François de Chateaubriand

Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe

Book XVIII: The Levant, Armand, Les Martyrs 1806-1814

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved

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Book XVIII: Chapter 1: The years 1805 and 1806 – I return to Paris – I leave for the Levant

Paris, 1839 (Revised December 1846)


When, in returning to Paris by the Burgundy road, I caught sight of the cupola of Val-de-Grâce and the dome of Sainte-Geneviève, which overlooks the Jardin-des-Plantes, my heart was troubled: yet again a life’s companion left behind on the journey! We went back to the Hôtel de Coislin, and, though Monsieur de Fontanes, Monsieur Joubert, Monsieur de Clausel, and Monsieur Molé would have come to spend the evening with me, I was worked upon by so many thoughts and memories I could no longer meet them. Living alone, beyond the dear subjects who had parted from me, like a foreign sailor whose term has expired and who has neither home nor country, I kicked my heels on shore; I burned with a longing to swim in a new ocean to refresh myself and forge my way across. A scion of Pindar, bred in Jerusalem, I was impatient to merge my solitudes with the ruins of Athens, my sorrows with the Magdalen’s tears.

I went to see my relatives in Brittany, and, on returning to Paris, I left for Trieste on the 13th of July 1806: Madame de Chateaubriand accompanied me as far as Venice, where Monsieur Ballanche came to meet her.

My life having been documented hour by hour in the Itinerary, I would have nothing more to say here, if I did not possess several unpublished letters written or received during and after my voyage. Julien, my servant and companion, has, for his part, written an Itinerary to accompany mine, as passengers on board ship keep a detailed journal during a voyage of discovery. The short manuscript which he placed at my disposal has served to confirm my narration: I will be Cook, he can be Clerke.

In order to fully reveal the manner in which one was struck by the ordering of society and the hierarchy of intellects, I will interweave my narrative with that of Julien. I will let him speak first, since he covers several days sailing without me from Modon to Smyrna.

Julien’s Itinerary

We embarked on Friday the 1st of August; but, the wind not being favourable for leaving harbour, we moored until the following dawn. Then the port pilot came aboard to advise us that he could now allow us to leave. Since I had never been to sea, I was given an exaggerated idea of the risks, since I saw nothing of any such for two days. But on the third, a tempest blew up; lightning, thunder, finally a terrible storm assailed us and whipped up the waves with terrifying force. Our crew was made up of only eight sailors, the captain, an officer, a pilot, a cook, and five passengers, including Monsieur and myself, making seventeen men in all. We all set to, assisting the sailors to take in the sails, despite the rain which we were soon passing through, having discarded our coats to work more freely. The work occupied my mind, and made me forget the danger which, in truth, is more frightening in concept than it is in reality. For two days, the storms succeeded one another, which hardened me to my first days’ navigation; I was not troubled in the least. Monsieur had feared lest I suffer from sea sickness; when calm was re-established he said to me: ‘Now I am reassured about your health; since you have endured these two days of storms, you can rest easy regarding any other incidents.’ Nothing more took place during the rest of our course to Smyrna. On the 10th, which was a Sunday, Monsieur disembarked near to a Turkish village named Modon, where he landed in order to visit Greece. There were two men from Milan among the passengers with us, who were travelling to Smyrna to report on the tin-making and pewter operations. One of the two, who spoke the Turkish language quite well, was named Joseph, to whom Monsieur suggested that he might accompany him, as a private interpreter, and he mentions him in his Itinerary. Monsieur told us on leaving us that the voyage would only take a few days, and that he would rejoin the vessel at an island we were bound to pass in four or five days time, and that he would wait for us at that island, if he arrived there before us. Since Monsieur thought that this man would be all the company he needed for his little trip (from Sparta to Athens), he left me on board to continue my journey to Smyrna and take care of all our possessions. He entrusted me with a letter of recommendation to the French Consul, in case he failed to rejoin us; and that is what happened. On the fourth day we arrived at the island indicated. The Captain went ashore and Monsieur was not there. We anchored for the night and waited until seven in the morning. The Captain returned on shore to give warning that he was obliged to leave, having a fair wind and obliged as he was to take account of the distance. Moreover, he could see a pirate vessel seeking to approach us, and he had an urgent need of preparing our immediate defence. He charged his four cannon, and displayed his shotguns, pistols and blades on the bridge; but, as we had the advantage of the wind, the pirate abandoned us. We arrived in the port of Smyrna, on Monday the 18th, at seven in the evening.

Map of Turkey

‘Map of Turkey’
Travels in Greece, Palestine, Egypt, and Barbary, during the years 1806 and 1807, Translated by Frederic Shoberl - François René de Chateaubriand (p8, 1812)
The British Library

Having crossed Greece, touching at Zea and Chios, I found Julien at Smyrna. Today, in my memory, I see Greece as one of those bright circles that one sometimes perceives when closing one’s eyes. On that mysterious phosphorescence are drawn the ruins of a fine and admirable architecture, the whole rendered still more resplendent by some further brightness of the Muses. When will I see the thyme of Hymettus once more, the oleanders on the banks of the Eurotas? One of the men I have most envied leaving behind on a foreign shore was the Turkish customs officer at Piraeus: he lived alone, the keeper of three deserted harbours, casting his eyes over the bluish islands, the gleaming promontories, and the golden waters. There, I only heard the noise of waves breaking against the obliterated tomb of Themistocles and the murmur of far away memories: in the silence of Sparta’s ruins, even fame was mute.

Distant View of the Bay and City of Smyrna

‘Distant View of the Bay and City of Smyrna’
Travels to and from Constantinople in the years 1827 and 1828 - Charles Colville Frankland (p318, 1829)
The British Library

I abandoned, in the cradle of Melesigene, my poor dragoman (interpreter) Joseph, the Milanese, in his tinsmith’s workshop, and headed for Constantinople. I went to Pergamum, wishing above all to reach Troy, out of poetic sympathy; a fall from my horse awaited me at the start of my journey; not because Pegasus flinched, but because I was asleep. I have recalled the incident in my Itinerary; Julien tells of it also, and he makes remarks, regarding the trails and the horses, to whose truth I can bear witness.

Julien’s Itinerary

Monsieur, who fell asleep on horseback, fell off without waking. As soon as the horse had halted, so did mine which was following. I quickly set foot to ground to find out the cause, since it was impossible for me to find out from six feet away. I saw Monsieur half-awake beside his horse, and quite astonished to find himself on the ground; he assured me he had suffered no hurt. His horse had not tried to bolt, which would have been dangerous, since the place where we were was close to the cliff-edge.

Leaving Soma, having passed through Pergamum, I had an argument with my guide, recorded in the Itinerary. Here is Julien’s version:

We left that village at a very early hour, after having recharged our canteen. A short distance from the village, I was extremely surprised to se Monsieur furious with our guide; I asked the reason. Then, Monsieur told me that he had agreed with the guide, at Smyrna, that he would lead him to the plains of Troy, on the way, but that, at this moment, he refused saying that the plains were infested with brigands. Monsieur believed not a word of it and would listen to no one. As I could see he was getting more and more excited, I signalled to the guide to come closer to the interpreter and the janissary (guard), to explain to me what he been told of the dangers which might be present in the plains which Monsieur wished to visit. The guide told the interpreter that he had been assured that it was necessary to travel in great numbers to avoid attack: the janissary told me the same thing. So I went to Monsieur and told him what all three had said, and, further, that we would find a little village within a day’s travel where they had a sort of Consul who could inform us of the true position. After this conversation, Monsieur calmed down and we continued our journey towards that place. As soon as we arrived, he went to the Consul, who told him of all the risks he ran, if he persisted in his intention to travel with such a small group into the plains of Troy. Then Monsieur was obliged to forgo his project, and we continued our journey to Constantinople.

I arrived at Constantinople.

View of Constantinople From the Hills Behind Scutari

‘View of Constantinople From the Hills Behind Scutari’
Constantinople in 1828...Second edition, Vol 02 - Charles Macfarlane (p269, 1829)
The British Library

My Itinerary

The almost complete absence of women, the lack of wheeled vehicles and the packs of master-less dogs were the three distinctive characteristics that first struck me in the interior of that extraordinary city. Since nearly everybody walks about in oriental slippers, since there is no sound of carts or carriages, since there are no bells, and almost no trades requiring a hammer, the silence is continuous. You see a mute crowd around you who seem to wish to pass by without being perceived, and who always have the air of hiding from their masters. You arrive continually at a bazaar or a cemetery, as if the Turks were only there to buy, sell or die. The cemeteries, lacking walls and set in the midst of the streets, contain groves of magnificent cypress trees: the doves make their nests in these cypresses and share the peace of the dead. Here and there one finds ancient monuments which bear no relationship to modern man or later monuments, with which they are surrounded: one might imagine they were transported to this oriental city for talismanic effect. No signs of joy, no indications of happiness reveal themselves to your eyes; what one sees are not a people, but a crowd led by an imam and whose throats a janissary slits. Among prisons and penal colonies, rises a seraglio, Capitol of slavery: there a sacred guardian carefully conserves the germs of plague and the primitive laws of tyranny.

Julien, for his part, does not lose himself thus among the clouds:

Julien’s Itinerary

The interior of Constantinople is very unpleasant on account of its sloping towards the canal and the port; one is obliged to beat a retreat time after time from all the streets which descend in that direction (very badly paved streets) in order to keep to the land that the water surrounds. There are few vehicles: the Turks make much more use of saddle-horses than other nations. In the French quarter there are several chairs with porters for the ladies. There are also horses and camels for hire for transporting merchandise. One also sees porters, Turks with very thick long sticks; they can fasten five or six items to each end and carry enormous loads at a steady pace; a single man can also carry very heavy burdens. They have a sort of hook, which is fitted to them from the shoulders to the small of the back, and with remarkable skill in balancing they carry all the parcels without them being secured.

Book XVIII: Chapter 2: From Constantinope to Jerusalem – I embark at Constantinople on a ship carrying Greek pilgrims to Syria

Map of Syria and Egypt

‘Map of Syria and Egypt’
Travels in Greece, Palestine, Egypt, and Barbary, during the years 1806 and 1807, Translated by Frederic Shoberl - François René de Chateaubriand (p8, 1812)
The British Library


My Itinerary

There were almost two hundred passengers on board, men, women, children and old people. One saw as many mats ranged in ranks on both sides of the tween deck. In that republic of sorts each managed their household as they liked: women nursed their children, men smoked or prepared their dinner, elders talked together. The sound of mandolins, violins and lyres was heard on all sides. They sang, danced, laughed, and prayed. Everyone was joyful. Pointing south, they cried: “Jerusalem!” and I replied: “Jerusalem!” In a word, without our fear, we would have been the happiest people in the world; but at the least wind, the sailors took in the sails, and the pilgrims shouted: Christos, Kyrie eleison! The storm past, we recovered our courage.

Here, I am outdone by Julien:

Julien’s Itinerary

We were obliged to attend to our departure for Jaffa, which took place on Thursday the 18th of September. We embarked on a Greek vessel, on which there were at least a hundred and fifty Greeks, as many men as women and children, who were going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which caused the ship many difficulties.

We had provisions and cooking utensils, like the other passengers, which I had bought in Constantinople. I had, besides, another complete pack of provisions that Monsieur l’Ambassadeur had given us, composed of good quality biscuits, ham, sausages and saveloys; wine of different sorts, rum, sugar, lemons, even including wine flavoured with cinchona-bark for the fever. So I found myself provided with abundant resources, which I husbanded and did not consume, with great economy, knowing we had only this voyage to make; all was squeezed in where the passengers could not go.

Our journey, which has taken only thirteen days, has seemed long to me because of all kinds of disagreement and impropriety on board. During several days of bad weather which we have had, the women and children were sick, vomiting everywhere to the point that we were obliged to abandon our berth and sleep on the bridge. We ate there much more conveniently than elsewhere, having opted to wait until all the Greeks had finished their messing about.

I pass the Dardanelles straits; I touch at Rhodes, and engage a pilot for the coast of Syria. – We are delayed by the calm, below the continent of Asia, almost opposite ancient Cape Chelidonia. – We linger for two days at sea, without knowing where we are.

My Itinerary

The weather was so beautiful, and the breeze so gentle, that all the passengers spent the night on deck. I disputed a small corner of the poop with two large Greek monks who yielded to me but not without muttering. I was asleep there on the 30th of September, at six in the morning, when I was woken by a babble of voices: I opened my eyes, and saw the pilgrims staring towards the prow of the vessel. I asked what was there; they shouted to me: Signor, il Carmelo! Mount Carmel! The wind had risen the previous evening at eight, and, during the night, we had arrived in sight of the Syrian coast. As I was lying there fully dressed, I was soon up, inquiring about the sacred mountain. They all surrounded me to point it out; but I could see nothing, because the sun was rising in our faces. The moment had something both religious and majestic about it; all the pilgrims, rosary in hand, were standing in silence in the same attitude, waiting for a sight of the Holy Land; the head of the elders prayed in a loud voice: one heard only this prayer and the sound of the vessel’s wake as the most favourable of winds drove it over the gleaming sea. From time to time, a cry rose from the prow as they caught sight of Carmel again. At last I saw the mountain for myself, like a round blob beneath the sun’s rays. I knelt then in the manner of us Latins. I did not feel the kind of agitation that I experienced on seeing the coast of Greece: but the sight of the cradle of the Israelites and the fatherland of Christians filled me with joy and respect. I was to set foot on a land of wonders, the source of the most astonishing poetry, in places where, speaking even in a purely human sense, the greatest event which ever changed the face of the world occurred.


The wind dropped at midday; it rose again at four; but, through the pilot’s ignorance, we missed our objective. At two in the afternoon, we saw Jaffa again.

A boat left shore with three monks aboard. I descended with them into the launch; we entered harbour through a navigable opening in the rocks, dangerous even for a rowing boat.

The Arabs on shore advanced into the water to their waists, in order to take us up on their shoulders. There passed a pleasant scene; my servant was dressed in a whitish dress-coat; white being the colour of distinction among the Arabs, they decided that Julien was the sheik. They seized on him and carried him off in triumph, despite his protestations, while I, dressed in my blue coat, made off unnoticed on the back of a ragged beggar.

Now, let us hear, Julien, the principal actor of the scene:

Julien’s Itinerary

What was my astonishment on seeing half a dozen Arabs arriving to carry me to shore, while there were only two for Monsieur, it amusing him greatly to see me carried like a sacred object. I do not know if my clothing appeared more imposing than Monsieur’s to them; he had on a brown coat and buttons of the same colour, while mine was whitish, with buttons of pale metal which reflected the light of the sun; it is no doubt that which may have occasioned their error.

We entered the monastery of the monks of Jaffa, on Wednesday the 1st of October, they being of the Order of the Cordeliers, speaking Latin and Italian, but very little French. They made us very welcome and did everything possible to procure whatever we needed.


A Visit to Europe and the Holy Land...Fourth edition - H. F. Fairbanks (p133, 1896)
The British Library

I arrive at Jerusalem. – On the advice of the Fathers of the monastery, I cross the Holy City rapidly in order to reach the Jordan. – After halting at the monastery in Bethlehem, I leave with an escort of Arabs; I stop at Saint-Saba. – At midnight, I found myself on the shore of the Dead Sea.

My Itinerary

When one travels in Judea, a great tedium first seizes the mind; but when, in passing from solitude to solitude, the space extends itself before you, the ennui gradually dissipates, and one experiences a secret terror which, far from depressing the soul, gives one courage and raises one’s spirits. Extraordinary sights reveal on all sides a land worked on by miracles: the burning sun, the impetuous eagle, the sterile fig-tree, all the poetry, all the Scriptural tableaux are there. Every name conceals a mystery; every cave foretells the future; every summit retains the tones of some prophet. God Himself has spoken on these shores: the dried-up torrents, the shattered rocks, the half-open tombs, attest to marvels; the desert seems mute with terror still, and one would say it had not dared to break the silence since it heard the Eternal voice.

We had descended the rump of the mountain, in order to spend the night on the shore of the Dead Sea, from there to return to the Jordan.

Julien’s Itinerary

We dismounted from our horses to let them rest and eat, like us, who had a fine set of provisions that the monks of Jerusalem had given us. After our meal was finished, our Arabs went some way from us, to listen, ear to the ground, for any sound; being assured that we could rest easy, everyone then abandoned themselves to sleep. Though lying on stones, I had enjoyed a very good sleep, when Monsieur came to rouse me, at five in the morning, to get all our people ready for departure. He had already filled a canister, holding about three wine-bottles, with water from the Dead Sea, to take back to Paris.

My Itinerary

We raised camp, and travelled for an hour and a half with exceeding difficulty, through fine white sand. We advanced towards a little grove of trees, balm and tamarind, which to my great astonishment, I saw rising from the midst of sterile ground. Suddenly, the Bethlehemites stopped and pointed out, in the depths of a ravine, something which I had not noticed. Without being able to say what it was, I half saw what seemed like a kind of sand-flow over the motionless earth. I approached this singular object, and saw a yellow stream that I could scarcely distinguish from the sand of its two banks. It was deeply incised, and ran thickly with a sluggish flow: it was the Jordan.

The Bethlehemites stripped off and plunged into the Jordan. I dared not imitate them, because of the fever which continually troubled me.

Julien’s Itinerary

We arrived at the Jordan at seven in the morning, through sands where our horses sank in up to their knees, and through gullies which they had difficulty climbing out of. We followed the river until ten, and to cool us we were bathed conveniently in the shade of the low trees which bordered the river. It would have been very easy to cross to the other side by swimming, since its width, where we were situated, was only about 80 yards; but it would not have been safe to do so, since there were Arabs trying to catch up with us, and in a short while they assembled in large numbers. Monsieur filled his second canister with Jordan water.

Les Bords du Jordan

‘Les Bords du Jordan’
Voyageurs Anciens et Modernes, ou Choix des Relations de Voyages...Depuis le Cinquième Siècle Avant Jésus-Christ Jusqu'au Dix-Neuvième Siècle - Édouard Thomas Charton (p475, 1854)
The British Library

We returned to Jerusalem: Julien was not much taken with the Holy Places; like a true philosopher, he is terse: ‘Calvary,’ he says, ‘is in the same church, on a height, similar to many other heights we have climbed, and from which you can see nothing in the distance but uncultivated land, and nothing as to trees but shrubs and undergrowth gnawed by animals. The Valley of Josaphat is found outside the walls of Jerusalem, at its foot, and resembles a moat to a rampart.


Das Heilige Land Nach Seiner Ehemaligen und Jetzigen Geographischen Beschaffenheit, Nebst Kritischen Blicker in das C. v. Raumer'sche “Palästina” - Joseph Schwarz (p507, 1852)
The British Library

I left Jerusalem; I arrived at Jaffa, and embarked for Alexandria. From Alexandria I went to Cairo, leaving Julien behind with Monsieur Drovetti, who had the kindness to charter an Austrian vessel to Tunis for me. Julien continues his journal in Alexandria: ‘There are,’ he says, ‘Jews who speculate illegally as they do wherever they are. At half a league from the town, there is Pompey’s Pillar, which is of reddish granite, mounted on a sizeable bank of stones.

My Itinerary

On the 23rd of November at midday, the wind turning favourable, I returned on board the vessel. I embraced Monsieur Drovetti on the shore, and we exchanged promises of remembrance and friendship; today I acquit my debt.

We raised anchor at two. A pilot took us out of port. The wind was blowing weakly from the south. We stayed in sight of Pompey’s Pillar which we could make out on the horizon for three days. On the evening of the third day, we heard the sound of the night canon from the harbour at Alexandria. It was like a signal for our final departure, since a northerly wind rose, and we made sail to the west.

On the 1st of December, the wind, steady from the west, barred our course. Gradually it swung to the south-west and changed to a storm, which did not cease until we arrived at Tunis. To occupy the time, I copied and set in order the notes of this voyage and the descriptive passages of Les Martyrs. At night, I walked on the bridge with the second in command, Captain Dinelli. Nights spent among the waves, on a ship battered by a storm, are not wasted; uncertainty regarding our future gives objects their true worth: the earth, contemplated from the midst of a stormy sea, resembles life considered by a man who is about to die.

Pompey's Pillar

‘Pompey's Pillar’
Auf Biblischen Pfaden. Reisebilder aus Aegypten, Palästina, Syrien, Kleinasien, Griechenland und der Türkei - C. Ninck (p32, 1885)
The British Library

Julien’s Itinerary

After our exit from the harbour at Alexandria, we did quite well for the first few days, but it did not last, since we had continual bad weather and foul winds for the rest of the voyage. There was an officer on watch on the bridge constantly, with the pilot and four of the crew. When we could see, at the end of the day, that we were about to have a bad night, we would ascend to the bridge. Around midnight, I made our punch. I would start by handing some to our pilot and the four sailors then I would serve Monsieur, the officer and myself: but we did not drink it as calmly as we would have done in a café. The officer was much more accustomed to it than the captain; he spoke French very well, which made it very pleasant for us during our voyage.

We continue our journey and anchor at the Kerkeni Islands.

My Itinerary

A storm rose from the south-west to our great joy, and in five days we arrived in the waters around Malta. We caught sight of it on Christmas Eve; but on Christmas Day itself, the wind, veering to west-north-west, drove us south of Lampedusa. We lingered for eighteen days on the east coast of the kingdom of Tunis, between life and death. I will never forget the 28th.

We dropped anchor at the Kerkeni Islands. We stayed eight days at anchor in the Syrtis Minor, where I began the year 1807. Beneath how many stars and with what varying fortune I have seen the years renew, years which pass so quickly or seem so long! How far from me are those childhood days when with joyful heart I received my parents’ blessings and presents! How eagerly New Year’s Day was awaited! And now, on a foreign vessel, in the midst of the sea, in sight of a barbarous land, that first day vanished for me, without witness, without pleasure, without family embraces, without the tender good wishes that a mother bestows on her son with such sincerity! That day, born from the womb of tempests, only deposited on my brow anxieties, regrets and white hairs.

Julien is exposed to the same fate, and he reprimands me for one of those fits of impatience of which happily I am cured.

Julien’s Itinerary

We were close to the Isle of Malta and were fearful of being seen by some English vessel which might have forced us to enter that port; but nothing came out to meet us. Our crew were exhausted and the wind continued unfavourable. The captain seeing an anchorage named Kerkeni on his chart, which we were not far off, made sail, without warning Monsieur, who, seeing us approaching an anchorage, was angry at not having been consulted, telling the captain he must continue on course, having endured worse weather. But we were too close to resume our route, and moreover the captain’s prudence was much approved of, since the night before, the wind had become stronger and the sea very rough. Having been obliged to wait there at anchor twenty four hours longer than anticipated, Monsieur showed his lively dissatisfaction with the captain, despite the logical reasons he was given.

We had been sailing for almost a month, and we only needed seven or eight hours to reach the port of Tunis. Suddenly, the wind became so violent that we were obliged to veer off, and we waited for three weeks without being able to reach the harbour. It was then that Monsieur reproached the captain once more for having lost thirty-six hours at anchor. No one could persuade him that we would have been in deep trouble, if the captain had shown less foresight. The misfortune I could foresee was that of our dwindling provisions, without knowing when we might arrive.

I have trod the soil of Carthage at last. I have found the most generous hospitality with Monsieur and Madame Devoise. Julien gets to know my host well; he talks about the country too and the Jews: ‘They pray and weep’, he says.

An American brig of war having granted me passage on board, I crossed the Lake of Tunis to reach La Goulette. ‘Once underway,’ says Julien, ‘I asked Monsieur if he had brought the gold he had placed in a desk in the room where he slept; he told me had forgotten it, and I was obliged to return to Tunis.’ Money never lodges itself in my brain.

When I arrived at Alexandria, we anchored opposite the ruins of Hannibal’s city. I stared at them from the ship’s side without being able to make out what they were. I saw several Moorish dwellings, a Muslim hermitage on the headland, ewes grazing among the ruins, ruins so little evident that I could scarcely distinguish them from the soil they stood on: it was Carthage. I visited it before embarking for Europe.

My Itinerary

From the summit of Byrsa, the eye embraces the ruins of Carthage which are more numerous than is generally thought: they resemble those of Sparta, nothing worthwhile having been preserved, but occupying a considerable space. I saw them in the month of February; the fig-trees, olives, and carob-trees already showed their first leaves; large angelicas and acanthuses formed tufts of verdure among the multi-coloured marble ruins. In the distance I glanced over an isthmus, twin seas, far-off islands, a glowing countryside, bluish lakes, and azure mountains; I made out forests, vessels, aqueducts, Moorish villages, Muslim hermitages, minarets and the white houses of Tunis. Thousand of starlings, flocking in battalions and looking like dark clouds, flew above my head. Surrounded by the greatest and most moving of relics, I thought of Dido, of Sophonisbe, of Hasdrubal’s noble wife; I contemplated the vast plains where the legions of Hannibal, Scipio and Caesar are buried; my eyes wished to dwell on the site of Utica. Alas! The ruins of Tiberius’s palace on Capri are still in existence, but one searches in vain at Utica for Cato’s house! Finally the terrifying Vandals and the careless Moors passed in turn through my memory, which offered me, as a last tableau, Saint Louis expiring among the ruins of Carthage.

Julien ends like me by catching his last sight of Africa at Carthage.

Julien’s Itinerary

On the 7th and 8th we wandered among the ruins of Carthage where there are still some foundations on open ground, which prove the durability of ancient monuments. There are also the outlines of baths submerged beneath the soil. There are still three fine cisterns; others are visible which have been buried. The few inhabitants who occupy these regions cultivate the fields necessary to them. They uncover various marbles and stones, just as they do medals which they sell to travellers as antiques: Monsieur bought some to take back to France.

Forum, Port Militaire et Port Marchand de Carthage

‘Forum, Port Militaire et Port Marchand de Carthage’
De Carthage au Sahara - Pierre Bauron (p41, 1893)
The British Library

Book XVIII: Chapter 3: From Tunis to my return to France via Spain

Map of Spain

‘Map of Spain’
Travels in Greece, Palestine, Egypt, and Barbary, during the years 1806 and 1807, Translated by Frederic Shoberl - François René de Chateaubriand (p8, 1812)
The British Library


Julien tells briefly of our voyage from Tunis to the Bay of Gibraltar; from Algeciras, he quickly reaches Cadiz, and, from Cadiz, Granada. Indifferent to Blanca, he merely remarks that the Alhambra and other buildings rise from the rocks to an immense height. My Itinerary does not enter into much more detail regarding Granada; I content myself with saying:

The Alhambra seems to me worthy of note, even after the ruins of Greece. The valley of Granada is delightful and much resembles that of Sparta: one can understand that the Moors regret their second country.

General View of the Alhambra, Granada

‘General View of the Alhambra, Granada’
Rambles in Sunny Spain - Frederick Albion Ober (p254, 1889)
Internet Archive Book Images

In Le Dernier des Abencérage, I describe the Alhambra. The Alhambra, the Generalife, and Sacromonte are etched on my mind like those imaginary countries that one half-sees, often at break of day in the beautiful first light of dawn. I still feel Nature deeply enough to describe the Vega; but I would not dare attempt it, for fear of the Archbishop of Granada. During my stay in the city of sultanas, a guitarist, driven by an earthquake from a village which I happened to travel through, attached himself to me. Deaf as a post, he followed me everywhere: when I sat among the ruins in the Palace of the Moors, he stood by my side and sang, accompanying himself on his guitar. The harmonious indigent might not have composed a Creation oratorio, perhaps, but his sunburnt chest showed through the tatters of his jersey, and he had great need of writing as Beethoven did to Mademoiselle Breuning: ‘Venerable Eleonore, my very dear friend, I would dearly wish to be fortunate enough to possess a jacket of angora rabbits’ wool knitted by you.’

From one coast to the other, I traversed that Spain where, sixteen years later, heaven reserved a great role for me, in helping to stifle anarchy amongst a noble people, and liberating a Bourbon: the honour of our arms was re-established, and I would have saved the Legitimacy, if the Legitimacy could have understood the conditions for its survival.

Julien does not let go of me until he has brought me back to the Place Louis XV, on the 5th of June 1807, at three in the afternoon. From Granada, he had conducted me to Aranjuez, to Madrid, to the Escorial, from which he leaps to Bayonne.

We left Bayonne,’ he says, ‘on Tuesday the 9th of May for Pau, Tarbes, Barèges and Bordeaux, which we reached on the 18th, very weary, each with a bout of fever. We left on the 19th, and travelled to Angoulême and Tours, arriving at Blois on the 28th, where we slept. On the 31st, we continued our route to Orléans, and then made our last overnight stop at Angerville.

I was there, five miles from a château whose inhabitants my long voyage had not caused me to forget. But the gardens of Armida, where are they? Twice or thrice, returning to the Pyrenees, I have seen the column at Méréville from the highway; like Pompey’s Pillar it told me of the wilderness: like my fortunes at sea, everything has altered.


I arrived in Paris before the news I had sent about myself: I had overtaken my existence. As insignificant as those letters are, I glance through them as one looks at poor sketches of places one has visited. These letters are dated from Modon, Athens, Zea, Smyrna, and Constantinople; from Jaffa, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Tunis, Granada, Madrid, and Burgos; these lines traced on all sorts of paper, in all sorts of ink, brought by all the winds, interest me. I not only delight in unrolling my firmans (passports etc): I touch their vellum with pleasure; I am revealed in elegant calligraphy and am dumbfounded by the pomp of their style. I was a very great person, then! We are such miserable devils, with our letters for three sous and our passports for forty, next to those lords of the turban!

Osman Said, Pasha of the Morea, thus addresses ‘whomever it may concern’ on my firman for Athens:

Rulers of the towns of Mistra (Sparta) and Argos, cadis, nabobs, effendis, whose wisdom grow greater yet; honoured by your peers, and our greatness, vaivodes, and you by whom your master sees, who represent him in each of your jurisdictions, men of stature and business, whose credit cannot but grow;

We advise you that one of the noblemen of France, a nobleman (in particular) from Paris, furnished with this order, accompanied by an armed janissary and a servant as escort, has requested permission and explained his intention of travelling through various places and sites which are under your jurisdiction, in order to reach Athens, which is beyond the Isthmus, outside your jurisdiction.

You effendis, vaivodes, and all others specified above, therefore, are to take great care when the above mentioned person arrives within your jurisdiction, that he is shown respect and all the measures which friendship makes lawful, etc., etc.

Year 1221 of the Hegira.

My passport issued in Constantinople for Jerusalem, reads:

To the sublime tribunal of His Highness the Kadi of Kouds (Jerusalem), most excellent Sherif, effendi:

Accept, most excellent effendi, whom Your Highness has appointed to his august tribunal, our sincere blessings and affectionate greetings.

We advise you that a noble person, of the French Court, named François-Auguste de Chateaubriand, is travelling presently towards you, to accomplish the holy pilgrimage (of Christians).

Do we protect foreign travellers in this way, in regard to the mayors and gendarmes who inspect his passport? Equally one can read in these firmans the transformation of nations: what freedom must God have given to empires, for a Tartar slave to impose his orders on a vaivode of Mistra, that is to say a magistrate of Sparta: for a Muslim to recommend a Christian to the Cadi of Kouds, that is to say of Jerusalem!


The Itinerary is one of the elements which make up my life. When I left in 1806, a pilgrimage to Jerusalem seemed a great enterprise. Now that a crowd have followed me, and the whole world is on board, the wonder has vanished; Tunis alone barely remains my own: less people head for that coast and it is acknowledged that I have identified the true location of the harbours of Carthage. This fine letter proves it:

Monsieur le Vicomte, I have just received a plan of the site and ruins of Carthage, giving the exact contours and the relief map; it was measured trigonometrically from a 1500 metre base, and is supported by barometric observations made with matched barometers. It has been a work requiring ten years patience and precision: it confirms your opinion on the harbours of Byrsa.

With this exact plan, I have gone over all the ancient texts again, and I have determined, I think, the exterior enclosure and the other areas of Cothon, Byrsa and Megara, etc, etc. I now render you the justice due you in so many respects.

If you are not afraid of me swooping down upon your genius with my trigonometry and my weighty erudition, I will appear at your house at the first indication on your part. If my father and I follow you, in literature, longissimo intervallo (at a very great distance), at least we will try to imitate you in the noble independence of which you have given France such a fine model.

I have the honour to be, and boast of being, your honest admirer,


A corresponding identification of the sites would have sufficed in former days to make my name as a geographer. Henceforth, If I still had a mania for speaking about myself, I know not where I might not have run off to, in order to catch the public’s attention: perhaps I might have taken up my old project once more of discovering the North-West passage; perhaps I might have ascended the Ganges. There, I would have seen the long dark straight line of trees that defends the Himalayas; if, after reaching the col that connects the two principal summits near the Gangotri glacier, I were to discover the immeasurable amphitheatre of eternal snow, if I were to ask my guides, as Heber, the Anglican Bishop of Calcutta did, the name of the other mountains to the East, they would reply that they border the Empire of China. Well and good! But to return to the Pyramids, now, is as if one were merely returning to Montlhéry. A propos of that I recall that a pious antiquary of the neighbourhood of Saint-Denis in France wrote to me to ask if Pontoise did not resemble Jerusalem.

The page which terminates my Itinerary seems to have been written at that very moment, it so reflects my true feelings.

It was twenty years ago,’ I wrote, ‘that I dedicated myself to study among all the dangers and sorrows; diversa exilia et desertas quaerere terras: searching out differing exiles in different deserts: a large number of leaves from my books have been traced in my tent, in the desert, among the waves; I have often grasped my pen without knowing how many moments longer my existence might be prolonged. If Heaven grants me a peace I have never enjoyed, I will attempt in silence to raise a monument to my country; if Providence refuses me that peace, I can only think to spend my last days sheltering from the cares that poisoned my first. I am no longer young, I no longer love noise; I know that literature whose business is so sweet when it is secret, only draws us into the storm, outside. In any case, I have written enough if my name should live on; far too much if it should die.


It is possible that my Itinerary will last as a manual for the use of my kind of Wandering Jew: I have marked out the stages scrupulously and sketched a road map. Every voyager to Jerusalem writes to me to congratulate me and thank me for my exactitude; I will cite an example:

Monsieur, you did me the honour, some weeks ago, to receive me at your house, with my friend Monsieur de Saint-Laumer: in bringing you a letter from Abou-Gosch, we happened to mention how many new merits one finds in your Itinerary when reading it in the locations themselves, and how one appreciates even in its very title, such a humble and modest choice of yours, when seeing it justified at every step by the scrupulous accuracy of its descriptions, still true today, except for a few ruins more or less, the only change in those countries, etc.


Rue Caumartin, no 23.

My accuracy is due to my plain commonsense; I am of the race of Celts and tortoises, a pedestrian race; not of the blood of Tartars and birds, races equipped with horses and wings. Religion, it is true, sometimes ravished me in its embrace; but when it returned me to earth, I walked on, leaning on my stick, resting by a milestone to eat my olives and brown bread. If I often rode in the wood, as many a François gladly did, I have never, despite that, loved change for change’s sake; travel bores me; I only love a voyage because of the freedom it grants me, as I incline towards the countryside, not for the countryside, but for the solitude. ‘All the heavens are one to me,’ says Montaigne, ‘to live among our own people, to go and murmur and die among strangers.’

I have some other letters from those Eastern lands, which reached their address several months after they were dated. Fathers of the Holy Land, Consuls and families, supposing me to have some power under the Restoration, claimed from me the rights of hospitality: from afar, one is deluded, and believes it to be meaningful. Monsieur Gaspari wrote to me, in 1816, to ask for my help in favour of his son; his letter is addressed: To Monsieur le Vicomte de Chateaubriand, Grand-Master of the Royal University, at Paris.

Monsieur Caffe, not losing sight of what was happening around him, telling me news of his world, sends word from Alexandria: ‘Since your departure, the country has not improved, though peace reigns. Though your Leader has nothing to fear from the Mamelukes, still refugees in Upper Egypt, he must yet be on his guard. The Abd-el-Ouad are still up to their tricks in Mecca. The Manouf canal is to be finished; Mehemet-Ali will be remembered in Egypt for having executed that project, etc.

On the 13th of August 1816, Monsieur Pangalo, the son, wrote to me from Zea:


Your Itinerary from Paris to Jerusalem has reached Zea, and I have read, in the midst of my family, what Your Excellency obligingly chose to say of it. Your stay among us was so short that we do not really merit the praise Your Excellency has bestowed on our hospitality, and the overly familiar manner with which we received you. We have also realised, with the greatest satisfaction, that Your Excellency, has been re-appointed due to the latest events, and that you occupy a rank due to your merit as much as your birth. We congratulate you on it, and we hope that, at the pinnacle of greatness, Monsieur le Comte de Chateaubriand will gladly choose to remember Zea, and the numerous family of old Pangalo his host: that family in whom the French consulate has resided since the glorious reign of Louis-le-Grand, who signed our ancestors’ patent. That old man, so enduring, is no more; I have lost my father; I find myself, in mediocre circumstances, charged with supporting the whole family; I have my mother, six sisters to marry off and several widows and their children in my charge. I have recourse to Your Excellency’s goodness; I beg you to come to the aid of my family, in ensuring that the Vice-Consulate of Zea, which is extremely necessary for harbouring the King’s boats, has a salary like the other Vice-Consulates; being agent, as I am, I might be Vice-Consul, with the salary attached to that rank. I believe Your Excellency would find it easy to obtain this request because of my ancestors’ long service, if he would deign to pursue it, and that he will excuse the importunate familiarity of his Zea hosts, who rely on your generosity.

I am with the most profound respect,


Your Excellency’s

Very humble and very obedient servant,

Monsieur – G Pangalo.

Zea, the 3rd of August 1816.

Every time a little laughter rises to my lips, I am punished for it as if it were a fault. This letter made me feel remorse when re-reading a passage (softened, it is true, by expressions of gratitude) regarding the hospitality of our Consuls in the Levant: ‘Mesdemoiselles Pangalo,’ I wrote in the Itinerary, ‘sang in Greek:

Ah! Vous dirai-je, maman?

Monsieur Pangalo, gave little cries, the cockerels crowed, and the memories of Ioulis, Aristaeus, Simonides were completely erased.’

The requests for assistance almost always arrived in the midst of my discredit and woe. Even at the very beginning of the Restoration, on the 11th of October 1814, I received this quite different letter dated from Paris:

Monsieur l’Ambassadeur,

Mademoiselle Dupont, of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, who had the honour of meeting you in those islands, is desirous of obtaining a brief audience with Your Excellency. Since she knows you live in the country, she begs you to let her know a day when you will be coming to Paris, on which you might grant her that audience.

I have the honour to be, etc.


I had forgotten that young lady, from the epoch when I voyaged over the ocean, so ungrateful is memory! Yet, I had retained a perfect remembrance of the unknown girl who sat by me in those sad frozen Cyclades:

A young fisher-girl appeared on the upper slopes of the hill; she had bare legs, despite the cold, and was walking through the dew; etc.

Circumstances, independent of my will, prevented me from seeing Mademoiselle Dupont. If, by chance, she was Guillaumy’s fiancée, what had been the effect on her of a quarter of a century? Had she suffered from the winters of the New World, or preserved the springtime of those bean-flowers, that sheltered in the moat of Saint-Pierre’s fort?


In the introduction to an excellent translation of the Letters of Saint Jerome, Messieurs Collombet and Grégoire are pleased to discover in their summary, a resemblance between that saint and myself, apropos of Judea, which with respect I reject. Saint Jerome, in the depths of his retreat, painted a picture of his inward struggles; I would not have found the expression of genius of the inhabitant of that cave in Bethlehem; at the very most, I might have been able to sing with Saint Francis, my patron saint in France and my host at the Holy Sepulchre, his two hymns in Italian of the epoch preceding Dante’s Italian:

In foco l’amor mi mise,

In foco l’amor mi mise

(Love sets me in the flames)

I like to receive letters from overseas; these letters seem to bring me a murmur of their breezes, a ray of their suns, some emanation of the diverse destinies that waves part, and the memories of hospitality bind.

Would I revisit those distant countries? One or two, may be. The skies of Africa produced an enchantment in me which has not vanished; my imagination is still perfumed with the myrtles of the temple of Aphrodite of the Gardens and with the irises of the Cephisus.

Fénelon, on leaving for Greece, wrote the letter to Bossuet you are about to read. The future author of Télémaque reveals himself there with the ardour of a missionary and a poet.

Various little incidents kept delaying my return to Paris until now; but at last, Monseigneur, I am leaving, and very nearly airborne. At the prospect of this journey, I meditate on a greater. The whole of Greece is open to me, the wary Sultan retreats; already the Peloponnese breaths in freedom, the Church of Corinth is about to flower again; the voice of the Apostle makes itself heard there still. I feel myself transported to those lovely places among those precious ruins, to sample there, along with the most curious monuments, the very spirit of antiquity. I seek that Areopagus, on which Saint Paul announced the unknown God to the world’s sages; but the profane follows the sacred, and I do not disdain to descend to Piraeus, where Socrates planned out his Republic. I climb to the summit of Parnassus, I gather the laurels of Delphi and I taste the delights of Tempe.

When will the blood of Turks mingle with that of the Persians on the plains of Marathon, and leave all of Greece to religion, philosophy and the fine arts, which regard it as their country?

Arva beata

Petamus arva, divites et insulas.

(let us seek out the fields,

the golden fields, the islands of the blest)

I will not forget you, O island consecrated by celestial visions to the Beloved Disciple, O happy Patmos, I will go and kiss the footsteps of the Apostle on your soil, and I believe I will see the heavens open. There, I will feel myself filled with indignation against the false prophet, who wished to expand the oracles of truth, and I will bless the All-Powerful, who far from throwing down the Church like Babylon, bound the dragon and rendered the Church victorious. I already see the schism ending, East and West reuniting, and Asia seeing the dawn anew after so long a night; earth sanctified by the Saviour’s footsteps and watered with his blood, delivered from those who profane it, and clothed in a fresh glory; and the children of Abraham, scattered through all the earth, and more numerous than the stars of the firmament, who, assembling, at last, from its four corners, will come, en masse, to recognise the Christ they crucified, and reveal a resurrection at the end of time. Enough, Monseigneur, you will be pleased to know that this is my final letter, and an end to my enthusiasm, which bothers you perhaps. Forgive such, in my desire to speak to you from afar, impatient until I might do so from nearer to you.


Here is the true modern Homer, alone worthy of singing Greece and recounting its beauty to a new Chrysostom.

Book XVIII: Chapter 4: Reflection on my Travels – The Death of Julien


The sites of Syria, Egypt and the Punic lands were merely places which suited my solitary nature; they pleased me regardless of their antiquity, art and history. I was struck less by the grandeur of the Pyramids than by the desert above which they loomed; Diocletian’s Column held my gaze less than the fringes of sea along the sands of Libya. At the sea-mouth of the Nile, I should have needed no monument to recall this scene depicted by Plutarch:

The ex-slave searched up and down the beach until he found the decayed remains of a small fishing boat, sufficient to make a pyre for a poor naked corpse. As he was gathering and assembling it, an old man appeared, a Roman who had served as a youth under Pompey in the wars. “Ah,” said the Roman, “you shall not have this honour all to yourself, I beg you, let me be your companion in so saintly and pious a task, since I shall have no cause for regret after all, owning this recompense for all the hardship I have endured, knowing at least this good fortune, to be able to touch with my hands and help in the burial of the greatest general Rome has known.”’

Caesar’s rival no longer has a tomb in Libya, but a young slave, a Libyan girl, has received, from the hand of a female Pompey, a grave not far distant from that Rome from which the great Pompey was banished. In the face of these vagaries of fate, one understands why the Christians went and hid themselves in the Thebaid.

Born in Libya, buried in the flower of my youth beneath the Italian dust, I lie near Rome by this sandy shore. The illustrious Pompeia who raised me with a mother’s tenderness, mourned my death and placed me in a tomb that rivals, I a poor slave, those of free Romans. The torches of my funeral have forestalled those of marriage. Proserpine’s flame has quenched my hopes.’ (Palatine Anthology)

The winds have scattered those individuals of Europe, Asia, and Africa, amongst whom I appeared and of whom I have spoken: one wind blew from the Acropolis of Athens, another from the shores of Chios; this one poured from Mount Sion; that one will no longer escape the waves of the Nile or the wells of Carthage. The places have also altered; towns rise, just as in America, where I saw forests, an empire likewise is being created among the sands of Egypt, where my eyes met only horizons naked and round as the boss of a shield, as Arabic poetry says, and jackals so thin that their jaws are like a split stick. Greece has regained that freedom that I desired for her when I traversed her beneath the janissary’s gaze. But does she enjoy a national liberty or has she only changed her yoke of servitude?

I am in some ways the last visitor to the Turkish Empire in its previous form. The revolutions, which have immediately preceded or followed my steps, everywhere, have extended to Greece, Syria and Egypt. Is a new Orient about to be created? What will emerge? Will we receive due punishment for having taught the art of modern warfare to nations whose social structure is founded on slavery and polygamy? Have we exported civilisation to the outside world or have we imported barbarity to the heart of Christendom? What will result from these new interests, from these new political relationships, from the creation of powers which may suddenly surge through the Levant? No one can say. I do not allow myself to be dazzled by steamships, and railroads; by the sale of manufactured products or the wealth of French, English, German and Italian soldiers enlisted in the service of some Pasha or other: all that is not civilisation. Perhaps we will again see, in the disciplined troops of future Ibrahims, the dangers which menaced Europe in the time of Charles Martel, and from which, much later, Polish sacrifice saved us. I pity the travellers who will follow me: the harem will not conceal its secrets from them: they will not see the old sun of the Orient, or the turban of Mohammed. The little Bedouin cried out to me in French when I was travelling in the mountains of Judea: ‘Onward march!’ The order has been given, and the Orient is on the march.

Bataille de Tours en 732

‘Bataille de Tours en 732’
Promenades Pittoresques en Touraine. Histoire, Légendes, Monuments, Paysages...Gravures...d'Après Karl Girardet et Français - Casimir Chevalier, Carl Girardet, Louis Français (p327, 1869)
The British Library

What became of Julien, Ulysses’ friend? He requested of me, in submitting his manuscript to me, that he might become the concierge of my house on the Rue d’Enfer: that situation was occupied by an old doorman and his family whom I could not dismiss. The will of heaven having made Julien self-willed and a drunkard, I supported him for a long time; finally, we were obliged to part. I gave him a small sum of money and allowed him a tiny pension from my privy purse, a light enough one, but always copiously filled with excellent mortgage receipts from my castles in Spain. I made Julien enter the Hospice for the Old according to his own wish: there he completed the last and greatest voyage. I will soon occupy his empty bed, as I once slept, in the Khan of Demir-Capi, on the mat from which they had just removed a plague-ridden Muslim. My calling is definitely to be found in some hospital or in the midst of the old society, which makes a semblance of being alive and is none the less involved in its own death-pangs. When it expires, it will decompose in order to reproduce itself in new forms, but it must first succumb; the primary necessity for nations, like men, is to die: ‘By the breath of God the frost is given’, says Job.

Book XVIII: Chapter 5: The Years 1807, 1808, 1809 and 1810 – An article in the Mercury, June 1807 – I buy the Vallée-Aux-Loups and retreat there

Paris, 1839 (Revised June 1847)


Madame de Chateaubriand had been very ill during my voyage; my friends several times thought me lost. In letters which Monsieur de Clausel wrote to his children and which he has kindly allowed me to read, I find this passage:

Monsieur de Chateaubriand left on his voyage to Jerusalem in the month of July 1806: during his absence I went to Madame de Chateaubriand’s house every day. Our traveller did me the kindness to write to me a lengthy letter, from Constantinople, which you will find in the drawer in our library at Coussergues. During the winter of 1806 and 1807, we knew that Monsieur de Chateaubriand was at sea returning to Europe; one day, I was walking in the Tuileries Gardens with Monsieur de Fontanes in the teeth of a dreadful westerly wind; we were sheltering beneath the terrace by the water’s edge. Monsieur de Fontanes said to me: – Perhaps at this very moment, a gust from this terrible storm will cause his shipwreck. We have since learnt that this presentiment failed to be realised. I note this to express the lively friendship, the interest in Monsieur de Chateaubriand’s literary glory, which was bound to increase with that voyage; the noble, the profound and rare sentiments which animated Monsieur de Fontanes, that excellent man from whom I too have had great service, and whom I recommend you to remember before God.

If I had been certain to survive, and if I could have perpetuated in my works those people who are dear to me, with what pleasure I would have taken my friends along with me!

Full of hope, I carried my handful of gleanings back home; my peace and quiet was not of long duration.

After a series of agreements, I became sole proprietor of the Mercure.

Towards the end of June 1807, Monsieur Alexandre de Laborde published his travels in Spain; in July, I published the article in the Mercury from which I have quoted various passages in speaking of the Duc d’Enghien’s death: When in the silence of abjection, etc. Bonaparte’s successes, far from subduing me, had provoked me; I had gained fresh energy from my feelings and the tempests. My face had not been bronzed by the sun in vain, nor had I exposed myself to the wrath of the heavens in order to tremble sad-browed before a merely human anger. If Napoleon had done with kings, he had not done with me. My article, appearing in the midst of his successes and triumphs, stirred France: innumerable copies were made by hand; several subscribers to the Mercure cut out the article and had it bound separately; it was read in the salons and hawked from house to house. One has to have lived at that moment to gain any idea of the effect produced by a lone voice ringing out amongst the silence of the world. Noble feelings, buried in the depths of men’s hearts, revived. Napoleon was furious: one is less irritated by the criticism made than by its attack on one’s self-image. What! To scorn even his glory; for a second time, to brave the anger of one at whose feet the world had fallen, prostrate! ‘Does Chateaubriand think I am an imbecile: that I don’t comprehend him? I’ll have him cut down on the steps of the Tuileries!’ He gave orders to suppress the Mercure, and for my arrest. My property was lost; my person escaped by a miracle: Bonaparte was pre-occupied by the wider world; he forgot me, but I remained weighed down by menace.

My situation was deplorable: while I felt I had to act according to my sense of honour, I found myself burdened with personal responsibilities, and the anxieties I was causing my wife. Her courage was great, but she none the less suffered, and these storms falling in succession on my head troubled her life. She had suffered so much on my behalf during the Revolution! It was natural that she longed for a little peace. The more so in that Madame de Chateaubriand admired Bonaparte without reservation; she had no illusions about the Legitimacy; she was forever predicting what would happen to me if the Bourbons returned.

The first chapter of these Memoirs is dated the 4th of October 1811, at the Vallée-aux-Loups: there will be found my description of the little retreat which I purchased to hide myself in, at that time. Leaving our apartment at Madame de Coislin’s, we went to live in the Rue des Saints-Pères, in the Hôtel de Lavalette, which took its name from the owners of the place.

Monsieur de Lavalette, stocky, dressed in a violet-coloured morning-coat, and carrying a gold-knobbed cane, had become my business manager, if indeed I have ever had any business. He had been a cup-bearer in the Royal household, and what I did not eat, he drank.


Towards the end of November, seeing that the repairs to my cottage were making no progress, I decided to go and supervise them. We arrived at the Vallée in the evening. We did not take the usual road; we entered through the gate at the end of the garden. The soil in the drives, soaked with rain, prevented the horses from going on; the carriage overturned. The plaster bust of Homer, placed beside Madame de Chateaubriand, was thrown through the window, and shattered its neck: a bad omen for Les Martyrs on which I was then working.

The house, filled with laughing, singing, hammering workmen, was warmed by a fire of wood-shavings and lit by candle-ends: it resembled a hermitage in the woods illuminated at night by pilgrims. Delighted to find two rooms quite passable, in one of which a table had been laid, we sat down to dine. Next day, awakened by the noise of hammering, and the songs of the colonists, I watched the sun rise with less anxiety than that master of the Tuileries.

I was surrounded by endless enchantments; though no Madame de Sévigné, I went out, furnished with a pair of clogs, to plant trees in the mud, traverse the same walks over and over, look once and again into every little corner, conceal myself wherever there was a clump of bushes, imagining what my park would be like in the future, since then the future was uncompromised. Searching, today, to re-open that vista which has closed, I no longer find that same one indeed, though I meet with others. I lose myself among vanished memories; perhaps the illusions I come across are as lovely as those earlier ones; only they are not as youthful; what I saw in the splendour of noon, I perceive in the glow of evening. – If only I might cease to be plagued by dreams! Bayard, ordered to relinquish a position, replied: ‘See, I have made a bridge of corpses, in order to cross over it to the garrison.’ I fear that in order to depart, I must pass over the bodies of my illusions.

My trees, being still quite small, were not filled with the sound of the autumn winds; but, in spring, the breezes that breathed the flowery fragrance of the neighbouring fields held their breath, and released it over my valley.

Trees, Rocks, Lichen

Our Sentimental Journey through France and Italy - Elizabeth Robins Pennell (p197, 1888)
The British Library

I made a few additions to my cottage; I embellished its brick wall with a portico supported by two black marble columns and two white marble caryatids: I remembered I had been to Athens. My plan was to add a tower to the end of the building; in the meantime, I simulated battlements along the wall that bordered the road: thus I anticipated the obsession regarding the Middle Ages which currently stupifies us. Of all the possessions I have lost, the Vallée-aux-Loups is the only one I regret; it is written that nothing will remain to me. After my Valley was lost, I planted out the Marie-Thérèse Infirmary, and I have just left that too. I defy fate to attach me to the smallest plot of earth now; henceforth, I will only have as my garden those avenues, honoured with such fine names, around the Invalides, where I walk with my lame and one-armed colleagues. Not far from these walks, Madame de Beaumont’s cypress lifts its head; in these deserted spaces, the great, light-hearted Duchesse de Châtillon once leant on my arm. I only give my arm to time, now: who is heavy enough!

I worked at my Memoirs with pleasure, and Les Martyrs progressed; I had already read several chapters to Monsieur de Fontanes. I was established amongst my memories as in a vast library: I consulted here, and then there and finally closed the volume with a sigh, when I perceived that the light, by penetrating, destroyed the mystery. Shed light on the days of your life, and they will no longer be as they were.

In July 1808, I fell ill, and was obliged to return to Paris. The doctors rendered the illness dangerous. While Hippocrates was living, there was a lack of dead spirits in Hades, says the epigram: thanks to our modern Hippocrates, there is no shortage today.

That was perhaps the only time when, near to death, I longed for life. When I felt myself to be weaker, which often happened, I would say to Madame de Chateaubriand: ‘Don’t worry; I will recover.’ I would lose consciousness, but with a mounting impatience within, since I was holding on, God knows to what. Also I was possessed with desire to complete what I thought, and still think, to be my most perfect work. I was reaping the reward for the fatigue I had often experienced during my travels in the Levant.

Girodet had given the last touches to my portrait. He made it melancholy, as I then was; but he filled it with his genius. Monsieur Denon accepted the masterpiece for the Salon; as a noble courtier he placed it prudently out of the way. When Bonaparte arrived to review the gallery, he looked at the paintings and then asked: ‘Where is the portrait of Chateaubriand?’ He knew it must be there: they were obliged to lift the curtain on its hiding place. Bonaparte, exhaling a fulsome breath, said, on gazing at the portrait: ‘He has the air of a conspirator who has come down the chimney.’

V. de Chateaubriand

‘V. de Chateaubriand’
La Bretagne Ancienne et Moderne. Illustré - Pitre-Chevalier (p14, 1859)
The British Library

On returning to the Vallée alone one day, Benjamin, the gardener, told me that a large foreign gentleman had come asking for me; that on finding me not there, he had declared his intention of waiting for me; that he had ordered an omelette and had then laid himself down on my bed. I walked upstairs, entered my bedroom, and saw something huge asleep; shaking this mass, I shouted: ‘Hey! Hey! Who is this?’ The mass quivered and sat up. Its head was covered with a hairy bonnet, it wore a matching jersey and trousers of flecked wool, its face was stained with snuff and its tongue was sticking out. It was my cousin Moreau! I had not seen him since camp at Thionville. He was back from Russia and wished to enter public service. My old cicerone in Paris was off to die at Nantes. So there vanished one of the principal characters in my Memoirs. I hope that, extended on a bed of asphodel, he still speaks of my verses, to Madame de Chastenay, if that delightful shade has descended to the Elysian Fields.

Book XVIII: Chapter 6: Les Martyrs


In the spring of 1809 Les Martyrs was published. It was a work of conscience: I had consulted critics of knowledge and taste in Messieurs Fontanes, Bertin, Boissonade, and Malte-Brun, and I had submitted to their arguments. I wrote, un-wrote and re-wrote the same pages a hundred times and more. Of all my writings, it is the one where the language is most perfect.

I was not mistaken in my plan; now that my ideas have become common currency, no one denies that the struggle between two religions, the one ending, the other beginning, offers the Muses one of the richest, most fertile and most dramatic of subjects. So I thought I might nourish some not too outlandish hopes; but I forgot about the success of my first work: in this country, never count on two successes close together; one destroys the other’s chances. If you have any talent for prose, take care not to reveal yourself in verse; if you are a distinguished man of letters, have no pretensions towards politics: such is the French spirit and its miseries. Self-esteem alarmed, and envy surprised by some author’s happy debut, band together and lie in wait for the poet’s second publication, in order to take a glittering revenge:

Every hand at the inkwell, swore to be revenged.

I had to pay for the foolish admiration I had gained by fraud on publication of Le Génie du Christianisme; I was forced to return what I had stolen. Alas! It was not necessary to put me through so much pain to rob me of that which I myself did not think I merited! If I had saved Christian Rome, I only requested an obsidional crown, of wreathed grasses gathered in the Eternal City.

The executor of justice in regard to all vanities was Monsieur Hoffman, to whom may God bring peace! The Journal des Débats was no longer free; its proprietors no longer had power over it, and censorship consigned me to condemnation there. Yet Monsieur Hoffman showed mercy towards the Battle of the Franks and several other bits of the work; if Cymodocée however seemed fine to him, he was too good a Catholic not to be indignant at the profane encounter of Christian truth with Mythological fable. Velléda could not save me. I was accused of the crime of having transformed Tacitus’ Druid cousin into a Gaul, as if I had wanted anything more than to borrow her harmonious name! Bless me, if the French Christians, to whom I have rendered such great service in raising their altars once more, hadn’t suddenly decided in their stupidity to be scandalised by Monsieur Hoffman’s evangelical speech! The title of Les Martyrs had deceived them; they expected to read a martyrology, and a tiger, which only tore apart a daughter of Homer, seemed to them a sacrilege.

The true martyrdom, of Pope Pius VII whom Bonaparte had brought to Paris as his captive, caused no scandal, but they were all stirred by my fictions, which displayed little Christianity, they said. And it was the Bishop of Chartres who took it upon himself to mete out justice in regard to the terrible impieties of the author of Le Génie du Christianisme. Alas! One must say that these days his zeal is required in a good many other causes.

The Bishop of Chartres is the brother of my excellent friend, Monsieur de Clausel, a very fine Christian who will not allow himself to be carried away by as sublime a virtue as his brother, the critic.

I thought I ought to reply to this censure, as I had done in regard to Le Génie du Christianisme. Montesquieu, with his defence of L’Esprit des Lois, was my example. I was in error. Authors who are attacked may make the finest reply in the world, but only raise a smile from impartial minds and mockery from the crowd. They place themselves on treacherous ground: a defensive stance is antipathetic to the French character. When, in order to respond to the objections, I showed that in stigmatising such and such a passage, one was attacking some fine relic of antiquity; defeated by the facts, they abandoned the affair saying then that Les Martyrs was merely a pastiche. If I justified the simultaneous presence of two religions by employing the authority of the Fathers of the Church, they replied that in the era in which I had set the action of Les Martyrs, paganism no longer existed as far as great minds were concerned.

I thought in all good faith that the work had failed; the violence of the attack had shaken my confidence as an author. Friends consoled me; they maintained that the proscription was unjustified, that the public, sooner or later, would take a different view; Monsieur de Fontanes especially stood firm: I was not Racine, but he could have been Boileau, and he never stopped saying to me: ‘They will come round to it.’ His persuasiveness in this regard was so profound that it inspired him to delightful verse:

Tasso, wandering from town to town, etc. etc.’

- without fear of compromising his taste or the authority of his judgement.

Indeed Les Martyrs revived; it achieved the honour of four consecutive editions; it has even enjoyed special favour among men of letters: they were grateful to me for a work which testified to serious study, to some care for style, to an elevated respect for language and taste.

The criticism of its content was swiftly abandoned. To say that I had intermingled the sacred and the profane, because I had depicted two cults existing side by side, each of which had its adherents, its altars, its priests, its ceremonies, was to say that I should have renounced all claim to be writing history. For whom did the martyrs die? – For Jesus Christ. Whom were they sacrificed to? – To the gods of the Empire. There were two religions, then.

The philosophical question, as to whether, under Diocletian, the Romans and Greeks believed in the gods of Homer, and whether public observance underwent change, that question, as a poet, did not concern me; as a historian I would have had much to say.

All of that is no longer an issue. Les Martyrs lives on, contrary to my initial expectation, and I have only had to occupy myself in carefully revising the text.

The failings of Les Martyrs lie in the direct presentation of the marvellous which, along with the rest of my Classical prejudices, I employed at the wrong moments. Frightened of innovation, it seemed impossible to me to avoid hell and heaven. The good and evil angels however were adequate for the course of the action, without delivering it over to hackneyed mechanisms. If the Battle of the Franks, Velléda, Jérôme, Augustine, Eudore, Cymodocée; if the descriptions of Naples and Greece could not obtain mercy for Les Martyrs, it was not for heaven and hell to rescue it. One of the passages most pleasing to Monsieur de Fontanes was this.

Cymodocée sat in front of the prison window, and resting her head, adorned with a martyr’s veil, on her hand, sighed out these harmonious words:

“Fragile Italian vessels, cleave the calm and shining sea; slaves of Neptune, abandon your sails to the amorous breath of the winds, bend to the brisk oar. Return me to the protection of my husband and my father, by the happy banks of Pamisus.

Fly, Libyan birds, whose sinuous necks curve so gracefully, fly to the summit of Ithome, and say that a daughter of Homer goes to gaze on the laurels of Messene once more!

When shall I return to my bed of ivory, to the light of day so dear to mortals, to the meadows scattered with flowers that a pure stream waters, that modesty adorns with its breath!”

Deux scènes des « Martyrs »

‘Deux scènes des « Martyrs »
À gauche Cymodocèe dans son milieu païen, auprès de son père Démodocus...À droite,Cymodocèe, martyre du christianisme, au moment où elle aperçoit le tigre.’
Morceaux Choisis: Extraits des Oeuvres Complètes - Vicomte de François-René Chateaubriand (p330, 1915)
Internet Archive Book Images

Le Génie du Christianisme will remain my great work, because it produced or orchestrated a revolution in thought, and began a new era in the century’s literature. It was not the same with Les Martyrs; it came after that revolution had been carried through, it was merely an overabundant demonstration of my thesis; my style was no longer a novelty, and, except in the episode of Velléda and in the depiction of the manners of the Franks, my poem even suffers from the places which it frequented: the classical in it dominates the romantic.

Finally, the circumstances which contributed to the success of Le Génie du Christianisme no longer existed; the government, far from favouring me, was opposed to me. Les Martyrs earned me a redoubling of my persecution: the striking allusions shown in the portrait of Galerius and the depiction of Diocletian’s court did not escape the Imperial police; particularly since the English translator, who had no responsibilities to guard, and to whom it was all the same if he compromised me, highlighted the allusions in his preface.

The publication of Les Martyrs coincided with a fatal incident. It did not disarm the critics, graced with the ardour with which we grow heated in the corridors of power; they felt that literary criticism which tended to diminish the interest attached to my name might be agreeable to Bonaparte. He, like those millionaire bankers who give grand dinners and charge one for posting one’s letters, did not neglect his lesser profits.

Book XVIII: Chapter 7: Armand de Chateaubriand


Armand de Chateaubriand whom you have seen as a companion of my childhood and met again in the Army of the Princes, with the deaf and dumb girl Libba, had remained in England. Married in Jersey, he was charged with the Princes’ correspondence. Leaving on the 25th of September 1808, he was landed on the Breton coast, on the same day, at eleven at night, near Saint-Cast. The boat’s crew comprised eleven men; only two were French, Roussel and Quintal.

Armand arrived at the house of Monsieur Delaunay-Boisé-Lucas, the elder, who lived in the village of Saint-Cast, where the English were once forced to re-embark: his host advised him to leave again; but the boat was already on course for Jersey once more. Armand, having so agreed with Monsieur Boisé-Lucas’ son, gave him the packets entrusted to him by Monsieur Henri Larivière, the Princes’ agent.

I returned to the coast on the 29th of September,’ he says during one of his interrogations, ‘where I remained for two nights without seeing the boat. The moon being very full, I left again and came back on the 14th or 15th of October. I stayed there till the 24th. I spent each night amongst the rocks, but to no avail; since my boat did not arrive, and, during the day I went back to the Boisé-Lucas’ house. The same boat with the same crew, including Roussel and Quintal, was supposed to fetch me. As for precautions taken in conjunction with Monsieur Boisé-Lucas the elder, there were none apart from those I have already detailed.

The intrepid Armand, landing a few steps from his paternal home, as if on the inhospitable shores of the Crimea, gazed at the waves, searching in vain by moonlight for the vessel that might have rescued him. Long ago, when I had already left Combourg and was preparing to voyage to India, I had cast melancholy eyes on those same waves. Near the rocks of Saint-Cast where Armand lay, near the Pointe de la Varde where I had sat, a few miles of sea, crossed by our opposing gazes, witnessed the cares and separated the destinies of two men united by blood and name. It was in the midst of those waves too that I met Gesril for the last time. It often happens that in my dreams I see Gesril and Armand bathing the wounds in their brows in the depths, while the water in which we used to play in our childhood laps blood-red at my feet. (Note: The original transcripts of Armand’s trial have been sent to me by an unknown and generous hand.)

Armand succeeded in embarking on a boat purchased at Saint-Malo; but driven back by a north-westerly wind he was obliged to put in once more. At last, on the 6th of January, aided by a sailor called Jean Brien, he launched a little stranded dinghy, and seized another which was afloat. He describes his voyage, which recalls my own fate and adventures, in his interrogation of the 18th of March:

From nine in the evening when we embarked, until about two in the morning, the weather was favourable. Judging that we were then not far from the rocks called Les Mainquiers, we anchored with the intention of waiting for daylight; but the wind having freshened, and fearing it would strengthen, we continued our course. A few minutes later, the sea became very rough, and our compass having been shattered by a wave, we remained unsure of the direction we were heading. The first land we had knowledge of on the 7th (it may have been about noon then) was the Normandy coast, which forced us to put about and we returned again and anchored near some rocks called Les Écrehous, situated between the Normandy coast and Jersey. The strong contrary winds obliged us to remain in that situation for the rest of the day and the 8th. On the morning of the 9th, as soon as it was light, I said to Depagne that the wind seemed to have lessened, seeing that our boat was not labouring much, and told him to check the direction of the wind. He said he could no longer see the rocks near which we had anchored. I realised then that we were adrift and had lost our anchor. The violence of the storm left us no choice but to make for the coast. As we could not see land, I did not know how far away from it we were. It was at that moment that I threw my papers into the sea, after taking the precaution of weighting them with a stone. We then ran before the wind and made the coast at about nine in the morning, at Bretteville-sur-Ay, in Normandy.

We were met on the coast by the customs officers, who took me out of my boat half-dead, my feet and legs being frozen. They lodged us both at the house of the lieutenant of the Bretteville brigade. Two days later, Depagne was taken to the prison at Coutances, and since then, I have not seen him. A few days afterwards, I was myself transferred to the gaol in that town; on the next day I was taken to Saint-Lô by the sergeant, where I remained for eight days with the said sergeant. I appeared once before the Prefect of the department, and, on the 26th of January, I left with the captain, and sergeant of the constabulary, for Paris, where I arrived on the 28th. They took me to the office of Monsieur Desmarest, at the Police Ministry, and from there to the prison of La Grande-Force.

Armand had the winds, the waves and the Imperial police against him; Bonaparte was in league with the storms. The gods indulged in a large expenditure of anger against one puny human life.

The packet Armand threw into the sea was cast up on the beach at Notre-Dame-d’Alloue, near Valognes. The documents enclosed in this packet served as evidence in his conviction; there were thirty-two of them. Quintal, returning in his boat to the Breton beaches to take Armand off, had also been shipwrecked, by the perversity of fate, in Normandy waters, a few days before my cousin. The crew of Quintal’s boat had talked; the Prefect of Saint-Lô had learnt that Monsieur de Chateaubriand was leader of the Princes’ enterprises. When he heard that a vessel crewed by only two men had run aground, he had no doubt that Armand was one of the two, since all the fishermen spoke of him as the most fearless man they had ever seen at sea.


On the 20th of January 1809, the Prefect of La Manche, sent his account of Armand’s arrest to the Ministry of Police. His letter began thus:

My conjectures are completely vindicated: Chateaubriand is here; it is he who landed on the coast at Bretteville and who has assumed the name John Fall.

Anxious, despite the extremely precise orders I had given, that John Fall had not yet arrived at Saint-Lô, I charged the sergeant of the gendarmerie Mauduit, a reliable and very active individual, to go and find John Fall wherever he was, and bring him to me, in whatever state he might be. He found him at Coutances, at the moment when it had been arranged for him to be transferred to the hospital, to treat his legs which had been frost-bitten.

Fall appeared before me today. I had Lelièvre placed in a separate room, from which he could see John Fall’s arrival without being perceived. When Lelièvre saw him climbing the stairs near this room, he cried out, striking his hands together and changing colour: “It is Chateaubriand! How has he been taken?”

Lelièvre was not pre-warned at all. This exclamation had been drawn from him by his surprise. He begged me later not to say that he had named Chateaubriand, or he would be lost.

I kept John Fall ignorant of the fact that I knew who he was.

Taken to Paris, and imprisoned in La Force, Armand endured secret interrogation at the military gaol of the Abbaye. Bertrand, of the first demi-brigade of veterans, had been nominated by General Hulin, who had been appointed Military Commandant of Paris, judge-advocate of the military commission charged, by a decree of the 25th of February, to investigate Armand’s case.

The people implicated were Monsieur de Goyon, whom Armand had sent to Brest, and Monsieur de Boisé-Lucas, the younger, whom he had charged with transmitting letters from Henri de Larivière to Messieurs Laya and Sicard in Paris.

In a letter of the 13th of March, addressed to Fouché, Armand wrote: ‘May the Emperor deign to restore the liberty of men who now languish in prison for having shown me too much friendship. At all events, let their freedom be restored, in equal measure. I commend my unfortunate family to the Emperor’s generosity.’

The error, in a man of human feelings addressing himself to a hyena, is painful to witness. Nor was Bonaparte the Florentine lion; he did not give up the child because of the mother’s tears. I had written to ask Fouché for an interview; he granted it, and assured me, with all the coolness displayed by revolutionary indifference, ‘that he had seen Armand and I could be tranquil; that Armand had said he would die well, and that indeed he showed a very resolute air.’ If I had suggested to Fouché that he was to die, would he have preserved that deliberate tone and superb nonchalance with regard to himself?

Jospeh Fouché

‘Jospeh Fouché’
The Vicissitudes of a Lady-in-Waiting 1735-1821 - Eugène Welvert, Lilian O'Neill (p264, 1912)
Internet Archive Book Images

I applied to Madame de Rémusat, begging her to deliver a letter to the Empress asking the Emperor for justice and mercy. Madame la Duchesse de Saint-Leu told me, at Arenenberg, of the fate of my letter: Joséphine gave it to the Emperor; he appeared to hesitate as he read it, then, found some phrase that annoyed him and flung it impatiently into the fire. I had forgotten that one should only show pride on one’s own behalf.

Monsieur de Goyon, condemned with Armand, suffered his sentence. Yet Madame la Baronne-Duchesse de Montmorency, the daughter of Madame de Matignon, to whom the Goyons were allied, was pressed to intervene on his behalf. A Montmorency in service should have been able to obtain anything, if it were enough to prostitute a name to convert an old monarchy into a new power. Madame de Goyon, who was unable to save her husband, did save young Boisé-Lucas. Everything contributed to this misfortune, which struck down mere unknowns; one would have said the end of the world was at hand: with storms afloat, ambushes on land, Bonaparte, the sea, Louis XIV’s murderers, and the presence of some unknown passion perhaps, the mysterious spirit of earthly catastrophe. No one else perceived these things; it was only I who was struck by them all, and they lived on in my memory alone. What did they matter to Napoleon, these insects crushed by his hand on the crown?

On the day of execution, I wanted to accompany my comrade onto his last field of battle; I could find not a single carriage, and hurried on foot to the Grenelle Plain. I arrived, drenched in sweat, a moment too late: Armand had been shot against the outer wall of Paris. His skull was shattered; a butcher’s dog was licking his blood and brains. I followed the cart which carried the bodies of Armand and his two companions, plebeian and noble, Quintal and Goyon, to the Vaugirard cemetery where I had buried Monsieur de Laharpe. I saw my cousin for the last time, without being able to recognise him: the bullets had disfigured him, he had no face left; I could not see the ravages of time there, nor even see death there within that shapeless, bleeding orb; he remained youthful in my mind as at the time of Libba and Thionville. He was shot on Good Friday: the Crucified One appears to me at the end of all my ills. When I walk along the ramparts of the Grenelle Plain, I stop to look at the bullet marks, still visible on the wall. If Bonaparte’s lead had left no other traces, he would no longer be spoken of.

A strange linkage of destinies! General Hulin, the Military Commandant of Paris, named the commission which blew out Armand’s brains; he had been, in the past, named as President of the commission which shattered the Duc d’Enghien’s skull. After that first misfortune, ought he not to have abstained completely from councils of war? And I, I spoke of the death of the Great Condé’s descendant without mentioning General Hulin’s part in the execution of an unknown soldier, my relative. For judging the judges of that tribunal at Vincennes, I have doubtless, in turn, received my commission from Heaven.

Book XVIII: Chapter 8: The Years 1811, 1812, 1813 and 1814 – Publication of the Itinerary – A letter from Cardinal de Bausset – The death of Chénier – I am received as a member of the Academy – The matter of my speech – The Decennial Prize

Paris, 1839


The year 1811 was one of the most remarkable of my literary career. I published L’Itinéraire de Paris à Jerusalem, I took Monsieur de Chénier’s place at the Academy, and I began to write the Memoirs which I have now completed.

The success of the Itinerary was as total as that of Les Martyrs had been contentious. It is no slight scribbler on paper who, on publication of his farrago receives letters of congratulation. Among the fresh compliments which were addressed to me, I must not allow one letter, from a man of worth and virtue, to be lost, he who has written two works whose authority is recognised, and who has left almost nothing more to be said on the subjects of Bossuet and Fénelon. The Bishop of Alais, Cardinal de Bausset, is the historian of those great prelates. His praise with regard to me is infinitely exaggerated, which is the custom when writing to an author and counts for nothing; but the Cardinal makes plain the general opinion at that moment regarding the Itinerary; relative to Carthage he foresees objections which might be raised against my sense of the geography; however, that sense has prevailed, and I have set Dido’s harbours in their proper place. It is a joy to find once more in this letter the eloquence of a select society, that style rendered serious and sweet by politeness, religion and manners; an excellence of tone which we are so remote from these days.

Villemoisson, near Longjumeau (Seine et Oise).

25th March 1811.

You ought to receive, Monsieur, and have received the just tribute of public recognition and approval; but I can assure you that none of your readers can have enjoyed your fascinating work with a truer sentiment. You are the first and only traveller who has no need of etchings and drawings to bring places and monuments which recall beautiful memories and grand images before his readers’ eyes. Your soul has felt it all, your imagination has painted it all, and the reader feels with your soul and sees with your eyes.

I can only give you a very feeble impression of what I experienced from the first pages, in travelling the coast of the Isle of Corfu with you, and in watching all those immortal men reach shore, whom opposing destinies have successively led there. A few lines have sufficed for you to sketch forever the traces of their footsteps; they will always be found there within your itinerary, which will preserve them more faithfully than so many of the marble sculptures which have failed to preserve the great names which were entrusted to them.

I know the monuments of Athens at present as one seeks to know them. I have already seen them in fine etchings, I have admired them, but I have not touched them. One too often forgets that if the architects have need of their exact description, their measures and proportions, men have need of rediscovering the spirit and the genius which conceived the idea of those great monuments.

You have given back to the Pyramids their noble and profound intention that frivolous orators have not even perceived.

How grateful I am to you, Monsieur, for having doomed that stupid and savage nation to a just execration, they who, for twelve hundred years, have made a desolation of the finest countries on earth! One smiles with you in hopes of seeing them return to the desert from which they came.

You have inspired me with a transient feeling of indulgence for the Arabs, in sympathy with the noble relationship you entered into with the savages of North America.

Providence seems to have led you to Jerusalem to witness the latest representation of the primal scenes of Christianity. If it is no longer given to the eyes of man to see that tomb once more, the only one which will have nothing to reveal on the last day, Christians will always find it in the Gospels, and meditative and sensitive souls in your descriptions.

Critics will not fail to reproach you in regard to the men and events in which you have clothed the ruins of Carthage, which you cannot have depicted since they no longer exist. But, I entreat you, Monsieur, to content yourself merely with asking them if they would not be extremely unhappy themselves if they failed to find them in such engaging descriptions.

You have the right, Monsieur, to enjoy a kind of glory belonging exclusively to yourself in regard to this species of creation; but there is a still more satisfying pleasure for a character such as yours, that is to have endowed the creations of your genius with the nobility of your spirit and the elevation of your sentiments. It is that which will ensure, for all time, that your name receives the esteem, admiration and respect of all the friends of religion, virtue, and honour.

It is under that title that I beg you, Monsieur, to accept my homage with all due sentiments.

L.-F. DE BAUSSET, former bishop of Alais.


Monsieur de Chénier died on the 18th of January 1811. My friends had the disastrous idea of urging me to take his place at the Institute. They claimed that exposed as I was to the head of state’s enmity, and police suspicion and harassment, it was essential for me to join a body which was then powerful because of its renown and the men which composed it; that protected behind this shield I could work in peace.

I had an unshakeable aversion to occupying a place, even a non-governmental one; it reminded me forcibly of what had cost me the first one I held. Chénier’s heritage seemed perilous to me; I could say nothing without exposing myself; I would not pass over the regicide in silence, though Cambacérès was second in command of the State; I was determined to make my representations in support of liberty heard and to raise my voice against tyranny; I wished to dwell on the horrors of 1793, express my regrets regarding our kings’ lost relatives, grieve over the misfortunes of those who remained loyal to them. My friends replied that I was wrong; that various words in praise of the head of state, obligatory in the Academy’s proceedings, praise of which, in this respect, I considered Bonaparte worthy, would force him to swallow any truths that I wished to utter, that I would at the same time own the honour of having defended my opinions and the pleasure of having ended Madame de Chateaubriand’s apprehensions. By dint of their hammering at me, I surrendered, weary of the struggle; but I told them that they were wrong; that Bonaparte, himself, would never mistake my commonplaces regarding his son, his wife, his glory; that he would only register the criticism more deeply; that he would remember the man who resigned over the death of the Duc d’Enghien, and the author of the article which caused the Mercure’s suppression; that finally, instead of guaranteeing my tranquillity, I would rekindle the opposition towards me. They were soon obliged to recognise the truth of my words: it is true that they had not anticipated the recklessness of my acceptance speech.

I had made the customary visits to the members of the Academy. Madame de Vintimille introduced me to the Abbé Morellet. We found him sitting in an armchair in front of the fire; he was sleeping, and the Itinerary, which he was reading, had fallen from his hands. Waking with a start at the sound of my name being announced by his maidservant, he raised his head and cried: ‘There are tedious parts, tedious parts!’ I told him, laughing, that I well knew it, and would abridge the next edition. He was a good man and promised me his support, despite Atala. When, La Monarchie selon la Charte subsequently appeared, he could not recall a like political work having for author the singer of a daughter of the Floridas. Did Grotius not write the tragedy of Adam and Eve, and Montesquieu the Temple of Gnidus? It is true that I was no Grotius or Montesquieu.

Meeting of the French Academy

‘Meeting of the French Academy’
The Praise of Paris, Illustrated - Theodore Child (p281, 1893)
The British Library

The election took place; I passed scrutiny by a sufficient majority. I then set to work on my acceptance speech, I wrote and rewrote it twenty times, always dissatisfied with myself: now, wishing it to be suitable for the purpose, I would find it too forceful; now, indignation reviving, I would find it too feeble. I was unsure how to mix the dose prescribed by the academic school. If, despite my antipathy to the man, I had wished to show him the admiration which I felt for the public aspects of his life, I would have gone well beyond the peroration. Milton, whom I cite at the start of the speech, furnished me with an example:

You have not only eclipsed the achievements of all our kings, but even those which have been fabled of our heroes. Often reflect what a dear pledge the beloved land of your nativity has entrusted to your care; and that liberty which she once expected only from the chosen flower of her talents and her virtues, she now expects from you only, and by you only hopes to obtain. Revere the fond expectations which we cherish, the solicitudes of your anxious country; revere the looks and the wounds of your brave companions in arms, who, under your banners, have so strenuously fought for liberty; revere the shades of those who perished in the contest; revere also the opinions and the hopes which foreign states entertain concerning us, who promise to themselves so many advantages from that liberty, which we have so bravely acquired, from the establishment of that new government, which has begun to shed its splendour on the world, which, if it be suffered to vanish like a dream, would involve us in the deepest abyss of shame; and lastly, revere yourself; and, after having endured so many sufferings and encountered so many perils for the sake of liberty, do not suffer it, now it is obtained, either to be violated by yourself, or in any one instance impaired by others. You cannot be truly free, unless we are free too; for such is the nature of things, that he, who entrenches on the liberty of others, is the first to lose his own and become a slave.

Johnson only cited the praise given to the Protector, in order to distinguish the republican from himself; the fine passage I have just translated shows the counter-balance to those praises. Johnson’s criticism is forgotten; Milton’s defence lives on: everything that entangles itself in the parties and passions of the moment dies like the one and with the other.

My speech being ready, I was called to read it before the commission nominated to hear it: it was rejected by all but two or three members. You should have seen the fear of the proud republicans who listened to me, whom the independence of my opinions terrified: they shook with indignation and fright at a single mention of freedom. Monsieur Daru took the speech to Saint-Cloud. Bonaparte declared that if it had been given, he would have had the doors of the Institute closed and would have had me thrown into the depths of a deep pit for the rest of my life.

I received this note from Monsieur Daru:

Saint-Cloud, 28th April 1811.

I have the honour to inform Monsieur de Chateaubriand that, if he should have the time or occasion to visit Saint-Cloud, I will be able to return the speech which he has had the goodness to entrust to me. I seize this occasion to renew my assurance of the great consideration with which I have the honour to salute him.


I went to Saint-Cloud and Monsieur Daru returned me the manuscript, torn here and there, marked ab irato (in anger) with parentheses and traces of Bonaparte’s pencil: the lion’s claws had pierced it everywhere, and I took a kind of irritated pleasure in believing I could feel them in my side. Monsieur Daru did not hide Napoleon’s anger from me for an instant; but he told me that by retaining the peroration, except for a dozen words or so, and by changing almost all the rest, I would be welcomed with great applause. The speech had been copied at the château, while suppressing a few passages and interpolating others. A short time after, it appeared in the provinces, printed after that fashion.

View of the Château de Saint-Cloud at Paris

‘View of the Château de Saint-Cloud at Paris’
Israël Silvestre, 1650 - 1655
The Rijksmuseum

This speech is one of the best proofs of the independence of my opinions and the firmness of my principles. Monsieur Suard, free and steadfast, said that the speech, read to the full Academy would have made the vaulted ceilings of the room crumble to the thunder of applause. Could one indeed imagine ardent praise of liberty proclaimed in the midst of imperial servility?

I had preserved that speech with religious care; misfortune decreed that quite recently on leaving the Marie-Thérèse Infirmary, a pile of papers were burnt among which the speech perished. I regret it - not because it might be worth something as an Academy speech; but for the uniqueness of the relic. I had set there the names of my colleagues whose works had furnished me with a pretext for displaying various honourable sentiments.

In the manuscript which was returned to me, the beginning of the speech referring to Milton’s views was crossed out, from margin to margin, by Bonaparte’s own hand. A section of my complaint about the isolation from things in which they sought to keep literature was equally stigmatised by the pencil. My praise of Abbé Delille, which recalled the emigration, the fidelity the poet showed towards the misfortunes of the royal family, and the sufferings of his companions in exile, was placed in parentheses; the praise of Monsieur de Fontanes had a cross. Almost all I had said regarding Monsieur Chénier, his brother, on my family, on the expiatory altars being planned for Saint-Denis, was hatched with lines. The paragraph beginning with the words: ‘Monsieur de Chénier adored liberty, etc.’ had a double longitudinal erasure. I am still unable to understand why the corrupt text of the speech, published by the agents of Empire, has quite correctly retained that paragraph. ‘Monsieur de Chénier adored liberty; should we consider it criminal in him? Even the knights, if they rose now from their tombs, would follow the luminaries of our century. We would see an illustrious alliance formed between honour and liberty, as, in the reigns of the Valois, Gothic crenellations crowned with infinite grace our monuments’ orders borrowed from Greece.

Is liberty not the greatest human good, and the first human need? It inspires genius, lifts the heart, and is as essential to the friends of the Muses as the air they breathe. The arts can, up to a certain point, live in a state of dependency, because they serve a language apart not understood by the crowd; but literature, which speaks a universal language, languishes and dies in irons. How can one trace pages worthy of future ages, if one must forbid, in writing, every generous feeling, every great and vigorous thought? Liberty is so naturally a friend of the sciences and literature, that she takes refuge with them when she is banished from the heart of the nation. It is you, gentlemen, whom she charges with writing her history, taking revenge on her enemies, transmitting her name and her worship to the furthest posterity.’ I am inventing nothing, altering nothing: one can read the passage as printed in the pirated edition. The objurgation of tyranny which follows this passage on liberty, and which forms a counterpart to it, is suppressed in its entirety in that edition cut by the police. The peroration is retained: only the praise of our victories, with which I intended to honour France, is turned entirely to Napoleon’s profit.

All was not over when it was declared that I would not be welcome at the Academy and that my speech had been returned to me. They wished to compel me to write another; I declared that I stood by the first one and would not write a second. People, unknown to me, full of grace, generosity and courage, showed interest in me. Madame Lindsay, who had accompanied me back to Calais, spoke to Madame Gay who addressed herself to Madame Regnaud de Saint-Jean-d’Angély; they succeeded in taking it as far as the Duc de Rovigo and suggested he set me aside. The women of that time interposed their beauty between power and misfortune.

This whole business carried on, like that of the Decennial Prize, until 1812. Bonaparte, who was persecuting me, had nevertheless asked the Academy, regarding this prize, why Le Génie du Christianisme had not been appointed to the ranks. The Academy explained: several of my colleagues wrote a judgement hardly favourable to my work. I might have said to them what a Greek poet said of a swallow: ‘Daughter of Attica, fed on honey, you who sing so beautifully, you capture a cicada, a fine singer like yourself, and carry her off to feed your little ones. Both winged, both inhabiting the same places, both celebrating the birth of spring, will you not set her free once more? It is not right for one singer to be slain by the beak of one of its peers.’

Book XVIII: Chapter 9: L’Essai sur les Révolutions – Les Natchez


This mixture of anger against me and attraction for me which Bonaparte displayed was curious and persistent: he wished me imprisoned for the rest of my days at Vincennes, then suddenly asked the Institute why he had not spoken to me on the occasion of the Decennial Prize. He did more, he declared to Fontanes that, since the Institute did not find me worthy enough to compete for the prize, he would give me one, by nominating me as general superintendent of all the libraries in France; an appointment with the same status as an ambassador of the first rank. Bonaparte had not relinquished his first idea of employing me in a diplomatic career: he refused to admit, since he well knew, that I had ceased to belong to the Foreign Office. And yet, despite these generous plans, his Prefect of Police invited me, on the contrary, to absent myself from Paris, and I went off to continue my Memoirs in Dieppe.

Bonaparte fell into the role of a tormenting schoolboy; he dug out the Essay on Revolutions and delighted in the battle he drew me into on that subject. A Monsieur Damaze de Raymond became my champion: I went to the Rue Vivienne to thank him. On his chimneypiece among the good-luck charms he had a skull; some time later he was killed in a duel and his charming face went to join the terrifying visage which seemed to have called to him. Everyone fought then: one of the informers charged with arresting Georges Cadoudal received a bullet in the head from him.

In order to cut short my powerful adversary’s attacks of bad faith, I addressed myself to that Monsieur de Pommereul whom I mentioned on my first arrival in Paris: he had become Director-General of Censorship, responsible for printing and book-selling: I asked his permission to reprint the Essai in its entirety. My correspondence and the result of that correspondence can be seen in the preface to the 1826 edition of L’Essai sur les Révolutions, in the second book of my complete works. Moreover, the Imperial government had the best of reasons for refusing a reprint of the entire work; the Essay was, neither in relation to liberty, nor the legitimate monarchy, a book which ought to have been published while despotism and usurpation reigned. The police showed an air of impartiality in allowing something to be said in my favour, and they laughed while preventing me doing the one thing which could have protected me. On the restoration of Louis XVIII, the Essai was exhumed once more; as they had chosen to use it against me during the Empire, on the grounds of freedom, they chose to deploy it against me, after the Restoration, on religious grounds. I have made such complete and honourable amends for my errors in the notes to the new edition of the Essai historique, that there is nothing left to reproach me with. Posterity will arrive, and make its pronouncements on the book and the commentary, if these old matters still interest it. I dare to hope it will judge the Essai as my grey head judges it; since in advancing through life, one acquires the impartiality of that future which one nears. The book and the notes set me before mankind such as I was at the start of my career, such as I am at the end of that career.

Moreover, that work which I have treated with merciless rigour offers a compendium of my existence as poet, moralist and politician of the future. The work’s sap overflows, the audacity of its opinions is taken as far as it might go. I am forced to recognise that, in the diverse paths I took, prejudice did not lead me, I was not blinded by any cause, no interest guided me, that the decisions I made were my own choice.

In the Essay, my independence in religion and politics is total; I question everything: a republican, I serve the monarchy; a philosopher, I honour religion. These are in no way contradictions, they are consequences determined by the vagueness of theory and the precision of practice among men. My spirit, created to believe in nothing, not even myself, created to scorn everything, grandeur and wretchedness, nations and kings, has nevertheless been dominated by an instinct for reason which commands it to yield to whatever has been recognised as fine: religion, justice, humanity, equality, liberty, glory. Whatever one dreams now of the future, whatever the present generation imagines it has revealed of a new society, founded on quite different principles to the old society, all that is announced positively in the Essay. I have anticipated for thirty years what those who proclaim it have to tell of an unknown world. My actions have been those of the old civilisation, my thoughts of the new; the former arose from duty, the latter from my very nature.

The Essay was not an impious book: it was a book of doubt and sadness. I have already spoken of it.

Besides, I was forced to exaggerate my faults, and re-purchase with ideas of order all those passionate ideas spread throughout my work. At the start of my career I feared I had led the young astray; I have to atone for it to them, and I owe them at least one more piece of advice. If only they knew that one can struggle successfully with a troubled nature; moral beauty, divine beauty, superior to all earthly dreams, that I have seen; it only needs a little courage to reach out and grasp it.

In order to complete what I have to say regarding my literary career, I must mention the work which began it, and which remained in manuscript until the year when I added it to my Complete Works.

At the start of Les Natchez, the preface tells how the work was retrieved from England through the care and kind investigations of Messieurs de Thuisy.

A manuscript from which I was able to extract Atala, René, and several descriptions for Le Génie du Christianisme was not altogether sterile. That first manuscript was written continuously, without sections; all the subjects were jumbled together; travel, natural history, dramatic parts, etc; but besides this manuscript with its single outpouring there existed another divided into books. In this second work, I had not only proceeded to divide the material up, but I had also altered the nature of the composition, in transmuting it from a novel into an epic.

A young man, who heaps up his ideas, inventions, studies, and reading, pell-mell, must produce chaos; but also in that chaos there is a certain fecundity which belongs to the powers of youth.

What happened to me has never perhaps happened to any other author: the re-reading after thirty years of a manuscript that I had totally forgotten about.

I had one danger to fear. In passing the brush over the painting once more, I might dim the colours; a surer hand, but a less rapid one, ran the risk of making the least correct traits vanish, but the most lively touches of youth too: it was necessary to leave the foam on the young courser’s bit. If there are things in Les Natchez which I would not chance today without trembling, there are also things I could no longer write, notably René’s letter in the second volume. It is in my early manner, and reproduces René exactly: I am not sure if the Renés who have followed me could have made any better an approach to speaking of madness.

Les Natchez opens with an invocation to the wilderness and the starry night, the supreme divinities of my youth:

In the shade of the American forests, I will sing the songs of solitude, such as have never been heard by mortal ears; I will tell of your travails, O Natchez, O nation of Louisiana of whom only the memories remain! Do the misfortunes of an obscure inhabitant of the woods have less right to our pity than those of other men? And are the mausoleums of kings in our churches more moving than an Indian’s grave beneath his native oak-tree?

And may you, light of my meditations, star of the night, be Pindar’s star for me! Move before my footsteps, through the unknown regions of the New World, that I may discover by your light the delightful secrets of these wildernesses!’

Les Natchez

‘Les Natchez’
Oeuvres Complétes de M. le Vicomte de Chateaubriand, Tome Seizieme - Vicomte de François-René Chateaubriand (p9, 1832)
Internet Archive Book Images

My twin natures are merged in this strange work, particularly in the primitive original. There one finds political incident and a novelistic plot; but throughout the narration one hears everywhere a singing voice, which seems to rise from some unknown region.

The End of my Literary Career

From 1812 to 1814, a mere two years saw the end of the Empire, and those two years, the prospect of which has been anticipated somewhat, I employed in research regarding France and the composition of several books of these Memoirs; but I printed nothing. My life of poetry and erudition was finally brought to an end with the publication of my three great works, Le Genie du Christianisme, Les Martyrs, and L’Itineraire. My political writings commenced at the Restoration; my active political career began with those writings also. So here my literary career can be properly said to terminate; carried along by the tide of years, I have neglected it; it is only this year, 1839, that I recall the days of 1800 to 1814, now left behind.

That literary career, as I have tried to persuade you, was no less difficult than my careers as traveller and soldier; it equally involved effort, battles and blood in the arena; it was not all a matter of the Muses and the Castilian spring; my political career was even stormier.

Perhaps ruins will mark the place occupied by my grove of Acadame. Le Génie de Christianisme began the religious revolt against the philosophism of the eighteenth century. I inaugurated at the same time that revolution which menaces our language, since it is not possible to have a renewal of ideas without stylistic innovation. Will there be other forms of art after me at present unknown? Can we forsake our current projects in order to advance, as we have forsaken past projects in order to take a step forward? Are there boundaries one cannot cross, because one will come up against the very nature of things? Are not those boundaries located where modern languages separate out, in the obsolescence of those same languages, in the human vanities that the new society has turned them into? Languages only track the movements of civilisation in the moment before they reach perfection; reaching their apogee, they hang motionless for a moment, then fall without being able to rise again.

Now, the tale I am telling rejoins those first chapters of my political life, written previously at different dates. I feel a little more courage in returning to the completed parts of my edifice. When I set to work again, I trembled lest the ancient son of Coelus might find the golden trowel of Troy’s builder turning into a leaden trowel. Yet it seems to me that my memory, charged with shedding its remembrances upon me, has not failed me completely: have you felt the iciness of winter pervade my narration? Do you detect a vast difference between the dead ashes that I have tried to revive, and the living people I have led you to envisage in recounting my early days to you? My years are my secretaries; when one or other of them dies, she passes the pen to her younger sister, and I continue to dictate; as they are sisters, they have almost the same hand.

End of Book XVIII