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At St. Malo, my mother gave birth to her first son, who died in infancy.
He was named Geoffroy, which has been the name of almost all the heirs of our family.
This son was followed by another and by two daughters, who lived only a few months.
All these four children died of effusion of blood on the brain. At length my
birth to a third son, named Jean-Baptiste, who became the grandson-in-law of M. de Malesherbes. After Jean-Baptiste, four daughters were born. They were named Marie-Anne, Benigue, Julie and Lucile, and all were endowed with rare beauty. The two eldest alone survived the storms of the revolution. I was the youngest of these ten children. It is probable that my four sisters owed their existence to my father's desire to ensure the transmission of his name by the advent of a second son. I retarded the fulfilment of his wishes : I must have had an aversion to life.
The subjoined is an extract from the register of my bap
Copied from the civil register of the Commune of St. Malo, for the
1768. François René de Chateaubriand, son of René de Chateaubriand and of Pauline-Jeanne-Suzanne de Bedée, his wife; born the 4th of September, 1768, and baptized the day following by us, Pierre Henry Nouail, Grand Vicar of the Bishop of St. Malo. His godfather was Jean Baptiste de Chateaubriand (his brother), and his godmother was Françoise Gertrude de Contades, both of whom, as well as his own father, signed the register. The signatures are Contades de Plouër, Jean Bap
tiste de Chateaubriand, Brignon de Chateaubriand, de Chateaubriand et Nouail, Vicar-General.”
It will be seen that I fell into an error, when in several of my works, I stated that I was born on the 14th of October, instead of the 4th of September: I have also made a mistake in my Christian names, which are François René, not François Auguste.*
The house in which my parents then resided, was situated in a narrow and gloomy street of St. Malo, called the Jew's Street: it is now turned into an inn. The room in which my mother was confined, overlooked a solitary part of the town wall, and from the windows the sea was seen stretching as far as the
eye could reach, with the waves breaking on rocks. My godfather, as my baptismal register shows, was my brother, and my godmother was the Countess de Plouër, daughter of Marshal de Contades. On first entering the world, I showed but little signs of life; and the vague howlings of a tempest announcing the autumnal equinox, prevented my cries being heard. The details of my birth were often related to me, and their impression has never been effaced from my memory. A day seldom elapses on which, looking back to the past, I do not see in imagination the rock on which I was born, and the chamber wherein my mother inflicted life upon me : the storm which rocked my first slumber, again resounds in my ears, and I behold once more the ill-fated brother who gave me a name which I have incessantly drawn into misfortune ! It seemed as though Heaven had combined together these different circumstances in order to make my cradle the image of my destiny.
* On the 15th of August, 1768, just twenty days before my birth, Bonaparte, the destroyer of old French society, was born in another island, situated beyond the opposite shore of France.
Vallée-aux-Loups, January, 1812.
PLANCOUET-MY NURSE's vow-COMBOURG-MY FATHER'S PLAN FOR
MY EDUCATION - VILLENEUVE-LUCILE - THE MESDEMOISELLES COUPPART-SCHOOL BOY 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 of sugar into my hands. But my 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