Manual Birth: A Novella (Eclipsis: Lady Amalies memoirs, 4)

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Christian did not look upon an equal division as just, and on retiring from the world, determined to disburden himself of a property which did not belong to him and restore it to his elder brother. To judge from my parchments, it would but rest with myself if I inherited the infatuation of my father and brother, and believed myself to represent a younger branch of the Dukes of Brittany, descending from Thiern, grandson of Alan III.

With respect to the Royal House of Spain, we find Brien, a younger brother of the ninth Baron of Chateaubriand, who would seem to have married Joan, daughter of Alphonsus, King of Aragon. Tiphaine Du Guesclin, grand-daughter of Bertrand's brother, made over the property of the Plessis-Bertrand to Brien of Chateaubriand, her cousin and heir. The Dukes of Brittany send records of their assizes to the Chateaubriands.

The Chateaubriands become grand officers of the Crown and illustres in the Court of Nantes; they receive commissions to defend the safety of their province against the English. Brien I. Guy of Chateaubriand is one of the lords whom Arthur of Brittany appoints to accompany his son upon his embassy to the Pope in I should never come to an end if I finished stating all that of which I intended to give only a brief summary: the note [23] which I have at last determined to write, from consideration for my two nephews, who doubtless do not hold these bygone trifles as cheaply as I do, will supply the place of my omissions in the text.

Still, nowadays we go too [Pg 10] much to the other extreme; it has become the custom to declare that one comes of a stock liable to villain service, that one has the honour to be the son of a man bound to the soil.

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Are these declarations as proud as they are philosophical? Is it not taking the side of the strongest? Are the marquises, the counts, the barons of the present day, who have neither privileges nor furrows, three-fourths of whom are starving, blackening one another, refusing to recognize each other, mutually contesting each other's birth: are these nobles, whose very names are denied them or only allowed with reserve, able to inspire any fear?

For the rest, I ask pardon for being obliged to stoop to this puerile recital, in order to account for my father's dominant passion, which forms the key to the drama of my youth. As for myself, I neither boast nor complain of the old or the new society. Monsieur my father would readily, like a certain mighty land-owner of the Middle Ages, have called God "the gentleman on high" and surnamed Nicodemus the Nicodemus of the Gospels "a holy gentleman.

To trace backwards the line of the Chateaubriands, consisting, as it did, of three branches: after the two first had failed, the third, that of the Lords of Beaufort, represented by a branch, the Chateaubriands of the Guerrande, grew poor, as the inevitable result of the law of the land; the eldest sons of the nobility received two-thirds of the property, by virtue of the custom of Brittany, while the younger sons divided among all of them one-third only of the paternal inheritance. The degeneration of the frail stock of the latter worked with a rapidity which became the greater as they married; and as the same distribution into two-thirds and one-third existed in the case of their children, these younger sons of younger sons soon came to dividing a pigeon, a rabbit, a duck or two, and a hound, although they did not cease to be "high knights and mighty lords" of a dove-cote, a toad-pool and a rabbit-warren.

In the old noble families we see a number of younger sons; we follow them during two or three generations, and then they disappear, descending gradually to the plough or absorbed by [Pg 11] the labouring classes, no man knowing what has become of them. The head in name and blazon of my family at the commencement of the eighteenth century was Alexis de Chateaubriand, Seigneur de La Guerrande, son of Michel, the said Michel having a brother named Amaury. Michel was the son of the Christophe confirmed in his descent from the Lords of Beaufort and the Barons of Chateaubriand in the judgment above-quoted.

Alexis de La Guerrande was a widower and a confirmed drunkard, spent his days in rioting with his maid-servants, and used his most precious family documents as covers for his butter-jars. At the time of her husband's death, she was living in the manor of the Villeneuve, in the neighbourhood of Dinan. My grandmother's whole fortune did not exceed 5, livres a year, of which her eldest son took 3, livres, leaving 1, livres a year to be divided among the three younger sons, of which sum the eldest again first took the largest share.

He had a passion for poetry; I have seen a goodly number of his verses. The jovial character of this sort of high-born Rabelais, the cult of the Muses practised by this Christian priest in his presbytery, aroused no little interest He gave away all he possessed and died insolvent. My father's fourth brother, Joseph, went to Paris and shut [Pg 12] himself up in a library: every year his younger son's portion of livres was sent to him. He lived unknown amidst his books, occupying himself with historical research.

During his life, which was a short one, he wrote to his mother on each first of January: the only sign of existence he ever gave. Strange destiny! There you have my two uncles, one a man of erudition, the other a poet; my elder brother wrote agreeable verse; one of my sisters, Madame de Farcy, had a real talent for poetry; another of my sisters, the Comtesse Lucile, a canoness, might have become known through a few admirable pages; I myself have blackened no little paper.

My brother died on the scaffold, my two sisters quitted a life of pain after languishing in the prisons; my two uncles did not leave enough to pay for the four boards of their coffin; literature has caused my joys and my sorrows, and I do not despair, God willing, of ending my days in the alms-house. This family, which had "strewn gold," according to its motto, looked out from its small manor upon the rich abbeys which it had founded and in which its ancestors lay entombed. It had presided over the States of Brittany, by virtue of possessing one of the nine baronies; it had witnessed with its signature the treaties of sovereigns, had served as surety to Clisson, and would not have had sufficient credit to obtain an ensigncy for the heir of its name.

Birth: A Novella (Eclipsis: Lady Amalie's memoirs, 4)

One resource was left to the poor Breton nobles, the Royal Navy. An endeavour was made to use this on behalf of my father; but he must first go to Brest, live there, pay masters, buy his uniform, arms, books, mathematical instruments: how were all these expenses to be met? The brevet applied for to the Minister of Marine was not sent, for want of a protector to solicit its despatch: the Lady of Villeneuve sickened with grief. It was then that my father gave the first sign of that decision of character for which I have known him. He was about fifteen years of age; observing his mother's distress, he approached the bed on which she lay, and said:.

Thereupon my grandmother began to weep: I have heard my father describe the scene a score of times. She embraced the child with sobs.

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That same evening my father left the maternal farm and arrived at Dinan, where one of our kinswomen gave him a letter of recommendation to an inhabitant of Saint-Malo. The orphan adventurer was taken as a volunteer on board an armed schooner, which set sail a few days later. At that time, the little commonwealth of Saint-Malo alone maintained the honour of the French ensign at sea. The schooner joined the fleet which the Cardinal de Fleury was dispatching to the assistance of Stanislaus, who was besieged at Dantzig by the Russians.

He returned to France, and embarked once more. Wrecked upon the Spanish coast, he was attacked and stripped by robbers in Galicia, took a passage on board ship to Bayonne, and landed once again beneath the paternal roof. His courage and his orderly conduct had brought him into notice.

He went to the West Indies, made money in the colonies, and laid the foundations of a new fortune for his family. He was one of the last of the French nobles to die for the cause of the monarchy.

My father took charge of his brother's fate, although the habit of suffering had endowed him with a sternness of character that [Pg 14] lasted through his life. Non ignara mali is not always a true saying: unhappiness has its harsh as well as its gentle side. I have never seen an expression like theirs: when inflamed with anger, each flashing pupil seemed to shoot out and strike you like a bullet.

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My father was governed by one sole passion, that of his name. His general condition was one of deep sadness, which increased with age, and of a silence from which he issued only in fits of anger. Avaricious in the hope of restoring to his family its pristine splendour, haughty of demeanour with the nobles at the States of Brittany, harsh with his dependants at Combourg, taciturn, despotic and threatening at home, the feeling which the sight of him inspired was one of fear.

Had he lived until the Revolution, and had he been younger, he would have played a great part, or got himself massacred in his castle. He was certainly possessed of genius: I have no doubt that, at the head of an administration or an army, he would have been a man out of the ordinary.

He first thought of marriage on returning from America. He took up his residence with her at Saint-Malo, within seven or eight leagues of which both of them had been born, so that their house commanded the horizon under which they had first seen the light.

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Loving society as much as he loved solitude, as humoursome and animated as he was cold and unimpassioned, she had no tastes but what were opposed to her husband's. The antagonism which she encountered saddened her naturally gay and light-hearted disposition. Obliged to hold her tongue when she would have wished to speak, she made amends to herself by a kind of clamorous melancholy broken with sighs which alone interrupted my father's silent gloom.

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  • For piety my mother was an angel. My mother was brought to bed at Saint-Malo of an eldest son, who died in the cradle and was christened Geoffroy, like almost all the first-born of my family. This son was followed by another and by two daughters, none of whom lived more than a few months. These four children died of an extravasation of blood on the brain. At last my mother bore a third son, who was named Jean-Baptiste: it was he who later married M. Beauty, that serious trifle, remains when all the rest has passed away.

    I was the last of the ten children. Probably my four sisters owed their existence to my father's desire to assure the perpetuation of his name through the arrival of a second boy; I resisted, I had an aversion to life. Here is my baptismal certificate [29] :.

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    The house in which my parents were then living at Saint-Malo stands in a dark and narrow street called the Rue des Juifs [33] : it has now been turned into an inn [34]. The room in which my mother was confined overlooks a bare portion of the city wall, and from the windows one can contemplate an endless expanse of sea, which breaks upon the rocks.

    I was almost dead when I first saw the light. The roaring of the waves, upheaved by a squall which heralded the autumnal equinox, deadened my cries: I have often been told these details; their sadness has never been erased from my memory. A day seldom passes on which, reflecting on what I have been, I do not see again in thought the rock upon which I was born, the room in which my mother inflicted life upon me, the tempest whose sound first lulled me to sleep, the unfortunate brother who gave me a name which I have nearly always dragged through misfortune.

    Heaven seemed to unite these several circumstances in order to lay within my cradle a symbol of my destiny. My nurse was sterile; another poor Christian took me to her breast. She vowed me to the patron of the hamlet, Our Lady of Nazareth, and promised that I should wear blue and white in her honor for seven years.

    I had lived but a few hours, and already the weight of years was marked upon my brow. Why did they not let me die? God in His wisdom granted to the prayer of humbleness and innocence the preservation of a life for which a vain renown was lying in wait.

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    This vow of the Breton peasant woman is no longer in the spirit of the age: yet nothing can be more touching than the intervention of a Divine Mother coming between Heaven and the child and sharing the terrestrial mother's solicitude. After three years I was brought back to Saint-Malo. Already seven years had elapsed since my father had recovered the domain of Combourg.

    Combourg served as a defense to Brittany in the Norman and English marches: it was built in by Junken, Bishop of Dol; the great tower dates to I was intended for the Royal Navy: a distaste for Court life was natural to any Breton, and particularly to my father. This feeling was strengthened in him by the aristocratic character of our States. When I was brought home to Saint-Malo, my father was at Combourg, my brother at Saint-Brieuc College; my four sisters were living with my mother.

    All the latter's affections were centered upon her eldest son: not that she did not love her other children, but she showed a blind preference for the young Comte de Combourg.

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    True, I had, as a boy, as the youngest-born, as the "chevalier," as I was called, certain privileges not shared by my sisters; but, upon the upshot, I was left to the care of the servants. Moreover, my mother, full of intelligence and virtue, was largely taken up with social claims and religious duties. She loved politics, excitement, society: for people talked politics at Saint-Malo like the monks in the Cedron hollow [41] ; and she threw herself with ardor into the La Chalotais [42] affair.

    She would bring home with her a cross humour, an absent-mindedness, [Pg 19] a spirit of parsimony, which at first prevented one from recognising her admirable qualities. She was methodical, and showed no method in the management of her children; generous, and appeared avaricious; gentle, yet ever scolding: my father was the terror of the servants, my mother their scourge.

    Such were the dispositions of my parents, whence sprang the earliest feelings of my life. I attached myself to the woman who took care of me, an excellent creature called Villeneuve, whose name I write with a movement of gratitude and with tears in my eyes. Villeneuve was a sort of superintendent of the household; she carried me in her arms, gave me, by stealth, anything she could come across, wiped away my tears, kissed me, pushed me into a corner, took me out, and constantly muttering: "There's one who won't grow up proud, who has a good heart, who does not snub poor people!

    Here, little fellow," she would stuff me with sugar and wine. Soon my childish affection for Villeneuve was controlled by a worthier friendship.