Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

lasting effect on the happiness and improvement of a nation. It was not to be. He appeared in perfect health, when two months after this nomination, while kneeling in the church of St. Thomas d'Aquin, on Good Friday, at the most solemn moment of the religious ceremony appointed for that day, his head sank lower and lower, as if he was absorbed in prayer. Those around him feared at first to disturb his devotions; they looked again, and the spirit was fed. This loss was mourned by Madame Récamier to the last day of her life. Montmorency's wife, who retired into the country to give herself up to charitable works, took a room at the Abbaye-au-Bois, that when she came to Paris she might be near Madame Récamier. She writes to her the most affectionate letters, telling her, “He was so fond of you."

а

We must pass rapidly over the political history of this period. The fall of the Bourbons, which destroyed the system which M. de Chateaubriand and his friends had made such efforts to establish, could not but be considered by them as an unfortunate and even a fatal event; but we cannot say that Madame Récamier's convictions were as deeply rooted as theirs. She had suffered from the tyranny of Bonaparte, and loved freedom; and though her sense of justice was often obscured by her patriotism, it never was so by party spirit: she disapproved of their unwearied efforts to thwart the national tendencies. One day the Duc de Laval was recapitulating what the Revolution of 1830 had cost the nation; and if his account had been exact, it was certainly a bad bargain. “Yes," he said, “ France has spent all this to get rid of us,” meaning the nobility as a caste. “ And France,” she replied, with an arch look, “ does not think she pays too dear for it.” She said a profound truth; but though she saw their mistakes, her oldest and dearest friends were Royalists, except M. de Ballanche, who had totally changed since 1830, and would fly into a passion when they talked of replacing Henry V. on the throne; a favourite project of theirs until the Duchesse de Berry's attempt, and its catastrophe, quenched the whole party. When her friends were in power, Madame Récamier's constant care was to soften their asperities, to listen to their plans, and to sympathise with their disappointments. She now had the more difficult task of persuading M. de Chateaubriand not to conspire, not to ally himself with Republicans, to which his hatred of Louis Philippe constantly inclined him. She was the confidant of all the Royalist conspirators, and not less of the Bonapartists. Long before the first attempt of Louis Napoleon, Madame Salvage, the well-known confidant of the Queen Hortense and her son, came every day to tell her of those plans which afterwards produced the Strasburg move

ment: they appeared to her so absurd that she sometimes doubted the sanity of her dear friend. She knew less of the Republican plots; but through M. Ampère's friendship with Carrel she was not ignorant of their hopes and wishes. She said one day, “ What afflicts me is, that not one of these parties has a real love for the country.”. During Casimir Perier's ministry every thing was quiet; at his death, in 1832, the insurrection of the Legitimists in the Vendée, and the Republicans in the Paris streets, broke out.

It may easily be supposed that during such events, and with such opposite opinions advocated by their most ardent promulgators, discussions often became disputes; and when they grew too violent, it required all the grace and address of Madame Récamier to keep the peace. During the Duchesse de Berry's adventures M. de Chateaubriand was kept in a state of constant excitement. He made himself her champion, went twice to Prague to reconcile her with Charles X. and his family, in which he only partially succeeded. But these journeys resulted in the conviction that his political career was closed. Madame Récamier now devoted herself to the problem, how to give an interest to the life of M. de Chateaubriand, who, deprived of all political activity, was devoured with ennui. He had begun for some time to write the memoirs of his life; and about the end of 1833, either because he wished, like Charles V., to have a foretaste of what posterity might say, or because Madame Récamier urged it, hoping to amuse him, they decided between them to invite a small and very select party to hear a fragment of the first part of these memoirs-about four or five persons among his contemporaries, and about as many more of the young generation, whose impressions might be considered a thermometer of the modern taste.

The experiment completely succeeded. The reading began at four; they dined at six; and went on again from eight to halfpast ten. Not only did attention never flag, but no one knew that he had listened between four and five hours. The memoirs described the scenes of the writer's childhood, his family, his earliest impressions, the manners of the times,-described them so vividly, so charmingly,—that though all has since been published in the Mémoires d'Outre Tombe, those who heard the first reading felt as if they saw but its dead body when they read it in print. M. Lenormant was a perfect reader. In some of the scenes the tears that stole unconsciously down the cheeks of one or two of the audience (the younger portion) gave more satisfaction to the author than all the well-turned compliments of his old friends. This put him in high spirits. The readings continued for months about once a week. "He went on writing, and as he

wrote read to Madame Récamier alone. The audience was increased; all Madame Récamier's good sense, quick tact, and knowledge of society were exerted in deciding who would have sympathy enough with the author to outweigh his political hostility, or who could forget political hostility in literary pleasure; who had the vivid sensibility to enjoy and to show enjoyment. M. de Chateaubriand's political opinions made this sifting necessary: the young generation looked upon him as the upholder of the old régime, who would willingly have brought back the feudal laws; neither could they understand that a man devoted to Charles X., the violator of the constitution, could think otherwise than the whole ultra party. The old-fashioned Royalists, on the other hand, looked upon M. de Chateaubriand, -- who for four years had never ceased attacking the government of Charles X. in the most virulent articles and pamphlets, who had always maintained that liberty and the charter should be respected, with the same dislike which Charles X. had felt and had shown by the pertinacity with which he had ever opposed his entering the cabinet. Of those Royalists who wished for a limited monarchy many had accepted Louis Philippe, and M. de Chateaubriand's opinions appear at this distance nearer to his régime than to the former; but he had the most intense hatred to Louis Philippe. He was a man of imagination ; grand old France standing up before him took away his judgment; the commonplace, humane, managing monarch of 1830 was totally displeasing to his fancy. And hence the small political influence he had (when compared to his power of writing down his opponents), and the short period of his sway. His real power was

. the popularity of his writings. He could not go into any small town in France without receiving an ovation.

But Madame Récamier had need of all her tender devotion to him to keep up these exciting readings for more than two years. Her first object was M. de Chateaubriand; but she had other friends; and M. Ballanche, as well as himself, was now a constant object of anxiety from his total incapacity in all pecuniary matters. M. Ballanche, at his father's death, had inherited a moderate independence; he came to Paris that he might look at her every day till his death. From that time he lived

. on his capital for seventeen years, never taking thought for the morrow. He had spent all, and begun borrowing: he never spoke of this to her, but as the lenders were her friends she knew it. It is impossible to say what straits he might have come to if a sister had not died some time after he had spent all, and left him enough to pay his debts and live upon. A small literary pension was also obtained in 1837. His habits were simple; and he seemed happy as ever when on the brink of ruin.

But M. de Chateaubriand's affairs were much worse. He had contracted large debts when on his embassy at Rome, and even now his establishment was on an expensive scale. On this he was not silent; and it cost her many anxious thoughts and sleepless nights, when an unexpected resource presented itself. The readings of his memoirs became so much in vogue, the celebrity and the rank of most of the auditors, and a certain difficulty in getting admitted, caused so much talk, that people who had no pretensions to literary interests, fashionables, fine ladies, Russian princes, &c. vied with each other for admittance. This was a valuable stimulant against ennui, but it had its disadvantages; and too much pruning to please these audiences was injurious to the genuine spirit and flavour of the memoirs. Nevertheless the fashion increased; and booksellers, hearing that they were to be published at his death, began to send proposals. They were coldly received, the advantage not being at first perceived: this increased the offers. His distresses were known to the Royalists. No one bookseller, however willing, could afford the high price demanded in ready money. At length certain of the Royalist party agreed with the booksellers to pay a pension for his life, part of it to go to Madame de Chateaubriand if she survived him. The publisher was to be the sole proprietor of all the memoirs already written and to be written till his death; when he entered into possession of them, he was to pay the subscribers from the profits. This contract was passed in 1837. We have given these details, as it is probably the first time that a man has sold his life to maintain himself. Chateaubriand himself abhorred the transaction, and often alluded to his being sold, body and mind, worse than a slave.

About the latter half of 1837 Madame Récamier had a cough, which brought on a gradual wasting away. During the worst part of this illness M. de Chateaubriand and M. Ballanche might be seen walking in the court of the Abbaye-auBois, in a cold winter morning, watching the doctor as he came down from her apartment into the court. They did not venture to ring, lest she should find out they were anxious. M. de Chateaubriand's beautiful white silky hair, blown about by a cold wintry wind, his physiognomy the very image of despair, formed a striking picture. It was about this time that the following note must have been written : “ November 4th. I bring this note to

your

door. I was so struck with terror when I was not admitted yesterday, that I thought you were leaving me. It is 1-oh, pray remember it is 1—who am to go first.” And again : “Never speak of what will become of me without you; I have not done such evil in the sight of God that I should survive you. I see with joy that I am ill, that I fainted yes

a

terday, that I get weaker. I shall bless God for this, if you will not mend. My life is in your hands."

Madame Récamier could only whisper, and even that was forbidden. As the winter advanced, she was removed into a house easier to keep at an equable temperature than the oldfashioned Abbaye. But still she wasted away, still she was silent. In January a hard frost came on; and about the middle of the month the thermometer out of doors was ten degrees (Réaumur) below the freezing-point; and that day she recovered her voice. Whether she changed her treatment immediately or not, certain it is that a few weeks afterwards she went out driving every morning. In six weeks she returned to the Abbaye to receive M. de Chateaubriand at half past two, and to all her former habits. She was convinced that the doctors had been mistaken, and that she never got well till she adopted a more bracing system. They had ordered her to the south; but she could not bear to leave M. de Chateaubriand. Her delight was great on returning to her former life. It had been for many years the same. He went to her every day at halfpast two, and read to her whatever work he was occupied with. They talked of it; she gave her advice: no one was admitted till four, when the intimates dropped in. These were tolerably numerous; the friends of her youth, some ten years older than herself, faithful to the fashions of their time, came almost every day. Of these the most regular were the Duc de Laval and Duc de Dondeauville, both among the few last specimens of two different species of the old French grand seigneur. When a new book appeared, it was generally read and talked of, and the author often asked to be presented; but if any one praised

1 M. de Chateaubriand in any book or newspaper, advances were always made to him. If Madame Récamier remarked that one of these new-comers had the power of amusing M. de Chateaubriand, he was encouraged, invited, made a friend. Several of Madame Récamier's friends were members of one or other of the Houses. They always came in between four and six to relate what had passed. An interesting debate was expected: they would promise to come and give an account as early as possible. Nothing remarkable in private or public ever passed but it was known there sooner than elsewhere. Whoever had first read a new book came to give an account of it; a sort of emulation made each habitué anxious to bring something fresh to the common stock.

Political discussions were so hot during the first three or four years, that the old and young, generally of two different parties, would say very sharp things, and argued till all moderation was forgotten. We remember one instance where M. Au

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »