The New International Encyclopædia/Chateaubriand, François René Auguste
CHATEAUBRIAND, sha'tAbr^as', François René Auguste, Vicomte de (1708-1848). A French author and statesman, lie was born in Saint Malo, the most Catliolic of French provinces, and the warm piety of his mother and the distant reserve of his father combined with the strange Breton legends and the mysterious vastness of the neighboring ocean to nurse in the child religious sentiment and poetic mysticism. To these elements direction and intensity were given by his education at Uiile and Hennes. At twenty he entered the army, thinking to try his fortune in India, but tiie Revolution divert-c-d him from this, and in 1790 he obtained a Ciovernment commission to seek the Northwest Passage, a quest that took liim, according to his own possibly inaccurate ac- count, on wide journeys on tlic Great Lakes and prairies of America, and even to semi-tropical Florida, and l)rought him mucli association with Eousscau-like Indian "cliildrcn of nature,' and self-communion in primeval forests. These in- llucnces first revealed Chateaubriand to himself, and were revealed in all his future work, but most brilliantly in Les Xatchez, planned about this time, though unpublished for thirty years, and in the stories that originally were connected witli it: the epoch-making Atala (1801); and Rem- (1802). The excesses of the Revolution modified Cliateaut)riand's zeal for political re- form, and on liis return to Europe (1792) after a hasty and uidiappy marriage, of his parents' making, he cast his lot with the army of the emigrés. He was wounded at the siege of Thionville (September. 1792), and sufl"ering and in want he went in 179.3 to England, where he sup- ported himself for several years by literary work, and wrote the pessimistic and skeptical Essai siir Irs revolutions (1797). Here, too, he el.ibo- rated Atala, Rcnf, and Les Natchez, inspired partly by Rousseau's Emile, partly by Saint Pierre's Payil et Yirpinie. These show a marked change in Chateaubriand's religious attitude, attributed by him to the death of his mother (1798).
That France was ready for a (Christian and idealistic reaction the Concordat (July 15. 1801) was about to prove. Returning to France in 1800. he struck a not<> that set all hearts vibrat- ing. Atala was immediately and universally popular. It roused a dormant spirit of romantic idealism, and, in the mental state that it dis- closed, anticipated much in Lamartine and Hugo. The eloquent descriptions of nature showed rare powers of minute observation. Chateaubriand innnediately took the leading place in French letters and retained it unquestioned till the ap- pearance of Lamartine's Mcditntions (1820). JjP fit'nie dtt Christ iaitisme (1802), a brilliant piece of special pleading, suggests that a-sthetic rather than moral interests drew Chateaubriand to the Church. At bottom he was still a pessi- mist and a skeptic, though perhaps as sincere as he could be, for neither rational nor logical consistency was a dominant cliaracteristic in him. The author of the Gfyric. and its readers also, were less interested to find that Christianity is true than that it is sentimentally poetic, pathetic, and aesthetic.
Chateaubriand, whose apotheosis of Christi- anity fell in with Napoleon's plans at this time, received a diplomatic post in Rome (180.3). He was involved in intrigtics, was transferred to Switzorhind. and on the execution of the Due d Enghien (1804) resigned and began a cam- paign of criticism against Napoleon, who, he said, "made the world tremble, but me — never." In 1800 lie started on an extensive t«ur in the East, visiting (;reec>e, Turkey, Asia Minor, Pales- tine, Tunis, an<l Spain. He embodied his impres- sions in Lts martyrs (1809), a prose epic of rising Christianity and sinking paganism; in Les areiitures du dernier des Abencerayes ( 1820) , a Moorish story, and in Itini-raire de Paris a Jerusalem (1811), all showing "opulence of imagination and poverty of heart," The fall of Napoleon evoked De Buonaparte et des Hourbons (1814), which, according to Louis XVIII., was worth 100,000 men to the Legitimist cause. The work brought its author several diplomatic ap- pointments, which he resigned in order to be free to oppose ministries that displeiised him, until toward 1830 he seemed temling to lilieralism. The OrU'anist trium])h brought him back promptly to the lost cause, Chateaubriand now sank into a discouraged silence. He translated Paradise Lost (1830), wrote a Vie de Ranee, the ascetic (1844), and revised and completed his Mihnoires d'outre-tombe, published a little pre- maturely, just before his death (1848), and translated (1902). This is a work of some his- toric interest, great eloquence, remarkable prejvi- dices, and uniciue self-conceit — "Rene with docu- mentary evidence." as it has been wittily called. For Chateaubriand is his own Ren6, and in Kett^ lies his literary significance.
René and Atala mark the beginning of the Romantic School. They are to France what Goethe's Werther is to Germany, the germ of the so-called maladie du siecle, a dilettant, morbid, introspective pessimism that was to infect Senancour, Lamartine, Vigny, Musset, and the youthful work of Sainte-Beuve, Dumas, and George Sand. It can be traced also, masked by stronger powers, in Hugo and in Byron. This moral influence, the helpfulness of which has been questioned, was accompanied by very great .services to art. Chateaubriand was the first in France to draw att^'ntion to the literary resources of the Middle Ages and Christian antiquity. He was a renovator in imaginaticm. criticism, history, and the founder of the new descriptive school of idealization and personification of nature, and thus as much the father of Loti as of Thierry and Michelet. He made literature national in aspiration. Christian in spirit; he persuaded his generation to break with the imitiition of imitation that had sapped the literarj' life of the Eighteenth C«ntury. His style left its mark on poetry, history, fiction, on the very language. His effect on morals and religion has been considered morbid and t.ransit«rj-. In literary art he marks an era. ChAteaubriand's works were edited by Sainte-Beuve (18.59-00). Consult also: Sainte-Beuve. Chateaubriand et son groupe littiraire (Paris. 1800); Vinet, Madame de Stai'l et Chateaubriand (Paris, 1857); Villemain, Chateaubriand, sa vie, ses Merits et son influenee (Paris, 1859); Danielo, Les Conversations de Chateaubriand (Paris, 1804): Bornier, Eloqe de Chateaubriand (Paris, 1804); France, Lueile df Chateaubriand (Paris, 1879): Bardoux, Chateaubriand (Paris, 1893); Faguet, //C A'/-Y. sifele (Paris, 1887): Lescure. Chateaubriand (Paris, 1892); PailhPs, Chateaubriand, sa femme et ses amis (Bordeaux, 189G); Maurel, Kssai sur Chateaubriand (Paris, 1899); liertrin. La siiiccritc rcliyiciise dv I'hutcaiibriiiiid (1901), and Bruiieti&re, Evolution de la jMtsic li/riiiue. Vol. 1. ( I'uris. 1S94) : and Evolution des genres, Vol. 1. (Paris. 1898) ; Metnoires d'oulre-tombe, trans, by Teixeira de Jlaltos (U vols.. Xew Viirk and London, 1902).