François-René Chateaubriand - Presentation at Versailles - Hunting with the king

François-René Chateaubriand

 Berlin, April 1821





Porte Bleue - BDThe fatal day arrived : I was obliged to set out for Versailles more dead than alive. My brother took me thither the evening before my presentation, and left me at the house of Marshal de Duras, a clever man, of such a general stamp of mind that he showed something of the citizen in his refined manners. This good Marshal, however, gave me a dreadful feeling of fear.

On the next morning I went alone to the palace. Those who have never seen the pomp of Versailles, may be said to have seen nothing, -even after the dismantling of the old residence of the king. Louis XIV. seemed always there.

Every thing went well, as long as I had only to cross the guard-rooms: military pomp has always pleased, but never daunted me. But, when I entered the OEil de Boeuf, and found myself in the midst of courtiers, then began my embarrassment. They looked at me: I heard some one asking who I was. We must bear in mind the old prestige in favour of royalty, thoroughly to comprehend the importance of being then presented. A mysterious destiny belonged to the débutant ; he was spared that comptentuous, patronizing air, mixed with extreme politeness, which constituted the inimitable manners of a grand seigneur. Who know wether this new-comer may not become the king's favourite ? In him they respected the future domestic privileges with witch he might be honoured ! Now, we hurry into the palace with much greater eagerness than formerly, and strange to say, without illusion. A courtier reduced to live upon truth, is very likely to die of hunger.

When the king's levee was announced, the persons not presented withdrew. I felt an emotion of vanity ; I was not proud of remaining, but I should have felt humiliated at having to retire. The royal bed-chamber door opened ; I saw the king ...


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When the king's levee was announced, the persons not presented withdrew. I felt an emotion of vanity ; I was not proud of remaining, but I should have felt humiliated at having to retire. The royal bed-chamber door opened ; I saw the king, according to custom, finishing his toilet, -that is, taking his hat from the chamberlain in waiting. He advanced, on his way to the chapel to hear mass ; I bowed ; Marshal de Duras announced my name, -"Sire, the Chevalier de Chateaubriand." The king looked at me, returned my salutation, hesitated, and appeared to me a very simple matter, without my being able to account for what I felt. The king, more embarrassed than I, finding nothing to say to me, passed on. Vanity of human destinies ! This sovereign, whom I then saw for the first time, -this monarch so powerful, -was LouisXVI., only six years before he was brought to the scaffold ! And this new courtier, whom he scarcely looked at, charged with distinguishing bones from bones, after having been presented to the descendant of St. Louis, after proof of nobility, was one day to be with his ashes, after proof of fidelity ! -a double tribute of respect to the twofold royalty of a sceptre, and of a heavenly crown !



bIMG 2125-2We hastened to the gallery in order to be in the Queen's passage on her return from the chapel. She soon appeared, surrounded by a numerous and brilliant cortège ; she gave us a gracious salutation ; she appeared enchanted whith life. And those beautiful hands which then carried with so much grace the sceptre of such a long race of kings, were, before being bound by executioner, to be employed in mending the rags of the widow, a prisoner in the Conciergerie !

If my brother obtained from me a sacrifice, it was not in his power to push his advantage further. He entreated me in vain to remain at Versailles, in order to be present in the evening at the Queen's party. "You will be presented to the Queen," said he, "and the King will speak to you." He could not have given me a better reason for hastening my departure, I hurried away to conceal my glory in my furnished lodgings, happy at having escaped from the court, but still seeing before me the terrible line of carriages of the 19th of February, 1787.



The Duc de Coigny sent to let me know that I was to go on hunting with the King in the forest of St. Germain. I set out early in the morning towards my punishment, in the uniform of a débutant -a grey coat, red waistcoat and small clothes, jockey boots, a hanger by my side, and a little French hat with a gold lace band. There were four of us new comers at the Palace of Versailles ; the two Messrs. de St. Marsault, Count d'Hautefeuille ans myself. The Duke de Coigny gave us our instructions ; he warned us not to cross the scent, the King being angry when any one passed between him and the game. The Duc de Coigny bore a name fatal to the Queen. The place of meeting was at Val, in the forest of St. Germain, a domain pledged by the Crown to Marshal de Beauveau. Custom required, that those presented at court should, on their first hunting excursion, be supplied with horses from the King's stables. The drums beat ; the guard take arms, the word of command is given. -The King is announced ! -He comes forth, and enters his carriage ; we roll along in the carriages of the suite. There was a great difference between this drive and hunt with the King, and my drives and hunts in the plain of Bretagne ; ans still more between this and my hunting excursions with the savages of America : my life was to be full of these contrats.



Source: François-René Chateaubriand (vicomte de). Memoirs of Chateaubriand: from his birth in 1768, till his return to France in 1800.  Éditeur: Henry Colburn, 1849.

Original: Université d'Oxford, Lien numérique.


Photos : © Bénédicte.B 

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