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Art. I.-Euvres complètes de M. le Vicomte de Chateaubriand,
&c. &c. 28 tom. 8vo. Paris. 1826-1831. AMONG the celebrated men of France M. de Chateaubriand holds a conspicuous station, distinguished alike by the brilliancy of his talents, and by their scope and versatility. Minister, diplomatist, orator, poet, traveller, theologian, novelist, pamphleteer--he has appeared in all these various capacities, and so appeared as invariably to ensure attention, and frequently to command admiration and respect. Yet with all this variety, there has been little inconsistency-with all this change of style and subject there has been little change of tone and feeling. Through all the manifold productions of his fertile pen, we still see the same rash, ardent, eloquent, imaginative Chateaubriand. He was born in 1772, the youngest of ten children. The subjects to which his attention was principally directed in early years were theology and naval affairs, studies which gave some colour to his after-life, and of which the influence was perceptible in his writings. At an early age he entered the army, which he quitted at the commencement of the French Revolution. In 1791 the love of travel led him to America, where he hoped to find in civilized man the theoretical liberty for which his countrymen were panting—and in the rude inhabitant of its boundless forests a verification of those rhapsodies of Rousseau, which had taken strong hold on his young imagination. He returned from this tour on hearing of the arrest of Louis XVI. at Varennes, and chivalrously determined to devote himself to the royal cause ;- but the struggle was hopeless, and after being wounded at Thionville, he fled to England, where he remained several years engaged in the composition of his Essai sur les Revolutions, his Génie du Christianisme, his Natchez, Atala, and Réné. He returned to France in 1800. His writings had excited attention- Napoleon felt the value of his talents, and wished to engage them in his service; and in 1802, after the signature of the Concordat, Chateaubriand accompanied Cardinal Fesch, as Secretary of the Embassy, to
VOL. X. NO. XX.
Rome. Napoleon had not then assumed the crown: this act and the murder of the Duc d'Enghien rendered it impossible for one who felt as did M. de Chateaubriand to remain in his service; and the day that tragedy was made known to him, he sent in his resignation. There was no slight danger in thus resigning; but Chateaubriand did not have recourse to fight, and Napoleon bad the wise magnanimity to abstain from molesting bim. He even made him fresh offers, but they were rejected; and Chateaubriand soon afterwards commenced that tour in Greece, Egypt, and the Holy Land, which he has so eloquently described. On his return to France, undismayed by the state of thraldom under which the press was then labouring, he ventured to become a journalist. Some expressions in his review of Laborde's Voyage en Espagne, excited the displeasure of Napoleon-and the journal, of which he was with another the joint conductor, was suppressed. Meanwhile he grew in consideration among the literary men of France. A place in the “ Institut” became vacant by the death of Chénier, and Chateaubriand was elected to fill it. But the condition attached to every election was a panegyric on the predecessorthe revolutionist Chénier was a subject ill-suited for the pen of Chateaubriand; reversing the disobedience of Balaam, he turned the panegyric into an anathema; his intended discourse was declared inadmissible, his election annulled, and himself ordered to quit Paris. On the restoration of the Bourbons in 1814, M. de Chateaubriand, after publishing his Buonaparte et les Bourbons, and his Reflexions Politiques, was appointed ambassador to Sweden. During the temporary retirement of Louis XVIII. at Ghent, he accepted from him a ministerial office, which he retained on the king's second restoration to his throne, till ejected in 1816 by the instrumentality of De Cazes. His Monarchie selon la Charte incurred the censure of that minister, then at the head of the Police, and the work was seized and denounced. It was, however, not condemned by the tribunals; but its author was driven from office. He was afterwards ambassador at London, at Berlin, and at the Congress of Verona. In 1822 he became Minister for Foreign affairs, but retained that office only about two years. He subsequently accepted the post of Ambassador to Rome, which in 1829 he resigned, and this has been his last official situation. Such is a brief outline of the career of the distinguished subject of our present notice down to the period of the Revolution of 1830. Subsequent events must be so fresh in the recollection of our readers, that it is needless to allude to them. There are two of our countrymen,
of them still living, to whom M. de Chateaubriand, in the quality of his mind, seems to have a strong resemblance: we allude to Mr. Southey-and to one still greater--to Mr. Burke. We do not mean to say that
M. de Chateaubriand is as brilliant an orator, as powerful a political writer, as the latter--or that he is as good a poet as Mr. Southey-but that his mind exhibits many of those characteristics which have been displayed by each. We find in him the same predominance of imagination over judgment, the same disposition to resolve matters of speculation into matters of feeling, and to broach as his opinions what are merely his tastes; the same disposition to treat religion and politics as if they were among the fine arts, and to judge of a creed or a constitution as he would of a picture. Like Burke, he would have expatiated on the beautiful vision of Marie Antoinette as a palliation of the enormities of the “ ancien régime.” Like Mr. Southey, he would have directed our attention to the superior picturesqueness of the embowered cottage of the agricultural labourer over the naked row of manufacturing dwellings, as a proof that agriculture is better than manufactures. He is, however, very inferior to Burke in the mental vigour wherewith that distinguished man could array in the choicest armour of reason whatever theory his feelings and imagination might have led bim to adopt. M. de Chateaubriand bears a closer resemblance to Mr. Southey; and he resembles him not only in the manner in which he employs the large resources of his gifted mind, but even in the direction of many of his tastes. He is not only, like him, enthusiastic,--but enthusiastic upon similar subjects. There is in the minds of each the same disposition to look with peculiar fondness upon monachism and all its accessories. Pilgrimages and missions similarly affect their imaginations; and there is a mental excursiveness and love of the exciting wonders of foreign travel, alike perceptible in both. In politics the resemblance would probably have been greater, if M. de Chateaubriand had lived only a life of speculation, and had never entered into the turbulent arena of political existence, and rubbed off a little of his theoretical sentimentality by actual collision with practical statesmen. But there is much resemblance still. M. de Chateaubriand is a French High Tory, but a Tory by imagination rather than by principle; smitten with the imposing grandeur of arbitrary power, and the venerableness of prescriptive rights ; commending the benignity of paternal governments, yet not unwilling to admit how beautiful is liberty. He cannot even now forget that abstract liberty was the idol of his youth; bat the horrors of the French Revolution scared him from his blind devotion; and, like disappointed votaries, he has visited upon the object of his adoration that mortification which his own excessive zeal had prepared for him. M. de Chateaubriand's earliest work is his “ Essai Historique Politique et Moral sur les Révolutions anciennes et modernes, considerées dans leurs rapports avec la Révolution Francoise de nos jours.” It was commenced in 1794 (Chateaubriand being then two and twenty), and published in London in 1797. It is a very faulty production, full of the errors of youthful precipitance.
By none has it been more severely censured than by its author himself, who thus speaks of it in the preface to the edition of his complete works :"Littérairement parlant, ce livre est détestable et parfaitement ridicule ; c'est un chaos où se rencontrent les Jacobins et les Spartiates, la Marseilloise et les Chants de Tyrtée, un Voyage aux Açores et le Periple d'Hannon, l'Eloge de Jésus Christ et la Critique des Moines, les Vers Dorés de Pythagore et les Fables de M. de Nivernois, Louis XVI., Agis, Charles I., des Promenades solitaires, des Vues de la Nature, du Malbeur, de la Mélancolie, du Suicide, de la Politique, un petit commencenient d'Atala, Robespierre, la Convention, et des discussions sur Zénon, Epicure et Aristote, le tout en style sauvage et boursoufflé, plein de fautes de langue, d'idiotismes etrangers, et de barbarismes.”
The severity of this criticism be afterwards softens in a note; but it is in reality far from being unjust; and it may be truly said that M. de Chateaubriand would have acted with a regard for his own faine if he had not sanctioned the republication of the work in question. In this youthful work he appears to have set out with a mauia for discovering coincidences. Whatever had strongly affected his imagination among the events of modern times, and especially those connected with the French Revolution, must have its parallel in ancient history. France must be like Greece. Robespierre was like Pisistratus !-yet the epitaph on Marat must be like the ode to Harmodius, who slew the descendant of Pisistratus ! and, moreover, the Jacobins resembled, not the Athenians, but the Spartans! Voltaire was like Anacreon-Rousseau was Heraclitus-Dumouriez was Miltiades-Pichegru had for his pendant Pausanias—and the Prince de Cobourg was Mardonius. * Countries are compared as well as persons, and with equal success.
Prussia is the modern representative of Macedonia-Holland of Tyre—and England is the very counterpart of Carthage. There was a wonderful resemblance in the constitution of the two countries! There were actually two parties in the senate of Carthage, as there is a ministerial and an opposition party in the English parliament! besides, as we had a Marlborough, even so had they a Hannibaland they had also a Hanno, a celebrated navigator, to correspond with our Captain Cook! Events are also compared. The invasion of Greece by Xerxes is found to be wonderfully like the coalition of the European powers against France in 1793. We