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(1840-1844) 21.: Letter to Félix Coudroy 38 - Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics, translated from the French by Jane and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Jacques de Guenin and Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation editor Dennis O’Keeffe (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011).
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Letter to Félix Coudroy38
Bayonne, 16 June 1840
[vol. 1, p. 29]
My dear Félix, I am still about to leave; we have booked our seats three times already and finally they have been booked and paid for Friday. We have been out of luck, for when we were ready, the Carlist General Balmaceda blocked the roads and it is to be feared that we will have difficulty in getting through. But you must not say anything so as not to worry my aunt, who is already only too ready to fear the Spanish. For my part, I find that the business that is propelling us toward Madrid is worth taking a few risks for. Up to now, it has shown itself in a very favorable light. We would find the capital required here if we limited ourselves above all to founding just a Spanish company.39 Will we be stopped by the sluggishness of this nation? In this case, I will have to bear my traveling costs and will be compensated by the pleasure of having seen at close quarters a people whose qualities and faults distinguish it from all the others.
If I note anything of interest, I will take care to keep it in my wallet to let you know.
Farewell, my dear Félix.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Madrid, 6 July 1840
[vol. 1, p. 29]
My dear Félix, I have received your letter of the 6th. From what you tell me of my dear aunt, I see that for the moment she is in good health but she has been somewhat unwell; for me that is the reverse side of the coin. Madrid today is a theater that is perhaps unique in the world, which Spanish laziness and lack of interest are handing over to foreigners who, like me, have some knowledge of the customs and language of the country. I am certain that I could do excellent business here, but the idea of being away from my aunt at an age when her health is starting to become delicate, prevents me from thinking of announcing my exile.
Since I have set foot in this singular country, I have meant to write to you a hundred times. But you will excuse me for not having had the energy to do this when you learn that we devote the morning to business, the evening to an essential walk, and the day to sleeping and gasping under the weight of heat that is uncomfortable more because it is continuous than by reason of its intensity. I have forgotten what clouds look like, since the sky is perfectly clear and the sun fierce. You can rest assured, my dear Félix, that it is not through negligence that I have delayed writing to you, but I am really not suited to this climate and I begin to regret that we did not postpone our departure by two months. . . .
I am surprised that the aim of my trip is still a secret in Mugron. It is no longer one in Bayonne and, before my departure, I wrote about it to Domenger to commit him to taking an interest in our business. It is really excellent, but will we succeed in founding it? I cannot yet say; the bankers in Madrid are a thousand miles away from organized opposition and any idea imported from abroad is welcomed by them with suspicion. They are also very difficult on questions relating to people, with each one saying to you, “I am taking no part in the business if such and such a house is taking part.” The fact is, they earn so much money with supplies, loans, monopolies, etc., that they do not bother much with anything else. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome, and it is all the more difficult because they do not give you the opportunity of seeing them in more relaxed surroundings. Their houses are as barricaded as fortresses. We have found two classes of bankers here; the first, Spaniards of old families, are the most difficult to persuade, but they are also the ones who can give the most consistent support to the enterprise. The others, who are bolder and more European, are more approachable but have less standing. They form the old and new Spain. We had to choose and have knocked on the door of pure Spain, and I fear that it will refuse and that, in addition, by this very act, we will have the door of modern Spain slammed in our faces. We will abandon the quest only when we have exhausted all the means to success and we have reason to believe that the solution will not be long in coming.
This business and the heat are so absorbing me that I really do not have the energy to apply my powers of observation to anything else. I am not taking any notes, in spite of the fact that I am not short of subjects. I am in a position to see how things work and, if I had the strength and talent to write, I think I would be able to write letters as interesting as those of Custine40 and perhaps more true to life.
To give you an idea of how easy I would find it to live here, apart from the business being done and in which I might take part, I have been given an opportunity of involving myself in court proceedings taken by Italian houses against the Spanish nobility, which would give me enough to live on without undertaking other work, but the thought of my aunt has made me reject this offer. It smiled on me as being a way of prolonging my stay and studying this theater, but my duty obliges me to refuse it.
My friend, I very much fear that Catholicism will suffer the same fate here as in France. There is nothing more beautiful, dignified, solemn, and imposing than religious ceremonies in Spain, but other than that I cannot see in what respect this people is more spiritual than others. This is, moreover, a subject we will discuss at length on my return, when I have had the opportunity of observing it better.
Farewell, my dear Félix, please visit my aunt and give her my news. I assure you of my deepest friendship.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Madrid, 16 July 1840
[vol. 1, p. 32]
My dear Félix, I thank you for your fine letters dated 1st and 6th July; my aunt also took the trouble to write to me so that, up to now, I have received news often and I need it. I cannot say that I am bored, but I am so unused to living far from home that I am happy only on the days I receive letters.
You are doubtless curious to know where we are with our insurance company. I am now almost certain that we will succeed. A great deal of time is necessary to win over the Spaniards whose names we need, and then much more is required to operate such a huge machine with inexperienced people. But I am convinced that we will reach our goal. The share that Soustra and I should be having in the profits, as the founders, has not been settled. It is a delicate matter to which we are not referring, since neither of us is very bold in this connection. This being so, we will defer to the decision of the Board of Directors. For me, this will be a subject on which to gain experience and make observations. Let us see whether the Spanish, who are so suspicious, so reserved, and so unapproachable, are honest and great when they know people. Apart from this matter, our business is progressing slowly but surely. Right now, we have the key to the whole matter, nine names from which to form a board, and names that are so well known and honorable that it seems impossible that anyone will think of competing with us. This evening there will be a meeting to examine the statutes and conditions and I hope that at the first round the company’s articles of association will be signed. When this is done, perhaps I will return to France to see my aunt and attend the session of the General Council. If I can do this at all, I will. But I will then have to return to Spain, because the company will give me the opportunity to make a complete journey free of charge. Up to now, I cannot say that I have traveled much. With my two companions, I have not entered a single Spanish house, apart from the stores. The heat has canceled all public meetings, balls, theater performances, and bullfights. Our room and a few offices, the French restaurant and the walk to the Prado form the circle from which we do not stray. I would like to take my revenge soon. Soustra leaves on the 26th as he is needed in Bayonne. Read all of this to my aunt, whom I embrace fondly.
The most marked characteristic of the Spanish nature is its hatred and suspicion of foreigners. I think this is a genuine vice, but it must be said that it is encouraged by the self-conceit and trickery of many foreigners. They blame and ridicule everything; they criticize the cooking, the furniture, the rooms, and all the customs of the country because in fact the Spanish pay little attention to life’s comforts. However, we who know, my dear Félix, to what extent individuals, families, and nations can be happy without enjoying these types of material comforts will be in no hurry to condemn Spain. These foreigners will arrive with their pockets full of plans and absurd projects, and because people do not rush to acquire their shares they become annoyed and cry ignorance and stupidity. This rush of swindlers at first did us a great disservice and will continue to do so to any good business. For my part, I am pleased to think that Spanish suspicion will prevent the nation from falling into the trap, since the foreigners, once they have brought their plans, if they want them to succeed, will be forced to bring in capital and in many instances French workers.
Please give me news of Mugron from time to time, my dear Félix; you know how much homesickness overcomes us when we are far away.
Farewell, my dear Félix; please remember me to your sister.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Madrid, 17 August 1840
[vol. 1, p. 34]
. . . You have asked me a question I cannot answer: How can the Spanish people allow the monks to be chased away and killed?41 I ask myself this often, but I do not know the country well enough to explain this phenomenon to myself. What is probable is that the era of monks is finished everywhere. Their uselessness, rightly or wrongly, is a generally established belief. Assuming that there were forty thousand monks in Spain, involving as many families with five members, that would only make two hundred thousand inhabitants compared with ten million. Their immense riches may have tempted many people from the prosperous class, and the prospect of being relieved from a host of fiscal impositions may have tempted many people from the ordinary class. The fact is that the power of the monks is finished; but certainly no measure, assuming it is necessary, has ever been conducted with as much savagery, as much lack of foresight and political tact.
The government was in the hands of the moderates who wanted monasteries to be abolished but did not dare to set about it. Financially, the hope was, with the product of the national property, to pay Spain’s debts, end the civil war, and restore the state of the finances. Politically, through the division of the lands, they wanted to reconcile a considerable part of the people to the revolution. I think that this aim has been unsuccessful.
As they did not dare to act legally, an agreement was reached with the fanatics. One night, the fanatics broke into the monasteries. In Barcelona, Malaga, Seville, Madrid, and Valladolid they cut the throats of the monks or chased them away. The government and the public forces remained impassive witnesses of these atrocities for three days. When the uprising ran out of steam, the government intervened and the minister Mendizabal issued a decree confiscating the monasteries and monastic property. This is now being sold; but you will have the measure of this government. Some individual or other declares that he wants to tender for an item of national property. The state has it valued and this valuation is always very low because the acquirer is in league with the assessor. Once this is done, the sale is processed publicly. Agreement is also reached with the notaries to avoid publicity, and the property is yours for a low price. You have to pay a fifth in cash and the other four-fifths in eight installments over eight years. The state receives in payment rent from various sources which is traded on the stock exchange at a loss ranging from 75 to 95 percent, that is to say, that with twenty-five francs and even with five, you pay one hundred francs.
Three things result from this: first, the state receives almost nothing, you can even say nothing; second, it is not those from the provinces who are buying, since they are not at the stock exchange to barter paper; and third, this mass of land sold all together for a pittance has depressed the price of other properties. In this way, the government, which has made scarcely enough to pay the army, will not be paying back the debt.
The property will be divided up only when the speculators sell it on.
The farmers have simply changed masters, and instead of paying farm rents to the monks, who, it is said, were very accommodating owners who did not stick to the rules and who lent seed and even renounced income in bad years, they will be paying on the nail to Belgian and English companies which, uncertain as to the future, will be aiming to repay the state with produce from the land.
The simple peasant, in calamitous years, will no longer be given soup at the monastery door.
Lastly, humble owners will be able to sell their lands only for a pittance. This, it seems to me, will be the result of this disastrous operation.
More capable men had suggested that advantage be taken of an existing custom in use here: leases of fifty and even one hundred years. They wanted to lease farms to peasants at a moderate rate for fifty years. With the income, the annual interest on the debt would have been paid and Spain’s credit would have been raised, and at the end of fifty years the peasants would have had an immense capital, probably more than doubled through security and hard work. You will see at a glance the political and financial superiority of this arrangement.
Be that as it may, there are no more monks. What has become of them? Probably some died in the monasteries in the service of Don Carlos, and others would have succumbed to starvation in the gutters and attics of towns. A few may have found refuge with their families.
As for the monasteries, they have been converted into cafés, public dwellings, theaters, and most of all into barracks for another group of predators, rather cruder than the others. Several were demolished to widen streets and construct squares; on the site of the most beautiful of all, one that was considered to be a masterpiece of architecture, a passageway and a hall that clashed in style were built.
Nuns are no less to be pitied. In the event, those who wished to return to the world were thrashed; the others were enclosed in two or three convents, and because their property, which represented the dowries they had brought to their order, had been seized, they should have been paid a pension. However, since this is not paid, you can often see on convent gates this simple notice, Pan para las pobres monjas (bread for the poor nuns).
I am beginning to think, my dear Félix, that our M. Custine had really not seen Spain in its true light. Hatred for another civilization had made him seek here virtues which are not there. Perhaps he has on the contrary committed the same fault as the Spanish, who see nothing to criticize in English civilization. It is with great difficulty that our prejudices allow us to see things as they are, let alone judge them well.
I am coming home, my dear Félix, and I have learned that tomorrow the law on ayuntamientos (local councils)42 will be proclaimed. I do not know whether I have spoken of this matter with you but here at least is a summary.
The moderate government, which has just fallen, had appreciated that, to govern Spain, the central power had to be given a certain authority over the provinces. Here, from time immemorial, each province, each town, and each village governs itself. As long as the monarchical principle and the influence of the clergy compensated for this extreme dilution of authority, things went on more or less well, but now this state of things cannot last. In Spain, each locality nominates its ayuntamiento, alcaldes, regidors,43 etc. These ayuntamientos, in addition to their municipal functions, are responsible for gathering taxes and raising troops. The result of this is that when a town has reason to be discontented, whether well founded or not, it limits itself to not collecting taxes or refusing to collect its share. What is more, it appears that these ayuntamientos are the centers of major abuses and that they do not hand over to the state half of the contributions they gather. The moderate party therefore wanted to undermine this power. A law has been proposed by the government, adopted by the chambers, and sanctioned by the queen, which stipulates that the queen will select the alcaldes from three candidates nominated by the people. The fanatics uttered loud cries, leading to the revolution in Barcelona and the intervention of Espartero’s saber. However, what is seen only here, and what you have to be here to grasp, is that the queen, although obliged to change the government, has nominated another which is maintaining the law already voted and approved. Doubtless, since it came to power through a violation of the constitution, this government believed it had to show that it respected it by allowing a law that had received the sanction of the three powers44 to be promulgated. This law will therefore be proclaimed tomorrow. Will this pass off without disturbance? I scarcely dare to hope so. In addition, because France and our ambassador are considered to be at the root of this hoax, after the events in Barcelona it is to be feared that the rage of the fanatics will be directed against our fellow countrymen. I will therefore take care to write to my aunt in two days’ time since the newspapers will not fail to talk about the insurrection being planned. It is none the less terrifying to think that, to keep order, there are just a few soldiers faithful to Espartero, who must be mortally offended by the manner in which his coup d’état has been thwarted.
But what a subject for discussion is Spain, which, to achieve liberty, is losing the monarchy and the religion that are so dear to her and, in order to achieve unity, has placed under threat the local freedoms which are the very fabric of her existence!
Farewell, your devoted friend. I do not have the time to reread this jumble; make of it what you will.
P.S. My dear Félix, the peace in Madrid was not disturbed for a minute. This morning, the members of the ayuntamiento met in public session to promulgate the new law which will bring down their institution. They had this ceremony followed by an energetic protest in which they said that they would all die rather than obey the new law. It is also being said that they paid a few men to shout the customary vivas and mueras,45 but the people were no more moved than the peasants of Mugron would be, and the ayuntamiento succeeded only in showing the increasing necessity of the law. For when all is said and done would it not be a very sad spectacle to see a town in upheaval and the safety of its citizens compromised by the very people who are responsible for maintaining order?o
I have been assured that the fanatics did not agree among themselves; the most advanced (I do not know why credit has been given to this quotation by people’s agreeing to adopt it) said:
It is absurd to start a movement which fails to achieve a result. A movement can be decisive only if the people are involved; however the people do not want to take action for the sake of ideas. We therefore have to show them that there is a real possibility of pillage.
And in spite of this terrible logic, the ayuntamiento has not given way to this initial provocation! Anyway, I am just relaying public gossip since for my part I was in the Royal Library and did not see anything.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Lisbon, 24 October 1840
[vol. 1, p. 39]
My dear Félix, it is a long time since I wrote to you. It is because we are so far apart and it takes such a long time to receive a reply from Mugron that I am never sure of receiving it here. Finally, I have more or less made up my mind, unless something unexpected happens, to bid farewell to the Peninsula a week from Monday. My intention is to go to London; I cannot, according to the advice you have sent me from my aunt, first go to Plymouth. The steamboat goes straight to London. I thought at first that I would embark for Liverpool. I would thus satisfy economy and my taste for ships, since navigation under sail is cheaper and more romantic than monotonous steam. But the season is so late that it would be reckless, and I would run the risk of spending a month at sea.
I was a little bored in Lisbon for the first few days. Now, apart from the very natural desire to return home, I am happy here, although I live a very uneventful life. But the climate is so gentle and fine, the plant life so rich, and I feel such well-being and unaccustomed good health that I attribute the absence of boredom to this.
This is a country that, I think, would suit you well: neither hot nor cold, with no fog nor damp. If it rains, the downpour lasts for a day or two; then the sky regains its serenity and the atmosphere its gentle warmth. There is a little water available everywhere; there are clumps of myrtle, orange trees, tufted trellised vines, and heliotropes that cover walls as convolvulus does at home. Now I understand the life of the Moors. Unfortunately, the people here are not a match for nature; they do not want to take the trouble the Arabs took to achieve such delights. Perhaps you think that these fervent Catholics scorn the freshness and scent of the orange trees and that they are devoted to the severe pleasures of thought and contemplation. Alas! I will be returning very disillusioned with the good opinion of Custine; he believed he saw what he wanted to see.
For me it will be curious to study England after studying the Peninsula. The comparison would be even more interesting if Catholicism were as fervent here as it is represented. But in the end I will be seeing a people whose religion lies in intelligence after having seen one for whom it lies in the senses. Here the pomp of ceremony, the candles, incense, magnificent vestments and statues, together with the most abject demoralization. There, on the other hand, family ties, men and women each with the duties of their sex, work ennobled by patriotic aim, faithfulness to the traditions of their ancestors, a constant study of the moral code of the Bible and the Gospels, with a religion which is simple, solemn, and close to pure deism. What a contrast! What differences! What a source of reflection!
This trip will also have produced an effect which I did not expect. It has been able to remove the habit we had adopted to observe ourselves, to hear ourselves think and feel, and to follow all the meanderings of our opinions. This self-study has many attractions, and amour propre gives it an abiding interest. But in Mugron, we were always in uneventful surroundings, and able to revolve only in the same circle; when you travel, unexpected situations give rise to new observations. For example, it is probable that the current events46 have affected me very differently from the way they would have if I had been in Mugron; more fervent patriotism makes my thought more active. At the same time, the field in which it functions is wider, just as a man standing on a height sees a wider horizon. But the power of our gaze is a given quantity for each of us and this is not so for the faculty of thinking and feeling.
My aunt, on the occasion of the war, recommends prudence to me; I must absolutely not run any risks. If I sailed in a French ship and war was declared, I might fear corsairs, but in an English ship I will not run this risk, unless I fall into the hands of a French cruiser, which would not be very dangerous as it happens. According to the news received today, I note that France has taken the attitude of sentimental resignation, which is becoming grotesque. From here she appears to be very embarrassed, and making it a point of honor to prove her moderation; to each insult she replies by arguments to show that she has been insulted. She appears to believe that remorse will overcome the English and that, with tears in their eyes, they will stop pursuing their aim and ask our forgiveness. That reminds me of this quotation: “He struck me but I told him just what I thought of him.”
Send your letters to me in London, addressed to MM A. A. Gower, Nephew and Company.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Lisbon, 7 November 1840
[vol. 1, p. 42]
My dear Félix, in spite of the strong desire I have to get back to France, I have been obliged to prolong my stay in Lisbon. A cold made me decide to postpone my departure by a week, and in this period papers have been found which I have to go through, which has made me stay even longer. But there will have to be very powerful reasons to keep me here after the 17th of this month. Finally, this delay has allowed me to get better, which would have been more difficult at sea or in London.
It was very unfortunate to be far from France at such an interesting time; you cannot imagine the patriotism that burns within us when we are in a foreign country. At a distance it is no longer the happiness nor even the freedom of our country that is foremost in our mind, but its grandeur, glory, and influence. Unfortunately I very much fear that France does not enjoy much of either the first or the last of these advantages.
I am sad to be without news nor to be able to forecast accurately when I will be receiving any; at least in London I hope to find a pile of letters.
Farewell, the time for collecting letters is approaching.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Paris, 2 January 1841
[vol. 1, p. 43]
My dear Félix, I have been dealing with a plan for an association for the defense of the interests of wine producers.47 However, as is my habit, I was hesitating over mentioning it to a few friends, because I could not see any half measures between success and ridicule, when M. Humann came to the chambers to present the expenditure and receipts budget for 1842. As you will have seen, the minister has found no better solution for making good the deficit caused by our policy than to add four new taxes on drinks. This emboldened me, and I went to visit several deputies to tell them about my project. They cannot become directly involved, because this would undermine the independence of their vote in advance. This is a reason for some and a pretext for others, but it is not a reason for the owners of vineyards to fold their arms in the face of the danger threatening them.
There is just one way not only of redirecting their new general protest but also of obtaining justice for previous grievances, and that is to organize ourselves. Organization for a useful aim is a guaranteed means of success. Each wine-producing département has to have a central committee and each committee a delegate.
I do not yet know to what extent I will be taking part in this organization. This will depend on my meetings with my friends. Perhaps it will be necessary for me to stop when passing through Orléans, Angoulême, and Bordeaux in order to work at founding the association. Perhaps I should limit myself to my département, and in any case because time is of the essence, you should see Domenger, Despouys, Labeyrie, and Batistant48 and persuade them to go round the canton to prepare people for legal resistance that is strong and organized.
I do not need to describe in detail to you the power the association has, my dear Félix. Tell everyone your convictions. I hope to be in Mugron in a fortnight and we will work in tandem.
Farewell, your devoted friend.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Paris, 11 January 1841
[vol. 1, p. 44]
Why are you not with me, my dear Félix, as this would remove many of my hesitations! I have told you about the new project I have thought of, but when I am alone and left to myself the difficulties of carrying it out terrify me. I feel that success is almost a certainty, but it requires a moral strength that your presence would give me and material resources that I do not know how to take it upon myself to ask for. I have felt the pulse of several deputies and found them cold. Almost all of them have interests to protect; you know that almost all of our men in the Midi are seeking government positions. As for the opposition, it would be dangerous to make it prominent in the association as it would make it an instrument, and this must be avoided. This being so and having weighed everything up, we must abandon founding the association from the top down, which would have been quicker and easier. What we have to secure is the base. If it is strongly constituted, it will carry everything along. The wine producers should be under no illusions; if they remain inert, they will be weakly defended here. I will try to leave here next Sunday. In one pocket I will have the draft statutes of the association and in the other the prospectus for a small newspaper intended initially to be the propagator and subsequently the mouthpiece of the association. With that, I will be able to find out whether this project is viewed sympathetically in Orléans, the Charente, and the Garonne basin. The outcome will depend on my observations. A sudden initiative would have been more to my taste. A few years ago, I might have attempted this; nowadays an advance of six to eight thousand francs makes me draw back, and I am truly ashamed of this since a few hundred subscribers would have relieved me of any risk. I lacked courage, there is nothing more to say.
I am obliged, my dear Félix, to make unceasing mention of my impartiality and philosophy in order not to become discouraged, in view of all the wretchedness I am witnessing. Poor France! Every day, I see deputies who, when spoken to individually, are opposed to fortifications in Paris but who nevertheless support them in the chamber, one in support of Guizot, another to avoid abandoning Thiers, and a third for fear that he will be branded a Russian or an Austrian. Public opinion, the press, and fashion carry them along, and many yield to still baser motives. Marshall Soult himself is personally opposed to this measure, and all he dares to do is to suggest that it be accomplished slowly, in the hope that public opinion will change and come to his support, when there will still be only about a hundred million swallowed up. It is much worse in external matters. It appears that all eyes are blindfolded and people run the risk of being mistreated if a single fact is put forward that contradicts the ruling prejudice.
Farewell, my dear Félix, I am looking forward to chatting with you again; we will not be short of subjects.
Farewell, my friend.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Bagnères, 10 July 1844
[vol. 1, p. 45]
My dear Félix, a few days ago I received a letter from M. Laffitte from Aire, a member of the General Council, which embarrasses me a great deal. He tells me that General Durrieu is going to be raised to the peerage, that the government wishes to replace him in the Chamber by a secretary of the duc de Nemours. He adds that the electors of Aire are not willing to suffer this candidature, and finally he asks me if I would stand, in which case he thinks that I would have many votes in this canton, where I had only his at the last election.
As the legislature has only three sessions to sit, and thus I would be free to retire at the end of this term without causing an extraordinary meeting of the electoral college of Saint-Sever, I would be quite willing to enter the ring once more if I could count on some good fortune. But I must not blind myself to the damage that the schism which has taken place in the liberal party will do to me. If in addition I have once more to be opposed by the aristocracy of money and the bar, I prefer to remain peacefully in my corner. I would regret it a little, because I feel that I could have been useful to the cause of free trade, which is so vital for France and above all for our region.
But that is not a reason for me to put myself forward recklessly; I am therefore resolved to wait for serious overtures to be made by influential electors. I consider that the affair affects them closely enough for them not to leave candidates the task of taking care of it themselves.
I wanted to send my article to Le Journal des économistes, but have not had the opportunity. I will take the first that comes along. It has the fault, common to all the works of novices, of wanting to say too much. Such as it is, I think it is of some interest. I will take advantage of the opportunity to try to start a correspondence with Dunoyer.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Eaux-Bonnes, 26 July 1844
[vol. 1, p. 46]
Your letter had a painful effect on me, my dear Félix, not because of the news you give me of the electoral prospects but because of what you tell me about yourself, your health, and the terrible struggle taken on by your body and spirit. I nevertheless hope that you wished to speak of the habitual state of your health and not a recurrence that has taken place since my departure. I understand your sufferings well, especially since to a lesser extent I experience them myself. These miserable obstacles that health, wealth, and shyness raise like a wall of brass between our desires and the theater in which they might be satisfied are an unutterable torment. Sometimes I regret having drunk at the cup of science, or at least not having limited myself to synthetic philosophy, and better still to religious philosophy. At least in these you can draw consolation for all types of situations in life, and we might still tolerably organize the rest of the time we have to spend here below. But a solitary existence in retirement is incompatible with our views (which nevertheless act on us with all the force of mathematical truths), since we know that truth has power only when it is diffused. From this arises the irresistible need to communicate it, broadcast it, and proclaim it. What is more, everything is so linked in our way of thinking that the opportunity and facility of revealing a link in the chain cannot content us; yet to reveal the total picture requires the conditions of talent, health, and position which we will always lack. What can we do, dear friend? Wait for a few more years to pass over our heads. I often count them and take a form of pleasure in noting that the more they accumulate, the faster they seem to go:
Vires acquirit eundo.49
Although we are conscious of knowing the truth, with regard to the mechanics of society and from a purely human point of view, we also know that it escapes us as far as the relationship of this life to future life is concerned, and what is worse, we believe that in this respect we cannot know anything with certainty.
We have here several very distinguished priests. Once every two days, they give instruction of the highest order, which I follow regularly. It is almost a repetition of Dabadie’s50 famous work. Yesterday the preacher said that in man there are two orders of disposition of which one is linked to the fall and the other to redemption. According to the second, man is made in the image of God, while the first led him to make God in man’s image. He used this to explain idolatry and paganism and showed their terrifying agreement with corrupt nature. He then said that the fall had so far buried corruption in the heart of man that he still retained an affinity for idolatry which had thus insinuated itself right into Catholicism. I think he was referring to a host of practices and devotions which form such an obstacle for intelligent minds. But if they understand things in this way, why do they not attack these idolatrous doctrines openly? Why do they not reform them? Why, on the contrary, do we see them rushing to increase their number? I am sorry I have not been in contact with this ecclesiastic, who, I believe, is a professor of theology at the faculty in Bordeaux, to discuss this with him.
This takes us far away from the elections. From what you tell me, I have no doubt that the man from the chateau will be nominated. I am surprised that our king, who is farsighted, does not understand that by peopling the chamber with toadies he is sacrificing the very principle of the constitution for a few short-term advantages. He is ensuring a vote for himself, but is placing an entire district beyond the boundaries of our institutions; and this maneuver, if extended to all of France, will succeed in corrupting our political customs, which are already primitive. On the other hand, abuses will increase in number because they will encounter no resistance; and when the cup is full, what remedy will a nation seek that has not learned to make an enlightened use of its rights?
For my part, my dear Félix, I do not feel strong enough to fight for a few votes. If they do not come on their own, let them follow their own course. I would need to go from canton to canton to organize the means of support for the struggle. This is more than I can do. After all, M. Durrieu is not yet a peer.
I have taken advantage of an opportunity to send Le Journal des économistes my article on English and French tariffs.51 I think it includes points of view that are all the more important in that they do not appear to preoccupy anyone. I have met politicians here who have not the first idea of what is going on in England, and when I talk to them of the customs reform that is taking place in that country, they do not want to believe it. I have enough time to compose my letter to M. Dunoyer.52 As for my work on the distribution of taxes, I do not have the materials at hand to give it its final polish.53 The session of the general council will be a good opportunity to publish it.
Farewell, my dear Félix. If you learn anything new please let me know, but of all the news you could give me, the most pleasant would be to say that the depression which permeates your letter was due to a transitory indisposition. After all, my friend, and in the deep shadows that surround us, let us cling to the idea that a primary cause that is intelligent and merciful has subjected us for reasons beyond our comprehension to severe tests in life; this should constitute our faith. Let us wait for the day when it will consider it right to relieve us and to admit us to a better life; this should constitute our hope. With these sentiments in our heart, we will be able to bear our afflictions and suffering. . . .
Letter to A. M. Laurence
Mugron, 9 November 1844
[vol. 7, p. 369]
Dear Sir and Colleague,
Thank you for your kind words in the letter you were good enough to write to me on the subject of my little work on the distribution of taxes.54 I sincerely regret that it has not been more effective in changing your beliefs, since I acknowledge that in the arguments caused on occasion by neighborhood rivalry your noble spirit places you above the petty bias which others find it impossible to put aside. For my part, I can state that, if any error or exaggeration has infiltrated my text, it has been quite involuntary. I am far from envying for my area’s sake the prosperity of yours, quite the contrary, and it is my firm conviction that neither of the two can prosper without the other benefiting. I even think that this solidarity embraces all nations. For this reason, I bitterly deplore the national jealousies that are the favorite theme of journalism. If I had, as you think, based my reasoning on the false premise that the entire area of the sea pine plantations in the Landes55was equally productive, I would retract on the spot. However, there is nothing in my writing that justifies this allegation. Nor have I mentioned hail, frost, or fires. These are circumstances which ought to have been taken into account when the current tax was applied to various crops. It is this tax, such as it is, which is my point of departure. Nor do I think that I attributed the distress of the wine-producing region to the improper distribution of the tax. But I said that the distribution of the tax should be adjusted as a result of this distress, since it is a principle that tax is raised on income. If the income of a county is reduced permanently, its contribution should also be reduced and consequently that of the other counties should increase. This is also an additional proof of the solidarity between all the parts of the territory, and the Greater Landes harmed itself when, through our colleague, M. Castagnède, it opposed the agricultural community’s becoming the mouthpiece for our grievances to the authorities.
You say that in Villeneuve56 agriculture has made progress without the population increasing in number. This doubtless means that each individual and each family has become more prosperous. If this prosperity has not encouraged marriages and births and extended the average life expectancy, Villeneuve is, for a reason I cannot guess, beyond all the laws of nature which govern population phenomena.
Lastly, dear sir and colleague, you refer me to the evidence military recruitment affords. You say that it shows that the finest stock and the strongest men come from the areas that are most cultivated and which grow vines. However, please note that I do not go so far as to compare the population of the Landes to that of the Chalosse but only each of these populations to itself at different periods of time. For me, the question is not to determine whether the population of the Landes is as vigorous and dense as that in the Chalosse but whether, in the last forty years, one has made progress and the other regressed in these two respects. It was easy for me to check the numbers. With regard to the quality of the human stock, I would be willing to consult the recruitment tables, if they have them at the prefecture.
You can see that, like all the authors in the world, I do not readily admit to being mistaken. However, I must say that I have not sufficiently explained the scope of the passage in which I summarized in figures the various considerations scattered through my work. I am fully aware that population movement cannot be a good basis for distribution; my sole aim has been to make my conclusions understandable by using figures, and I sincerely hope that direct research by the authorities will produce results not far from those I have reached, because, in my view, there is a relationship that is, if not very tight, then at least of a notably approximate kind, between the progress of the population and that of income.
Letter to Richard Cobden
Mugron, 24 November 1844
[vol. 1, p. 106]
Steeped in the schools of your Adam Smith and our J. B. Say, I was beginning to believe that this doctrine that was so simple and clear had no chance of becoming popular, at least for a long time, since, over here, it is completely stifled by the specious fallacies57 that you refuted so well and which are disseminated by the Fourierist, communist, and other sects with which our country is for the moment infatuated, and also by the disastrous alliance of the party newspapers with those newspapers paid for by committees of manufacturers.
It was in this state of total discouragement in which these sad circumstances had cast me that, as I happened to have taken out a subscription to the Globe and Traveller,58 I learned both of the existence of the League and the struggle between free trade and monopoly in England. As I am an enthusiastic admirer of your powerful and very moral association and in particular of the man who appears to give it such forceful and wise direction in the face of countless difficulties, I have been unable to contemplate this sight without wanting to do something for the noble cause of the liberation of work and commerce. Your honorable secretary, Mr. Hickin, was good enough to send me the issue of the League, dated January 1844, together with a number of documents relating to the campaign.
Equipped with these documents, I have tried to draw public attention to your proceedings, on which French newspapers have maintained a calculated and systematic silence. I have written articles in the newspapers of Bayonne and Bordeaux, two towns naturally positioned to become the cradle of the movement. In addition, recently I had published in Le Journal des économistes (issue no. 35, Paris, October 1844) an article which I recommend to you. What has been the result? Newspapers in Paris, on which our laws confer the monopoly of opinion, have considered discussion to be more dangerous than silence. They have therefore created silence around me, totally sure that these arrangements would reduce me to impotence.
In Bordeaux, I have tried to organize an association for trade liberalization, but I have failed because, although there are a few souls who instinctively would like freedom to a certain extent, there are none who understand it in principle.
What is more, an association functions only through publicity, and it needs money. I am not rich enough to endow it on my own, and asking for money would have created the insurmountable obstacle of suspicion.
I have thought of founding in Paris a daily newspaper based on these two concepts, free trade and the elimination of a partisan spirit. Here again, I have encountered money and other problems, which I will not go into. I will regret it for the rest of my life, because I am convinced that a newspaper like this, which fills a public need, would have a chance of success. (I have not given up on this.)
Lastly, I wanted to know whether I had any chance of being elected a deputy, and I have become certain that my fellow citizens would give me their vote, since I almost achieved a majority at the last elections. However, personal considerations prevent me from aspiring to this position, which I might have used to the advantage of our cause.
Obliged to limit my action, I began to translate your sessions59 in Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Next May, I will submit this translation for publication. I expect it to have a good effect.
In order for this work to be complete, I would have liked to obtain a few documents on the origin and beginnings of the League. A short history of this association would be a suitable preface to the translation of your speeches.61 I have asked Mr. Hickin for these documents, but doubtless he has been too busy to reply to me. My documents go back only to January 1843; I would at least need the debate in Parliament on the 1842 tariff and in particular the speech in which Mr. Peel proclaimed the economic truth in the form that has become so popular, “We must be allowed to buy in the cheapest market, etc.”
I would also like you to tell me which of your speeches, either at meetings or in Parliament, you think most appropriate to translate. Lastly, I would like my book to contain one or two free-trade discussions in the House of Commons and ask that you would be good enough to tell me which ones.
I would be most honored to receive a letter from the man of our time for whom I have the keenest and most sincere admiration.
Letter to Horace Say
Mugron, 24 November 1844
[vol. 7, p. 377]
Please allow me to express to you the feeling of deep satisfaction I had on reading your kind letter of the 19th of this month. Without the sentiments contained in this most valued letter, how would we, men of solitude who are deprived of the useful warnings received through contact with the rest of the world, know whether or not we are in the group of dreamers, all too common in the country, who have allowed themselves to be obsessed by a single idea? Do not tell me, sir, that your approval can merely have limited value in my eyes. Since France and humanity lost your illustrious father, whom I also venerate as my intellectual father, what sentiments can be more precious to me than yours, especially when your own writings and the expressions of confidence which the population of Paris have heaped on you give such authority to your judgments?
Among the authors of your father’s school whom death has respected, there is one above all whose agreement is of inestimable value to me, although I would not have dared to solicit it. I refer to M. Charles Dunoyer. His first two articles in Le Censeur européen (“On the Equilibrium Between Nations”),62 together with those by M. Comte which precede them,63 settled the direction of my thought and even my political actions a long time ago.64 Since then the economist school65 appears to have given way before the host of socialist sects which seek to achieve the universal good, not in the laws of human nature but in artificial organizations which are the products of their imagination. This is a disastrous mistake, which M. Dunoyer has been campaigning against for a long time with a perseverance that can almost be called prophetic. I therefore could not prevent the rise of a feeling almost of pride when I learned from your letter that M. Dunoyer has approved of the spirit of the text you have had the goodness to include in your esteemed collection.
You are kind enough, sir, to encourage me to send you a further text. I am now devoting the little time I have at my disposal to a work of patience, the usefulness of which I consider to be unquestionable, even though it consists only of simple translations. In England there is a major movement in support of free trade. This movement has been kept carefully hidden by our newspapers and where, from time to time, they are obliged to mention it, it is to distort its nature and influence. I would like to put documents relating to it before the French public and show that on the other side of the Channel there is a party with many members that is powerful, honest, judicious, ready to become the national party, and ready to direct the policy of England, and it is to this party that we should extend a hand of friendship. The public would then be capable of judging whether it is reasonable to envelop the whole of England in the wild hatred that the press is trying to whip up with such obstinacy and success.
I am expecting other benefits from this publication. Readers will find in it an attack on the very root of the partisan spirit, the undermining of the basis of national hatred, the theory of markets set out not methodically but using forms that are popular and striking, and finally, they will see in action the energy, the demonstration tactics which now mean that in England, when genuine abuse is attacked, it is possible to forecast the day it will be abolished, just as our military engineers forecast the time at which besiegers will seize a citadel.
I am planning to come to Paris in April next to supervise the printing of this publication,66 and if I had any hesitations in doing this your kind offer and the desire to make your acquaintance and those of the distinguished men whom you meet would be enough to persuade me.
Your colleague, M. Dupérier, was also good enough to write to me about my article. “It is good in theory,” he said; and I am tempted to reply to him by your esteemed father’s quip, “My God, what is no good in practice is good for nothing.” M. Dupérier and I follow very different paths in politics. My esteem for him is all the higher for his frankness and the frankness of his letter. These days, there are very few candidates who tell their opponents what they think.
I forgot to say that if the time and my health permit, following your encouraging invitation I will send another article to Le Journal des économistes.67
I would be grateful, sir, if you would convey to MM Dussard, Fix, and Blanqui my thanks for their kindness and assure them that I wholeheartedly support their noble and useful work.
P.S. I am taking the liberty of sending you a text published in 1842 relating to the elections written by one of my friends, M. Félix Coudroy. You will see that the doctrines of MM Say, Comte, and Dunoyer have generated some green shoots in places on the arid soil of the Landes. I thought you would be pleased to learn that the sacred fire is not quite extinguished. As long as there is still a spark, we should not lose hope.
[38 ]Historical background for the following four letters, related to Bastiat’s trip to Spain: In 1840, Spain brought to an end a civil war that had started in 1833. At the death of Ferdinand VII, two individuals fought for the throne: his brother, Don Carlos, and his widow, Maria Christina. The supporters of the former wanted to go on with absolute monarchy, while those of the latter wanted to introduce a constitutional monarchy. After some initial successes, the Carlists were defeated and forced to give up. Don Carlos went into exile. One of the victorious generals, Espartero, nicknamed “Duke of Victory,” supported by Great Britain, emerged as the strong man of the regime.
[39 ](Paillottet’s note) It was a matter of founding an insurance company.
[40 ]The work to which Bastiat here refers is Custine’s L’Espagne sous Ferdinand VII (1838).
[41 ]The Spanish clergy had considerable influence, legal powers, and wealth. From 1835 to 1837, a number of monasteries were confiscated by law and sold to help pay off the ever-increasing public debt. The law was applied in a very brutal way.
[42 ]The law, which was promulgated by Queen Maria Christina in July 1840, allowed the queen to appoint members of the local councils but met with violent opposition from General Espartero. (See Letter 21, note 38.) It took the abdication and exile of Maria Christina (15 July 1840) to unravel the situation.
[43 ]alcaldes: mayors; regidors: aldermen.
[44 ]The parliament, the senate, and the king.
[45 ]vivas: “long life” and o “down with.”
[46 ]A diplomatic crisis was shaking Europe in 1840. France alone supported the pasha of Egypt, Mehmet Ali, in his position on Syria—against Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Great Britain.
[47 ]See “Wine and spirits tax” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[48 ]Wine growers.
[49 ]“[Fama] vires acquirit eundo”: “Rumor acquires strength by going.” (Virgil, Aeneid, bk. IV, line 175.)
[50 ]Dabadie was a monk born in Saint-Sever. He was not well known outside his native town. The said “famous work” did not reach posterity.
[51 ]OC, vol. 1, p. 334, “De l’influence des tarifs français et anglais sur l’avenir des deux peuples.”
[52 ]See Letter 34.
[53 ]OC, vol. 1, p. 283, “Mémoire sur la repartition de l’impôt foncier dans les Landes.”
[55 ]Before the nineteenth century, the part of the Landes département located north of the Adour River was covered with swamps. A huge forest of sea pines was successfully planted during the nineteenth century, and in time the swamps dried up.
[56 ]Villeneuve de Marsan, a city in the east of the Landes.
[57 ]In English in the original.
[58 ]An English newspaper. See “Anglomania, Anglophobia,” p. 333.
[59 ]For what became Cobden and the League.
[60 ]Bastiat means those students of economic science who favor free markets (Les Économistes).
[61 ]See this letter, note 59.
[62 ]Dunoyer, “Du système de l’equilibre des puissances européennes.”
[63 ]Comte, “Considérations sur l’état moral de la nation française”; and Comte, “De l’organisation sociale.”
[64 ]In the hiatus between the forced closure of Le Censeur by the censors in 1815 and its reopening in 1817 under the name Le Censeur européen, Comte and Dunoyer discovered the work of Jean-Baptiste Say, which transformed their view of how societies functioned and the future course of their progress under the impulse of “industrialism.” Bastiat was to adopt much of their social and economic theory as his own.
[65 ]Bastiat uses the expression l’école économiste to refer to adherents of the free market, or the laissez-faire, school of economic thought (Les Économistes). It is worth noting that, in Bastiat’s time, economist was systematically understood as “liberal economist.”
[66 ]Cobden and the League.
[67 ]This letter was written in November 1844. The next article by Bastiat to appear in Le Journal des économistes was titled “Letter from an Economist to M. de Lamartine, on the Occasion of His Article Entitled ‘The Right to Work.’ ” (OC, vol. 1, p. 406, “Un Économiste à M. de Lamartine.”)