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François-René de Chateaubriand

Painting by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson.
Born 4 September 1764(1764-09-04)
Saint-Malo, France
Died 4 July 1848 (aged 83)
Paris, France
Occupation politician, diplomat, writer
Genres Romanticism
Notable work(s) Atala, Génie du christianisme, René and Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe

François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand (French pronunciation: [fʁɑ̃swa ʁəne də ʃatobʁijɑ̃]) (4 September 1768 – 4 July 1848) was a French writer, politician and diplomat. He is considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature.

Contents

Life

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Early life and exile

François-René de Chateaubriand

Born in Saint-Malo, the last of ten children, Chateaubriand grew up in his family's castle in Combourg, Brittany. His father, René de Chateaubriand (1718-86), was a former sea captain turned ship owner and slave trader. His mother's maiden name was Apolline de Bedée. Chateaubriand's father was a morose, uncommunicative man and the young Chateaubriand grew up in an atmosphere of gloomy solitude, only broken by long walks in the Breton countryside and an intense friendship with his sister Lucile.

Chateaubriand was educated in Dol, Rennes and Dinan. For a time he could not make up his mind whether he wanted to be a naval officer or a priest, but at the age of seventeen, he decided on a military career and gained a commission as a second lieutenant in the French Army based at Navarre. Within two years, he had been promoted to the rank of captain. He visited Paris in 1788 where he made the acquaintance of Jean-François de La Harpe, André Chénier, Louis-Marcelin de Fontanes and other leading writers of the time. When the French Revolution broke out, Chateaubriand was initially sympathetic, but as events in Paris became more violent he decided to journey to North America in 1791. This experience would provide the setting for his exotic novels Les Natchez (written between 1793 and 1799 but published only in 1826), Atala (1801) and René (1802). His vivid, captivating descriptions of nature in the sparsely settled American Deep South were written in a style that was very innovative for the time and spearheaded what would later become the Romantic movement in France. Later scholarship has cast doubt on Chateaubriand's claim that he had been granted an interview with George Washington or whether he actually lived for a time with the Native Americans he wrote about.

Chateaubriand returned to France in 1792 and subsequently joined the army of Royalist émigrés in Coblenz under the leadership of Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé. Under strong pressure from his family, he married a young aristocratic woman, also from Saint-Malo, whom he had never previously met, Céleste Buisson de la Vigne. In later life, Chateaubriand would be notoriously unfaithful to her, having a series of love affairs, but the couple would never divorce. His military career came to an end when he was wounded at the siege of Thionville, a major clash between Royalist troops and the French Revolutionary Army. Half-dead, he was carried to Jersey and exile in England, leaving his wife behind.

Chateaubriand spent most of his exile in extreme poverty in London, scraping a living offering French lessons and doing translation work, but a stay in Suffolk was more idyllic. Here Chateaubriand fell in love with a young English woman, Charlotte Ives, but the romance ended when he was forced to reveal he was already married. During his time in Britain, Chateaubriand also became familiar with English literature. This reading, particularly of John Milton's Paradise Lost (which he later translated into French prose), would have a deep influence on his own literary work. His exile forced Chateaubriand to examine the causes of the French Revolution, which had cost the lives of many of his family and friends; these reflections inspired his first work, Essai sur les Révolutions (1797). A major turning point in Chateaubriand's life was his conversion back to the Roman Catholic faith of his childhood around 1798.

Consulate and Empire

Chateaubriand took advantage of the amnesty issued to émigrés to return to France in May, 1800 (under the French Consulate), Chateaubriand edited the Mercure de France. In 1802, he won fame with Génie du christianisme ("The Genius of Christianity"), an apology for the Christian faith which contributed to the post-revolutionary religious revival in France. It also won him the favour of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was eager to win over the Catholic Church at the time.

Appointed secretary of the legation to the Holy See by Napoleon, he accompanied Cardinal Fesch to Rome. But the two men soon quarrelled and Chateaubriand was nominated as minister to Valais (in Switzerland). He resigned his post in disgust after Napoleon ordered the execution of the Duc d'Enghien in 1804. Chateaubriand was now forced to earn his living from his literary efforts. He planned to write an epic in prose, Les Martyrs, set during the Roman persecution of early Christianity. As part of his research for the book, in 1806 Chateaubriand visited Greece, Asia Minor, Palestine, Egypt and Spain. The notes he made on his travels would later form part of his Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem (Itinerary from Paris to Jerusalem), published in 1811; and the Spanish stage of the journey would inspire a third novella, Les aventures du dernier Abencérage (The Adventures of the Last Abencerrage), which appeared in 1826. On his return to France, he published a severe criticism of Napoleon, comparing him to Nero and predicting the emergence of a new Tacitus. The emperor banished him from Paris.

Chateaubriand settled at a modest estate he called La Vallée des Loups ("Wolf Valley"), in Châtenay-Malabry, 11 km (7 miles) south of central Paris. Here he finished Les Martyrs, which appeared in 1809, and began the first drafts of his memoirs. He was elected to the Académie française in 1811, but, given his plan to infuse his acceptance speech with criticism of the Revolution, he could not occupy his seat until after the Bourbon Restoration. His literary friends during this period included Madame de Staël, Joseph Joubert and Pierre-Simon Ballanche.

Under the Restoration

After the fall of the French Empire, Chateaubriand rallied to the Bourbons. On 30 March 1814, he wrote a pamphlet against Napoleon, titled De Buonaparte et des Bourbons, of which thousands of copies were published. He then followed Louis XVIII into exile to Ghent during the Hundred Days (March-July 1815), and was nominated ambassador to Sweden.

After the defeat of France, Chateaubriand, who had declared himself shocked by the 1804 execution of the duc d'Enghien, voted in December 1815 for Marshal Ney's execution at the Chamber of Peers. He became peer of France and state minister (1815). However, his criticism of King Louis XVIII, after the Chambre introuvable was dissolved, got him disgraced. He lost his function of state minister, and joined the opposition, siding with the Ultra-royalist group supporting the future Charles X, and becoming one of the main writers of its mouthpiece, Le Conservateur.

Chateaubriand sided again with the Court after the murder of the Duc de Berry (1820), writing for the occasion the Mémoires sur la vie et la mort du duc. He then served as ambassador to Prussia (1821) and the Kingdom of Great Britain (1822), and even rose to the office of Minister of Foreign Affairs (28 December 1822 – 4 August 1824). A plenipotentiary to the Congress of Verona (1822), he decided in favor of the Quintuple Alliance intervention in Spain during the Trienio liberal, despite opposition from the Duke of Wellington. Although the move was considered a success, Chateaubriand was soon relieved of his office by Prime Minister Jean-Baptiste de Villèle, the leader of the ultra-royalist group, on 5 June 1824.

Consequently, he moved towards the liberal opposition, both as a Peer and as a contributor to Journal des Débats (his articles there gave the signal of the paper's similar switch, which, however, was more moderate than Le National, directed by Adolphe Thiers and Armand Carrel). Opposing Villèle, he became highly popular as a defender of press freedom and the cause of Greek independence.

After Villèle's downfall, Charles X appointed him ambassador to the Holy See in 1828, but he resigned upon the accession of the Prince de Polignac as premier (November 1829).

Last home of Chateaubriand, 120 Rue du Bac, Paris. Chateaubriand had an apartment on the ground floor.

The July Monarchy

In 1830, after the July Revolution, his refusal to swear allegiance to the new House of Orléans king Louis-Philippe put an end to his political career. He withdrew from political life to write his Mémoires d'outre-tombe ("Memoirs from Beyond the Grave'", published posthumously 1848–1850), which is considered his most accomplished work, and his Études historiques (4 vols., designed as an introduction to a projected History of France). He also became a harsh critic of the "bourgeois king" and the July Monarchy, and his planned volume on the arrest of the duchesse de Berry caused him to be unsuccessfully prosecuted.

Chateaubriand, along with other Catholic traditionalists such as Ballanche or, on the other side of the political board, the socialist and republican Pierre Leroux, was then one of the few to attempt to conciliate the three terms of Liberté, égalité and fraternité, beyond the antagonism between liberals and socialists concerning the interpretation to give to the seemingly contradictory terms [1]. Chateaubriand thus gave a Christian interpretation of the revolutionary motto, stating in the 1841 conclusion to his Mémoires d'outre-tombe:

Far from being at its term, the religion of the Liberator is now only just entering its third phase, the political period, liberty, equality, fraternity.[1][2]

In his final years, he lived as a recluse in an apartment 120 rue du Bac, Paris, only leaving his house to pay visits to Juliette Récamier in l'Abbaye-aux-Bois. His final work, Vie de Rancé, was written at the suggestion of his confessor and published in 1844. It is a biography of Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé, a worldly seventeenth-century French aristocrat who withdrew from society to become the founder of the Trappist order of monks. The parallels with Chateaubriand's own life are striking. Chateaubriand died in Paris during the Revolution of 1848 and was buried, as he requested, on an island (called Grand Be) near Saint-Malo, only accessible when the tide is out.

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For his talent as much as his excesses, Chateaubriand may be considered the father of French Romanticism. His descriptions of Nature and his analysis of emotion made him the model for a generation of Romantic writers, not only in France but also abroad. For example, Lord Byron was deeply impressed by René. The young Victor Hugo scribbled in a notebook, "To be Chateaubriand or nothing." Even his enemies found it hard to avoid his influence. Stendhal, who despised him for political reasons, made use of his psychological analyses in his own book, De l'amour.

Chateaubriand was the first to define the vague des passions ("intimations of passion") which would become a commonplace of Romanticism: "One inhabits, with a full heart, an empty world" (Génie du Christianisme). His political thought and actions seem to offer numerous contradictions: he wanted to be the friend both of legitimist royalty and of freedom, alternately defending which of the two seemed most in danger: "I am a Bourbonist out of honour, a monarchist out of reason, and a republican out of taste and temperament". He was the first of a series of French men of letters (Lamartine, Victor Hugo, André Malraux) who tried to mix political and literary careers.

"We are convinced that the great writers have told their own story in their works", wrote Chateaubriand in Génie du christianisme,"one only truly describes one's own heart by attributing it to another, and the greater part of genius is composed of memories". This is certainly true of Chateaubriand himself. All his works have strong autobiographical elements, overt or disguised. Perhaps this is the reason why today Mémoires d'outre-tombe are regarded as his finest achievement.

A food enthusiast, he coined the name of a dish made from a cut of tenderloin (the Chateaubriand steak).[3]

Works

Notes

  1. ^ a b Mona Ozouf, "Liberté, égalité, fraternité", in Lieux de Mémoire (dir. Pierre Nora), tome III, Quarto Gallimard, 1997, pp.4353-4389 (French) (abridged translation, Realms of Memory, Columbia University Press, 1996–1998 (English))
  2. ^ French: "Loin d'être à son terme, la religion du Libérateur entre à peine dans sa troisième période, la période politique, liberté, égalité, fraternité.
  3. ^ George & Berthe Herter (1969). Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices (1995 ed.). Ecco Press. pp. 20–21.  

References

  • Marc Fumaroli, Chateaubriand: poésie et terreur, Fallois, Paris, 2004

Bibliography

  • Chateaubriand's works were edited in 20 volumes by Sainte-Beuve, with an introductory study of his own (1859-60)
    • Sainte-Beuve. Chateaubriand et son groupe littéraire (Paris, 1860)
    • Sainte-Beuve. Other essays in Portraits contemporains, and Causerie du lundis (1851–1862), Nouveaux lundis (1863–1870), Premiers lundis
      • Mémoires d'outreétombe, translated by Teixeira de Mattos (six volumes, New York and London, 1902)
  • Bardoux, Agénor, Chateaubriand (Paris, 1893)
  • Bertrin, La sincérité réligieuse de Chateaubriand (1901)
  • France, Anatole, Lucile de Chateaubriand (Paris, 1879)
  • Lescure, Chateaubriand (Paris, 1892)
  • Maurel, Essai sur Chateaubriand (Paris, 1899)
  • Pailhès, Chateaubriand, sa femme et ses amis (Bordeaux, 1896)
  • Vinet, Alexandre, Madame de Staël et Chateaubriand (Paris, 1857)
  • Villemain, Abel-François, Chateaubriand, sa vie, ses éecrits et son influence (Paris, 1859)

For the reality and fiction in Chateaubriand's American and other journeys:

  • Bédier, Joseph, Etudes critiques (Paris, 1903)
  • Champion, E. L'itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem par Julien, domestique de Chateaubriand (Paris, 1904)
  • Girard, V., Chateaubriand: Etudes litt. (Paris, 1904)
  • Stathers, Chateaubriand et l'Amérique (Grenoble, 1905)

Other notable books:

  • Gribble, Chateaubriand and his Court of Women (New York, 1909)
  • Lemaître, Jules, Chateaubriand (1912)
  • Painter, George D. Chateaubriand: A Biography Volume I (1768-93) The Longed-For Tempests
  • Thomas, L. (ed). Correspondance genéral de Chateaubriand (three volumes, Paris, 1912-13)

This article incorporates text from an edition of the New International Encyclopedia that is in the public domain.

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Preceded by
Marie-Joseph Chénier
Seat 19
Académie française

1811–1848
Succeeded by
Paul de Noailles



Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

One is not superior merely because one sees the world as odious.

François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand (4 September 17684 July 1848) was a French writer, politician and diplomat, considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature.

Contents

Sourced

Perfect works are rare, because they must be produced at the happy moment when taste and genius unite; and this rare conjuncture, like that of certain planets, appears to occur only after the revolution of several cycles, and only lasts for an instant.
As soon as a true thought has entered our mind, it gives a light which makes us see a crowd of other objects which we have never perceived before.
  • Achilles exists only through Homer. Take away the art of writing from this world, and you will probably take away its glory.
    • Les Natchez (1826)
  • I am Bourbon as a matter of honour, royalist according to reason and conviction, and republican by taste and character.
    • "De la restauration et de la monarchie élective" (1831)
  • Perfect works are rare, because they must be produced at the happy moment when taste and genius unite; and this rare conjuncture, like that of certain planets, appears to occur only after the revolution of several cycles, and only lasts for an instant.
    • As quoted in Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893) selected and compiled by James Wood
  • As soon as a true thought has entered our mind, it gives a light which makes us see a crowd of other objects which we have never perceived before.
    • A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, both Ancient and Modern (1908) by Tyron Edwards
  • In living literature no person is a competent judge but of works written in his own language. I have expressed my opinion concerning a number of English writers; it is very possible that I may be mistaken, that my admiration and my censure may be equally misplaced, and that my conclusions may appear impertinent and ridiculous on the other side of the Channel.

Le génie du Christianisme (1802)

Le génie du Christianisme [The Genius of Christianity] (1802) Full text in French (PDF)
The original style is not the style which never borrows of any one, but that which no other person is capable of reproducing.
  • J'ai pleuré et j'ai cru.
    • I wept, and I believed.
      • Preface
  • L’écrivain original n’est pas celui qui n’imite personne, mais celui que personne ne peut imiter.
    • The original writer is not he who refrains from imitating others, but he who can be imitated by none.
      • The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1979) 3rd edition
    • Variant translations:
      The original style is not the style which never borrows of any one, but that which no other person is capable of reproducing.
      • As translated by Charles I. White (1856) Part 2, Book 1, Chapter 3
    • An original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate.
      • Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (1980) 15th edtion
  • Though we have not employed the arguments usually advanced by the apologists of Christianity, we have arrived by a different chain of reasoning at the same conclusion: Christianity is perfect; men are imperfect. Now, a perfect consequence cannot spring from an imperfect principle. Christianity, therefore, is not the work of men. If Christianity is not the work of man, it can have come from none but God. If it came from God, men cannot have acquired a knowledge of it except by revelation. Therefore, Christianity is a revealed religion.
    • As translated in A Cloud of Witnesses : The Greatest Men in the World for Christ and the Book (1894) by Stephen Abbott Northrop

Mémoires d'outre-tombe (1848 – 1850)

[Memoirs from Beyond the Grave] Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe, English translation by A. S. Kline
I have made history, and been able to write it. ... Within and alongside my age, perhaps without wishing or seeking to, I have exerted upon it a triple influence, religious, political and literary.
  • I have explored the seas of the Old World and the New, and trodden the soil of the four quarters of the Earth. Having camped in the cabins of Iroquois, and beneath the tents of Arabs, in the wigwams of Hurons, in the remains of Athens, Jerusalem, Memphis, Carthage, Granada, among Greeks, Turks and Moors, among forests and ruins; after wearing the bearskin cloak of the savage, and the silk caftan of the Mameluke, after suffering poverty, hunger, thirst, and exile, I have sat, a minister and ambassador, covered with gold lace, gaudy with ribbons and decorations, at the table of kings, the feasts of princes and princesses, only to fall once more into indigence and know imprisonment.
    • Preface (1833)
  • I have borne the musket of a soldier, the traveller’s cane, and the pilgrim’s staff: as a sailor my fate has been as inconstant as the wind: a kingfisher, I have made my nest among the waves.
    I have been party to peace and war: I have signed treaties, protocols, and along the way published numerous works. I have been made privy to party secrets, of court and state: I have viewed closely the rarest disasters, the greatest good fortune, the highest reputations. I have been present at sieges, congresses, conclaves, at the restoration and demolition of thrones. I have made history, and been able to write it. ... Within and alongside my age, perhaps without wishing or seeking to, I have exerted upon it a triple influence, religious, political and literary.
    • Preface (1833)
  • It is a long way from Combourg to Berlin, from a youthful dreamer to an old minister. I find among the words preceding these: ‘In how many places have I already continued writing these Memoirs, and in what place will I finish them?'
    • In Berlin, (March 1821); Book IV, Chapter 1: Berlin – Potsdam – Frederick
  • Aristocracy has three successive ages, — the age of superiorities, the age of privileges, and the age of vanities; having passed out of the first, it degenerates in the second, and dies away in the third.
    • Variants: Aristocracy has three successive ages. First superiorities, then privileges and finally vanities. Having passed from the first, it degenerates in the second and dies in the third.
      Aristocracy has three successive ages. First superiority, then privileges and finally vanities. Having passed from the first, it degenerates in the second and dies in the third.
    • Original version: L'aristocratie a trois âges successifs : l'âge des supériorités, l'âge des privilèges, l'âge des vanités ; sortie du premier, elle dégènère dans le second et s'éteint dans le dernier.
    • Book I, Ch. 1 : The Vallé-aux-loups
It was not his own destiny that inspired this new species of hero: it was that of his country; he did not allow himself to enjoy what did not belong to him; but from that profound humility what glory emerged!
  • I halt at the beginning of my travels, in Pennsylvania, in order to compare Washington and Bonaparte. I would rather not have concerned myself with them until the point where I had met Napoleon; but if I came to the edge of my grave without having reached the year 1814 in my tale, no one would then know anything of what I would have written concerning these two representatives of Providence. I remember Castelnau: like me Ambassador to England, who wrote like me a narrative of his life in London. On the last page of Book VII, he says to his son: ‘I will deal with this event in Book VIII,’ and Book VIII of Castelnau’s Memoirs does not exist: that warns me to take advantage of being alive.
    • Book VI: Ch. 8: Comparison of Washington and Bonaparte
Washington and Bonaparte emerged from the womb of democracy: both of them born to liberty, the former remained faithful to her, the latter betrayed her.
I do not expect an imminent outbreak of war: nations and kings are equally weary ... No doubt there will be painful moments: the face of the world cannot change without suffering. But, once again, there will be no separate revolutions; simply the great revolution approaching its end.
  • A degree of silence envelops Washington’s actions; he moved slowly; one might say that he felt charged with future liberty, and that he feared to compromise it. It was not his own destiny that inspired this new species of hero: it was that of his country; he did not allow himself to enjoy what did not belong to him; but from that profound humility what glory emerged! Search the woods where Washington’s sword gleamed: what do you find? Tombs? No; a world! Washington has left the United States behind for a monument on the field of battle.
    Bonaparte shared no trait with that serious American: he fought amidst thunder in an old world; he thought about nothing but creating his own fame; he was inspired only by his own fate. He seemed to know that his project would be short, that the torrent which falls from such heights flows swiftly; he hastened to enjoy and abuse his glory, like fleeting youth. Following the example of Homer’s gods, in four paces he reached the ends of the world. He appeared on every shore; he wrote his name hurriedly in the annals of every people; he threw royal crowns to his family and his generals; he hurried through his monuments, his laws, his victories. Leaning over the world, with one hand he deposed kings, with the other he pulled down the giant, Revolution; but, in eliminating anarchy, he stifled liberty, and ended by losing his own on his last field of battle.
    Each was rewarded according to his efforts: Washington brings a nation to independence; a justice at peace, he falls asleep beneath his own roof in the midst of his compatriots’ grief and the veneration of nations.
    Bonaparte robs a nation of its independence: deposed as emperor, he is sent into exile, where the world’s anxiety still does not think him safely enough imprisoned, guarded by the Ocean. He dies: the news proclaimed on the door of the palace in front of which the conqueror had announced so many funerals, neither detains nor astonishes the passer-by: what have the citizens to mourn?
    Washington’s Republic lives on; Bonaparte’s empire is destroyed. Washington and Bonaparte emerged from the womb of democracy: both of them born to liberty, the former remained faithful to her, the latter betrayed her.
    Washington acted as the representative of the needs, the ideas, the enlightened men, the opinions of his age; he supported, not thwarted, the stirrings of intellect; he desired only what he had to desire, the very thing to which he had been called: from which derives the coherence and longevity of his work. That man who struck few blows because he kept things in proportion has merged his existence with that of his country: his glory is the heritage of civilisation; his fame has risen like one of those public sanctuaries where a fecund and inexhaustible spring flows.
    • Book VI: Ch. 8: Comparison of Washington and Bonaparte
  • My downfall made a great noise: those who appeared most satisfied criticized the manner of it.
    • Book XXVIII, Chapter 2: The Opposition follows me
  • How small man is on this little atom where he dies! But how great his intelligence! He knows when the face of the stars must be masked in darkness, when the comets will return after thousands of years, he who lasts only an instant! A microscopic insect lost in a fold of the heavenly robe, the orbs cannot hide from him a single one of their movements in the depth of space. What destinies will those stars, new to us, light? Is their revelation bound up with some new phase of humanity? You will know, race to be born; I know not, and I am departing.
    • Book XLII: Ch. 18: A summary of the changes which have occurred around the globe in my lifetime
I behold the light of a dawn whose sunrise I shall never see. It only remains for me to sit down at the edge of my grave; then I shall descend boldly, crucifix in hand, into eternity.
  • New storms will arise; one can believe in calamities to come which will surpass the afflictions we have been overwhelmed by in the past; already, men are thinking of bandaging their old wounds to return to the battlefield. However, I do not expect an imminent outbreak of war: nations and kings are equally weary; unforeseen catastrophe will not yet fall on France: what follows me will only be the effect of general transformation. No doubt there will be painful moments: the face of the world cannot change without suffering. But, once again, there will be no separate revolutions; simply the great revolution approaching its end. The scenes of tomorrow no longer concern me; they call for other artists: your turn, gentlemen!
    As I write these last words, my window, which looks west over the gardens of the Foreign Mission, is open: it is six in the morning; I can see the pale and swollen moon; it is sinking over the spire of the Invalides, scarcely touched by the first golden glow from the East; one might say that the old world was ending, and the new beginning. I behold the light of a dawn whose sunrise I shall never see. It only remains for me to sit down at the edge of my grave; then I shall descend boldly, crucifix in hand, into eternity.
    • Book XLII: Ch. 18: A summary of the changes which have occurred around the globe in my lifetime

as yet unplaced by chapter:

  • Memory is often the attribute of stupidity; it generally belongs to heavy spirits whom it makes even heavier by the baggage it loads them down with.
  • One does not learn how to die by killing others.

Misattributed

  • A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.
    • Misattributed to Chateaubriand on the internet and even some recently published books, this statement actually originated with L. P. Jacks in Education through Recreation (1932)

Quotes about Chateaubriand

  • He has abundant views on the future, particularly on the subject of religion and the social rôle which he believed it called upon to play. His influence on literature is unanimously acknowledged. Romanticism may be traced back to him, and it may even be said that the whole literary movement characteristic of the nineteenth century begins with him.
  • In the twenty-sixth book of his Mémoires d'outre-tombe, Chateaubriand recounts his 1821 arrival at the French embassy in Berlin. He cites a flattering portrait of him written by the Baroness of Hohenhausen and published in the morning press on March 22: "M. de Chateaubriand is of a somewhat short, yet slender, stature. His oval face has an expression of reverence and melancholy. He has black hair and black eyes that glow with the fire of his mind." At this point, Chateaubriand flatly adds: "Mais j'ai les cheveux blancs; j'ai plus d'un siècle, en outre, je suis mort" ("But I have white hair; I am more than a century old, besides, I am dead") ... Of course, those startling words, "en outre, je suis mort" do not refer to the year 1821, nor to the time Chateaubriand is writing this account. Rather, they refer to the time we, readers, turn to this specific page of the Mémoires: as you are reading this, Chateaubriand reminds us, I am dead. The words wrest us away from the event he is relating, his arrival in Berlin, to remind us in the most direct terms that our reading of these words necessarily entails the death of their author. Moreover, the French en outre brings us back to the very title of the Mémoires d'outre-tombe: outre-tombe, from beyond the grave.
    In 1836, Chateaubriand signed a contract with a society of shareholders: in exchange for an immediate payment of 156,000 francs and a life annuity, he sold "the literary ownership of his Mémoires as they existed and as they would exist at his death." Commenting on this transaction, Maurice Levaillant notes: "With this agreement, Chateaubriand bought material security at the price of a concession that he never got over: instead of appearing after a period he had first prescribed as fifty years after his death, his Mémoires would suddenly appear, so to speak, live from his grave."
    • Marie-Hélène Huet, in "Chateaubriand and the Politics of (Im)mortality" in diacritics, Volume 30, Number 3, (Fall 2000)
  • I will be Chateaubriand or nothing.
    • Victor Hugo at the age of 15 in one of his notebooks, as quoted in The Literary Movement in France During the Nineteenth Century (1897) by Georges Pellissier

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