François de Chateaubriand
Book XXIX: Madame Récamier, Rome 1828-1829
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved
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- Book XXIX: Chapter 1: Madame Récamier
- Book XXIX: Chapter 2: The Rome Embassy - Three kinds of material – My Travel Journal
- Book XXIX: Chapter 3: Letters to Madame Récamier
- Book XXIX: Chapter 4: Leo XII and the Cardinals
- Book XXIX: Chapter 5: The Ambassadors
- Book XXIX: Chapter 6: Artists ancient and modern
- Book XXIX: Chapter 7: Past visitors to Rome
- Book XXIX: Chapter 8: The present mode of life in Rome
- Book XXIX: Chapter 9: Surroundings and countryside
- Book XXIX: Chapter 10: A letter to Monsieur Villemain
- Book XXIX: Chapter 11: A letter to Madame Récamier
- Book XXIX: Chapter 12: An explanation of the Memoir you are about to read
- Book XXIX: Chapter 13: Memoir
- Book XXIX: Chapter 14: Letters to Madame Récamier
- Book XXIX: Chapter 15: A despatch
- Book XXIX: Chapter 16: Letters to Madame Récamier
- Book XXIX: Chapter 17: A despatch to Monsieur le Comte Portalis – The death of Leo XII
Book XXIX: Chapter 1: Madame Récamier
(Extracts from the 1839 material excised from the 1847-1848 revision)
Before passing on to my Rome Embassy, to that Italy, the dream of my days; before continuing my tale, I ought to speak a little more of that woman who will not be lost from sight throughout the rest of these Memoirs. A correspondence is about to be opened between her and myself: the reader should therefore know more of whom I speak, and how and when I came to know Madame Récamier.
In the various ranks of society she met more or less famous people playing their parts on the world’s stage; all worshipped her; her beauty mingles its ideal existence with the material facts of our history; a serene light illuminating a stormy picture. Let us return once more to time past; and try by the light of my setting sun to sketch a portrait in the heavens, over which an approaching night will soon spread its shadow.
After my return to France in 1800, as I have mentioned, a letter published in the Mercure caught the attention of Madame de Staël. I had not yet been erased from the list of émigrés: Atala drew me from obscurity. Madame Bacciochi (Élisa Bonaparte), at Monsieur Fontane’s request, asked for and obtained the erasure. It was Christian de Lamoignon who introduced me to Madame Récamier; she was living at that time in her elegant mansion on the Rue du Mont-Blanc. Coming from my forests and my obscurity, I was still extremely shy; I scarcely dared raise my eyes to a woman surrounded by admirers, and placed so far above me by her beauty and her fame.
One morning, about a month later, I was at Madame de Staël’s; she received me while she was being dressed by Mademoiselle Olive, during which process she talked to me while toying with a little green twig held between her fingers: suddenly Madame Récamier entered wearing a white dress; she sat down in the centre of a blue silk sofa; Madame de Staël remained standing and continued her conversation, in a very lively manner and speaking quite eloquently; I scarcely replied, my eyes fixed on Madame Récamier. I asked myself whether I was viewing a picture of ingenuousness or voluptuousness. I had never imagined anything to equal her and I was more discouraged than ever; my roused admiration turned to annoyance with myself. I think I begged Heaven to age this angel, to reduce her divinity a little, to set less distance between us. When I dreamed of my Sylph, I endowed myself with all the perfections to please her; when I thought of Madame Récamier I lessened her charms to bring her closer to me: it was clear I loved the reality more than the dream. Madame Récamier left and I did not see her again for twelve years.
‘Portrait of Jeanne-Françoise Julie Adélaïde Bernard Récamier’
Antoine Cardon, Gaetano Stefano Bartolozzi, Gaetano Stefano Bartolozzi, 1802
Twelve years! What hostile power culls and wastes our days like this, lavishing them, ironically, on all the indifferent relationships called attachments, on all the wretched things known as joys! Then, in further derision, when it has withered and spent the most precious part of life, returns us to our point of departure. And what state does it return us in? With minds obsessed with strange ideas, importunate phantoms, and false or incomplete feelings for a world which has brought us no lasting happiness. Those ideas, phantoms, feelings interpose between us and the happiness we might still enjoy. We return with hearts ravaged by regret, grieved for our youthful errors, so painful to the memory in the modesty of age. That is how I returned after visiting Rome, and Syria; after watching the passing of an Empire, after becoming a man of the crowd, and ceasing to be a man of solitude and silence, such as I had been when I saw Madame Récamier for the first time. What had she been doing? What had her life been like?
Montaigne says that men go gaping after future things: I am obsessed with gaping at things past. Everything is delight, especially when one turn’s one’s gaze on the childhood years of those one cherishes: one extends a life beloved; one casts the affection one feels over days one has not known, and breathes new life into; one embellishes what was with what is, and rewards youth: moreover one is without apprehension, since one has the experience only for oneself; through the qualities one has discovered there, one knows that the relationship started in that springtime can make no use of its wings and can never wither from its first morning.
In Lyons I saw the Jardin des Plantes established near the amphitheatre in the gardens of the former Abbaye de la Déserte, now demolished: the Rhône and Saône are at your feet; in the distance Europe’s highest mountain rises, the first Roman milestone on the road to Italy, a white signpost above the clouds.
Madame Récamier was placed in that Abbey; she spent her childhood behind its grill, which only opened onto the church beyond at the Elevation of the Host. Then one could see young girls prostrating themselves in the chapel inside the Convent. The Abbess’s name-day was the community’s principal day of celebration; the most beautiful of the girls paid the customary compliments: dressed in her finery, her hair plaited, her head was veiled and crowned by her companions; and all was done without speaking, since the hour of rising was one of those named as an hour of profound silence in the convents. It goes without saying that Juliette had the honours of the day.
Her father and mother, established in Paris, summoned their children to them. With the rough sketches written by Madame Recamier I received this note:
‘On the eve of the day when my aunt came to fetch me, I was led to the Abbess’ room to receive her blessing. On the next day, bathed in tears, I passed through the egress whose door I could not remember opening to allow my entry, and found myself in a carriage with my aunt, and we left for Paris.
I left that time of peace and purity with regret, in order to enter one of anxiety. It comes back to me sometimes like a vague sweet dream with its clouds of incense, its endless ceremony, its processions through the gardens, its hymns and flowers.’
Those hours extracted from a desert of piety, now repose in a different religious solitude, having lost nothing of their freshness and harmony.
Such is the power of novelty in England, that the newspapers next morning were full of the arrival of the foreign Beauty. Madame Récamier received visits from everyone to whom she had sent letters. Among these persons the most remarkable was the Duchess of Devonshire, who was then between forty-five and fifty years of age. She was still fashionable and beautiful though she had lost an eye, a fact which she hid with a lock of hair. The first time Madame Récamier appeared in public, it was in her company. The Duchess directed her to her box at the Opera where she met the Prince of Wales, the Duc d’Orléans, and the latter’s brothers the Duc de Montpensier and the Comte de Beaujolais; the first two were to become Kings, one was in reach of the throne, and the other separated from it by the abyss. Lorgnettes and eyes turned towards the Duchess’ box. The Prince of Wales told Madame de Récamier that if she did not want to be stifled she must leave before the end of the performance. She had scarcely risen when the doors of the boxes were flung open: she could not escape and was swept to her carriage by the tide of people.
Next day Madame Récamier went to Kensington Gardens accompanied by the Marquess of Douglas, later Duke of Hamilton, who has since welcomed Charles X to Holyrood, and his sister the Duchess of Somerset. The crowd followed hard on the fair foreigner’s heels. This phenomenon was repeated every time she showed herself in public; the newspapers resounded with her name, and her portrait, engraved by Bartalozzi, was distributed throughout England. The author of Antigone, Monsieur Ballanche, adds that ships carried it as far as the Isles of Greece: beauty returning to the place where its image was invented. We have an unfinished portrait of Madame Récamier by David, a full-length portrait by Gérard, and a bust by Canova. The portrait is Gérard’s masterpiece; it is delightful, but does not please me, because I recognise the features without recognizing the expression of the model.
On the eve of Madame Récamier’s departure, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Devonshire asked leave to call on her and bring with them some of their set. Requests multiplying, the assembly was numerous. There was music; Madame Récamier, with the Chevalier Marin, the leading harpist of the day, performed variations on a theme of Mozart, which were dedicated to her. The English newspapers were full of the details of this soirée. They noted the deeply animated and gracious enthusiasm of the Prince of Wales, and his undivided attention to the beautiful foreigner.
The next day she set sail for The Hague, taking three days for a sixteen hour crossing. She told me that during those storm-wracked days, she read Le Génie du Christianisme; I was revealed to her, according to her generous expression: I recognise there the kindness the winds and seas have always shown me.
Madame Récamier was in Naples in February 1814; where was I? In the Vallée-aux-Loups, I was beginning the story of my life. I occupied myself writing about my childhood games to the sound of foreign soldiers. The woman whose name should close these Memoirs was wandering the shores of Baiae. Did I have a presentiment of the good which would one day come to me from that land, when I described the seductions of Parthenope in The Martyrs:
‘Each morning, as soon as dawn broke, I went out to the portico. The sun rose in front of me; it illuminated with its gentlest fires the range of hills above Salerno, the blue sea scattered with the white sails of fishing boats, the islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida, Cape Miseno and Baiae with their enchantments.
Flowers and fruits, moist with dew, are less sweet and fresh than the landscape of Naples emerging from the shadows of night. I was always surprised on reaching the portico to find myself at the edge of the sea: since the waves, in that strait, sounded with barely a fountain’s light murmur. Ecstatic before this scene I leant against a pillar, and without thought, desire, or plan, spent whole hours breathing the delicious air. The spell was so deep that it seemed as if that divine air transformed my own substance and that with inexpressible delight I was lifted towards the firmament like a pure spirit.
To wait for beauty or to seek her, to see her approaching on her seashell, and smiling at us from the midst of the waves; to sail with her across the flood, scattering flowers over its surface, to follow the enchantress into the depths of those myrtle groves and to the happy fields where Virgil places his Elysium; such was the occupation of our days.
Perhaps it is a climate dangerous to virtue, because of its extreme sensuousness? Is that not what an ingenious legend would like to tell us, by recounting that Parthenope was built about a Siren’s tomb? At Naples, the velvet brightness of the countryside, the mild temperature of the air, the contours rounding the hills, the soft curves of rivers and valleys, are as seductive to the senses as all peace is.
To escape the heat of midday, we would retire to a section of the Palace built above the sea. Lying there on beds adorned with ivory, we would listen to the murmur of the waves beneath our heads. If some storm surprised us in the depth of our retreat, slaves would light the lamps filled with the most precious nard of Arabia. Then young Neapolitan girls entered bearing roses from Paestum, in vases from Nola: while the waves sounded outside, they sang and performed tranquil dances for us that recalled the Greek style to me: thus the fictions of the poets were realised for us; they might have been the Nereids playing in Neptune’s grotto.’
Reader, if you grow impatient with my quotations, my recitations, firstly reflect that for all I know you might not have read my works, and then that I can no longer hear you; I sleep beneath the soil you tread: if you want me, stamp with your foot on the earth, you can only insult my bones. Consider moreover that my writings were an essential part of that existence whose leaves I scatter for you. Ah! Did not my Neapolitan sketches contain a deeper reality! Was not the daughter of the Rhône the true woman of my imaginary delights! Yet not so: if I was Augustine, Jerome, Eudore, I was so alone; my days in Italy preceded those of Corinne’s friend: how fortunate I would have been if they had always belonged to her! How fortunate if I could have spread my entire life under her feet, like a carpet of flowers! But my life is harsh and its asperities wound me. May at least my last moments be tender towards she who consoles them! May my dying hours reflect back to her the gentleness and charm with which she has filled them, she who has been beloved by all and of whom no one has ever complained!
‘Madame Recamier, after Jacques-Louis David’
The Women of the Salons, and other French Portraits - Evelyn Beatrice Hall (p160, 1901)
Internet Archive Book Images
It was during a grievous time for France’s glory that I met Madame Récamier again, it was at the time of Madame de Staël’s death in 1817. Returning to Paris after the Hundred Days, the author of Delphine had returned ill; I had seen her since at home, and at Madame de Duras’ house. Gradually as her state worsened she was obliged to keep to her bed. I went to see her one morning in the Rue Royale; the shutters of her windows were two-thirds closed; the bed was against the wall at the far end of the room, leaving only a narrow space on the left: the curtains drawn back on their rods formed two columns at the head of the bed. Madame de Staël was propped up by pillows in a half-sitting position. I approached, and once my eyes were somewhat accustomed to the gloom, I was able to make out the invalid’s features. A feverish flush coloured her cheeks. Her splendid eyes met mine in the shadows, and she said to me: ‘Bonjour, my dear Francis. I am suffering, but that does not prevent me from loving you.’ She held out her hand which I pressed and kissed. As I raised my head, I saw something thin and white rising up on the opposite side of the bed in the space by the wall: it was Monsieur de Rocca, haggard, and hollow-cheeked, with bleary eyes and a sallow complexion: he was dying; I had never seen him before, and I never saw him again. He did not open his mouth; he bowed as he passed me; his footsteps were inaudible: he went away like a shadow. Stopping for a moment at the door, a scrawny figure twisting its fingers, he turned back towards the bed, to wave goodbye to Madame de Staël. Those two spectres gazing at each other in silence, the one pale and erect, the other sitting there flushed with blood that was ready to flow back once more and congeal at the heart, made one shudder.
A few days later, Madame de Staël changed her lodgings. She invited me to dinner at her apartment in the Rue Neuve des Mathurins; I went there. She was not in the drawing-room and was not even able to dine; though she was unaware that the fatal hour was so close. We sat to the table. I found myself placed next to Madame Récamier. It had been twelve years since I had seen her, and then I had only glimpsed her for a moment. I did not look at her; she did not look at me; we did not exchange a single word. When, towards the end of the meal, she timidly addressed a few words to me about Madame de Staël’s illness, I turned my head a little, and raised my eyes, and saw my guardian angel at my right hand.
I should be afraid now to profane with aged lips a feeling which is still young in my memory and whose charm increases as life ebbs away. I draw aside my past years to reveal behind them celestial visions, to hear from the depths of the abyss the harmonies of a happier region.
Madame de Staël died. The last note she wrote to Madame de Duras was traced in big straggling letters like a child’s. It contained an affectionate word for Francis. The death of talent affects us more than the individual who dies: it is a common grief that afflicts society; everyone suffers the same loss at the same instant.
A considerable portion of the age I have lived in vanished with Madame de Staël; such a gap, which the vanishing of a superior intellect makes in a century, cannot be repaired. Her death made a deep impression on me, mingled with a kind of mysterious amazement: it was at that illustrious woman’s house that I had first met Madame Récamier, and after long years of separation it was Madame de Staël once more who brought together two travellers who had become almost strangers to one another: with a funeral banquet she left them a memory of herself and the example of an immortal attachment. I went to see Madame Récamier in the Rue Basse-du-Rempart and later in the Rue d’Anjou. When a man is reunited with his fate, he imagines he has never left it: life according to Pythagoras is merely reminiscence. Who, in the course of his life, does not remember certain little circumstances of no interest to anyone except he who recalls them? The house in the Rue d’Anjou had a garden; in the garden was a lime-tree bower between whose leaves I would see a gleam of moonlight while waiting for Madame Récamier: does it not seem to me now that surely that gleam is mine, and that if I went to that very place I would find it again? Yet I barely remember the sun I have seen shining on so many brows.
‘Madame de Staël, after François Gérard’
The Women of the Salons, and other French Portraits - Evelyn Beatrice Hall (p137, 1901)
Internet Archive Book Images
It was at that time that I was obliged to sell the Vallée-aux-Loupes, which Madame Récamier rented, going halves with Monsieur de Montmorency. Increasingly tried by fate, Madame Récamier retired to the Abbaye-aux-Bois. A dark corridor connected two little rooms; I maintained that this hallway was lit by a gentle light. The bedroom was furnished with a bookcase, a harp, a piano, a portrait of Madame de Staël, and a view of Coppet by moonlight. On the window sills were pots of flowers.
When, breathless after climbing three flights of stairs, I entered this little cell as dusk was falling, I was entranced. The windows looked out over the Abbaye garden, around the green enclosure of which the nuns made circuits, and in which the schoolgirls ran about. The summit of an acacia tree reached to eye-level and the hills of Sèvres could be seen on the horizon. The setting sun gilded the picture and entered through the open windows. Madame Récamier would be at the piano; the Angelus would toll; the notes of the bell, which seemed to mourn the dying day: ‘il giorno pianger che si more’, mingled with the final accents of the invocation to the night from Steibelt’s Romeo and Juliet. A few birds would come and settle on the raised window-blinds. I would merge with the distant silence and solitude, above the noise and tumult of a great city.
The Stratford Gallery - Henrietta L. Palmer (p29, 1859)
Internet Archive Book Images
God, in giving me these hours of calm, compensated me for my hours of trouble; I caught a glimpse of the future peace which my faith believes in and my hopes invoke. Worried as I was elsewhere by political affairs, or disgusted by the ingratitude of the Court, tranquillity of heart awaited me in the depths of that retreat, like the coolness of the woods on leaving a scorching plain. I recovered my calm beside a woman who spread serenity around her, without it being too level a tranquillity, for it passed among profound affections. Alas! The men whom I used to meet at Madame Récamier’s, Mathieu de Montmorency, Camille Jordan, Benjamin Constant, the Duc de Laval have gone to join Hingant, Joubert, Fontanes, other absentees of an absent company. Among that succession of friendships other young friends arose, springtime shoots in an old forest where the felling is eternal. I ask of them, I ask of Monsieur Ampère, who will happily take my place when I am gone, and who will read this in editing my proofs, I ask them one and all to preserve a memory of me: I hand them the thread of a life whose end Lachesis is loosing from the spindle. My inseparable friend on the road, Monsieur Ballanche, finds himself alone at the end of my career as he was at the beginning; he has been the witness of my friendships severed by time, as I have been witness to his swept away by the Rhône. Rivers always undermine their banks.
My friends’ misfortunes have often weighed on me and I have never shirked those sacred burdens: the moment of reward has arrived: a serious attachment deigns to help me bear whatever their weight adds to wretched days. Approaching my end, it seems to me that all I have loved I have loved in Madame Récamier, and that she was the hidden source of all my affections. My memories of various times, those of my dreams, as well as those of my realities, have been kneaded together, blended to make a compound of charms and sweet sufferings, of which she has become the visible form. She rules over my feelings, in the same way that Heaven’s authority has brought happiness, order and peace to my duties.
I have followed the fair traveller along the path she has trodden so lightly; I will soon go before her to a new country. Wandering through these Memoirs, through the passages of this Basilica I am hastening to complete, she may come across this chapel which I dedicate to her; it may please her perhaps to rest here a moment: I have placed her image here.
Book XXIX: Chapter 2: The Rome Embassy - Three kinds of material – My Travel Journal
What I have just written in 1839 of Madame de Staël and Madame Récamier is linked to this book concerning my Embassy in Rome written in 1828 and 1829, ten years ago. I have introduced the reader to a little circuitous by-way of the Empire, while that Empire continued its common progress; I now find myself led on to my Rome Embassy. There is abundant material for this book. It is of three kinds:
The first contains the history of my intimate feelings and my private life as related in letters addressed to Madame Récamier.
The second reveals my public life; in my despatches.
The third is a mixture of historical details on the Papacy, the ancient society of Rome, the changes in that society from century to century, etc.
Among these investigations are thoughts and descriptions, the fruit of my walks. It was all written in the space of seven months, during the period of my Embassy, in the midst of celebrations and serious affairs (in re-reading these manuscripts I have only added a few passages from works published after the date of my Rome Embassy). However, my health had altered: I could not raise my eyes without experiencing dizziness; to admire the sky, I was forced to place it on my own level, by ascending the heights of a Palace or a hillside. But I countered weariness of the body by applying the spirit: exercising my mind renewed my physical strength; what might have killed another man gave me life.
In seeing it all again, one thing struck me: on my arrival in the Eternal City, I felt a certain displeasure, and I thought for a while that everything had changed; little by little the fever for ruins gripped me, and I ended, like a thousand other travellers, by adoring what had at first left me cold. Nostalgia is regret for one’s native land: on the banks of the Tiber one also feels home sickness, but it produces an opposite effect to its customary one: you are seized with a love for solitude and disgust with your homeland. I had already experienced that sickness during my first journey, and could have said:
‘Agnosco verteris vestigia flammae:
I recognise the traces of the ancient flame.’
You know that on the formation of Martignac’s government the name of Italy alone had rid me of my remaining objections; but I am never sure of my moods in matters of pleasure: I had no sooner parted from Madame de Chateaubriand than my innate melancholy met me on the road. You can persuade yourself of that from my travel journal.
‘Lausanne, 22nd September 1828.
I left Paris on the 14th of this month; I spent the 15th at Villeneuve-sur-Yonne; what memories! Joubert is gone; the deserted Château of Passy has changed ownership; it has been said: ‘Be the cicada in the night. Esto cicada noctium’.
‘Arona, 27th of September.
Arriving at Lausanne on the 20th, I have followed the route along which two other women who wished me well have vanished, and who, in the order of things should have survived me: the one, Madame la Marquise de Custine, has recently died at Bex, the other, Madame la Duchesse de Duras, not a year ago, hastened to Simplon, fleeing the death which came to her at Nice.
“Noble Clara, worthy, constant friend,
Your memory here’s no more alive:
From this grave they turn their eyes:
The world forgets, and your name has end!”
The last letter I received from Madame de Duras is full of the bitterness of that last taste of life which is bound to weary us all:
“Nice, 14th November 1827.
I have sent you an asclepias carnata: it is a ‘laurel’ growing on open ground which tolerates cold and has a red flower like a camellia, with an excellent scent; place it beneath the Benedictine’s library window.
I will give you a little of my news: it is always the same; I languish on my sofa all day, that is to say whenever I am not in my carriage or walking out; which I can’t do for more than a half-hour. I dream of the past; my life has been so restless, so varied, that I cannot say I experience any great boredom: if I could only sew or work on my tapestry, I would not consider myself unfortunate. My present existence is so remote from my past existence, that it seems to me as if I were reading my memoirs or watching a play.”
Thus, I have returned to Italy, deprived of means, just as I left it twenty-five years ago. But in those days I could repair my losses, now who would wish to associate with old age? No one cares to inhabit a ruin.
In that very town of Simplon I saw the first smile of a happy dawn. The rocks, whose blackened base stretched to my feet, shone rose-red to the summits of the mountains, struck by the sun’s rays. To leave the shadows it is enough to raise oneself towards the Heavens.
If Italy had lost its lustre for me since my trip to Verona in 1822, in this year of 1828 it seemed even more faded; I was measuring the passage of time. Leaning on the balcony of an inn at Arona, I gazed at the shores of Lake Maggiore, painted with gold by the setting sun and rimmed with azure waves. Nothing could be as lovely as that landscape edged with the castle’s crenellations. The spectacle invoked in me neither pleasure nor sentiment. Our younger years are mingled with glimpses of hope; a young man wanders with what he loves, or with memories of absent happiness. If he has no close ties, he seeks them; he convinces himself he has found something at every step; joyful thoughts pursue him: the disposition of his soul is reflected in the objects around him.
‘Locano on the Lago Maggiore’
Switzerland: its Scenery and People - Theodor Gsell Fels (p577, 1881)
The British Library
Moreover, I feel the diminishment of present society less when I am alone. Left to the solitude in which Bonaparte has left the world, I scarcely hear the feeble generations who pass by wailing at the edge of the wilderness.’
‘Bologna, 28th of September 1828.
At Milan, in less than a quarter of an hour, I counted seventeen hunchbacks passing beneath the window of my inn. German punishments have deformed young Italy.
‘San Carlo Borromeo’
Attributed to Francesco Furini, 1604 - 1646
At Borgo San Donnino, Madame de Chateaubriand rushed into my room in the middle of the night; she had seen her clothes and her straw hat fall from the chairs from which they were hanging. She was convinced we were in an inn haunted by ghosts or inhabited by thieves. I had not experienced any disturbance in bed: yet it is true that an earthquake was felt in the Apennines: what overthrows cities could certainly make a woman’s clothes fall to the floor. That’s what I told Madame de Chateaubriand; I also told her that in Spain, in the Vega of the Xenil, I had passed through a village demolished the previous day by a subterranean shock. These noble attempts at consolation had little success, and we hastened to leave that assassins’ cave.
The remainder of my journey everywhere revealed the transience of men and the inconstancy of fortune. At Parma, I found a portrait of Napoleon’s widow; that daughter of the Caesars is now the wife of Count von Neipperg; mother of the conqueror’s son, she has given that son brothers; she guaranteed the heavy debts she had incurred by means of a little Bourbon who was given Lucca, and who if it came to it would inherit the Duchy of Parma.
Bologna seemed less deserted to me than at the time of my first trip. I was received there with the honours with which one astounds Ambassadors. I visited a fine cemetery: I never forget the dead; they are family.
I have never admired Carrachi so much as in the new gallery in Bologna. I thought I was seeing Raphael’s St Cecilia for the first time she was so much more divine than in the Louvre, under our soot-daubed sky.’
‘Annibale Carracci 1560-1609. Virgin and Sleeping Child (Louvre)’
A History of Painting...with a Preface by Frank Brangwyn - Haldane Macfall (p68, 1911)
Internet Archive Book Images
‘Ravenna, 1st October 1828.
In the Romagna, a countryside which I did not know, a multitude of towns, their houses coated with whitewash, are perched on the heights of little hills like flocks of white pigeons. Each of these towns offers you masterpieces of modern art or ancient monuments. This region of Italy contains all Roman history; you need to travel it with Livy, Tacitus and Suetonius in hand.
I passed through Imola, the diocese of Pius VII, and Faenza. At Forlì I made a detour to visit Dante’s tomb in Ravenna. Approaching the monument, I was seized by that thrill of admiration a great name inspires, when the owner of that name was subject to misfortune. Alfieri, who betrayed on his brow the pallor of death and its hope, prostrated himself on the marble floor and addressed a sonnet to him: “O gran padre Alighier!” Before the tomb I considered the appropriateness of these lines from the Purgatorio:
Lo mondo è cieco, e tu vien ben da lui.
the world is blind, and truly you come from there.”
“My sorrowful canzone,” says the father of the modern Muse, “now go weeping: and find the ladies, and young ladies, to whom your sisters used to bring delight: and you, who are the daughter of my sadness, go, disconsolate, to be with them.”
‘Dante and Beatrice. Photogravure from the Original Painting by Henry Holiday’
The Divine comedy of Dante Alighieri - Dante Alighieri, Henry Francis Cary (p321, 1901)
Internet Archive Book Images
And yet the creator of a new world of poetry forgot Beatrice when she had left the earth; he did not find her again, to adore her with the power of his genius, until he was disillusioned. Beatrice reproached him, as she prepared to show her lover the Heavens: “For a while I supported him,” she told the angels of Paradise, “with my face: showing him my young eyes. but, as soon as I was on the threshold of my second age, and changed existences, he left me and gave himself to others.”
Dante refused to return to his city at the cost of an apology. He replied to one of his relatives: “If in order to return to Florence there is no other road open to me than that, I will not return. I can contemplate the sun and stars anywhere.” Dante denied himself to the Florentines, and Ravenna has denied them his ashes, even though Michelangelo, the risen spirit of the poet, promised to adorn for Florence the funeral monument of one who had learnt how man makes himself eternal.
The painter of the Last Judgement, the sculptor of Moses, the architect of the Dome of St Peter’s, the engineer of the old bastion of Florence, the poet of the Sonnets addressed to Dante, joined with his compatriots and supported the request he presented to Leo X with these words: “Io, Michel Angolo, scultore, il medesimo a Vostra Santità supplico, offerendomi al divin poeta fare la sepoltura sua condecente e in loco onorevole in questa citta.”
Michelangelo, whose chisel was deceived in its expectations, had recourse to his crayon to raise a different mausoleum to the author himself. He drew the principal subjects of the Divine Comedy on the margins of a folio copy of the great poet’s works; a ship, which was carrying this doubly-precious monument from Livorno to Civita-Vecchia, was wrecked.
I was returning, deeply moved, and feeling something of that confusion mixed with divine terror that I experienced in Jerusalem, when my cicerone proposed to take me to Lord Byron’s house. Ah! What did Childe Harold and Signora Guiccioli matter to me in the presence of Dante and Beatrice! Childe-Harold still lacks misfortune and the centuries; let him wait on the future. Byron was poorly inspired in hisProphecy of Dante.
I found Constantinople again in San Vitale and Sant’ Apollinaire. Honorius and his chicken did not impress me; I preferred Placidia and her adventures, the memory of which returned to me in the Basilica of St John the Evangelist; it is a Roman amongst the Barbarians. Theodoric is still great, though he had Boetius killed. Those Goths were of a superior race; Amalasuntha, banished to an island in Lake Bolsena, with her minister Cassiodorus tried to conserve what remained of Roman civilisation. The Exarchs brought Ravenna the decadence of their Empire. Ravenna was Lombard under Aistulf; the Carolingians returned it to Rome. It became subject to its Archbishop then changed finally into a Republic under a tyrant, having been Guelph and Ghibilline by turns; after leaving the Venetian States, it returned to the Church under Julius II, and is only known today because of Dante.
‘San Vitale in Ravenna’
Ährenlese - Carl Vischer-Merian (p45, 1893)
The British Library
This city, that Rome gave birth to in its old age, inherited something of its mother’s antiquity. All in all, I would like living there; I would enjoy visiting the French Column, erected in memory of the Battle of Ravenna. Cardinal de Medici (Leo X) was present, with Ariosto, Bayard and Lautrec, the brother of the Comtesse de Chateaubriand. There at the age of twenty-four died the handsome Gaston de Foix: “Notwithstanding the weight of Spanish artillery fire, the French continued to advance,” says the Loyal Serviteur; “since God created Heaven and Earth, there was never a harsher or crueller encounter between the French and the Spanish. They rested opposite each other to recover their breath; then, lowering their visors they recommenced more fiercely, shouting out for France and Spain!” Only a handful of knights remained of so many warriors, who, stamped with the mark of glory, then took Holy Orders.
In some cottage there you might have seen a young girl turning her spindle, her delicate fingers entangled in the hemp; she was not accustomed to such a life; she was a Trivulce. When through her half-open door she saw two waves meet in the flood’s expanse, she felt her sadness grow: the woman had been loved by a great King. She continued to wander sadly, through her isolated island, from her cottage to an abandoned church and from that church to her cottage.
The ancient forest I travelled through was composed of forlorn-looking pine-trees; they resembled the masts of galleys beached on the sand. The sun was near to setting when I left Ravenna; I heard the distant sound of a bell ringing: it was summoning the faithful to prayer.’
‘Ancona, 3rd and 4th of October.
Returning to Forlì, I have left it again without having seen the place on the crumbling ramparts where the Duchess Caterina Sforza declared to her enemies, who were ready to cut the throat of her only son, that she could yet be a mother. Pius VII, born at Cesena, was a monk in the fine monastery of Santa Maria del Monte.
Near Savignano I traversed a little torrent in a ravine: when I was told that I had crossed the Rubicon, it was as though a veil had lifted and I saw the world in Caesar’s time. My Rubicon is life: a long time ago I left its shore behind.
“E paion sì al vento esser leggieri”
Rimini, Pesaro, Fano and Sinigaglia led me to Ancona over bridges and roads left to us by Augustus. In Ancona today they are celebrating the Pope’s crowning; I can hear music being played near the triumphal arch of Trajan: double sovereignty of the Eternal City.’
‘Loreto, 5th and 6th October.
We arrived to spend the night in Loreto. The place offers a perfectly preserved specimen of a Roman colony. The peasant farmers of Notre-Dame are affluent and appear happy; the peasant women are pretty and lively, wearing a flower in their hair. The Governing-Prelate has offered us hospitality. From the tops of the bell-towers and the summits of various heights in the town, there are sunlit views of the countryside, Ancona and the sea. In the evening we had a storm. I enjoyed seeing the valentia muralis and the goats’ fumitory bowing to the wind on the old walls. I walked beneath the second floor galleries, erected after designs by Bramante. These pavements will be drenched by autumn rain; these blades of grass will quiver in the Adriatic breeze, long after I have passed.
A Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto - George Falkner (p18, 1882)
The British Library
At midnight I retired to a bed eight foot square, consecrated by Napoleon; a night light barely illuminated the gloom of my chamber; suddenly a little door opened, and I witnessed the mysterious entry of a man leading a veiled woman. I raised myself on my elbows and looked at him; he approached my bed and hastened, while bowing to the ground, to offer a thousand excuses for thus disturbing the Ambassador’s repose: but he is a widower; he is a poor steward; he desires to marry off his ragazza (daughter), she is here: unfortunately he lacks means to provide a dowry. He raised the orphan’s veil: she was pale, very pretty, and kept her eyes lowered in appropriate modesty. This father of the family had the air of one wishing to depart, leaving the intended to complete the story. In this pressing danger, I did not ask the obliging unfortunate, as the good knight asked the mother of the young girl at Grenoble, if she was a virgin; quite ruffled I took a few pieces of gold from my bedside table and gave them, in honour of the King my master, to the zitella (maid) whose eyes were not swollen with weeping. She kissed my hand in infinite gratitude. I said not a word, and as I lay down again on my immense couch, as if I wished to sleep, the vision of St Anthony vanished. I thanked my patron saint Francis whose day it was; I dozed in the gloom half-smiling, half-regretful, and with profound admiration for my restraint.
It was thus that I scattered gold once more, as the Ambassador, lodged in style in the residence of the Governor of Loreto, in that same town where Tasso stayed in a foul hovel and where, for lack of cash, he could not continue his journey. He paid his debt to Our Lady of Loreto with his canzone:
“Ecco fra le tempeste e i fieri venti: Here in the storm and wild winds”
Madame de Chateaubriand made amends for my passing fortune, by mounting the steps of Santa Chiesa on her knees. After my night-time victory, I would have had a greater right than the King of Saxony to deposit my wedding suit in the Loreto treasury; but I can never forgive myself, I a feeble child of the Muses, for having been so powerful and so happy, there where the singer of Jerusalem Delivered had been so weak and wretched! Torquato, do not consider me in this unusual moment of prosperity; wealth is not natural to me; consider me on my journey to Namur, in my garret in London, in my Paris Infirmary, in order to discover some distant resemblance between us.
I did not, as Montaigne did, leave my portrait in silver in Our Lady of Loreto, nor that of my daughter, Leonora Montana, filia unica: Léonore de Montaigne, our only child; I have never desired to perpetuate myself: and yet a daughter, and one bearing the name Léonore!’
After leaving Loreto, passing through Macerata, and leaving Tolentino behind which marked Bonaparte’s track and recalled a treaty, I climbed the last salient of the Apennines. The mountain plateau is moist and cultivated like a hop-field. On the left were Greek waters, on the right those of Spain; the breath of wind which blew against me might be one I had breathed in Athens or Granada. We descended towards Umbria, spiralling down through gorges stripped of leaves where the descendants of those mountaineers who furnished soldiers for Rome after the battle of Lake Trasimene are suspended among the thickets.
Foligno possessed a Madonna by Raphael which is now in the Vatican. Vene, in a delightful position, is at the source of the Clitumnus. Poussin has painted the site tenderly and warmly; Byron has sung it coldly.
Spoleto is where the current Pope saw the light. According to my courier Giorgini, Leo XII had settled convicts in this town to honour his birthplace. Spoleto dared to resist Hannibal. She displays several works by Filippo Lippi, who, nurtured in the cloister, a Barbary slave, a kind of Cervantes among painters, died at sixty of poison given him by the relatives of Lucrezia Buti, who was seduced by him, they say.’
At Monte-Luco, Count Potocki buried himself among delightful laurels; but did not thoughts of Rome follow him there? Did he not think himself transported into the midst of choirs of young girls? And I too, like St Jerome, “I have spent the day and the night uttering cries, striking my breast until the moment God gave me peace.” I regret no longer being what I was, plango me non esse quod fuerim.
From the nature of the light and a sort of freshness in the landscape, I might have thought I was one on of those rounded tops of the Alleghanies, it was merely a lofty aqueduct, surmounted by a narrow bridge, that recalled a Roman construction, to which the Lombards of Spoleto had set their hand: the Americans have not yet created those monuments which follow the achievement of liberty. I climbed to Somma on foot, with the oxen of Clitumnus which were leading Madame the Ambassadress to her triumph. A lean young goat-girl, as light and nimble as her nanny-goat, followed me, with her little brother, asking for carita (charity) in that opulent landscape: I gave her alms in memory of Madame de Beaumont whom these places no longer remembered.
“Alas, regardless of their doom,
The little victims play!
No sense have they of ills to come,
Nor care beyond to-day.”
I found Terni again and its waterfalls. A countryside planted with olive-trees led me to Narni; then, passing through Otricoli, we came to a halt at mournful Civita Castellana. I would have preferred to go to Santa Maria di Falleri to see a town which is no more than the shell of its walls: it is a void within: wretched humanity brought to God. My moment of grandeur past, I will return to find the city of the Falisci. From Nero’s tomb, I was soon pointing out the cross on St Peter’s, to my wife, which dominates the city of the Caesars.’
‘Tomb of P. Vibius Mariaiius, “Tomb of Nero”’
A Select Collection of Views and Ruins in Rome and its Vicinity: Recently Executed from Drawings Made Upon the Spot - J Mérigot (p94, 1815)
Internet Archive Book Images
Book XXIX: Chapter 3: Letters to Madame Récamier
You have just skimmed through my travel journal; now you can read my letters to Madame Récamier, intermingled, as I have previously said, with pages of history.
In parallel you can peruse my despatches, here. Visible especially distinctly at this time are the two men who exist within me.
To Madame Récamier
‘Rome, this 11th of October 1828..
I have traversed this beautiful country, filled with the memory of you; it consoles me, without eliminating the sadness of all the other memories I encounter again at every step. I have seen that Adriatic once more which I crossed more than twenty years ago, and in what state of mind! At Terni, I had once halted with a poor dying woman. At last I have reached Rome. Its monuments, after those of Athens, as I feared, seem less perfect to me. My memory of places, astonishing and painful at the time, has not allowed me to forget a single stone..
I have not yet seen a soul, except the Secretary of State, Cardinal Bernetti. To have someone to talk to, I went to find Guérin, yesterday at sunset: he seemed delighted with my visit. We opened a window on Rome and admired the horizon. It is the only thing which remains, for me, as I saw it: my eyes or the objects of them have changed; perhaps both.’
Book XXIX: Chapter 4: Leo XII and the Cardinals
The first hours of my stay in Rome were employed on official visits. His Holiness received me in private audience; public audiences are no longer entertained and cost too much. Leo XII, a very tall prince with an air both serene and sad, was dressed in a simple white cassock; he eschewed splendour and occupied a humble room, almost devoid of marble. He hardly ate; with his cat, he lived on a little polenta. He considered himself very ill and watched himself wither away with a resignation filled with Christian joy: like Benedict XIV he chose to store his coffin beneath his bed. Reaching the door of the Pope’s apartments, an Abbé led me through dark corridors to His Holiness’ refuge or sanctuary. He had not allowed himself time to dress, for fear of keeping me waiting; he rose, came towards me, would not allow me to kneel to kiss the border of his robe instead of his slipper, and led me by the hand to a seat placed to the right of his humble armchair. Once seated, we talked.
On Monday, at seven in the morning, I went to see the Secretary of State, Bernetti, a man of business and pleasure. He was a close friend of Princess Doria; he knew his century and only accepted the Cardinal’s hat with reluctance. He had refused to enter the Church, was only certified as a sub-deacon, and could marry tomorrow by relinquishing his hat. He believed in revolutions and went so far as to consider that, if he lived long enough, he had the possibility of seeing the temporal fall of the Papacy.
The Cardinals are divided into three factions:
The first is composed of those who seek to advance with the times and among whom are Benvenuti and Opizzoni. Benvenuti is famous for his elimination of brigandage and his mission to Ravenna after Cardinal Rivarola; Opizzoni, Archbishop of Bologna, is reconciled to the diverse opinions in that industrial and literary city which is difficult to govern.
The second faction is formed of the zelanti, who are attempting to reverse things: one of their leaders is Cardinal Odescalchi.
Finally the third faction covers those who are set in place, the elderly who do not wish to, or cannot, go forwards or backwards: among these old men one finds Cardinal Vidoni, a kind of policeman for the Treaty of Tolentino: tall and fat, shiny-faced, cap askew. When he was told he had a chance of the Papacy, he replied: Lo santo Spirito sarebbe dunque ubriaco: the Holy Spirit must have been drinking then! He is planting trees by the Milvian Bridge, where Constantine made the Christian world. I see the trees when I leave Rome by the Porto del Populo and re-enter by the Porto Angelica. From the far distance the Cardinal calls out on seeing me: Ah! Ah! Signor ambasciadore di Francia! Then he rages at the planters of pines. He does not follow Cardinals’ etiquette; he is accompanied by a single lackey in a carriage when he pleases: one excuses all, by calling him Madama Vidoni. (When I left Rome he bought my calash and did me the honour of dying in it on his way to the Milvian Bridge. Note: Paris, 1836)
‘Effigie del Card, Pietro Vidoni III’
Il Palazzo Vidoni in Roma Appartenente al Conte Filippo Vitali: Monografia Storica con Illustrazioni - Giuseppe Tomassetti (p54, 1905)
Internet Archive Book Images
Book XXIX: Chapter 5: The Ambassadors
My ambassadorial colleagues are Count Lutzow, the Austrian Ambassador, a very polite gentleman: his wife sings well, always the same air, and talks endlessly about her little ones; the learned Baron Bunsen, Prussian minister and friend of Niebuhr (I am negotiating with him the termination in my favour of the lease on his Palace on the Capitoline); and the Russian minister, Prince Gagarin, exiled among the ancient grandeurs of Rome, because of a transient affair: if he was preferred by the beautiful Madame Narishkin, living for the moment in my former hermitage of Aulnay she must have found some charm in his moodiness; one dominates more by one’s faults than one’s qualities.
Monsieur de Labrador, the Spanish Ambassador, a loyal gentleman, speaks little, walks alone, and thinks a great deal, or does not think at all, which one I can’t quite make out.
Old Count Fuscaldo represents Naples as winter represents spring. He has a large piece of cardboard which he studies through his spectacles, showing not the rose-fields of Paestum, but the names of foreign suspects to whom he must not issue passports. I envy him his Palace (Farnese), a fine unfinished structure, which Michelangelo crowned, which Annibale Carraci adorned, aided by his brother Augustino, the portico of which shelters the sarcophagus of Celicilia Metella, which has lost nothing by its change of mausoleum. Fuscaldo, wrecked in mind and body, has, they say, a mistress.
‘The Tomb of Celicilia Metella’
A Select Collection of Views and Ruins in Rome and its Vicinity: Recently Executed from Drawings Made Upon the Spot - J Mérigot (p70, 1815)
Internet Archive Book Images
The Comte de Celles, Ambassador of the King of Holland, married Mademoiselle de Valence, now dead: he has two daughters, who, in consequence, are great grand-daughters of Madame de Genlis. Monsieur de Celles remained a Prefect, because he had been one: his character is that blend of loquacity and petty tyranny, of recruiting officer and quartermaster, which one never loses. If you meet a man to whom, instead of feet, yards and acres, you must speak of decimetres, metres and hectares, you have set hands on a Prefect.
Monsieur de Funchal, semi-official Ambassador of Portugal, is grotesque, agitated, grimacing, green as a Brazilian monkey, yellow as a Lisbon orange; yet he sings the praises of his Negress, this new Camoëns! A great amateur musician, he keeps a sort of Paganini in his pay, while awaiting the restoration of his King.
Here and there, I glimpsed the petty intrigues of the Ministers of various petty States, quite scandalised by the trivial value I set on my ambassadorship: their self-importance tight-lipped, muffled, silent, trod stiff-legged taking tiny steps: it seemed ready to burst with secrets, of which it had no knowledge.
Book XXIX: Chapter 6: Artists ancient and modern
As Ambassador to England in 1822, I searched for the men and places I had formerly known in London in 1793; as Ambassador to the Holy See in 1828, I hurried off to tour the palaces and ruins, and to ask after the people I had seen in Rome in 1803; I found plenty of palaces and ruins; but few of the people.
The Palazzo Lancellotti, previously rented to Cardinal Fesch, is now occupied by its true owners, Prince Lancellotti and Princess Lancellotti, the daughter of Prince Massimo. The house where Madame de Beaumont lived in the Piazza di Spagna, has vanished. As for Madame de Beaumont, she is immured in her last rest, and I have prayed at her grave with Pope Leo XII.
Canova equally has taken leave of the world. I visited him twice in his studio in 1803; he received me mallet in hand. He showed me, in the simplest and kindest of manners, his enormous statue of Bonaparte and his ‘Hercules hurling Lycas into the waves’: he aimed to convince you that he could reach the spirit within the form; but then even his chisel refused to search anatomy deeply enough; despite him, his nymphs remained of the flesh, and Hebe was revealed beneath the wrinkles of his old women. On my wanderings I had met the foremost sculptor of my time; he has fallen from his scaffolding, as Goujon did from the scaffolding of the Louvre; Death is always there to continue his endless Saint Bartholomew’s Day, and strike us down with his arrows.
‘Theseus Vanquishing the Minotaur, by Canova (Vienna)’
Wonders of Sculpture - Louis Viardot (p263, 1873)
Internet Archive Book Images
But someone still alive, to my great joy, is my old friend Boguet, doyen of the French painters in Rome. Twice he tried to leave his beloved landscapes; he got as far as Genoa; his heart failed him and he returned to his adopted hearth. I pampered him at the Embassy, as I did his son for whom he showed a mother’s tenderness. I started our former walks with him once more; I only perceive his age from the slowness of his steps; I experience a sort of tenderness in pretending to be young, and adjusting my pace to his. Neither of us have long to watch the Tiber flow.
The great artists, in the great eras, led a life quite different to that which artists lead today: attached to the vaults of the Vatican, the sides of St Peter’s, the walls of the Villa Farnesina, they worked on their masterpieces suspended in the air alongside them. Raphael walked surrounded by pupils, escorted by Cardinals and Princes, like a senator of ancient Rome preceded and followed by his clients. Charles V posed on three occasions for Titian. He picked up his brush for him, and yielded him right of precedence, just as Francis I attended Leonardo da Vinci on his deathbed. Titian went to Rome in triumph; the great Buonarotti received him: at ninety, Titian, the conqueror of the centuries still held his century-old Venetian paintbrush in a steady hand.
The Grand-Duke of Tuscany had Michelangelo, who had died in Rome after having designed the lantern for the dome of St Peter’s, secretly disinterred. Florence, in its magnificent obsequies, expiated over the ashes of its great painter the neglect with which it treated the ashes of Dante, its great poet.
Velasquez visited Italy twice, and Italy twice rose to salute him: the precursor of Murillo took the road back to Spain laden with fruit, picked with her own hands by that Ausonian Hesperia: he brought away a painting by each of the twelve most celebrated painters of his age.
Those famous artists spent their days in celebrations and affairs; they built defences for towns and castles; they erected churches, places and battlements; they gave and received sword-thrusts, seduced women, took refuge in cloisters, were absolved by Popes and protected by Princes. In an orgy spoken of by Benvenuto Cellini, some other Michelangelo appears, along with Giulio Romano.
Today the scene has altered completely; Artists in Rome live in quiet poverty. Perhaps there is poetry in such a life that is worth more. A confraternity of German painters has set out to take painting back to Perugino, to renew its Christian inspiration. These young neophytes of St Luke claim that Raphael, in his later manner, became a pagan, and that his talent degenerated. Let it be so; let us be pagans like Raphael’s virgins; let our talent degenerate and diminish as in his painting of The Transfiguration! This honourable error of the new sacred school is no less an error; it would follow from it that rigidity and poor formal design were proof of intuitive vision, yet that expression of faith, notable in the work of pre-Renaissance painters, is not because the figures are posed stiffly, as motionless as the Sphinx, but because the painter believed as his century did. It is his thought not his art that was religious; a thing so true, that the Spanish school is eminently pious in its expressions, even though it reveals the grace and movement of painting since the Renaissance. Why so: because the Spanish are Christians.
I go to see the various artists: the trainee sculptor lives in a grotto, under the green oaks of the Villa Medici, where he is finishing his ‘child with a snake drinking from a shell’, in marble. The painter lives in a dilapidated house in a deserted location; I find him alone, capturing a view of the Roman countryside through his open window. Monsieur Schnetz’s La Brigande has become a mother asking the Madonna for her son’s recovery. Léopold Robert, returning from Naples, passed through Rome in the last few days, bringing with him the enchanted landscapes of that lovely clime, which he has done only so as to transfer them to canvas.
Guérin has retired, like a sick dove, to the heights of a pavilion in the Villa Medici. He listens, his head on his shoulder, to the sound of the breeze off the Tiber; when he wakes up he sketches the death of Priam with his pen.
Horace Vernet is trying hard to change styles; will he succeed? The snake he drapes round his neck, the costume he affects, the cigar he smokes, the fencing masks and foils with which he is surrounded, are over-reminiscent of a temporary encampment.
Who has ever heard of my friend Monsieur Quecq, a successor to Julius III in the casina created by Michelangelo, Vignola and Taddeo Zuccari? And yet he has painted, in its sequestrated Nympheum, a rather fine ‘Death of Vitellius’. The uncultivated flower beds are haunted by a cunning creature which Monsieur Quecq is busy pursuing: it is a fox, great grandson of Goupil-Renart, the first of that name and nephew of Isengrin the Wolf.
Pinelli, between two bouts of drunkenness, has promised me twelve scenes, of dancing, gaming and thieves. It is a shame he allows the large dog at his door to die of hunger. Thorwaldsen and Camuccini are the two Princes of the poor artists of Rome.
Occasionally these scattered artists meet, and go together on foot to Subiaco. On the way, they daub grotesques on the walls of the inn at Tivoli. Perhaps one day some Michelangelo will be recognised by his tracings of charcoal over a work by Raphael.
I would like to have been born an artist; solitude, independence, sunlight among the ruins and masterpieces, would have suited me. I have no needs; a piece of bread, a jug of water from the Acqua Felice, would suffice me. My life has been wretchedly snagged by branches along the way; better to have been a bird free to sing and nest among those branches!
My latter compatriot Claude also died at the feet of the Queen of the World. While Poussin depicts the Roman countryside even when the scenes of his landscapes are set elsewhere, Lorrain depicts the skies of Rome even when he paints sailing ships and the sun setting over the sea.
If only I had been a contemporary of those privileged creatures in diverse centuries for whom I feel an attraction! But I would have needed to rise from the dead far too often. Poussin and Claude Lorrain have passed to the Capitoline; kings appeared there who were not worthy of them. De Brosses met the English Pretender there; there, in 1803, I saw the King of Sardinia, who had abdicated, and now, in 1828, here I find Napoleon’s brother, the King of Westphalia. Rome, deposed, offers a sanctuary to fallen power; its ruins are a place of freedom for persecuted glory and unfortunate talent.
Book XXIX: Chapter 7: Past visitors to Rome
If I pictured the society of Rome a quarter of a century ago, in the same way I have pictured the Roman countryside, I would be obliged to retouch my portrait; there would no longer be a resemblance. Each generation can be counted as thirty-three years, the life of Christ (Christ is the type for all); the form of each generation in our western world alters. Man is placed in a picture whose framework never changes, but whose figures alter. Rabelais was in this City in 1536 with Cardinal du Bellay; he occupied the position of butler to His Eminence; he sliced and served.
Rabelais, changed into Brother Jean des Entommeures, did not share Montaigne’s opinion, who heard scarcely any bells in Rome and far fewer than in a French village, Rabelais on the contrary, heard plenty in the Echoing Isle (Rome) doubting if it were not Dodona with its sounding cauldrons.
Forty-four years after Rabelais, Montaigne found the banks of the Tiber cultivated, and remarked that on the 16th March there were roses and artichokes in Rome. The churches were bare, without statues of saints, without paintings, less ornate and less beautiful than the churches of France. Montaigne was accustomed to the sombre vastness of our Gothic cathedrals; he speaks of St Peter’s several times without describing it, insensitive or indifferent to the arts as he seems to be. In the presence of so many masterpieces, no name offers itself to Montaigne’s memory; his remembrances tell him nothing of Raphael, or Michelangelo, not yet dead sixteen years.
Pilules Apéritives à l'Extrait de Montaigne, préparées par Pierre Pic - Michel de Montaigne, Pierre Pic (p13, 1908)
Internet Archive Book Images
Moreover ideas about the arts, about the philosophical influence of the geniuses who developed and protected them, were not yet born. Time is for men what space is for monuments; neither can be judged well except from a distance and the viewpoint of perspective; too near and they cannot be seen, too far and they are no longer visible.
The author of the Essais only sought ancient Rome in Rome: ‘The buildings of that illegitimate Rome:’ he says, ‘one sees at this time, attaching their hovels to whatever they still possess of what delights the admiration of our present centuries, makes me recall those nests that the sparrows and crows build on the vaults and walls of churches in France that the Huguenots have recently demolished.’
What idea did Montaigne have of ancient Rome, if he regarded St Peter’s as a sparrow’s nest attached to the Coliseum’s wall?
Newly made a citizen of Rome, by an authentic Bull of 1581, he remarked that the Roman women did not carry dominos or masks like the French: they appeared in public covered with pearls and precious stones, but their belts were too loose and they looked pregnant. The men wore black, ‘and though they were Dukes, Counts and Marquises they had quite a lowly appearance.’
Is it not singular that Saint Jerome remarks on the gait of Roman women who make themselves look pregnant: ‘solutis geniubus fractus incesse: their feeble gait with swaying knees’?
Almost every day, when I go out through the Porto Angelica, I see a humble house, quite near the Tiber, with a smoke-blackened French sign representing a bear: it is there that Michel, the Lord of Montaigne, stayed on his arrival in Rome, not far from the hospital which served as a refuge for that poor madman, formed of pure and ancient poetry whom Montaigne visited in his lodge in Ferrara, and who invoked in him more frustration than compassion even.
It was a memorable event, when the 17th Century sent its greatest Protestant poet and most profound genius to visit the mighty Catholic Rome in 1638. With her back to the Cross, holding the Testaments in her hands, the guilty generations cast out of Eden behind here, and the redeemed generations descended from the Mount of Olives before her, she said to the heretic born yesterday: ‘What do you wish of your ancient mother?’
The passage of time led Abbé Arnauld to Rome after Milton. This Abbé, who had borne arms, recounts an anecdote interesting because of the name of one of the people involved, at the same time as it recalls the manner of courtiers then. The hero of the story, the Duc de Guise, grandson of Le Balafré, going in search of his Neapolitan adventure, passed through Rome in 1647: there he met Nina Barcarola. Maison-Blanche, secretary to Monsieur Deshayes, the Ambassador to Constantinople, took it into his head to become a rival to the Duc de Guise. Evil overtook him: they substituted (it was at night in an unlit room) a hideous old woman for Nina. ‘If the laughter was great on the one side, the confusion on the other can only be imagined’, says Arnauld. ‘Adonis, untangling himself with difficulty from the embraces of his goddess, fled naked from the house as if had the devil at his heels.’
In my walks to the Porta Pia I found almost all the people described by Coulanges: the people? No, their grand-sons and grand-daughters!
Madame de Sévigné received poems from Coulanges; she replied from her Château des Rochers in my humble Brittany, thirty miles from Combourg: ‘What a sad location I write from compared to yours, my kind cousin! It suits a solitary like me, as Rome does one whose star wanders. How tenderly fate has treated you, as you say, even though she has made you quarrelsome!!!’
‘Madame de Sévigné’
Old Paris: its Court and Literary Salons - Catherine Hannah Jackson, Lady Charlotte Elliott (p218, 1895)
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Between Coulanges’ first trip to Rome, in 1656, and his second, in 1689, thirty-three years passed; I lost only twenty-five between my first trip to Rome, in 1803, and my second in 1828. If I had known Madame de Sévigné, I would have been cured of the sorrow of ageing.
It is interesting to read in Dumont of the location of the masterpieces we admire, at the time of his journey in 1690; the Rivers Nile and Tiber, the Antinous, the Cleopatra, the Laocoon and the torso supposed to be of Hercules could be seen in the Belvedere. Dumont places the bronze peacocks from the tomb of Scipio Africanus in the Vatican Gardens.
Addison travels as a scholar, his journey summarised by classical quotations marked with memories of England; passing through Paris he presented his Latin poems to Monsieur Boileau.
Père Labat followed the author of Cato: he is a strange man this Parisian monk of the Order of Preaching Friars. A missionary to the Antilles, freebooter, able mathematician, architect and soldier, brave artilleryman aiming his cannon like a grenadier, and knowledgeable critic, who regained possession for the inhabitants of Dieppe of their original discoveries in Africa, he had a spirit inclined to raillery and a character inclined to liberty. I know no traveller who gives a more exact or clearer idea of Papal government. Labat covers the ground, goes to the processions, mixes everywhere and pokes fun at almost everything.
The preaching father relates how, in Cadiz, among the Capuchins, he was given bed linen quite new ten years previously, and saw a St Jospeh dressed in Spanish style, sword at his side, hat under his arm, with powdered hair and glasses on his nose. In Rome, he assisted at a Mass: ‘I have never,’ he says, ‘seen so many castrato musicians together and so large an orchestra. Connoisseurs said they had never heard anything so beautiful. I said the same in order to be thought knowledgeable; but if I had not had the honour to be part of the officiant’s procession, I would have left the ceremony which lasted three straight hours at least, and seemed like six to me.’
The nearer I come to the time in which I am writing the more similar the customs of Rome are to those of today.
From the time of De Brosses, Roman women have worn wigs; the custom is ancient: Propertius asks of his life (his lover) why she chooses to adorn her hair:
‘Quid juvat ornato procedure, vita, capillo!
Why, mea vita, come with your hair adorned?’
The Gallic women, our ancestors, furnished hair for those Severinas, Piscas, Faustinas, and Sabinas. Velléda says to Eudore speaking of her hair: ‘It is my diadem and I cherish it for you.’ A hairstyle was not the Roman’s greatest legacy, but it was one of the most durable: people take from women’s tombs whole hairpieces which have evaded the scissors of the daughters of the night, and seek in vain the elegant brows they crowned. The perfumed tresses, an object of idolatry to the most fickle of passions, have survived empires; death, that breaks all bonds, could not disturb those fragile nets.
Today the Italian girls wear their own hair, which ordinary women plait with coquettish grace.
The magistrate and traveller De Brosses shows, in his portraits and writings, a deceptive resemblance to Voltaire with whom he had a comical dispute regarding a meadow. De Brosses often chatted at the bedside of a Princess Borghèse. In 1803, in the Borghèse Palace, I saw another Princess who shone with all her brother’s brilliance: Pauline Bonaparte is no more!
If she had lived in the age of Raphael, he would have depicted her as one of those amours that lean on the backs of lions in the Farnesina, and the same languor would have possessed painter and model. How many flowers have perished already in those wastes where I made Jerome, Augustine, Eudore and Cymodocée wander!
De Brosses depicts the English on the Piazza de Spagna almost as we see them today, living together, making a great noise, regarding humble humanity as beneath them, and returning to their red-brick hovels in London, having barely cast an eye on the Colisseum. De Brosses had the honour of paying court to James III.
‘Of the Pretender’s two sons,’ he says, ‘the elder is about twenty years old, the younger fifteen. I heard from those who know them well that the elder is nicer, and more deeply kind; that he has a good heart and great courage; that he feels his situation keenly, and that, if he does not escape from it someday, it will not be for lack of daring. I am told that having been taken when very young to the siege of Gaeta, during the Spanish conquest of the Kingdom of Naples, while crossing it his hat fell into the sea. Someone wished to retrieve it: “No,” he said, ‘it is not worth it; it would be better for me to come back and fetch it myself one day.”’
‘James Francis Edward, the Chevalier de St. George (1688-1765)’
The Stuart Dynasty: Short Studies of its Rise, Course, and Early Exile - Percy Melville Thornton (p7, 1890)
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De Brosses thought that if the Prince of Wales attempted anything, he would fail, and he gave his reasons. Returning to Rome after his gallant feats, Charles Edward, who carried the title of Count of Albany, lost his father; he married the Princess of Stolberg-Goedern, and settled in Tuscany. Is it true that he visited London secretly in 1752 and 1761, as Hume relates, that he was present at George III’s coronation, and that he said to someone who recognised him in the crowd: ‘The man who is the object of all that ceremony is him whom I envy least’?
The Pretender’s marriage was not a happy one; the Countess of Albany separated from him and took up residence in Rome: that was where another traveller, Bonstetten, met her; the gentleman from Bern, in his old age, told me at Geneva that he possessed letters from the Countess of Albany’s youth.
Alfieri met the Pretender’s wife in Florence and loved her for life: ‘Twelve years later,’ he says, ‘at the moment I am writing all these trifles, at the terrible age when there are no more illusions, I feel that I love her more every day, as time destroys the only charm not owing to herself, the brilliance of her passing beauty. My heart is elevated, and is becoming kinder and gentler because of her, and I dare to say the same thing of her, that I sustain and strengthen her.’
I knew Madame d’Albany in Florence; age appeared to produce in her an opposite effect to that usually produced: time ennobled her face and, as it is itself of the ancient race, it imprints something of that race on the brow it touches: the Countess of Albany, with her thick-waist, and expressionless face, had a common air. If the women from Rubens’ paintings were to grow old they would resemble Madame d’Albany at the age when I encountered her. I am sad that her heart, strengthened and sustained by Alfieri, needed another prop. I will reproduce here a passage from my letter on Rome to Monsieur Fontanes:
‘Do you know that I only saw Count Alfieri once in my life, and can you guess how? I saw him laid on his bier: I was told he looked almost unchanged; his physiognomy seemed noble and grave to me; death doubtless added fresh severity; the coffin being a little too short, the dead man’s head was bowed on his chest, which made him make a tremendous lurch.’
Nothing is as sad as re-reading what one has written in one’s youth towards the end of one’s life: all that was present is now past.
In 1803, in Rome, I glimpsed the Cardinal-Duke of York, Henry IX, last of the Stuarts, aged seventy-eight. He had been weak enough to accept a pension from George III; Charles I’s widow solicited one from Cromwell in vain. So, the race of Stuarts was extinguished a hundred and eighteen years after losing that throne which it never recovered. Three Pretenders passed on, in exile, the shadow of a crown: they had the intellect and courage; what was it they lacked: the hand of God.
As for the rest, the Stuarts consoled themselves with the sight of Rome; they were merely one trivial incident the more among its mounds of rubble, a little broken column, erected in the midst of a vast network of ruins. Their race, as it vanished from the world, had one other reason for solace: it saw the old Europe fall, the fatality attached to the Stuarts brought other kings down to the dust with them, among whom was Louis XVI, whose grandfather refused sanctuary to Charles I’s descendant, while Charles X died in exile at almost the same age as the Duke of York, and his son and grandson are wandering the earth!
Lalande’s Travels in Italy in 1765 and 1766 is still the best and most exact work regarding artistic Rome and ancient Rome. ‘I love to read the historians and the poets,’ he writes, ‘but one will never read them with more pleasure than while walking the earth on which they trod, wandering the hills they described, and watching the rivers they sung of flowing by.’ Not too bad for an astronomer who lived on spiders.
Duclos, almost as emaciated as Lalande, made this fine comment: ‘The theatrical works of different nations are a true reflection of their manners. Harlequin, the manservant and principal character in Italian comedies, is always represented as famished, which arises from their habitual state of poverty. Our servants in comedy are commonly drunk, from which they may be supposed villainous but not wretched.’
The declamatory admiration of Dupaty offers little compensation for the dryness of Duclos and Lalande, yet it invokes the presence of Rome; one sees on reflection that his eloquence of descriptive style is born from Rousseau’s inspiration, spiraculum vitae: the breath of life. Dupaty partook of that new school which quickly substituted the sentimental, obscure and mannered for the truth, clarity and naturalness of Voltaire. However, through the medium of his affected jargon, Dupaty reveals careful observation: he explains the patience of the Roman people by the age of their successive sovereigns. ‘A Pope,’ he says, ‘is always for them a dying king.’
At the Villa Borghèse, Dupaty watched night falling: ‘Only a single ray of sunlight was left which died on Venus’ brow.’ Could the poets of today do better? He took leave of Tivoli: ‘Adieu, little valley! I am a stranger; I do not live in your lovely Italy. I will never see you again; but perhaps my children or some of my children will pay you a visit one day: be as delightful for them as you have been for their father.’ One of those children of the erudite poet visited Rome, and he would have been able to see the last ray of daylight die on the brow of Dupaty’s Venus genetrix.
‘Cascade of Tivoli’
A Select Collection of Views and Ruins in Rome and its Vicinity: Recently Executed from Drawings Made Upon the Spot - J Mérigot (p148, 1815)
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Dupaty had scarcely left Italy before Goethe arrived to replace him. Had the President of the Bordeaux Parliament ever heard of Goethe? Nevertheless Goethe’s name lives while that of Dupaty has almost vanished. It is not that I have any love for Germany’s powerful genius; I have little sympathy for the materialistic poet: I feel Schiller, I hear Goethe. That there is great beauty in the enthusiasm Goethe experiences for Jupiter in Rome, excellent critics so judge, but I prefer the God of the Cross to the God of Olympus. I search in vain for the author of Werther along the banks of the Tiber; I only find him in this phrase: ‘My present life is like a youthful dream; we will see if I am destined to enjoy it or to recognise that it is vain as so much else has been.’
When Napoleon’s eagle allowed Rome to escape its clutches, it fell back into the arms of its peaceful shepherds: then Byron appeared within the crumbling walls of the Caesars: he has cast his sorrowful imagination over so many ruins, like a mourning cloak. Rome! You had one name, he gave you another; that name remains yours: he called you: ‘The Niobe of nations! There she stands, childless and crownless, in her voiceless woe; an empty urn within her withered hands, whose holy dust was scattered long ago’
After a last surge of poetry, Byron did not wait to die. I might have seen Byron at Geneva, and did not; I might have seen Goethe in Weimar, and did not; but I have seen Madame de Staël die, who disdaining to live beyond her youth, passed rapidly to the Capitol with Corinne: imperishable names, illustrious ashes, which are linked to the name and ashes of the Eternal City. (I invite the reader to view two articles by Monsieur Ampère in the Revue des Deux-Mondes, of the 1st and 15th of July 1835, entitled Portraits of Rome in various Ages. These interesting documents will complete a picture of which the above is merely a sketch. Note: Paris, 1837)
Book XXIX: Chapter 8: The present mode of life in Rome
Thus the changes of manner and person have altered in Italy from century to century; but above all the major transformation has come about because of our dual concern with Rome.
The Roman Republic, established under the Directory’s influence, ridiculous as it was with its two consuls and its lictors (vicious facchini, scoundrels, picked from the crowd), happily only left its innovatory imprint on the civil law: it was from the prefectures, dreamt up by that Roman Republic, that Bonaparte borrowed his institution of prefects.
We brought Rome the seeds of an administration that did not exist; Rome, as the centre of the new Tiber department, was ruled more effectively. It acquired its system of loans and mortgages from us. The suppression of monasteries, the sale of ecclesiastical properties sanctioned by Pius VI, weakened belief in the permanence of the consecration of things religious. That famous index, which had some effect on our side of the Alps, achieved nothing in Rome: for a few bajocchi, a few sous that is, you could obtain permission to read the forbidden work, with a safe conscience. The index is one of a number of things which remain as a witness in the present to ancient times. In the Roman Republic, in Athens, were not the title of King and the names of great families supporting the monarchy, respectfully preserved? It was only the French who raged furiously against their tombs and annals, who pulled down crosses, devastated churches, in their vindictiveness towards the clergy of the years of grace 1000 or 1100. Nothing more stupid and puerile than those outrages inflicted on their heritage; nothing leads one to believe more that we are incapable of whatever is serious, that among us the true principles of liberty are always misunderstood. Rather than despising the past, we ought to treat it, as other nations do, as a venerable old man who seated by our fireside recounts what he has seen: what harm can he do us? He instructs us and entertains us with his writings, his ideas, his language, his manners, his customs of another age; but he is powerless, and his hands are weak and trembling. Should we be afraid of this contemporary of our ancestors, who would already be with them in the grave if he were able to die, and who has no more authority than their ashes?
The French passing through Rome established their principles there: it is what always happens when the conquest is achieved by a nation more advanced in civilisation than the nation which is conquered, witness the Greeks in Asia under Alexander, as the French in Europe under Napoleon. Bonaparte, by snatching sons from their mothers, by forcing the Italian nobility to leave their palaces and bear arms, hastened a transformation of the national spirit.
As for the physiognomy of Roman society, on days when there are concerts and balls you might think yourself in Paris: the same dress, the same taste, and the same habits. The Altieri, Palestrina, Zagarola, Del Drago, Lante, Lozzano, etc, would not be out of place in the salons of the Faubourg Saint-Germain: though some of these ladies have a somewhat nervous manner which I think is due to the climate. The delightful Falconieri, for example, always sits near the door, ready to flee to Mount Mario, if one should look at her: the Villa Mellini is hers; a novel set in that deserted house, beneath its cypress trees, would be worth something.
But, whatever changes of manners and persons have taken place in Italy over the centuries one notices there a habitual grandeur, which the rest of us, petty barbarians, cannot approach. There is still Roman blood in Rome and the tradition of world mastery. When one sees foreigners crammed into tiny newly-built houses by the Porto del Populo, or sheltering in palaces divided into apartments and pierced with chimneys, they look like rats scrabbling at the feet of monuments by Apollodorus or Michelangelo, and gnawing holes in the pyramids.
Today the noble Romans, ruined by the Revolution, stay in their palaces, live parsimoniously and have become their own business managers. When one has the good fortune (which is quite rare) to be admitted to their houses in the evening, one traverses vast marble halls, barely lit, along the length of which antique statues show white in the dense shadows, like phantoms or exhumed corpses. At the far end of these rooms, the threadbare lackey who is leading you shows you into a kind of gynaecium: around a table are seated three or four old ladies or badly-dressed young ladies, working in the lamplight at their embroidery exchanging a few words with a father, brother, or a husband reclining obscurely in the sanctuary of a ragged armchair. Yet there is something fine, regal, clinging to the noble race, in that gathering which has taken refuge behind the masterpieces and which you at first take for a religious meeting. The race of cavalier servantes is finished, though there are still priests bearing shawls and foot-warmers; here and there a Cardinal is still established in a lady’s house like a sofa.
Nepotism and scandalous behaviour among the pontiffs is no longer possible, as kings can no longer have titled and honoured mistresses. Now that politics and tragic love affairs have ceased to fulfil the lives of the great ladies of Rome, how do they spend their time in the depths of their households? It would be interesting to penetrate fully their new way of life: if I remain in Rome, I will occupy myself with doing so.
Book XXIX: Chapter 9: Surroundings and countryside
I visited Tivoli on the 10th of December 1803: at that time I wrote a narrative which was later printed: ‘This place is suited to reflection and reverie; I review my past life; I feel the weight of the present, I seek to penetrate my future: where will I be, what will I be doing and what will I be twenty years from now?’
‘Tivoli from the Temple of the Sibyl’
Twenty Four Select Views in Italy: Engraved by and Under the Direction of W. B. Cooke - William Bernard Cooke (p103, 1833)
The British Library
Twenty years! It seems like a century; I thought I would be in my grave before that century had ended. And it is not I who has vanished, but the master of the world and his empire that have fled!
Almost all the ancient and modern travellers only saw in the Roman Campagna what they term its horror and its bareness. Montaigne himself, who was certainly not lacking in imagination, says: ‘Far to our left we had the Apennines, and a view of an unpleasant countryside, uneven, full of cracks.the region bare, tree-less, mostly uncultivated.’
Only in Monsieur de Bonstetten’s Travels over the landscape of the last six books of the Aeneid, published in Geneva in 1804, less than a year after my letter to Monsieur de Fontanes (printed in Le Mercure in the spring), will one find the true feelings engendered by that wonderful solitude, yet still mixed with objurgation: ‘How delightful to read Virgil under the skies of Aeneas, and, so to speak, in the presence of Homer’s gods!’ says Monsieur Bonstetten; ‘What a profound solitude there is in those wastes, where one sees only the sea, neglected woods, fields, wide meadows, and never an inhabitant! In a vast extent of countryside I saw only a single house, and that was nearby, on the crest of a hill. I went there, it lacked a door; I climbed the stairs, I entered a kind of bedroom, a bird of prey had made its nest there.
I spent some time at the window of that abandoned house. I saw at my feet that coast, so rich and magnificent in Pliny’s day, now un-cultivated.’
After my own descriptions of the Roman countryside, people passed from denigration to enthusiasm. The English and French travellers who followed me noted every step from Storta to Rome with ecstasy. Monsieur de Tournon, in his Statistical Studies, pursues the path of admiration which I had the good fortune to throw open: ‘The Roman countryside,’ he says, ‘reveals more distinctly at every step the grave beauty of its vast lines and numerous levels, and its lovely mountainous surroundings. Its unvarying grandeur impresses and elevates the mind.’
I have not mentioned Monsieur Simond, whose travels seem an affront, and who delights in viewing Rome aslant. I was in Geneva when he died quite suddenly. A farmer, he had just cut his hay and joyously reaped his first harvest and now he has gone to join his mown grass and his threshed crop.
We have several letters of the great landscape painters; Poussin and Claude Lorrain say nothing about the Roman countryside. But if their pen was silent, the brush spoke volumes; the agro romano (countryside of Rome) was a mysterious source of beauty, on which they drew, concealing themselves there by a kind of avarice of genius, and as if afraid lest the vulgar profane it. A strange thing, that French eyes best captured the Italian light.
I have re-read my letter to Monsieur de Fontanes on Rome, written twenty-five years ago, and I confess that I find it so exact that it would be impossible for me shorten it or add a word. A foreign company has, just this winter (1829), proposed to clear the Roman Campagna for cultivation; ah, gentlemen, thank you for your cottages and English gardens on the Janiculum! If you were ever to disturb the fallows where Cincinnatus’ ploughshare was broken, and over which the grasses of the centuries have bowed, I would flee Rome never to return. Go and drag your perfected ploughs elsewhere; here the earth yields and can only yield graves. The Cardinals closed their ears to the calculations of the Black Bands rushing to demolish the ruins of Tusculum which they took for aristocrats’ houses: they would have made whitewash with the marble of the sarcophagi of Emilius Paulus, as they have made gargoyles of the lead in our ancestors’ coffins. The Sacred College holds to the past; moreover it has been shown, to the great confusion of the economists that the Roman countryside returns five per cent to its owners as pasture and only brings in one and a half from wheat. It is not from laziness, but positive gain, that the cultivators of the plains give preference to la pastorizia (pasture) over li maggesi (cultivation). The revenue per hectare in the vicinity of Rome equals that of the most fertile French departments: to convince oneself of that, it is enough to read the work of Monsignor Nicolaï.
Book XXIX: Chapter 10: A letter to Monsieur Villemain
I have said that at first I experienced boredom at the start of my second trip to Rome and that I ended by bringing myself back to the ruins and the sunlight: I was still under the influence of my first impressions when, on the 3rd of November 1828, I replied to Monsieur Villemain:
‘Your letter, Sir, has reached my solitude in Rome at just the right moment: it has subdued the homesickness that I am feeling so intensely. The sickness is nothing more than age which prevents my eyes seeing as they once saw; my ruin is not great enough to solace itself with that of Rome. When I walk alone at present in the midst of all this debris of the centuries, it merely serves me for a scale on which to measure time; I return to the past, I see what I have lost and the end of that short future I have before me; I consider all the delights that might remain to me, and find none. I return home to endure myself, oppressed by the sirocco or pierced by the tramontane. My whole life is there beside a tomb which I have not yet found the courage to visit. They give the crumbling monuments a deal of care; they prop them up; they clear them of their plants and flowers; the women I left behind when young are old now, and the ruins look younger: what am I doing here?
And, Sir, I assure you that I only aspire to return to the Rue d’Enfer in order to leave it no more. I have fulfilled my whole duty to my country and my friends. Once you are in the Council, with Monsieur Bertin de Vaux, I will have nothing more to ask, since your talents will soon take you higher. My withdrawal has contributed somewhat, I hope, to the cessation of any formidable opposition; public liberty is ensured for ever in France. My sacrifice should now end with my role. I ask nothing but to return to my Infirmary. I have only praise for this country: I have received a wonderful welcome; I find a government full of tolerance and well aware of events outside Italy, but in the end nothing would please me more than the idea of disappearing completely from the world scene: it is good to be preceded to the grave by the silence that one will find there.
I thank you for having wished to speak to me of your work. You will create an output worthy of you which will add to your fame. If you have any research to do here, be good enough to indicate it to me: a trawl through the Vatican may discover riches for you. Alas, I think of poor Monsieur Thierry only too often! I assure you that I am haunted by memory of him; so young, so full of the love of his work, and yet fading away! And, as he always achieves real merit, his mind was improving, and reason in him was taking the place of system: I still hope for a miracle. I have written after him; no one has replied at all. I have been happier about yourself, and a letter from Monsieur de Martignac leads me at last to hope that justice, though late and incomplete, will be done you. I only look to my friends now, Sir; you will permit me to include you in the number of those who remain to me. I remain, Sir, with as much sincerity as admiration, your most devoted servant.
(God be thanked, Monsieur Thierry has revived and taken up his fine and important work with new vigour; he works at night, but like a chrysalis: ‘The nymph with joy itself encloses, within its tomb of silk and gold, which to all eyes in turn itself discloses’)
Book XXIX: Chapter 11: A letter to Madame Récamier
‘Rome, Saturday the 8th of November 1828.
Monsieur de La Ferronays tells me of the surrender of Varna which I already knew. I think I have said to you before that the whole question rested on the fall of that place, and that the Grand Turk would not have considered making peace unless the Russians did what they had failed to do in their previous wars. Our newspapers have been quite wretchedly pro-Turkish in recent days. How could they ever forget Greece’s noble cause, and bow in admiration before barbarians who spread slavery and pestilence in that country of great men, and in the best part of Europe? Behold what we are, we French; a little personal discomfort makes us forget our principles and most generous feelings. The Turks in defeat might arouse a little of my pity; the Turks as conquerors fill me with horror.
So my friend Monsieur de La Ferronays remains in power. I flatter myself that my determination to support him has deterred the candidates for his portfolio. But I must leave here at last; I only aspire to re-enter my solitude and leave the political life. I thirst for freedom in my later years. New generations have arisen: they will find the public freedoms established that I fought so hard for; let them grasp them then, but let them not misuse my bequest, and let me die in peace beside you.
The day before yesterday I went for a walk to the Villa Panfili: the lovely solitude!’
‘Rome, Saturday the 15th of November 1828.
The first ball has been given at Torlonia’s. There I met all the English in the world. I thought I was Ambassador in London. The English appear like extras engaged to dance the winter away in Paris, Milan, Rome and Naples, who will return to London when their engagement expires in the spring. This skipping about in the ruins of the Capitol, and the uniform way of life that high society adopts everywhere, are very strange things: if I only had the resource to save myself in the wastes of Rome!
What is truly deplorable here, what jars with the nature of the place, is this multitude of insipid English, frivolous dandies who, linking arms with one another as bats do their wings, promenade their oddity, their boredom, their insolence, at your festivities, and establish themselves in your residence as if it were an inn. This swaggering, vagabond Britain, usurps your place, and spars with you to drive you off, during public solemnities: every day it gulps in haste pictures and ruins, while doing full honours to the cakes and ices at your soirées. I do not know how an Ambassador can endure these gross guests and not show them the door.’
Book XXIX: Chapter 12: An explanation of the Memoir you are about to read
In my Congress of Verona I have spoken of the existence of my Memoir on the Orient. When I sent it from Rome, in 1828, to Monsieur le Comte de La Ferronays, then Foreign Minister, the world was not as it is now; in France, the Legitimacy still existed; Poland had not vanished into Russia; Spain was still Bourbon; England had not yet the honour of defending us. Many things in this Memoir have thus become dated: today my foreign policy, in its several relations, would not be the same; twelve years have changed diplomatic affairs, but their essential reality remains. I have inserted this Memoir in its entirety, to counter once more on behalf of the Restoration the absurd reproaches that people insist in heaping on it despite the factual evidence. The Restoration, as soon as it had appointed Ministers from amongst its supporters, never ceased to occupy itself with the honour and independence of France: it spoke out against the Treaty of Vienna, it reclaimed its defensive frontiers, not in order vaingloriously to extend its borders to the Rhine, but seeking security; it smiled when they spoke of European equilibrium, an equilibrium so unjustly tilted against it: that is why it desired, first of all, to cover itself in the south, since they had been pleased to disarm it in the north. At Navarino it regained a navy and the freedom of Greece; the question of the Orient has not taken it unawares.
I have maintained my opinions regarding the Orient, in three respects, since the period when I wrote this Memoir:
- ‘If European Turkey is to be parcelled out, we must have a share in the division by an increase in territory on our borders and by the possession of some military station in the Archipelago. To compare the partition of Turkey to the partition of Poland is an absurdity.
- To treat Turkey as if we were in the reign of Francis I, as a power helpful to our policy, is to forget three centuries of history.
- To attempt to civilise Turkey by giving her steamships and railroads, disciplining her army, and teaching her how to carry out fleet manoeuvres, is to fail to understand civilisation in the orient, and to introduce barbarism to the West: future Ibrahims could take us back to the age of Charles Martel, or that of the Siege of Vienna, when Europe was saved by that heroic Poland on which the ingratitude of kings weighs hard.
I must remark that I was the only person, apart from Benjamin Constant, to signal the lack of foresight of the Christian governments: a nation whose social structure is founded on slavery and polygamy is a nation that needs to be despatched to the Mongolian Steppes.
In the final result, European Turkey, which has become a vassal of Russia in virtue of the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, no longer exists: if the question needs to be resolved immediately, which I doubt, it would probably be better that an independent Empire had its seat in Constantinople, and was one with Greece. Is that possible? I do not know. As for Mehemet Ali, that pitiless tax and customs officer, Egypt, in the interests of France, is better in his keeping than it would be in that of the English.
But I am trying hard to demonstrate the honourable intentions of the Restoration; ah, who worries over what it has done, above all who will worry in a few years time? I might as well have been exerting myself in the interests of Tyre or Ecbatana: that past world is no more and will be no more. After Alexander, Roman power began; after Caesar, Christianity changed the world; after Charlemagne, feudal night engendered a new society; after Napoleon, nothing: there is no sign of a coming empire, or religion, or even the barbarians. Civilisation has reached its highest point, but a materialistic barren civilisation, which can produce nothing, since one can only create life through morality; one can only forge nations by Heavenly means: railroads only carry us more swiftly towards the abyss.
These are the preliminaries that seem necessary to me in order to aid understanding of the Memoir which follows here, but can equally be found in the archives of the Foreign Ministry.
Book XXIX: Chapter 13: Memoir
Letter to Monsieur le Comte de la Ferronays
‘Rome, Rome, this 30th of November 1828.
My noble friend, in your private letter of the 10th of November, you said:
“I send you a short summary of our political situation, be kind enough to let me know your thoughts in return, which are always so useful to know in like matters.”
Your friendship, noble Count, is too indulgent towards me; I doubt I will enlighten you at all in sending you the memoir below: I simply obey your orders.’
Memoir: Part I
‘At the distance I am from the theatre of action, and finding myself in almost total ignorance of the state of negotiations, I am scarcely in a position to judge appropriately. Nevertheless, since I have long-settled ideas regarding France’s internal politics, and as I have so to speak been the first to call for the emancipation of Greece, I willingly submit my ideas to your consideration, noble Count.
There was no question yet of the treaty of the 6th of July when I published my Note on Greece. That Note contained the seeds of the treaty; I proposed to the five great European powers that they send a collective despatch to the Divan to demand the immediate cessation of hostilities between the Porte and the Hellenes. In the event of a refusal, the five powers would have declared that they recognised the independence of the Greek government, and that they would establish diplomatic ties with that government.
The Note was read in various cabinet offices. The place I have occupied as Foreign Minister gave my views some value: and one noteworthy thing was that Prince von Metternich appeared less hostile to the spirit of my Note than Mr Canning.
The latter, with whom I had enjoyed warm relations, was more of an orator than a great politician, more man of talent than statesman. He was generally jealous of success and especially that of France. When the parliamentary opposition wounded or elevated his self-esteem, he precipitated unnecessary action, and overflowed with sarcasm and boastfulness. Thus after the war in Spain, he rejected the request for intervention that I had wrung so painfully from the Madrid government in order to sort out affairs abroad: his private reason was that the request had not been made by himself, and he simply wished it seen that according to his own system of ideas (if indeed he had one), England represented in a general congress could in no way be bound by the acts of that congress and would always remain free to act independently. It was thus that he, Mr Canning, sent troops into Portugal, not to defend a charter which he was the first to ridicule, but because the Opposition reproached him for the presence of our soldiers in Spain, and he wished to be able to tell Parliament that an English army occupied Lisbon as the French army occupied Cadiz. Thus he ultimately signed the treaty of the 6th of July, which was unfavourable to the Greek cause, against his better judgement, against his own country’s judgement. If he agreed to the treaty, it was solely because he feared us taking the initiative with Russia over the issue and reaping the sole glory for a generous decision. The Minister, who after all will leave a great name behind him, also thought by the same treaty to hinder Russian freedom of movement; however it is clear that the actual text in no way bound Emperor Nicholas, and did not oblige him to specifically renounce war with Turkey.
The treaty of the 6th of July is a shapeless thing, brokered in haste, in which nothing is foreseen, and which seethes with contradictory agreements.
In my Note on Greece, I presupposed the solidarity of the five great powers; Austria and Prussia being separately united, their neutrality left them free, according to events, to declare themselves for or against one of the belligerent parties.
It is not a question of returning to the past, but of grasping things as they are. All that the governments were obliged to do was to take the best course of action as events unfolded. Let us examine those events.
We occupy the Morea, the strategic positions in that peninsula fall into our hands: thus for what concerns us.
Varna is taken: Varna becomes an outpost three days march from Constantinople. The Dardanelles are blockaded; the Russians seize Silistria in the winter and several other fortresses; numerous recruits will arrive. In the first days of spring, they set out on a decisive campaign; in Asia, General Paskevich invades three Pashalics (jurisdictions of the Pashas), he commands the sources of the Euphrates and threatens the route to Erzerum: thus for what concerns Russia.
Picturesque Europe. Containing Engravings of Views of its Most Interesting Scenery - William Henry Bartlett (p520, 1874)
The British Library
Would the Emperor Nicholas have been better undertaking a winter campaign in Europe? I think so, if that was possible. By marching on Constantinople, he would have cut the Gordian knot, he would have put an end to the diplomatic intrigue; one sets oneself on the side of success; the means of winning allies, is to conquer.
As for Turkey, it is obvious to me that we would have had to declare war if the Russians had failed to take Varna. Will she have the good sense now to enter into negotiations with England and France to at least relieve herself of both? Austria willingly invites her to take that course; but it is quite difficult to foresee how a race of men lacking European concepts will conduct themselves. At the same time cunning as slaves and proud as tyrants, anger among them is never tempered by fear. Sultan Mahmud II, by all accounts, appears to be a superior Prince among recent Sultans; he has shown obvious political courage; but has he personal courage? He is content to conduct reviews in the streets of his capital, and is beseeched by the great not to travel even as far as Adrianople. The populace of Constantinople would be better pleased by triumphs than by the presence of its master.
Let us assume however that the Divan consents to talks on the basis of the treaty of the 6th of July. The negotiations will be quite thorny; when they have established the borders of Greece that is not the end. Where will the borders be set on the continent? How many islands are to be liberated? Will Samos, which has so valiantly defended its independence, be abandoned? Let us go further, let us suppose the conference is established: will it paralyse Emperor Nicholas’ armies? While the plenipotentiaries of Turkey and the three allied powers negotiate in the Archipelago, every invading step taken by the troops in Bulgaria will alter the state of affairs. If the Russians were to be repulsed, the Turks would break up the conference; if the Russians reach the gates of Constantinople, it would augur well for the freedom of the Morea! The Hellenes would have no need of protectors or negotiators.
So, to lead the Divan to occupy itself with the treaty of the 6th of July is to retreat from the difficulty, and not resolve it. The simultaneity of the emancipation of Greece and the signature of the peace treaty between the Turks and the Russians is, in my opinion, necessary to extract the governments of Europe from the embarrassment in which they find themselves.
What conditions will Emperor Nicholas set for peace?
In his manifesto, he declares that he renounces his conquests, but he speaks of indemnities for the costs of the war; that is vague and could lead anywhere.
the St Petersburg cabinet, in setting out to regularise the treaties of Akerman and Jassi, not demand firstly the complete independence of the principalities, secondly freedom of commerce in the Black Sea, as much for the Russian nation’s benefit as for others, and thirdly the reimbursement of the sums expended in the recent campaign?
Innumerable difficulties present themselves if peace is concluded on such a basis.
If Russia wishes to grant the principalities sovereigns of its choice, Austria will regard Moldavia and Walachia as Russian provinces, and will be opposed to that political transaction.
Will Moldavia and Walachia pass into the hands of an independent Prince with complete powers, or a Prince installed under the protectorate of several sovereigns?
In that case, Nicholas would prefer Hospodars (Governors of Wallachia and Moldavia) nominated by Mahmud, since the principalities, not ceasing to be Turkish, would remain vulnerable to Russian arms.
The freedom of commerce in the Black Sea, the opening of that sea to all the fleets of Europe and America, would shake the power of the Porte to its foundations. To grant the access of warships to the waters near Constantinople, is, with respect to the geography of the Ottoman Empire, as if one were to recognise the right of foreign armies to pass beneath the walls of Paris at any time.
Finally, where will Turkey get the means to pay the expenses of the campaign? The supposed treasure of the Sultans is an old fable. The provinces conquered beyond the Caucasus might, it is true, be ceded, as mortgaged to the amount demanded: of the two Russian armies, the one in Europe, seems to me to be charged with Nicholas’ affairs of honour; the other, in Asia, with his pecuniary interests. But if Nicholas does not consider himself bound by the declarations in his manifesto, will not England view Muscovite soldiers advancing on the road to India with a different eye? Has she not already taken fright, when in 1827, they made a further advance into the Persian Empire?
If the twin difficulties, which arise both from the actions in train, and the relevant conditions required of a peace between Turkey and Russia; if those twin difficulties render useless the tentative efforts to overcome so many obstacles; if a second campaign is opened in the spring, will the European powers take part in the quarrel? What role should France play? That is what I will consider in the second part of this Note.’
Memoir: Part 2
‘Austria and England have common interests; they are natural allies in foreign policy, however different their forms of government may be otherwise and however opposite their principles of internal government. Both are enemies of, and jealous of, Russia, both desire to halt the advance of that power; in an extreme situation they may well unite; but they feel that if Russia will not accept imposition, she can defy such a union which is more formidable in appearance than reality.
Austria has nothing to ask of England; the latter in turn is no use to Austria except to provide her with funds. Now, England, crushed by her weight of debt, has no funds to lend to anyone. Abandoned to her own resources, Austria cannot, given the present state of her finances, launch any military action, especially with her obligation to police Italy and remain on watch on the borders of Poland and Prussia. The present position of the Russian troops would allow them to enter Vienna more swiftly than Constantinople.
What could England do against Russia? Close the Baltic, stop buying hemp and timber in the northern markets, destroy Admiral Heyden’s fleet in the Mediterranean, land engineers and soldiers at Constantinople, transport to that capital military provisions and munitions, penetrate the Black Sea, blockade the Crimean ports, and deprive the Russian troops in the field of the assistance of their merchant and naval fleets?
Let us suppose all that is done (which it cannot be without a vast initial expenditure that would not be compensated or underwritten); Nicholas would still have his immense army of ground troops. An attack by Austria or England against the Cross and in support of the Crescent would increase the popularity of a war already deemed national and religious in Russia. Wars of that nature are fought without money; they are those which, through the force of public opinion, pit nations against one another. Let the Church Fathers once start to evangelise in St Petersburg as the Ulemas (Muslim scholars) Islamise in Constantinople, and they will find only too many soldiers; they would have more chance of success than their adversaries in that appeal to the passions and beliefs of men. The invasions which pass from north to south are more rapid and far more irresistible than those which gravitate from south to north: the population pressures incline them to flow towards the better climate.
Would Prussia remain an indifferent spectator of this great struggle, if Austria and England declared for Turkey? There is no way that could be.
Certainly a party exists in the Berlin government that hates and fears the government in St Petersburg; but that party, which anyway is beginning to age, finds the anti-Austrian party an obstacle and above all the social ties.
The bonds of family, normally fragile between sovereigns, are very strong in the Prussian Royal family: King Frederick-William III tenderly loves his daughter, the Empress of Russia, and likes to think that his grandson will mount Peter the Great’s throne; the Princes Frederick, William, Charles and Henry Albert, are also very attached to their sister Alexandra; the Prince Royal had no difficulty latterly in Rome in declaring himself hostile to the Turks.
In analysing the various interests thus, one can see that France is in an admirable position politically: she can act as the arbiter in this great debate; she can as she wishes maintain her neutrality or declare for one of the parties, according to time and circumstance. If she were ever obliged to countenance that extremity, if her advice was ignored, if the nobility and moderation of her conduct could not secure the peace she desired for herself and others; in the event that she found herself taking up arms, all her interests would lead her to side with Russia.
Let an alliance be established between Austria and England against Russia, what benefit can France gather from joining that alliance?
Will England lend France ships?
France is still, after England, the premier maritime power in Europe; she has more ships than she needs to destroy, if necessary, the Russian naval forces.
Will England provide us with subsidies?
England has no funds; France has more than she does, and France has no need to be in the pay of the British government.
Will England assist us with soldiers and weapons?
France has no lack of weapons, still less of soldiers.
Will England guarantee us an expansion of our island or continental territories?
Where could we acquire that expansion, if we made war on Russia, to the benefit of the Grand Turk? Will we attempt to swoop on the coasts of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea or the Bering Strait? Is there any other prospect? Should we consider attaching ourselves to England in order that she might hasten to our aid if ever our internal affairs became tangled?
God preserve us from such a prospect and from foreign intervention in our domestic affairs! England, moreover, has always put little store by kings and the freedom of nations; she is always ready to sacrifice monarchies or republics to her own specific interests, without regret. Not long ago, she proclaimed the independence of the Spanish colonies, at the same time as she refused to recognise that of Greece: she sent her fleet to support the Mexican insurgents, and held back on the Thames several humble steamboats destined for the Hellenes; she admitted the legitimacy of Mahmud’s rights, and denied those rights to Ferdinand; devoted in turn to despotism or democracy according to the wind that blows the ships of City merchants to her ports.
Finally, in associating ourselves with the military plans of England or Austria against Russia, where shall we go to meet our former adversary at Austerlitz? He is not on our borders. Shall we then send a hundred thousand well-equipped men at our cost, to assist at Vienna or Constantinople? Should we maintain an army at Athens to protect the Greeks from the Turks, and an Army at Adrianople to protect the Turks from the Russians? Shall we bombard the Ottomans in the Morea, and embrace them in the Dardanelles? What is devoid of common sense never succeeds in human affairs.
Narrative of a journey in the Morea - Sir William Gell (p106, 1823)
The British Library
Let us nevertheless, despite all likelihood, assume that our efforts were crowned with complete success in that unnatural triple alliance, let us suppose that Prussia remained neutral during all disturbances, with Holland, and that, freed of committing forces there, we were not obliged to fight a hundred and eighty miles from Paris: well, what profit might we gather from our crusade for the deliverance of the tomb of Mahomet? Knights of the Turk we would return from the Levant in a cloak of honour; we would have the glory of having sacrificed a billion in money, and two hundred thousand men, to calm Austria’s terrors, satisfy England’s jealousies, and in the best part of the world retain the pestilence and barbarism owing to the Ottoman Empire. Austria would perhaps have expanded its territory on the borders with Walachia and Moldavia, and England would perhaps have gained commercial privileges from the Porte, privileges of little interest to us if we participate in them, since we have neither the same size of merchant navy as the English, nor the same manufacturing output to trade in the Levant. We would be the complete dupes of that triple alliance which might fail in its objective, and which, if it succeeded, would only attain it at our expense.
But if England has no obvious means of benefiting us, would she not at least act on the government in Vienna, and commit Austria, in compensation for the sacrifices we had made for her, to our regaining the former departments situated on the left bank of the Rhine?
No: Austria and England will always oppose equivalent concessions; Russia alone can achieve them for us, as we will see later. Austria detests us and is terrified of us, even more than she hates and dreads Russia; worse still, she would prefer that the latter power acquired territory in Bulgaria, than France in Bavaria.
But would not the freedom of Europe be threatened if the Tsars made Constantinople the capital of their Empire?
You must explain what you intend by the freedom of Europe: do you mean that, all equilibrium being destroyed, Russia, after having conquered European Turkey, would seize Austria, subjugate Germany and Prussia, and finish by enslaving France?
Firstly, every Empire which extends itself endlessly loses its vigour; almost always it divides; one would soon see two or three Russias, each an enemy of the others.
Then, does the balance of Europe exist for France since the recent treaties?
England has retained almost all the colonial conquests that she made in three quarters of the world during the Revolutionary War; in Europe she acquired Malta and the Ionian islands; it is not only by her Electorate of Hanover that she has expanded her Royalty and increased her Lordship.
Austria has added to her possessions with a third of Poland and slices of Bavaria, part of Dalmatia, and Italy. She no longer has Holland, true; but that province has not devolved on France, and has become a redoubtable ally of England and Prussia against us.
Russia has regained Finland and is established on the banks of the Vistula.
And we, what have we gained from these divisions? We have been despoiled of our colonies; not even our ancient soil has been respected. Landau separated from France, Huningue sliced away, leaving a gap of more than a hundred and fifty miles in our frontier; the little State of Sardinia found no shame in donning the stolen tatters of Napoleon’s Empire and Louis XIV’s kingdom.
In this situation, what interest do we have in reassuring Austria and England about Russian victories? If the latter were to expand towards the Orient and alarm the government in Vienna, would we be in danger? Have they been so gentle with us, that we should be so sensitive to our enemies’ anxieties? England and Austria have always been and will always be France’s natural adversaries; we will see them tomorrow wholehearted allies of Russia, if it is a question of fighting and despoiling us.
Let us not forget that, while we were taking up arms with the intention of saving Europe, put in peril by Nicholas’ supposed ambitions, Austria, less chivalrous and more rapacious, would probably listen to the St Petersburg government’s proposals: a brisk change of policy would cost them little. With Russia’s consent, she would seize Bosnia and Serbia, leaving us the satisfaction of wearing ourselves out on behalf of Mahmud.
France is already in a state of partial hostility against the Turks; she alone has already spent several millions and risked twenty thousand soldiers in the cause of Greece; England would only lose a few words betraying the principles of the treaty of the 6th of July; France would lose honour, men and money: our expedition would be nothing less than true political disaster.
But if we do not unite with Austria and England, will the Emperor Nicholas not reach Constantinople and the balance of Europe be upset?
To repeat, once more, let us leave these real or pretended fears to England and Austria. Let their prime concern be that of Russia seizing the Levant trade and becoming a maritime power: that matters little to us. Is it so essential that Great Britain retains its monopoly over the seas, that we shed French blood to keep the destroyers of our colonies, our fleets and our commerce in possession of the Ocean sceptre? Should the legitimate race mobilise its forces in order to protect a house which is allied to the illegitimacy and which may be reserving for a moment of discord the means it believes it possesses to trouble France? A fine balance for us is that of a Europe where all the powers, as I have shown, have increased their weight and with common accord diminished that of France! Let them retreat to their former borders as we have; then we can rush to the aid of their freedom, if that freedom is threatened. They have show no scruples in joining with Russia to dismember us and garner the fruits of our victories; let them now suffer, as we strengthen the links we have formed with that same Russia, in order to reset appropriate boundaries and re-establish the true balance of power in Europe!
Moreover, if the Emperor Nicholas wishes and is able to sign a peace treaty with Constantinople, would the destruction of the Ottoman Empire be the inevitable consequence of that action? Peace has been signed, under arms, in Vienna, Berlin and Paris; almost all the capitals of Europe have been captured in former times: have Austria, Bavaria, Prussia, France, or Spain perished? Twice the Cossacks and Pandours have camped in the courtyard of the Louvre; the kingdom of Henry IV was under military occupation for three years, and yet we would be disturbed to see Cossacks in the seraglio, and would show for the honour of that barbarism the susceptibility we have not shown towards the honour of civilisation and our own country! Let the Porte’s pride be humbled, and then perhaps it will be obliged to recognise some of the human rights that it flouts.’
‘Now you can see where I am heading, and the consequence that I am about to draw from what has gone before. This is the consequence:
If the belligerent powers cannot arrive at an arrangement this winter; if the rest of Europe thinks to meddle in the quarrel by the spring; if various alliances are proposed; if France is absolutely obliged to choose between these alliances; if events force her to move from a position of neutrality; all her interests must lead her to prefer joining with Russia; a union into which it would be safer and easier, by offering certain advantages, to bring Prussia.
There is sympathy between Russia and France; the latter has virtually civilised the higher echelons of society of the former; she has transferred to them her language and manners. Placed at the two ends of Europe, France and Russia have no common frontier; there is no field of battle on which they can meet; they are not engaged in commercial rivalry, and Russia’s natural enemies (the English and the Austrians) are also those of France. In times of peace, let the government in the Tuileries remain allied to the government in St Petersburg, and nothing in Europe can be at odds. In times of war, the alliance of the two governments will dictate the rules of engagement.
I have also pointed out that an alliance of France with England and Austria would be a false alliance, which would merely result in the loss of our blood and our wealth. An alliance with Russia, on the contrary, would lead directly to us obtaining possessions in the Archipelago and pushing back our frontiers to the banks of the Rhine. We could say this to Nicholas:
“Your enemies solicit us; we prefer peace to war, we desire to remain neutral. But if in the end you can only solve your differences with the Porte by arms, if you intend to advance to Constantinople, enter into a partition of European Turkey among the Christian powers. Those powers which are not in a position to expand on their eastern borders will receive compensation elsewhere. We wish to establish our frontier on the Rhine, from Strasbourg to Cologne. Such are our valid pretensions. Russia has an interest (your brother Alexander said so) in what makes France strong. If you consent to this arrangement and the other powers refuse, we will not tolerate them intervening in your issue with Turkey. If they attack you despite our remonstrance, we would fight alongside you always, on the same conditions we have just expressed.”
That is what we might say to Nicholas. Austria and England will never grant us a border on the Rhine as the price of our alliance with them: now, sooner or later it is there, nevertheless, that France must set her frontier, as much for honour as for security.
A war with Austria and England has numerous possibilities of success and few chances of failure. Firstly it is a means of paralysing Prussia, and even forcing her decision to unite with Russia and ourselves; if that happened, Holland could not declare herself an enemy. In the present mood, forty thousand Frenchmen defending the Alps would rouse all of Italy.
As to hostilities with England, if they were ever to commence, we would need to send twenty-five thousand more men to the Morea, or rapidly recall our troops and our fleet. Give up the idea of squadrons and disperse your ships individually over the oceans; order them to sink all prizes after having stripped out their equipment, multiply your letters of marque in the ports at the four corners of the earth, and Great Britain would soon sue for peace, obliged to do so by bankruptcies and commercial crisis. Have we not seen them capitulate before the United States Navy in 1814, which even today only consists of nine frigates and eleven other vessels?
Considered under the headings of both the general interests of society and our own private interests, Russia’s war against the Porte ought not to do us any harm. According to the noblest concept of civilisation, the human species can only gain from the destruction of the Ottoman Empire: the dominance of the Cross in Constantinople rather than the Crescent is a thousand times better for the nations. All the elements of morality and social politics are present in Christianity; all the seeds of social destruction lie in the religion of Mahomet. They say the Sultan has taken steps towards civilisation: is that because he has tried, with the aid of renegade Frenchmen, and English and Austrian officers, to submit his fanatical hordes to military exercises? And since when has a routine apprenticeship in warfare been considered civilisation? It is a great error, almost a crime, to have initiated the Turks in our tactical science: the soldiers one disciplines should be baptised, unless you wish to elevate the destruction of society into a grand design.
There is a great lack of foresight: Austria which has applauded the organisation of the Ottoman army would be the first to feel the pain of its approval: if the Turks fought the Russians, they would be much more capable of measuring themselves against their Imperialist cousins; this time Vienna would not escape the Grand Vizier. Would the rest of Europe, which thinks it has nothing to fear from the Porte, be safe? Short-sighted and passionate men wish Turkey to be a normal military power, for her to participate in the usual rights of war and peace among civilised nations, all to maintain who knows what balance, the emptiness of the phrase allowing men to avoid grasping the concept: what would be the consequences if these wishes were realised? When it pleased the Sultan, on some pretext or other, to attack a Christian government, a fleet from Constantinople, effectively positioned, augmented by the fleet of the Pasha of Egypt, and a maritime contingent of barbarian powers, would declare a blockade of the coasts of Spain or Italy, and disembark fifty thousand men at Cartagena or Naples. Choose not to plant the Cross on St Sophia: continue to train the hordes of Turks, Albanians, Negroes, and Arabs, and within twenty-five years the Crescent may gleam on the dome of St Peter’s. Then will you call Europe to a crusade against the infidel armies of plague, slavery and the Koran? It will be too late.
‘View of Naples’
Sketches of Vesuvius, with Short Accounts of its Principal Eruptions - John Auldjo (p31, 1832)
The British Library
Thus the general interest of society relies on the success of the Emperor Nicholas’ armies.
As for the specific interests of France, I have shown adequately that they depend upon an alliance with Russia and that they may be particularly favoured by the very war that power is undertaking now in the Orient.
I will summarise:
- If Turkey consents to act on the basis of the Treaty of the 6th of July, nothing would be decided, there being no lasting peace between Turkey and Russia; the chances of war in the defiles of the Balkans would alter at every moment the assumptions and position of the plenipotentiaries occupied with the emancipation of Greece.
- The probable conditions for peace between the Emperor Nicholas and Sultan Mahmud are subject to major objections.
- Russia could defy an alliance between England and Austria, an alliance more formidable in appearance than reality.
- It is probable that Prussia would rather ally with the Emperor Nicholas, a relative of Frederick-William III, than with the Emperor’s enemies.
- France would have everything to lose and nothing to gain by an alliance with England and Austria against Russia.
- The freedom of Europe would not be threatened by Russian conquests in the Orient. It is quite absurd, and does not take account of the obstacles, to imagine the Russians hastening from the Bosphorus to impose their yoke on Germany and France: all empires are weakened by over-extension. As to the balance of forces, it is a long time since it has been disturbed on behalf of France; - she has lost her colonies, she is contained within her ancient borders, while England, Prussia, Russia and Austria are greatly increased.
- If France was obliged to lose her neutrality, to take up arms for one party or the other, the general interests of civilisation, as the specific interests of our country, ought to lead us to prefer an alliance with Russia. Through her we could obtain the course of the Rhine as our border, and colonies in the Archipelago, advantages which the Courts of St James and Vienna would never accord us.’
‘Such is my summary of this Note. I can only argue hypothetically; I am unaware of what England, Austria and Russia are proposing or have proposed even as I write; perhaps there is information, a despatch which reduces the truths exposed here to useless generalisations: that is the difficulty of distance and political conjecture. Nevertheless it remains certain that France is in a strong position; that the government is in a position to take a major role in events if it pays attention to what it desires, if it does not allow itself to be intimidated by anyone, if, to speak forthrightly, it joins vigour to action. We have a king who is venerated, an heir to the throne who with three hundred thousand men would, on the banks of the Rhine, increase the glory he gathered in Spain; our expedition to the Morea enables us to play a role full of honour; our political institutions are excellent, our finances are prospering in a manner without parallel in Europe: with that one can advance, head raised. What country but ours possesses genius, courage, soldiers and wealth!
Further, I do not pretend to have said the last word, to have foreseen everything; I lack the presumption to give out that my policy is the best; I know that there is something mysterious, intangible in human affairs. While it is true that one can articulate the ultimate generic results of a revolution, it is equally true that one will be wrong in detail, and specific events will often alter things in unexpected ways; and that while seeing the goal, one arrives there by paths whose existence one did not even suspect. It is certain, for example, that the Turks will be driven from Europe; but when and how? Will the present war deliver the civilised world from that scourge? Are the obstacles to peace which I have signalled insurmountable? Yes, if one follows an analogous process of reasoning; no, if one introduces into these calculations different circumstances to those which have occasioned the taking up of weapons.
Hardly anything these days resembles what has been: outside religion and morality, the realities have altered in a major way, if not in their essence, at least in relation to men and things. D’Ossat remains an able negotiator still, Grotius a publicist of genius, Puffendorf a prudent spirit; but one would not apply their rules of diplomacy to our age, nor return to the treaty of Westphalia to set a valid policy for Europe. The people are now involved in matters once only carried out by governments. The people no longer feel as they once felt; they are no longer affected by the same events; they no longer see things from the same point of view; reason has made progress among them at the expense of imagination; positivism has won out over enthusiasm and passionate tendencies; a modicum of reason rules everywhere. On most thrones, and in the majority of the cabinet offices of Europe, sit men who are weary of revolutions, have had their fill of war, and are antipathetic to the spirit of adventure: here are emblems of hope for peaceful negotiation. There may also exist among nations internal obstacles which dispose them towards conciliatory measures.
The death of the Dowager Empress of Russia may give rise to the seeds of disturbances which have not been completely suppressed. That Princess was hardly involved with foreign policy, but she was a link with her sons; she appears to have exercised a substantial influence over the transactions which granted the crown to the Emperor Nicholas. However, it must be confessed that if Nicholas begins to be afraid once more, it would be one more reason for him to send soldiers outside his native land and seek safety in victory.
England, independently of her debts which constrain her actions, is embarrassed by affairs in Ireland: whether the Catholic Emancipation Bill is passed by Parliament or not, it will be of immense significance. The health of King George is fragile, that of his immediate successor is no better; if the incident foreseen arrives soon, there would be a new convocation of Parliament, perhaps a change of Ministers, and capable men are rare at present in England: a Regency of long duration could occur. In that precarious and critical situation, it is probable that England would sincerely desire peace, and would be afraid of risking a major war, in the midst of which she might be surprised by internal problems.
Finally we ourselves, despite our real and indisputable prosperity, even though we might appear splendid on the field of battle, if we are summoned are we ready to appear? Are our defences in order? Have we the supplies required to support a large army? Is that army still wholly on a peace footing? If we were brusquely wakened by a declaration of war from England, Prussia and Holland, could we oppose a third invasion effectively? Napoleon’s wars made known our fatal secret: that after a fortunate battle Paris could be reached in a few days; Paris cannot defend itself; that same Paris is far too near the frontier. The capital of France will only be defensible when we hold the left bank of the Rhine. We therefore need some time to prepare.
Let us add to all that, that the vices and virtues of Princes, their moral strengths and weaknesses, their character, their passions, even their habits, are the cause of actions and events contrary to calculation, and which belong to no political formula: sometimes the meanest of influences determines the greatest of occurrences in a sense opposed to all known likelihood; a slave can trigger the signing in Constantinople of a peace treaty which all Europe, begging on its knees, could not obtain.
What then if one of these causes beyond human prediction leads, this winter, to demands for negotiation, should those demands be rejected if they are not in accord with the principles in this Note? Certainly not: to gain time is a great thing when one is not ready. One may know what would be better, and be content with what is the least worst; political realities, especially, are relative; absolutism, in matters of State, produces serious difficulties. It would be best for the human species if the Turks were driven into the Bosphorus, but we are not charged with that expedition and perhaps Islam’s hour has not yet tolled: hatred should be set aside to avoid stupidity. Nothing then must prevent France entering into negotiations, taking care to approach them as far as possible in the spirit in which this note is written. It is for the men at the tillers of empires to direct them, according to the winds, but avoiding the reefs.
Assuredly, if the powerful sovereign of the North consented to limit the conditions of peace to the execution of the Treaty of Akerman and the Emancipation of Greece, it would be possible to make the Porte see reason; but what probability is there of the Russians limiting themselves to conditions which they could obtain without firing a cannon? How can they abandon pretensions so loudly and publicly expressed? One means alone, if it is practical, presents itself: propose a general Congress at which the Emperor Nicholas would bow, or appear to bow, to the wishes of Christian Europe. A successful method among men is to salve their self-esteem, to give them a reason for breaking their word, and a way of retreating from a false step with honour.
The greatest obstacle to the idea of this Congress arises from the unexpected success of the Ottoman armies during the winter. If, because of the rigour of the season, the lack of provisions, the insufficiency of troops or some other cause, the Russians were obliged to abandon the siege of Silistria; if Varna (which however is hardly probable) fell into Turkish hands once more, Emperor Nicholas would find himself in a position which would preclude him from listening to any propositions, under pain of descending to the lowest rank of monarchs; then the war would be continued, and we would return to the eventualities deduced in this Note. If Russia lost its place as a military power, if Turkey were to replace it in that respect, Europe would merely face a different risk. Now, the danger threatened by Mahmud’s scimitar, would be of a much more formidable nature than that of Emperor Nicholas’ sword. If by chance fate established a Prince of note on the Sultan’s throne, he may not live long enough to change laws and manners, as he has otherwise intended. Mahmud will die: to whom will he leave his Empire with its disciplined and fanatical soldiers, with its Ulemas holding in their hands, through their initiation in modern tactics, a fresh means of conquest for the Koran?
While Austria, terrified ultimately of all these false calculations, would be obliged to defend its frontiers, where the Janissaries would leave them nothing to fear, a new military insurrection, resulting possibly from the humiliation of Nicholas’ armies, would perhaps break out in St Petersburg, and be gradually communicated, setting Northern Germany on fire. This is what men who rely, for policy, on vulgar fears and commonplaces, do not see. Trivial despatches, petty intrigues, are the obstacles with which Austria intends to oppose an action that threatens us all. If France and England adopted a stance worthy of them, if they informed the Porte that, in the event of the Sultan closing his ears to all peace proposals, he would find himself at war by the spring, then that resolve would soon put an end to Europe’s anxieties.’
News of the existence of this Memoir, having been leaked to the diplomatic world, brought me an attention that I did not reject, but did not at all seek. I do not see much that would have surprised the positivists: my war in Spain was a very positive thing. The incessant workings of the broad revolution which is taking place in our old society, by leading among us to the fall of the Legitimacy, has upset all calculations based on the permanence of the situation which existed in 1828.
Do you wish to convince yourself of the vast difference between the worth and glory of a great writer compared with a great politician? My diplomatic efforts had been crowned by what is recognised as the greatest talent: that is to say by success. Yet whoever was to read this Memoir would doubtless have skipped through it swiftly, and I would have done the same in the readers’ place. Well, suppose that instead of this little masterpiece of legalistic reasoning, they had found in my effort an episode in the style of Homer or Virgil, heaven having granted me their genius, do you think they would have been tempted to skip the love of Dido in Carthage or the tears of Priam in Achilles’ tent?
‘Suicide of Queen Dido’
Anonymous (c. 1800)
Book XXIX: Chapter 14: Letters to Madame Récamier
To Madame Récamier
‘Tuesday, Rome, this 9th of December 1828.>
I have been to the Accademia Tiberina of which I have the honour to be a member. I listened to some very witty speeches and some very fine verse. What a waste of intellect! This evening I hold my grand ricevimento (inaugural reception); I am filled with dismay, as I write.’
‘11th of December.
The grand ricevimento passed off marvellously well. Madame de Chateaubriand is delighted, because we had all the Cardinals in the world. All Europe in Rome was there, with Rome. Since I am condemned to this profession for some time, I like to do it as well as any other ambassador might. One’s enemies hate any kind of success, even the most wretched, and it punishes them if one succeeds in an area in which they consider themselves unequalled. Next Saturday I transform myself into a Canon of St John Lateran, and on Sunday I dine with my colleagues. A more congenial reunion is that which takes place today: I dine with Monsieur Guérin and all the artists, and we are going to decide on your monument to Poussin. A young student full of talent, Monsieur Desprez, will execute a bas-relief taken from a painting by the great painter, and Monsieur Lemoyne will do the bust. Only French hands are involved in this.
To complete my tale of Rome, Madame de Castries has arrived. She is another of those little girls I used to bounce on my knee like Césarine (Madame de Barante). The poor woman is very much altered; her eyes filled with tears when I recalled her childhood at Lormois. Enchantment seems to have deserted that fair voyager’s house. What isolation, and for what! What would be better, you see, would be to come and find you again as soon as possible. If my Moses descends from the mountain satisfactorily, I will borrow one of his divine rays, in order to appear more brilliant and young in your eyes.’
My dinner at the Accademia went wonderfully well. The young men were satisfied: an Ambassador dined with them for the very first time. I told them about the monument to Poussin: it was as if I had already honoured their ashes.’
Histoire de la Ville des Andelis et de ses Dépendances, Vol 02 - C. Colin Cuisinier, d'Aubigny, Deroy Père et Fils (p442, 1863)
The British Library
‘Thursday, the 18th of December 1828.
Instead of wasting my time and yours relating to you the deeds and gestures of my life, I prefer to send you everything recorded in the Rome newspaper. Here are twelve months more which have descended on my brow. When can I rest? When can I cease wasting my days on the highroads, days lent to me to achieve better things? I have spent, without realising how rich I was; I thought the treasure inexhaustible. Now, seeing how it has diminished and how little time is left to spend at your feet, it makes my heart ache. But is there not a long existence after this one on earth? A poor and humble Christian, I tremble before Michelangelo’s Last Judgment; I do not know where I shall go, yet everywhere you are not I will be most unhappy. I have told you of my projects and my future a hundred times. Ruins, health, the loss of all illusions, all say to me: “Go; retire; make an end.” I find at the end of my journey only you. You have wished me to mark my passage through Rome, it is done: Poussin’s tomb will remain. It will bear this inscription: F.-A. de Ch. to Nicholas Poussin, for the glory of art and the honour of France. What have I left to do here now? Nothing, especially after having subscribed to the tune of a hundred ducats for the monument to a man whom you love most, you say, next to me: Tasso.’
‘Rome, Saturday the 3rd of January 1829.
I recommence my New Year wishes: may Heaven accord you health and long life! Do not forget me: I have hopes, since you remember Monsieur de Montmorency and Madame de Staël so well, that your memory is as good as your heart. I said yesterday to Madame Salvage that I knew nothing in the world as beautiful as, or better than, you.
I spent an hour yesterday with the Pope. We spoke about everything, on subjects both noble and serious. He is a very distinguished and enlightened individual, and a Prince full of dignity. The adventures of my political existence only lacked a relationship with a sovereign Pontiff; it rounds off my career.
Do you wish to know exactly what I am doing? I rise at half past five, I breakfast at seven; at eight I return to my office; I write to you or I execute some business when there is any (the details regarding the French establishments and the French poor are onerous enough); at noon I go and wander among the ruins for two or three hours, or to St Peter’s, or to the Vatican. Sometimes I make an obligatory visit before or after my walk; at five I return; I dress for the evening; I dine at six; at seven thirty I go to a soirée with Madame de Chateaubriand or I receive a few people at my residence. About eleven I go to bed, or I go out into the country despite the thieves and the malaria: what do I do there? Nothing; I listen to the silence, and watch my shadow move from arch to arch, along aqueducts lit by the moon.
The Romans are so accustomed to my methodical existence, that I serve them as a timepiece. Let them be quick; I will soon have finished my circuit of the dial.’
‘Rome, Thursday the 8th of January 1829.
I am very wretched; from the best weather in the world we have passed to rain, such that I cannot take my walks. Yet they were the only good times during my day. I would go along thinking of you in this deserted countryside; they could interpret the future and the past from my sentiments, since I used to take the same walks in former times. Once or twice a week I go to the place where the English girl drowned: who today remembers that poor young lady, Miss Bathurst? Her compatriots gallop the length of the river without thinking of her. The Tiber, which has seen so much, is not burdened by it at all. Besides, its waves are ever renewed: they are as pallid and tranquil as when they passed over that creature full of hope, beauty, and life.
There, I have become quite grave without noticing it. Forgive a poor hare, wet and penned in his form. I must tell you a little story about last Tuesday. There was an immense crowd at the Embassy: I was leaning backwards against a marble table, saluting the people as they came and went. An Englishwoman, whose face and name I did not know, approached me, looked me between the eyes, and said in a tone of voice you know: “Monsieur de Chateaubriand, you are very unhappy!” Astonished at the comment and her manner of starting a conversation, I asked her what she meant. She replied: “I mean that I am sorry for you.” With that she linked arms with another Englishwoman, and vanished in the crowd, and I did not see her again the rest of the evening. This curious stranger was neither young nor pretty; yet I am grateful for her mysterious words.
Your newspapers continue to go on about me. I am not sure what fly is biting them. I had thought myself forgotten as I wish to be.
To Monsieur Thierry.
‘Rome, this 8th of January 1829.
I was very moved, Sir, to receive the new edition of your Lettres sur l’histoire de France with words that prove you have been thinking of me. If those words were from your own hand, I would hope for my country’s sake that your sight has returned to the studies which your talent draws on so wonderfully. I read, or rather re-read with avidity what is only-too-short a work. I dog-ear every page, in order to better recall the passages I wish to note. I will often quote you, Sir, in the work I have been preparing for so many years on our two earliest races. My ideas and researches will take shelter beneath your noble authority; I will frequently adopt your reform of the names; and finally I shall take pleasure in always being close to your opinion, in separating myself, doubtless despite myself, from the system proposed by Monsieur Guizot; but I cannot, with that ingenious writer, overturn the most authentic memorials, making all the Franks nobles and freemen, and all the Gallo-Romans slaves of the Franks. Salic law and Ripuary law have a host of rules founded on differences in status among the Franks; “Si quis ingenuus ingenuum ripuarium extra solum vendiderit: if a free man sells a free Ripuarian outside his territory, etc etc.”
You know Sir that I strongly wish you to live in Rome. We would be seated among ruins; there you would teach me history; an old disciple, I would listen to my young master only regretting that I no longer have enough years ahead of me to profit from his lessons:
“Such is the fate of man: he learns with age.
But what’s the use of being a sage
When the end’s so near?”
That verse is from an unpublished ode by a man who is no more, by my dear old friend Fontanes. So, among the ruins of Rome, Sir, everything warns me of what I have lost, of what little time remains to me, and of the brevity of our hopes which once seemed so enduring: Spem longam.
Sir, believe that no one admires you or is more devoted to you than your servant.’
Book XXIX: Chapter 15: A despatch
Despatch to Monsieur le Comte de la Ferronnays
‘Rome, this 12th of January 1829.
Monsieur le Comte,
I saw the Pope on the 2nd of this month; he was so good as to detain me for an hour and a half in private.
I must give you an account of the conversation I had with His Holiness.
Firstly it was a discussion about France. The Pope began be praising the King most sincerely. “At no time.” he said, “has the Royal Family of France shown so complete a range of qualities and virtues. Calm has been re-established among the clergy; the bishops have capitulated.”
“– That submission,” I replied “is due in part to the insight and moderation of Your Holiness.”
“– I have given advice,” the Pope replied “that appeared reasonable to me. Spirituality is not compromised by the decrees; the bishops would perhaps have been better not to write their first letter; but having declared non possumus: we cannot, it was difficult to retract. They were trying to display the least possible contradiction between their actions and their language at the moment of their collusion: one must pardon them. They are pious men, very attached to the King and the monarchy; they have their weaknesses like other men.”
All that, Monsieur le Comte, was said in very clear and effective French.
After thanking the Holy Father for the confidence he had shown in me, I spoke with esteem of the Cardinal-Secretary of State:
“I chose him,” he said to me, “because he is travelled, because he understands the general affairs of Europe, and because he seemed to me to have the kind of ability that his role demands. He has only written, in regard to your decrees, what I thought and what I would have recommended him to write.”
“– Dare I communicate to His Holiness,” I replied, “my opinion regarding the religious situation in France?”
“– That would give me great pleasure,” the Pope responded.
I suppress several compliments that His Holiness was pleased to address to me.
“I consider then,” Most Holy Father, “that the evil originally arose from the Clergy’s contempt: instead of supporting new institutions, or at least being silent about them, they have allowed words of criticism, to put it no stronger, to escape, in their instructions and speeches. Impiety, which only knows how to reproach your Ministers, has seized on their words and made a weapon of them; it has cried that Catholicism is incompatible with the establishment of public freedom, that there is a war to the death between the Charter and the priesthood. By alternative means, our ecclesiastics might have obtained all they could have wished from the nation. There are great depths of religiosity in France, and a visible inclination to forget our former differences at the foot of the altar; but there is also a real attachment to the institutions established by the descendants of Saint Louis. The degree of influence the Clergy would have, if it displayed itself as simultaneously a friend of the King and of the Charter, is incalculable. I have never stopped preaching that policy in my writings and my speeches; but the passions of the moment did not grant me a hearing and took me for an enemy.
The Pope listened to me with the greatest attention.
“I follow your thinking,” the Pope said, after a moment’s silence. “Jesus Christ did not pronounce on the form government should take. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s was all he said: obey the established authorities. The Catholic religion has prospered under republics as it has under monarchies; it has made immense progress in the United States; it reigns alone in the Spanish Americas.”
These words are quite remarkable, Monsieur le Comte, at the very moment when the Court of Rome is strongly inclined to grant recognition to bishops nominated by Bolivar.
The Pope resumed: “You see the crowds of foreign Protestants in Rome: their presence is good for the country; but it is also good in another way; the English come here with the strangest notions about the Pope and the Papacy, regarding fanaticism in the Clergy, and the slavery of the people of this country: they only have to be here a couple of months to change their views. They see I am merely a bishop like any other bishop, that the clergy of Rome is neither ignorant nor an oppressor, and that all in all my subjects are not treated like animals.”
Encouraged by this heartfelt effusion and seeking to widen the scope of the conversation, I said to the Sovereign Pontiff: “Does not Your Holiness consider this a favourable moment for the strengthening of Catholic unity, and the reconciliation of dissident sects, by minor concessions in the rules? Prejudice against the Court of Rome is weakening everywhere, and in a yet fervent century, the work of reunion has already been attempted by Leibnitz and Bossuet.”
“– That is a great matter,” the Pope said; “but I must await the moment fixed by Providence. I agree that prejudice is weakening: the sectarian divisions in Germany have engendered weariness in those sects. In Saxony, where I lived for three years, I was the first to establish a hospital for foundlings and obtain agreement for it to be run by Catholics. Then objections were raised against me by the Protestants; today those same Protestants are the first to applaud the establishment and endow it. The number of Catholics in Great Britain has increased; it is true that there are many foreigners there.”
The Pope being silent for a moment, I profited from it by introducing the question of the Catholics in Ireland.
“If emancipation takes place,” I said, “the Catholic religion in Britain will expand still further.”
“– That is true from one perspective,” His Holiness replied, “but from another there are obstacles. The Irish Catholics are very fervent and very intemperate. Has not O’Connell, otherwise a man of merit, said in a speech that a Concordat has been proposed between the Holy See and the British Government? There is nothing in it; that assertion, which I cannot publicly contradict, has given me a great deal of pain. Thus to bring about reunion with the dissidents, things must mature, and God Himself will complete His work. Popes can only wait.”
That is not my opinion, Monsieur le Comte: but since I was charged with making the Holy Father’s opinion known to the King, I was not called upon to contest it.
“– What are your newspapers saying?” the Pope resumed, with a sort of levity. “They chatter a lot! Those of Holland even more; but they tell me that an hour after having read their articles, no one in your country thinks of them again.”
“ – That is quite true, Most Holy Father: you see how the Gazette de France attacks me (since I know Your Holiness reads all the papers, not forgetting the Courrier); yet the Sovereign Pontiff treats me with extreme kindness; there is therefore room to believe that the Gazette has no great impact on him.” The Pope smiled and nodded. “Well, Most Holy Father, there are others like Your Holiness! If the newspapers say truly, the good they have spoken remains; if falsely, it is as if they had not spoken at all. The Pope must wait for the speeches during the session; the extreme right will maintain that Monsieur le Cardinal Bernetti is not a priest, and that his letters regarding the decrees are not articles of faith; the extreme left will declare that we have no need to take orders from Rome. The majority will applaud, in deference to the King’s Council, and will praise Your Holiness’ spirit of wisdom and peace.”
This little dissertation appeared to delight the Holy Father, happy to gain some insight into the workings of our constitutional machinery. Finally, Monsieur le Comte, thinking that the King and his Council would very much like to know the Pope’s thoughts regarding current events in the East, I repeated various news items from the papers, not being authorised to communicate to the Holy See what you told me positively in your despatch of the 18th of December regarding the recall of our expedition from the Morea.
The Pope did not hesitate to reply to me; he seemed to be alarmed at military discipline being imparted imprudently to the Turks. Here are his actual words:
“If the Turks are already capable of resisting Russia what will their power be when they have obtained a glorious peace? Who can stop them, after four or five years quietly perfecting their new tactics, from descending on Italy?”
I confess to you, Monsieur le Comte, that in discovering these ideas and anxieties in the mind of the Sovereign most likely to feel the repercussions of the enormous error that has been committed, I congratulate myself on having demonstrated to you in greater detail, in my Note on affairs in the East, the same ideas and anxieties.
“We need firm resolution,” the Pope added, “on the part of the Allied powers to put an end to the evils with which the future is menaced. France and England still have time to prevent it; but if a new campaign begins, it may set Europe alight, and it will be too late to extinguish it.”
“– All the more accurate a reflection,” I replied, “since if Europe is divided, God forbid, fifty thousand Frenchmen in Italy will call all in question.”
The Pope did not reply; it merely seemed to me that the idea of seeing the French in Italy did not inspire him with fear. Everywhere they are weary of the Court of Vienna’s inquisition, its intrigues, its endless encroachment and its little plots for uniting, in confederation against France, nations which detest the Austrian yoke.
Such, Monsieur le Comte, is the summary of my lengthy conversation with His Holiness. I am not sure if we have been in a position to understand private Papal sentiments any more deeply than this, or if a Prince who governs the Christians of the world has previously expressed himself so clearly on such a range of subjects, and outside the narrow circuit of the usual diplomatic ties. There is common ground between the Sovereign Pontiff and myself, and it was easy to see that Leo XII, by the nature of his candour, and the direction of this private conversation, was not dissimulating and did not seek to deceive.
Anonymous, 1800 - 1833
The Pope’s inclinations and desires are evidently in France’s favour: when he took up the keys of St Peter, he belonged to the zelanti (zealous) faction; now he seeks strength in moderation: that is what wielding power always teaches. For that reason, he is disliked by the Cardinalist faction he has quit. Not having found any men of talent in the secular clergy, he has chosen his principal counsellors from the regular clergy; from which it follows that the monks support him, while the prelates and the simple priests provide him with a kind of opposition. The latter, when I arrived in Rome, all had minds more or less infected by lies emanating from our congregation; now, they are infinitely more reasonable; all, in general, blame our clergy for taking up their shields. It is interesting to note that the Jesuits are as much enemies here as in France: they have as adversaries primarily the members and leaders of the other Orders. They have formulated a plan by means of which they would dominate exclusively public education in Rome. The Dominicans have foiled this plan. The Pope is not very popular because he governs well. His little army is composed of former soldiers of Bonaparte who present quite a military appearance and make fine policemen on the highroads. If material Rome has lost its picturesque aura, it has gained in propriety and salubriousness. His Holiness has had trees planted and the beggars and solitaries turned away: another subject of complaint from the populace. Leo XII is a hard worker; he sleeps little and barely eats at all. Only one of his youthful interests remains, that of hunting, an exercise essential to his health which, otherwise, seems strengthened. He fires a few rifle shots in the vast enclosure of the Vatican Gardens. The zelanti have a great problem excusing this innocent distraction. They reproach the Pope for weakness and inconstancy in his affections.
The radical vice of the political constitution in this country is easy to grasp: elderly men always proclaim an elderly man like themselves as sovereign. This old man, having become master, in turn names old men as Cardinals. Within this vicious circle, supreme power is always thus enervated and on the brink of the grave. The Prince never occupies the throne long enough to execute the plans of improvement he has conceived. What is needed is for a Pope to have enough resolution to suddenly promote a number of younger Cardinals, in a manner that would assure a majority in the future election of a young Pontiff. But the rules of Sixtus V which grant hats to Palace officials, the influence of custom and habit, the interests of the people who receive rewards at every transfer of the coronet, the individual ambitions of the Cardinals who desire a short reign in order to multiply their chances of achieving the Papacy, and a thousand other obstacles too numerous to mention, stand in the way of a rejuvenation of the Sacred College.
The conclusion of this despatch, Monsieur le Comte, is that, given the current state of things, the King can count entirely on the Court of Rome.
As a warning concerning my manner of seeing and feeling, if I have any criticism of myself to make in this recital which I have the honour of sending you, it is to have weakened rather than exaggerated His Holiness’ expressions. My memory is very clear; I wrote down the conversation on leaving the Vatican, and my private secretary has merely copied my minute word for word. The latter, scribbled rapidly, was barely readable even by me. You would never have been able to decipher it.
I have the honour to be, etc.’
Book XXIX: Chapter 16: Letters to Madame Récamier
To Madame Récamier
‘Rome, Tuesday the 13th of January 1829.
Yesterday evening at eight o’clock I wrote you a letter which Monsieur de Viviers is bringing you; this morning, on waking, I am writing to you again by the ordinary courier who leaves at midday. You know the poor ladies of Saint Denis: they feel quite deserted since the arrival of the great ladies of Santissima Trinità dei Monti; without being an enemy of the latter I am ranged with Madame de Chateaubriand on the side of the weak. For a month now the ladies of Saint-Denis had wanted to give an entertainment for Monsieur the Ambassador and Madame the Ambassadress: it took place yesterday afternoon. Imagine a theatre set up in a kind of sacristy with a gallery over the church; for actresses a dozen little girls, between eight and fourteen years old, playing the Maccabees. They had made their own helmets and cloaks. They declaimed their French verse with verve and in Italian accents the most amusing in the world; they stamped their feet at moments of intensity: they included a niece of Pius VII, a daughter of Thorwaldsen, and another, the daughter of Chauvin the painter. They were indescribably pretty in their paper finery. The one who played the High Priest sported a large black beard which delighted her, but tickled her, and which she was obliged to keep adjusting with a little white thirteen year old hand. As audience there were ourselves, a few of their mothers, the nuns, Madame Salvage, two or three Abbés, and another twenty or so little pupils, all in white with veils. We had to transport the cakes and ices from the Embassy. Someone played the piano between the acts. Judge the hope and joy which must have preceded this convent performance, and the memories which will follow it! The whole thing ended with a Vivat in aeternum, sung by three nuns in the church.’
‘Rome, the 15th of January 1829.
Once more, for you! Tonight we have experienced wind and rain like that in France: I imagined it beating on your little window; I found myself transported to your little room, I saw your harp, your piano, your birds; you played my favourite air or that derived from Shakespeare: and I am in Rome, far from you! Eight hundred miles and the Alps separate us!
I have received a letter from that spiritual lady who sometimes came to visit me at the Ministry: judge how she pays court to me: she is mad for the Turks; Mahmud is a great man who has advanced his nation!
This Rome, in whose midst I am, should teach me contempt for politics. Here freedom and tyranny perished equally; I see the ruins of the Republic and Tiberius’ Empire jumbled together; what is today but all of that mingled in the same dust! Does the Capuchin who sweeps this dust with his robe in passing not seem to render more vivid the vanity of vanities? Yet I return despite myself to the destiny of my poor country. I desire for it, religion, glory and freedom without considering my powerlessness to adorn it with that threefold crown.’
‘Rome, Thursday the 5th of February 1829.
Torre Vergata is a monastic property situated about three miles from Nero’s tomb, on the left coming from Rome, in a most beautiful and deserted place: there are a vast number of ruins flowering from land covered with grass and thistles. I commenced an excavation there the day before yesterday, Tuesday, after writing to you. I was accompanied only by Hyacinthe and Visconti who is directing the excavation. We have the loveliest weather in the world. The dozen men, armed with picks and shovels, who dig up the tombs and the ruins of houses and palaces in profound solitude, offer a spectacle worthy of you. I had only one wish that you might be there. I would willingly consent to live with you in a tent in the midst of the ruins.
I have set to with my own hands; I discovered some marble fragments: the indications are excellent and I hope to find something which will compensate me for the money spent in this lottery of the dead; I already have a block of Greek marble large enough to use for the Poussin bust. This excavating will put a stop to my walks; I go and sit every day in the midst of the debris. To what century, and what people did they belong? We are shifting famous dust perhaps without knowing. Perhaps some inscription will illuminate a historical fact, erase some error, or establish some truth. And then, when I have departed with my twelve half-naked peasants, all with fall again into silence and oblivion. Can you imagine all the passions, and interests which once stirred in these deserted places? There were masters and slaves, happiness and sorrow, lovely ones who were loved and ambitious ones who wanted to be rulers. What remains are a few birds, and I, for a very short while longer: we will soon vanish. Tell me, do you think it is worth the trouble of my being one of the council members of a petty King of the Gauls, I, a barbarian from Armorica, traveller among savages in a world unknown to the Romans, and Ambassador to the priests they threw to the lions? When I summoned Leonidas in Lacedemonia, he did not respond: the sound of my steps at Torre Vergata will have woken no one. And when I in turn am in my grave, I will not even hear the sound of your voice. So I must hasten to return to you and put an end to all these chimeras of human existence. There is no good except in retirement, and no truth except in an attachment like yours.’
‘Mistra and Taygetus from the Ruins of Sparta’
A Short Visit to the Ionian Islands, Athens, and the Morea - Edward Giffard (p319, 1837)
The British Library
‘Rome, this 7th of February 1829.
I have received a long letter from General Guilleminot; he tells me a tale of woe regarding what he has endured in his travels round the coasts of Greece; and yet Guilleminot was the Ambassador; he had large ships and an army under his command. To go, after our soldiers have departed, to a country where there is not a house or a field of corn left intact, among a scattered population forced to become brigands through poverty, is not a viable project for a woman (Madame Lenormant).
I am going to my dig this morning: yesterday we found the skeleton of a Goth, a soldier, and an arm from the statue of a woman. It was an encounter with the destroyer in the ruins he had made; we have high hopes of retrieving the statue this morning! If the architectural remains I have discovered are worth the effort, I will not have them demolished in order to sell the stones as is usually done; I will leave them standing, and they can bear my name: they are from the time of Domitian. We have an inscription indicating that: it was a fine age of Roman art.’
Book XXIX: Chapter 17: A despatch to Monsieur le Comte Portalis – The death of Leo XII
‘Rome, this Friday the 6th of February 1829.
Monsieur le Comte,
His Holiness has suddenly experienced an attack of the illness to which he is subject: his life is in the most imminent danger. They have just ordered the closing of all the attractions. I come from the Cardinal-Secretary of State, who is himself ill and who despairs for the Pope’s life. The loss of so enlightened and moderate a Sovereign Pontiff would be a true calamity at this time for Christianity and above all for France. I thought it important Monsieur le Comte that the King’s government should be prepared for the probable outcome, in order to take in advance whatever measures it judged necessary. Consequently, I have sent a courier on horseback to Lyons. The courier carries a letter I have written to the Prefect of the Rhône, with a telegraph despatch which he will transmit to you and another letter which I have asked him to send you by despatch rider. If we have the misfortune to lose His Holiness, a fresh courier will bring you all the details in Paris.
I have the honour, etc.’
‘Eight in the evening.
The Congregation of Cardinals already assembled has forbidden the Cardinal-Secretary of State to issue any permits for post-horses. If the Pope dies, my courier will not be able to leave until after the courier of the Sacred College has left. I have tried to send a man to take my despatches to the Tuscan frontier. The bad roads and the lack of horses for hire have rendered the plan unachievable. Forced to wait in Rome, which has become a kind of closed prison, I keep hoping that the news will reach you, at least by telegraph, a few hours before it is known to other governments beyond the Alps. It might well be however that the courier sent to the Papal Nuncio, who will of necessity leave before mine, will send you the news himself, by telegraph, as he passes through Lyons.’
‘Tesday, the 10th of February, nine in the morning.
The Pope has just died; my courier is leaving. In a few hours he will be followed by Monsieur le Comte de Montebello, attaché to the Embassy.’
‘Rome, this 10th of February 1829.
Monsieur le Comte,
I have sent the special courier to Lyons on horseback, about two hours ago, who will transmit the regrettable and unforeseen news of the death of His Holiness. Now I am sending Monsieur le Comte de Montebello, attaché to the Embassy, to bring you some necessary detail.
The pope died of that haemorrhoidal condition to which he was subject. The blood, being carried to the bladder, occasioned a retention which they tried to relieve by means of an incision. It is thought His Holiness was injured by the operation. However it may be, after four days of suffering, Leo XII died this morning at nine as I was arriving at the Vatican, where an agent of the Embassy had spent the night. The letter despatched with my first courier will inform you, Monsieur le Comte, of my vain efforts to obtain a permit for post-horses before the Pope’s death.
Yesterday I went to see the Cardinal-Secretary of State, who was still in the throes of a violent attack of gout; I had quite a long conversation with him about the series of problems we will now be faced with. I deplore the loss of a Prince whose moderate sentiments and knowledge of European affairs were so helpful to Christian peace. “It is not only a great misfortune for France,” the Secretary of State replied, “but a greater misfortune for the State of Rome than you imagine. Discontent and misery are rife in our provinces, and however much the Cardinals feel obliged to follow a different policy to that of Leo XII, they will see how much they will draw on it. As for me, my function ceases with the Pope’s life, and I shall have nothing to reproach myself with.”
This morning I saw Cardinal Bernetti again, who has indeed ceased functioning as Secretary of State: he held to the language of the previous day. I asked to meet with him before he went into conclave. We agreed we would speak about the choice of a Sovereign Pontiff who might be able to continue Leo XII’s policy of moderation. I shall have the honour of transmitting to you any information I acquire.
It is probable that the Pope’s death and the fall of Cardinal Bernetti will delight the enemies of the decrees; they will proclaim this sad event as a punishment from Heaven. It is easy to read that thought on various French visages in Rome.
I doubly mourn the Pope; I had the honour to gain his confidence: the prejudice against me which they had taken care to instil in his mind, before my arrival, had been dissipated, and he did me the honour of testifying loudly and in public, on every occasion, to the great esteem in which he held me.
Now, Monsieur le Comte, permit me to enter into an explanation of various facts:
I was Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time of Pius VII’s death. You will find in the Ministry files, if you judge it appropriate to take a look, my series of communications with Monsieur le Duc de Laval. The custom is, on the death of a Pope, to send a Special Ambassador, or to accredit the Ambassador in residence with new letters to the Sacred College. It is this last course I propose be followed, in the manner of His Late Majesty Louis XVIII. The King will ordain what he thinks best for his service. Four French Cardinals came to Rome for the election of Leo XII. France now has five; it is certainly not a negligible number of votes in the conclave. I await, Monsieur le Comte, the King’s orders. Monsieur de Montebello, charged with bringing you this despatch, will remain at your disposal.
I have the honour, etc, etc.’
To Madame Récamier
‘Rome, the 10th of February 1829, eleven at night.
I wanted to write you a long letter, but the despatch I was obliged to write in my own hand and the fatigue of the least few days have exhausted me.
I mourn the Pope; I had obtained his trust. Now I am charged with a great task. It is impossible to know what the result will be, and what influence it will have on my destiny.
Conclaves normally last for two months, and that will leave me quite free for Easter. I will speak to you soon at the end of it all.
Imagine, they found the poor Pope, last Thursday, before he was taken ill, writing his epitaph. They wished to distract him from such a gloomy thought: “No,” he said, “it will all be over in a few days.”’
‘Thursday, Rome, the 12th of February 1829.
I read your newspapers. They often upset me. I see in the Globe, that Monsieur le Comte Portalis is, according to the paper, my declared enemy. Why? Am I seeking his place? He troubles himself too much about me; I never think of him. I wish him every good fortune possible; and yet, if it were true that he wished to declare war, he would find me ready. They seem to me to talk nonsense about everything, about the immortal Mahmud, and about the evacuation of the Morea.
The most likely outcome is that the evacuation will once more thrust Greece beneath the Turkish yoke with a loss to us of our honour and forty millions. There is plenty of spirit in France, but we lack minds and commonsense: a few phrases intoxicate us, we are led on by words, and what is worse is that we are always ready to denigrate our friends and exalt our enemies. Moreover, is it not strange that they should have insisted on the King using my own words, in a speech, about the concord of public liberty and royalty and yet were so annoyed with me for using that language? And the men who insisted the Crown speak thus were those most warmly in favour of the censure! As for the rest, I am about to see the election of a Head of the Church; that spectacle is the last great spectacle which I shall be present at in my life; it will close my career. (I was wrong. Note: 1837)
Now the pleasures of Rome are over, business commences. I shall be obliged on the one hand to write an account of all that takes place for the Government, and on the other to fulfil the duties of my new role; I shall have to pay my compliments to the Sacred College, and be present at the funeral of the Holy Father, to whom I became attached because he was little loved, and all the more so since fearing to find an enemy in him I found a friend, who from the heights of St Peter’s throne gave a formal denial to my Christian calumniators. Then, the French Cardinals will be down on me. At least I have written to make representations to the Archbishop of Toulouse.
In the midst of all this bother, the Poussin monument is being worked on; and the excavation is successful; I have found three fine heads, the torso of a draped woman, and the funeral inscription of a brother for a young sister, which moved me.
Regarding inscriptions, I told you that the poor Pope had written his own on the eve of the day he fell ill, predicting that he would soon die; he left a note in which he recommends his needy family to the government of Rome: it is only those who have loved much who possess such virtues.’
Les Oblats de Marie Immaculée Durant le Premier Siècle de Leur Existence - Theophile Ortolan (p215, 1914)
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End of Book XXIX