Front Page Titles (by Subject) 139.: Letter to Mme Cheuvreux - The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
139.: 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Letter to Mme Cheuvreux
Notes taken in Antwerp, June 1849
[Lettres d’un habitant
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.