of the least bellicose of our kings brought us victory in the only great classic battle we have won against the English, and the conqueror of the world added at Waterloo one more disaster to those of Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt. The church of Waterloo is adorned with the names of English officers who fell in 1815; in the church of Fontenoy there is only a stone with these words: ‘Before this stone there lies the body of Messire Philippe de Vitry who, aged twenty-seven, was killed at the Battle of Fontenoy on the 11th of May 1745.’ No marker indicates the site of the action; but they dig skeletons from the earth with flattened musket-balls in their skulls. The French bear their victories written on their brows.
‘View of the Battle of Fontenoy, 1745’
Jean Baptiste Guélard, Limosin, 1745 - 1748
Much later the Comte de Gisors, son of the Marshal of Belle-Isle, fell at Krefeld. With him the name and direct line of Fouquet was extinguished. The world passed from Mademoiselle de La Vallière to Madame de Chateauroux. There is something sad in seeing great names vanish, from century to century, beauty to beauty, glory to glory.
In June 1745 the Young Pretender began his adventure: misfortunes which I was nurtured on while waiting for Henri V to replace the English Pretender in exile.
The end of those wars announced our disasters in the colonies. La Bourdonnais avenged the French flag in Asia; his dispute with Dupleix after the taking of Madras ruined everything. The peace of 1748 suspended these misfortunes; hostilities recommenced in 1755; they opened with the Lisbon earthquake in which Racine’s grandson died. Under the pretext of some disputed territory on the Acadian border, the English without declaring war seized three hundred of our merchant vessels; we lost Canada: events immense in their consequences on which depended the deaths of Wolfe and Montcalm. Despoiled of our possessions in Africa and India, Lord Clive began the conquest of Bengal. Now, during that period, the Jansenist disputes took place; Damiens was executed by Louis XV; Poland was partitioned, the expulsion of the Jesuits carried out, the court stooped to the Parc aux Cerfs. The author of the Family Compact retired to Chanteloup, while an intellectual revolution took place led by Voltaire. Maupeou’s plenary court was installed: Louis XV left the scaffold to his favourite whom he had degraded, having passed Garat and Sanson on to Louis XVI, the one to read, and the other to execute his sentence.
The latter monarch was married on the 16th of May 1770 to the daughter of Maria Theresa of Austria: we are only too aware of what happened to her. Ministers came and went: Machault, the aged Maurepas, the economist Turgot, Malesherbes of ancient virtue and new opinions, Saint-Germain who destroyed the King’s house and gave out the fatal decree; Calonne and finally Necker.
Louis XVI recalled the Parliament, abolished feudal labour, abrogated torture before sentencing, and gave the Protestants civil rights, by recognising their marriages as legal. Support for American independence in the war of 1779, unwise for France always duped by her own generosity, was of benefit to the human race; it re-established respect for our armies and the honour of our flag throughout the whole world.
The Revolution arose ready to reveal the generation of warriors that eight centuries of heroism had lodged in its side. Louis XVI’s merits could not redeem the faults that his ancestors had left him to expiate; but the blows of Providence fall on the evil, not on the man: God only abridges the days of virtue on earth to prolong them in Heaven. Beneath the comet of 1793, the waters of the deep were unleashed; all our past glories united and lit their last fire in Bonaparte: he brought them back to us in his coffin.
‘Funérailles de l'Empereur’
Les deux France. Histoire d'un Siècle, 1789-1889. Récits d'une Aïeule Centenaire [i.e. Mme Loyseau de Laubespin] - Mathurin François Adolphe de Lescure (p421, 1889)
The British Library
Book XLII: Chapter 11: The Past – The old European Order expires
I was born during these events. Two new empires, Prussia and Russia, preceded me by barely a half-century on this earth: Corsica became French at the moment I appeared; I arrived in the world twenty days after Bonaparte. He brought me with him. I was about to enter the Navy in 1783 when Louis XVI’s fleet put in to Brest: it carried the birth certificate of a nation hatched beneath the wings of France. My birth is connected with the birth of a man and a people: pale reflection that I was of an immense light.
‘Portrait of Louis XVI, King of France’
Workshop of Joseph Siffrède Duplessis, c. 1777 - c. 1789
If one’s gaze is fixed on the world of today, one sees it shaken, as a result of the movement initiated by a great revolution, from the Middle East to a China which seemed forever closed; such that our past upheavals will be as nothing, and the noise of Napoleon’s fame barely audible in the general convulsion of nations, just as he, Napoleon, drowned out the noise of our former world.
The Emperor left us in a state of prophetic unrest. We, the most mature and advanced of countries, display numerous signs of decadence. As a sick man in peril is preoccupied with the afterlife, a failing nation is troubled about its future fate. From that arises a succession of political heresies. The old European order is expiring; our current debates will appear as futile quarrels in the eyes of posterity. Nothing else survives: the authority derived from age and experience, birth or genius, talent or virtue, all is denied; a few individuals climb to the summit of the ruins, proclaim themselves giants, and tumble to the bottom like pygmies. Except for a score of men who will endure, and who are destined to carry the torch across the shadowy steppes we enter; except for those few men, a generation which carries within it abundant spirit, acquired knowledge, the germs of all kinds of success, has stifled all in a disquiet as unproductive as its magnificence is barren. Nameless multitudes stir without knowing why, like the popular movements of the Middle Ages: starving flocks without a master, that rush from the mountain to the plain, from the plain to the mountain, ignoring experienced shepherds hardened to wind and sun. In the life of a city all is transitory: religion and morality cease to be acknowledged, or each interprets them in their own way. Among things in their nature inferior, even in their very power of conviction and existence, a reputation scarce lasts an hour, a book ages in a day, writers kill themselves to attract attention; yet more vanity: their last cry is not even heard.
Given this tendency it follows that no other means of moving people exists but scenes of the scaffold and a tarnished morality: they forget that the true tears are those a fine poetic engenders, and with which as much admiration as sorrow is mingled; but now that talent feeds on the Regency and the Terror, what need of subjects for those destined so soon to die? The thoughts of human genius, that become a common legacy, will no longer arise.
This is what everyone says and what everyone deplores, yet illusions abound, the nearer we are to dying the more we believe we will live. You can gaze at monarchs who imagine they are monarchs, ministers who think they are ministers, deputies who take their speeches seriously, and proprietors who in possession this morning are convinced they will be in possession tonight. Private interests, personal ambitions hide the gravity of the moment from the vulgar: notwithstanding the fluctuations of daily affairs, they are only ripples on the surface of the abyss; they do not lessen the depth of the waters. Amidst petty inessential lotteries, the human race plays the main chance; kings still hold the cards and hold them on behalf of nations: will the latter show any improvement on those monarchs? That is a separate question, which does not alter the main issue. What importance do childish amusements have: shadows sliding over the whiteness of a shroud? The invasion of ideas has succeeded barbarian invasion; the civilisation of today, decomposing, melts into itself; the vessel which contains it has not decanted its contents into a second vessel; the vessel itself lies shattered.
Book XLII: Chapter 12: Inequality of wealth – Dangers in the nature of intellectual and material growth
When will society disappear? What accidents will suspend its movements? In Rome, the reign of man replaced the reign of law: the Romans passed from republic to empire; our revolution is fulfilling itself in a contrary direction: we are ready to pass from monarchy to republic, or not to specify the exact form, to democracy; it will not be achieved without problems.
To mention only one point in a thousand, will property, for example, remain distributed as it is? The monarchy born at Rheims was able to perpetuate that system of property by tempering its harshness with a diffusion of moral law, just as it changed humaneness into charity. Can a political situation exist in which some individuals have an income of millions, while others die of hunger, when religion is no longer there with its other-worldly hopes to justify the sacrifice? There are children whom their mothers nurture at flaccid breasts for lack of a mouthful of bread with which to feed their dying offspring; there are families whose members are reduced to huddling together at night for want of blankets to warm them. This man sees his countless furrows bear a harvest; that one will never own more than the six feet of earth his native country allots to his grave. Now, how many ears of corn can six feet of earth yield?
As education reaches down to the lower classes, they will discover the secret cancer that gnaws away at the irreligious social order. The excessive disproportion of wealth and living conditions was accepted while it was implicit; but as soon as that disproportion was generally perceived, the old order received its death-blow. Recreate the aristocratic fictions if you can; try to convince the poor, when they have been taught to read and no longer believe, once they are as well-educated as you, try to persuade them then that they must submit to every kind of privation, while their neighbours possess a thousand time their needs: as a last recourse you will have to kill them.
When steam-power has been perfected, when, united with railways and the telegraph, it has abolished distance, it will not be merely goods that travel but ideas too, re-equipped with wings. When the fiscal and trade barriers between various States have been removed, as they have already been removed between the provinces of individual States; when different countries in daily contact seek the unity of all nations, how will you revive former modes of separation?
‘Horse in a Meadow’
Henry van Ingen, 1857
On the other hand, Society is no less threatened by developments of a material nature than it is by the spread of knowledge. Imagine labour condemned to idleness by the multiplicity and variety of new machines; conceive the idea of matter, as a single universal servant, replacing the paid servants of house and farm: what will you do with the unemployed human race? What will you do with the passions fallen idle along with intellect? A vigorous body is maintained by physical exercise; if work ceases, strength fails; we will become like those Asiatic peoples, prey to the first invader, unable to defend themselves against the hand that bore a sword. Thus freedom is only preserved by effort, because effort produces strength: remove the curse pronounced against the sons of Adam: ‘In sudore vultus tui, vesceris pane: in the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread’ and they will die in slavery. The divine curse therefore enters into the mystery of our fate; man is less the slave of his sweat than of his thought: that is why, after studying society as a whole, after passing through various degrees of civilisation, after imagining new forms of progress, one finds oneself at the start once more, in the presence of Scriptural truths.
Book XLII: Chapter 13: The demise of monarchy – The withering away of society and the progress of the individual
Europe possessed in France, during our eight centuries of monarchy, the core of its intellectual life, its permanence and its peace; deprived of that monarchy, Europe immediately inclined towards democracy. The human race has come of age, for good or evil; princes have played the role of guardians; the nations, reaching their majority, claim they have no need now of teachers. From King David’s time to ours, kings have been ‘called’ to the throne: now the people’s vocation begins. The brief and minor exceptions of the Greek, Carthaginian and Roman Republics, the latter with its slave class, did not prevent the monarchical system being the norm throughout the globe. The whole of modern society, now that the banner of the kings of France no longer exists, has deserted monarchy. God, to hasten the decline of royal power, has handed the sceptre to a valueless royalty in several countries, to little girls in their chemises or their white wedding robes: likewise toothless lions, lionesses without claws, infants betrothed or still at the breast, are destined to succeed mature men, in this era of unbelief.
The boldest principles are proclaimed in the face of monarchs who imagine themselves safe behind the triple barrier of an unreliable guard. Democracy is gaining on them; they mount from stair to stair, from the ground-floor to the attics of their palaces, to plunge from them via the sky-lights into the flood.
In the midst of all this, note a remarkable contradiction: our material state improves, intellectual progress accelerates, yet the nations instead of benefiting suffer: from what source does this contradiction arise?
It is because we have lost our moral sense. There have always been crimes; but they were never committed as cold-bloodedly as in our day, because of the loss of religious feeling. Now they no longer cause revulsion, they appear a consequence of progress; if they were judged differently in times past it was because, so people dare claim, knowledge of the human race was not as advanced; now people analyse them; they try them out in a crucible, in order to see what can be usefully got from them, as chemists extract compounds from ordure. Corruption of the spirit, destructive in quite a different manner to that of the senses, is accepted as a necessary outcome; it is no longer just a feature of perverse individuals, it has entered the public domain.
Such people would be humbled were one to prove that they possessed a soul, that beyond this life they would discover another; they would consider they lacked steadfastness, strength and genius if they could not rise above the faint-heartedness of our forefathers; they accept nothingness, or, if you prefer it, doubt, as a disagreeable reality, but a truth that cannot be denied. Admire our dazzling pride!
This is the explanation for the withering away of society and the increase in importance of the individual. If moral sense had developed with the development of understanding, it would provide a counterweight and humanity could develop without risk, but quite the contrary is happening: the perception of good and evil is being obscured as the mind becomes enlightened; conscience is shrinking as ideas expand. Yes, society will perish: freedom, which might save the world, will not advance, without leaning on religion; order, which might maintain a balance, cannot be solidly established, because the anarchy of ideas opposes it. The purple robe, which once evidenced power, will serve from now on only as a couch for misfortune: nothing can be saved that is not born, like Christ, among the straw. When the monarchs were disinterred at Saint-Denis, at that moment when the trumpet sounded the resurrection of nations; when, dragged from their shattered tombs, they awaited a plebeian grave, the rag and bone merchants achieved a last judgement over the centuries: they watched with their lanterns in the eternal night; they rummaged among the remnants that escaped the first pillage. The kings were no longer there, but royalty was: they snatched it from time’s entrails, and threw it in the rubbish basket.
‘Caveaux des Sépultures Royales, dans l'Église Royale de Saint-Denis’
L'illustration: Journal Universel (p77, 1843)
Internet Archive Book Images
Book XLII: Chapter 14: The Future – The difficulty of comprehending it
For the old Europe, then, there is no return. Does the young Europe offer more hope? The world now, the world without consecrated authority, seems lodged between two impossibilities: the impossible past, and an impossible future. And do not believe, as some imagine, that if things are in evil straights at present, good will be reborn from evil; human nature troubled at its source cannot make such easy progress. For example, the excesses of freedom lead to tyranny; but the excesses of tyranny lead only to greater tyranny; the latter by degrading us renders us incapable of liberty: Tiberius did not return Rome to a republic; he left Caligula as his successor.
‘Funeral of the Victims of the Column of July’
Sketches of the French Revolution of 1848 (p29 - 1848)
The British Library
To evade explanation, people are content to say that time may be concealing in its breast a political constitution we have not yet seen. Could the whole of antiquity, the greatest geniuses of antiquity, comprehend a society without slaves? And we see it still in existence. They claim that in the civilisation yet to be born the species will become greater; I myself once advanced that statement; yet is it not to be feared that the individual is diminishing? We may toil together in future like bees preoccupied with our honey. In the material world men associate to work, a multitude arrives more swiftly and by multiple paths at what it seeks; masses of individuals can raise Pyramids; studying in their own speciality, those individuals will meet together in scientific discovery; they will explore all the corners of the physical creation. But is there anything equivalent in the moral world? A thousand minds might well coalesce, but they will never compose the masterpiece which issued from Homer’s brain.
It has been said that a city whose members shared an equal division of possessions and education would present a nobler spectacle to the Divinity than the cities of our forefathers. Present folly seeks the unity of nations and not the creation of a single man from the entire species, so be it; but in acquiring general capabilities, will not a whole set of private sentiments perish? Farewell the tenderness of the fireside; farewell delight in family; among all the beings white, yellow or black, claimed as your compatriots, you will be unable to throw yourself on a brother’s breast. Was there nothing in that life of other days, nothing in that narrow space you gazed at from your ivy-framed window? Beyond your horizon you suspected unknown countries of which the bird of passage, the only voyager you saw in autumn, barely told you. It was happiness to think that the hills enclosing you would not vanish before your eyes; that they would surround your loves and friendships; that the sighing of night around your sanctuary would be the only sound to accompany your sleep; that the solitude of your soul would never be troubled, that you would always find your thoughts there, waiting for you, to take up again their familiar conversation. You knew where you were born; you knew where your grave would be; penetrating the forests you could say:
‘Fair trees that once saw my beginning,
Soon you will witness my end.’
Man has no need to travel to become greater; he bears immensity within. The accents escaping from your breast are immeasurable and find an echo in thousands of other souls: those who lack the melody within themselves will demand it of the universe in vain. Sit on the trunk of a fallen tree in the depths of the woods; if in profound forgetfulness of yourself, in immobility, in silence, you fail to find the infinite, it is useless to wander the shores of the Ganges seeking it.
What would a universal society without individual lands look like, which would be neither French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Tartar, Turkish, Persian, Indian, Chinese, or American, or rather would be all of those societies at once? What would be the effect on morality, the sciences, the arts, poetry? How would the passions felt by different peoples in different climes be simultaneously expressed? How would that confusion of needs and images, the product of different lands where the sun lit a common youth, maturity, and old age be grasped by language? And which language would it be? Will a universal idiom result from the fusion of societies, where some dialect serves for daily transactions, while each nation continues to speak its own language, or perhaps the various languages will be understood by all? What common government, what single set of laws would embrace that society? How would one find space on an earth enlarged by the power of ubiquity, yet shrunk to the smaller proportions of a globe everywhere explored? It would only remain to demand of science some means of transferring to another planet.
Book XLII: Chapter 15: Saint-Simonians – Phalansterians – Fouriérists – Owenites – Socialists – Communists – Unionists - Egalitarians
Weary of individual property, would you make government the sole proprietor, distributing to the possession-less community an amount tailored to the merits of each individual? Who will judge those merits? Who will have the power and authority to have those judgements carried out? Who will administer and value that bank of living assets?
Do you look to labour associations? What will the weak, the sick, and the unintelligent bring to the community burdened by their ineptitude?
Another option: you might create, while replacing wages, various kinds of anonymous society or partnership between manufacturers and workers, between intellect and matter, to which the former would bring capital and ideas, the others their industry and labour; one could share out the profits arising. That is fine, complete perfection achieved among men; fine indeed so long as there is no dispute, no avarice, no envy: but if a single association makes demands, the whole thing collapses; lawsuits and division commence. That method while more credible in theory is also quite impossible in practice.
Do you seek, from a combined approach, the building of a city where each man possesses a roof, a hearth, clothes, and sufficient food? When you come to endow each citizen, qualities and faults will upset your division or render it unjust: this man needs considerably more food than that; that man cannot do as much as this man; careful and hard-working individuals will become wealthy, spendthrifts, idlers, and the sick will fall back into misery; for you cannot give all men the same temperament: natural inequality will re-appear despite all your efforts.
And do not imagine that we will leave ourselves entangled in the legal precautions and complexities which the organisation of the family, matrimonial rights, guardianships, the prior claims of heirs and successors etc. demand. Marriage is a notoriously absurd oppression: we will abolish all that. If the son kills the father, it is not the son, as is easily proven, who commits parricide: it is the father who by living murders the son. Let us not trouble our heads therefore with the labyrinths of an edifice which we are razing to the ground; it is pointless to keep our grand-fathers’ useless trifles.
That notwithstanding, there are among the modern sectarians those who, glimpsing the impossibility of their doctrines, mix words of morality and religion with them, to make them palatable; they think that while awaiting better, they might attract us first of all to more mediocre American ideals; they shut their eyes and clearly choose to forget that the Americans are proprietors and ardent proprietors, which alters the issue somewhat.
Others, yet more obliging, who admit that civilisation has a kind of elegance, would be content to transform us into constitutional Chinese, almost atheist, free and enlightened old creatures, sitting for centuries in our yellow robes among our flower beds, spending our days in as comfortable a state as everyone else, in peace, in the midst of our achieved progress, and only packing ourselves on board train, like a consignment, in order to travel from Canton to the Great Wall to discuss a marsh to be drained, or a canal to be dug, with some other industrialist of the Celestial Empire. On either supposition, American or Chinese, I would be happy to depart before such felicity was mine.
One solution remains: it may be that as the result of a complete debasement of human character, the nations will settle for what they have: they will lose the love of independence, replacing it with love of money, while kings lose their love of power, exchanging it for love of the Civil List. From that would derive a compromise between monarchs and subjects delighted to scramble willy-nilly into an illegitimate political order; at their ease, they would display their infirmities before each other, like the lepers of old, or as in those mud-holes into which the sick of today plunge to soothe themselves; they would paddle through a single mire like peaceable reptiles.
Yet it would be wrong to wish, given the current state of our society, to replace the pleasures of intellectual life with joys of a physical nature. The latter, we know, occupied the time of ancient aristocratic peoples; masters of the world they possessed palaces, crowds of slaves; whole regions of Africa were in their possession. But beneath what porticoes will you pass your meagre hours of leisure? In what vast ornate baths will you enclose the perfumes, flowers, flute-players and courtesans of Ionia? It is no Heliogabulus who requests it. Where will you find the wealth indispensable for such delightful matters? The soul is thrifty; but the body a spendthrift.
Now, a few serious comments on absolute equality: that equality would not only lead to servitude of the body, but also slavery of the soul; it would have no lesser effect than to destroy the moral and physical inequalities of individuals. Our will, in state control, under total surveillance, would see our faculties fall into disuse. Our nature, for example, partakes of the infinite; forbid our minds, or even our passions, from thinking of boundless good, and you reduce man’s life to that of a snail, you metamorphose him into a machine. For, make no mistake: without the possibility of reaching the ultimate, without the idea of eternal life, the void is everywhere; without individual property no one is free; whoever has no property cannot be independent; he becomes a proletarian or a wage-earner, whether he lives in the current era of private property, or in a state of communal ownership. Common ownership would resemble society in one of those monasteries at whose gate the bursar distributed bread. Hereditary and inviolable property is our private defence; property is nothing other than liberty. Absolute equality which presupposes total submission to that equality would emulate the harshest slavery; it would make of the individual human being a somnolent beast, subject to constraining action, and obliged to walk the same path forever.
While I reasoned thus, Monsieur de Lamennais was attacking the same systems, from behind the bars of his gaol, with his powerful logic which enlightens with a poetic splendour. A passage from his pamphlet entitled On the Past and Future of the People completes my argument. Listen then, as he speaks:
‘Of those who propose this aim of rigorous and absolute equality, the more rational ones conclude that to establish and maintain it requires force, despotism, tyranny, in one form or another.
The partisans of absolute equality are forced first of all to attack natural inequalities, in order to lessen or if possible eliminate them. Unable to do anything with the primary state of the organism and its development, their work begins at the moment when the child leaves its mother’s breast. The State then seizes it: the State becomes the absolute master of the spiritual and organic being. Mind and conscience, both depend on the State, both are subject to it. There is an end, from then on, to family, paternity, marriage. A male, a female, children manipulated by the State, of whom it makes what it will, morally, physically, a servitude universal and so profound that nothing escapes it, that it penetrates to the very soul itself.
As regards what concerns material things, equality cannot be established in a way the least bit permanent through simple division. If it acted alone on the earth, one can conceive the world shared out into as many portions as there are individuals; but the number of individuals perpetually varies, therefore the initial division must be perpetually changed. All private property being abolished, only the State has rights of possession. That mode of possession, if voluntary, is that of the monk constrained by his vows to poverty as to obedience; if it is not voluntary, it is that of the slave, where nothing alleviates the harshness of his conditions. All the bonds of humanity, empathetic relationships, mutual devotion, exchange of service, the free gift of self, all which constitutes the charm of life and its grandeur, all, all is gone, gone without hope of return.
The means proposed so far, to resolve the issue of the future of the race, constitute the negation of all the indispensable conditions of existence, destroying, either directly, or implicitly, duty, rights, and the family, and if they could be applied to society would produce, instead of liberty in which all real progress is represented, merely a servitude to which history, however far back one goes, offers nothing comparable.’
There is nothing to add to that logic.
I do not visit prisoners, like Tartuffe, to distribute alms among them, but to enrich my mind among men more worthy than myself. Though their opinions may differ from mine, I fear nothing: a convinced Christian, all the fine geniuses on earth could not weaken my faith; I pity them, and my charity protects me from seduction. If I sin through excess, they sin by default; I understand what they understand, while they do not understand what I understand. In the same prison where once I visited the noble and unfortunate Carrel, I now visit the Abbé de Lamennais. The July Revolution has relegated to the darkness of gaol the remaining men of any superiority, whose merit it cannot judge, and whose brilliance it cannot tolerate. In the highest room, under a low roof you can touch with your hand, we fools, believers in freedom, Félicité de Lamennais and François de Chateaubriand, speak of serious matters. He has debated keenly with himself, his ideas are cast in a religious mould; the form remains Christian, though at root he is far from dogma: his words retain the heavenly tone.
‘Lamennais, d'Après une Lithographie du Cabinet des Estampes’
Alfred de Vigny et son Temps - Léon Séché (p336, 1900)
Internet Archive Book Images
Faithfully professing heresy, the author of L’Essai sur l’indifference speaks my language using ideas that are no longer my ideas. If, after having embraced popular evangelical teaching, he had remained attached to the priesthood, he would have retained the authority that divergence destroys. The priests, the new members of the clergy (and the most distinguished among those churchmen) would have flocked to him; the bishops would be engaged in his cause if he had adhered to Gallic liberty, while venerating St Peter’s successor and defending unity.
In France, youth would have surrounded the missionary in whom they found the ideas they love and the development to which they aspire; in Europe, cautious dissidents would have been no obstacle; great Catholic nations, Poland, Ireland, Spain, would have blessed the enthusiastic preacher. Even Rome would have ended by seeing that the new evangelist would renew the domination of the Church, and furnish the oppressed Pontiff with the means of resisting the influence of absolute monarchs. What a life-force! Intellect, religion, freedom represented by a priest!
God did not wish it so; light was suddenly lacking to him who was the light; the shepherd, stealing away, has abandoned his flock in the night. To my compatriot, whose public career has been interrupted, there still remain both his private superiority and the pre-eminence of his natural gifts. In the natural order of things he should survive me; I leave it till my deathbed to carry on our great debate, at those gates one does not re-pass. I would love to see his genius grant me the absolution that his hand once had the right to bring to my brow. We were cradled at birth by the same waves; may my ardent faith and sincere admiration allow me to hope that I will meet my friend again, reconciled, on the same bank of eternity.
Book XLII: Chapter 16: The Christian ideal is the future of the world
In fact my investigations lead me to conclude that the old society is breaking up, that it is impossible for anyone not a Christian to imagine a future society pursuing its course while satisfying at the same time the purely republican ideal or the modified royalist ideal. On any hypothesis, the improvement you desire can only be grasped through Scripture.
At the heart of current secular theory, there is always plagiarism, a parody of Scripture, always the apostolic principle re-emerges: that principle is so embedded within us, that we treat it as if it belonged to us; we consider it natural, though it is not; it comes to us from our ancient faith, to give that latter two or three degrees of ascendancy over us. The free thinker who occupies himself with perfecting his fellow man would never have though of it if the rights of man had not been formulated by the Son of Man. Every philanthropic act in which we indulge, every system we dream up to the benefit of humanity, is only a return of the Christian ideal, changed in name and too often disfigured: it is always the word made flesh!
Do you choose to say that the Christian ideal is merely the progress of the human ideal? I agree to that; but open up the various cosmogonies and you will realise that Christian revelation advanced traditional Christianity on this earth. If the Messiah had not come and had not spoken, as he himself said, the ideal would not have been clear, the truth would have remained confused, such as one sees in the writings of the ancients. So whichever way you interpret it, it is from revelation, from Christ that you possess all; it is with the Saviour, Salvator, the Consoler, Paracletus, that you must always start; it is from Him that you received the germs of civilisation and philosophy.
You will see then that I find no solution for the future other than in Christianity, and Catholic Christianity; the religion of the Word is the manifestation of truth, as the creation is God made visible. I do not claim that a general renewal has taken place, since I admit that entire nations are sworn to destruction; I also admit that faith has withered in certain countries: but if there remains a single seed of grain, if it falls on a little earth, be that in the debris from a shattered vessel, that grain will grow, and a second incarnation of the Catholic spirit will re-animate society.
Christianity is the most philosophical and rational appreciation of God and the creation; it encapsulates the three great universal laws, the divine law, the moral law, the political law: the divine law, God united in three persons; the moral law, charity; the political law, that is to say liberty, equality and fraternity.
The first two principles have been discussed; the third, political law has not been furthered, because it cannot flower while intelligent belief in infinite being and universal morality are not solidly established. Now, Christianity has first to clear away the absurdities and abominations with which idolatry and slavery have encumbered the human race.
Enlightened people cannot comprehend why a Catholic such as I persists in sitting in the shadow of what they call ruins; according to such people it is an impossible stance, a simple prejudice. But tell me, out of pity where shall I find a family or a god in the individualistic and philosophic society you propose? Tell me and I will follow you; if not then do not find fault if I lie down in Christ’s tomb, the only shelter you leave me in my desolation.
No, I am not adopting an impossible position: I am sincere; this is what has happened to me: all my plans, my studies, and my experiences have disabused me completely of everything that the world pursues. My religious conviction, in growing, has consumed all my other convictions; down here, there is no more faithful Christian and no more sceptical a man than I. Far from being at an end, religion the liberator has scarcely entered its third age, the age of politics, liberty, equality and fraternity. Scripture, a sentence of acquittal, has not yet been read to all; we are still under the curse pronounced by Christ: ‘Woe unto you.who lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers!’
Christianity, fixed in its dogmas, is fluid in its enlightenment; its transformation encompasses the universal transformation. When it attains its highest point, the shadows will have cleared away; freedom, crucified at Calvary with the Messiah, will return with him; freedom will again grant its new testament to the nations, written for their benefit and until now hindered in its execution. Government will pass away, moral evil will vanish, and that renewal will announce the end of centuries of death and oppression born of The Fall.
Pseudo Jan Wellens de Cock, c. 1520
When will that longed-for day occur? When will society reconstitute itself according to the least concealed of generative principles? No one can say; no one can predict the stubbornness of the passions.
Death has numbed the peoples more than once, shedding silence over events, as fallen snow smothers the noise of wheels. Nations do not grow as quickly as the individuals that compose them and do not vanish as swiftly. How much time has to pass to achieve a given thing! The agony of the Later Empire seemed never-ending; the Christian era, already so prolonged, has not sufficed to end slavery. Such calculations, I know, do not suit the French temperament; in our revolutions we never consider the element of time: that is why we are always astonished by results contrary to those we expected. Full of a generous courage, young men are in a hurry; they advance head first towards a lofty region which they glimpse and try hard to attain. Nothing is more worthy of admiration; but they waste their lives in these efforts and reaching the end, after many setbacks, they consign the weight of disillusioned years to further abused generations who carry it to the next grave; and so on. The time of the desert has returned; Christianity begins again in the barren Thebaid, in the midst of a formidable idolatry, the idolatry of man towards himself.
There are two historical consequences, one immediate and instantly known, the other more distant and not yet perceived. These consequences often contradict one another; one derives from our limited wisdom, the other from a wisdom that endures. The workings of Providence are visible after human events. God rises up behind Man. Deny the supreme counsel as much as you wish, disagree that it ever acts, quibble over words, call the power of things or reason what the vulgar call Providence, gaze at the outcome of some given event, and you will see that it has always produced the opposite effect to that intended, whenever it has not first been established in morality and justice.
If Heaven has not pronounced its Last Judgement; if a future is to exist, a powerful and free future, that future is still far off, far beyond the visible horizon; it can only be reached with the aid of that Christian hope whose wings spread wider the more all seems to deny it, a hope more permanent than time and stronger than adversity.
Book XLII: Chapter 17: A Recapitulation of my life
(This section has been shortened to avoid duplicating the 1833 Preface.)
Will this work inspired by my ashes and destined for my ashes survive me? It may be that my work is bad; it may be that these Memoirs will fade in the light of day: at least the things I have recounted to myself will have served to beguile the tedium of these last hours which no one wants and which one does not know how to employ. The end of life is a bitter time; nothing pleases because one is worthy of knowing; useful to none, a burden to all, near our last resting-place it takes only a step to reach it: what point is there in dreaming on a desert shore? What delightful shadows could one glimpse in the future? Fie on the clouds now hovering above my head!
One idea returns to trouble me: my conscience is uneasy regarding the innocence of my nightly labours; I fear the effects of my blindness and man’s indulgence towards his faults. Is what I have written in accord with true justice? Have morality and charity been carefully observed? Had I the right to speak of others? What use would my repentance be, if these Memoirs did harm? All you, unknown and obscure on earth, you whose lives pleasing to religion work miracles, hail to your secret virtues!
Some poor man deprived of knowledge, one whom no one will ever care about, has exerted on his companions in suffering, solely by his moral stance, that divine influence which emanated from Christ’s virtues. The finest book in the world is not worth a single unknown act of those nameless martyrs whose blood Herod mingled with that of their sacrifices.
You have seen my birth; you have seem my childhood, my idolatry of my strange creation in the Château of Combourg, my presentation at Versailles, and my presence in Paris in the first throes of the Revolution. In the New World I met Washington; I plunged into the forests; shipwreck overtook me on the coast of my native Brittany. Then my sufferings as a soldier transpired, and my poverty as an emigrant. Returning to France I became the author of Le Génie du Christianisme. In a changed society, I made and lost friends. Bonaparte halted me, and threw himself across my path with the bloodstained body of the Duc d’Enghien; I halted in turn, and led the great man from his cradle, in Corsica, to his grave, on St Helena. I participated in the Restoration and saw its end.
Thus I have known public and private life. I have crossed the sea four times; I have followed the sun in the East, touched the ruins of Memphis, Carthage, Sparta and Athens; I have prayed at St Peter’s tomb and worshipped on Golgotha. Poor and rich, powerful and weak, happy and miserable, a man of action and a man of thought, I have given my hand to the century and my mind to the desert; real life has revealed itself to me in the midst of illusion, as land appears to sailors amidst the clouds. If those events, whose tide covered my dreams like the varnish which preserves fragile paintings, are not forgotten, they will mark the places through which my life has passed.
‘Chateaubriand, 1830, Médallions de David d'Angers, Photo Giraudon’
Revue des Études Napoléoniennes (p402, 1912)
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Book XLII: Chapter 18: A summary of the changes which have occurred around the globe in my lifetime
Our grasp of geography has changed entirely since the day when, according to our old saying, I could see the heavens from my bed. If I were to compare terrestrial globes, one from the start of my life, the other from my end, the former is almost unrecognisable. Australia, a fifth part of the land surface has been discovered and peopled: a sixth continent has just been visited by French ships through the polar ice of the Antarctic, and Parry, Ross and Franklin, at our pole, have rounded the coasts which mark the northern limits of America; the mysterious solitudes of Africa have been revealed; ultimately there is not a corner of our world that will remain truly unknown. People are tackling all the languages of the countries into which the world is divided; soon we will doubtless see vessels passing through the Isthmus of Panama and perhaps the Isthmus of Suez.
Historians have made parallel discoveries in the depths of time; sacred languages have yielded their forgotten vocabularies; on the granites of Egypt, Champollion has deciphered those hieroglyphs which seemed like a seal on the lips of the desert, which responded to their eternal discretion. What if fresh revolutions have erased Poland, Holland, Genoa and Venice from the map, other republics occupy part of the coast of the great Ocean and the Atlantic. In those lands, advanced civilisation will lend its aid to energetic natures: steamships will mount those rivers destined to provide easy communications, where they were once invincible obstacles; the shores of those rivers will be covered with towns and villages, as we have seen a new American State emerge from the wastes of Kentucky. Through those forests, reputed to be impenetrable, vehicles, not horses, will run, transporting enormous weights and thousands of travellers. Down those rivers, down those roads, will come timber for the construction of vessels, and the output of the mines which will pay for them; and the Isthmus of Panama will open its locks to grant passage to the vessels of both seas.
The Navy, using steam-power, is not limited to rivers, it has the freedom of the Ocean; distances are shortened; no more currents, monsoons, contrary winds, blockades and closed ports. They were far from such industrial romances in the hamlet of Plancoët: in those days, the ladies played the games of yesteryear by their hearth; peasants would spin hemp to make clothes; feeble resin candles lit the wakeful village; chemistry had not produced its prodigies; machines had not set in motion the water and steel to weave cloth or embroider silk; gas, associated with meteors, had not yet furnished illumination for our streets and theatres.
These transformations are not limited to our planet: with immortal instincts, man has set his intellect soaring; at every step he makes through the firmament, he recognizes miracles of ineffable power. That star, which seemed simple to our forefathers, is double or triple to our eyes; suns interposed before suns obscure each other and lack space for their multitudes. In the centre of the infinite, God sees these magnificent constructs pass before him, proof on proof of the Supreme Being.
Let us conceive, according to our new science, our little planet swimming in an ocean whose waves are stars, in that Milky Way, raw matter of light, fused metal of worlds that the hand of the Creator will fashion. The distance to such stars is so prodigious that their light only reaches the eye that sees them after they have been extinguished, their fires lost before their rays. How small man is on this little atom where he dies! But how great his intelligence! He knows when the face of the stars must be masked in darkness, when the comets will return after thousands of years, he who lasts only an instant! A microscopic insect lost in a fold of the heavenly robe, the orbs cannot hide from him a single one of their movements in the depth of space. What destinies will those stars, new to us, light? Is their revelation bound up with some new phase of humanity? You will know, race to be born; I know not, and I am departing.
Thanks to the superfluity of my years, my monument is finished. It is a great solace to me; I felt someone urging me on: the captain of the vessel in which my seat is reserved was warning me that I had only a moment left to board. If I had been master of Rome, I would have said, like Sulla, that I was completing my Memoirs on the very eve of my death; but I would not have concluded my story with the words he uses in concluding his: ‘In a dream I have seen one of my children who pointed to Metella, his mother, and exhorted me to come and rest in the bosom of eternal happiness.’ If I had been Sulla, glory would never have allowed me rest and happiness.
‘Tombeau de Chateaubriand’
Morceaux Choisis: Extraits des Oeuvres Complètes - Vicomte de François-René Chateaubriand (p586, 1915)
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New storms will arise; one can believe in calamities to come which will surpass the afflictions we have been overwhelmed by in the past; already, men are thinking of bandaging their old wounds to return to the battlefield. However, I do not expect an imminent outbreak of war: nations and kings are equally weary; unforeseen catastrophe will not yet fall on France: what follows me will only be the effect of general transformation. No doubt there will be painful moments: the face of the world cannot change without suffering. But, once again, there will be no separate revolutions; simply the great revolution approaching its end. The scenes of tomorrow no longer concern me; they call for other artists: your turn, gentlemen!
As I write these last words, my window, which looks west over the gardens of the Foreign Mission, is open: it is six in the morning; I can see the pale and swollen moon; it is sinking over the spire of the Invalides, scarcely touched by the first golden glow from the East; one might say that the old world was ending, and the new beginning. I behold the light of a dawn whose sunrise I shall never see. It only remains for me to sit down at the edge of my grave; then I shall descend boldly, crucifix in hand, into eternity.
‘Chateaubriand Sur Son Lit de Mort’
Morceaux Choisis: Extraits des Oeuvres Complètes - Vicomte de François-René Chateaubriand (p605, 1915)
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The End of the Memoirs.