Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Paris, January 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant des Landes, p. 10]
I have just been told that tomorrow, Tuesday, at two o’clock, some very curious music will be played in the Church of Saint Louis d’Antin. It consists of thirteenth-century songs found in the archives of the Sainte Chapelle, which are imbued with all the naiveté of the time. Other people say that these songs cannot be old, since in the thirteenth century the art of writing music down was unknown.
Be that as it may, the solemnity will be of great interest; this is a question that is less difficult to assess by impression than by erudition.
Yesterday evening, I again took this dreadful brew, not without a terrible struggle between my stomach and my willpower. Is it possible for something so horrible to do good, and are not medical practitioners making fun of us?
On the whole, all remedies are unpleasant.
What does my dear Mlle Louise need? A little more physical exercise and a little less mental exercise, but she does not want this. What does her mother need? To seek a little less drawing room martyrdom, but she does not want this. What am I prescribed? Cod-liver oil? Decidedly, the art of being in good health is the art of doing what you really don’t like.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Paris, 1 January 1849
[vol. 1, p. 92]
My dear Félix, I want to give myself the pleasure of benefiting from the postal reform, since I also contributed to it. I wanted it to be radical and we have only the mere beginnings; as it stands, it will at least allow the effusions of friendship.
Since February, we have experienced difficult days, and I believe that the future has never been darker and very much fear that the election of Bonaparte will not solve the problems. At first, I was happy with the majority which raised him to the presidency. I voted for Cavaignac, because I am sure of his total loyalty and intelligence, but although voting for him I felt that power would be a heavy burden for him. He has faced up to a terrible storm, drawn inextinguishable hatred to himself, and the party of disorder will never forgive him. If it was an advantage to be a man whose republicanism was assured and who at the same time could not enter into pacts with the Reds, on the other hand this very history created major difficulties for him. For a moment, I hoped that the appearance on the scene of a new personality with no links to the parties might inaugurate a new era. . . . Be that as it may, I and all the other sincere Republicans have taken the decision of supporting this product of universal suffrage. I have not seen the slightest sign of systematic opposition in the Chamber. . . .
On the other hand, though they may well later begin to fight among themselves, the supporters of fallen dynasties start by demolishing the Republic. They know full well that the Assembly is the anchor of our salvation; they are therefore striving with all their might to have it dissolved and are putting forward petitions to do this. A coup d’état is imminent. Where will it come from? What will it bring? What is worse is that the masses prefer the president to the Assembly.
For my part, my dear Félix, I am keeping away from all these intrigues. As far as my strength permits, I am occupying my time with advocating my program. You know its general outlines. This is the practical plan: to reform the post and the taxes on salt and wine and spirits; hence, a deficit in the income budget reduced to 1.2 or 1.3 billions; require the government to adjust the expenditure budget accordingly. Declare to it that we will not allow it to spend a penny more, thus obliging it to abandon any interventions abroad and all the socialist utopian measures at home; in a word, require these two principles and obtain them out of necessity, since we have not been able to obtain them from public reason.
I am putting this project forward everywhere. I have spoken to ministers who are my friends about it, but they scarcely listened to me. I have preached it in meetings of deputies. I hope that it will prevail. The first two acts have already been accomplished; there remains the tax on wine. Credit will suffer for a while, the stock exchange is in turmoil, but we must not retreat. We are faced with a gulf which is growing ever larger; we cannot hope to close it without someone suffering. The time for compromise is past. We will lend our support to the president and all ministers but we want these three reforms, not so much for themselves, but as the sure and sole means of achieving our motto, peace and freedom.
Farewell, my friend; I send you my good wishes for the New Year.
Letter to George Wilson, Chairman of the Anti-Corn Law League
Paris, 15 January 1894
[Vol 7, p. 412]
Please express to your committee my warmest gratitude for the kind invitation you have sent me in its name. I would have had much pleasure in attending as, sir, I say this loudly and clearly, nothing greater has been accomplished in this world in my opinion than this reform you are preparing to celebrate. I have the most profound admiration for the men I would have met at this banquet, George Wilson, Villiers, Bright, Cobden, Thompson, and so many others who have achieved the triumph of free trade or, rather, have given this great cause its initial and decisive impetus. I do not know which I admire more, the greatness of the aim you have pursued or the morality of the means you have used. I hesitate when I compare the direct good you have done with the indirect good for which you have prepared the ground, when I seek to assess on the one hand the actual reform you have carried out and on the other the art of pursuing all the reforms within the law and peacefully, a priceless art for which you have provided both the theory and the model.
I appreciate the benefits of free trade as keenly as anyone in the world. Even so, I am unable to limit the hopes that humanity should place on the triumph of your campaigning to this question alone.
You have not been able to demonstrate the right to trade without debating and consolidating the right of property at the same time. And perhaps England owes to your discourse that it is not, unlike the continent, permeated at this time with the false communist doctrines which, like protectionism, are only the negation of the right of property in a variety of forms.
You have not been able to demonstrate the right to trade without shedding a bright light on the legitimate functions of the government and the natural limits of the law. However, once these functions have been understood and these limits set, the people governed will no longer expect prosperity, well-being, and absolute good fortune but equal justice for all from their governments. Once this is so, governments will have their ordinary action circumscribed, will no longer repress individual energy, will no longer dissipate public assets as they build up, and will themselves be freed from the illusionary hopes pinned on them by their peoples. They will not be overthrown at each inevitable setback and the principal cause of violent revolution will be eliminated.
In sum, you have not been able to demonstrate the doctrine of free trade from the economic point of view without removing from people’s minds the sad and disastrous aphorism, “The good of one person is at the expense of another.” As long as this odious maxim was an article of faith around the world, there was radical incompatibility between the simultaneous prosperity of nations and peace between them. Proving that vested interests can be in harmony is thus preparing the way to universal fraternity.
I am convinced that in its more immediately practical aspects your trade reform is just the first link in a long series of reforms that will be even more valuable. For example, can it fail to extricate Great Britain from the violent, abnormal situation into which protectionism had drawn it, which is antagonistic to other peoples and consequently full of danger? The notion of monopolizing consumers had led you to pursue domination over the entire globe. Well then! I have no doubt that your colonial system is on the point of undergoing a most fortunate transformation. I do not dare forecast that you will come round to divesting yourself voluntarily of your colonies in your own interests, although I think you should, but even if you retain them, they will open up to world trade and will no longer reasonably be a source of jealousy and envy for anyone.
When this happens, what will happen to this famous vicious circle of an argument, “You need a navy to have colonies and you need colonies to have a navy.” The English nation will become tired of paying alone the costs of its numerous possessions, in which it will have no more privileges than it has in the United States. You will reduce the size of your armies and fleets, as, once the danger has been removed, it would be absurd to retain the expensive precautions that this danger alone justifies. This would be a double and firm guarantee of world peace.
I will stop there; my letter would take on unseemly proportions if I wanted to list all the benefits of which free trade is the seed.
I would have liked to take an active part in promoting this great cause in my country as I am persuaded of its fruitfulness. Nowhere else are there such lively minds, nowhere else are hearts so inflamed with the love of universal justice, absolute good, and ideal perfection. France was enthusiastically in favor of greatness, morality, simplicity, and true free trade. All that was needed was to overcome a preconceived idea that was purely economic; to establish a proper commercial accounting, if one may put it that way; and to prove that trade, far from damaging the national labor force, always expands as long as it is beneficial and ceases, by its very nature and by virtue of its own law, when it starts to do harm, from which it follows that it does not need artificial, legal obstacles. It was an exceptional opportunity, in the midst of the shock of conflicting doctrines in this country, to raise the flag of freedom here. It would certainly have rallied all hopes and persuasions to it. It was at this moment that it pleased Providence, whose decrees I nevertheless applaud, to withdraw what little health and strength I had been granted. It will therefore fall to another to accomplish the work of which I dreamed, and may he come forward soon!
It is this reason of health, as well as my parliamentary duties, that obliges me to refrain from being present at the democratic and solemn occasion to which you are inviting me. I deeply regret this, as it would have been one of the highlights of my life and a precious memory for the rest of my days. Please present my apologies to the committee and allow me, in closing, to associate myself in my heart with your festivity through this toast:
To free trade among peoples! To the free circulation of men, things, and ideas! To universal free trade and all its economic, political, and moral consequences!
I am, sir, your obedient servant.
Letter to Bernard Domenger
Paris, 18 January 1849
[vol. 7, p. 388]
We are almost all agreed here on the need to disband. However, a very large number (and were it not for fear of the elections, it would be all of us) would not want to bow to violent and artificial pressure. Many also fear for the very existence of the Republic. If there were only one pretender, it would be a matter of a revolution (from which God preserve us); but since there are several, it is a question of civil war. We have every right to hesitate.
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Paris, February 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant des Landes, p. 11]
I have just sent Faucher a reminder with regard to your protégé; he had lost touch with him, alas! How much compassion can he retain in a mind responsible for the destiny of the Republic! However, he has promised.
I did not see M. Say, Léon, or M. Cheuvreux at the Italiens yesterday; have you been ill? Was Mlle Louise tired of singing or writing letters? Or is it purely and entirely a matter of her fancy, such being the goddess, it is said, of Parisian women? Besides, the show was horribly gloomy; Alboni heavy, Ronconi out of tune, Bordogni useless, costumes dreadful, etc., etc.
Please would you let me know if on Sunday you would like to pay a brief visit to the Auxerrois gate and then the Sainte Chapelle? I think that Mlle Louise, who loves everything that is beautiful, would like this monument. In my view it reaches the extreme point achieved by art in substituting the ethereal for the solid and daylight for stone, an art which appears to have been lost, judging from modern architecture.
Your devoted servant,
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Paris, February 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant des Landes, p. 12]
It is with some confusion that I inform you of the result, closely resembling a fiasco, of my application to Faucher, but what do you expect, given that I am the worst petitioner in the world; it is perhaps a good thing. With regard to petitions, if I were habitually successful, who knows where I would stop, since everyone knows that I have no self-control.
M. Ramel may be granted 150 francs from the ministry of the interior. The administrative conventions require this to be given the name of assistance and not pension!
Yesterday evening’s music ran through my head all night: “Io vorrei saper perche” and other delightful songs.
Farewell, Madam; I remain your devoted servant and that of Mlle Louise.
Letter to Bernard Domenger
Paris, 3 February 1849
[vol. 7, p. 388]
I am going to deal with the Le Peyrat farm and the canal. For this reason, I will postpone speaking about this to you to another time.
My bad state of health coincides with the harsh exigencies of work. Since I hold, or think I do, a general view of the world of finance, I expounded it to my office colleagues. This was successful, since they almost unanimously nominated me to the budget commission. I wanted to perform the same demonstration again before this commission but, on the pretext of saving time, it forbade a general debate. It was thus necessary to discuss the details from the outset, which prevented an overall view being achieved. What would be your opinion of such a procedure in the face of a hopeless financial situation, which could be saved only by a great theory if one were to be presented? For this reason, I felt it necessary to appeal to the Assembly and the general public by means of a brochure on which I have been working yesterday and this morning.
I do not hide from myself that this is unlikely to succeed. Great assemblies lack initiative. Opinions are too wide ranging and nothing of worth can be achieved if the cabinet is inert. Ours is systematically inert: I sincerely believe that it is a public disaster. The current government might do some good. I have several friends in it, and I know that they are capable. Unfortunately, it came to power with the preconceived idea that it would not have the support of the Assembly and that it would have to maneuver in order to have it dismissed. I am absolutely sure that it is mistaken, and in any case was it not its duty to try? If it had come to the chamber to say, “The election on 10 December has put an end to the revolutionary period; now let us work together for the good of the people and administrative and financial reform,” the chamber would have followed it enthusiastically, as it is passionately in favor of good and needs only to be guided. Instead of that, the government started by sulking. It presumed there would be disagreement, based on the sympathy shown by the Assembly to Cavaignac. But there is one thing that the Assembly prizes a thousand times above Cavaignac and that is the will of the people, as shown by universal suffrage. To show its absolute submission, it would have given its support to the head of the executive authority. How much good would have come of this! Instead of taking this course, the government retrenched itself in inertia and teasing. It proposes either nothing or else things that are unacceptable. Its tactic is to extend the stagnation of business through inertia, in the certainty that the nation will attack the Assembly for this. The country has lost a magnificent opportunity to move forward which it will not recover, since I very much fear that other storms are lying in wait for the next Assembly.
Letter to Bernard Domenger
Paris, 1849 [no month or day]
[vol. 7, p. 390]
As my unfortunate cold has prevented me from taking the rostrum, I sometimes have recourse to the pen. I enclose two brochures. One does not have a great deal of interest for the provinces. It is entitled Capital and Rent. My aim is to refute a preconceived idea, which has done much damage among the workers and even among the young students at schools. This preconceived idea consists in thinking that interest from capital is theft. I therefore sought to demonstrate the intrinsic nature and raison d’être of interest. I might have made this brochure provocative, as the subject was conducive to this. However, I thought it best to refrain from this so as not to irritate those whom I wished to win over. The result has been that I have fallen into sluggishness and boredom. If ever I produce a second edition, I will rewrite it.
The other brochure is a draft budget or rather the fundamental idea that, in my view, must be at the base of the gradual reform of our financial system. It shows the signs of having been written rapidly. There are portions that are too long, omissions, etc. Be that as it may, the prevailing idea is sufficiently highlighted.
I did not limit myself to writing down these ideas; I explained them in various workplaces and before the budget commission, of which I am a member. What I consider to be the most basic prudence was taken to be wild temerity. What is more, as the government is determined to remain inert, it is impossible for the commission to achieve anything worthwhile. A crowded meeting of men deprived of the resources provided by the administrative authority cannot pursue a systematic plan. Projects conflict with each other. General ideas are rejected as a waste of time, and they end up just dealing with details. Our budget for 1849 will be a fiasco. I believe that history will blame this on the Cabinet.
The elections are coming closer; I do not know what the Assembly will decide with regard to the notice period. Will I be able to come to see you? I would like to do so for various reasons: first of all, in order to breathe the air of my region and shake my friends’ hands; second, to combat a few false notions which may have arisen concerning my actions in parliament; and lastly, to inform the electors of my views on the spirit in which they should make their choices. In my opinion, they could not do better than to remain faithful to the spirit which prevailed over them in April 1848. They do not think they produced a good Assembly. I maintain the opposite. It was slightly changed by the partial elections, which sent us both several revolutionaries and a large number of plotters. God preserve my country from having recourse in this way to the extreme wings of both parties! A violent clash would ensue. Doubtless, the country can nominate people only in accordance with its impressions and opinions of the moment. If it is reactionary, it will nominate reactionaries. But let it at least select new men. If it sends long-standing deputies with hearts full of bitterness and well versed in parliamentary intrigue, who are determined to overthrow everything, create traps for new institutions, and bring out as rapidly as possible all the faults that may sully our constitution, all will be lost! We already have the proof of this. Our constitution puts two equal powers into confrontation with each other without the means of settling any possible conflict. This is a great failing. And what has been the result? Instead of at least waiting for this failing to be revealed and for conflict to arise in due course, the government made haste to generate it needlessly. This is the thinking of a man in a hurry to derive criticism of our institutions from whatever happens. And why has this man acted in this way? Did he need to? No. But he is one of those who were deeply thwarted by the revolution and, without realizing it, he is taking pleasure in exacting his revenge at the expense of the country.
As for my personal fate, I do not know what this will be. The country might reproach me for not having done much! In effect, my health has been an invincible obstacle. It has paralyzed my physical and mental strength. I have thus disappointed my friends’ expectations. But is this my fault? Whatever happens, if my mandate is withdrawn, I will resume with no bitterness the solitary habits that are so dear to me.
Letter to Bernard Domenger
Paris, 21 March 1849
[vol. 7, p. 392]
Your letter has reached me attached to that from M. Dup——. The minister of trade had initially made me promises. Later, I learned that Dup—— had insisted with all his customary tenaciousness. Yesterday evening, I went to Buffet’s house, taking Turpin with me. As he had been present at the General Council, he could testify as to what had happened and he did so in very formal terms. We met Dampierre there and he helped us. In spite of all this, I saw that the minister was uneasy; Duv——’s obsessions must have frightened him. He told us, “If I refuse Duv—— his farm, it will cause his death.”
I had already written Buffet a closely reasoned letter and will write another, which I will end as follows: France wants administrative decentralization. If the minister believes he can overlook the wishes of all the regular mouthpieces of the département and act as he wishes, when it is a matter of determining where a farm will be set up, he may as well eliminate the institution of the general councils, as they will then just be a mirage.
I ask you, my dear D., to apologize on my behalf to M. Dup—— for not replying to him today. I will do so when I have further information. You see how the law regarding political associations arouses Paris. The minister was very reckless to raise this matter. However, his unfortunate tactic is to disregard the Assembly, and I believe that he wished to have the law rejected in order to attribute full responsibility for the future to it.
No vote has ever cost me so dear as the one I cast yesterday. You know that I have always been in favor of freedom except for the repression of crime. I must admit that in the face of the political clubs this principle appears to have to give way. When I contemplate the fear they inspire in peace-loving people, the memories they resurrect, etc., etc., I tell myself that those who sincerely love the Republic must understand that they have to make it loved. It will be compromised if there is an intention to impose by force on the country an institution or even a liberty which appalls it. I therefore voted for the elimination of the clubs.
When I did this, I did not hide the disadvantages of this action. To succeed in politics, you have to join a party and, if possible, the strongest party. Voting according to your conscience with the right and the left according to the circumstances is to risk being abandoned by both. But before reaching this point, I had taken the decision only to consult my judgment and conscience and not vote according to party lines. This influenced the proposal I put forward. Systematic majorities and minorities are the death of representative government.
I believe that our government will make a considerable effort to avoid war. In previous times we might have feared that it would be carried along by popular feelings in support of Italy, but things have changed a great deal. The disturbances in the peninsula have reduced this support. Charles Albert will probably be defeated before we have the time to debate the opportunity of what should be done. But once the Austrians have reached Turin, all will not be lost, far from it. I am not even sure that it is only then that serious problems will begin. Oh, how difficult is it for men to get along together, when it might be so easy!
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Paris, Monday, March 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant des Landes, p. 13]
I am quite positive that I have left something very precious at your house, something which men of my age should no longer leave behind, something which we should always feel when our hand strays to the left side of our chest, something whose loss reduces us to being scatterbrained or blind, in a word, my glasses.
If by any chance they have been found in your drawing room, please hand them to my messenger.
I am taking advantage of this opportunity to ask after the health of your Louisette, since this is the name you like to call her; I would be happy to learn that we will be able to hear her sweet voice tomorrow; admit that you are very proud of it.
Oh! You have good reason to be. I dare not repeat it too often, but I prefer a romantic song sung by her to an entire concert highlighted by musical trills and tours de force. After all, is it not good practice to judge things and especially the arts by the impression they give us? When your daughter sings, every heart pays attention and everyone’s breath is held, from which I conclude that it is true music.
I am intrepidly protecting my health. I value it highly, being weak enough to believe that it still has some use.
Yesterday I went to see Mme de Planat. Through a few Germanic mists her mind shows traces of a deep source of common sense and original judgment, with just enough erudition for it not to be too much and perfect impartiality; our unfortunate civil disturbances do not trouble the sureness of her opinions. She is a woman who thinks for herself and I would like you to meet her. However, she made me talk too much.
I have not visited Victor Hugo because I thought he lived in the Marais; if I had known he lived in your district, then since the slope down to this area of Paris is easy, I would have made my entrance to his salon, which must be worth a visit.
Farewell. I shake the hands affectionately of those you call the Trio whom I love dearly.
Letter to Mrs. Schwabe
Paris, 11 March 1849
[vol. 7, p. 429]
I have been horribly negligent and horrible is the right word, since it is close to ingratitude. How can I excuse it after all the kindnesses with which I have been showered at Crumpsall House?
What is certain is that my activities exceed my strength. Perhaps I will be relieved of them soon. According to the opinions I am receiving from my region, I will not be returned. I was sent to uphold the Republic. I am now being reproached for being faithful to my mission. This will wound my feelings, as I have not deserved to be abandoned, and what is more we ought to weep for a country that discourages even honest action. What consoles me, however, is that I will be able to renew the ties of friendship and my work in solitude that is so dear to me.
It is with surprise and satisfaction that I learn of your forthcoming visit to Paris. I do not need to tell you with what pleasure I will shake your hand and that of Mr. Schwabe. My only fear is that this date coincides with that of our elections. If this is so, I will be two hundred leagues away, at least if I decide to subject myself to the risk of election. I have not yet made up my mind on this.
As you can well imagine, I am following the efforts of our friend Mr. Cobden with the keenest interest. I am even echoing it here. Yesterday, we obtained from our budget commission a reduction of two hundred thousand men in our armed forces. It is not very likely that the Assembly and the government will accept such a radical change, but is this achievement with a commission nominated by the Assembly itself not a good sign?
. . . Farewell, madam, I am determined to write to you more regularly in the future. Today, I am busy with an important debate which I have raised in the Assembly and which obliges me to carry out some research.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Paris, 15 March 1849
[vol. 1, p. 94]
My dear Félix, your letters are really very infrequent, but they give me the pleasant feeling you experience when you see the steeple of your village church after a long absence.
It is a thankless task being a patriot and wanting to remain one of some consequence. Through some unknown optical illusion, the changes that occur around you are attributed to you. I have carried out my mandate in the spirit in which I received it; my country has the right to change and consequently to change its representatives, but it does not have the right to say that it is I who have changed.
You will have read in the newspapers that I proposed my motion. Let representatives remain representatives, I said, since if the law makes other prospects more appealing in their eyes, the mandate instantly becomes vitiated and exploited and, because it is the very essence of representative government, this entire system is undermined at its source and in its fundamental principles.
It was an extraordinary thing! When I mounted the rostrum I did not have ten supporters, and when I left it I had the majority. It is certainly not my powers of oratory that caused this phenomenon, but the power of common sense. The ministers and all those who aspired to become ministers were in ecstasy. They were just about to vote when the commission, with M. Billault at its head, evoked the amendment. It was sent back as of right to this commission. On Sunday and Monday there was a reaction in public opinion, which besides had had very little preparation, with the result that on Tuesday everyone said, “Let representatives remain representatives! But this is a frightful danger, it is worse than the Terror!” All the journals had cut, distorted, and deleted my words and put absurd notions into my mouth. All the meetings in the rue de Poitiers, etc., had emitted a cry of alarm; in a word all the usual means were employed.
In short, I was left with a minority made up of a few enthusiasts who no more understood me than the others, but one thing that is certain is that the impression was vivid and will be remembered for some time. More than one hundred members have told me that they were in favor of my proposal but voted against it for fear of making a mistake with such an important innovation on which they had not reflected sufficiently.
You know me well enough to think that I would not have liked to succeed through surprise. Later on, public opinion would have attributed all the calamities time would have brought on us to my amendment.
From a personal point of view, what is sad is the charlatanism that dominates newspapers. There is a bias in favor of exalting certain men and deprecating others. What are we to do? It would be easy for me too to have a great number of friends in the press, but to do this I would need to make an effort, which I refuse, since the resulting chains would be too heavy.
As for the elections, I do not know whether I will be able to be present; I will go only when the Assembly has been dissolved. As a member of the budget commission, I have to remain at my post; let the country punish me if it wishes, I will have done my duty. I have one thing only I can reproach myself for, and that is not to have worked enough, and my excuse for this is my very poor health and the inability of my poor lungs to compete with the storms in parliament. Because I could not speak out, I took the course of writing. There is not a single question of burning importance which has not produced a pamphlet from me. It is true that I discussed the practical aspect less than the principles; in doing this I was obeying the character of my mind, which is to go back to the source of error, each person making himself useful in his own way. In the midst of all the heated emotions unleashed, I could not influence the effects, I just pointed out the causes. Have I really remained inactive?
In opposition to the doctrine of Louis Blanc, I wrote Individualism andFraternity. When property was attacked, I wrote Property and Law. Income from land came under fire, so I wrote the five articles in the Débats. The practical source of communism was revealed, so I wrote the pamphlet Protectionism and Communism. Proudhon and his followers preached free credit, a doctrine which spread like wildfire, so I wrote Capital and Rent. It was clear that a balanced budget would be sought through additional taxes, so I wrote Peace and Freedom. We were faced with a law that encouraged parliamentary coalitions, so I wrote a pamphlet on conflicts of interest. We were threatened with paper money, so I wrote the pamphlet Damned Money. All these pamphlets were distributed free of charge and in great numbers, which cost me a great deal; from this point of view the electors have nothing to reproach me for. From the point of view of action, I did not betray their trust either. On 15 May and during the days of June I played my part in the troubles. After this, let their verdict condemn me; I will perhaps feel it in my heart but not in my conscience.
Letter to Bernard Domenger
Paris, 25 March 1849
[vol. 7, p. 392]
The last time I wrote to you I did so in haste, and I believe I forgot to speak to you about the elections. The time is coming closer, and since you are determined to put me on your list, I would be grateful if you would inform me regularly of what is being said and done. I am certain that there is a great deal of prejudice in the region against me and that these sentiments are sustained and perhaps inflamed by candidates or someone in their midst. I am aware that discussions with my proposers would be useful, but I cannot leave the National Assembly before it is dissolved. For this reason, I will shortly be sending a report.
I am sure that I will have little support from the district that would be most necessary to me, that is, Saint-Sever. If a bargain is struck among the three districts and each puts forward two candidates, I will probably not be on the Saint-Sever list, and while the two other districts would regret this somewhat, these regrets would not go so far as to break the agreement. I will therefore be, as they say, among three stools, etc.
As I am convinced that I have done my duty, this failure will be hurtful initially. I hope that I will be rapidly consoled. I do not lack other work to do outside the legislature.
But, from the political point of view, I would consider it a great misfortune if the elections produced a result that differed significantly from that of 1848. If you assess it with impartiality you would acknowledge that the Assembly has carried out its mission, overcome the greatest physical and moral difficulties, and finally restored order to events and peace to people’s minds, and that the most dangerous utopian ideas have been brought down before it, even though at the outset it was strongly imbued with illusionary hopes. This Assembly is on the right track. It would have accomplished for finance, if it had had the time, everything it was possible to do. Is it the right time to turn it out and replace it with different men imbued with a different spirit and with hearts full of bitterness? I can tell you that the government is very anxious about the future in this respect. Will we never cease to embark on adventures? I therefore think that, if there were anything better to do, it would be to continue in the electoral spirit of 1848, except for the removal of a few men, on the right and the left, who have shown a disruptive spirit of unruliness.
In our département, this reproach can scarcely be made to our representatives. Only one of them, probably in good faith, has produced a dangerous proposal, that of progressive taxation and the taking over by the state of several private industries. Keeping the Republic honest has been the motto of the job of a deputy. The question should thus be asked: are we going to send back the same representatives or will we make new choices with new purposes in view?
Experience has proved to me that the struggle between the districts will be a very small affair if it breaks out. I can assure you that the district of Saint-Sever is the one that gives me the least work. I do not remember having received a single letter from the chief towns: Hagetmau, Amou, Geaune, or Aire. Even Mugron has sent me only three on matters that are not incompatible with the mandate of a deputy; Dax and Le Saint Esprit have sent me more. In all, I am edified to see just how far the spirit of lobbying has died out.
Letter to Bernard Domenger
Paris, 8 April 1849
[vol. 7, p. 396]
Your letters are always precious to me and it is a consolation to me to think that impartial and enlightened friends are not being influenced by the prejudices against me.
I have in fact spoken again to Buffet. I put the argument most likely to produce an effect to him. I said, “If, when it is a question of pure locality to ascertain where a model farm may render the most service, the unanimous wishes of thirty general councillors are set aside, do not talk to us any further of decentralization.” He replied, “I have made up my mind to give way to the wishes of the region in questions like these.” In spite of this he has not taken a firm decision; he fears our tenacious and obstinate opponents. I have been assured that he is spreading invective against me. He is a very singular type of liberal.
I have received a letter from M. Dup——. He is asking me to send a note to the minister. I have already sent him a memorandum. You can be sure that we will neglect nothing in ensuring the triumph of the general council’s note.
My friend, I would like to speak to you about the elections and politics. But in truth, there is so much to say that I do not dare start. The need for order, security, and confidence is dominant in the country. This is only natural. However, I am convinced that this is misleading the people with regard to the relationship between the government and the Assembly at the moment. I would very much like to go around the département to put right disastrous misunderstandings. The Assembly should be dissolved and thus allow the representatives to go out to explain themselves, not in their own interest but in the interest of the future. It is very important that the elections are not held under the influence of false preoccupations.
The current ministers are honest, well intentioned, and determined to maintain order. They are my personal friends and I believe that they understand the meaning of true liberty. Unfortunately, they came into power with the preconceived idea that the Assembly, which came out in support of Cavaignac, would of necessity be opposed to Bonaparte. In my soul and conscience this was a mistaken assessment, and it has had the most disastrous consequences. The ministers thought of nothing other than dismissing the Assembly and, with this in view, discrediting it. They pretend to take no note of its votes, even when it demands the execution of laws. They refrain from any initiatives. They give us free rein. They are present at debates like strangers in the gallery. Since they feel that they are supported by the wind of public opinion they generate strife because they think that it will be advantageous to them in the eyes of the country. They thus accustom the country to having a low opinion of the principal power of any representative government. They go even further: they put forward unacceptable laws in order to provoke their rejection. This is what happened with regard to the clubs. You will say that my vote on this law will go some way to reconciling me with the electors. Well then! I have to tell you that this vote is the only one I have on my conscience, as it is contrary to all my principles, and if I had had a few minutes in which to reflect calmly I would certainly not have given it. What determined me to do this was this. I said to my neighbors, “If we want the Republic to remain in place, we must make it loved, not make it feared. The country is in fear of the clubs, it hates them, let us sacrifice them.” The results of the law have proved that it would have been better to stick to our principles, provide all the possible means of control, but not eliminate freedom. This law has done nothing other than organize secret societies.
Since then, I have voted three times and always to my regret against the government. I will be reproached for this in the region, but nevertheless these votes were conscientious.
- 1. The Italian question. Like La Montagne, I rejected the agenda which pressed for an invasion of the Piedmont, but for the opposite reason. La Montagne did not find this agenda sufficiently warlike; I found it too much so. You know that I am against intervention and this explains my vote. Besides, I do not approve of the diplomacy carried out in parliament. Foolhardy undertakings are entered into which subsequently prove to be an embarrassment. I preferred the pure and simple agenda for which I voted.
- 2. The question of the prefects. If the government had made a frank admission, I would have overlooked it. However, it wished to claim that forty prefects became ill on the same day. Subtleties like this disgust common sense.
- 3. The Changarnier affair. The same reason. If the government had demanded that a state of affairs contrary to the law should be prolonged, on the premise of the requirements of order, we might have agreed. However, it came to us to say, “We are asking for something arbitrary and the National Assembly is no judge of the length of time this arbitrary state should last!” The greatest despot in the world could not ask for anything different. I could not agree to this.
As for the elections, they will be what the good Lord wants them to be. If I have to fall, I have taken steps in advance and I have much work to do outside parliament. I have a work in my head and fear that I will not be able to deliver it. If the electors give me some leisure, I will console myself by working on this book, which is my chimera. My only wish is that they do not replace me in too unworthy a manner. There are some who, if put in my place, would not bring honor to the département.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Paris, 25 April 1849
[vol. 1, p. 97]
My dear Félix, the elections may well be approaching, but I am not receiving any direct news of them. A nice, affectionate letter from Domenger is the sum of my pittance. I may presume that I am the only representative in this situation, and this gives me a premonition of my fate. Besides this, I have received a few bits of indirect information through Dampierre. He has left me in no doubt that the region has formed a movement, which implies that the confidence it placed in me has been withdrawn. I am neither surprised nor upset by this, as far as I am concerned. We are in an age in which you have to fling yourself into one of the extremist parties if you wish to succeed. Whoever casts a cool eye on the exaggerations of the parties and combats them remains abandoned and crushed in the center. I am afraid that we are moving toward a social war, a war of the poor against the rich, which may be the dominant event of the end of this century. The poor are ignorant, violent, and riddled with illusionary and absurd ideas, and the movement which is carrying them along is unfortunately justified to a certain extent by genuine claims, since indirect taxes are a reverse form of progressive taxation for them. As this is so, I could have only one plan, to combat the errors of the people and anticipate well-founded complaints, in order never to leave justice on their side. This has given rise to the eight or nine pamphlets I have written and my votes for all the financial reforms.
However, it has happened that, taking advantage of the need for security, which is the salient characteristic of public opinion, the rich are exploiting this need to the benefit of their own injustice. They remain cold and selfish, and they weaken any effort made to save them, their sole dream being the restoration of the small number of abuses brought down by the Revolution.
In this situation a clash appears inevitable to me, and it will be terrible. The rich are counting a great deal on the army, but experience of the past should make them rather less confident in this regard.
As for me, I ought to have been out of favor with both parties for the very reason that I was more concerned with combating their errors than enrolling myself under their banner; I and all the other men of scientific good will, that is to say, that which is based on justice as explained by science, will remain on the sidelines. The new Chamber, which ought to have been the same as the present one without the extremes, will on the contrary be made up of the two extreme camps, and intermediate prudence will be banished from it. If this does happen, there is just one thing left for me to say: may God protect France! My friend, by remaining in obscurity, I would have reasons with which to console myself if at least my somber predictions fail to materialize. I have my theory to write down and I am receiving powerful encouragement just at the right time. Yesterday I read these words in an English review: in political economy, the French school has gone through three phases encapsulated by the following three names, Quesnay, Say, and Bastiat.
Of course, it is premature for me to be assigned this rank and role, but it is clear that I have a new, fertile idea that I believe to be true. This idea is one that I have never developed methodically. It has come through almost accidentally in a few of my articles, and since this has been enough to catch the attention of learned men, since it has already been given the honor of being considered as a milestone in science, I am now certain that when I produce the complete theory it will at least be examined. Is this not all I could wish for? With what ardor will I use my retirement to set out this doctrine, in the certainty that it will be scrutinized by judges who understand and who are waiting for it!
On the other hand, professors of political economy are trying to teach my Theory of Value but are no more than feeling their way. It has made an impression in the United States, and yesterday in the Assembly a delegation of Americans presented me with a translation of my works. The preface shows that they are waiting for the fundamental idea which up to now has rather been outlined than formulated. This situation is also true for Germany and Italy. It is true that all this is happening in the closed circle of professors, but it is through them that ideas make their entrance into the wider world.
I am therefore ready to accept with resolution the naturally very hard life that will be allocated to me. What gives me courage is not Horace’s “non omnis moriar,” but the thought that perhaps my life will not have been pointless for the human race.
Right now, where will I base myself in order to carry out my task, in Paris or in Mugron? I have not yet taken any decision but I feel that in your company the work would be better formulated. Having just one concept and subjecting it to an enlightened friend is certainly the best recipe for success.
Letter to Bernard Domenger
Paris, 29 April 1849
[vol. 7, p. 399]
I have been very dilatory in replying to your letter of the 14th, but what could I do? Nature has riddled me with the oddest afflictions and I appear to become increasingly inert just when I need to be most active. So, since the question of elections has arisen, I have become absorbed and fascinated by a purely theoretical work, which takes up all my waking hours.
The very rare items of news reaching me give me no doubt as to the result of the vote concerning me; I have lost the confidence of the region. Let me explain; my mistake, and this is only a personal point of view, has been to perceive the two conflicting exaggerations and associate myself with neither. My friend, they are leading us toward civil war, a war of the poor against the rich. The poor demand more than is just; the rich do not want to grant even what is just. This is the danger. Taxes that increase with wealth have been rejected, and this is right, but taxes that increase with deprivation have been maintained, and this has provided good arguments to the people. No one knows better than I how many absurd claims they are making, but I also know that they have well-founded complaints. Therefore simple prudence, in the absence of equity, traced out the line of conduct for me to follow: resist the illusionary demands of the people and acknowledge their legitimate claims. But alas! The notion of justice has been distorted in the minds of the poor and the sentiment of justice has been extinguished in the hearts of the rich. I have therefore had to alienate myself from both classes. All that is left to me is to be resigned to my fate.
I hope that I am a false prophet! Before February, I said: “Increasing resistance in the government and an increasingly active movement in the opposition could result only in a wrenching division. Let us seek out the point at which justice occurs as this will save us.” I was not mistaken. Both parties persisted in their ways and the result was a revolution.
Today, I say: The poor are demanding too much and the rich not granting enough; let us seek justice; this is where conciliation and security reside. But the parties persist, and we will have social war.
This will occur, I fear, in unfortunate conditions, as the more we refuse what is just to the populace the greater moral and material strength we give to its cause. This is why it is making terrifying progress. This progress is veiled by a transitory reaction, one determined by the general need for security, but it is genuine. The explosion will be delayed, but it will occur.
I had reached this point in my letter when I received one from our friends in Mugron. I left my letter to you to reply to them and naturally I repeated what I said above, since I can say only what is filling my heart. They are pressing me to return to the region, but what would I do there? Are people ready to organize major meetings? Without this, how could I make contact with such a large number of electors?
I received your letter of the 27th on the 30th. I will be going later to the Assembly and will see whether I can obtain leave of absence without any problem. I am very disinclined to do this just at the time when the budget for war will be debated and I will perhaps be called upon to defend it.
Everyone wants economy in general. But everyone resists each individual economy in particular.
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Paris, 3 May 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant des Landes, p. 16]
Please allow me to send you a copy of my letter to the electors. This is certainly not to have your political opinion on it, but these documents are above all a matter of tact and delicacy. You have to talk about yourself a lot in them and how do you avoid either false modesty or outrageous vanity? How do you show yourself to be sensitive to ingratitude without falling into the ridiculous category of being misunderstood? It is very difficult to reconcile dignity with the truth. I think that a woman is above all suitable for pointing out any faults of this nature, provided that she is frank enough to say so. It is for this reason that I am sending you this piece of homework in the hope that you will be willing to read it and help me to avoid improprieties if they occur. I have learned that you are starting your salons again this evening. If I can escape from a meeting in which I will be kept a little late, I will come to receive your advice. Is this not a strange mission I am giving you and an opportunity to say with Faucher that “You really have to come from the wide Landes to be gallant in this style.”
Have you had the patience to read last night’s session? What a sad conflict! In my opinion, an act of more than doubtful morality would have become excusable by a simple admission, especially as the responsibility for it lay with Faucher’s predecessors. It is the system of defense that is pitiful. And then the representatives who hope to become ministers came to inflame and exploit the fault. Ah, madam! Am I condemned to go from one setback to another? Will it be necessary for me, who left the region as a believer, to return to it as a skeptic? It is not my faith in humanity that I fear to lose, that is unshakeable, but I need also to believe in a few of my contemporaries, in the people I see and who surround me. Faith as a general principle is not enough for me.
Here is a pamphlet on Biarritz; I am sure that when you read it you will say, “That is where we ought to go to give my beloved Louise a strong constitution.”
The author of this pamphlet wanted me to hand it over to one of my friends in a position close to the president of the Republic (always this Proteus of lobbying); I could not carry out this commission because of the word Prince, clumsily deleted in front of the name Joinville; this author, a doctor, had also asked me to write a preface in the form of an apology. “But I do not know anything about medicine,” I said to him. “Well then, hide your science behind your feelings.” I then set about it. This introduction has no other merit than a certain sobriety of description, which is not very fashionable. As I am very fond of Biarritz, I am trying to do some advertising for it.
What a long letter this is! I will be outdoing M. Blondel.
Your devoted servant,
Letter to Bernard Domenger
[vol. 7, p. 401]
My election, which I learned of two days ago, will make me busier after it than before, for while I was able to neglect it a little, I must not at least forget to express my total gratitude to my friends, not for the service they have rendered me, but for the devotion and confidence that they have demonstrated. You are in the front rank of these and I am most touched by the zeal you devoted to this, especially as it must have cost you a great deal. I know that you dislike electioneering and that for a long time you wished to take only a purely personal part in it. On the other hand, you must have put yourself into conflict with very many of your friends. I want you to know that these circumstances taken together have made me appreciate your devotion all the more.
What will be the fate of the new Assembly? People are pinning high hopes on it. God willing, these will not be pure illusions. It will certainly not be better intentioned than the one that has just passed on. But what do intentions achieve? Like La Presse, I think that the best assembly is good only for preventing evil. To do good, you need the initiative of a more concentrated power; we have had the proof of this for the last five months. The government has limited its role to arousing and sustaining a conflict, and the Chamber, with all its good intentions, was unable to do anything about this.
What makes the future fearful is ignorance. The poor classes are becoming regimented and are marching as one man to a senseless war, without the slightest premonition that they are committing suicide, since after they have destroyed capital and the very motive that builds it up, what will be their fate?
Fundamentally, the matter of taxation alone should stand between the two classes. Achieving proportional taxes is all that justice requires; beyond this, there is only injustice, oppression, and misfortune for all. But how do we put this across to men who combat the very principle of ownership?
I will tell you that in my head there is a thought that is absorbing me, distracts me from my work, and makes me neglect my friends. This is a new explanation of these two words: property and community. I think that I can show in the most obvious way that the natural order of society bases on ownership itself the most beautiful, wide-ranging, and progressive community. This may appear paradoxical to you, but I have total certitude in my mind. I am anxious to be able to put this thought to the general public as I think that it will reconcile sincere men in all schools of thought. It will doubtless not draw the leaders of sects, but it will prevent the young people in schools from going to enroll themselves under the flag of communism. Am I in the coils of an illusion? This is possible, but the fact is that I am consumed with the desire to publish my idea. I am still afraid that I will not have the time, and when cholera was decimating the Assembly I said to God, “Do not take me from this world before I have accomplished my mission.”
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Brussels, Hôtel de Bellevue, June 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant
des Landes, p. 19]
You wanted me to send you my traveler’s impressions noted pell-mell on paper; do you not know that the diary has its dangers? It resembles memoirs in which you talk only about yourself. Oh, how much I would prefer to talk to you about yourself and your beloved Louise, about her occupations, her interests, her views, La Jonchère, and also a little about Le Butard; there, all is poetry, which cannot be said of the Brabant, this classic land of work, order, economy, and full stomachs. Besides, I can talk about it only through hearsay, as I arrived only yesterday evening and have seen it only through the window; in all truth this is serving me well, since it lays out before my gaze the king’s palace. Thus, a few hours ago I was breathing air infected by republicanism, and now I have been plunged into an atmosphere of monarchy. Well then, would you believe that I have not even noticed the transition? The last word I heard on the other side of the frontier was the same as I heard on this side, “your passport.” Alas, I did not have one. For a moment, I hoped that I would be sent back to Paris and my heart beat faster, but everything is becoming civilized, even gendarmes and customs officers, and in short I was allowed to pass with the recommendation that I should declare myself to the ministry of justice since, as the gendarme added, “We have been caught out several times, and only recently we nearly allowed M. Proudhon to escape.” “I am not surprised,” I replied, “that you have become so careful, and I will certainly go to make a declaration in order to encourage the gendarmerie to continue acting in this way.”
But let us take things to a higher level. On Saturday, when I left the session (you see that I am writing a conscientious diary), I mentioned the word Brussels. “I am going there tomorrow at half past eight,” said Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire; “let us go together.” Accordingly I went to the rue La Fayette, thinking that I was arriving at the agreed time, but the convoy had left and I had to wait for the one at midday. What was I to do in the interval? The Butte Montmartre is not far and the view from it is boundless. Around five o’clock, we crossed from France into Belgium and I was surprised not to feel any emotion. This was not so when I crossed our frontier for the first time; then I was eighteen and I was entering Spain! It was at the time of the civil war, I was riding a superb steed from Navarre, and, ever a man of caution, I had put a pair of pistols in my portmanteau, since Iberia is the land of great adventures, distractions that are unknown in Belgium. Might it be true that good social order kills poetry? I can still remember the impression made on me by the proud Castilians when I met them on the road on horseback and equipped with a blunderbuss apiece. They seemed to be saying: “I am not paying anyone to protect me; I protect myself.” Among all races, it seems that civilization raises the level of the masses and lowers the value put on individual character. I fear that this country will confirm this observation.
It is impossible not to be struck by the appearance of comfort and well-being offered by Belgium. Huge factories that you meet at every step trumpet a happy confidence in the future to the traveler. I wonder if the industrial world, with its monuments, comfort, railways, steam, electric telegraphs, floods of books and journals, achieving the ubiquity, unpriced character, and common availability of material and intellectual goods, does not also have its own form of poetry, a collective form of poetry, of course. Does the ideal exist only in biblical, warlike, or feudal manners? Should we, in this respect, mourn the passing of wildness, barbarism, and chivalry? In this case, it is in vain that I seek harmony in civilization, since harmony is incompatible with the prosaic. However, I believe that what makes the past appear to us in such poetic colors, the Arab’s tent, the grotto of the anchorite, or the keep of the lord of the manor, is distance, an optical illusion. We admire what contrasts with our habits and life in the desert moves us, while Abd el-Kader goes into ecstasy over the marvels of civilization. Do you think that there has ever been as much poetry in one of the heroines of antique times as in a woman of our era? Or that their minds were as cultured, their feelings as delicate, and that they had the same tenderness of heart and grace of movement and language?
Oh, let us not denigrate civilization!
Forgive me, mesdames, for this essay, but you asked for this in requesting me to write freely about things as they occurred to me. This is what I am doing, and I have to give my mind free rein, since two sources of ideas are closed to me: my eyes and my heart. My poor eyes do not know how to see as nature has refused them length of vision and rapidity; I cannot therefore describe towns or landscapes. As for my heart, it has been reduced to loving an abstraction, becoming passionate about humanity and science; others direct their aspirations toward God. This is not superfluous with respect to either; this is what I thought a short time ago when I left an asylum run by nuns devoted to caring for sick children, the mentally deficient, the deformed, and the scrofulous. What devotion! What selflessness! And after all, this life of sacrifice must not be full of suffering, since it leaves such expressions of serenity on their faces. Some economists deny the good done by these saintly women; what cannot be doubted is the influence for good that such a sight produces. It touches, induces tenderness, and raises the spirit; we feel ourselves to be better and capable of a faint imitation of this at the sight of such sublime and modest virtue.
I am running out of paper; otherwise you would not escape a lengthy dissertation on Catholicism, Protestantism, the pope, and M. de Falloux.
Please give me news of M. Cheuvreux; I hope he finds in the waters health and moral peace, so disturbed by the unrest caused by our miserable politics! Unlike me, he is not an isolated person without responsibility. He is thinking of you and his Louise; I understand his irritation at those causing trouble and reproach myself for not always having respected this sufficiently.
Farewell, I present my homage to both mother and daughter.
Your devoted servant,
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Brussels, June 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant des Landes, p. 25]
The absence of your brother-in-law will have a bad effect on those in favor of peace; they are expecting a reception which they are not going to receive. M. Say is one of those who signed the invitation. On the basis of this circular several hundred foreigners are going to come to Paris, some crossing the Channel and others the ocean, and they will be expecting to find ardent zeal over here. What a disappointment they will have when they see that the cause of peace in France is represented by Guillaumin, Garnier, and Bastiat. In England, it arouses entire populations, men and women, priests and the laity; does my country always have to be left behind?
I will be returning to Paris via Ghent and Bruges. I would like to arrive two days before the conference in order to find out what practical arrangements have been made since, I must admit, I am anxious about this. At the very least, I must carry out my duty of hospitality to Cobden, and to do this I may have to call on your boundless good nature; I will ask your permission to introduce to you one of the most remarkable men of our time. If I succeed, as I hope, in reaching Paris on Saturday, I will take the liberty of going to La Jonchère on Sunday. Will I find that nothing has changed there?
Will Mlle Louise be in full possession of her health and voice? It is a very pleasant although imperative habit to be informed as to what is interesting day by day and it makes even the shortest absence difficult.
Taking everything into account, mesdames, allow me not to take advantage of your indulgence and to hold back the telling of my tale of Antwerp. What is the use of sending it to you and giving you the trouble of reading it when I can shortly replace it with a few minutes of conversation? Besides, on rereading these notes, I see that they talk about everything except Antwerp. I have found the Belgians to be very proud of the common sense they have shown in the last two years of European troubles. They have hastened to put an end to their disagreements by mutual concessions; the king has set the example, and the Chamber and people have followed him. In short, they are all delighted with each other and with themselves. However, socialist and communist doctrines have continued their underground work and I think this is somewhat frightening for the people. This has brought to my mind a project that I will tell you about, but what in fact are projects? They resemble tiny bubbles, which appear and disappear on the surface of rough water.
Farewell, madam. Do not think that feelings act in the same way as projects. The affection I feel for you and your family is too deep and too solidly anchored not to last as long as my life and I hope beyond it.
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Notes taken in Antwerp, June 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant
des Landes, p. 27]
The extremes have met. This is what you feel on the railways; the extreme multiplicity of impressions cancels them out. You see too many things to see any one thing. This is a singular way of traveling: you do not speak, your ears and eyes fall asleep, and you are wrapped in your thoughts in solitude. The present, which ought to be everything, is nothing. But also, with what tenderness does the heart turn back to the past and with what eagerness does it leap forward toward the future. “A week ago . . . in a week’s time.” Are these not well-chosen texts for meditation when, for the first time, Vilvorde, Malines, and Brabant fly past under a gaze that does not see them!
This morning I was in Brussels, this evening at five o’clock I was once more in Brussels; in the intervening period I saw Antwerp, its churches, its museum, its port, and its fortifications. Is this really traveling? What I call traveling is to enter into the society you are visiting, finding out the state of people’s minds, their tastes, their occupations, their pleasures, the relationships between the classes, the moral, intellectual, and artistic level they have attained and what we can expect from them for the advancement of the human race. I would want to ask questions of their statesmen, their merchants, their laborers, their workers, their children, and above all their women, since it is the women who prepare future generations and control manners.
Instead of that, I am shown a hundred paintings, fifty confessionals, twenty steeples, I do not know how many statues in stone, marble, and wood, and I am told, “This is Belgium.”
To tell you the truth, there is just one resource for the observer and that is the dinner table. It gathered around it today sixty diners not one of whom was Belgian. You could see five Frenchmen and five long beards; the five beards belonged to the five Frenchmen or rather the five Frenchmen to the five beards, since the principal should never be taken for the accessory.
This being so, I asked myself this question, “Why do the Belgians, English, Dutch, and Germans shave? And why do the French not shave?” In each country, men like to have it thought that they possess the qualities that are the most highly prized. If fashion turned to blond wigs, I would say to myself that these people are effeminate; if I noticed in portraits an exaggerated development of the forehead, I would think that these people had dedicated a cult to intelligence; and when savages disfigure themselves to make themselves look frightening, I conclude that they prize brute force above all. This is why I experienced a dreadful feeling of humiliation today when I saw all the efforts of my fellow countrymen to make themselves look ferocious. Why did they have these beards and moustaches? Why this military tattooing? Whom do they want to terrify and why? Fear! Is this the tribute that my country is bringing to civilization?
It is not only traveling salesmen who are indulging in this ridiculous travesty; should it not be up to women to fight it? But is this all I have brought back from Antwerp? It was worth the trouble to travel for miles without end or purpose. I saw paintings by Rubens in their own country; you can well imagine that I sought in living nature the models for these ample studies in flesh tints that the master of the Flemish School reproduced with such pleasure. I did not find them since in truth I think that the Brabant race is inferior to the Norman race. I am told I should go to Bruges; I would go to Amsterdam if this was my type of attraction but this red flesh is not my ideal. Sentiment and grace, this characterizes woman or at least the type of woman worthy of the paintbrush.
Letter to Bernard Domenger
Paris, Tuesday, 13 . . . (Summer 1849)
[vol. 7, p. 403]
You ask me to give you some news. Do you know that I might well ask you for some? For the last few days I have made myself into a hermit and what has happened to me is like a dream. I was tired and ill; in short, I had decided to ask for a leave of absence and I am spending it at the lodge at Le Butard. What is Le Butard? It is this:
Do you know the area which extends from Versailles to Saint-Germain and which includes Bougival, La Celle-Saint-Cloud, Vaucresson, Marly, etc.? It is the most delightful, hilly region and one that is certainly the most wooded in the world after the forests in America. This is why, as he did not have a sufficiently extended view at Versailles, Louis XIV had the chateau de Marly built and why immediately Mesdames de Montespan, Maintenon, and later Dubarry had the delightful villas built at Louveciennes, Malmaison, La Jonchère, Beauregard, etc.
Today, these are all lived in by people I know. Near the center, in the middle of a thick forest, isolated like an eagle’s nest, there is the lodge of Le Butard, which the king sited at the convergent point of a thousand avenues as a hunting lodge. It takes its name from its elevated position.
However, a reactionary, who has known for a long time that I wanted to enjoy this picturesque and untamed place and that I was thinking about producing something on property, allowed me to camp in his lodge at Le Butard, which he had rented from the state with the surrounding hunting rights. Here I am then, all alone, and I am enjoying this way of life so much that when my leave of absence is over I am proposing to go to the Chamber and return here every day. I read, go for walks, play the bass, write, and in the evening I go down one of the avenues which leads me to a friend. This is how I learned yesterday of the death of Bugeaud. He is a man who will be missed. His military frankness inspired confidence and in particular sorts of potential situations he might have been very useful to us.
I have come to Paris. There I have found things in a very sorry state. The senseless audacity of —— exceeds any belief. These men amuse themselves by trampling underfoot all the rules of representative government, constitution, laws, and decrees. They do not see that they are even making the monarchy they dream about impossible! What is more, they are playing with the honor, word, and even the security of France; they are compromising what she stands for and are drowning justice in blood. It is worse than madness.
Under these circumstances, I will be forced to leave my lodge in Le Butard or at least spend part of my days on the main roads. I will also have to interrupt the work I had begun to sketch out and which I had decided to publish, even in its rough form.
Letter to Prosper Paillottet
Paris, 14 July 1849
[vol. 7, p. 436]
My dear Paillottet, I am very grateful that you remembered me in our Pyrenees and at the same time I am proud of the impression they made on you. How happy I would have been to accompany you on your outings! We would perhaps have brought a chill and a touch of vulgarity to these fine landscapes by adding political economy to them. Actually, no, since social laws have their harmonies just like the laws governing the physical world. This is what I am trying to demonstrate in the book that I am currently working on—I have to admit that I am not happy with it. I had a magnificent subject to which I have not done justice and have no time to rewrite, since the first pages are being printed. Perhaps this fiasco is not my fault. It is a difficult if not impossible thing to talk appropriately about social harmonies to an audience that is ignorant of, or which contests, the most elementary notions. Everything has to be proved, right up to the legitimacy of interests, etc. It is as if Arago wished to demonstrate the harmony of the movement of the planets to people who know nothing of arithmetic.
What is more, I am ill disposed and do not know to what to attribute this given that I am in good health. I am living at Le Butard where I hoped to find inspiration; instead of this, inspiration has fled.
It is being said that the Assembly will be prorogued from 15 August to 1 October. Please God that this is so! I will try to retrieve myself in my second volume in which I will be drawing the consequences of the first with regard to our current situation. A social problem—a French problem. . . .
Political economy owes a great deal to you as do I for your zeal in recommending us. Please continue to do so. One convert produces others. The country has a great need of this science, which will be its savior.
Farewell, your very devoted
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Paris, 30 July 1849
[vol. 1, p. 99]
My dear Félix, you have seen that the prorogation for six weeks has been passed with just a small majority. I am planning to leave on the 12th or 13th. I leave you to imagine with what happiness I will see Mugron, my relatives, and friends again. Please God that I will be left alone throughout this time! With your help perhaps I will finish the first part of my work. I care very much about this. It got off to a bad start; it is too controversial; it is too labored, etc., etc.; I am longing to present it to the world, but I am determined not to play any parliamentary role before it is able to provide me with support. The other day, M. Thiers put out a challenge to those who believed they had the solution to the social problem. I was on tenterhooks on my seat but felt myself to be anchored to it because of the impossibility of making myself understood. Once the book has been published, I will have a resource to which I can refer the men of little faith.
Since we should be having the joy of seeing each other and continuing our delightful conversations, there is no point my replying to the political part of your letter. We are of one mind regarding principles; it is simply impossible for us to have differed on the facts themselves and on people.
I will bring the books you have asked me for, and perhaps also those that I need. Would you please do me the service of telling my aunt that I am in excellent health and that I am preparing to leave?
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Mont-de-Marsan, 30 August 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant
des Landes, p. 31]
Organizations that are somewhat ethereal are unfortunate in that they are highly sensitive to tiresome trials and disappointments, but how sensitive are they too to unexpected good fortune when it happens to them! Who would have told me that today I would receive news from La Jonchère? Space has the effect of time, and because I am many leagues away from my beloved Butard, I feel that I am also distant from it by many days both past and in the future. You and Mlle Louise, who are so indulgent, will forgive my outpourings on this subject; perhaps it is because I feel profoundly disgusted by political and social sentimentality that I have become somewhat sentimental in my affections. What can you do! The heart needs revenge; and also, I do not know how you, both mother and daughter, do it, but you have the gift and art of making all those who come into contact with you so content and happy that they can be excused for showing it a little. I was sure that M. Cheuvreux would be sorry not to have been able to join you in the fine welcome given to Cobden at his house. But I am happy to hear this. Would he not have found my manner of dispensing hospitality somewhat indiscreet? I wanted France and England to appear to each other in their best light. With the Cheuvreux ladies I was proud of Cobden; with Cobden I was proud of the Cheuvreux ladies. These insular peoples ought to know that each of the two countries has something to envy the other for.
It is a good sign that M. Cheuvreux is extending his stay at the spa; this proves that it is doing him good.
The journey ought to have tired me more. Two coaches always went together, with ours behind, that is to say in a cloud of dust. My traveling companions were dreary; thank God I talk to myself and imagination is enough for me; it has produced a plan that is the finest and most useful to humanity that you could imagine. It has only to be written down, but once again I will just have to rely on good intentions. If God takes account of this, I will be saved!
Just think, mesdames, how amusing I must find it to be kept here by the General Council, knowing that my aunt and friend are expecting me in Mugron. And that is not all: I am enduring the weight of my fame; had they not held back all the most troublesome matters in order to do me the honors of the session? It was a question of being modest and a Gascon; I was both of these and to relieve myself of this strange form of courtesy I spoke of my fatigue. I took the opportunity, however, of producing a little economiste propaganda, given that our prefect has just infected his speech with socialism; this leprosy is getting everywhere. Tomorrow I will know which of the two schools will gain the majority in the Council. My fellow citizens are first-rate in support of me, they do have some small peccadilloes with which to reproach me, but they treat me like a spoiled child and appear to understand that I must be left to act, work, and vote capriciously.
I would like to bring Mlle Louise back a souvenir from our Landes, but what? Shall I go to Bayonne to find a few very tender romances set in restoration times, or else some Spanish boleros?
Mesdames, take pity on a poor exile; is it not strange to be an exile when one is at home? At this, you will say that I love paradoxes and that is a genuinely felt truth. For this reason, please write to me from time to time; I do not greatly dare to ask this sacrifice of Mlle Louise.
Please remain assured, both of you, of my fondness.
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Mugron, 12 September 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant
des Landes, p. 34]
It seems to me that twenty deliveries of letters have passed without bringing me any letters. Has time, like my watch, stopped since my return here? Or has Mlle Louise taken me at my word? However, a careful calculation which I have redone a hundred times tells me that it is not a week since my letter has gone. It is not your dear daughter who is in the wrong but my impatience. I would like to know whether M. Cheuvreux has returned to you in full health, if you yourself have recovered from your unpleasant insomnia, and in short if there is as much joy at La Jonchère as it deserves and as I would wish. What a good invention the electric telegraph will be when it is put to the service of friendship! Perhaps one day it will have a telescope, which will enable it to see at two hundred leagues. Distance would then be bearable; for example, I would now turn it toward your drawing room. Mlle Louise is at the piano. I can guess from her expression the romantic song she is singing. M. Cheuvreux and you are experiencing the sweetest joy you can experience on this earth and your friends are forgetting that the last coaches are about to leave. This picture is heartwarming. Would it be unseemly and too provincial to tell you that this portrait of virtue, happiness, and union of which your family has given me such an example has been an antidote for me to the skepticism that is fashionable and a protection against anti-Parisian prejudice. What does this reproach by Rousseau mean, “Paris, a town of mud, etc.”? Not long ago I came across a novel by Jules Janin. What a dreary and disastrous portrait of society! “The stable and the church go together,” he says, meaning that esteem is gained in Paris only through the horse on which you parade in the wood or through hypocrisy. Tell me, pray, that you have never met this man or rather that he has never met you. Because they present wealth and selfishness as being the two sides of the same coin, novelists like him have supplied the grounds for socialist ranting. For my harmonies, I needed to be sure that wealth is not only compatible with the qualities of the heart but that it develops and perfects them. I am sure of this now and feel that I am proof, as the English say, against skepticism.
Right now, madam, do you want me to lend you my marvelous telescope for a minute? I would really like you to be able to see from behind the curtain the following scenes of provincial life. In the morning, Félix and I walk around my room reading a few pages of Madame de Staël or a psalm by David; when dusk falls I go to the cemetery to look for a tomb, my foot recognizes it, here it is! In the evening I spend four hours in intimate contact with my good aunt. While I am buried in my Shakespeare, she talks with the most sincere animation, being kind enough both to ask the questions and provide the answers. Here comes the chambermaid, however, who thinks that the hours are long and feels obliged to give them a bit of variety; she comes on the scene and tells us about her electoral tribulations. The poor girl has been giving me publicity; people have always challenged her on free trade and she has argued with them. Alas, what arguments! She proudly repeats them to me and while she is giving her speech in Basque dialect, patois, and French, I remember this quotation from Patru, “There is nothing like a bad advocate for ruining a good cause.” Finally, suppertime arrives; dogs and cats rush into the room, escorting the garbure. My aunt becomes furious. “Dreadful animals,” she cries. “You see how bold they become when M. Bastiat arrives!” My poor aunt! This great fury is just artful tenderness and can be translated thus: “See what a nice person Frédéric is.” I do not say that this is true, but my aunt wants this to be believed.
I was rightly telling you, madam, that letters from villages are deadly things; we can find subjects to write about only in the environment in which we live or in our own selves.
What a milieu Paris is for someone who writes! The arts, politics, and news are all in abundance, but here the outside world is sterile. You have to have recourse to another world, the inner one. In a word, you have to talk about yourself, and this consideration ought to have made me choose the smallest of scales. Instead of this I am clumsily sending you an acre of chatter; what reassures me is that my indiscretion will find it impossible to exhaust your indulgence.
I think that the prorogation has calmed the political effervescence a little; this should be a good thing, and in this respect we should wish that it were not so near to the end of its term. On our return, I would like the government to deliver us a heap of laws on which to browse, to take up our time, and to distract us from discussions that are sterile, or rather fertile only in hatred and exaggeration.
Please convey to M. Cheuvreux and Mlle Louise the great pleasure that I will have when I meet them again soon. Perhaps I will be back at La Jonchère again on Sunday, 30th September.
If I am in Paris, I will offer to escort Mme Girard, happy to receive the confidence of her maternal joys and cares. As for the tourists, I will be writing shortly to M. Say.
Farewell, madam; allow me
to assure you of my respectful
Letter to M. Cheuvreux
Mugron, 16 September 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant des Landes, p. 39]
You have probably returned from the spa, my dear M. Cheuvreux. I am somewhat surprised at being reduced to conjecture.
There are some dreary times in which disturbed imaginations are easily inflamed. Can anyone leave Paris without thinking that he has left cholera there? The silence of our friends, which is always hard, is now becoming difficult to bear.
The purity of the air at La Jonchère reassures me. However, you have many relatives in Paris, and are not you yourself kept there almost every day by your judicial duties? These ladies have doubtless not thought of sparing me this form of anxiety. I would like to attribute their silence to less-dismal causes: business matters, pleasurable activities, walks, visits, music, chats, etc., and they also have a great many correspondents! Everyone has to take his turn. However, I would be happy to learn that everyone in your house is in good health and that this is also true of M. Say, the Renouards, at Croissy, etc.
When I arrived here, I organized a shooting party. I am sharing the catch between the Hôtel Saint Georges and the rue Boursault.
Yesterday, to put this matter of the shoot in context, I spent the day in the countryside where I lived in the past, sometimes alone and sometimes with others. The countryside here is very similar to that in which you live, a chain of hills with a river at their foot and plains as far as the eye can see beyond. The village is on the top of the hill and my property on the opposite bank of the river. But if art has done more to the banks of the Seine, nature is more unspoiled on those of the Adour. It would be impossible for me to express to you the impression I felt when I saw these long avenues of old oaks, this house with its huge rooms with only memories for furniture, these peasants with clothing in clear colors who speak in a simple language which I cannot help associating with the pastoral life. In fact I always think that a man in an overall and cap who speaks French is not really a peasant, and then the benevolent relationship between an owner and his sharecropper seems habitually to me to be another essential condition in establishing the genuine countryside. What a sky! What nights! What shadows! What silence, broken only by the distant barking of dogs to each other or by the vibrant and prolonged note echoing through space of the melancholy voice of a belated cowherd! These scenes affect the heart more than the eyes.
But here I am, back at the village. The village! It has moved one step closer to Paris. They read the gazette. Depending on the weather, they discuss Tahiti, or Saint-Jean d’Acre, Rome, or Comorn. I was counting on the holidays to calm the political effervescence a little, but see how the wind of passions is getting up. France is once more between two impossible choices. The Republic has been led by guile and violence onto a terrain on which legitimism will beat it quite logically. It is sad to think that M. de Falloux matters and that the France of the nineteenth century does not. The population is nevertheless endowed with common sense; it wants what is good and understands this, but it has forgotten how to act of its own accord. A few horseflies always succeed in provoking it into inextricable difficulties. But let us not talk about such a dreary subject.
I hoped to have made progress with my book here, an additional disappointment. Besides, I am no longer in such a hurry as, instead of being a work of current interest, it has become a work of pure doctrine and can have an effect, if effect it has, only on a few theoreticians. The real solution of the social problem would need to be propagated by a journal while still being based on a major book. I have something of an idea of embarking on a monthly publication, such as those of Lamartine and Louis Blanc. I think that our doctrine would spread like a fire or rather like a light, since it is certainly not incendiary. Everywhere I have preached it, I have found minds marvelously disposed to receive it. I tried this out on my colleagues in the General Council. Two obstacles terrify me: my health and finding the down payment. We will discuss this soon, as I hope to spend the day of 30th September with you.
Farewell, my dear sir; if you have an extra moment, please spare your ladies the trouble of writing to me. Please assure them that the regime of privation to which they are subjecting me has not made me forget their boundless benevolence.
Letter to Horace Say
Mugron, 16 September 1849
[vol. 7, p. 382]
See how our holidays, which have scarcely started, are coming to an end, even if they are not shortened for us. Are we going to be recalled to put an end to the Catholic muddle? Alas! It is to be feared that all we will do is muddle it a bit more. We are really in a blind alley. The Republic, through the determination of the government and disregard of the National Assembly, has put itself at the service of the inquisition. It now has two choices: either it goes the whole way, becoming more Jesuitical than the Jesuits, or it backs down, acknowledging the position of the Constituent Assembly, destroying the government and the current majority, and running the risk of internal upheaval and universal war. Like honor, principles are:
- . . . like an island with steep hills and no shores;
- You cannot go back to it once you have left it.
And yet the political difficulties are what worry me the least. What is distressing for this country is to see the men in the public eye one after the other sacrificing every shred of moral dignity and all intellectual consistency. The result is that the people are losing all trust and yielding to the most irremediable of solvents, skepticism.
This is why I would like the solution to the social problem, as provided by the most severe form of political economy, that is to say self-government, to have a special mouthpiece all to itself. This idea should be put before the general public: that the government should guarantee security to each person and that it should not concern itself with anything else. A monthly publication with this aim and which would be distributed like those of Louis Blanc and Lamartine at a cost of six francs a year might be a useful sharpshooter for Le Journal des économistes. We will discuss this soon as I am planning to leave Bordeaux on the 28th if I can get a seat on the mail coach. . . .
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Mugron, 18 September 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant des Landes, p. 43]
There is a note of sadness in your letter, madam, and this is very natural. You have just lost a childhood friend. In these circumstances, the initial feeling is one of regret, and then you look around your entourage with worry and end up looking in at yourself. Your mind asks questions of the great unknown and, on receiving no reply, panics. This is because there is a mystery there which is not open to the spirit but to the heart. Can you have any doubts when facing a tomb?
Madam, allow me to remind you that you have not got the right to mourn for very long. Your soul is a tuning fork for all those who love you and you have to be happy under pain of making miserable your mother, your husband, and the delightful child whom you love so much that you would force everyone to love her if she did not do so perfectly well on her own.
My ideas have taken the same road, since we too have our trials. Cholera has not visited this region but it has sent a distressing emissary: my aunt’s chambermaid is gravely ill, but they hope to save her. This has made my aunt appear to have lost twenty years, as she is on her feet night and day. For my part, I bow before such devotion to duty and I will always maintain that you, ladies, are worth a hundred times more than we. It is true that I do not agree with other economists on the meaning of the word value.
Are you making fun of me, madam, in reproaching me for not writing? Five letters in four weeks! But what has happened to the precious missive which you mention? I will be inconsolable if it is lost definitively.
What was M. Augier talking about for you to have the kindness to send me his work? I like this young poet’s verses a great deal and will long remember the vivid impression we had at the reading of his drama. In any case, this play will be obtainable; he has doubtless kept the text and he will be happy to send it to me.
However, are your letter and that of Mlle Louise lost forever? In this case, will you be able to tell me what was in them? You may be sure that I will ask you to do this.
It is on Saturday that I am leaving for Bayonne; I have only four more days here. Although Mugron is monotony personified, I will miss this sojourn of peace, the total independence, and free disposal of my time and the hours that so resemble one another that they cannot be distinguished:
- The uniform habits
- that bind from day to day;
- Neither fame nor study,
- Nothing but solitude,
- Prayer and . . .
I have not finished the line as my literature master taught me that reason should never be sacrificed to rhyme.
19th. In two hours I will myself be going to Tartas to post the boxes containing ortolans. They will be leaving on Thursday morning and will arrive in Paris on Saturday. If, by chance, they are not delivered to the Hôtel Saint-Georges, you will have to take the trouble to go to the post office as punctuality is essential for these small creatures.
I hope that my fellow countrymen will not let themselves be corrupted on the way and that you will not have to echo the quotation from Faucher with regard to the conflicts of interest: “Can anything good come out of the Great Landes?” Our friend de Labadie is already a good contrary case; what do you think, Mlle Louise? Since I am addressing you, allow me to say that my poor ears are in a sort of vacuum here. They are hungering and thirsting for music. Please keep a pretty romantic song, the most minor possible, for me. Would you not also like to practice the “Tropical Night”? You will end up liking it.
From music to the Harmonies is a very tempting switch. But since it is a question of economic harmonies, it throws a bit of cold water on things. So I will not talk to you about it. I will simply admit that, because of developments into which I have been drawn, my book will no longer reach other people than those professionally engaged. I am therefore almost resolved, as I said to M. Cheuvreux, to start a monthly publication. I will be calling on you to place advertisements. Where journals are concerned, placing advertisements is at least as important as composition of articles. This is what our colleagues are too apt to forget. You must interest women in this work.
Farewell, madam; please remember me to M. Cheuvreux. I am not surprised that he finds the air at La Jonchère is better than that at Vichy. I beg Mlle Louise to allow me the word friendship. One is always embarrassed faced with such charming creatures; homage is very respectful and affection is very familiar. There is a bit of all this here and I do not know how to express it. They will have to guess at it a little.
Your very devoted servant,
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Paris, 7 October 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant des Landes, p. 48]
I have received from my beloved Landes this morning a carton that I assume contains some ortolan buntings. I am sending it to you without opening it. Supposing it contains woolen stockings! Oh, I would be very embarrassed, but when all is said and done I would be the butt of a few jokes. Yesterday evening, in my haste and with characteristic tact, I arrived at M. Say’s house right in the middle of dinner. To celebrate the reopening of the Monday gatherings, all our friends were there. The party was in full swing to judge from the bursts of laughter that reached me in the drawing room. The hall embellished with a number of black, white, and pink cloaks showed that there were not only economists present.
After dinner, I approached the sister-in-law of M. D—— and, knowing that she has just arrived from Belgium, I asked her if she had had a pleasant trip. This is what she answered: “Sir, I had the unspeakable pleasure of not seeing the face of a single Republican because I hate them.” The conversation could not continue for long on this subject, so I spoke to the person next to her, who started to tell me about the pleasant impressions made on her by Belgian royalism. “When the king passes,” she said, “everything is joyful: shouts of joy, heraldic figures, banners, ribbons, and lanterns.” I see that in order not to displease the ladies too much, we must make haste to elect a king. The embarrassment is to know which one, since we have three in the wings and who will win (after a civil war)?
I was obliged to take refuge with groups of men, since to tell you the truth political passions are grimaces on women’s faces. The men pooled their skepticism. They are splendid propagandists who do not believe a word of what they preach. Or rather, they do not doubt, they just pretend to doubt. Tell me which is worse, to pretend to doubt or to pretend to believe? Economists really must stop this playacting. Tomorrow, there will be many guests to dinner. I will ask about a journal intended to disseminate principled intellectual certainties. I regret that M. Cheuvreux cannot be with us. While I disagree with him on particular questions, opinions of people or circumstances, we agree on ideas and the fundamentals of things. He would support me.
Farewell, madam; allow me to
call myself the most devoted and
respectful of your friends.
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Paris, 8 October 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant des Landes, p. 50]
Quite by chance the journal of the Landes has published the traditional recipe in the region for preparing ortolans; doubtless Lord Trompette would not be offended if I sent him, through you, so precious a document.
Yesterday, when I came to deliver my parcel at the rue Saint-Georges, M. Cheuvreux did not make an appearance, although it was an audience day. Today we had an appointment to visit the electric telegraph. He did not come; can he be ill?
The discussion on socialism has been very good, with Charles Dupin excelling himself. Dufaure was admirable and La Montagne violent, nonsensical, and ignorant. What a desolate arena the Chamber has become! How inferior it is, as far as intentions are concerned, to the Constituent Assembly! Then, the vast majority was passionately in favor of good. Now people just dream of revolution and the only thing that checks them is the choice. In spite of this, society is making progress. No one can be taken to task for individual accidents, and I am sorry that that upsets good Mme Alexandre, but it is clear that the general movement is toward order and security.
For you, mesdames, to meet any contingency, you have laid up resources of good fortune in the affection of those close to you and will not both mother and daughter always be angels of consolation for each other?
Allow me also to hope that you
give just a little value to the
unshakeable devotion of your
Letter to Mrs. Schwabe
Paris, 14 October 1849
[vol. 7, p. 382]
Do not be afraid, madam, that your advice is untimely. Is it not based on friendship? Is it not the surest sign of this?
It is in vain that you predict late flowering happiness for me in the future. This cannot happen for me, even in the pursuit or the triumph of an idea that is useful to the human race since my health condemns me to hate the struggle. Dear lady, I have poured into your heart just a drop from the chalice of bitterness that fills mine. For example, just look at my difficult political position and you will see whether I can agree with the prospects you offer me.
I have always had a political idea that is simple, true, and can be grasped by all, and yet it is misunderstood. What was I lacking? A theater in which to expose it. The February revolution occurred. It gave me an audience of nine hundred people, the elite of the nation given a mandate by universal suffrage with the authority to put my views into practice. These nine hundred people were full of the best intentions. They were terrified of the future. They hesitated and cast about for some notion of salvation. They were silent, waiting for a voice to be heard and to which they could rally. I was there; I had the right and duty to speak. I was aware that my words would be welcomed by the Assembly and would echo around the masses. I felt the idea ferment in my head and my heart . . . and I was forced to keep silent. Can you imagine a worse form of torture? I was obliged to keep silent because just at this time it pleased God to remove from me all my strength, and when huge revolutions are achieved such as to afford me a rostrum, I am unable to mount it. I was not only incapable of speaking but also even of writing. What a bitter disappointment! What cruel irony!
Here I am, since my return, confined to my room for simply having wanted to write a newspaper article.
That is not all; I had just one last hope. It was to put this thought down on paper before disappearing from this world so that it did not perish with me. I know very well that this is a poor resource as people today read only well-known authors. Cold print certainly cannot take the place of a speech delivered to the leading political theater in the world. But at least the idea that torments me would have survived. What can one do? The strength to write down and organize a whole theoretical treatise is failing me. It seems as though my mind is becoming paralyzed in my head. Is this not a poignant affliction?
But why am I telling you all this? I have to beg your indulgence. It is because I have bottled up my troubles for so long inside myself that, when I am in contact with a compassionate heart, I find all my private feelings longing to escape.
I would like to send your dear children a small French work that is full of feeling and truth and which has delighted almost all the generations of French young people. It was my childhood companion and later, not very long ago on winter evenings, a woman, her two children, and I wept together on reading it. Unfortunately, M. Heron has left and I do not know how to send it. I will try to send it to Mr. Faulkner in Folkestone.
Farewell, dear lady, I must leave you. Although I am not well, I have to go to defend the cause of the blacks in one of our committees and then return to my only friend, my pillow.
Letter to Richard Cobden
Paris, 17 October 1849
[vol. 1, p. 181]
My dear Cobden, you should not doubt my eagerness to attend the meeting on 30 October, if my parliamentary duties are not a total obstacle to this. To have the pleasure of shaking your hand and witnessing the progress of public opinion in England in favor of peace will be a double happiness for me. It will also be very pleasant for me to thank Mr. B. Smith for his gracious hospitality, which I accept with gratitude.
Be assured that I will do all in my power to bring our excellent friend, M. Say. I am afraid his duties in the Council of State may retain him. I am all the more anxious to have him as a traveling companion since he does not totally believe in the peace conference. To witness your meetings will surely steel his confidence. I will be seeing him this evening.
My friend, nations, like individuals, are subject to the law of responsibility. England will have a great deal of trouble convincing people of the sincerity of her efforts for peace. For a long time, for centuries perhaps, it will be said on the continent that England is preaching moderation and peace, but it has fifty-three colonies and two hundred million subjects in India. This single sentence will neutralize many a fine speech. When will England be advanced enough to renounce voluntarily a few of its expensive conquests? This would be a fine means of propaganda.
Do you think it would be imprudent or out of place to touch on this delicate subject?
Letter to Richard Cobden
Paris, 24 October 1849
[vol. 1, p. 182]
My dear Cobden, Say must have written to you to say that we plan to leave on Sunday evening to be in London on Monday morning. He is bringing his son with him. As for Michel Chevalier, he is still in the Cévennes.
However, there is another thing. M. Say’s brother-in-law, M. Cheuvreux, who was absent when we went to spend a day at his house in the country, and who very much regretted having missed this opportunity of making your acquaintance, is planning to join us. In addition, he very much wants to be present at the movement of English public opinion in favor of peace and disarmament. However, as I do not want to be separated from M. Cheuvreux, I am obliged to write to Mr. Smith to express my deepest gratitude and explain to him the reasons which prevent me from taking advantage of his generous hospitality.
While I am writing this letter, the repeal of the laws of banishment is being debated. I am very afraid that our Assembly will not have the courage to open France’s doors to fallen dynasties. In my opinion this act of justice would consolidate the Republic.
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Paris, November 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant des Landes, p. 52]
Here is a document that will interest you. For my part, I have not been able to read it without being moved to tears (the nature of a mountain is not always a rocky nature). To whom could I turn to share my impressions if not you?
I will be obliged to contest the opinion of my friends and this costs me dearly. But some Greek, whose name I can’t recall, has said: “I love Plato, but I love truth better.” It seems a certainty now that political economy has opened its doors to communism and it is up to it to close them.
If you have five minutes to spare, may I dare to ask you to give me news of the trio?
Your devoted servant,
Letter to Bernard Domenger
Paris, 13 November 1849
[vol. 7, p. 404]
The High Court of Versailles has just rendered its verdict. We do not yet have all the details of this; we know only that eleven of the accused, including a member of the Assembly, have been acquitted. All the other representatives have been condemned to be deported, as well as Guinard. I have not followed the discussions sufficiently closely to have an opinion on them. I bow to justice and regret only that the defense was limited as to its means. This is always a worrying precedent. The authority of the cause being judged is not enhanced by this.
You have doubtless heard about my short trip to England. I left on Monday evening after the session and was back on Saturday morning, and for four days I saw only great things and great men, at least in my view.
When I arrived, a sort of very courteous cartel of socialists came to see me. It was a question of detailed discussions before an audience of workers and against Proudhon on the question of whether interest on capital is legitimate, a question that is more difficult and dangerous than the one concerning property, in that it is more general. I believe that I did some good in accepting the contest.
On this subject, I will tell you, my dear Domenger, that the electors in the Landes may well grow tired of my apparent inaction. It is true that my work is capricious; I have to be taken with all my faults. However, I sincerely believe that the current danger is neither from the authorities nor from the Assembly, but from the misguidedness of popular opinion. It is thus in this direction that I am devoting my weak efforts. I hope that the good sense of our fellow countrymen will make them understand that each person has his own mission in life and that I am fulfilling mine.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Paris, 13 December 1849
[vol. 1, p. 100]
My dear Félix, it is sad that our correspondence has slowed down so much. Do not conclude from this, I beg you, that my long-standing friendship for you is cooling; on the contrary, it seems that time and distance, those two great poets, lend charm to the memory of our walks and conversations. I miss Mugron, its philosophical calm and fruitful leisure hours on many occasions. Here, life is worn out with our doing nothing, or at least producing nothing.
Yesterday I spoke during the debate on wines and spirits. As I rarely take the rostrum, I wanted to put forward our ideas. With a bit of perseverance, we will make them triumph. They must have been deemed worthy of examination, as the entire Assembly listened to them in silence, without anyone being able to attribute this rare phenomenon to talent or to the reputation of the speaker. But what is appalling is that these efforts are wasted as far as the public is concerned, because of the poor condition of the journals. Each cloaks me in its own ideas. If they limited themselves to disfiguring or ridiculing my thought, I would accept my lot, but they attribute to me the very heresies that I am combating. What am I to do? Incidentally, I enclose Le Moniteur; enjoy yourself making comparisons.
I did not say all I wanted to say, nor in the way I wished to say it. Our southern volubility is an oratorical plague. When a sentence has been finished, we think of how the sentence should have been phrased. However, with the help of gestures, intonation, and action, we make ourselves understood by our audience. But this discourse written in shorthand is just slovenly and I myself cannot bear to read it.
We are really overworked here, as the English say. These long sessions, office meetings, and commissions weigh you down and do no good. They constitute ten wasted hours, which waste the rest of the day, since (at least for weak heads) they are enough to remove the faculty of work. This being so, when will I be able to write my second volume, on which I am relying far more for publicity than on the first? I do not know whether La Voix du peuple is available in Mugron. Socialism is today enclosed in a formula, free credit. It describes itself thus: I am this or I am nothing. For this reason, it is on these grounds that I have attacked it in a series of letters to which Proudhon is replying. I think they have done a great deal of good in removing the illusions of a great many misguided followers. But here is something that will astonish you: the bourgeoisie is so blind, so intense, and so confident in its natural strength that it considers it correct not to support me. My letters are in La Voix du peuple and this is enough for them to be despised by these people, as though they might do good elsewhere. Well! When it is a question of reconverting the workers, is it not better to tell the truth in the journal that they read?
On Tuesday, I will be starting my lectures to the young people in the schools. As you can see, there is no shortage of work and, just to make life simple, I am undergoing a treatment for my chest that takes up two hours of my day every day. It is true that it is making me feel very well indeed.
I am talking only about myself, my dear Félix. Please follow this example and tell me a lot about yourself. If you wanted to follow my advice, I would strongly commit you to doing something useful, like producing a series of small pamphlets, for example. They take a long time to penetrate the masses but they end up doing their work.
Letter to Bernard Domenger
Paris, 25 December 1849
[vol. 7, p. 405]
I can write you only a few words, as my cold has laid me low. I assure you that it makes my existence very hard to endure.
The hospice affair is one of those that make me decide to venture into the labyrinthine world of government. Yesterday, I ascertained that approval of the exchange would not encounter any difficulty and the decree authorizing it was drafted in front of me. However, it can be taken to the Élysée for signature only after the Council of State has approved it. One of my friends has promised me to expedite this affair as quickly as possible.
As for the subsidy, you will have something, but not one thousand francs. The fund handling this has only three hundred thousand francs for the whole of France and needs are unlimited, to the extent that each year the allocation for the following year is gobbled up in advance. I continue to believe that it would be better for the government not to become involved with this, because it would require a lot of senseless administrative work.
And is it not perfectly ridiculous that Mugron and M. Lafaurie are unable to exchange their houses without the approval of the Council of State and permission from the prisoner of Ham? Truly, France has created problems and obstacles, merely for the sake of generating additional costs.
It is impossible for me to send you my polemical exchanges with Proudhon, as I have not kept the issues of La Voix du peuple in which my letters were published; but I have been assured that they will be collected into a volume, which I will send to you. Anyway, they are rather boring.
Letter to Richard Cobden
Paris, 31 December 1849
[vol. 1, p. 182]
My dear Cobden, I am delighted with the Bradford meeting and congratulate you sincerely for having finally tackled the colonial question. I know that you have always considered this subject very delicate as it affects the most sensitive chords of patriotic hearts. Renouncing rule over a quarter of the globe! Never has such evidence of common sense and faith in science been displayed by any nation! It is surprising that you were allowed to finish your speech. For this reason, what I admired most about this meeting was not the orator (allow me to say this!) but the audience. What can you not achieve with a nation which cold-bloodedly analyzes its dearest illusions and allows, before its very eyes, investigations of the darker side of its glory?
I recall that I boldly intimated the advice to you in the past to direct your aim on the colonial regime, with which free trade is incompatible. You replied at the time that national pride is a plant that grows in all countries and especially in yours, that you should not try to rip it out roughly, and that free trade would gnaw gradually on its roots. I agreed with this good commonsense observation while deploring the necessity for you to keep quiet, since I was perfectly aware of one thing, which was that as long as England had forty colonies Europe would never believe the sincerity of her protestations. For my part, it was useless for me to say, “Colonies are a burden.” This assertion appeared as paradoxical as “It is a great misfortune for a gentleman to have fine farms.” Obviously it is necessary for the assertion and proof to come from England herself. Forward then, my dear Cobden, redouble your efforts, triumph, liberate your colonies, and you will have achieved the greatest thing that exists under the sun since it began to shed light on the follies and fine actions of mankind. The more Great Britain prides herself on her colonial colossus, the more you have to demonstrate the clay feet of this idol, which devours the substance of your workers. Do what is needed to enable England freely, maturely, and in full conscience of what she is doing to tell Canada, Australia, and the Cape, “Govern yourselves by yourselves.” Liberty will have won its greatest victory and political economy in action will be taught to the entire world.
For it is essential for protectionists in Europe to have their eyes opened at last.
Initially, they used to say, “England allows manufactured articles to enter the country. What great generosity since she has uncontested superiority in this respect! But she will not remove protection from agriculture since, with regard to this, she cannot stand up to competition from countries where the soil and labor cost nothing.” You have answered this charge by removing the duty from wheat, animals, and all agricultural products.
They then said, “England is playacting and the proof of this is that she is not changing her laws on navigation, since rule over the seas is her life-blood.” And you have reformed these laws, not in order to destroy your navy but to strengthen it.
Now they say, “England may well decree free trade and freedom of the seas since, with her forty colonies, she has taken control of all the outlets in the world. She will never lay a hand on her colonial system.” Overturn the old system and I do not know behind what prophecy protectionists will take refuge. As to prophecy, I dared make one two years ago. It was in Lyons, before a large assembly. I said at the time, “In less than ten years, England will herself voluntarily dismantle the colonial regime.” Do not let me pass here for a false prophet.
Economic matters are as fiercely controversial in France as they are in England, but in a different direction. The basics of economic science are being stirred up. Property, capital, everything is being called into question; and what is deplorable is that good reasons are not always on the side of rationality. This is because of the universal ignorance of these matters. Communism is being combated with communist arguments. But at last the extremely lively intelligence of this country is being put to work. What will be the result of this work? It will doubtless be good for humanity, but will this good not be dearly purchased? Will we have to endure bankruptcies and paper money issued against the security of state landholdings, etc.? That is the question.
You will doubtless be surprised to see me publish a purely theoretical work right now and I imagine that you will not be able to bear reading it. Nevertheless, I believe that it would have been of some use in this country if I had thought of issuing it in a cheap edition, and especially if I had been able to produce the second volume. Ma non ho fiato: in both physical and moral meanings, I lack the breath to do it.
I have sent a copy of this book to Mr. Porter. My friend, our reputations are like our wines; both need to cross the sea to acquire their full flavor. I would therefore like you to give me the names of a few people to whom I might send my volume so that, with your good offices, they might review it in the journals. It is of course understood that I am not seeking praise but a conscientious appraisal from my judges.
This reform, inspired by the English reform dating back to 1840, introduced a single payment in the form of a twenty-centime stamp for a standard letter for the whole of the country, plus Algeria. Previously, a fee had been paid by the addressee.
In January 1849 Bastiat seems to be foretelling the coming of a dictatorship. Louis-Napoléon seized power in a coup d’état in December 1851 and was made emperor in December 1852.
(Paillottet’s note) Here is the text of the invitation to which Bastiat is replying. [The following letter is in English in the original.]
BANQUET TO CELEBRATE THE FINAL REPEAL OF THE CORN LAWS
Newall’s Buildings, Manchester, 9 January 1849
My dear Sir,
The act for the repeal of our corn laws will come into operation on the 1st February next, and it has been resolved to celebrate the event by a banquet in the Free Trade Hall in this City on the 31 January.
The prominent part you have taken in your own country, in the adversary of the principles of commercial freedom, and the warm sympathy you have always manifested in our movement, has induced the Committee to direct me respectfully to invite you to be present as a guest.
In conveying this invitation, permit me to hope that you may be able to make it convenient to make one among us at our festival.
Believe me, dear sir,
Your faithful and obedient servant,George Wilson, Chairman
The Assembly had been elected to draw up a constitution. It was voted on 4 November. On 10 December, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected president of the Republic and formed a new government. There was no reason to maintain the Constituent Assembly. Finally, in late January, the Assembly set the date for the election of the new Legislative Assembly provided for in the constitution for 19 May 1849.
There were three groups of pretenders to the restoration of the monarchy, or empire: the Legitimists (for the descendant of Charles X), the Orleanists (for the descendant of Louis-Philippe), and the Bonapartists.
Marietta Alboni, Giorgio Ronconi, Giulio Marco Bordogni: opera singers.
A candidate for the experimental farm mentioned in Letter 127.
OC, vol. 5, p. 407, “Paix et liberté ou le budget républicain.”
Ibid. Possibly a reference to the pamphlet Paix et liberté; ou le budget républicain.
On 3 October 1848, a decree established that there would be a farm school in each département. The General Council of the Landes decided that the school would be in the Chalosse. On 15 October, Aristide Dupeyrat declared his candidacy for the direction of the school. He was eventually chosen from among several candidates.
Léon Faucher had submitted a law forbidding clubs of political orientation because some clubs were engaging in vigorous campaigning and fomenting trouble. The law was passed (404 votes for, 303 against).
On February 1849, in Rome, the Assembly decided to end the temporal authority of the papacy and proclaim the republic in Tuscany. The same year, Charles Albert, king of Sardinia, invaded Lombardy but was defeated by Austria and had to abdicate.
District in the center of Paris.
The debate concerned a potential conflict of interest when serving civil servants could also be elected to the Chamber of Deputies.
A group of deputies of the extreme right used to meet in a building on the rue de Poitiers.
For example, the following comment was made in La Revue des deux mondes: “M. Bastiat is keen to extend truths as far as paradoxes. This time, he has gone to the most paradoxical extreme of a false idea” (14 March 1843).
The pamphlet Individualism and Fraternity was written to refute Louis Blanc’s socialist interpretation of the first French Revolution, Histoire de la révolution française, the first volume of which appeared in 1847. (OC, vol. 7, p. 328, “Individualisme et fraternité.”)
Property and Plunder.
See Letter 126, note 246.
OC, vol. 5, p. 518, “Incompatibilités parlementaires.”
There are three electoral districts in the département: Mont de Marsan, Dax, and Saint-Sever.
See Letter 127, pp. 183-84.
See Letter 127, note 249. After its victory over Charles Albert, the Austrian government spoke of reestablishing the principles prevailing in Europe after the treaty of Vienna, in 1815. That was interpreted in France as a threat to the Republic, and a military intervention “of solidarity with the Italian republic” was decided on.
Some prefects, retired for reasons of illness or infirmity, were recalled because of their hostility to the Republic.
Refers to Nicolas Anne Theodule Changarnier (1793-1877).
Bastiat’s prediction was right: the extreme right got 53 percent of the seats; the extreme left, 35 percent; and the moderate republicans, 9.3 percent.
That is, the physiocrats, the Smithians, and now the followers of Bastiat.
Bastiat could be referring to chapter 5 of Economic Harmonies, “On Value.” (OC, vol. 6, p. 140, “De la valeur.”)
An example of an American translation of one of Bastiat’s works is an 1848 translation of Economic Sophisms, titled Sophisms of the Protective Policy. See Letter 63, note 142.
“All of me shall not die.”
The discussion in the Chamber on the subject of a telegram sent by Léon Faucher, minister of the interior, to the prefects a few days before the elections on 18 May 1849.
Quotation from Mignon by Goethe.
Most probably 15 or 16 May 1849.
Bastiat, who was the deputy representing the Landes in the Constituent Assembly of 1848, was reelected in 1849 to the Legislative Assembly.
Chapter 8 of Economic Harmonies deals with that very subject. (OC, vol. 6, p. 256, “Propriété, communauté.”)
The peace congress held in Paris, starting on 22 August 1849.
No month given.
Madame de Montespan, mistress of Louis XIV; Madame de Maintenon, second wife of Louis XIV; and Madame Dubarry, mistress of Louis XV.
Possibly a reference to Jules Gabriel Janin (1804-74), the author of Pictures of the French.
Possibly a reference to Olivier Patru, a seventeenth-century author.
A local cabbage and bacon soup.
A fortress in Hungary.
This may be a reference to the fact that Bastiat had to make a down payment to publishers to cover some of the costs of having his books and pamphlets published. See also Letter 68, note 155.
In English in the original.
Bastiat is referring to his chapter on value in Economic Harmonies. (OC, vol. 6, p. 140, “De la valeur.”)
A small town in the Landes.
A type of bird; a table delicacy.
Bastiat is mockingly comparing French political corruption with the potential spoiling of the Ortolans.
Slavery was abolished twice in France, once during the first revolution, when Haiti declared its independence from France. This was supported by leading abolitionists in Paris, such as the Abbé Grégoire and Brissot, through the Society of the Friends of the Blacks. Napoléon reintroduced slavery after a bloody repression of the Haitian revolution in 1802. Slavery was abolished a second time on 27 April 1848, during the 1848 revolution.
John Benjamin Smith.
It is not clear what peace conference Bastiat was referring to, possibly a domestic British conference. International peace congresses were held in Brussels in September 1848, Paris in August 1849, Frankfurt in August 1850, and London in July 1851. Classical liberals came from all over the world to discuss ways to disarm and cut taxes. See the Report of the Proceedings of the Second General Peace Congress and the Report of the Proceedings of the Third General Peace Congress.
On 13 June there was a demonstration against the Roman expedition. It was easily dispersed, but sixty-seven people were arrested for inciting civil war and were brought to the High Court in Versailles. The normal rights of the accused had not been entirely respected.
Bastiat discusses this in his letters to Proudhon. (OC, vol. 5, pp. 94-335, “Gratuité du crédit.”)
In English in the original.
OC, vol. 5, pp. 94-335, “Gratuité du crédit.”
To extend the size of Mugron’s hospice, a M. Lafaurie had agreed to exchange his large house for the existing hospice building. This operation, however, required a government decree.
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. In 1840 he attempted to provoke a military uprising in Boulogne. It failed, and he was condemned to life in the fortress of Ham by the House of Peers. He escaped in 1846.
Bastiat and Cobden were both active members of an international association called the Friends of Peace. This association had a congress in Brussels in 1848, one in Paris (chaired by Victor Hugo) in 1849, and one in Frankfurt in 1850. Cobden organized follow-up meetings in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Bradford, all of which Bastiat attended.
After a rebellion in 1837 the Durham Report of 1839 recommended that the Canadian provinces be granted responsible government, which was put into effect by 1849. Responsible government (i.e., the Westminster system) was also introduced a little later in the Australian colonies: Victoria (1855); New South Wales, South Australia, and Tasmania (1856). New Zealand was granted this right in 1856 as well. The Cape Colony followed in 1872.
In English in the original.