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Savigny had long since proved too tame for him; after seven months of quiet the cottage was given up, but René remembered. 'I should never have written it,' he said of his book, 'without the peace that she gave me.'
Pauline's happiness was at an end; she was jealous of the success that took him from her; of the fashionable ladies who spoiled him; of one, and with reason, Madame de Custine. She grew ill again and restless, and she was not made happier by the news that he had been appointed Secretary to the French Legation at Rome, where Napoleon's uncle, Cardinal Fesch, was ambassador. She had the generosity to encourage him to accept the honour, but it meant separation, it broke her heart.
Chateaubriand consoled himself by the thought that she would follow him. He invited her to come to him ; he invited his wife; he also invited Madame de Custine. Madame de Beaumont accepted.
And yet, with all this, Chateaubriand was not a hypocrite. It is no easy matter to estimate the character of a sincere actor. Chateaubriand, like Byron, was of that baffling race. Both these inen made a melodrama of life, always playing the leading part, unable to exist apart from an audience (an audience of one sometimes sufficed), neither of them in the least caring for the stage when they were off it, both with a childish love of dressing up their bodies and souls. We all remember Byron's gorgeous costumes; as for René, he liked to start on the most unadventurous trip in a post-chaise, in the toilet of a brigand, with pistolcases hidden beneath the carriage cushions. Like many histrionic geniuses, they were really rather cold characters-emotional, not passionate, with an infinite capacity for being bored.
This may be absurd, but it has its compensations. A melodrama needs effects, especially effects of virtue; and of heroism, sacrifice, and generosity both men were pre-eminently capable. Chateaubriand could abnegate a fortune rather than hold office under the Duc d'Enghien's assassin ; Byron could die, uncomplaining, in the cause of a foreign nation. Both were doubtless affected by their own view of themselves. Byron posed as the bad man, and thought himself worse than he was ; Chateaubriand posed as the good man, and thought himself better than he was. Yet the fact remains that René, if not the truer, was at least the better man of the two. Although he was always Le Grand Ennuyé, he was never a cynic or a scoffer. It may be that he loved his illusions too well to be a cynic, and needed too much support-even personal attention-from the Deity to do without belief. But, apart from this, he had the sense of reverence, the poet's imagination. And while Byron regarded women as
Oriental slaves, Chateaubrand respected their minds and treated them as equal companions.
The heartbreak he caused was the greater. Pauline had not the nature that could live upon illusions. She saw with deadly clearness that he was tiring of her, and yet she could not renounce her love. In the summer of 1802, he started for Rome. He wrote her letters of fervent devotion. She was not deceived by them, but she tried to be; she derived her only sustenance from them. Her cough and her prostration grew worse ; she resolved to try the baths of Monte-Dore in Auvergne which had benefited her before. In her heart she meant to travel thence to Rome, but of this she breathed no word to Joubert, or to anybody else. She knew as well as he that the journey would probably kill her; she also knew that she could not live without a motive for life. The letters that she wrote to Joubert from Monte-Dore are heartrending
Nobody [runs one of them) has a better right than I to complain of Nature. She has refused everything to me, and has given me the sense of all I lack. There is no moment at which I do not feel the weight of the complete mediocrity to which I am condemned. . . . I am like a fallen angel who cannot forget what he has lost and has not the force to regain it. ... I cough less, but I think it is that I may die without noise. To withdraw in silence, to let myself be forgotten—this is my duty. May I have courage to accomplish it.
This is the cry of a'n illness too deep for Joubert to cure. And there were minor ills. The food, the dirt, the joltings, the discomforts of the inns were deplorable, the Auvergnat bores insufferable, the tedium unfathomable. She spent hours on her back, counting the beams of her bedroom ceiling. The mountains exasperate her-so does the whole world' when it bears her
cough and asks if Madame est malade ? Solitude was the only thing bearable, for in solitude alone she could find again, she said, her friends of the Rue Neuve du Luxembourg.
Go on counting the beams of your ceiling,' says Joubert, it is your only means of getting well.' Not long after, he received the thunderbolt-the news that she had started for Rome; he was distraught, he could not believe it, he wrote imploring letters to her en route in the hope of turning her back. But the swallow flew South.
Chateaubriand, more alive than ever, met the ghost of Pauline at Florence. He was flushed with success—the spoilt child of Cardinals, of the Pope himself. When Pius the Seventh gave him audience, he found Le Génie du Christianisme on the Papal table. The antiquities of Rome, too, amazed, enchanted him. They suited his temperament. We always think of René with the Coliseum at his back. Pauline and he drove to Rome; he had found her lodgings near the Piazza di Spagna; she had a little
garden with espaliers of orange-trees, a courtyard with a fig-tree in it. At first René had his usual effect. He electrified her into a semblance of life; he was shocked, frightened by her looks, and anxiety revived his devotion. Her last weeks were blissfully happy. Every day they drove out in the glowing gold Campagna of autumn. But the improvement quickly wore off. The lamp,' she said, 'has burnt out its oil.' Their last long expedition was to Terni. René tried to persuade her to come with him and see the waterfall, but she sank down exhausted. 'We must let the floods fall,' she said quietly. The words rang her death-knell.
This was in late October. A few days later in the Coliseum : Come, I am cold,' she said, and she returned home to bed, never to rise from it again. The doctor told Chateaubriand the end was near. When he went into her room there were tears in his eyes. She smiled and held out her hand. 'You are a child,' she said ; 'were you not expecting it?' Weeping, he told her it would be soon, and begged her to see a priest. There was silence, then in a firm voice, 'I did not think,' she replied, 'that it would be quite so soon. Well, then, I must really bid you good-bye.' She saw the priest ; she told him that deep down she had always kept a sense of religion—that the Revolution had made her doubt God's justice—that she was ready to confess her errors and commend herself to the Eternal Mercy--that she hoped her suffering here would shorten her expiation. The priest came out in tears; he had left her at peace. Later she received Extreme Unction, and then Chateaubriand remained alone with her. She made him sit on the edge of her bed; with her failing voice she gave him her last counsels, her last sympathy; she begged him to live near Joubert. Presently she asked him to open the window; a ray of sunlight came in and gave her pleasure. She fell to recalling Savigny-and then she cried. That afternoon she sank. As he watched her, her head fell. 'I put my hand on her heart,' he said, 'it beat no more.'
Thus he wrote in the simplicity of his first emotion just after her death. It was on the 4th of November 1803. She was buried in that white ball-dress sent her long ago which she had always destined for her shroud. She had carried it with her to Rome, as if she meant that she should die there. Thirty-five years later in his Memoirs René worked the scene up, told how she wished to leave him her money, how he refused. But even then it seemed as if her spirit haunted him and forced him to be sincere. 'A deplorable conviction came and overwhelmed me,' he wrote: 'I saw that only when Madame de Beaumont was drawing her last breath did she realise the true attachment I had for her.' His grief was very real, if it was scenic.
He saw that due honour was done her. He gave her a marble monument
in the French Church at Rome, with a long inscription and her favourite verse from Job upon it, and a record that François René de Chateaubriand had raised it to her memory. (In the Memoirs he records that it cost him nine thousand francs and that he sold all that he possessed to erect it.) She had left her books to him, her bookcase and writing-desk to Joubert, her money to her mother's old maid, and René executed her will. He took her old servants to live with him. And when he went to Paris his first action was to visit the cypress-tree she had planted in her girlhood in the Rue Plumet. But his sorrow receded, it became oratorical. Twenty-three years later, in 18:27, when he was Ambassador at Rome, he went alone to kneel at her grave. 'I visited,' he wrote, 'the monument of her who was the soul of a vanished society.'
The tableau rirant is perfect, but it was the Chancellor Pasquier who kept the tomb in repair. René had found several consolations : Madame de Custine-and others. Pauline had been only one of many.
With Joubert it was different.
I have not written to you, it is from grief [he said to her in one of his last letters] ... my soul keeps its habits; but it has lost the delight of them. You ask me to love you always. Alas, can I do otherwise ? ... Farewell, cause of so much pain, you who have been to me the source of so much good.
The love and the pain remained. Till his death he kept October, the month of her last illness, sacred to her, retiring from the world to mourn and to meditate. He maintained his close ties with all their little circle-not one of them who did not mourn with him-but his spring was gone ; his mind, as well as his heart, had suffered irreparable loss.
Madame de Beaumont [he said years afterwards) had pre-eminently one quality which is not a talent ... and yet places the soul on the level of the most brilliant gifts : I mean an admirable intelligence. She understood everything. : . . You will meet many women of mind, but few, like her, who enjoy their mind without any desire to show it off.
We may be sure that when he died in 1824 his last human thought was of her. And, in the end, it was he who made the best, the most enduring chapter of her story. She would not have done without Chateaubriand. She could not have done without Joubert.
OXFORD AND THE ARMY
EARLY in the spring of 1872 the slumberous calm that enveloped the University of Oxford was rudely broken by startling and terrible rumours. It was noised abroad in academic circles that in accordance with the Military Forces Localisation Bill Oxford had been selected as the scene of a new military depot. The rumours grew into certainty when myrmidons of the War Office, suave, well-groomed persons of soldierly bearing, were espied in the neighbourhood, full of inquiries for land, building sites, water supply, and kindred subjects. The Common-rooms buzzed with dismay. So fearful a plot agaiņst the welfare of the University had not been known since that distressful time, nearly thirty years before, when the railway had been brought into Oxford, regardless of the frantic protests of almost every Don in the place. True, the University had unexpectedly survived that horrid innovation. But barracks ! In Oxford, or even within reach of it! Council and Congregation, Vice-Chancellor and Proctors, Heads of Houses, Professors, Tutors-scarce a man among them but grew cold at the thought. Their personal experience of the military' no doubt was slight; but full well they knew the evil reputation of the brutal and licentious soldiery; the profligate and abandoned lives their officers habitually lead; the appalling effects upon the morality and discipline of the University that must inevitably ensue unless this baneful project were promptly nipped in the bud.
What the undergraduate of the day thought of all the fuss history does not relate. The plentiful crop of ephemeral literature in which his callow wit now finds weekly utterance had not then begun to blaze forth upon its limited world. What his enlightened pastors and masters thought, and did, remains on record, fully set forth in a pamphlet entitled The Military Centre at Oxford, and published as a last scream of despair when the mischief was all but accomplished. The burning question was brought before Congregation on the 23rd of April 1872 :
In a very full House it was resolved, without a dissentient voice, to resist as far as possible the threatened experiment, and a Delegacy of the Vice-Chancellor and five other members of Convocation was appointed, in order to give utterance to the opinion of Convocation by communicating with the War Office on the subject.