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CHAPTER VI.: CANNES. - 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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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.”
UNPUBLISHED WORKS OF ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE.
[*]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.