Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER I.: RAILROAD FROM LONDON TO PARIS. - Society, Manners and Politics in the United States
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LETTER I.: RAILROAD FROM LONDON TO PARIS. - Michel Chevalier, Society, Manners and Politics in the United States 
Society, Manners and Politics in the United States: Being a Series of Letters on North America, translated from the third Paris edition (Boston: Weeks, Jordan & Co., 1839).
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RAILROAD FROM LONDON TO PARIS.
London, Nov. 1, 1833.
While railroads are talked of at Paris, they are made here. That from London to Birmingham is already begun; it will be 112 miles in length, and all the stock, to the amount of 12,000,000 dollars, has been taken up by subscription; this road will be continued by another of nearly the same length, from Birmingham to Liverpool, and in five years Liverpool and London will be only eight hours apart. Whilst the English capitalists are executing these great undertakings, the Parisian capitalists look on, but do not stir; they do not even form projects. Not one of them seems to have seriously considered, that even in the present state of things, there is more than twice the number of travellers between Paris and Versailles, than between Liverpool and Manchester, although the railroad between the last named places has been opened three years. In London, therefore, they count little upon the aid of French capitalists in the construction of a railroad from that city to Paris; they desire it, they would be glad to be able to go from one capital to the other in fifteen hours, and at trifling expense; all classes are delighted with the idea of such a thing. But they feel that such a work is neither expedient nor feasible, without the joint action of both nations; and as they dare not hope for the co-operation of France, little is said about it as a serious affair.
Among all the acquisitions, which, since the end of the last century, have enriched the domain of science, none has opened a wider field than Volta’s discoveries relative to the motion of electricity, and its development by contact. The phenomena resulting from the two poles of the Voltaic battery offer an inexhaustible mine to the physical philosopher; there is no fact in science more general in its nature, for if any two bodies whatsoever touch each other, they form at once, by their mutual action and reaction, a Voltaic pile of greater or less energy. This physical fact has its counterpart in the moral order of things; if you bring together two men who have hitherto been separated from each other, in however slight a degree they may have any striking quality, their friction will certainly produce a spark. If instead of two men, the two poles of your battery are two nations, the result is greater in the proportion of a nation to an individual. If these two nations are England and France, that is to say, the two most enlightened and most powerful people in the world, this sort of Voltaic phenomenon then acquires a prodigious intensity; it involves nothing less than the safety of an old or the creation of a new civilization.
The predominant qualities, good or bad, of France and England, may be arranged in a series of parallels, the corresponding terms in each of which will be complements of each other. England is pre-eminent in affairs, and the qualities which belong to them, coolness, economy, precision, method, perseverance; taste and genius for the fine arts, with the enthusiasm, the recklessness, the caprice, the irregular habits, the wastefulness, at least in time and words, which characterise the artist, have fallen to the lot of France. On one side, is reason, cautious and sober, but sure-footed, good sense, creeping along the ground; on the other, imagination with her brilliant audacity, but also with her ignorance of things and method, her starts and trips. Here, an admirable energy in struggling against nature and metamorphosing the physical features of the globe; there, an unequalled intellectual activity, and the gift of warming the heart of mankind with its fires. In England, treasures of industry and heaps of gold; in France, treasures of thought, wells of science, torrents of inspiration. In proud Albion, staid, but cheerless manners, reserve pushed to a chilling excess; in our fair France, easiness of manners carried to licentiousness, the old Gaulish gaiety, often savoring somewhat of the camp, a something of the free and easy bordering on the promiscuous (un sans-façon expansif qui frise la promiscuité). On both sides a large dose of pride; among our neighbors, a calculating, ambitious pride; the pride of the statesman and the merchant, which feeds only on power and wealth; which for the country desires conquests, vast colonies, all the Gibraltars and St Helenas, eagle’s nests by which all seas and all shores are commanded; and which for oneself pants for riches, an aristocratic park, a seat in the House of Lords, a tomb in Westminster Abbey. Amongst us, a vain-glorious pride, which longs for the unreal, for ideal pleasures; a thirst after applause for self, after glory for our country; a pride, which, for France, would be satisfied with the admiration of the world, for self, with castles in the air, a ribband, an epaulet, a line of Béranger as a funeral oration; the pride of the actor on the stage, of the knight in the lists. On the north of the Channel, prevail religion and positive faith; on the south, scepticism, mingled with enthusiasm. There a deep sentiment of order and respect for rank, combined with a haughty feeling of the dignity of man; here, a people eager for equality, excitable, restless, turbulent, yet docile, often even to weakness, confiding, even to credulity, easily cajoled by its flatterers, submitting to be trampled under foot like a carcase, during the period of its lethargy, and at times given over to the most courtier-like obsequiousness. Among the English the reverence for tradition, among the French the passion for novelty, predominates; among the former respect for the law, and obedience to man, on condition that his supreme rule shall be the law; among the latter, the worship of great men, and submission to the laws if they are defended by the sword of Cæsar. On one side the ruler of the seas, on the other the arbiter of the continent, rousing the world at their pleasure, the one by its lever of gold, the other by the sound of its voice alone. Surely from the reciprocal influences of two nations thus constituted and thus situated on the globe, the most important effects should result, not only on the general cause of civilization, but on their own mutual improvement.
The industrial development is not, indeed, the development of the whole man, but since the beginning of the nineteenth century, no people can be allowed to reckon itself in the first rank of nations, if it is not advanced in the industrial career, if it cannot labor and produce. No people will be powerful that is not rich, and there is now no other way of growing rich but by work. In regard to production and labor, we have much to learn from England, and it is a lesson which is to be learned by the eyes rather than by the ears, by observation better than by reading. If, then, there were a railroad between London and Paris, the French, who have now little knowledge of business, would go to London, where the instinct of method is in the blood, to learn. Our speculators would go to see how simply, promptly, and plainly great enterprises are carried on; our shop-keepers and buyers have to learn from England that to overcharge and to haggle have no connexion with buying and selling advantageously; our capitalists and merchants, that there can be no durable commercial prosperity nor security for capital, where there is no system of credit; they would see the operations of the Bank of England with its branches and the private banks, and perhaps they might be incited to bring home, with the needful modification, institutions and practices so profitable at once to the share holders and to the public. They would here imbibe the spirit of association, which in London sweats at every pore.* All of us might here see in what consists and how is realised, that comfort, that care of the person, so essential to the peace and quiet of one’s life, and Paris might perhaps be led to free itself from the filth of centuries, which formerly gave it its name, and against which eighteen hundred years later, Voltaire, whom the ancient monarchy and the faith of our fathers could not withstand, warred in vain. As we are full of self-love, we should return from England ashamed of the wretched state of our agriculture, our roads, and our elementary schools, humbled at the insignificance of our foreign commerce, and solicitous to vie with our neighbors. I need not stop to point out what the English might come to seek among us, they are already converts in this matter, they swarm in Paris, while it would be easy to count up the Frenchmen who have been in London. Without saying what the English would get in Paris, I may affirm that they would leave plenty of sovereigns there. To Paris, the city of pleasures, the terrestrial paradise of strangers, the railroad would be a gold mine, and the English, getting familiar with France, would find profitable investments for their capital among us, which would give life and energy to useful enterprises.
The railroad from London to Paris would be a commercial enterprise of the first importance; it would also be a political instrument, a strong bond of union between England and France. But it is more especially as a means of education, that it should be most highly recommended, for there is no fear that the other points of view will be overlooked. The industrial arts, I said before, are learned chiefly through the eyes; this is particularly true in regard to the operatives, for in them, owing to their manner of life, the world of sensation prevails over the world of ideas. Now the progress of the mechanical arts depends not less on the workmen than on the foremen and superintendents of the works; it would be expedient, therefore, to send a certain number of picked operatives to pass a suitable time in England, just as the Board of Public Works (Ponts et Chaussées) is now in the habit of sending a few engineers thither. The railroad, by reducing the expense and trouble of the journey, would probably furnish an opportunity of despatching companies of artisans selected from among those most worthy of the privilege. According to the plan of a merchant of Lyons, a very sensible man, this might be done on a large scale and at Little expense; and he further proposed a system of reciprocity, by which English workmen should be employed in France and French operatives in England. It is not impossible that this project may one day be made the basis of a new law, designed to further the views of our excellent law of primary education; but the railroad between London and Paris must first be constructed.
Of the small number of Frenchmen who have visited England,* very few have been led by motives of business. Most have undertaken the voyage from vague feelings of curiosity, or merely for pleasure; and the objects of their notice have been the picturesque, the poetical. They have visited the Gothic ruins of the monasteries and castles, the cave of Fingal, and the lakes of Scotland, admired the costume of the Highlanders, the horses and jockeys of the great lords, and the blooming complexion of the women. They have walked through one or two parks, visited the hot-houses where all the plants of the world are collected, braving, behind the glass, the cloudy sky of Great Britain. They have been through the dockyards and military arsenals, when they could get leave, under the escort of a sergeant, seen the young beauties of Almacks and the old curiosities of the Tower, and travelled over England, just as they would make the tour of Italy or Switzerland. If the subject of industry has occupied their attention a moment, it is only in reference to the fashion of some opera decoration. They have, to be sure, stood amazed at the thousands of vessels whose masts stretch out of sight along the Thames or in the docks;* they have been delighted with the extent of the great manufacturing towns, the magnitude of the manufactories, and the height of their chimneys, with the magical brilliancy of the gas-lights, with the daring bridges of stone or iron, and with the fantastical appearance of the forgefires in the night. But they have never asked, how came England to have such a vast number of ships, how has she multiplied and extended her manufactures to such an amazing degree, and how created these towns, so simple in their architecture, but so fastidiously neat in their spacious streets; they have not thought to ask the causes of all this wealth and prosperity.
Yet he who expects to return satisfied from England should visit her as the Queen of industry; he should see the city rather than Regent’s Park, the East India House rather than Windsor Castle, seek out the Bank before St. Paul’s, the Clearing House before Somerset House, take more interest in the docks and Commercial House, than in the armor preserved in the Tower. He should go to the warehouses, the counting-houses, the workshops, in pursuit of the genius of Great Britain. He must tear himself from the magnificent hospitality of the English country seats, and give up his time to the mines and the forges, which furnish industry with its daily bread, its coal and iron. (Notes 1 and 2 at the end of the volume.) He must mingle with the stout and active workmen, quite as much as with the more refined society in the saloons of the nobility. For myself, I have found nothing in London which has struck me as more original, and given me greater pleasure, than a shop in Old Change, whose ware-rooms contain twenty times as many goods as the largest warehouse in Paris, and whose business transactions amount to two millions sterling a year, and the great brewery of Barclay, Perkins & Co. near London Bridge, the order and arrangement of which are still more striking than its vast extent.
As I stood is this brewery, on a floor on which, distributed in different rooms, there were ninetynine vats, some of them holding 500,000 or 600,000 bottles, I thought of the famous Heidelberg tun which I had seen some years ago. It is the only object in a tolerable state of preservation in the delicious chateau of the Palatine counts, and it is faithfully visited by all travellers who go to see that fine ruin, perhaps the finest relic of the feudal times. What a difference now between the old chateau of Heidelberg with its tun, and the colossal establishment of the English brewer with its regiment of tuns! The old castle crumbles to pieces; the rich Gothic sculptures are wearing away. In vain has a French artist (and, strange coincidence! that artist himself another relic of the feudal age, an émigré, who with a praiseworthy zeal has been for a long time the self-constituted guardian of this fine old monument,) in vain has he urged the government of Baden, to whom the castle belongs, to take some measures for its preservation. Each year some new dilapidation is caused by the frosts of winter and the storms of autumn; the old chateau will soon become a shapeless mass, the very stones will probably be sold, and nothing will remain, but the drawings of M. de Graimbert, to show what it has been. The Knights’ Hall is stripped of its roof—the arches, which support the superb terrace whence the eye wanders over the lovely vale of the Neckar and its beautiful heights,—those arches, rent by the powder of Louvois,—will some day sink. Meanwhile, the brewery is enriched one day with a new building, and the next with a new steam-engine; and in case of any damage by fire, as recently happened, the loss is immediately repaired; in the place of the building destroyed by the flames, rises one more splendid, in which the free use of iron will be a protection against new ravages.
The statues of the Palatine electors are overthrown in their niches; no son of their vassals will set them up again; but at the brewery everything is in perfect order; each tool hangs on its nail, each kettle is kept well-rubbed and bright. The stables of the noble prince are a heap of ruins; in the stables of the brewer, rivalling those of Chantilly, where the great Condé entertained kings, one hundred and fifty horses, fit steeds for Goliah, are objects of as careful attention, as those, perhaps, which surrounded the persons of the first Electors and their gallant knights The old tun has been empty for a century and a half; the curious may enter it, and take its measure; once only has M. de Graimbert seen it spout wine; it was in 1813, in honour of the emperor Alexander and his allies, the sovereigns of Austria and Prussia. Even then it was only a pious fraud, the old tun was not full, the wine flowed from a base barrel which had been stuck in it the night before. The ninetynine vats of Barclay, Perkins & Co. are always full of beer; that which is daily drawn off, and sent all over the United Kingdom and North America, and finds its way even to the East Indies, would fill the classical tun of the Palatine Casimir.* The secret of this contrast may easily be explained; the great feudal tun could only be filled by the produce of the feudal impositions, whilst the vats of the brewery are filled by the voluntary co-operation of three hundred men, sure of gathering daily the fruits of their industry; the Heidelberg tun was emptied only to administer to the pleasures of the prince or his favorites, while the vats of the brewer quench the thirst of a numerous population, which works hard, receives good pay, and pays its providers well.
The silence and desolation of the old castle, contrasted with the bustle and prosperity of the English brewery, are a striking emblem of the feudal system compared with the modern power of peace and creative industry. All nations, in proportion as they have the power to change the warlike qualities of the feudal age into the useful qualities of the labourer, or as they want the capacity thus to re-cast themselves, may read their own destiny, either in the state of the flourishing manufactory, or in that of the deserted and crumbling castle. Happy the people, who, like France and England, have had strength to shake off the past, and who, in the quiet enjoyment of their liberties, have only to concern themselves about the future! Woe to that people, which will not, or cannot, tear itself away from the past! That people is worn out; it will die of consumption, and will leave behind nothing but ruins, poetical, perhaps, but still none the less ruins, that is, death and desolation: unless indeed a new blood be infused into its veins, or in other words, unless it be conquered like unhappy Poland.
[* ] Thus the London merchants dispense with the care, trouble, and expense of a money-chest on their own premises, and all money operations are transacted by a small number of bankers at the Clearing House. The amount of these transactions often rises to fifteen millions sterling [a day], independently of those which are not strictly commercial, and of those of the retailers, which do not pass through the hands of bankers. See Babbage’s Economy of Machinery.
[* ] The whole number of passengers to and from Calais, through which most of the travellers between England and France pass, is only about forty thousand yearly. This is not more than the number passing between Havre and New York.
[* ] It is estimated that 25,000 vessels enter the port of London yearly.
[* ] 50,000 gallons.
[Note 1—page 26.]Use of Iron.
One must go to England to appreciate the value of iron, the scarcity of wood having obliged the English to apply it to a great number of purposes to which no one on the continent would dream of its being applicable. At every step and under all forms, you meet with cast-iron, bar-iron, sheet-iron, and steel; machines, piles, columns of all dimensions from two inches to four feet in diameter, water-pipes and gas-pipes, posts, grates, bridges, roofs, floors, whole quays and roads. of iron. But for it, those light and airy structures, so slender in appearance, yet supporting such enormous weights, the huge six story warehouses of St Catharine’s docks for instance, would be heavy and gloomy dungeons. The gas which comes from a distance of seven or eight miles, is made and brought in by the aid of iron. Those bridges, springing as it were across the water, those graceful and elegant footways across the canals, as well as the fluted columns of Regent’s Street, are of iron, cast or wrought. The quantity of pig-iron annually produced in Great Britain and Ireland, is about 800,000 tons; in France it amounted in 1834 to 269,000 tons, beside 177,000 tons of bar iron. The ordinary price of both kinds with us is about double the price in England.
Until the present day, stone has been almost the only material employed in durable works of architecture; but stone having much less cohesive force than iron, is only suited to the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman styles of architecture. The light and airy architecture of the Middle Ages, requires a material possessing great strength in a small compass, such as the metals; and some attempts have already been made in France and Germany to apply cast-iron to the construction of Gothic structures. Stone has already done all that it is capable of doing, and we can have nothing new in architecture, except by means of new materials. In my opinion, iron is to be the instrument of this regeneration of the architectural art. The price of pig-iron is now so low, that the cost of a building of this material, would not exceed that of one constructed of hewn stone.
[Note 2—page 26.]Quantity of Coal mined in France, England, and Belgium.
Mr McCulloch, in his Dictionary of Commerce estimates the quantity of coal annually mined in England to amount to 16,000,000 tons.* The extensive inquiries of M. Le Play, who has carefully examined all the English coal-fields, have led him to estimate it much higher; it does not, probably, fall short of 30,000,000 tons, of which 5,000,000 are consumed in the iron manufacture. Mr McCulloch estimates the amount of capital employed in the coal-trade at 10,000,000 pounds, and the number of persons engaged in it at from 160,000 to 180,000. Other estimates carry this last number to 206,000, of whom 121,000 work in the mines.
In France 2,500,000 tons of coal were raised in 1834, and about 18,000 persons were employed in the mines. France also imports coal from Belgium and England. Next to England, Belgium furnishes the largest quantity of coal; the three great coal-fields of Mons, Charleroi, and Liege with some smaller basins, yielding about 3,200,000 tons annually.
[* ] In a later work (Statistics of the British Empire, 1839), Mr McCulloch estimates it at 26,188,000 tons.—Transl.