Imagens das páginas

desire ; I should not be dangerous except in misfortune. Those who thought to make me succumb by depressing me, deceived themselves. Adversity is for me what the earth was for Antæa. I re-gather strength in the bosom of my mother. If happiness had ever taken me from her arms, it would have stifled me.

[blocks in formation]

I RETURNED to Dol, much to my regret. The following year the project of a descent upon Guernsey was entertained, and a considerable force encamped in the neighbourhood of St. Malo. Troops were quartered at Combourg. M. de Chateaubriand, from a sense of courtesy, offered an asylum, in his house, to the Colonels of the regiments of Touraine and Conti; one of these was the Duke de St. Simon, the other the Marquis de Causans.* Every day twenty of the officers were invited to dine at my father's table. The jocularity of these strangers annoyed me. The walks which they took in the neighbourhood disturbed the peace of my favourite woods. The sight of the Marquis d'Wignacourt galloping under the trees, first suggested to my fancy images of travelling.

When I heard our guests talk of Paris and of the Court, I felt oppressed with a strange sadness. I began to form conjectures as to what society might be. These were distant and confused, and left me bewildered and disturbed. Like one who surveys the earth from some lofty tower, whose summit seems to touch the clouds, is seized with dizziness,


* Since the Revolution, I have had the sincere pleasure of again meeting with this gallant officer, distinguished for his loyalty and Christian virtues. (Note at Geneva, 1831.)

did I feel while glancing at the world from the tranquil regions of youthful innocence.

One thing, however, charmed me; this was the parade. Every day the regiment mounted guard, and defiled at the foot of the flight of steps in the “Cour Verte,” to the sound of the drum and other military music. The Marquis de Causans offered to show me the camp from the coast, to which my father gave his consent.

M. de Morandais, a man of good family, who had been reduced, by loss of fortune, to undertake the management of the Combourg estates, accordingly took charge of me to St. Malo. He wore a coat of green camlet, with a small silver collar round the throat, and a cap of grey felt, with a peak in front, was drawn over his ears. He placed me behind him, on the croup of his mare, Isabella. I held by the belt, which he wore over his coat, and to which his hunting-knife was attached. I was enchanted. When Claude de Bullion, and the father of the President de Lamoignon went, as children, into the country, "they were placed in baskets, suspended on either side of an ass, and as Lamoignon was lighter than his companion, a loaf of bread was placed in his pannier to preserve the balance.

M. de Morandais took a cross-road, and cheerily did we make our way through wood and river, till we came to an Abbey belonging to the Benedictines. As the number of monks who inhabited it had greatly decreased, they had just been removed to a head-community of their order, and we found only the Father Procurator, who was left in charge of the disposal of the furniture, and the removal of the fuel. He, however, provided us with an excellent dinner of its kind : it was served

up in the room which had been the library of the Prior, and we regaled ourselves with an abundance of fresh eggs, and pike and carp of an enormous size. Beyond the arch of a cloister, I perceived some large sycamores, bordering a piece of water : the woodman's axe struck the venerable trees at the root, their leafy summits trembled in the air, and they fell,

[ocr errors]

* Memoirs of the President de Lamoignon.

as if to afford us a spectacle. Some carpenters from St. Malo squared the fallen trunks, and hewed off the green branches, which fell to the earth like the flowing locks clipped from the head of a youthful noviciate. My heart bled at the sight of these despoiled forests, and of that deserted monastery. The general sacking of religious establishments, which has since taken place, reminded me of the spoliation of this Abbey,—to me the prognostic of a melancholy future. On

my arrival at St. Malo, I found the Marquis de Causans. Under his care I passed through the divisions of the camp. The tents, the piles of arms, the noble war-chargers, formed a fine ensemble with the sea, the vessels, the fortifications, and the distant spires of the city. I saw one of those men, the last of an era, the Duke de Lauzun, pass by at full gallop on a Barbary steed. The Prince of Carignon, who had just arrived at the camp, had married the daughter of M. de Boisgarin, who was rather lame, but a very charming person. This event caused a great sensation at the time, and gave rise to a law suit, which is still carried on by the elder M. de Lacretelle. But what has all this to do with my life! “In proportion,” says Montaigne, “as the memory of my friends furnished them with circumstantial facts, they digressed so much, that if their narrations were of any worth, it was completely neutralized, and if otherwise, woe to their good memory and bad judgment ! I have known the most entertaining topics rendered perfectly tedious by the manner in which they were related by some man of quality.” I fear I somewhat resemble this man of quality.

My brother, who was at St. Malo when M. de la Morandais brought me thither, said to me one evening, “ I will take you to the theatre, get your hat.” I was out of my wits for joy, and scarcely knew what I did. I ran straight to the basement to fetch my hat, which was up in the garret. A company of strolling players had just landed. I had seen puppet-shows, and imagined that at the theatre the polichinellos must be very superior to those in the streets.

With a palpitating heart, I arrived at a wooden building, in a deserted part of the town. I entered one of the dark pas

sages, but not without a slight feeling of timidity. A small door was opened, and I suddenly found myself with my brother, in a box which was already half filled.

The curtain was raised, and the piece had just commenced. They were acting Le Père de la Famille. I saw two men walking about the theatre, talking to each other, with everybody's eyes fixed upon

them. I took them for the managers of the puppet-show, who chatted before the lodge of Madame Gigogne, waiting the arrival of the audience. I was only astonished that they should talk so loud of their own matters, and that they should be listened to with such profound silence. My amazement increased, when I saw other persons come on the stage, and begin gesticulating and weeping; and then I saw that everybody began to weep, as if by contagion. The curtain fell, without my having the slightest conception what all this meant. My brother went to the green-room between the pieces ; and, when I was left alone among strangers, which, owing to my timid disposition, was a real torment to me, I heartily wished myself buried at college. Such was the first impression which I received of the art of Sophocles and of Molière. The third



my residence at Dol was marked by the marriage of my two elder sisters. Marianne married the Count de Marigny, and Benigne to the Count de Québriac. They accompanied their husbands to Fougères ; a signal, as it were, for the dispersion of our family, the members of which were so soon to separate. My sisters both received the nuptial benediction at Combourg, the same day, at the same hour, at the same altar, in the chapel belonging to the castle. They wept, and so did my mother. I was much surprised at their grief ; but I now understand it. I am never present at a baptism or a marriage, without a smile of sadness, or experiencing a feeling of oppression at my heart. Next to the misfortune of having been born, I can imagine none greater than that of giving birth to another.

This same year a change took place in my mind, as well as in my family. Chance threw into my hands two books of a very opposite tendency ; the one, an unrevised Horace; the other, a History of “ Confessions mal faites." The revolution caused in my ideas by these two books is indescribable. A new world opened before me. On the one hand, I suspected mysteries, incomprehensible at my age ; an existence different from my own; pleasures beyond my boyish games, and charms of an unknown nature in a sex, of which I had known only a mother and sisters : on the other hand, spectres dragging chains, and vomiting forth fire, announced to me eternal torments for a single unconfessed sin. I could not sleep. I fancied I saw black and white hands passing across my curtains. I pictured to myself that the latter were cursed by religion ; and this idea increased my horror of those infernal spectres. I sought in vain, in heaven and in hell, for the explanation of this twofold mystery. Attacked at once, morally and physically, my innocence still strove with the storms of premature passion, and the terrors of superstition.

Henceforth, I experienced that youthful ardour which is the transmission of life. I could explain the fourth book of the Æneid, and read Telemachus: suddenly I discovered, in Dido and in Eucharis, beauties which enchanted me, and became sensible to the harmony of those exquisite verses, and of that ancient

prose. I one day translated the Eneadum genitrix, hominum divumque voluptas" of Lucretius, at sight, with so much animation, that M. Egault suddenly snatched the book from my hands, and plunged me into the rudiments of Greek. I procured a Tibullus by stealth. When I arrived at the “ Quam juvat immites ventos audire cubantem those sentiments seemed to reveal to me my own nature. The volumes of Massillon, which contained the sermons on the Magdalen and the Prodigal Son, I read unceasingly. I was permitted to turn over those leaves, for it was little suspected what interested me there. I stole the little ends of the wax-tapers from the chapel, in order to read at night those seductive descriptions of the disorders of the soul. I fell asleep muttering incoherent phrases, in which I tried to infuse the sweetness, the numbers, and the grace of that writer, who has best rendered

the euphony of Racine. If I have succeeded in painting with some truth the conflict

into prose

« AnteriorContinuar »