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MEMOIR OF ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 1 
Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville. Translated from the French by the translator of Napoleon’s Correspondence with King Joseph. With large Additions. In Two Volumes (London: Macamillan, 1861). Vol. 1.
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MEMOIR OF ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE.
CHILDHOOD—EARLY TRAVELS IN ITALY AND SICILY—ENTRANCE INTO PUBLIC LIFE—THE RESTORATION (1827-1828)—REVOLUTION OF 1830—INTENDED EXPEDITION TO THE UNITED STATES.
Alexis Charles Henri Clerel de Tocoqueville was born in Paris on the 29th July, 1805. His mother, Mademoiselle Le Pelletier de Rosambo, was a grand-daughter of M. de Malesherbes; his father, the Comte de Tocqueville,* was, under the Restoration, successively Prefect of Metz, of Amiens, of Versailles, and a peer of France.
Brought up entirely at home, Alexis de Tocqueville learnt little, if good manners and a high tone of feeling can be reckoned as little. It is certain that his early education was much neglected; he commenced his classical studies at the college of Metz, which he entered whilst his father was prefect of the town. Though weak at starting in Latin and Greek, he was, from the beginning, first in French composition, where imagination is of more importance than correctness; and not long ago the Imperial Academy of Metz recorded with pride, that in the year 1822 Alexis de Tocqueville, at that time a student in rhetoric, had carried off the first prize.* After this brilliant termination of studies in which he often regretted that he had not been grounded, in the year 1826 he set out on his travels.
Accompanied by his brother Edward,† his elder and guide, he ran through Italy, visited the principal towns, and made an excursion into Sicily. In this tour he already gave proofs of the eager curiosity and of the activity of mind which he brought to bear on all subjects. This is evidenced by two bulky MSS. containing his notes and the impressions of each day. Certainly these are not works of the highest order; and their author was under no illusion as to the merit of his first-born, for on the cover of one is written, in his hand, “Very indifferent.” But the criticism is, to say the least, severe; and even if it were deserved, it would be, nevertheless, an interesting study to follow the first steps of so great a writer, to note the progress of his mind, groping, wandering, erring, and at length, after many wanderings, recovering the right path.
It is, indeed, curious to observe the young traveller; at first he treats Italy after the fashion of ordinary tourists. He visits scrupulously every gallery; does not pass over one picture, nor omit one medal; he notes all the works of the great masters. He does still more; he commences a serious investigation of the principles of ancient architecture, of which he undertakes exactly to define the different schools, for the purpose, no doubt, of regulating his taste. He evidently took little pleasure in this study, for it is soon abandoned. Rome, not only rich in works of art, but in which every stone is a record of past greatness, suggests to him his first work of imagination.
The author supposes that at the end of a long walk in the Eternal City, he climbs the Capitol from the side of the Campo Vaccino, and, overcome with fatigue, falls asleep on the ground. In his dream, Ancient Rome appears to him with all her past glory, her heroes, her power, and, above all, her liberty; he sees defile before him all the great events, and all the great men of Roman antiquity, from the foundation of the Republic to the murder of Cæsar; from the first Brutus to the accession of Augustus.
Suddenly he is awakened by a procession of bare-footed friars ascending the steps of the Capitol on their way to their church, whilst a cow-herd rings his bell to assemble the cattle browsing in the Forum.
“I arose,” he continues, “and turned slowly towards my home, looking back from time to time, and saying to myself: Poor human nature; what then art thou? . . . .”
This sketch, which, to be filled up worthily, would have required all the taste and the imagination that he had, and also the learning which at that time he had not, was not the best adapted to the powers of Alexis de Tocqueville. Still, from this work, in which he dates the downfal of Rome from the day when she lost her liberty, the future character of the man may be predicted.
It is still more perceivable in the tour in Sicily, where, witnessing the misery inflicted on the people by a detestable government, he is led to reflect upon the primary conditions on which depends the decay or the prosperity of nations. His first intention was to describe only the external aspect of the country; but soon he paints the institutions and manners, and ideas take the place of descriptions.
He was finishing in Sicily his travels and his MS., when a royal order of the 5th of April, 1827, re-called him to France. He was appointed juge auditeur,* and attached in this capacity to the Tribunal of Versailles, of which town the Comte de Tocqueville was prefect. He was just one-and-twenty, the age required by law for entering the magistrature.
If Alexis de Tocqueville had been an ordinary man, his destiny would have been ready traced: his name, his family, his social position, his profession pointed out his path. Grandson of Malesherbes, he would have been sure of attaining the highest places in the magistrature, even without an effort, merely trusting to the lapse of time. Young, agreeable, connected with all the great families, fitted to aspire to the most brilliant alliances, of which many had already been proposed to him, he would have married some rich heiress. His life, confined by narrow prescribed limits, would have glided by, at any rate calmly and honourably, in the regular discharge of the duties of his office, in the comfortable enjoyment of a large salary, amidst the narrow but never failing interests of the judicial bench, and in the sober, peaceful happiness of private life.
This scheme of existence was suited neither to his intellect nor to his disposition; and at starting he resolved to owe his advancement to himself alone; he sought, in the career on which he entered, an opening for the exercise of his talents. It is well known that the office of juge auditeur, (since converted into that of juge suppléant) did not involve any very active duty, unless the officer was called to take part in the business of the ministère public. This employment Alexis de Tocqueville solicited and obtained. There he found among his colleagues M. Gustave de Beaumont, with whom he commenced an intercourse which soon ripened into intimacy, and became afterwards the closest friendship.
Alexis de Tocqueville had but a few times occupied the seat of the Ministère public in the cour d’assises of Versailles, when he became distinguished. His grave style of speaking, his serious turn of thought, the ripeness of his judgment, and the superiority of his intelligence, raised him high above the ordinary level. His chief success was not with the crowd, but no important suffrage was ever wanting to him. No doubt was entertained of the brilliancy of his prospects, and more than one président des assises foretold his high advancement. It must be admitted, however, that in these predictions Malesberbes was thought of more than Montesquieu.
Yet, though all his qualities were admirably suited to the magistrature, that was not, perhaps, the calling most suited to his abilities. Alexis de Tocqueville possessed in the highest degree the rare faculty of generalisation; and, precisely because here lay his superiority, this was the constant tendency of his mind. The judge follows ordinarily an opposite tendency, which he derives from the habits of his profession, which store his mind with what is specific, and with particular cases. Tocqueville’s thinking power was cramped by being imprisoned within the bounds of his peculiar duties. This irksomeness increased in proportion to the trifling character of the case. On the other hand, his talent increased in proportion to the importance of the cause, as if the bonds which fettered his intelligence were snapped or loosened.
Need it be added, that a mind so eager for independence and freedom often left the narrow sphere of law to enter the arena, at that time unreservedly open to all questions of general political interest? When their judicial labours were over, when the duties of the audience and parquet had been fulfilled, the two colleagues, now friends, united as much by the similarity of their tastes as by that of their ideas and opinions, threw themselves into studies of their own selection, especially those connected with history. And then what activity and emulation! how delightful was this laborious life, how sincere their pursuit of truth, and what aspirations after a future—after a future unbounded and cloudless, such as the passionate faith of youth reveals to ardent minds and generous hearts at a season of enthusiastic belief.
Those who did not witness that period (from 1827 to 1828), and who are acquainted only with the languor and the indifference of our own, will hardly comprehend its excitement. Twelve years had elapsed since the fall of the empire. For the first time France had known liberty, and had loved her. This liberty, a comfort to some, the greatest of blessings to others, had created for all a new country. Institutions were substituted for the will of one man; new habits arose amidst profound peace. The development of instincts, feelings, and wants, till then unnoticed, had contributed to awaken a new life in a regenerate nation. Yes, it must be acknowledged that, setting aside the old revolutionary and imperial parties whose liberalism was a lie, and in spite of the disagreements inseparable from freedom, France was at that time sincerely liberal, passionately attached to her new institutions, jealous in maintaining them, quickly alarmed by the dangers which threatened them, and ready to see in their destruction or preservation her own degradation or grandeur. Now, for the first time, the great problem of constitutional liberty was seriously stated in France. The country seemed to feel the peril of the experiment. With what anxiety she watched its progress! with what emotion she looked for the slightest symptoms of a storm, whether coming from the people or from the sovereign! What interest was then taken in the smallest incidents of public life—the arbitrary act of an official, a prosecution for libel, the verdict of a jury, a new book, a word let fall in one of the Chambers, sometimes a newspaper article!
It was precisely at this moment that the struggle between the parties which divided the Government as much as the State, was about to assume the most angry character. A few days more, and between the Government of the Restoration and its downfal, there would be only the ministry of M. de Martignac, that last attempt of the moderate party, whose success might have spared France many misfortunes.
Alexis de Tocqueville looked on at this mighty struggle with the strong feelings common to the young men of that period, to which he added a wisdom and a store of observations which were rare. Some of his political opinions became thenceforth fixed principles. Of these the chief was, that every people, worthy of the name of a nation, should participate in the conduct of its own affairs, and that without free institutions there can never be any real greatness for a country, or true dignity for its rulers; his pride would not brook that he should ever serve a master. This was for him a fundamental truth, derived both from his head and from his heart. He hated equally revolution and its offspring, absolute power. Admitting every form of free government, even the republican, he was firmly convinced that the form best suited to the state of France and the habits of her people was constitutional monarchy, in which the nation is represented, whilst the authority of the sovereign is preserved; and if he prayed for the maintenance of the elder branch of the Bourbons, it was because he believed its sway to be more favourable to liberty than that of a dynasty ushered in by a revolution.
While however he thought possible, and earnestly desired, the success of those who were endeavouring to reconcile the monarchy with liberty, Tocqueville saw clearly the difficulty of the enterprise, and the depth of the abyss already opening beneath the feet of our generation; and this gave a solemn meaning in his eyes to the great drama, the scenes of which were beginning to unfold themselves.
The ordinary superficial view never satisfied him; he went further. Already a retrospective glance at our history gave him an insight into the great questions which he afterwards explored while seeking an explanation of his own time. He perceived that, notwithstanding the outward peace which reigned on the surface of French society, we were actually in a state of revolution. But what principally struck him was, the essentially democratic character of that revolution; it was the principle of equality pervading and domineering over the existing society. The great problems, which were to be the business of his life, which he would one day go to a new world to study, already rose to his mind.
How to reconcile equality, which separates and isolates men, with liberty? How to prevent a power, the offspring of democracy, from becoming absolute and tyrannical? Where to find a force able to contend against this power among a set of men, all equal, it is true, but all equally weak and impotent? Was the fate of modern society to be both democracy and despotism?—These were the questions which from that time filled his thoughts, and disturbed his mind.
It has been said with truth, that Tocqueville was a thinker; he was so, and a thinker whose brain, always at work, never allowed itself a moment’s rest. The term thinker would be, however, inappropriate, if applied to him in the ordinary sense of an abstract philosopher who takes pleasure in metaphysical speculations; who loves knowledge for its own sake, and is enthusiastically attached to ideas and theories, independently of their application. Such is the real philosopher; such was not Tocqueville, whose speculations had always a practical and definite object. In fact, he was little versed in mental science. He had not much taste for it; he was imperfectly acquainted with its language; and whether wrongly or rightly, its controversies always seemed to him more or less barren. At one time, in his early youth, his mind, impatient of doubt, had sought for help in metaphysics; but in that quarter he had found no aid. His notes of this period bear witness to the painful efforts of his mind, when in the earnest search for truth, he discovers the imperfection and the impotence of the human reason; he stops short, and seems to give up that chimera in the following sorrowful words:—
“There is no absolute truth;” and a little further on he writes still more sadly:—
“If I were desired to classify human miseries, I should do so in this order:—
As is the case with all minds seeking for light, he began with doubt; but like all strong characters he clung firmly to the principle, which he at length adopted as the best and truest, and made it the absolute rule of his conduct. Slow at first to perceive where his duty lay, he did not hesitate to follow it when once ascertained. He was as resolute in action as he had been slow in resolving. Essentially practical, in all intellectual speculations he considered the past only as it affected the present, and foreign countries only with a view to his own. Thus his historical studies, and especially those relating to the first French revolution, were all treated in relation to the actual state of France, and to the events of the time, becoming every day more serious, and threatening fresh disturbances, perhaps even another revolution.
This revolution broke out. Without hesitation, but without enthusiasm, Alexis de Tocqueville joined the ranks of the government of 1830. He possessed already a faculty which he always retained, that of seeing quicker and further than others. The excitement to which a great popular movement gives birth, the enthusiasm, the pleasurable feelings which usually welcome a new régime—to none of these things was he sensible. He considered the revolution of July as a calamity; he feared lest a prince thus raised to the throne should rush into war in order to be feared, or be weakly pacific in order to be pardoned. Still the constitution of 1830 was the second, perhaps the last chance offered to France of the establishment of constitutional monarchy and of political freedom. He could not refuse his adhesion; he gave it with sadness, and six months afterwards he started for the United States.
No powerful link kept him in France, and an irresistible curiosity drove him to America. He thought nothing of his prospects in the magistracy. What chance had the son of a prefect under the restoration of receiving from the government of July a promotion, which the government of the restoration had not bestowed on the grandson of Malesherbes, after four years’ service as juge auditeur at Versailles? On the other hand, the revolution which he had just witnessed, the violent scenes which it had occasioned, the passions which it had excited, and the strange theories which it had brought to light, served only to increase the interest and the weight of the questions which disturbed his mind. Every day he became more and more convinced that France, in irresistibly drifting into democracy, was also drifting into its perils. He determined to visit the only great country in which those dangers have been conquered, and where perfect equality reigns side by side with liberty. He communicated his scheme to his late colleague at Versailles, then substitut du Procureur du Roi in Paris, who was charmed with the proposal. Obstacles, however, stood in their way: as magistrates they both required leave of absence, and a legitimate cause for obtaining it. At that time, as is always the case immediately after a revolution, all innovation was held in honour, and a reform of real but of secondary importance (that of the prisons) attracted public attention. A penitentiary system, which had proved successful in the United States, was talked of. The two young magistrates presented to the then Minister of the Interior, the Comte de Montalivet, a paper in which, after setting forth the question, they offered to study it on the spot, if they might be sent on an official mission. It was granted to them; and the Minister of Justice having consented, the two friends set out with a leave obtained in due form. It has often been said that this mission was the cause of Alexis de Tocqueville’s expedition. It was in truth only the pretext. His real and long premeditated object was to study the customs and institutions of American society.
THE AMERICAN EXPEDITION.
Although the inspection of prisons was the pretence rather than the purpose of the journey of the two travellers, they gave to the subject as much serious attention as if it had been their sole object.
They had scarcely reached New York (on the 10th of May, 1831) when they zealously proceeded to discharge the official duties of their mission. Sing-sing and Auburn in the State of New York, Wethersfield in Connecticut, Walnut-Street and Cherry-Hill in Pensylvania, all the establishments to which these places have given a name, and many others less celebrated in the annals of penitentiaries, were successively the object of their conscientious examination. A single example will give an idea of the importance attached by them to this task: the fact which we are about to mention will likewise throw a curious light on Tocqueville’s power of memory.
When they visited at Philadelphia the famous prison Cherry-Hill, where the system of solitary confinement both by day and by night was in full practice, they thought that the way to judge of its effects was to examine not only the physical condition of the prisoners, but besides, and above all, their moral state. It was true that the entry of the Director on every one of them was, “behaviour, perfect”—“conduct, excellent;” but the French commissioners could not help asking, what breach of discipline was possible to a prisoner confined alone between four walls, without any contact with his fellows? Permission, therefore, was asked to visit and converse with the convicts separately, without the presence of any official, in the hope that they would reveal their secret impressions, and the actual state of their feelings. Leave was granted, and Alexis de Tocqueville undertook this delicate duty, unassisted by his companion, who thought, with him, that a confidence which might be made to one would not be made to two. He devoted a fortnight to this minute inquiry, commenced at first from a feeling of duty, but continued with extreme interest, sometimes struck by the curious effects of seclusion on the human mind, and at other times deeply affected by the moral wretchedness unveiled to him. He often was led on by the interest of these tête à têtes to prolong them beyond the hours fixed by the discipline of the establishment, and was always detained by the poor prisoners, ingenious to prolong the, for them, rare opportunity of conversing with a man, though they knew not with how great a man. Tocqueville recorded on the spot, and afterwards revised, all that passed at these interviews. Soon, however, after quitting Philadelphia, he sought for these notes in order to show them to his colleague, but could not find them. He looked again, but in vain. At last he was convinced that they were lost. He then put together all that he could recall, and so deep was the impression which these secret conversations had made on him, that in a few hours he had restored to paper every one, without confusion or a single omission. The next day, when no longer looking for his notes, he found them. On comparing his recollections with these notes it was surprising to see how they corresponded, and with what prodigious fidelity his memory had reproduced the whole that had passed. A few details only had been forgotten but the leading thought was always there. In the work on the penitentiary system which was afterwards published, these notes appear under the title of “Enquête sur le Penitencier de Philadelphie.” (Inquiry into the Penitentiary of Philadelphia.) Alexis de Tocqueville had no memory for words nor for figures, but he possessed the strongest possible remembrance of ideas; when once grasped his mind retained them for ever.
The Inquiry on Penitentiaries being over, Tocqueville turned, it must be owned, with still more eagerness to the study of more general questions; and, assuredly, the political men by whom he had in France been charged with a special and official mission, had no reason to complain of his laying it aside for a time to fulfil the more comprehensive mission which he had imposed upon himself.
A description of this expedition cannot be expected in these pages.* It extended throughout the American Union. Alexis de Tocqueville began by studying the States of New England, of which Boston is the first; as, in order to have a thorough knowledge of a river, it is necessary to explore its source. Such a narrative would alone fill a whole volume, and would far exceed the limit assigned to this work. Nor could the author record the travels of Tocqueville without describing also his own, for their lives were at that time inseparably united. Might he not thus be carried towards a rock which he is peculiarly anxious to avoid? In spite of the charm of this expedition, connected as it is with the first impressions, and imbued with all the poetry of his youth, he has resolved to set aside all personal recollections, and to think only of the friend, the remembrance of whom ought alone to occupy him. The interest of Tocqueville’s journey consists, moreover, less in what he saw, than in his manner of seeing. His mode of observing was peculiar. It is impossible to imagine the activity of mind and body, which, like a burning fever, preyed upon him incessantly. Everything was to him matter for observation. He arranged beforehand in his head all the questions that he wished to solve, to each of which the incidents and conversations of each day bore reference. He never failed to note, then and there, every idea that occurred to him. For he had remarked that the first impression gives itself utterance almost always in an original shape, which, once lost, is not recovered. It is interesting to read now the little note-books which he always carried about with him to receive his first impressions. The germs of the leading thoughts of his work on Democracy are to be found in them; and more than one is transcribed literally. These memoranda are few and short. He observed much and noted little.
Whilst Alexis de Tocqueville was travelling over North America to study its institutions, and to penetrate to the very heart of the people, an Englishman, the pleasantest companion possible, was visiting the same country, with no other aim than to discover the varieties of game peculiar to the climate; and especially the different races of wild ducks. There were also two very distinguished Frenchmen, whose society was very agreeable, looking out for picturesque subjects for landscapes.
Of those who passed through, seeing nothing and looking for nothing, not even for wild ducks, it is not necessary to speak. These different modes of travelling are certainly equally fair and lawful; they are not mentioned here in order to censure those who travel for bodily exercise or as an agreeable pastime, but only to show that Alexis de Tocqueville travelled differently. Undoubtedly, between the man who produces a book from his travels, and another who brings back an album, there is an intermediate class neither so earnest as the former, nor so frivolous as the latter. But there is scarcely any traveller, however serious his aim, who does not at times seek for amusement or indulge in repose. Tocqueville, when travelling, never rested.
Rest was foreign to his nature; and whether his body were actively employed or not, his mind was always at work. While he never shrank from any effort which might diminish or use up his strength, he never could be persuaded to do anything to repair it. It never occurred to him to consider an excursion as an amusement, or conversation as relaxation. The two travelling companions conversed incessantly; and if what our good Ballanche says be true, that to discuss a subject well it is necessary to agree, they thought so much the same on all things, that their conversation must have been profitable. But from the first it took a serious turn, and thus could not be considered as rest. For Tocqueville, the most agreeable conversation was that which was the most useful. The bad day was the day lost or ill-spent. The smallest loss of time was unpleasant to him. This notion kept him in a constant state of tension; and in his travels it became such a passion, that he never reached a place without first assuring himself of the means of leaving it, so that one of his friends said that his departure always preceded his arrival.
There are countries in which the most industrious traveller finds, even in spite of himself, some occasions of rest and relaxation. For example: it sometimes happens that he meets one of the frivolous idlers, common enough in Europe, who seek for society in order to consume the time which they know not how to employ, and whose presence, although irritating, forces the brain to rest. In a country where nobody is idle and everybody sensible, Tocqueville could not profit by this salutary diversion. The admirable and universal good sense of the Americans attracted and captivated him. It was for him a mine of inestimable value, which he worked without ceasing; following thus impetuously, without halt or rest, the bent of his inclination.
And when one recollects how frail and delicate was the body which contained this ardent soul and restless spirit, one asks how such physical weakness could sustain so much mental activity! And it is even less easy to understand when one considers that, instead of sparing as much as he could this feeble body, he seemed to delight in submitting it to the severest, and even to the most dangerous trials.
It was thus, that one day, in spite of the obstacles which ought to have stopped him, he resolved to penetrate into the far west till he should reach the wilderness.
It was not on his part a mere vague curiosity—a mere natural desire to go where no one has gone before. His resolution had a more serious motive. Convinced that one of the first conditions of prosperity in America is the immense extent of space as yet unoccupied, he wished at least to make a réconnaissance in these regions,—to advance in the forest to the boundary of civilization,—to see the last pioneers and the first wild Indians.
Every journey is easy when one follows the beaten track; out of it there are always difficulties. For a young, robust man, like his travelling companion, such an enterprise, of course, was no sort of risk; but for health so delicate as his it was a real danger. The expedition could not possibly be accomplished unless by taking very long journeys, almost always on horseback, without stopping on the way; it was necessary to pass whole days without rest, and nights without sleep or even shelter. There were to be no more regular meals, no more inns, no more roads. These were certainly reasons sufficient for not undertaking such a campaign; and each one was urged upon him in the most pressing terms. But no resistance withstood his vehemence. It can scarcely be imagined how imperiously, when he wished for a thing, he proved to others and persuaded himself that it was the most reasonable in the world. The thought of danger never stopped him. He often showed his contempt for it, not only in America, but in his other travels—in England, in Ireland, in Algeria, and in Germany—even at times when his failing health required extra care and precaution. However, at the period we speak of, he was right; his excursion to the wilderness was accomplished, though not without much fatigue, yet without great detriment to his health; and none of his travels, perhaps, produced on him such vivid and durable impressions.
It would be a great mistake to suppose that Tocqueville, whom, in his travels, we have seen searching chiefly for ideas, remained insensible and cold before the sublime scenes of nature. On the contrary, no one was more affected and attracted by them. While all his intellectual faculties disposed him to meditation, another tendency of his mind inclined him to be a dreamer; and it was never but by an effort of will that he roused himself from the state of passive impressions to re-enter that of active ideas. It was judgment alone that prompted this effort, for the reverie to which he was inclined was for him always full of melancholy, and for that reason he fled from it. Intellectual activity was his refuge from troublesome or painful images. But never, at any period of his life, did Tocqueville allow himself to be so carried away by external impressions as under the irresistible charm of the great deserts of America, where all combined to enchant the senses, and to set thought to sleep. He has described these impressions in a little work called “A Fortnight in the Wilderness,” which the reader will find at the end of this memoir. These charming pages have never before been printed, owing to a circumstance which, perhaps, it is best to disclose here.
Whilst Tocqueville gave himself up to the study of American institutions, the occupation of his travelling companion was to collect a few sketches of manners, which he afterwards framed, with more or less success, in a novel entitled “Marie;” in it he naturally had described the forests, the solitudes, and the very wilderness visited by the two friends; he had made it the stage of his drama, he had transported thither his own emotions, and had thus attempted to convert his fiction into something real.
When later, however, Tocqueville published the second part of his work, describing the effects of democracy upon manners, he thought of appending this “Fortnight in the Wilderness” to his book; but when, as usual, he read it aloud to his friend whom he always consulted, the author of “Marie” imprudently predicted for it a far greater success than that attained by his own novel. At the time Tocqueville said nothing; but he had made up his mind, and nothing could ever induce him to publish what might trespass on the ground chosen by his friend, or appear as a rival to his work. There were in his friendship a refinement and a delicacy which demanded the greatest circumspection.
At the end of this memoir, immediately before the “Fortnight in the Wilderness,” is placed a pamphlet of only a few pages, published here for the first time, under the title of “Excursion to the Lake Oneïda,” and taken, also, from the memoranda of this expedition. It is an episode of the same kind. These fragments will show Tocqueville to the public in a new light. But his intimate friends alone can fully appreciate the sensibility and the poetry of his impressionable nature, united as they were with an intellect of such depth and clearness.
At a later period in their journey, when his health was expected to run no risk, it was exposed to much severer trials. Winter was approaching, and the travellers had resolved to reach the South before its arrival. Their plan was to reach the Ohio near Pittsburg, there to embark in a steamer, and to descend the Ohio and the Mississippi to New Orleans; an extremely simple and easy journey in ordinary weather, even before the existence of railways. But this year winter came a month earlier than usual. Besides, in that country the extremes of heat and cold are great, and succeed each other without interval. A few days after their departure from Baltimore, where summer still lingered, they found the Alleghanys covered with the frost and snow which were to last for the whole winter. But, in order to shorten this account, which is meant to be only a sketch, it will be as well, in the absence of the notes of Alexis de Tocqueville, in this instance missing, to reproduce verbatim those which his travelling companion jotted down in pencil day by day.
“1st Dec. 1831.—Left Wheeling, ten miles from Pittsburg, by the steamer. The Ohio is covered with loose ice; its banks with snow. The navigation is said to be dangerous at night, especially in a dark night. However, we proceed. . . . towards midnight, an alarm!—all lost!—it is the captain’s voice! We have struck on a rock (Burlington Bar); our vessel has split; she is sinking every moment. Awful sensation!—200 passengers on board, and only two long-boats, each capable of holding ten or twelve people. The water mounts higher and higher; the cabins are already full. Admirable coolness of the American women: there are fifty, and not one scream in the face of advancing death. Tocqueville and I cast one glance upon the Ohio, which at this part is more than a mile in breadth, and carries down large masses of loose ice; we squeeze each other’s hands as a parting token. . . . Suddenly the vessel ceases to sink: her hull is jammed on the rock which she struck. What has saved her is the depth itself of the injury, and the rapidity with which the water, upon rushing in, makes her settle on the rock. . . .
“No more danger . . . . but what is to become of us, stranded in the middle of the river like convicts on a hulk?
“Another steamer, the William Parsons, passes and takes us on board . . . . we continue our voyage . . . . The 2d December reach Cincinnati; hasten to quit it again, driven away by the cold . . . . The 3d, leave Cincinnati; bitter cold. 4th, our vessel is stopped by the loose ice. We pass twenty-four hours in a little creek, where we have intrenched ourselves to wait for the thaw. It does not come. The cold increases.
“The captain determines to put us on shore. We reach it by gradually breaking the ice, and thus opening a passage for our vessel.
“We land at Westport, a little village in Kentucky, about twenty-five miles from Louisville.
“Impossible to find either a carriage or horses to take us to Louisville; we are forced to walk; our luggage is thrown into a cart, which we follow. We walk all day through woods, in half a foot of snow. America is still a vast forest.
“On the evening of the 7th December, arrive at Louisville. Here the same difficulty. The Ohio is not more navigable than at West Port. What is to be done? retrace our steps? revisit places already seen? Not to be thought of. But how to proceed?
“We are saved. We are told that we can travel southwards by land, till we reach a point where the navigation of the Mississippi is never impeded by ice. Memphis is suggested to us, a little town in Tennessee, on the left of the Mississippi, about forty miles off.
“On the 9th, leave Louisville in the Nashville stagecoach, a journey of two days and two nights. On arriving at Nashville, we hear that the Cumberland (a tributary of the Ohio) is frozen over,
“December 11th.—Departure from Nashville. As we proceed farther south, the cold becomes sharper. Never, they say, in the memory of man, has anything been known like it. So those who come but once are always told.
“Ten degrees below freezing.* The cold continues to increase. Our stage-coach turns into an open char-à-banc. Frightful roads. Precipitous descents. No regular highway. The road is only an opening cut in the forest. The stumps of the trees not completely cut away, so that they form so many impediments over which we jolt incessantly. Only thirty miles a day. ‘You have, have you not, very bad roads in France?’ says an American to me. ‘Yes, sir, and you have, have you not, very good roads in America?” He does not understand me; American conceit.
“After Nashville, not one town on the road; only a few villages scattered here and there till we reach Memphis.
“December 11.—A brace and a wheel, and then an axletree broken. Half the way on foot. We bewail our sad fate. ‘Complain away, then,’ we are told. ‘On the day before yesterday one traveller broke his arm here, and another his leg.’
“On the 12th, cold still more severe; we cross the Tennessee by the ferry; it is covered with huge masses of ice. Tocqueville benumbed with cold; he shivers all over. His appetite is gone; his head affected; impossible to go further; we must stop. . . . Where? what is to be done? No inn on the road. Extreme perplexity. The stage goes on. . . . . Here is a house at last; Sandy Bridge is its name—the Log House! no matter, we are set down.
“December 13.—What a day—what a night! Rough logs of oak piled up form the walls of the room in which Tocqueville’s bed is placed. It freezes hard enough to split stones. I light a monstrous fire; the flame crackles on the hearth, fanned by the draft which blows in on all sides. The moon shines on us through the crevices of the logs. Tocqueville gets warm only by burying himself under the blankets and the multitude of clothes which I heap upon him. Our host will not help us. Entire isolation and neglect. What to do? What will happen if the illness increases? What is the nature of the illness? Where find a doctor? The nearest is more than thirty miles off; it would take more than two days to go thither and back; what should I find on my return? The name of our hosts is Mr. and Mrs. Harris, small proprietors in the Tennessee; they own slaves; and, as slave-owners, they never work. The husband shoots, walks about, rides on horseback—gives himself the airs of a gentleman; they are little aristocrats on the feudal system, and they dispense hospitality at the rate of a dollar a day.
“December 14.—Tocqueville better. He will not have an illness, but he is too weak to leave; difficulty of finding anything fit for him to eat. Prodigious diplomacy employed to obtain from Mrs. Harris a rabbit killed by her husband. I give it to my invalid instead of the everlasting bacon.
“December 15.—Great progress; on the 16th Tocqueville quite well; his appetite returned; impatience to quit as soon as possible this inhospitable place. The stage-coach between Nashville and Memphis passes. What a vehicle! Tocqueville climbs into it not without difficulty. The cold is still intense. We travel two days and two nights; renewed symptoms, painful, but with no evil consequences.
“December 17.—Reach Memphis. Alas! the Mississippi, too, is covered with ice, and navigation interrupted. Memphis!—about as large as Beaumont-la-Chartre.—What a falling off. Nothing to see—neither men nor things. We roam about the forests of Tennessee; delight of Tocqueville, who kills two parrots with magnificent plumage. We find Shakespeare and Milton in a log hut.
“December 24.—The frost suddenly breaks. In the evening a steamer (the Louisville) appears, going down the river. In a few days she takes us to New Orleans, where we now are on the 1st January, 1832.”
The remembrance of Sandy Bridge and of a few disastrous days would not now be without a certain charm if, though as yet Tocqueville does not appear to have had even the seeds of the deadly malady by which he was prematurely cut off, one did not perceive the symptoms of the delicate constitution which was always on the point of breaking down, and which so often stood in his way.
RETURN FROM AMERICA—RETIRES FROM THE MAGISTRACY—DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA (FIRST PART)—MARRIAGE—ENTRANCE INTO THE INSTITUTE—THE ACADEMY OF MORAL AND POLITICAL SCIENCE—BECOMES A MEMBER OF THE ACADEMY OF FRANCE—PUBLICATION OF THE SECOND PART OF THE DEMOCRACY—IS ELECTED DEPUTY.
After having passed a year in the United States, Tocqueville returned to France. From that time his object was to write the book for which he had already formed the plan and collected the materials. His attention was diverted for some time by the penitentiary question, of which our two colleagues had to render an account to the government and to the public. They did so in the form of a report addressed to the minister, and in a book which was their first joint composition and publication.*
The resumption of his magisterial duties at Versailles might have proved an obstacle, or at least a rival, to the progress of the work. An accident removed it. His friend, M. de Beaumont, who had returned to his official post, refused to speak on an occasion when the part which the ministère public had to play appeared to him discreditable, and had, for this reason, been dismissed. Tocqueville, considering himself affected by the blow which struck his friend, immediately sent in his resignation in these terms:—
“Toulon, May 21st, 1832.
“Monsieur le Procureur-General,
“Being now at Toulon, engaged in inspecting the Bagnio and other prisons of the town, it was only to-day that I learnt, from the Moniteur of the 16th of May, the severe and, I venture to say, unjust sentence pronounced by M. le Garde des Sceaux on M. G. de Beaumont.
“Long united in intimate friendship with the person who has just been dismissed from his functions, whose opinions I hold, and whose conduct I approve, I think myself bound voluntarily to share his lot, and to abandon with him a career in which neither active service nor upright conduct is a security against unmerited disgrace.
“I have the honour, therefore, to request you, M. le Procureur-Général, to have the goodness to lay before M. le Garde des Sceaux my resignation of the office of juge suppléant at the Tribunal of Versailles.
“I have the honour to be,” &c.
In fact, this proceeding was a greater loss to the magistracy than to Tocqueville. By giving up his office, he became once more absolute master of his time, of which he was about to make such admirable use.
He composed his two first volumes of the Democracy in America from the year 1832 to 1834. These two years were probably the happiest of his life. Not only he devoted himself with ardour to his book, but he was able to do so without a single anxiety.
Free from all professional duties, not yet married, but already attached to her who was to be his wife; his mind at rest, and his heart satisfied; he was in a state so rare and always so short-lived, in which a man, freed from every obligation, every restraint, every care, taking part in the affairs of the world and of his domestic circle only as much as he chooses, free, in short, without being solitary, is in full possession of his intellectual independence.
The life of Tocqueville during these two years, austere yet full of passionate excitement, could not be contemplated without deep interest. He took refuge during the whole day in a lodging, of which the secret was known to few, where he gave himself up to the intense and unmixed satisfaction of intellectual creation. Separated by only a few moments from the torrent of success which was soon to carry him away—to delight and, at the same time, to enslave him; he was at this time rejoicing, without a care, in the seclusion which belongs only to obscurity; as great as he ever became, but unknown to the world and to himself, full of hope, though not without a certain misgiving, on the point of being illustrious, though still unknown. No work of genius has ever been created in the midst of the distractions of the world. Woe to the writer who cannot raise himself above the earth, and create for himself an atmosphere of thought! That pure atmosphere Tocqueville found in his self-made existence, between the labour which elevated his mind, and the tender feeling which impassioned his heart.
The two first volumes of the Democracy in America appeared in the month of January, 1835.
An analysis of this book is not within our limits. It is in the hands of every one, and may be judged by every one.* Here it is enough to record its immense success—a success which, perhaps, cannot be compared with any other in our time. Every one knows the remark of M. Royer-Collard:—“Since Montesquieu there has been nothing like it:” and, “Twenty years later, we repeat the same judgment,” said, on a great occasion, a celebrated historian and distinguished statesman—M. de Barante.† The most remarkable characteristic of this success was its universality. There is, perhaps, no other instance of a book which, addressed to the highest intellects, has made so much progress with the public in general. The first sign of popular success appeared in the office in which the book was printed. The workmen engaged in its production, from the overseer and the correctors of the press down to the simple compositors, bestowed upon their work unusual care, expressed to the author their sympathy, and seemed eager for the success of a book, to which each thought it an honour to have contributed. It was a good omen, and all the more encouraging, as the editor, an intelligent man, who could not, of course, have read his MS., had consented, with extreme reluctance, and on the refusal of another publisher, to bring out the book.
Edition followed edition with incredible rapidity, almost all in the cheap form suitable to an extensive demand; and the book has now reached the fourteenth. The success still continues; and if the expression of a sincere conviction be permitted to the author of these pages, he ventures to say that from year to year its reputation will increase; and that it will find in its duration the consecration which belongs exclusively to works of genius.
No surprise need be excited by the fact that this success made all parties desirous of appropriating the book and its author. Some declared Tocqueville to be a democrat; others said that he was an aristocrat. He was neither. Born in the ranks of the aristocracy, but with a love for liberty, Tocqueville had found modern society in the hands of the democracy; and, considering this to be an established fact, which it was no longer possible to question, he thought that to the absolute equality thus produced it was essential to add liberty; for without liberty equality has no check to its impulses, no counterpoise to its oppressions; and he judged this union so necessary, that he saw no aim in the present time more important to pursue, and to it he therefore devoted his whole life. This is the leading idea of the book; and, we may add, of those which followed it.
All great political writers have written with some such object in view. That of Tocqueville was to unite liberty to the already existing equality; and he not only searched eagerly in a democratic country for the fundamental conditions of liberty, but it may even be said that he discovered and pointed them out. In the lowest order a municipal power firmly rooted, between the commonalty and the ruling order, trial by jury, and a judiciary power strong enough to arbitrate with steady impartiality between the rulers and the people; local privileges placed out of the reach of the perils which always threaten the general political freedom, so that in case of its overthrow these shall not perish with it. He was the first to understand and point out the protection afforded to liberty by judicial institutions, and the peculiar importance of these institutions to a democracy. All this is prominent in every page of his Democracy in America.
The brilliant success of the Democracy was not confined to France; it was equally striking abroad; and the book was immediately translated into every language. But what is above all worthy of remark, is the sensation which it excited in the very country which it described and criticised. The Americans could not understand how a stranger, after a residence among them of only a year, could, with such marvellous sagacity, master their institutions and manners; enter into the spirit of them; and exhibit, in a clear and logical form, what they themselves had, till then, only vaguely apprehended. There is not one eminent man in the United States who does not acknowledge that M. de Tocqueville revealed to him the constitution of his country, and the esprit des lois of America.
And it is no less worthy of remark, that while he produced this impression on the most democratic people in the world, he found equal favour in the most aristocratic, namely, in England. There also his book met, in every rank of society, in periodicals, in drawing-rooms, in the Houses of Parliament even, with universal approbation, of which he received the tokens in person; for, at this time (May 1835), with the companion of his American tour, he visited England. He had done so two years before (in 1833); he had been received with kindness, but with the ordinary kindness due to his name and to his letters of introduction. The comparison between these two receptions measured the revolution in his existence made by a single day, and he delighted in a change for which he had to thank only himself.
Such was the moral weight which the publication of Tocqueville’s book had given to him, that a House of Commons committee on bribery at elections took advantage of his presence in London to obtain the benefit of his information. His evidence on this occasion was quoted, five months afterwards, in the House by Sir R. Peel, in support of his own opinions, and appealed to at the same time by the other side of the House.
One characteristic of Tocqueville’s book, which belongs to all great intellectual works, is, to take a place above the narrow views of party, the accidents of the day, and the passions of the moment. For this reason, it was from the beginning, and will long continue to be, quoted as an authority by the holders of the most opposite opinions; and this explains the success obtained by it in the country where aristocracy has the ascendant, as well as in that where democracy rules.
Tocqueville derived another advantage from his visit to England; it was for him the beginning of personal relations with some of her most distinguished men, with many of whom he formed a friendship that lasted during his whole life.
On his return from this visit, full of lively impressions and flattering recollections, he married, in the month of October, 1835, the young English lady, Miss Mary Mottley, with whom he had long been deeply in love. Thus two great events took place in the same year—the success of his first book, an immense success, which threw him at once into public life; and marriage, which settled the destiny of his private life.
Of a man’s own acts there is not one that exercises a greater influence on all the rest of his life than his marriage; nor is there any which more fully lays open the depth of his real character. Miss Mottley had scarcely any fortune, and the worldly-wise did not spare their objections. These objections acquired new force from the recent success of Tocqueville, which added one more advantage to those of his birth and fortune. But he did not hesitate. Intellectual superiority would, indeed, hardly be worth having, if the moral feelings and character were to remain on the ordinary level. Although Tocqueville’s reason had imbibed democratic notions, he retained aristocratic sentiments; and there is none so aristocratic as a contempt for money. Though sensible of its value as a means of action in this world, Tocqueville considered money as of secondary interest. He did not admit the possibility of risking for it honour and happiness; and differing from the majority, who in marriage seek chiefly to make a good bargain, he wisely and proudly followed the dictates of his mind and heart. He did not act thus from mere impulse; he was deeply convinced of the moral influence exercised over the entire existence of a man by the character of her whom he has chosen for a companion. He knew that in public as well as in private life, the most upright conscience and steadfast independence are liable to totter if they have not at their side an auxiliary force to rest upon; he knew that a fall is certain to the man who allies himself with weakness; in fact, he knew himself, and that he could only find happiness in union with a wife who would merge her existence in his, and who would entirely unite her life to his, to his tastes, pursuits, and convictions, so far removed from the tastes and convictions of the world. He had discovered all these qualities in her whom he loved, and from that moment his determination was irrevocable. How often has he said to the writer of these lines, that his marriage, censured by the prudent, had been the most sensible action of his life. Perhaps the friend to whom he confided his most secret thoughts, best knows all that the tender and faithful companion of his life was to him during a union of twenty-five years; sympathizing intensely with his success, cheering him when he lost heart, soothing and tranquillizing him when he was in sorrow or depression; full of care, devotion, and energy in all his trials.
A year after his marriage, on his return from a tour of some months, which he had been making with his wife in Switzerland, he wrote to the oldest friend he had,* a letter, of which one passage proves, better than anything which could be said here, his opinion of her to whom his fate was united.
“Nacqueville,† October 10th, 1836.
“. . . . I cannot tell you the inexpressible charm which I have found in living so continually with Marie, nor the treasures which I was perpetually discovering in her heart. You know that in travelling, still more than at other times, my temper is uneven, irritable, and impatient. I scolded her frequently, and almost always unjustly; and on each occasion I discovered in her inexhaustible springs of tenderness and indulgence. And then, I cannot describe to you the happiness yielded in the long run by the habitual society of a woman in whose soul all that is good in your own is reflected naturally, and even improved. When I say or do a thing which seems to me to be perfectly right, I read immediately in Marie’s countenance an expression of proud satisfaction, which elevates me still higher; and so, when my conscience reproaches me, her face instantly clouds over. Although I have great power over her mind, I see with pleasure that she awes me; and as long as I love her as I now do, I am sure that I shall never allow myself to be drawn into anything wrong.
“Not a day passes when I do not thank Heaven for having thrown Marie in my way, or without my thinking that if anything can give happiness on earth, it is the possession of such a partner. . . . ”
What he then felt and wrote, he felt and wrote still more strongly twenty-five years later, when, in the midst of many vanished dreams and disappointed expectations, his only complete and lasting satisfaction was that afforded by his marriage.
In the mean time the success of the Democracy, confirmed by the public, soon received a more distinguished sanction. It carried its author to the Institute, which may be said to have opened wide to him her doors. Already in 1836, the Academy of France, that every year crowns the works of the greatest moral utility, had on this account accorded to the Democracy in America, an extraordinary prize raised from 6,000 fr., which in general is the maximum, to 8,000, in order to mark an especial distinction.* In 1838, Tocqueville was elected a member of the Academy of Moral and Political Science, and the circumstances of his election prove the eager desire of the Institute to receive him into their body. The vacancy to be filled was that made by M. de Romiguière, who belonged by his labours to the philosophical section. The vacant seat was therefore in that section, and Tocqueville, whose claims were of another order, did not seem the man to fill it. To prevent objection and disappointment, the Academy removed one of its members, M. Jouffroy, from the moral section, in which he was well placed, to what suited him perhaps still better, the philosophical section. A seat in the moral section was thus rendered vacant, and Alexis de Tocqueville, well fitted for it by his talents and his works, was called upon to fill it. But in 1841, when the death of M. de Cessac left unoccupied a fauteuil in the Academy of France, the member elected was Tocqueville.*
The publication, in 1840, of the last two volumes of the Democracy in America, which complete the work by describing the influence of democracy on manners, now raised still higher Tocqueville’s reputation and claims.
I have abstained from criticising the first two volumes. I shall be equally reserved as to these. It is enough to state, that they cost their author much more time and much more exertion than their predecessors. He felt the obligations imposed by success. He resolved not merely not to sink, but to rise. He used to say that a writer ought to aim, not at making a good book, but an excellent book—a maxim, not of vanity, but of severe self-exaction, which he applied as much to his lightest as to his most important compositions. In preparing these volumes, he gave still deeper meditation to his matter, and still more exquisite polish to his style. He had written admirably before he had reflected deeply on the secrets of the art of writing. Glimpses of them he got while he was working. He was convinced that they must be thoroughly mastered by the writer whose works are to live. He felt that every creation of the mind, great or small, is a work of art, and that the force and the effect of a thought depend on the words in which it is clothed. In the first two volumes, Tocqueville had frequently been a great artist without appearing to be one. In the last two he is always one, but not without a visible effort. If the effort, however, be visible, so is the fruit. The style approaches nearer to perfection. In his earnest ambition to attain that object, he reperused the masters of style, especially the great men of the seventeenth century. He tried to discover the rules by which each of them was guided; but there was no one whom he studied with more perseverance and more interest than Pascal. The two minds were made for one another. The duty of constant thought imposed on his reader by Pascal was a charm to Tocqueville. He perhaps owes to this predilection the only blame to which he has exposed himself, that of giving his reader no rest. In some parts of the last two volumes of La Démocratie, thought is linked to thought without an interval for repose or relaxation. In the first two volumes, Tocqueville was not open to this charge. In his animated description of American institutions, facts are inseparably mixed with speculations. An Englishman, author of an interesting work on the United States, was complimenting him on this part of the work; “What I especially admire,” he said, “is, that while treating so great a subject, you have so thoroughly avoided general ideas.”
There could not be a greater mistake; but Tocqueville was delighted. It showed to him that the abstractions with which his book is filled, had been so skilfully presented in a concrete form, that an acute, though certainly not a profound, reader did not perceive that the particular facts were only illustrations of general principles. No one can rise from the perusal of the second part of the work with such an impression. In describing the intellectual activity, the feelings, and the manners of the Americans, it was no longer possible to conceal the presence of general ideas, and by introducing them in the form of facts to render them more effective though less obvious. The book is full of reflections upon reflections. A reader incapable of rising to their source, and of feeling in himself the subtlety of their truth, must be fatigued by what may have appeared to him a collection of ingenious propositions, capable, perhaps, of proof, but also, perhaps, of refutation. Vigorous intellects, and only those, understand and admire the power which renders clear and precise, subjects which, to most minds, are vague and obscure. To them these volumes, suggested by no model, appear like a masterpiece of skill, and they rank them even above their forerunners.
We have said that Tocqueville, in his anxiety to develop his intellect and improve his art, had studied earnestly the great writers of the seventeenth century. One intellectual labour leads to another; and he was thus led to fill some gaps in his early education. Delighted by the historians, he had, perhaps, neglected the great philosophers and moralists of ancient and modern times. To read them was a useful preparation for a writer who had to estimate the influence of democracy on the feelings, the opinions, and the manners of a people. He may be said to have devoured Plato, Plutarch, Machiavel, Montaigne, Rousseau, and their fellows.
“I feel,” he wrote to a friend, “while reading these works, of which it is shameful to be ignorant, and which but yesterday I was scarcely acquainted with, the pleasure with which Marshal Soult learned geography when he became foreign minister.”
The quantity of books of different kinds which he then read is prodigious. One class only he absolutely avoided; those which, directly or indirectly, bore on his own subject. He feared that if his mind had once begun to tread a path marked out by another, it might not easily return to its own, and might lose the vigour and the originality which he regarded as the principal merit in literary composition. All this shows how it was that the second part of his work cost him five years, the first part having been finished in two.
His progress was retarded by another cause. His personal position was altered. The absolute independence, which is the privilege only of early youth, was gone. Besides the domestic demands of marriage, and the social ones of literary success, two new elements were introduced into his life: the interests of a landed proprietor and of a politician.
Country life, without doubt, is eminently favourable to the soundness and the development of the intellect; that is, if its seclusion be enjoyed, and its business avoided. To enable the mind to create and to produce, the conditions are silence, security, the absence of all disturbance, and the certainty that when the inspiration begins, when the thought is budding, it shall not be blighted, or broken off, or even kept back by some accidental interloper, some private business, or some domestic care. This perfect security, not merely undisturbed, but not even in danger of disturbance, can be found in the country, but only on the supposition that the author be a visitor. Tocqueville lived on his own estate. Though he had two elder brothers, the Vicomte and the Baron de Tocqueville, family arrangements made after the death of his mother, in 1836, and facilitated by the strong mutual attachment of the three brothers, made him the possessor of the old family seat, the chateau of Tocqueville, in the peninsula which ends by Cherbourg.
It was in bad repair; full of associations and of ruins. From the upper window are seen the sea and the magnificent coast of La Manche. The fertility of this country equals its beauty. Nowhere is nature more grand or more rich. But the traditions which make a country interesting, and the natural charms which render it seductive, are as dangerous to the mind as they are enchanting to the heart. Interests are the enemies of ideas; and even when the cares and the associations of property do not enslave the thoughts, its business occupies the time. Tocqueville struggled against these material influences; but perhaps the struggle was weakened by the feeling that the care of his property, though mischievous to his book, promoted another object, which already attracted him—the entrance into public affairs.
It is certain that if he had not sought political life, it would have sought him; for in a free country, anything that raises a man above the crowd draws to him public attention, and Tocqueville was already illustrious. But in fact he desired it. Tocqueville had much ambition; not the vulgar ambition which feeds on money or on place, or is satisfied by empty honours—such ambition he knew only to despise it. The ambition which filled and animated him, was the manly and pure ambition, which in a free country is the first of public virtues; an ambition which is patriotism, which is eagerness for the grandeur of the country which it aspires to govern through the struggles which belong to liberty, by efforts never suspended, and by successes due only to merit and to talent—a great and noble ambition, not to be blamed, but to be honoured, which alone can give brilliancy or dignity to power, and which aggrandizes even those whom it fails to exalt.
Now to dwell in the country, and to take part in its business, is not merely useful, but necessary to political life. Local interest is created and preserved by residence. On local interest depends election; and in a free country, election is political birth.
To establish local interest in Normandy, Tocqueville had to meet not merely the difficulties opposed to a new candidate, but also some special obstacles. In spite of his father’s influence in the province, or rather in consequence of that influence, he found, and it could not be wondered at, a general disposition to attribute to him legitimist opinions. Much time, and much personal intercourse with his countrymen were necessary before this prejudice could be overcome. It was so deeply rooted, that without the assistance of his book, of the acclamation which it obtained in the great world, and which was echoed in every hamlet, it is doubtful whether it would ever have been overcome. The obstacle was strengthened even by his dignity of character. Desirous as he was to enter the elected Chamber, he was resolved that it should be only on the condition of perfect independence. The following anecdote shows the strength of his feelings on this point.
At the election of 1847, Count Molé, the prime minister, knowing that Tocqueville was a candidate in La Manche, without his knowledge officially recommended him as a government candidate. In so doing, M. Molé merely yielded to his feelings of sympathy and affection for a young relation, whose rising reputation delighted him, and whose attachment to himself would be increased by his support. Tocqueville, who had offered himself as an independent candidate, knew only a week or two before the election, that he was recommended by the government. Believing that such a support, while it ensured his success, might injure his character, he immediately addressed to Count Molé a vehement remonstrance. Molé’s answer was equally sharp. The correspondence which followed was honourable to them both: to the candidate, for the frankness and firmness with which he rejected a patronage that would have secured his election; to the minister, for the liberality with which he offered his aid, and for the dignity with which he withdrew it. The result was that Tocqueville failed; but as the cause of his failure was known, it revealed his character. Two years after, at the general election of 1839, he was chosen by a large majority. He was then fully the master of his constituency.
Every one must feel the disturbance that the efforts necessary to open the way to political life must have made in his intellectual existence; how much energy and strength of will were necessary in order to carry on together, in spite of the obstacles of a health which was always fragile, the composition of his book, a work for solitude and retirement, and the care of his political ambition, a work to be carried on only in public, and amidst all the cares and obligations of publicity.
He was elected in March, 1839, and it was not until the beginning of 1840, that the last two volumes of his Democracy in America were published.
Here ends, for the present, his literary life, to be resumed after an interval of 15 years—and his political life begins.
From 1839 to 1848, Tocqueville represented uninterruptedly the arrondissement of Valognes, and always voted with the constitutional opposition.
Those times are too near to us to allow his public life to be freely discussed. Though strongly attached to constitutional monarchy, Tocqueville resisted a policy which it would not be advisable to attack now, even if one wished to do so. Opposed to him were men whom he respected, and who have ceased to be adversaries. Any thing resembling a reproach addressed to these statesmen, some of whom are living, would have been disavowed by him, and would discredit his memory. Nor would there be any use in reviving questions between men now united by feelings far more important than their past differences or their past rivalry.
The time will no doubt come, when the conduct of the government and of the opposition will be submitted to the judgment of history. And when this great cause is tried, among the materials of the pleadings will be taken into account many of the speeches of Tocqueville, his votes, his acts, and the moderate but firm resistance to Louis Philippe’s government, which he maintained up to the 24th of February. But that time has not yet arrived, and any intermediate discussion of the subject would be premature.
Without offending, however, any person, or wounding any party, it may even now be said, that Tocqueville passed through parliamentary life with distinction. That his intentions were always upright; that his ambition was always public-spirited; that his views were profound; that his eloquence was grave, often brilliant, often applauded, always listened to with respect; that his powers of judgment and of reasoning were of a high order, and that at a time when no defect escaped notice, his character never met with an attack or even a suspicion.
It must be admitted that in politics he did not, as he had done in letters, assume at once the highest rank. Though possessing the principal qualities which form a great statesman, he wanted some of those which form a great speaker, and in parliamentary government the latter character is necessary to the former. He spoke with ease and with great eloquence, but his voice partook of the general weakness of his body. Perhaps, too, he was too much excited by the discussion. He was too susceptible, too sensitive. The battle of a debate requires from the speaker the vigour which war demands from the soldier, and the coolness which it exacts from the general, for the speaker is both general and soldier; he fights and he commands. Tocqueville had not strength for such struggles, his health always suffered from them. It was seldom, therefore, that he could engage in them; and speaking seldom he could not be a leader.
Tocqueville, as a speaker, had also to contend with his habits as a writer. Examples without doubt may be cited of great writers who have been illustrious as speakers; but it is a general truth, that to write a book is a bad preparation for public and unpremeditated speaking. Literary labour is regular and methodical. The writer proposes to himself an ideal perfection, inconsistent with the unforeseen or accidental turn of a debate. Almost all the merits of a book are defects in a speech. A great book is written for the future. A speech is made for the present. Its business is the business of to-day. A book is thought; a speech is action. What is explained in a book is only hinted in a debate.
Tocqueville brought to the chamber the habits and the methods of an author. A speech is merely a mode of action; he considered it too much as a work of art. To fit an idea to be presented to the Chamber, it was requisite, of course, that it should be true, but he also required that it should be new. He abhorred common places: an admirable feeling in an author, but most mischievous to one who addresses a large assembly—an audience which delights in common-place.
Tocqueville had also contracted, both from theory and from practice, another habit, always excellent in a writer, but sometimes bad in a speaker. He never employed more words than were absolutely necessary to convey his thoughts to an intelligent reader.
A speaker ought to let the length of his discourse depend on the impressions produced on his audience. He ought to observe, sentence after sentence, those impressions, to end his explanation as soon as he finds that he is understood, to carry it on in a new shape if he sees that it has not been fully comprehended; and, passing rapidly over what may be offensive, and dwelling on what meets with the sympathy of his hearers, to persevere until their conviction is apparent. All this is opposed to the habits of a writer, and above all, of a good writer. If Tocqueville was not great in the chamber, it is because he was superior in his own study. His principal defect as a speaker was due to his principal merit as a writer.
This accounts for the cold reception of some of his speeches, which we now read with deep interest. What they lost in immediate effect they will gain in durability.
It may be added that during this whole period, from 1839 to 1848, he was in a position unfavourable to eloquence. He could be eloquent only when impelled, inspired, and sustained by deep and vehement feelings. Such feelings were not excited by the character which his conscience prescribed to him, that of a member of the opposition. He was too cautious, too reserved, perhaps too foreseeing, to act that character well. There was nothing of the tribune in him. Nature formed him rather to act with a government than with an opposition. This was proved at a later period of his political life, and appeared even at this time, when his exclusion from office deprived him of many opportunities for showing his administrative talents. Thus in 1839, soon after his election, having been directed to prepare a report on the abolition of colonial slavery, he not only laid down, ably and firmly, the great principles of justice and humanity, which ultimately gained this sacred cause, but by the respect with which he treated existing interests and vested rights, he prepared the government and the public to make concessions, and the colonists to accept a compromise.
Thus again, in the next year, 1840, charged with a report on prison reform, he carried, first in the committee and afterwards in the Chamber, all the important clauses of a bill, which was, in fact, an application of his own theories on the subject.
Later, in 1846, when the great question of our African empire was before the Chambers, Tocqueville, who, for the purpose of studying it, had twice travelled in Algeria (once, at the risk of his life), in the spring of 1841, and again in the winter of 1845, became a member of the commission appointed by the Chamber, and prepared, in the name of the commission, a report, in which the principles of colonization are so well treated, that even at this day, the government could do no better than consult it in the framing of regulations, and in the general management of the colonies. Tocqueville was eminently practical, to the great surprise, and, perhaps, disgust of those who maintained that the man of theory must be inferior in action. He possessed the two principal qualities for a statesman; first, the glance which penetrates into the future; discovers beforehand the path to be followed, the rocks to be avoided; which sees quicker and farther than others; a gift not only precious to a minister, but to every chief of a party. Secondly, a knowledge of men. No one knew better how to attach them, and to make use of them; to discern their talents and deficiencies, and turn both to account; to ask from every one the service for which he was best fitted; and when it was finished, to dismiss his agents, satisfied with him and with themselves. Very frank, and very discreet; never reserved, saying only what he intended to say, to the extent and at the time that he wished to say it, and expressing it with an exquisite grace, which gave a value to every word, Tocqueville’s capacious mind, eminent talent, and high character, placed him among the remarkable men who, under a representative government, and in ordinary times, are formed to take a chief part in the affairs of their country.
In a speech, pronounced on the 27th of January, 1848, in the chamber of deputies, Tocqueville, with an almost prophetic voice, announced the revolution which was on the point of breaking out.
“. . . . It is supposed,” said he, “that there is no danger because there is no collision. It is said, that as there is no actual disturbance of the surface of society, revolution is far off.
“Gentlemen, allow me to tell you, that I believe you deceive yourselves. Without doubt the disorder does not break out in overt acts, but it has sunk deeply into the minds of the people. Look at what is passing in the breasts of the working classes, as yet, I own, tranquil. It is true that they are not now inflamed by purely political passions in the same degree as formerly; but do you not observe that their passions from political have become social? Do you not see gradually pervading them opinions and ideas, whose object is not merely to overthrow a law, a ministry, or even a dynasty, but society itself? to shake the very foundations on which it now rests? Do you not listen to their perpetual cry? Do you not hear incessantly repeated, that all those above them are incapable and unworthy of governing them? that the present distribution of wealth in the world is unjust, that property rests upon no equitable basis? and do you not believe that when such opinions take root, when they spread till they have almost become general, when they penetrate deeply into the masses, that they must lead sooner or later, I know not when, I know not how, but that sooner or later they must lead to the most formidable revolutions?
“Such, gentlemen, is my deep conviction; I believe that at the present moment we are slumbering on a volcano (murmurs), of this I am thoroughly convinced . . . .” (excitement).
Tocqueville, therefore, was more grieved than surprised by the revolution of the 24th February, 1848; but the pain it gave him was no less great. He had not been bound by any close or peculiar tie to the fallen dynasty, he was attached to it in a merely constitutional point of view; but his great intelligence had, from the first, appreciated the extent of the danger to liberty caused by the revolution.
The danger he considered immeasurable, and the consequent mischief the greatest possible. To avert, in the midst of so much irremediable misery and ruin, this last and greatest danger, seemed to be all that remained for him to attempt. Therefore, after an attentive study of the events passing before him, after considering the raging passions, the divisions of party in the country, divisions which were faithfully represented in the assembly, he became, whether rightly or wrongly, convinced of two things; first, that the only and, perhaps, the last chance of liberty for France, lay in the establishment of the republic; second, that every attempt to prevent its success would end in the ruin of the republic in favour of the power of a single person. In so judging he was assuredly not carried away by enthusiasm. His instinct and his reason were equally offended by the republic of 1848; the violent and surreptitious origin of the revolution,—its authors,—the licentious theories, and even the absurd phraseology that it had brought forth, were thoroughly repugnant to his nature, and would have held him aloof from the republic, had it not been for the extent of the evil from which he thought that the establishment of the republic alone could save France. Tocqueville would have done anything to obviate it, because he felt that its natural consequence would be to drive France into an abyss of misery; but now that the republic was established, he saw safety in its maintenance. Was he wrong? Was the permanence of the republic a chimera? One must beware of judging everything by the result. Many declared the republic to be impossible, who proclaimed still more impossible the permanence of absolute power. However that may be, it is essential to make known the convictions of Tocqueville, as they only can furnish the key to his conduct at this important epoch of recent history. These convictions regulated all his acts; and it is remarkable, that in the midst of the most perplexing circumstances, Tocqueville had not one instant of hesitation or weakness, but appeared invariably more energetic and more resolute than ever.
The department of La Manche sent Tocqueville as its representative to the constituent assembly convoked for the 4th of May. Placed on the committee for the formation of a constitution, Tocqueville was penetrated with the sense of its importance; he applied himself conscientiously to the ungrateful task imposed on the committee—a task which, considering that it was executed between the 15th of May and the 24th of June, could not but be full of imperfections, some of which would, perhaps, have been avoided had the ideas which Tocqueville in vain tried to introduce been adopted. To quote a single example: Tocqueville proposed that, instead of being elected by the direct suffrage of the people, the President of the republic should, as in the United States, be elected by a limited number of electors, themselves chosen by universal suffrage. Instead of one Assembly, he preferred a representation consisting of two Chambers. But although his opinions did not prevail, he continued to give his most cordial and earnest assistance to the labours of the committee; for he was convinced, that in such times the immediate success of a constitution depends less on the principles which it puts forth, than on the men who have to carry them out. Animated by these sentiments, and with the same singleness of purpose, Tocqueville supported General Cavaignac. He not merely gave to him his vote, but also his strongest moral support, though without illusion as to the difficulties of his canvass and the decreasing chances of his success. The sight of this gradual decline, the deep sense of the calamities towards which France was rapidly drifting, excited Tocqueville’s patriotic regret. His opinions at that time live probably in the memory of many; but they are, perhaps, nowhere better recorded than in his correspondence with the author of this Memoir, who was at that period in London, and to whom he despatched a daily report of the national assembly, the state of the political thermometer, and his own private impressions. At some later date this extremely curious correspondence may be published; now it is impossible. It paints with wonderful accuracy the deformities of the times—the defects both personal and material, as well as the grief which they produced in Tocqueville.
In the month of October, 1848, two of his political friends, M. M. Dufaure and Vivien, whose wishes and fears were similar to his, having been admitted to share the councils of General Cavaignac, Tocqueville was appointed to represent France as plenipotentiary at the conference of Brussels, the object of which was the mediation of France and England between Austria and Sardinia. Although this mediation had been formally accepted by Austria, Tocqueville was already convinced, from the turn of events both in that country and in France, that there was a great chance that the conference would never take place. He accepted, however, lest, by refusing their pressing solicitations, he should appear to withhold his co-operation from his friends, whom he feared to damage in proportion to his sense of the importance and the difficulty of their undertaking. Finally, when, six months after the presidential election of the 10th December, 1848, renewed disturbances brought back the fear of anarchy, and the necessity was felt of maintaining order under the standard of the republic and of the constitution, the President made an appeal to the men best known for their attachment to the constitution, Tocqueville, who had just been elected a member of the legislative assembly, accepted the portfolio of foreign affairs; and, with his friends MM. Dufaure and Lanjuinais, became part of the ministry of M. Odilon Barrot, which lasted till the manifesto of the 31st of October in the same year. At the moment when this ministry was formed, Tocqueville was travelling with his wife on the Rhine; his friends sent for him, and he reached Paris only just in time to assume his duties.
The short period of his ministry of foreign affairs would alone have sufficed to prove the rare practical capacity for business of Tocqueville; who, in the space of two months, had to settle two great questions, that of Rome, and that of the Hungarian refugees whose extradition was demanded from the Sublime Porte by Austria and Russia.
All who at that time observed Tocqueville, admired the clearness of his views, and the uprightness and firmness of his acts. It has seldom happened to a minister to leave, in so short a time, such brilliant and yet durable traces of his administration, not only at home, but in foreign governments. All the diplomatic agents of France at that time, among whom Tocqueville by his influence had placed two of his personal friends, General Lamoricière at the court of St. Petersburgh, and M. Gustave de Beaumont, at that of Vienna, can bear witness to this fact. From the first they were struck by the elevated and dignified tone of his despatches. Tocqueville, indeed, charmed all who came in contact with him, by the attraction of his moral and intellectual qualities; and when the act of the 31st of October separated him from the head of the government, the President, who as well as others had been captivated, endeavoured to attach him to his person, projects, and designs. Without being insensible to these proofs of esteem, the resolution of Tocqueville could not be shaken. He insisted on the preservation of the republic, and all was tending towards the empire, or rather the empire was set up. The Legislative Assembly dragged on, rather than lived for two years; like a strong man, who though mortally wounded, can neither recover nor die. Tocqueville sat in it to the end, with the thorough disgust and bitter regret caused by the spectacle of its long agony. He had not, however, to reproach himself with a moment’s weakness or desertion. To the end he trod firmly and uprightly the path which he had traced for himself. When the question of a revision of the constitution was agitated in extremis in the Assembly; without deceiving himself as to the character of the petitions which demanded this revision, but convinced that the power of the President must be renewed, and that if anything could diminish the fatal effect of this popular coup d’état, it would be to render it beforehand constitutional; he voted for the revision, and speaking in the name of the committee, he stated his motives in a report which was his last and one of his most remarkable parliamentary labours. A few days later the parliament had ceased to exist.
Tocqueville, fatigued by his ministerial duties, and with health much impaired, had a short time previously quitted France for a warmer climate: he went to seek rest and sunshine in the neighbourhood of Naples, at Sorrento, where he passed the winter, and where he would have had only too good a right to prolong his stay. But, in spite of the charms and the salutary effects of his residence in this delightful retreat, to which the society of a few friends* added the advantages of an intimate and chosen society, Tocqueville instantly quitted it to return to Paris when he saw the storm gather and ready to burst over the Assembly of which he was a member. He chose to be at his post, and to take his share of the danger in the struggle which he hoped would ensue; and he was present on the 2d of December, 1851. He was at the meeting of the tenth arrondissement; he approved and signed all its resolutions; and was sent with two hundred of his colleagues to the barracks on the Quai d’Orsay; from whence, on the night of the 2d of December, they were transferred to Vincennes. Here ends the political life of Tocqueville, together with that of liberty in France.*
The most striking features in Tocqueville’s political character are firmness combined with moderation; and moral greatness and dignity combined with ambition. In revolutionary times the men who are not violent are often accused of weakness. It is true that Tocqueville had none of the revolutionary energy, produced more by temper than by conviction, which proceeds by fits and starts, and is subject to sudden reaction.
Tocqueville was not violent; but nothing could surpass the strength and constancy with which he held to his opinions. Intrenched behind the line marked out by his reason, and fortified by his conscience, he was invincible; he never quitted it for an instant, either to obtain power or to keep it. And yet the ambition that, as we have seen, fired his mind on his entrance into public life was not extinguished; it continued equally vivid, but it was always of that nobler kind which, counting as nothing empty honour and material advantages, sees in power only a means of accomplishing, if not great things, at least things useful to his country.
Convinced that in a free nation power should always vest in the political party which has the majority, and that there can be neither greatness nor dignity in a government unless the party in power makes known its principles, and remains faithful to them, he did not feel, he could not even understand, ambition except within these limits. It is indeed the lot of all men, whose public ambition is of this kind, to attain office rarely, and still more rarely to keep it. But greatness does not consist in the mere possession of power; and the statesman who desires that his memory may be honoured must, above all, preserve in the conduct of public affairs his personal dignity and self-respect.
Although Tocqueville did not long retain what is called power, he enjoyed a much nobler and more lasting influence than is obtained by the daily management of affairs,—the moral influence exercised by his ideas. By them he exercised, and still exercises, great political influence over his own age. His opinions formed a school. He is everywhere quoted and considered as an authority, abroad as well as at home. It was, especially, this powerful moral influence that made Tocqueville a politician and a statesman.
EVENTS SUBSEQUENT TO THE 2D DECEMBER, 1851—L’ANCIEN RÉGIME ET LA REVOLUTION—UNPUBLISHED WORKS AND CORRESPONDENCE.
After this violent breaking up of his political existence, there was still one tie left which bound Tocqueville to public life. He was a member, and had for many years been regularly elected president, of the conseil général of his department (La Manche). Though of a subordinate nature, it was a tie of deep interest and perhaps nearer to his heart than any other. But as it could have been preserved only by an oath which his honour forbade, even this last tie had to be broken.
Notwithstanding this blow, Tocqueville was not cast down. It was his fate to rise with every trial. He never displayed more strength and dignity than in these sad times. Between his intellectual and moral faculties there was a remarkable correspondence; as his eloquence rose with his subject, so the greater the trial, the stronger and firmer it found him. On such occasions his energy was admirable.
We have said that Tocqueville’s political existence had come to an end: but we were wrong—it continued. Tocqueville carried it on first by remaining what he had been; for in revolutionary times there is but one way to preserve one’s principles: it is, not to change in the midst of change, to maintain one’s character unimpaired; not for a single day to give the lie to one’s past life; to endure patiently, nobly, not the displeasure of a sovereign (which would be easy enough), but that of the times, far more painful and oppressive; to see trampled under foot by the people all that one had seen erect and honoured by them, without abandoning a particle of it oneself; to witness this apostasy, yet to hold one’s faith firmly; and not only hold it, but declare it, profess it, hope for its final triumph, and, with all one’s remaining strength, devote oneself to its cause. Even so did Tocqueville after the 2d of December; naturally, without effort, without remission, and with a firmness that did not falter for a single instant.
In the midst of the profound sadness excited in him by the changed prospects of his country, he determined to oppose material force by moral influence; to make a dignified attitude and literary study compensate for the loss of political power; and in the sphere, however narrow it might be, left to independent thought, to endeavour to propagate, or rather to awaken, ideas which may be dormant in the public mind, but can never perish.
Inspired by this sentiment, Tocqueville not only set himself to work, but undertook to animate his friends with ardour similar to his own; and it was a cause of real regret to him that, while they all sympathised deeply with his energy and his success, he could not prevail on some of them to resume the intellectual labour of which he set them an example. Assuredly none resisted more frequently his solicitations than he who, by writing these pages, seems now to yield to them. But, alas! he writes only a biography; nor can he help a bitter feeling when he thinks of the price which he pays or the fulfilment of the earnest wishes of his friend.
Immediately after the 2d December, 1851, Tocqueville had retired to his estate in Normandy.
The quiet of the country, and the repose of private life succeeding to the noise of the capital and the disputes of the forum, certainly present a singular charm, intoxicating the mind and lifting it above itself. It is another life, another world, almost another nature; a passion for truth seizes you instead of a passion for victory; the desire of knowledge, not that of success; a proud disdain of the multitude, to which you have been a slave: Turba argumentum pessimi. But, in order to enjoy these sensations, the heart must not be full of grief; one must not be an exile in one’s own country. Tocqueville’s mind was too much troubled, and his moral sense too much in a state of revolt to enjoy the soothing influence of a country life. It was not for this that he went to live on his estate, but in order to work. This work was his last book: L’ancien Régime et la Revolution.* He first thought of writing this book six months earlier, at Sorrento, in the beginning of the year 1851; a time when, reflecting on the state of France, he saw but too clearly the lot about to exclude a whole generation from public affairs, and thus create a leisure which must be employed. The national assembly was not then extinct; but all its members were conscious of its daily decreasing strength. On the 10th of January, 1851, he wrote the following letter to M. Gustave de Beaumont:—
“Sorrento, January 10th, 1851.
“. . . . Sorrento becomes every day more agreeable to me; the beauty of the country and of the climate is incomparable, our apartments are very convenient All I wanted was some intellectual occupation; some amusement rather than work for the mind. I am beginning to have it. Before leaving Tocqueville, I had put together some of my recollections of my period of office; and had written down a few of the reflections which occurred to me on the men and things of that time. I have returned to this work; no portion of which, as you are well aware, can now be published in any form. Though I do not feel the same zest and aptitude for it that I had at Tocqueville, still it helps me through the morning hours, at which I am in the habit of administering a certain portion of food to my mind. I will read it to you some day, when we have nothing better to do than to gossip over the past. You are aware that the events of my ministry of five months are of no great importance; but the near view that I had of affairs was curious, and the physiognomy of the persons engaged in them interested me. They are, in general, rather bad subjects, of which I have made but middling pictures; but a gallery of contemporaries often gives the spectator more pleasure than magnificent portraits of even the illustrious deceased. However, this employment, or rather these dreams, are far from calming the restlessness of mind usual to me in solitude.
“I have long, as you know, been engrossed with the thought of undertaking another book. It has occurred to me a hundred times that if I am to leave any traces of my passage through the world, it will be far more by my writings than by my actions. Besides, I feel myself more capable of writing a book now than I was fifteen years ago. I have, therefore, employed my thoughts, in my walks over the hills round Sorrento, in search of a subject. It was requisite that it should be of our own time, and such as to enable me to join facts with ideas, the philosophy of history with history itself. These were for me the conditions of the problem. I had often thought of the empire, that singular act of the drama, yet incomplete, called the French revolution; but I had always been checked by insurmountable obstacles, and especially by the idea that I should appear to wish to rewrite celebrated books already written. But now the subject has presented itself in a form which has seemed to me more approachable; I have been thinking that, instead of undertaking to write the history of the empire, I must try to exhibit and to explain the cause, the character, and the import of the great occurrences which form the chief links in the chain of events of that time; the facts to be no more than a sort of solid unbroken foundation on which to rest all the ideas which I have in my head, not only concerning the empire, but on the period by which it was preceded and succeeded; on its character; on the extraordinary man who was its hero; on the direction given by him to the progress of the French revolution; of his influence over the condition of our nation, and the destiny of all Europe. One might make on these subjects a short book, in one volume or perhaps in two, which would not be without interest or even dignity. My mind has worked on this new canvass, and under the stimulus has discovered many views which never occurred to me before. All is, as yet, a sort of vision floating before my imagination; what say you of the original idea?”
The cloud cleared away, and Tocqueville on returning to private life set to work. The difficulty is easily understood. In order to describe the revolution and its results, Tocqueville was obliged first to study the times by which it was preceded; as to understand an effect one seeks for the cause. He set himself to explore and to paint the social and political state of France before 1789. He had, therefore, to perform respecting old France, a task somewhat similar to that which he had performed respecting North America. But instead of dealing, as in the United States, with a country and institutions actually before his eyes, he had to describe an extinct society, times and institutions that had passed away; and of which he was forced, as it were, to exhume the skeleton, in order to paint the resemblance. Now it is hard to imagine the toil, even after the lapse of less than half a century, of discovering the traces of what has been destroyed or metamorphosed by a great and sudden revolution. Tocqueville applied to this study all the resources of his powerful intellect; he analysed with his wonderful sagacity the elements, which before and after 1789, composed civil and political society in France; he made each the subject of a profound and diligent inquiry. He found many materials for his work in the great public libraries of the state; but he, perhaps, nowhere found morevaluable documents than among the archives of the old provincial administrations, especially in that of Tours. For the benefit of these researches, as well as that of his health, for which the temperate climate of Touraine was recommended, he established himself at St. Cyr, near Tours, for a part of the year 1854.
But in studying his subject, he did not confine himself to France; he wished once more to see Germany, where every trace of the ancient feudal system is not yet effaced, and where, perhaps, better than in any other country may be seen the characteristics of a nation not yet completely revolutionised. He performed this journey in the summer of the year 1855; and, as for such an inquiry he wanted a knowledge of the German language, he had the courage to learn it; and he acquired it so rapidly, as soon to be able to make use of the original documents.
It was in the beginning of 1856 that he published the first part of this great work, which he was not, alas, permitted to finish. The book met with prodigious success; as much abroad as in France. It was immediately translated into every language, noticed in every newspaper and review, and welcomed by a concert of unanimous praise.*
Tocqueville’s satisfaction at this success was not entirely personal; he thought it a good symptom of the public mind, still capable of appreciating a book full of the passionate love of liberty. If anything in this success troubled him, it was its universality. It seemed to him that the natural opponents of his theories ought to have attacked him; and he feared that the indulgence with which they treated his book, might be a proof less of impartiality on their part, than of a general indifference to politics. However that might be, the organs of the public press all agreed, especially on one point; in their praise of the work, they pointed out a new step made by the author, a purer taste, a graver style, a greater steadiness of thought and self-reliance.
To the twelve years of his public career, Tocqueville owned a maturity of judgment, and power of observation, which he could not fail to show in his writings. If it be true that a literary life is a bad preparation for a political life, it is no less true that politics are an excellent introduction to literary composition; especially to that of a book in which recent facts are mingled with history, and the statesman’s experience is of as much importance as the talent of the writer. A retrospective glance thrown over the long interval between 1840 and 1852, during which political action suspended his intellectual creations, would, perhaps, lead us to infer that what Tocqueville gained most from those years, was a greater fitness for the production of this last book.
The account given here of its success is, perhaps, but a feeble reflection of the impression produced on the public by this work. In reading it we feel more than the pleasure of contemplating a beautiful work of art, for our minds become filled with the great interests which occupy the thoughts of the author. We see that he is not merely presenting us with a series of remarkable anecdotes, but that he studies the past with the object of exploring the secrets and unravelling the mysteries of the future. We are aware that our own destinies and the lot of our children are concerned. We read with a solemn feeling, like that of the ancients consulting their oracle. It is more than admiration; it is emotion. The reader thinks as much of himself as of the book; and such is his faith in the penetration of the writer, that while reading the premisses he longs to reach the conclusion.
Many persons throughout Europe waited for this conclusion, in order to solve the enigma of our revolution. To this point, Tocqueville directed all the powers of his mind. In fact, the title of the first part, the only part yet published, does not give a true idea of the scope of the whole work. To judge by the title, L’ancien Régime et la Révolution, it would seem as if the author assigned, in the order of his thoughts, the same importance to the study of the ancien régime as he did to that of the French revolution. But such was not the case. His aim was not to paint the ancient state of society. He used it only as a background to throw into relief the new state of things; the year 1789; the revolution, its consequences; the empire; and, above all, the Emperor. This was the vital point of his studies, the origin of his reflections, of his anxieties, of his alternations of hope and depression. The right name for the book would have been the “French Revolution;” and Tocqueville would have chosen it had he not been afraid of taking a worn-out title. The French revolution was the subject which filled his thoughts, and took possession of his mind; the dark abyss into which he hoped to convey light, the mysterious problem which he was bent upon solving.
But what was this solution to be? The published volume does not exhibit and could not contain it; the author’s intention in it being to offer only a summary of the past. It is most probable, that the whole work would have extended to at least three volumes. The regret produced by the interruption of so great a work can now be understood, especially as the second volume was far advanced; Tocqueville wanted only a few months more to finish it. The order of the chapters, and the sequence of the ideas, was arranged from first to last; some chapters are not mere sketches, they are pictures which have received the artist’s last touch; and even where the outlines are not distinct they are indicated.
By collating these precious materials, arranging them, supplying here a few pages, there a few words, it would no doubt be possible to put this second volume into form, and make it over to the natural curiosity of the public. But who would dare to venture on this experiment, especially considering the importance attached by Tocqueville to publishing nothing which was not as nearly perfect as he was able to make it? Often in the margin of the MS. one sees, in the author’s hand, these words: “To be reconsidered; to be verified.” Sometimes a single note of interrogation set against an opinion expresses marks of the writer’s doubt, and suggests a reconsideration.
In the presence of so many signs of scruples and fears, who would venture to be bolder than the author himself? Who would dare to solve the questions raised, to touch the delicate points, to end the unfinished sentences, to graft another style upon his style, and to inflict the faults and responsibilities of another upon his glorious memory? Such profanation will not be committed.
Two chapters only of the second part, written probably as early as 1852, have been found, subjected apparently to so complete a revision, that Tocqueville himself would certainly not have disavowed them. It is the portion of the work which describes the state of France just before the “18 Brumaire,” and proves that though she had ceased to be republican, France still was revolutionary. It cannot be asserted that the author would not have retouched them, for he was always improving his compositions; but these fragments may be considered as finished, and they can with confidence be offered as a curious and precious specimen of the entire work, which unfortunately will never appear. Except, indeed, this slender portion, it is resolved that nothing shall ever be published.
If another course were adopted, where should one stop? Ought one to endeavour to make up a third volume by applying to it the same labour as to the second, and to seek in Tocqueville’s copious notes for the key to that enigma, the secret of which perplexes his readers? Who would dare to ransack such a sanctuary? How would it be possible to deduce any clear and decided opinion from the first essays and gropings of his independent mind, which long balanced the most opposite notions; and was too candid to be in the least aware of what it would be led to predict for the future from the study of the present and past. As the chemist when he begins the analysis of a body knows not what result to expect.
The only safe assertion on this point is, that Tocqueville had faith in liberty, while he was showing what perils it had to encounter; and believed, if not in its perpetual existence, yet in its amendment and partial recovery; and would have thrown down his pen if he had foreseen its extinction.
But if one were to allow oneself to be carried along the slope, instead of determining to stop short, the publication would not end with the second and third parts of Tocqueville’s great work. It is impossible to look at his numerous notes on the French revolution, evidencing his profound study of every theory nearly or distantly connected with the subject, without being struck with the value of his labours. It is an immense arsenal of ideas. Many authors would find in one of his notes materials for volumes. They are all in his handwriting; for Tocqueville wanted the faculty of working with foreign help, and made use of no materials but those which he himself collected. He alone possessed the key to their meaning. He had no respect for books that are made up of other books, but went always to the original sources. In his estimation the chief part of the work consisted in exploring these sources. When he had discovered them he considered his work half done. In pursuing these researches, he allowed nothing to stop him; he followed them up everywhere, not only in France, but in foreign countries. He went to Germany for the materials of this first volume, and in 1857 to England to prepare the second. He admitted of no obstacle to a journey which he deemed essential to his task, not even the risk of his life, already in considerable danger, and to which any change of habits and climate might be fatal. All this may give some idea of what authorship was to him. For one volume that he published he wrote ten; and the notes he cast aside as intended only for himself, would have served many writers as text for the printer. His notices upon the economists, especially on Turgot; on the instructions from their constituents to the different members of the states-general; his observations on Germany, and on many German publicists; his notes on England, are so many finished compositions. But if he thought them unworthy, who should venture to publish them, and to offer as finished works what he considered merely as materials for his own use? Who would exhibit, in a prolix and diluted state, thoughts which he only showed when condensed, and which he would have employed his whole skill to compress? This reserve will not be confined to his writings upon the revolution and the empire; but will be extended to his other manuscripts.
Such a man as Tocqueville, who could not live without thinking, nor think without writing, left, of course, many papers upon various subjects. But, except a few short pieces mentioned above, which, as they are completely finished, may be published, not one has received his last touches.
The most considerable of his unfinished works is undoubtedly that which he had commenced on the “Establishment of the English in India.” He had deeply studied this important question, and collected a considerable number of documents relating to it. The book is divided into three parts; the title of the first is, “Picture of the Present State of British India.” The whole of this first part is written out, and would make about sixty pages of print. The motto is as follows—“The Hindoo religion is abominable; perhaps the only one that is worse than none at all.” The title of the second part—which is not yet fully written, though the order of the thoughts and distribution of subjects is settled—is, “Effects of the British rule upon the Hindoos.” The third part is entitled, “How the British power in India may be overturned.”
More important or more interesting questions cannot be imagined. But against yielding to the temptation of publishing any part of this MS. one would be protected by these words, written by Tocqueville himself on the cover:—“All this is of no value unless I resume my intention of writing on these questions. About the year 1843 I thought of composing a book on this subject, which is well worthy of the trouble. The distractions of political life and the immense research requisite for such a work have prevented me.” That an author should publish, unless as a means of adding to his fame, Tocqueville could never understand, nor could he ever tolerate bookmaking.
This explains why Tocqueville published so little, though he wrote so much, as well as the perfection of the few works which he brought out. It accounts, also, for his extreme dislike to writing in newspapers or even in reviews, where the writer is forced to compress his subject within a prescribed limit. Only on a few rare occasions did he depart from this rule.
Thus in 1836, the year after the publication of his first book, the eminent editor of the London and Westminster Review, Mr. John Stuart Mill, who has since written so many remarkable works, asked him for an article upon France. Tocqueville sent him a very striking paper on the “Social and Political State of France,” which appeared in the number of the following April, 1836, translated by Mr. Mill himself.* Another time, at the earnest request of M. Aristide Guilbert, author of the Histoire des Villes de France, Tocqueville sent him an account of Cherbourg, published in 1847, in that interesting collection, and which is the best possible proof that there is no subject, however apparently trifling, that may not become great when handled by a superior mind. This article is a masterpiece; the little town almost immediately disappears to make way for the historical interests of its port, one of the grandest and most marvellous creations of this century.
On considering, therefore, the reserve evinced by Tocqueville in the publication of his works, one is forced to observe the same reticence with regard to his unedited MSS.
He has left, however, one very important manuscript under the name of “Souvenirs,” which will certainly one day be published, and will make up an octavo volume. These souvenirs, written at Tocqueville, and at Sorrento, in 1850 and 1851, relate chiefly to the revolution of 1848, and to the following year. They will form a most precious fragment of contemporary history, but the time for publishing them is not yet come; the author solemnly desired that no part should appear during the life of any whom it might injure.
But among his unpublished works, is one, perhaps the most valuable, the immediate publication of which seems to us not only possible but indispensable; we mean his private letters. They were certainly not written for publication, but Tocqueville said nothing to forbid it. Nothing that falls from the pen of a distinguished man, can long remain private property. Some of his letters have already been made public; other partial publications less guarded by discretion and good taste might follow, both in France and in England, if this sad dispersion were not prevented by a collected publication.
If we had to give an opinion on the literary merit of this correspondence, we should place it if not above, at least on a level with whatever Tocqueville has written and published; but it is not the art and talent displayed which principally strikes us, nor what we wish the public to notice. A letter is much less an intellectual exercise, than an ebullition of feeling, a token of friendship, a passage in one’s life, a conversation in which both the heart and mind take part. A letter is not a study, but a part of the writer’s personality that survives it, and prolongs its existence. A collection of letters is not a literary production: it consists of the recovered fragments of a life that is broken up, put together by the piety of the survivors, each of whom, according to the nature and degree of his affection, feels satisfaction in contemplating the remains of the friend whom he loved and admired.
It has been a hundred times said that the style is the man. This is hardly true of the style of a book in which the author observes himself, and exerts all his skill to exhibit himself as he wishes to appear; but it it is nearer the truth with respect to letters, which are written as one speaks, and because one cannot speak. They sometimes show the intellect of the writer; they always reveal his heart and disposition.
Although in some parts of Tocqueville’s correspondence he has hit upon a felicity of expression which no study could have improved; what will chiefly be observed in it is the immense space that friendship occupied in his life. His published works have made him known as an author; by his letters he will be known and loved as a man. They will also exhibit the author in a new light; for Tocqueville excelled as a letter writer. Accordingly no letter from him, however short, was ever received with indifference. This explains why they all have been preserved, and are now forthcoming; and why none of the persons who have lent them to us have been willing to give them up altogether. On the contrary, so highly are they valued, that every one of the friends who have trusted us with these precious manuscripts, has earnestly entreated us to restore the originals.* We need not say that this wish will be faithfully fulfilled. The delicate feeling which prompted Tocqueville’s friends to place all their letters in the hands of Madame de Tocqueville, in whom alone they recognise the right of authorising their publication, will assuredly meet with general appreciation.
If several reasons did not oblige us to suppress, at least for the present, the greater part of this correspondence, it would be very voluminous. Tocqueville had many friends. Convinced that friendship is a tender plant that withers without cultivation, he bestowed the greatest attention upon his correspondence. He wrote many letters, not because he was, but although he was, an author. Literary men in general write few. They seem to keep all their talent and all their thoughts for their books. To Tocqueville, letter-writing was a need; it widened the circle of his life. He kept up many of those relations which are almost friendships, and would have become real friendships, if they had begun a little earlier. He did much to keep them alive. The difficulty to men of eminence is not to obtain acquaintances, or even friends, but to keep them. Attentions, kindness, and sincere regard, will alone retain what success and renown attracted. He was, however, as attentive to his slighter as to his intimate ties; hence his numerous corresspondences in France as well as in foreign countries.
The most ancient of all in date, as well as, perhaps, the most remarkable, is the correspondence he kept up with one of his cousins, his friend from a child, Count Louis de Kergorlay. It throws so much light on the character of Tocqueville, that it is as well to explain in a few words the circumstances during which it sprang up and was maintained for more than thirty years. Alexis de Tocqueville and Louis de Kergorlay present the phenomenon of two men, completely separated in politics, yet always united in the closest intimacy. Kergorlay, the day after aiding as an officer of artillery in the capture of Algiers, left the service rather than give in his adhesion to the government of July, to which Tocqueville submitted, without enthusiasm, it is true, but without reservation. So strong, indeed, was Kergorlay’s hostility to the new dynasty, that he was implicated in the first endeavour to overthrow it; while Tocqueville, persisting in the opposite course, entered the representative Chamber, and there renewed his oath of allegiance. Kergorlay, again, retired into private life; and, notwithstanding his extraordinary merit and great abilities, was glad to remain in the shade. On the other hand, Tocqueville threw himself into the agitation and glare of public life; yet, although their fortunes were so opposite, the two friends remained always the same to each other, not only without mutual suspicion or bitterness, but without the slightest shade or coolness. Yet they were exposed to every sort of trial, of which not the least cruel was, when Louis de Kergorlay compromised, together with his venerable father, in the affair of the Carlo Alberto, was sent by the government which Tocqueville had joined before the cour d’assizes of Montbrison. Tocqueville rushed to support his friend and zealously defended him; not as one would generally defend a person under accusation, but as one would plead for a loved and honoured friend, in a few touching words which we shall try to recover, that we may introduce them at the end of this volume.* The claims of affection satisfied, Tocqueville pursued his own political course.
In the nature of these two men, though generally so diverse, there were evidently mysterious affinities and secret sympathies not confined to their moral, but extended even to their intellectual qualities, though they were so different in their actions.
Tocqueville never wrote without submitting his MS. to Kergorlay. How often, when stopped in the midst of his work, out of heart, almost in despair, he sought his friend Louis, who with one word dispersed the cloud and set him forward on his path. It is scarcely possible to form an idea of the help afforded to Tocqueville by the vast and fertile understanding of Kergorlay. It was to him an inexhaustible mine, in which he dug continually without ever reaching the bottom.
Their disagreement in politics was, in fact, a principal cause of the interest and moral value of their correspondence. Tocqueville, aware that in his friend’s mind there was one interdicted zone, that of feelings and opinions relating to practical politics, was forced, therefore, when he wrote, to confine himself within an elevated and generally philosophical region. The restraint was sometimes irksome both to his heart and head, but it oftener was a relief to his mind, which found in this correspondence an occasional refuge, whither it might escape, or rather rise, when it could shake off the trammels of political struggles and business. On the other hand, from the fact of contemporary politics occupying so large a space, much of the most remarkable correspondence of Tocqueville with other friends cannot be published. Such is especially the character of a great many letters addressed to MM. de Corcelle, Ampère, Count Molé, Dufaure, Lanjuinais, Freslon, Charles Rivet, M. and Madame de Circourt, M. Duvergier de Hauranne, &c. &c. We have been obliged to make a selection, and to choose sometimes, not the most interesting, but the most fit for publication. There are correspondences which, though charming, we have been forced almost entirely to suppress, as too political, or too confidential,—such as those which Tocqueville kept up with his relations, particularly with his brothers; and, if their kind indulgence will permit the assimilation, with the friend whom he treated as a brother, the author of this memoir, who possesses 300 letters, none of which could with propriety be published.
One correspondence of Tocqueville’s, though under very different circumstances, resembles in some points his correspondence with Kergorlay, and deserves especial mention, because, while it adds another proof of the strength of his friendships, it perhaps reveals, more than any other, his whole heart, his true character, his real opinions and feelings. We allude to his letters to Eugène Stoffels.
Alexis de Tocqueville and Eugène Stoffels, whose intimacy began at the college of Metz, parted when they left it at the age of sixteen. Nothing seemed likely to bring them again together,—certainly not a similarity of position and a conformity of habits; for one lived in Paris on an independent fortune, and the other in the provinces on the salary of a small place in the public revenue;—nor even the sympathy which sometimes draws together two superior intellects; for Stoffels possessed distinguished but not first-rate talents. What, then, was the tie between them? A purer mind, and a more independent character than his never existed. When this struck Tocqueville, he gave to Stoffels his whole heart. Although intellectual superiority had an immense attraction for Tocqueville, moral worth attracted him still more powerfully. He never engaged in any serious undertaking without consulting Stoffels, or did anything of importance without informing him; and for the very reason that Stoffels lived far removed from politics and the bustle of the world, Tocqueville delighted in confiding to him his impressions, and in placing his stormy and complicated existence in contact with the simple and uniform life of his friend. To Kergorlay he went for intellectual aid; to Stoffels for moral support and sympathy. Stoffels was, perhaps, the man of all others whose esteem he most valued, and whose blame he most dreaded.
Though many illustrious and variously distinguished personages figure in Tocqueville’s letters, great names, mixed up with great or small affairs, are not the things to be sought for by the reader of this correspondence. This is not a publication of pride or ostentation. He will find sometimes, amidst obscure and unknown names, thoughts and feelings expressed in graceful and captivating language. In choosing the letters, the substance, much more than the name of the correspondent, has been considered.
Tocqueville’s letters to his English friends fill a considerable space in this collection; especially those to Mr. Senior, Mr. Reeve, Mrs. Grote, Mr. J. S. Mill, Lord Radnor, Sir Cornewall and Lady Theresa Lewis, Mrs. Austin, Lord Hatherton, Mr. W. R. Greg, Sir James Stephen, &c. &c. They would occupy a still larger space if, here again, we were not stopped by the proper names and political questions, for which, at present, publicity would be neither possible nor desirable. Some day this obstacle will cease; and, with a view to this eventuality, more or less remote, I may announce that all is in readiness for an ulterior and complete publication.
In England, Tocqueville loved and honoured a free country; and he estimated individual merit at too high a rate to be indifferent to the particular and distinguishing qualities which make relations with Englishmen so safe, friendships so lasting, and engagements so sacred.*
The last, the shortest, and the fullest correspondence of Tocqueville, is that with Madame Swetchine, portions of which were published last year in the Count de Falloux’s interesting memoir. Those who have read it, can comprehend the singular fascination exercised by Madame Swetchine, the attraction of her “salon,” the charm of her talent and disposition, as well as the extraordinary influence that she acquired over all who came near her, an influence which Tocqueville was the less likely to escape, as Madame Swetchine must have exercised on such a man all her powers of captivation.
It will be observed that none of the letters of Tocqueville’s correspondents are inserted in this collection. Of course it would frequently have been interesting to see the letters of the correspondents, as one always likes to see question and answer side by side. But such a line once entered upon, where could we stop? We have avoided it altogether, with the single exception of a letter from Count Molé, explanatory of a public act of Tocqueville’s. There are some other letters which cannot be brought forward here, his letters to his wife. When one considers that on the rare occasions when he was separated from her, he never passed a single day without writing and giving her a full account of all that he did and felt, the value of such letters and the light that they would throw upon the heart and character of the writer, can easily be imagined. Latterly, Tocqueville wrote more letters than ever. After he was secluded from political action, he had more leisure. There is, too, a time of life at which the world around seems to grow narrower, and one strives to enlarge its sphere. It is when, estimating better one’s fellow-men, one reckons them not by number but by worth; and this makes the world appear small. Then, without regard to distance, one seeks everywhere for the rare qualities which one has learned to appreciate.
These were the reasons that induced Tocqueville to extend the circle not only of his acquaintances but of his intimate friends.
It is remarkable that, amid the events which extinguished the personal importance of so many men, his had gone on increasing; and never had he occupied a higher position in the estimation of foreign countries, than after he had ceased to hold any official one in France. This will be proved by a single instance. It has already been stated that in the year 1857, Tocqueville went to collect materials for his second volume in England, where there is a unique and precious collection of documents relating to the French revolution. Thanks to the personal respect entertained for him, he was authorised to search the public archives without restriction, and to look into all the confidential correspondence between the British government and its diplomatic agents. Anxious to give himself up entirely to his researches, Tocqueville endeavoured whilst he was in London, to see no persons but those whose assistance was necessary to the attainment of his object. He could not, however, entirely escape the marks of respect of which he was the object, and that in a free country are so liberally bestowed upon men who have honourably quitted a distinguished post. Lord Lansdowne, Lord Stanhope, Lord Macaulay, Lord and Lady Granville, Lord and Lady Hatherton, Sir G. C. and Lady Theresa Lewis, as well as his old friends, Reeve, Senior, Grote, &c. &c., vied with each other in demonstrations of regard. Prince Albert desired to have an interview with Tocqueville, to express his high esteem. A last tribute, for which he was little prepared, awaited him. When about to embark, he was informed that a vessel belonging to the British government had been placed at his disposal, to take him to any French port he might choose. The order had been given by the first Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Charles Wood, who thought that England owed this act of courtesy to her illustrious and honoured guest; a homage as honourable to the offerer as to the receiver, and which was not the mere act of a minister, but that of a whole nation whose approbation must have been securely reckoned upon. It was universally applauded in England, different as it was from those public honours which, in other countries, are exclusively reserved for official personages. Though he had a lively sense of its value, Tocqueville was not dazzled by so great an honour, as is shown by his simple relation of the circumstance.
“I have been in England,”* (he wrote on the 25th July, 1857), “where I received so many and such striking proofs of consideration, that I was almost as much embarrassed as gratified. The whole political world overwhelmed me with favours and attentions. . . .
“Last of all, Sir Charles Wood, hearing that I lived near Cherbourg, and was returning thither, placed at my disposal a little steamer, which carried me straight from Portsmouth to Cherbourg, last Tuesday, to the great astonishment of the natives of the latter place, who, waiting in the hope of seeing at least a prince land from the vessel, saw only your humble servant.”
Suddenly the evil which was to hurry Tocqueville to his grave showed itself in its worst and most alarming symptom. In the month of June, 1858, he broke a blood-vessel.
Although he had before received some slight warnings of the same kind, but not to the same extent, he had never understood them. Nothing, in fact, could be more contrary to what he knew of his own constitution. It had always been weak and delicate, and there had long been symptoms of some organic disease. Till now, everything had led him to believe that the diseased organ was not the chest; and those who knew him most intimately thought the same.
On his long journeys, especially when he was in America, he had sometimes suffered, but never in the chest, which appeared to be, perhaps, the soundest part of his body. His travelling companion had been able, on several occasions, to make the most satisfactory observations on this point. When, in exploring the forests and the wildernesses of the new world, they had to climb steep ascents, Tocqueville always reached the top first, without appearing to be out of breath. When, on returning from the bay of Saginaw, they were forced to ride more than forty miles without stopping, through the difficult paths of the virgin forest, or the wild prairies, Tocqueville showed no signs of fatigue or exhaustion. Sometimes, on these adventurous marches, they were brought to a sudden halt by a wide and deep stream; on such occasions Tocqueville swam across it. Once he did so on Lake Huron, near Michillimachinac, in a latitude where, whatever be the season, the water is always icy cold when not frozen, and he never appeared the worse. In 1841, ten years later, when travelling in Africa, he fell ill in the camp of Eddis, on the road between Stora and Constantine, even then his lungs did not appear to be disordered; for on the day before he ascended the Pic de Bougie, while most of his companions stopped half-way.
In 1850, however, soon after he gave up office, his friends were alarmed by serious symptoms; the physicians did not even then discover that there was any formed disease of the lungs; but only a dangerous accident which, if it did not return, might leave no trace; and it did not return. A winter at Sorrento, and another in Touraine, seemed to have arrested the evil; but much more was needed. To have saved his precious life he should have gone not for one winter, but for years, to a southern climate. Above all he ought, for an indefinite period, to have abandoned the, to him, destructive climate of Normandy. Madame de Tocqueville wished, and repeatedly entreated him to do so, but he could not make up his mind to this; and it is easy to understand his reluctance to leave the country that he had loved so dearly, for one without any of his own interests, far from his friends, and from his books, and from the intellectual activity which to him was life itself. Such an exile would have been an almost certain sentence of death; and, perhaps, more speedy than that with which he was threatened.
Although what happened in June, 1858, left no room for any illusions, Tocqueville still harboured them. He, however, submitted to the advice of his doctors to proceed to Provence; and after having, in spite of the urgency of the case, spent three or four months in making a provision of books, notes, and materials, for his work, which he hoped to finish during his convalescence, he at last left Normandy for Cannes, where he arrived in the beginning of November, 1858.
Must we here record the sad time at Cannes, the long and painful journey thither, the attacks which recurred daily with increasing violence, in spite of which Tocqueville did not despair? Even if we wished we could not. How, indeed, describe that existence still so animated, that intelligence retaining all its strength, that imagination still so brilliant and fertile, that fulness of life, separated but by a few days from the instant of final extinction!
When all hope of recovery was lost, Tocqueville still hoped; and the objects by which he was surrounded conspired to keep up the deception.
The season was commencing when under the sky of Provence nature seems to have a new birth. The little villa to which Tocqueville had retired, is situated about a mile and a half above Cannes, in the midst of a wood of orange and lemon trees. Imagination can paint nothing more enchanting than this spot, set in a frame of mountains and sea; nothing more intoxicating than the perfume yielded by the scented woods, and even by the ground itself. Nothing can be more splendid than the first awaking of nature from its slumber. In those benign climates, and at the moment when the weakest and most insignificant creatures return to existence, it is the more sad to witness the gradual extinction of life in the grandest of all—a man uniting a great mind with a noble heart. It seems also impossible when all around is bursting into new life for the most desponding invalid to give up all hope of recovery.
His life, however, ebbed; and rapidly, in spite of every care and devotion. Two first-rate physicians, Dr. Sève of Cannes, and a former colleague, Dr. Maure of Grasse, visited him continually. Two sisters of charity, sister Valérie and sister Gertrude, were about him night and day. That other lifelong sister of charity, Madame de Tocqueville, never left him. Those who nursed him could not help sharing his hopes, and often, under that pure sky, mournful fancies gave way to less sorrowful expectations.
At a few steps from the villa there extends an avenue of palms and cypresses, whence, on one side, the horizon is bounded by the lowest chain of the Alps, on the other by the Bay of Cannes, Gulf Juan, and the islands of St. Marguerite. Though the sea is seen from thence, its breezes are scarcely felt, for they arrive loaded with the perfume of flowers, and tempered by the warmth of the atmosphere. It was here that, leaning on the arm of a sister of charity, the poor invalid came every day to breathe the soft air, to contemplate the clear sky, and to enjoy the reviving rays of the sun. Alexis de Tocqueville walking slowly and silently in this little cypress avenue, his feeble body and pale countenance, with its deep sad expression, the true reflection of his present thoughts and of his mind, the simple ingenuous face of the poor sister who supported him, composed a scene which will long be fixed in the memory of all who once beheld it.
I have already said that Tocqueville hoped; and how could he avoid the return of hope, when all around him was returning to life? He persevered in his usual habits, his projects, and his writings. He read and was read to; he wrote a great many letters, and devoured those which he received in great numbers. There was not one of his friends who did not receive, at least, one letter from him during the last month of his life. His thoughts dwelt constantly on public affairs. It was the eve of the Italian war. Some distinguished foreigners then at Cannes, among others the late Baron Bunsen and Lord Brougham, sent to him regularly their despatches, in which he took intense interest. The chief object of his meditation, and to which all his reading was directed, was the continuation of his book on the revolution. The last book that he read was the Memoirs of Count Miot de Mélitot, which he highly prized. Although his faculties preserved all their activity, his mind seemed to become calmer every day. He appeared to grow gentler, kinder, more religious, more composed, and more resigned.
Yet, as if his own illness were not a sufficient calamity, another was added. Madame de Tocqueville, worn out by fatigue, and still more by grief, herself fell ill. Among other disorders, she was attacked by a complaint of the eyes, for which she was ordered to remain constantly in complete darkness. Such, however, was the tender love of Tocqueville for his wife, and so impossible was it for him to live without her and away from her, that, as she could no longer sit by his bed of suffering, he succeeded in dragging himself to her’s. But the deep gloom of her room increased his illness, for daylight was as essential to him as darkness to her; and, yielding to a sort of physical instinct, he escaped to the sunshine, which alone revived him. It was a sad fate for two beings so necessary to each other to be able no longer to live together or apart. In fact, in a few minutes Tocqueville returned to his wife’s bedside, and said—“Dear Marie, the sunshine ceases to do me good if, to enjoy it, I must give up seeing you.”
On another occasion, in a moment of despondency, for which there was only too much cause, the poor invalid acknowledged that he had come south too late, and feelingly owned to his wife his fault in not having followed her advice.
Amidst these heart-rending scenes, the disorder went on increasing, and every day became more threatening. The return of warm weather had done him, on the whole, more harm than good. He had felt, indeed, the stimulating influence which at that season pervades all nature, but it had stimulated only the disease.
His rapid loss of strength and flesh was evident to every one but to the patient himself, whose illusions seemed to increase with the imminence of the danger. At the end of March, Dr. Maure had lost all hope. Dr. Sève, though also very desponding, thought that he might live through the spring and summer, and reach the autumn. But the icy winds that in spring come down from the mountains, and from which the Bay of Cannes is not completely sheltered, blew so violently for several days that the catastrophe could be predicted; and in the evening of the 16th of April, 1859, Alexis de Tocqueville fell into a syncope of a few seconds, and expired. He was only fifty-four years old. He left no children.
At this last moment he had the consolation of being surrounded by his nearest relatives, to whom he had always been tenderly attached. His eldest brother, Count Hippolyte de Tocqueville, who had been with him ever since his arrival in Provence, till recently summoned by urgent business to Normandy; his second brother, Viscount Edward, his sister-in-law, the Viscountess de Tocqueville, and his nephew, Count Hubert, had hastened to Cannes at the first notice. His oldest friend from childhood, whose attachment had been so constant, so faithful, and so serviceable, Louis de Kergorlay, was at his death bed. Need we say that she too was there, the gentle and worthy partner of his whole life, for whom was about to commence an existence more painful than death; she was there to receive and treasure in her heart his last breath, and his last look. Deceived by the illusions which the invalid’s letters had kept up to the last, and detained in Rome by a melancholy duty, another of his dear and devoted friends, Jean Jacques Ampère, was on his way to Cannes, looking forward without immediate anxiety to the happiness of passing some time with the friend whom he wished so much to see again. On landing at Marseilles he heard the terrible news, and had the inexpressible affliction of reaching Cannes only in time to be present at the funeral. There is one more friend who has not been mentioned, whom Tocqueville yet loved well enough to send for a month before the fatal day; it is he who, hastening to obey the summons, witnessed the heart-rending scenes which he now describes.
Tocqueville passed peacefully away without any of the cruel pangs often caused by the immediate approach of death; and at the same time with the mental tranquillity of a man prepared for it, and for whom the close of existence has neither terrors nor threats. What better preparation can there be for death than a whole life spent in well-doing?
His death was that of a Christian, as had been his life. Conversion has been wrongly spoken of. He had no need of conversion, because he had never been in the slightest degree irreligious.
Tocqueville’s mind was always much disturbed by doubt. It was an inseparable part of his nature. But in the midst of his greatest perplexities he never ceased to be sincerely Christian. This sentiment amounted in him to a passion, and was even a part of his political creed; for he believed that there could be no liberty without morality, and no morality without religion. Christianity and civilization were to him convertible terms. He believed firmly that, for the good of mankind, it was most desirable to see religious faith intimately united with the love of liberty; and it always deeply pained him to find them separated. Undoubtedly he would not have hesitated to put any force or restraint upon himself for the sake of showing openly his attachment to religion, and his respect for her ordinances, rather than, by his example, place arms in the hands of those who attack the doctrines of Christianity in order to escape from its morality. But in humbling himself before a minister of peace and of mercy,* he followed only the impulse of his conscience; and a more ample and particular confession than the priest’s enlightened piety exacted from him would have been no more wounding to his pride than repentance was to his heart.
Tocqueville had expressed a desire that his remains should be deposited in the parish cemetery of Tocqueville. This desire was held sacred. His mortal remains were transported thither in pious fulfilment of it, by his brother Hippolyte and his nephew Hubert. We have passed in silence over all the religious honours paid to the memory of Tocqueville. One ceremony, however, ought perhaps to be described; we mean that which the little parish of Tocqueville witnessed when the funeral procession first reached its precincts, and proceeded towards the cemetery. There were to be seen only the sincere proofs of real grief; the mourning of two excellent brothers, that of many absent friends, represented by two who were worthy of the privilege (Corcelle and Ampère),* the tears of a crowd of peasants who had assembled of their own accord to lavish their blessings on the great man, who in their eyes was only the good man. Last of all, the deep and solemn grief, of which we hardly dare to speak, that occupied the deserted château, and towards which every one’s thoughts were directed. In this retired and peaceful spot, Tocqueville had ordered that the most simple emblem of his faith, a wooden cross, should mark the resting-place of his remains. But if it be true that genius and virtue constitute true glory, we may say that the lowly cemetery of the little village of Tocqueville contains the remains of a great man. On hearing of his death, the Duke de Broglie said, “France produces no more such men.” This is the opinion of France; it will be that of Europe. Tocqueville’s fame was already very high, and very widely spread; we venture to predict that it will every day become more exalted and more extended. We have tried to paint the author, the philosopher, and the statesman; but who can paint the man himself, his heart, his grace, his poetical imagination, and at the same time his good sense; that heart so tender, that reason so firm, that judgment so keen and so sure, that intellect so clear and so deep, never either commonplace or eccentric, always original and sensible; in a word, all the qualities that made him so superior and distinguished above other men? Tocqueville not only possessed great talents, but every variety of talent. His conversation was as brilliant as his compositions. He was as admirable as a narrator as he was as a writer. He possessed another talent which is even more rare, that of being a good listener as well as a talker. Gifted with activity indefatigable, and almost morbid, he disposed of his time with admirable method. He found time for everything, and never omitted a moral or a social duty. It has already been said that he had many friends; he had the additional happiness of never losing one, and also that of having such a fund of affection to bestow upon them, that none of his friends ever complained of his own share on seeing that of others. His friendships were as well chosen as they were sincere, and perhaps there never was a more striking example than he afforded of the charm which intelligence adds to virtue.
Excellent as he was, he was always endeavouring to become better; and he certainly drew nearer every day to the moral perfection which seemed to him the only aim worthy of man. The great problem of the destiny of man impressed him with daily-increasing awe and reverence; more and more piety, and gratitude for the Divine blessings, entered every day into his actions and feelings. He felt a greater respect for human life and for human rights, and even for those of all created beings. He thus reached a higher, purer, and more refined humanity. He regarded rank less, and personal merit more. He became still more patient, more resigned, more industrious, more watchful to lose nothing of the life which he loved so much, and which he had a right to cherish, since he made such a noble use of it. Lastly, to his honour be it said, that, in a selfish age, his only aim was the pursuit of truths useful to his fellow-creatures, and his sole ambition to augment their welfare and their dignity.
To this rare ambition he will owe a fame which will never die; for the names of those who honour and elevate our race are registered by mankind.
The story of his life seems to be summed up in a reflection found among his papers:—
“Life is neither a pleasure nor a pain, but a serious business, which it is our duty to carry through and to terminate with honour.”
[*]In the last years of his life, the Count de Tocqueville published two remarkable works: the title of the first is “Histoire Philosophique du règne de Louis XV.” 2 vols. 8vo.; and that of the second, “Coup-d’œil sur le règne de Louis XVI.” 1 vol. 8vo.
[*]See the speech delivered on the 15th May, 1859, by M. Salmon, President of the Imperial Academy of Metz.
[†]Then Baron, afterwards Viscount de Tocqueville, his second brother. They were both older than himself.
[*]We have in English no exact equivalent for the French terms. I have, therefore, put them into the text without attempting to translate them, hoping that they will be sufficiently explained by the following short sketch of the French system. There are, at present, in France about 6,300 judges, of whom about 2,500 belong to the Tribunaux de Prémière Instance, courts resembling our county courts, and about 360 in number. To every court is attached a Ministère Public, consisting of a Procureur Impérial, called, when the office was instituted by the law of the 27 Ventôse an 8, Commissaire du Gouvernement, and afterwards Procureur du Roi, and of his substitutes.
[*]Independently of the motives here stated for abridging the account of this journey, there is another which will be, perhaps, better understood by the reader, namely the success of the book, published by M. Ampère, under the name “Promenade en Amérique,” in which, whatever can be suggested by a view of the United States has been detailed in the same spirit as that of the author of this memoir, with a vivacity which belongs to a direct narrative, and which recollection cannot supply.
[*]Under the title of The Penitentiary System in the United States, and of its application in France, 1 vol. 8vo.; 2d edition, 2 vols. 8vo.; 3d edition, 1 vol. 8vo. Translated into German by Dr. Julius of Berlin, and into English by Francis Lieber of Boston, the distinguished author of many publications, among others of a book entitled Political Ethics. He is now a member of the Institute.
[*]See the excellent work of M. de Laboulaye on the “Life and Writings of A. de Tocqueville,” and the Criticism on M. de Lacy.—Variétés Littéraires, vol. ii. s. 67.
[†]Historical Society of France. Meeting of the 2nd May, 1859.
[*]Count Louis de Kergorlay.
[†]Nacqueville, near Cherbourg, is the château of Tocqueville’s eldest brother, Count Hippolyto de Tocqueville, with whom he was then staying.
[*]At the sitting of the 11th of August, 1836. The prize was awarded on the report of the Villemain, who thus concluded an analysis of the Democracy. “Such is M. de Tocqueville’s book: talent, good sense, elevation, a simple, unaffected style, and the love of virtue eloquently expressed, are its characteristics; and they give the Academy little hope of crowning a work with similar claims.”
[*]In the Moniteur of the 22nd of April, 1842, may be found the remarkable speech, on his reception, by Alexis de Tocqueville, and the reply of Count Molé.
[*]M. Ampère, and Mr. Senior, who, with his family, arrived in January.
[*]An interesting account of these events was written by M. de Tocqueville, and published in the Times of the 11th of December, 1851. It will be found in the second volume of this work.—Tr.
[*]“On the State of Society in France before the Revolution,” translated by Mr. Reeve.—Tr.
[*]See especially M. de Rémusat’s remarkable article in the Revue des Deux Mondes of the 1st of August, 1856.
[*]Printed in this volume immediately after the “Fortnight in the Wilderness.”—Tr.
[*]In expressing his desire for the return of Tocqueville’s letters, Mr. Senior added: “My children and grandchildren will read them with pride.”
[*]As this speech is not to be found in the original, I presume that M. de Beaumont failed in his endeavour.—Tr.
[*]With two exceptions M. de Beaumont mentions merely the names of M. de Tocqueville’s French correspondents, obviously because he thought them too well known to the French public to require description. He has given a slight biographical notice of each of Tocqueville’s English correspondents, which was probably necessary for the information of his French readers. But, as these notices contain nothing with which the English reader is not acquainted, it has not been thought advisable to translate them.—Tr.
[*]Letter to M. de Beaumont.
[*]The venerable Curé of Cannes.
[*]On leaving Cannes, where a coffin was all that he found, Ampère had the melancholy satisfaction of accompanying Madame de Tocqueville to Paris; he resolved also to have that of attending the funeral.