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Vallée-aux-Loups, January, 1812. PLANCOUET-MY NURSE's vow-COMBOURG—MY FATHER'S PLAN FOR
MY EDUCATION - VILLENEUVE LUCILE - THE MESDEMOISELLES COUPPART-SCHOOLBOY DAYS.
My separation from my mother was my first exile. I was sent to Plancouët, a pretty village situated between Dinan, St. Malo, and Lamballe. My mother's only brother, Count de Bedée, had built near this village the Château de Monchoix. The possessions of my maternal grandmother extended as far as the environs of the town of Corseul, the Curiosolites of Cæsar's Commentaries. My grandmother, who had long been a widow, resided with her sister, Mademoiselle de Boisteilleul, in a village separated from Plancouët by a bridge, and called l’Abbaye, because it contained a Benedictine Abbey consecrated to our Lady of Nazareth.
The woman to whose care I was consigned, was unable to perform the duties of nurse, and another good Christian was selected to take charge of me. This new nurse placed me under the guardianship of the sacred patroness of the village, our Lady of Nazareth, in whose honour she vowed I should be clothed in blue and white until I was seven years of in my tenderest infancy, the hand of time had already laid its impress on my brow. Why was I not allowed to die? It pleased God to concede to the prayers of a poor and simple peasant woman, the preservation of a life doomed to vain
This vow of the Brittany peasant woman is not a thing of the present age; but there is something touching in the idea of a divine mother mediating between the infant and Heaven, and sharing the solicitude of an earthly mother.
At the expiration of three years, I was taken back to St. Malo. Seven years previously my father had recovered possession of the estate of Combourg. He wished to have regained other possessions which his ancestors had parted with. He was, however, unable to bargain for the seigneurie of Beaufort, which had passed into the possession of the Goyon family, or for the Barony of Chateaubriand, which had fallen to the house of Condé. He, therefore, turned his attention to Combourg (written Combour by Froissart), which several branches of our family had possessed through intermarriages with the Coëtquens. Combourg defended Brittany against the Normans and the English. It was built by Junken, Bishop of Dol, in 1016: the great tower is of the date of 1100. Marshal de Duras, who held Combourg by right of his wife, Maclovie de Coëtquen (the daughter of a Chateaubriand) arranged the transfer with my father. The Marquis du Hallay, an officer in the Horse Grenadiers of the Royal Guard, is one of the last scions of the Coëtquen-Chateaubriands. At a subsequent period, the Marquis de Duras, in quality of our kinsman, presented my brother and myself to Louis XVI.
My professional destination was the navy. To stand aloof from the court was natural to every Breton, and particularly to my father. The aristocratic character of the States of Brittany fortified him in this sentiment.
When I was brought back to St. Malo, my father was at Combourg, my brother at the College of St. Brieuc, and my sisters were living with my mother. All my
mother's affections were concentrated in her eldest
Not that she was wanting in love for her other children ; but she manifested a blind preference for the young Count de Combourg. As the last comer, and as the Chevalier (for I was called by that title) I, at first, enjoyed some privileges over my sisters; but, after a time, I was consigned to the control of the servants. My mother's leisure and thoughts were wholly divided between her love of society and her attention to the duties of religion. The Countess de Plouër, my godmother, was her intimate friend, and she numbered in the circle of her acquaintance, the relations of Maupertuis, and of the Abbé Trublet. My mother was a politician; for the inhabitants of St. Malo discussed politics like the monks of Saba in the ravine of Cedron. She was much interested in the affair of La Chalotais. The warmth of her political feeling, and the discussions into which it led her, probably had the effect of irritating her temper. At home she was cross and excitable, qualities which, joined to habits of parsimony, blinded us for a time to her many admirable qualities. Though, herself, not deficient in the spirit of order, yet her children were brought up in disorder. Although, in reality generous, she appeared avaricious, and with an amiable disposition, she was continually peevish. My father was the terror of the domestics : my mother their scourge,
The temper of my parents gave birth to the first sentiments of my childhood. I attached myself to the female who took care of me, an excellent woman named Villeneuve. I now write her name with an emotion of gratitude, and with tears in my eyes. Villeneuve, who was a sort of superintendent of the household used to carry me about in her arms, and give me, by stealth, all the nice things she could lay her hands on. If I wept, she would dry my tears and embrace me fondly, muttering, “He will not be proud, I know. He has a kind heart, and will be good to the poor. Here, my little man.” With these words, she would slip some pieces
childish affection for Villeneuve soon yielded to a more elevated friendship.
Lucile, my fourth sister, was two years older than myself. Like a neglected younger daughter, her dress consisted of the left-off clothes of her elder sisters. I leave the reader to imagine a very thin, little girl, too tall for her age, her arms swinging awkwardly at her sides, oppressed by timidity, as if afraid to speak, and unable to learn anything. Picture her dressed in a frock not made to fit her, her waist compressed by corsets, with whalebones running into her sides ;--forced to hold her head erect by an iron collar covered with brown velvet ;-- her hair turned up and confined beneath a black toque : if the reader can imagine all this, he may be able to form some idea of the miserable little creature whom I beheld on my return to the paternal roof. Could I ever have conceived that she would one day be adorned with the talent and beauty which distinguished Lucile ?
She was my playmate; or, rather, I was allowed to make her my plaything. I did not abuse my power. Instead of being her tyrant, I became her defender. Every morning, Lucile and I were taken to the Sisters Couppart, two old hunchbacked women dressed in black, who taught children to read. Lucile was a bad scholar, and I, a worse one.
The governesses scolded Lucile; I attacked the governesses. Serious complaints were, in consequence, carried to my mother. I began to be looked upon as a rebel, an idler, and a dunce. This ill opinion of me took a firm hold of the minds of my parents. My father used to say, that not one of the Chevaliers de Chateaubriand had ever been remarkable for anything but sporting, drinking and brawling. My mother sighed and groaned when she happened to see my coat torn. My father's ill-temper disgusted me, and, when my mother summed up her remonstrances with the eulogy of my brother, calling him a Cato and a hero, I felt inclined to make myself as bad as it seemed I was expected to be.
My writing-master, M. Després, who wore a sailor's wig, was not better satisfied with me than my parents. He made me eternally transcribe from a copy of his setting, the two following lines, which I heartily detest, though not simply for their own demerits :
“ C'est à vous mon esprit, à qui je veux parler :
Vous avez des défauts que je ne puis celer." St. Malo is merely a rock. It formerly rose in the midst of a marsh, and became an island by the irruption of the sea, which in 709 worked out the gulf, and placed Mount St. Michel in the midst of waves. At present, the rock of St. Malo is connected with the main land only by an embankment, poetically called the Sillon. This Sillon is exposed on one side to the open sea, and on the other is washed by the flood-tide when it enters the harbour. It was almost entirely destroyed during a hurricane in 1730. At ebb-tide the harbour is dry, and on the margin of the sea, east and north, is a beach of the finest sand. At that time it was possible to make the circuit of my paternal home in the course of a walk. Far and near, the eye ranges over rocks, forts, and inhabited islets.—Fort Royal, La Conchée, Cézembre, and the Grand Bé which is to be my last resting place. I chose an appropriate spot without being aware of it, for bé, in the Breton language, signifies tomb.
At the extremity of the Sillon, where a Calvary is erected, there is a sand-bank on the very margin of the sea. This bank is called the Hoguette, and on it are the remains of an old gibbet, round the posts of which we children used to play at quatre-coin, disputing our places with the sea-birds. But, it was not without a certain feeling of terror that we loitered on this dismal spot.
Here, too, are the Miels, or downs, affording good pasturage for sheep. On the right are meadows stretching along the foot of the Paramé ;—the post-road to St. Servan ;—the new cemetery,--another Calvary, and some windmills on little hillocks like those which rise above the tomb of Achilles at the entrance to the Hellespont.
MY MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER AND HER SISTER-THEIR MODE OF LIFE
AT PLANCOUET-MY UNCLE, COUNT DE BEDEE, AT MONCHOIX-MY NURSE's vow.
When nearly seven years of age, I was taken by my mother to Plancouët, to be released from my nurse's vow. We went to the house of my grandmother; and, if ever I knew happiness, it was certainly during the time I remained under her roof.
My grandmother resided in the village of l'Abbaye, in a house with an adjoining garden. This garden descended in terraces to a little dell, in the depth of which there was a fountain surrounded by willows. Madame de Bedée was no longer able to walk, but with that exception she suffered none