“Can you conceive all my unhappiness?”

The memoirs of Chateaubriand contain two letters from Murat–then under a sort of house-arrest near Toulon while Napoleon marched off to his final defeat at Waterloo–written to a woman whose name is not provided. Biographer Hubert Cole gives her name in The Betrayers as one Madame de Civrieux, whom he describes as Murat’s “close friend and probably his mistress.” (Cole, page 243) Chateaubriand describes her merely as “a generous and beautiful woman” who stayed in Paris with Juliette Récamier during “times of misfortune.” The following letters from Murat were among the papers she left behind. 

Source: François René de Chateaubriand, The Memoirs of François René Vicomte de Chateaubriand, Vol IV, 1902 edition; pages 194-6.

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6 June 1815

I have lost the fairest existence for France’s sake; I have fought for the Emperor; it is for his cause that my wife and my children are in captivity. The country is in danger, I offer my services; they put off accepting them. I know not if I am free or a prisoner. I must needs be involved in the Emperor’s ruin if he falls, and they deprive me of the means of serving him and serving my own cause. I ask their reasons; they reply obscurely and I am unable clearly to establish my position. At one time I cannot go to Paris, where my presence would injure the Emperor, and I must not join the army, where my presence would too much attract the attention fo the soldiers. What am I to do? Wait: that is what they reply. On the other hand, I am told that I am not forgiven for having abandoned the Emperor last year, whereas letters from Paris said, when I was recently fighting for France, ‘Every one here is delighted with the King.‘ The Emperor wrote to me, ‘I rely on you, do you rely on me, I shall never abandon you.‘ King Joseph wrote to me, ‘The Emperor orders me to write to you to move rapidly upon the Alps.‘ And when, on arriving, I display generous sentiments and offer to fight for France, I am sent into the Alps. Not a word of consolation is addressed to one who never did him any other wrong than to rely too greatly on generous sentiments which he never entertained for me.

My friend, I come to ask you to inform me of the opinion of France and the army regarding me. A man must know how to endure all and my courage will make me rise superior to every misfortune. All is lost save honour; I have lost the throne, but I have preserved my glory; I have been abandoned by my soldiers, who were victorious in every fight, but I have never been beaten. The desertion of twenty thousand men placed me at the mercy of my enemies; a fisher’s bark saved me from captivity, and a merchant ship cast me in three days on the coasts of France.

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Near Toulon, 18 June 1815

I have just received your letter. I cannot describe to you the different sensations which it made me experience. I have been able for a moment to forget my misfortunes. I am occupied only with my friend, whose noble and generous soul comes to console me and show me its sorrow. Reassure yourself: all is lost, but honour remains; my glory will survive all my misfortunes, and my courage will be able to make me rise superior to all the rigours of my destiny: have no fear on that score. I have lost my throne and my family unmoved; but ingratitude has revolted me. I have lost all for France, for her Emperor, by his order, and to-day he makes it a crime in me to have done so. He refuses me permission to fight and revenge myself, and I am not free to choose my own retreat: can you conceive all my unhappiness? What can I do? What decision can I take? I am a Frenchman and a father: as a Frenchman, I must serve my country; as a father, I must go to share my children’s lot: honour lays upon me the duty of fighting and nature tells me that I must belong to my children. Which am I to obey? Cannot I satisfy both? Shall I be allowed to listen to either? Already the Emperor refuses me armies; and will Austria grant me the means to go to join my children? Shall I ask them of her, I who have never been willing to treat with her ministers? There is my situation: give me advice. I shall await your reply, the Duc d’Otrante’s and Lucien’s, before taking a determination. Consult opinion well as to what it is thought right for me to do, for I am free in the choice of my retreat*; they are returning to the past and making it a crime in me to have, by order, lost my throne, when my family is languishing in captivity. Advise me; listen to the voice of honour, to that of nature, and, as an impartial judge, have the courage to write to me what I am to do. I shall await your reply on the road between Marseilles and Lyons.

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*note that earlier in this letter, Murat had said he was not free to choose his retreat; I’m not sure what to attribute this seeming contradiction to other than probably the chaotic state of Murat’s mind as he’s struggling to deal with this increasingly unbearable situation.

2 thoughts on ““Can you conceive all my unhappiness?”

    1. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be a record of her response. Then again, given that Murat wrote the second letter on the day of Waterloo, it’s likely Murat wasn’t around to receive it by the time it came, not that it would’ve really mattered at that point.

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