The Lemoine Affair by Chateaubriand

   At that time in Paris there was a poor devil by the name of Lemoine who thought he had discovered how to manufacture diamonds. If he was harbouring an illusion, was he so different in that from the rest of mankind? He came to confide his chimera to me, I stopped myself from smiling; I have my own, and when the vain clamour that clings to my name has died down, will they be worth any more than his? He placed himself under my protection. He wanted, he told me, to lay his treasure at the feet of my glory, as if the one had been no less imaginary than the other. I do not bring good luck to those who come to me. Fortune has never smiled on me. Lemoine failed in his enterprise. He was arrested, then convicted. His crime was that he had pursued wealth. That has been the way of all men since the world began. He found the means to escape and has lived in poverty for a long time. If he had cast the diamond back into the waves, would he have been happier? I have always scorned riches, I have often desired them, sometimes they have come to me; faithful in this to the motto of my old Laconie, I have never known how to hold on to them. In England, where I lived as a poor student, I returned, in the State coaches of Her Britannic Majesty, as the ambassador of Charles X and now, importunate to my kings, as the vain clamour of my glory pursues fruitlessly on the routes to exile, not having anything but the glass of pure water that the bard of the Revolution offers me to quench my lips, I live among Mme de Chateaubriand's poor, having nothing for a pillow, as I said in Atala, but the stone of my tomb. Once again I was obliged to pawn it to the libraries. If, more adroit than Lemoine, I had known how to make diamonds, I would die poor like him. Perhaps my name at least would have the good fortune to last. Men care nothing for the glory of literature, but they do have a need for fortune. Had I known how to give it to them, when people no longer know anything about my books, they would still remember me.


From an unpublished manuscript in Proust's notebooks, written c. Dec 1908.

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