Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V.: EVENTS SUBSEQUENT TO THE 2D DECEMBER, 1851—L'ANCIEN RÉGIME ET LA REVOLUTION—UNPUBLISHED WORKS AND CORRESPONDENCE. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 1
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CHAPTER V.: EVENTS SUBSEQUENT TO THE 2D DECEMBER, 1851—L’ANCIEN RÉGIME ET LA REVOLUTION—UNPUBLISHED WORKS AND CORRESPONDENCE. - 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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EVENTS SUBSEQUENT TO THE 2D DECEMBER, 1851—L’ANCIEN RÉGIME ET LA REVOLUTION—UNPUBLISHED WORKS AND CORRESPONDENCE.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.”
[*]“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.