Saint Malo and Chateaubriand!

And here I am back to the north of my Bretagne and the corsairs city of Saint Malo. This is in dept 35 Ille et Vilaine. We of course been here several times but as often the case with me things are left out… This is the case of one of the greatest writers of France François René de Chateaubriand, a native of Saint Malo. Let me tell you a bit more please.

He needs no introduction simply Chateaubriand, and many will do a better job of explaining his literary story. I will concentrate on the architecture and history of him in Saint Malo.

Coming from the Breton nobility, the most famous member of his family from Saint-Malo, Chateaubriand is politically part of the royalist movement. Several times ambassador to various sovereigns, he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1822 to 1824 under the Restoration and counted, under the reign of Charles X, among the ultraroyalists. The many political and diplomatic responsibilities that mark his career as well as his taste for travel, in America and then in the Mediterranean basin, structure a life marked by exile and the nostalgia for stability.

Viscount François-René de Chateaubriand comes from a ruined noble family of Saint-Malo where the Rocher du Quengo family settled at the beginning of the 17C, a family which regained its former dignity thanks to commercial success of Chateaubriand’s father, Count René-Auguste de Chateaubriand (knight, Count of Combourg, Lord of Gaugres, Plessis l’Épine, Boulet, Malestroit en Dol and other places). In January 1789,  Chateaubriand participated in the States of Brittany and , in July of the same year, he attended the storming of the Bastille with his sisters Julie and Lucile.

At the time of the French revolution, in 1791, François-René Chateaubriand left France and embarked for the New World at Baltimore, with the pretext of seeking the Northwest Passage. He arrived in Philadelphia on July 10, 1791 , have been to New York, Boston and Lexington. He relates a meeting with George Washington in Philadelphia, who allegedly told him “Well well, young man”. He sailed up the Hudson River to Albany, where he hired a guide and continued to Niagara Falls, meeting the good savage and the loneliness of the forests of North America. Then he mentions in a few pages its return to Philadelphia via the Ohio River, Mississippi and Louisiana. News of the king’s (Louis XVI) flight to Varennes , he decides to leave America; from Philadelphia, he embarks on the Molly boat bound for La Rochelle.

At the end of March 1792, he married Céleste Buisson de la Vigne, descendant of a 17-year-old family of shipowners from Saint-Malo. They will have no posterity. On July 15, 1792, accompanied by his brother, but without his wife, he left France for Koblenz (Germany). He joined the army of emigres in Koblenz in order to fight the armies of the Republic there; his young wife Celeste, who lives in Brittany, abandoned by her husband who does not give her any news, is arrested as an “emigrant’s wife”, imprisoned in Rennes, where she remains until 27 July. François-René, injured at the siege of Thionville, drags himself to Brussels, from where he is transported convalescent to Jersey island. It was the end of his military career and he went to live in London in 1793 in temporary but real destitution ;he lived in an attic in Holborn, where he was reduced to giving French lessons and teaching translations for booksellers. In 1797 he published his first work there, the Historical, Political and Moral Essay on Ancient and Modern Revolutions, considered in their relationship with the French revolution.  In 1794, his brother, his sister-in-law (a granddaughter of Malesherbes , Louis XVI’s lawyer) and part of their family were guillotined in Paris. Back in France in 1800, he actively participated in the Mercure de France , then directed it for a few years. It is in this logic that he published, in 1801, Atala, an original creation which aroused controversial admiration. Still on the list of emigrants from whom he wants to be struck off, he pleads his case with Élisa Bonaparte, sister of the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. She intervened several times with her brother to show him the talent of the writer who eventually was struck off this list on July 21, 1801. Bonaparte chose him in 1803 to accompany Cardinal Fesch to Rome as first secretary of the embassy. Later ,Napoléon Bonaparte appointed him on November 29, 1803 charge d’affaires in the Republic of Valais. On March 21, 1804, he learned of the execution of the Duc d’Enghien. He immediately resigned and went into opposition to the Empire.

Eager to visit for himself the places where the action was, he traveled through Greece, Asia Minor, Palestine and Egypt during the year 1806. On his return from the East, exiled by Napoleon three leagues away from the capital, he acquired the Vallée-aux-Loups, in the Val d’Aulnay ,currently in the town of Châtenay-Malabry, near Sceaux, where he locked himself in a modest retirement. Throughout the Restoration, she played the role of a listened adviser to him. Talleyrand, who in the past covered and protected him, appointed him ambassador to Sweden. Chateaubriand had not yet left Paris when Napoleon I returned to France in 1815. He then accompanied Louis XVIII to Ghent, and became a member of his cabinet. He sent him the famous Report on the State of France.

After the Emperor’s defeat, Chateaubriand voted for the death of Marshal Ney in December 1815 in the Chamber of Peers. He was appointed Minister of State and Peer of France; but having attacked the ordinance of September 5, 1816 in La Monarchie according to the Charter which dissolved the Untraceable Chamber, he was disgraced and lost his post of Minister of State. He therefore threw himself into the ultra-royalist opposition, and became one of the main editors of the Conservative, the most powerful organ of this party. According to Pascal Melka, author of Victor Hugo, a fight for the oppressed. Study of his political evolution, the Conservative will be at the origin of the newspaper Le Conservateur Littéraire which will employ Victor Hugo.

In 1821, he was appointed Minister of France in Berlin, then Ambassador to London! where his cook, Montmireil, invented the cooking of the piece of beef that bears his name!!. In 1822, he represented France at the Congress of Verona. In 1823, he received from the hands of the Emperor Alexander I of Russia the Order of Saint Andrew, and from Ferdinand VII of Spain, the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece. He was one of the plenipotentiaries at the Congress of Verona and had the expedition to Spain decided, despite the apparent opposition of the United Kingdom (in reality, the latter wanted an intervention). On his return, he received the portfolio of Minister of Foreign Affairs; he succeeded in the Spanish adventure with the capture of Cadiz at the battle of Trocadero in 1823; but, unable to come to an agreement with Villèle, head of government, he was brutally dismissed on June 6, 1824. He was appointed ambassador to Rome in 1828, where Celeste accompanied him this time and where she held her rank as ambassador brilliantly, but he resigned with the advent of the Polignac ministry, which is its political decline. He retired from business after the Revolution of 1830, even leaving the House of Peers. His last years were spent in deep retirement, in the company of his wife. He hardly leaves his home, an apartment on the ground floor of the Hôtel des Missions Étrangères, at 120 rue du Bac in Paris, except to go to the nearby Abbaye-aux-Bois, at Juliette Récamier’s, whose he is a constant friend and whose salon brings together the elite of the literary world.

On February 11, 1847, Céleste died, and Chateaubriand wrote: “I owe a tender and eternal gratitude to my wife, whose attachment was as touching as it was deep and sincere. She made my life more serious, more noble, more honorable, always inspiring me with respect, if not always the force of homework”. Chateaubriand died in Paris on July 4, 1848 at 120 rue du Bac. His remains are transported to Saint-Malo and deposited facing the sea, according to his wishes, on the rock of Grand Bé, an islet in the harbor of his native town, which can be reached on foot from Saint-Malo  at low tides.

Chateaubriand could have been a great minister. I explain it not only by his acute intelligence, but by his sense and his knowledge of history, and by his concern for national greatness. I also observe how rare it is for a great artist to possess such political gifts ”. said by Charles de Gaulle.

The tomb of Chateaubriand is the tomb where François-René de Chateaubriand is buried, a famous French writer born in Saint-Malo on September 4, 1768 and died in Paris on July 4, 1848. It is located on the islet of Grand Bé , accessible at low tides on foot, in Saint-Malo, his birthplace. It was according to his wish that after his death, on July 4, 1848 in Paris. The tomb is near the edge of the cliff and eternally turned towards the sea and the storm of which, he said.   “The noise rocked my first sleep”. A non-nominative plaque was however placed on the wall behind the tomb, with the inscription: “A great French writer wanted to rest here to hear only the wind and the sea. Passant respects his last will.” An anecdote about the Grand Bé is that the term Bé means falls in Breton, but it is not known if this could have played a role in the choice of the writer.

Saint Malo

In 1849 was first initiative to erect a statue in honor of Chateaubriand, by the Parisian bookseller-publisher, Parent-Desbarre. However, it all began in 1864 when negotiations are initiated with the city of Saint-Malo. The mayor forms a committee within the city council, supported in Paris by a second committee made up of members of the Institute de France. A public subscription is organized and is added by a donation from the bookseller. The committee chose Aimé Millet, who was inspired by a bust of David d’Angers entrusted to him by the Comte de Chateaubriand to make the statue. Then, in 1874: the Ministry of War offers 1200 kg of bronze for casting. Before leaving for Saint-Malo, the statue is on display in the courtyard of the artist’s studio in Paris where the Parisian public saw it next to the statue of Vercingetorix. Eventually in 1875 was the inauguration on September 5 in front of the writer’s birthplace in St Malo. The city in 1881 moved it to the casino garden ,and later in 1930 it was transferred again to the Fort de la Reine bastion. During WWII , in 1942 it was dismantled and melted down under the Vichy collaborator regime. After WWII in 1948, a new stone statue of Chateaubriand, commissioned by the State from Armel Beaufils, is erected in the Square du Casino.

Saint Malo

The tourist office of Saint Malo on the in English:  Tourist office of St Malo on Grand Bé island

And there you now i feel better! One of the great men of France and from Bretagne! Also, one of my favorites even before moving to Bretagne from a historical point of view and as a writer. A giant of his time to read again and again. Hope you enjoy the story on François-René Chateaubriand!

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

2 Comments to “Saint Malo and Chateaubriand!”

  1. A favourite of mine for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

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