Chateaubriand – Memoirs of Beyond the Tomb (Volume IV)
Chateaubriand – Memoirs of Beyond the Tomb (Volume IV): This fourth volume takes us behind the scenes of power under the Restoration.
In 1814, the return of the Bourbons to the throne occupied for ten years by Napoleon revived the ambition of Chateaubriand, who aspires to a brilliant career as a statesman. He will quickly lose his illusions. Louis XVIII, cautious and conciliatory, pursued a policy of compromise, both with the old Jacobins and with the men of the Empire, and granted the writer only an acting post of Minister of the Interior.
During the Hundred Days (March-June 1815), the king and his court took refuge in Ghent, where Chateaubriand followed him and his wife. The author witnesses the low maneuvers that make Talleyrand and the sinister Fouché the new accomplices of power. On June 18, 1815, a few leagues from the city, he heard the muffled rolls of the Waterloo cannons that sounded the definitive knell of the Napoleonic era. In a long parenthesis, Chateaubriand evokes the exile and the death of the Emperor at Saint Helena and pays a last homage to him who was both his enemy brother and his model.
Returning to Paris in the summer of 1815, he was named peer of France, then Minister of State without portfolio. Unable to govern, he attacks the growing despotism of the ministry and denounces the machinations that aim to remove from power the Legitimists like him. In 1816, he published La Monarchie selon la Charte, a “constitutional catechism” in which he lectured the government. The book, which makes a great noise, is seized and its author, disgraced, loses his salary as a minister, which deprives him of most of his income. Chateaubriand then began a period of serious financial difficulties that forced them to sell their property in the Vallée-aux-Loups and to live on the hospitality of their friends. In 1817, during a walk in the park of Mme de Montboissier, the song of a thrush suddenly reminds her of her childhood in the woods of Combourg and encourages him to start writing his memoirs. It was also during this eventful period that he reconnected with Madame de Stael, who had already been seriously attacked, and fell in love with Mme Recamier, with whom he would maintain a relationship of nearly thirty years.
Destitute of his functions, Chateaubriand does not renounce the policy. In the chamber of peers, he delivers bitter speeches that make him a formidable polemicist. From 1818 to 1820, he directed Le Conservateur and became the undisputed leader of the ultra opposition. The assassination of the Duke of Berry in February 1820 provoked a dynastic and governmental crisis that brought Chateaubriand closer to the throne. But Louis XVIII, preferring to keep the bulky writer at a distance, appointed him ambassador to Berlin (January-April 1821), then to England (1822). The bitter-sweet contrast between his misery of old and the honors due to his new role as plenipotentiary pushes Chateaubriand to pursue his memoirs. It is in 1822, in London, that he writes the pages that have already been read on his trip to America, his return to France, his marriage, his rallying to the army of princes and his years of exile in England (1793-1800). It is also in London that Montmirail, his embassy cook, invents the recipe of chateaubriand. If the author tells us nothing of this gastronomic detail, he gives us tasty comments on London’s high society, which he frequents with diligent zeal, while complaining of never having a moment to himself. Back in Paris in 1823, he (finally!) Won the coveted Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Anxious to restore the coat of arms of France, he advocated an intervention in Spain to support Ferdinand VII, a Bourbon victim of a popular insurrection. The victory of the expedition was not enough to keep his post: on June 6, 1824, he was expelled from the government and immediately went into opposition.
The last part of the volume is devoted to Mme Recamier, whom Chateaubriand presents through the testimonies of those who, like Constant, Madame de Stael, Harp, Murat, Canova, were touched, from near and far, by the incomparable ” enchanting “. [Sources: Ghislain de Diesbach, Chateaubriand (Perrin 1995); Victor L. Tapié, Chateaubriand by himself (Threshold 1965).]