Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

drinking and debauchery, and would have made waste paper of his most brilliant family records.

Contemporary with this chief of our name and arms, lived his cousin François, the son of Amaury, who was the younger brother of Michel. François, who was born on the 19th of February, 1683, was possessor of the little Seigneuries of les Touches and la Villeneuve. He married, on the 27th of August, 1713, Pétronille-Claude Lamour, Lady of Lanjegu, by whom he had four sons ; François Henri, René (my father) Pierre, (Seigneur of Plessis), and Joseph (Seigneur du Parc.) My grandfather, François, died on the 28th of March, 1729; my grandmother, whom I knew in my childhood, was a beautiful woman, the smile of whose sweet countenance brightened the shade of her old age. She resided, after the death of her husband, on the Manor of Villeneuve, in the vicinity of Dinan. The whole fortune of my grandmother did not exceed 5000 livres de rente. Of this her eldest son inherited two-thirds (3,333 livres) leaving 1,666 livres de rente to be shared among the three younger sons ; and even of that sum the eldest drew a portion, called the préciput.

Unfortunately, my grandmother was thwarted in carrying out her own designs, by the waywardness of her children. Her eldest son, François Henri, on whom devolved the magnificent heritage of the Seigneurie of la Villeneuve, refused to marry, and became a priest ; but, instead of soliciting the benefices, which his name would have warranted him to look for, and with the emoluments of which he might have supported his younger brothers, he was withheld, either from pride or indifference, from seeking any advancement. He buried himself in the country, and successively became rector of Saint Launeuc, and of Merdrignac, in the diocese of Saint Malo. He had a strong passion for poetry ; and I have seen many of his compositions. The lively and humorous disposition of this noble Rabelais, and the worship which this Christian priest addressed to the Muses in his humble presbytère, excited no little curiosity. He gave away all he possessed, and died insolvent.

My fourth uncle, Joseph, removed to Paris, where he shut himself up in a library; his pittance of 416 livres being transmitted to him annually. He spent his life amidst books; and devoted himself to historical researches. His sight was defective ; but, as long as he was able to use his eyes,

he wrote a letter to his mother every New Year's Day; this was the only sign of existence he ever manifested. А singular accordance of taste has prevailed among some members of my family. Of two of my uncles, one was a scholar and the other a poet. My brother possessed a happy talent for inditing verses ; my sister, Madame de Farcy, was endowed with poetic genius of a very high order ; another of my sisters, the Countess Lucile (the Canoness), might have earned distinction by her writings: and I have myself scribbled over a great deal of paper. My brother perished on the scaffold ; the sorrowful lives of my two sisters were ended after a lingering imprisonment; my two uncles did not leave enough behind them to pay for their coffins; literature has been the source of my pleasures and pains, and I do not despair, under the favour of Heaven, to die in some public asylum.

My grandmother, who had exhausted all her resources in endeavouring to make something of her eldest and her youngest sons, was disabled from doing anything for the two others, my father, René, and my uncle, Pierre. The family which had sown golden seed (semé l'or) according to the device of its early ancestors, now beheld no remains of its former greatness, save the rich Abbeys they had founded, and in which their progenitors were entombed. The Chateaubriands had been Presidents of the States of Britanny, by virtue of their possession of one of the nine Baronies; they had affixed their signatures to the treaties of sovereigns ; they had been securities for the maintenance of treaties; and yet they had not sufficient influence to obtain a sublieutenancy for the heir of their name.

But the impoverished noblesse of Brittany had still one resource—the navy. An endeavour was made to obtain a commission for my father ; but, in the first place, it was

of

requisite he should proceed to Brest, be maintained there, pay for masters, purchase a uniform, arms, books, mathematical instruments, &c. How were all these expenses

to be defrayed? The commission solicited from the Minister of the Marine was not obtained, for want of some powerful influence to recommend it. This disappointment threw the Chatelaine of Villeneuve into a fit of illness.

My father now, for the first time in his life, gave proof of something like decision of character. At that period, he was about fifteen

years age. On witnessing his mother's illness and anxiety, he approached her bedside, and said that he was resolved to be no longer a burthen to her. This story I have heard my father frequently relate. “René,” said my grandmother, with tears in her eyes, “what do you propose doing? You can only till your ground" “But that will not provide us with the means of support,” he replied ; “allow me to depart.” “You have my permission. Go wheresoever God may guide you.” The weeping mother embraced her son, and that same evening my father left the maternal home. He proceeded to Dinan, where one of our relations furnished him with a letter to a resident of St. Malo. The orphan adventurer embarked as a volunteer on board an armed schooner, which set sail a few days after.

The little Saint Maloan republic at that time nobly sustained the honour of the French flag on the sea. The schooner joined the fleet sent by Cardinal de Fleu to the assistance of Stanislas, when the Russians besieged Dantzick. My father landed, and was engaged in that memorable battle fought on the 29th of May, 1734, between fifteen hundred Frenchmen, commanded by the brave Breton de Bréhan, Count de Plélo, and forty thousand Muscovites, commanded by Munich. De Bréhan, the diplomatist, warrior, and poet, was killed in this action ; and my father was wounded twice. He returned to France, and after a little time he again embarked on another expedition, during which he was shipwrecked on the coast of Spain, where he was attacked and plundered by banditti. Having succeeded in obtaining a passage in a vessel proceeding to Bayonne, he at

VOL. I.

E

as

length found his way once more to his maternal home. By this time, his courage and good conduct had gained him friends, through whose influence he obtained an opportunity of going to one of our colonies, where he prospered, and laid the foundation of the new fortune of his family.

My grandmother commended her son Pierre to the care of her son René. Pierre was M. de Chateaubriand du Plessis, whose son Armand was shot, by order of Bonaparte, on Good Friday, 1810. He was one of the last of the French nobles who perished in the cause of the Monarchy.* My father took upon himself the charge of providing for his brother, though he had contracted, through his long-continued sufferings, an asperity of temper, which never forsook him. The non ignara mali is not always true. Misfortune may

harden well as soften the character.

M. de Chateaubriand was tall and thin. His nose was aquiline, his lips compressed and colourless, and his small, sunken eyes were of a blueish-grey colour. There was a peculiar expression in his eyes which I never observed in any other individual. It was like that of the lion; and when he was roused by anger, the pupil of his eye seemed as it were to start out like a ball.

One passion was predominant in my father's mind-it was family pride. His natural melancholy increased with advancing age, and his habitual silence was broken only by bursts of passion. He was niggardly, in the hope of restoring his family to its original affluence. He was haughty to the nobles of Brittany–harsh to his dependants at Combourg—taciturn, despotic and dictarorial in his home, where he inspired no feeling but fear. Had he lived till the breaking out of the revolution, or had he been a younger man, he would have played an important part, or he would have allowed himself to be massacred in his chateau. His talent was certainly of a high order ; and, had he been a minister of state or a military commander, he would have been an extraordinary man.

After his return from America, he began to entertain the design of marrying. He was born on the 23rd of September, 1718, and on the 3rd of July, 1753 (being then in his thirtyfifth year), he married Apolline-Jeanne-Suzanne de Bedée. This lady, who was born on the 7th of April, 1726, was the daughter of Messire Ange-Annibal, Count de Bedée, Seigneur of la Bouëtardais. The newly married pair settled at St. Malo, within seven or eight leagues of the spot where both were born; and they could discern, from their residence, the horizon beneath which they had each first seen the light. My maternal grandmother, Marie-Anne de Ravenel de Boisteilleul, Lady of Bedée (born at Rennes on the 16th of October, 1698), was educated at Saint-Cyr, during the latter years of Madame de Maintenon. Her education extended its influence over that of her daughters.

* This was written in 1811. (Note of 1831. Geneva.)

My mother was gifted with much intelligence, and she possessed an extraordinary share of imaginative talent. Her mind had been formed by reading Fénélon, Racine and Madame de Sevigné; and her memory was stored with anecdotes of the court of Louis XIV. She knew all Cyrus by heart. Apolline de Bedée had large features, and was of a dark complexion. She was small in figure, and by no means handsome. Nevertheless the elegance of her manners and the amiability of her disposition formed a pleasing contrast to the sternness and gloom of my father's character. She loved society as much as he loved solitude. She was as susceptible and animated as he was cold and imperturbable. All her tastes were at variance with those of her husband. The opposition she experienced wrought a change in her disposition; and, from being lively and gay, she became serious and melancholy. Obliged to hold her tongue when she wished to speak, she recompensed herself for the privation by manifesting, a sort of parade of grief, broken by sighs, which alone interrupted the mute melancholy of my father. In piety, my mother was an angel.

« AnteriorContinuar »