Front Page Titles (by Subject) 137.: Letter to Mme Cheuvreux - The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
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137.: Letter to Mme Cheuvreux - Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics, translated from the French by Jane and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Jacques de Guenin and Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation editor Dennis O’Keeffe (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011).
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Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Brussels, Hôtel de Bellevue, June 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant
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,