Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

François-René de Chateaubriand, fully François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand

French Writer, Statesman, Politician and Historian

"As long as the heart preserves desire, the mind preserves illusions."

"Atheism can benefit no class of people; neither the unfortunate, whom it bereaves of hope, nor the prosperous, whose joys it renders insipid, nor the soldier, of whom it makes a coward, nor the woman whose beauty and sensibility it mars, nor the mother, who has a son to lose, nor the rulers of men, who have no surer pledge of the fidelity of their subjects than religion."

"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."

"Let us not disdain glory too much - nothing is finer except virtue. The height of happiness would be to unite both in this life."

"Taste is the good sense of genius; without taste genius is only sublime folly."

"There is no religion without mystery. God Himself is the great secret of Nature."

"Music is the child of prayer, the companion of religion."

"Men are ready to believe everything when they believe nothing."

"The morning of life is like the dawn of a day, full of purity, of imagery, and harmony."

"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."

"A weakness natural to superior and to little men, when they have committed a fault, is to wish to make it pass as a work of genius, a vast combination which the vulgar cannot comprehend. Pride says these things and folly credits them."

"A moral character is attached to autumnal scenes. - The flowers fading like our hopes, the leaves falling like our years, the clouds fleeting like our illusions, the light diminishing like our intelligence, the sun growing colder like our affections, the rivers becoming frozen like our lives - all bear secret relations to our destinies."

"Achilles exists only through Homer. Take away the art of writing from this world, and you will probably take away its glory."

"An original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate."

"Are you angry? Look at the child who has erred, he suspects no trouble, he dreams of no harm; you will borrow something of that innocence, you will feel appeased."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"Genius creates, and taste preserves. Taste is the good sense of genius without taste, genius is only sublime folly."

"Forests were the first temples of the Divinity, and it is in the forests that men have grasped the first idea of architecture."

"Every institution goes through three stages — utility, privilege, and abuse."

"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."

"I wept, and I believed."

"Grecian history is a poem; Latin history, a picture; modern history a chronicle."

"I have borne the musket of a soldier, the traveler’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."

"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."

"I am Bourbon as a matter of honor, royalist according to reason and conviction, and republican by taste and character."

"Meanwhile the globe begins to tremble on its axis; the moon is covered with a bloody veil, the threatening stars hang half detached from the vault of heaven, and the agony of the world commences. Then, all at once, the fatal hour strikes; God suspends the movements of the creation, and the earth has passed away like an exhausted river. Now resounds the trumpet of the angel of judgment; and the cry is heard, Arise, ye dead! The sepulchres burst open with a terrific noise, the human race issues all at once from the tomb, and the assembled multitudes fill the valley of Jehoshaphat. Behold, the Son of Man appears in the clouds; the powers of hell ascend from the depths of the abyss to witness the last judgment pronounced upon the ages; the goats are separated from the sheep, the wicked are plunged into the gulf, the just ascend triumphantly to heaven, God returns to His repose, and the reign of eternity commences."

"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."

"My downfall made a great noise: those who appeared most satisfied criticized the manner of it."

"One can never be the judge of another's grief. That which is a sorrow to one, to another is joy. Let us not dispute with any one concerning the reality of his sufferings; it is with sorrows as with countries - each man has his own."

"It is genius that brings into being, and it is taste that preserves. Without taste genius is nought but sublime folly."

"It is with sorrows, as with countries, each man has his own."

"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."

"It is necessary to repent for years in order to efface a fault in the eyes of men; a single tear suffices with God."

"One does not learn how to die by killing others."

"One is not superior merely because one sees the world in an odious light."

"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."

"Religion assures us that our afflictions shall have an end; she comforts us, she dries our tears, she promises us another life. On the contrary, in the abominable worship of atheism, human woes are the incense, death is the priest, a coffin the altar, and annihilation the Deity."

"Take away the art of writing from this world, and you will probably take away its glory."

"The Grecian history is a poem, Latin history a picture, modern history a chronicle."

"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."

"Justice is the bread of the nation it is always hungry for it."

"The original style is not the style which never borrows of any one, but that which no other person is capable of reproducing."

"The original writer is not he who refrains from imitating others, but he who can be imitated by none."

"There is virtue in the look of a great man [after meeting Washington]. I felt myself warmed and refreshed by it during the rest of my life."

"The most disastrous times have produced the greatest minds. The purest metal comes of the most ardent furnace the most brilliant lightning come of the darkest clouds."

"The heart is like the tree that given balm for the wounds of man only when the iron has pierced it."

"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 civilization; his fame has risen like one of those public sanctuaries where a fecund and inexhaustible spring flows."

"There are two things which grow stronger in the breast of man, in proportion as he advances in years: the love of country and religion. Let them be never so much forgotten in youth, they sooner or later present themselves to us arrayed in all their charms, and excite in the recesses of our hearts an attachment justly due to their beauty."