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ILLNESS-I FEAR AND
REFUSE TO ENTER THE CHURCH-PROJECT OF
A VOYAGE TO INDIA.
An illness, brought on by this ill-regulated life, put an end to the torments through which the first inspirations of the muse, and the first attacks of passion, reached me. These passions, vague as yet, in which my soul had, as it were, foundered, resembled those gales at sea which blow from every point of the horizon. I was an inexperienced pilot, and knew not on what side to spread my sail to these fickle winds. My breast heaved, fever seized me; a messenger was sent to Bazouches, a little town five or six leagues from Combourg, to fetch an excellent physician, named Cheftel, whose son was engaged in the affair of the Marquis de Rouerïe. * He inquired carefully into my case, ordered the necessary remedies, and declared his opinion that it was absolutely necessary to make me change my way of life.
For six weeks my life was in danger. One morning, my mother came to my bedside, and said: “It is now time for you to decide ; your brother is in a position to procure you a living; but I wish to consult you before you enter the seminary, since, although I should wish you to embrace the ecclesiastical profession, I would much rather see you a man of the world than a priest who should be a disgrace to his order."
After what has just been said, an opinion may be formed whether the proposal of my pious mother was well judged. In all the greater events of my life, I have always come to a prompt decision in what it was my duty to avoid ; an impulse of honour guided me. An Abbé? I appeared to myself ridiculous. A Bishop? The majesty of the priesthood overawed me, and I drew back with reverence before the altar. As a Bishop, should I make efforts with a view to acquire virtues, or should I content myself with concealing my vices ? I felt too weak for the former, and was too ingenuous for the latter. Those who regard me as a hypocrite, or ambitious, know little of me. I shall never succeed in the world, precisely because I am deficient in a passion and a viceambition and hypocrisy. The former would be, in my case, at the most piqued self-love. I might desire sometimes to be the King's minister, in order to laugh at my enemies ; but at the end of twenty-four hours, I would throw my portfolio and my gown out of the window.
* As I advance in life, I again light on the characters mentioned in my Memoirs. The widow of this son has just been received into Maria Theresa's Infirmary. This is another testimony to my veracity.
I told my mother, then, that my call to the priestly office was not sufficiently strong. I changed my projects for the second time. I had no desire at all to go to sea ; longer wished to enter the church. The military career still remained ; that I liked ; but how could I endure the loss of my independence, and the constraint of European discipline ? I thought of an absurd scheme; I declared I would go to Canada, to clear the forests ; or to India, to seek for service in the army
of some of the native Princes. By one of those contrasts, which may be observed in the lives of all men, my father, who was so reasonable at other times, was never very averse to an adventurous project. He growled at my mother on account of my tergiversations ; but he decided to send me to India. I was sent to St. Malo, where an armament was preparing for Pondicherry.
A MOMENT IN MY NATIVE TOWN-REMEMBRANCE
LA VILLENEUVE, AND OF THE TRIALS OF MY YOUTH-I AM RECALLED TO COMBOURG-LAST INTERVIEW WITH MY FATHERIENTER INTO THE ARMY-FAREWELL TO COMBOURG.
Two months rolled away; I found myself again alone in my maternal isle ; la Villeneuve had just died. Going to weep by the side of the empty poor bed where she had expired, I cast my eyes upon the small wicker go-cart, in which I had first learned to stand erect on this sorrowful life,
globe. I figured to myself my old nurse, from the extremity of her couch, fixing her eyes upon the rolling basket; this first monument of my
of the last monument of the life of my second mother; the idea of the prayers
for happiness, which the good Villeneuve addressed to Heaven as she was departing, on behalf of her foster-child—that proof of an attachment so constant, so disinterested, so pure,—deeply affected me, and gave rise to strong feelings of tenderness, regret, and gratitude.
Besides this, there was nothing of my past life at St. Malo ; I sought in vain in the harbour for the ships, among whose ropes I played; they had sailed or were broken up ; in the town, the house in which I was born was transformed into a tavern. I was almost in contact with my cradle, and already an age had rolled away. A stranger to the scenes of my youth, those who met me asked ho I was, merely because my head had risen a few lines above the ground, towards which it will bend anew in the course of a few years. How rapidly and how many times do we change our existence and our fancies! Friends leave us, others succeed them; our engagements vary ; there is always a time when we possess nothing of what we once possessed, a time when we have nothing of that which we once had. The life of man is not always the same; there are many changes, and this constitutes its misery.
Henceforth without a companion, I explored the shore, which witnessed my castles of sand; Campos ubi Troja fuit (the plain where Troy stood). I walked upon the deserted sea-beach. The sands, forsaken by the tide, presented me with the image of those desolate places which our illusions leave around us when they withdraw. My fellow-countryman, Abelard, full of the recollections of Heloïse, looked eight hundred years ago at these waves, as I do now; like me, he saw some vessel far on the horizon (ad horizontas undas), and his ears were lulled with the monotony of the waves, as mine were now,
I exposed myself to the violence of the surge, by yielding myself up to the power of these unhappy thoughts which I had brought with me from Combourg.
Cape Lavarde formed the limit of my excursions ; seated on the extremity of the cape, full of bitter reflections, I recollected that these rocks had formed my hiding place in my youth on féte days; there I fed upon my tears, whilst my companions were intoxicated with joy. I felt myself neither more beloved nor more happy. I was soon about to leave my country, to measure out my days in various climes. These reflections harassed me to death, and I was tempted to throw myself into the sea.
A letter recalled me to Combourg; I arrived—supped with my family; my father said not a word, my mother sighed, Lucile appeared confounded ; at ten o'clock, we retired. I questioned my sister ; she knew nothing. The next morning at eight o'clock, I was sent for ; I went down ; my father was waiting for me in his cabinet.
“Sir,” said he, “you must renounce your follies ; your brother has obtained for you an ensign's commission in the regiment of Navarre.
You must presently set out for Rennes, and thence to Cambray. Here are a hundred louis-d'or; take care of them. I am old and ill; I have no long time to live. Behave like a good man, and never
name." He embraced me; I felt the hard and wrinkled face pressed with emotion against mine ; this was my father's last embrace.
Count Chateaubriand, a man so terrible in my eyes, only appeared to me at this moment, as a father most worthy of my affection. I threw myself upon his withered hand and wept. He was labouring under the first attack of paralysis ; it brought him to his tomb ; his left arm was affected by a convulsive movement, which he was obliged to restrain with his right hand. Thus holding his arm, and having given me his old sword, without allowing me a moment to recover myself, he led me to a cabriolet which was waiting for me in the court-yard. He made me enter it in his presence, and the postilion drove off, whilst I continued with my eyes to salute my mother and sister, who stood bathed in tears on
I passed along the road by the fish-pond; I saw the reeds frequented by the swallows-the mill-stream and the meadows ; and I cast a look upon the castle. Then, like Adam after his fall, I entered upon an unknown land; the world was all before me.
Since then I have only seen Combourg three times. After my father's death, we met there in mourning to divide our inheritance and to say farewell. A second time I accompanied my mother to Cumbourg: she was engaged in furnishing the castle ; she expected my brother, who was about to bring my sister-in-law into Bretagne. My brother did not come ; he and his young wife soon found from the hands of an executioner a very different pillow from that prepared by the hands of
my mother. Finally, I passed through Combourg, on my way to embark at St. Malo for America. The castle was deserted, I was obliged to take up my quarters at the steward's house. In passing along the Great Mall, from the bottom of an obscure alley I got a glimpse of the deserted entrance: the door and windows were closed. I became ill ; I regained the village with difficulty, sent to order my horses, and set out at midnight.
After an absence of fifteen years, before quitting France anew and going to the Holy Land, I hastened to meet, at Fougères, all that remained of my family. I had not courage enough to undertake the pilgrimage of the fields, where the brightest years of my life were spent. In the woods of Combourg I became what I am: there I began to feel the first attacks of that ennui which I have carried with me through life-of that melancholy which has constituted my torment and my happiness. There I sought for a heart which could understand mine; there I saw my family united-and there dispersed. There my father dreamed of the re-establishment of his name, and the repair of the fortunes of his house ;-another vision which time and revolutions have dissipated. We were six children-we are now only three. My brother, Julia, and Lucile are no more ; my mother died of grief; and the ashes of my father have been torn from his tomb.