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Chateaubriand and Madame Recamier

Celia Goodman describes how one of the greatest French beauties of her day became the faithfully devoted companion of its most celebrated and gifted writer.

Chateaubriand was not only the most celebrated French writer of the first half of the nineteenth century; he was also gifted with a political intelligence. Yet while literary success came easily and remained with him all his life, his political career was confined to the two years during which he held the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The reasons for this are complex, deriving partly from events and partly from his own character. He was a man of complete integrity.

Thus, upon hearing of the murder of the due d’Enghien in 1804, he at once sent in his resignation from the post of Minister to the Valais to which he had just been appointed, and so condemned himself to ten years of political exile.

His ambition was enormous, yet he sacrificed it to a cause about which he himself soon lost all illusions.

A legitimist by conviction, while at the same time a passionate advocate of constitutional monarchy and freedom of the press, he placed himself in an impossible position; by his liberalism he incurred the dislike and mistrust of the Kings whose cause he faithfully supported.

As a Christian, the author of Le Génie du Christianisme, in spite of his claim to have started a religious revival in France, is singularly unconvincing, and the only one of his works that is still widely read-his Mémoir es d'Outre-Tombe - was not published in full until after his death.

As a husband he was doomed to failure both by temperament and by the choice of an unsuitable wife. As a lover he was enthusiastic and successful but highly inconstant.

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