Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTERS. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
LETTERS. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO COUNT LOUIS DE KERGORLAY.
Your letter, dear friend, made me laugh heartily, especially the coolness, so worthy of us, with which you write on the margin: “Idle away the rest of our time;” that single touch paints us . . . . The plan that I had formed was most preposterous, but therefore only the more delightful.* Though we were to have been only a week away, our tour would have cost as much as if it had lasted a fortnight. But the results would have been magnificent, we were to go straight to London. We were to take the public conveyance as far as Calais. There get on board the packet, which in twenty-four hours would take us to London, sailing up the Thames, through the double line of vessels, and all the wealth that covers its waters. In London we spend two days. Williams assures me, that with the complete information which he would give us, two days would be enough, on the third we re-enter France. Here is a superb plan! what a pity that it is so little practicable. In the first place it must have been done, as we have done some other things, incognito, and told about afterwards as a sudden fancy that seized us on the sea-coast. I have already told my father that I should go with you to Calais and Lille. All that is easy; the great, the chief obstacle is, that one must have a passport to go abroad. I cannot get one here. If you could procure one in Paris, it would be capital. If it were made out for you and your servant it would be still better. At the worst I might provide myself with Williams’ English passport, as his height and appearance tally with mine. Once in England we want no passport. It is only on leaving and returning to France. Very likely we might be arrested, and in this lies the extravagance of the plan. But one must risk something. I own that I should like above all things to take a voyage of forty miles in your company, and to see for once those rascally English who, we are told, are so strong and so flourishing. I send to you the plan arranged by Williams, and an estimate of the cost of a fortnight’s tour. I make it about 12l. piece.
Rome, January 20, 1827.
Nothing ever produced a greater effect upon me than the sight of the Campagna of Rome, on which a curse seems to have fallen; imagine, under a splendid sky, hills of a reddish hue, absolutely barren, and inclosed in a circle of the most lovely mountains. No trees, no vegetation, no dwellings; the scene animated only by a few shepherds and cowherds, whose countenances wear a sinister expression to be seen only here. The stones covering the fields, the ruined tombs, above all the unaccountable sterility, fill you with religious awe. When you perceive on the horizon a column of smoke, and an Italian voice cries “Roma,” you are plunged into a chaos of ideas and sensations. If instead of gradually approaching Rome through this desert, you came upon the ancient city suddenly, and saw the Coliseum and the Pantheon, and the heaps of ruins around: you might go mad. But modern Rome destroys the charm; and the Romans dressed like Frenchmen, spoil everything. On entering the town the heart sinks and does not recover. Less than anything else can one forgive the Romans for modernizing their ruins; it is like an old man putting on rouge.
Versailles, July 23, 1827.
. . . . You ask me how I like my new position. I cannot answer in a single word: I cannot say that I absolutely like it or dislike it,—it has both its good and its bad side; and the only way of treating the question is to separate the two. We will begin by considering the bad: first, I thought that I knew a great deal about law, and I grossly deceived myself. My knowledge of law was about equal to that which a young man who has just left college has of science. I have the raw material in my head, and that is all. When I have to apply the principles I am quite bewildered; my incompetence throws me into despair. I am certainly more ignorant than any of my colleagues; and though my vanity, which is as great as that of others, tells me that when I shall have worked as long as they have done, I shall be quite equal to them, I still feel hurt. I have on most occasions an ambition to be first, which will be the torment of my whole life. I have another defect, which annoys me at present; I find a difficulty in acquiring the habit of speaking in public; I pause for words, and I attach too much importance to my ideas. At my side I see men who reason ill and speak well; and I despair. I think myself their superior, and I come out their inferior.
I have told you part of the bad. Now for the good side. I no longer suffer from ennui. No one that has not tried it can imagine what it is to turn one’s attention seriously to a subject; in the end one cannot help being interested in one’s work. So with law,—its theory disgusted me, but its practice does not. When trying to solve a point, or find a clue, I feel my mind work with all its powers. In the second place, my companions are a greater resource to me than at first I expected. Their friendliness and goodfellowship are very agreeable. I think that I have already established my character among them. . . .
To sum up, my dear friend, I begin to think that I shall enter into the spirit of my profession. That is the important point. There are still moments when I regret bitterly that I did not choose another path; but generally speaking, I become more and more engrossed by my business, and see so little of my acquaintances or my friends, that I sometimes fear that I shall grow in time into a sort of law-machine, like most of the members of my profession, devoted to their own special line, as incapable of judging a great movement, or of guiding a great undertaking, as they are capable of drawing an inference, or discovering an analogy. I had rather burn my books! Who, however, can foresee the effects of daily influence, and who can be sure of escaping them?
Versailles, March 27, 1828.
I thank you heartily for your letter, my dear friend. I never felt more deeply than while I read it, the value of our friendship. Let us hold it with all our might, dear Louis: nothing else is firm in this world. As long as we can thus lean on each other, we shall not falter; and if one of us should fall, the other will lift him up. When we were children, you may have noticed in me a singular effect of the false experience which is given by books. I distrusted all generous sentiments. I yielded to them reluctantly, believing their very beauty to be a proof of their instability. This was my conception of friendship. I thought it a fancy of early youth. But the farther I advance in life, the more I am convinced that friendship, even such as I conceived it, can exist and preserve its charms, not in every heart, but in some hearts. One cannot make friends late in life; but when once friendship has taken root, I do not see why age should wither it, or in any way affect it; especially if, appreciating its true value, we watch over it, and do not deprive it of its necessary food—confidence in all things, little as well as great. In this respect, dear Louis, we must always be on our guard; and I own that I trust more to myself than to you. There are chambers in your mind into which I have never penetrated. Your discretion, which cannot but increase, often gives me pain; especially as I do not see that I have a right to complain of a quality founded on good feeling, and on principles that cannot be controverted. One of these days I must talk to you on this among other subjects.
Paris, May 10, 1828.
I am free for an instant, my dear friend, and I write to you, which I ought long ago to have done. You have been much neglected by me lately. Neither indifference, as you well know, nor idleness has been the cause, but an instinct that I often feel though I cannot define it, which inclines me to shut myself up in my own thoughts, even though they be sad. Pride, perhaps, may be at the bottom of it. I am ashamed to speak of an irremediable evil, and one too that I have brought upon myself. Between what I have attained, and what I aimed at, I see an immense distance. It does not discourage me, but it deprives me of the support of ardent hope. Then how is one to know oneself? This thought occurs to me twenty times a day. The world swarms with happy fools who sincerely admire themselves (I am sure that I do not belong to this category), and also with fools, who, aware of their own condition, feel its disadvantages without its pleasures. Sometimes I fancy that I belong to the latter class, and the idea is by no means agreeable.
I hear that you are coming in January. What are your plans, my dear Louis? Will you travel, or stay at home? Among the circumstances that I envy in your position, are the long intervals of absolute liberty succeeding to severe duties. How much you must enjoy your freedom! We have not such hard work; but we never have such complete rest . . . . My old taste for a life of excitement and wandering is not extinguished. It seems to me, that I should set off on a long adventurous journey with more pleasure than ever, and that after roaming for some time I should wish again to be settled. Experience has taught me to expect this ebb and flow. Longing for action, longing for rest, I have oscillated between them, for the last six or seven years.
Versailles, Sept. 6, 1828.
. . . . I have heard of the safe arrival of Stoffels. He has, no doubt, told you that our time was well-spent, without any extraordinary gaieties indeed, but in an intimacy which to me, and I think also to him, was better than all other pleasures. Friendship, dear Louis, is all that is worth having here on earth. The taste which I have had of other emotions, has gradually convinced me of this. I cannot conceive the existence of men able to live without a friend. It seems to me incredible; if there be such men, they cannot be worth much . . . . Stoffels and I talked much of you. He is attached to you with the warm friendship of which you know that he is capable, and our conversation constantly turned upon you.
Versailles, . . . 1828.
I could not write yesterday, as M. de Lamoricière* was not able to come to breakfast, and after we had met it was too late for the post. I must tell you that I was delighted with him; he seemed to me to have all the marks of a really distinguished man. Accustomed as I am to live with people who are satisfied by mere words, I was surprised by his anxiety for clearness and precision. The calm way in which he stopped me, to ask me to explain one idea before I passed on to another, sometimes disconcerted me; his manner of talking on the subjects which he understands gave me a higher opinion of him than I almost ever formed of a man on first acquaintance. I told him that I hoped that we should meet again, and it was not a compliment.
We talked much of you. I own, dear Louis, that, in spite of all my efforts, I have no clear view of your position: many premises are wanting to me in order to form an opinion:—
1st.—I do not know whether the foot artillery has any advantage over the horse artillery . . . . one thing only I see clearly: if you choose the foot and the Montpellier regiment, you will have two chances of employment; even if the expedition to the Morea should be feebly carried on, as is possible, without being probable, you might hope to be sent there to replace those who die or those who return, for it is said, that there are perpetual changes in the artillery regiments.
2dly.—The Turks seem to be victorious just now. If their success continues, I think that Europe will have peace. However, it might happen that the Turks, puffed up by their victories over the Russians, might direct an army on Attica and the Peloponnesus; and then the war in the Morea would become serious. . . . I do not see that, in this case, it would be for the interest of any European nation to make war: we should, no doubt, be left to help ourselves out of the difficult enterprise which we have undertaken; in this event, not only the Montpellier regiment would be sent, but probably many others.
3dly.—There is a third chance, which did not occur to me at first; it is not probable, but it is possible, that if the Morea were evacuated, we might attack Algiers, for that ridiculous business must be settled. . . .
However, my dear friend, I own to you, that I do not share your fears for the future; no, you will have opportunities of fighting, if your life is spared; be sure of that. Europe cannot long remain at peace. Do you not see that, in France especially, the exhaustion produced by war and revolution is rapidly vanishing; that a new generation brings with it new passions and hopes. With our strength, our pretensions will increase. Heaven grant that this activity may not turn inwards. It certainly will spread its influence in some way. . . .
* Yonkers, June 20, 1831, (twenty miles from New York).
I begin a letter to you, dear friend, but I know not when I shall finish it. I did not write to you before, because I had nothing particular to say; I hate to speak of France from such a distance. I should talk of things which would be forgotten when you got my letter; the circumstances on which I should dwell would have changed ten times in the interval. Then I wished to know a little more of this country than I did when I first arrived. I find that I have not gained much by waiting. Every foreign nation has a peculiar physiognomy, seen at the first glance and easily described. When afterwards you try to penetrate deeper, you are met by real and unexpected difficulties; you advance with a slowness that drives you to despair, and the farther you go the more you doubt. I feel that at this moment my head is a chaos of contradictory notions. I tire myself in seeking for some clear and decisive results; I find none. In this frame of mind writing to you is agreeable and useful. Perhaps my ideas may be reduced to some order by the effort to express them. Even if they should turn out to be no better than vague theories and unsupported conclusions, I still should send them to you without scruple. One of the privileges of our friendship is that we know each other so perfectly, and are so convinced of each other’s sincerity, that we may express our dawning opinions without the fear of committing ourselves, for each knows that in writing, his friend gives him an exact picture of the state of his mind at the time.
In your last letter you ask me if this country has any convictions. I do not know the precise sense that you attach to that word. What strikes me is that the majority have certain opinions in common. Up to the present time, this is what I most envy in America. Thus I have not heard a single person in any rank express a doubt as to a republic being the best possible form of government, or on the right of a nation to choose its own government. The greater number take republican principles in the most democratic sense. In a few you see peeping out an aristocratic tendency, which I shall presently try to explain. But that a republic is a good form of government, and that it is a form of government to which society naturally tends, are facts admitted by clergymen, by magistrates, by tradesmen, and by artizans. This opinion is so general and so seldom questioned, even in a country where there is entire freedom of speech, that it may almost be called a conviction.
Another idea is prevalent, apparently in an equal degree; a belief in the wisdom and good sense of mankind; the perfectibility of the human race is contradicted by few, if by any. No one denies that the majority may sometimes be mistaken; but they think that in the end it must be right; that it is not only the sole judge of its own interests, but even the safest, the nearest to infallibility. The result is the belief that education should be bestowed freely on the people; that they cannot be sufficiently enlightened. You remember how often in France we (among others) have puzzled our brains with the question, whether it were to be desired or feared that knowledge should penetrate every class of society. Though so difficult to solve in France, the doubt seems here never to have occurred. I have already propounded the question a hundred times to the most thoughtful men in this country. I saw by their summary method of dealing with it that they had never considered it; and that it should even be asked, struck them as shocking and absurd. The diffusion of intelligence, they said, is our only protection against the outbreaks of the mob.
These are what I should call the convictions of this people. They believe firmly in the excellence of their government; they believe in the wisdom of the masses, provided they be educated; and do not seem to be aware that there is a certain cultivation which can never be shared by the masses, but may yet be essential for the rulers of a state.
As for what we generally consider as making up the convictions of a nation, such as the moral standard, old traditions, recollections, of these I see as yet no traces. I even doubt whether religious opinions have as much influence as appears at first sight. The religious condition of this country is, perhaps, the most interesting subject of inquiry. I will try to tell you what I know about it when I resume my letter, which I am now forced to lay aside, perhaps for some days.
Calwell, forty-five miles from New York.
My mind has been so much excited since I began my letter to you this morning, that I feel obliged to take it up again, though I know not exactly what I shall say. I was speaking of religion. Sunday is rigorously observed. I have seen the streets barred in front of the churches during Divine service. The law forbids labour; and opinion, which is much more powerful, obliges every one to appear in church, and to eschew amusement.
Hitherto my observations incline me to think that the Catholics increase in numbers. They are considerably recruited from Europe, and there are many conversions. New England and the valley of the Mississippi begin to fill with them. It is evident that all the naturally religious minds among the Protestants, the men of strong and serious opinions, disgusted by the vagueness of Protestantism, yet ardently desirous to have a faith, give up in despair the search after truth, and submit to the yoke of authority. They throw off, with pleasure, the heavy burden of reason, and they become Catholics. Again, Catholicism captivates the senses and the imagination, and suits the masses better than the reformed religion; thus the greater number of converts are from the working classes. We will pass now to the opposite end of the chain. On the confines of Protestantism is a sect that is Christian only in name. I mean the Unitarians. They all deny the Trinity, and acknowledge but one God; but among them are some who believe Christ to have been an angel, others a prophet, and others a philosopher like Socrates. The last are pure Deists. They quote the Bible because they do not wish to shock too much public opinion, which supports Christianity. They have a service on Sundays. I went to it. Verses are read from Dryden, and other English poets, on the existence of God, and the immortality of the soul. There is a sermon on some moral subject, and the service is over. This sect makes proselytes in about the same proportion as Catholicism; but its recruits come from the higher ranks of society.
Both sects grow rich on the spoils of Protestantism. It appears that the Protestants of cold, logical minds, the argumentative classes, men of intellectual and studious habits, seize the opportunity of joining an entirely philosophical sect, which allows them to make an almost public profession of pure theism. This sect, however, has no resemblance to the St. Simonians in France. It rests on different principles, and there is nothing exaggerated or absurd in its worship or in its doctrines. They endeavour as much as possible to resemble the Christian sects. No sort of ridicule is attached to them. No party-spirit urges them on or restrains them. Their demeanour is unaffectedly serious, and their ceremonies are simple. So you see that Protestantism, which is a mixture of reason and authority, is attacked on each side by these two uncompromising principles. The attentive observer will see that this is taking place, more or less, everywhere; but in America it is obvious at the first glance. It is obvious, because in this country no established laws or opinions interfere with the intelligence or the passions of men on this subject. They follow their natural inclinations. It seems to me to be certain that at no distant time the two extremes will have no barrier between them. What, then, will be the result? Here I lose myself in uncertainties from which I can see no way out.
But to return to the present state of the public mind in America; you must not take what I have said in too positive a sense. I have spoken of tendencies, not of facts that have already taken place. Christianity rests here on a firmer foundation than in any other country in the world which I know, and I have no doubt but that the religious element influences the political one. It induces morality and regularity; it restrains the eccentricities of the spirit of innovation; above all, it is almost fatal to the mental condition, so common with us, in which men leap over every obstacle per fas et nefas to gain their point. Any party, however anxious to obtain its object, would in the pursuit feel obliged to confine itself to means apparently legitimate, and not in open opposition to the maxims of religion, which are always more or less moral even when erroneous. . . .
I enter on another subject. I heard it said in Europe that there was an aristocratic tendency in America. It is a mistake; I am more sure of this than of most things. Democracy is rapidly advancing in some States, and fully developed in others. It is rooted in the habits, in the laws, and in the opinions of the majority. Its opposers hide their heads, and if they wish to rise are forced to borrow its colours. In New York, the beggars alone are without electoral rights. The effects of a democratic government are obvious—they are perpetual changes of men and of institutions, extreme external equality, manners without distinction, and ideas always common place.
We ourselves, my dear friend, are drifting towards complete democracy. I do not say that it is a good thing; what I see in this country convinces me that it will not suit France, but we are being driven on it by an irresistible force. No effort to stop its march will produce more than a halt. To refuse to admit these facts is weakness, and I cannot help believing that the Bourbons, instead of trying to fortify the aristocratic element, which is dying out with us, ought to have devoted all their energies to making it the interest of the democratic party to maintain order and stability.
In my opinion our parochial and municipal administration ought, from the first, to have attracted all their attention. Instead of living from day to day with the parochial institutions established by Napoleon, the Bourbons ought immediately to have modified them, to have gradually initiated and interested the people in the management of its own affairs; to have created local interests, and above all to have founded, if possible, the habit of submitting willingly to law, which, in my opinion, is the only counterpoise to democracy. These measures would, perhaps, have rendered the present movement less dangerous both to the State and to its rulers.
Democracy, in short, seems to me to be a fact which the government may hope in future to regulate, but not to reverse. I assure you that it was not without difficulty that I resigned myself to this idea. My view of this country does not prove to me that, even under the most favourable circumstances, and they existed here, the Government of the people is a desirable event. All are pretty well agreed that in the early days of the Republic, the Statesmen and members of congress were much more distinguished men than they now are. They nearly all belonged to the class of country-gentlemen, a race which diminishes every day. The country no longer selects so well. It chooses in general those who flatter its passions and descend to its level. This effect of democracy, joined to the extreme instability, the entire absence of coherence or permanence that one sees here, convinces me every day more and more, that the best government is not that in which all have share, but that which is directed by the class of the highest moral principle and intellectual cultivation.
However, it is impossible to deny that this country presents, on the whole, an admirable aspect. I frankly own, that it convinces me of the superiority of a free government over every other. I feel more certain than ever, that all nations are not fitted for the same amount of liberty, but also I am more inclined than ever to regret that such should be the case. It is impossible to give an idea of the universal satisfaction of this nation with the existing government. The lower classes are undeniably higher in the moral scale than with us; every man has a consciousness of his independent position and of his personal dignity which, without perhaps adding suavity to his manners, leads him to respect himself and others. The two things that I chiefly admire here are these:—First, the extraordinary respect entertained for law: standing alone, and unsupported by an armed force, it commands irresistibly. I believe, in fact, that the principal reason is, that they make it themselves and are able to repeal it. We see thieves who have violated all public laws obey those that they have made for themselves. I think that there is a similar feeling among nations. The second thing for which I envy these people is, the ease with which they do without being governed. Every man considers himself interested in maintaining the safety of the public and the exercise of the laws. Instead of depending on the police he depends on himself. The general result is that, without ever showing itself, a police is everywhere. You will scarcely credit the order kept by this people from the feeling that they themselves are the only safeguard against themselves.
You see that I give you as exact an account as I can of all my impressions. On the whole, they are more favourable to America than they were when I first arrived. There are many blots in the picture, but the general effect seizes the imagination. I fancy that it must act with irresistible power over minds that are at the same time reasoning and superficial, a combination which is not rare. The principles of the government are so simple, and the results are so sure, that if one is not on one’s guard one is carried away by the charm. One is forced to reflect, to struggle against one’s impressions to discover that these simple and reasonable institutions would not suit a great nation, which must have a strong internal government, and a fixed foreign policy; that the government of this country is in its nature perishable; that a nation adopting it should long have been used to liberty and have reached a point of intellectual cultivation acquired seldom and by slow degrees. And after repeating all this to oneself, one still thinks that a free Government is a grand institution, and that it is to be regretted that the moral and physical constitution of man should impede his enjoying it at all times and in all places.
Paris, Nov. 13, 1833.
. . . I have absolutely nothing new to tell you of myself. My life is as regular as that of a monk. From early morning till dinner-time my existence is purely intellectual; I pass the evening at Mrs. Belam’s,* where I enjoy long conversations with Marie, of which I never tire. The next day I do the same over again, and so on with wonderful uniformity; for since my return from England, my books and Marie form all my existence.
Like you, I become more and more alive to the happiness which consists in the fulfilment of duty. I believe that there is no other so deep and so real. There is only one great object in this world which deserves our efforts, that is the good of mankind. Some persons try to be of use to men while they despise them, and others because they love them. In the services rendered by the first there is always something incomplete, rough, and contemptuous that inspires neither confidence nor gratitude. I should like to belong to the second class, but often I cannot. I love mankind in general, but I constantly meet with individuals whose baseness revolts me. I struggle daily against a universal contempt for my fellow creatures. I sometimes succeed, at my own expense, by a minute uncompromising investigation into the motives of my own conduct. Sometimes I find personal calculations which others do not see, and which had escaped my own observation. Sometimes I find that I have done wrong from a good motive, and still oftener, judging of myself as if I were an indifferent spectator or an opponent. I can account for the severity of a sentence pronounced on me in spite of its injustice. All this is enough to make me doubt my own powers, and in judging other men to impute more blame to their heads than to their hearts. I think that it is almost impossible to serve them if one judges of them as one is tempted to do at the first glance; and I had rather drop a little in my own esteem than place them too low. . . .
Paris, June 25, 1834.
I received your letter only two days ago. While it was running after me in Brittany, I was on my way back to Paris.
You put me out of patience by lamenting over the little sympathy which you find for your intellectual projects. What does it signify? Do you not know yourself? Are you not acquainted with the natural bent of your tastes and habits? And as for success, who ever can be sure of it till he has succeeded? On this point the whole universe can afford no certain information. You know, beyond a doubt, that you have reached the age when your powers should be developed in action; that political events prevent your employing your powers in the public service; that your character will not allow you to content yourself with the petty cares of private life, and yet that it is absolutely necessary for you to turn the activity of your mind to some object lest you should sink even below the level of those who manage their own affairs with success.
I have just been spending six weeks in the country, a thing that I had not done since I was nine years old. I know now what a country life is. I felt somewhat as I do when I meet some man of a very religious character; a great wish to think and feel as he does, with the conviction that to me it is impossible. I know not what will happen to me; but I feel certain that I am more likely to start for China, to enlist as a soldier, or to risk my life in any hazardous, imprudent enterprise, than to condemn myself to the existence of a potatoe, like the good people whom I have just been with. . . .
Dublin, July 6, 1835.
On my arrival at this place, I found two letters from you. I was beginning to wonder at your silence, to be uneasy but not to grumble; for we have never been touchy in our friendship. As you did not write, I fancied that you had perhaps already started on your long journey. You see that there is a communion in our souls although distance separates us, and that one of us cannot be full of a subject without its influence extending to the other. I was going to write to you about it from Liverpool. I waited only in the hope of finding letters from you here.
The idea of this long tour fills me with sorrow and anxiety; but after all, I am not sure that I should not do the same in your place. This is all I have to say. It would take too long to explain the whole meaning of these words; but you will have no difficulty in understanding them. I should never advise you to undertake a journey of such length and of so much risk; I am not sufficiently convinced of its utility; my opinion is rather negative than affirmative. But if you make up your mind to it, my thoughts will follow you without repining. May God be with you, dear and true friend, and allow us to meet again in happier times! As I advance in life I see it more and more from the point of view which I used to fancy belonged to the enthusiasm of early youth; as a thing of very mediocre worth, valuable only as far as one can employ it in doing one’s duty, in serving men and in taking one’s fit place among them. Amidst the greatest trials these thoughts raise my courage. I know that you share them, for they have been the ideas that have governed our lives. They have grown with our friendship. They were the fruit of the most delightful intercourse that ever subsisted between two men. Whatever happens to you, you may be sure that my heart sympathises entirely with yours. However differently we may reason on some subjects, we shall always feel in the same way; a noble sentiment uttered by you, or a generous, disinterested action resolved on by you, will always give me a thrill of pleasure; and if I have the happiness to experience similar emotions, I shall believe that in giving myself up to their influence, I am acting in a way that you would approve. What a cold, sad, and trivial life this would be, if by the side of this everyday world, full of selfishness and cowardice, the human mind could not build for itself another, where devotion, courage—virtue, in a word, may breathe at ease! But such a world can be formed, only out of such elements as exist in minds like yours. . . .
How I long for an opportunity, if Heaven would only grant it, of directing the fire that burns within me without an object to the achievement of great and noble ends, no matter through what dangers I might have to pass!
Baden, August 5, 1836.
I am writing to you from the little town of Baden. The following circumstance brought me to it. Marie is suffering much from neuralgic pains. While we were at Berne many of our acquaintances assured us that the Baden waters were useful in such cases; we heard the same from the first physicians. I have, therefore, determined on passing the month of August here; we shall afterwards extend our tour a little. You must, therefore, write to me again, directing to Baden, Canton d’Argovie (Suisse).
Your letter of the 20th July reached me at Berne. It interested me deeply; you need not have told me to keep it. This letter proves to me more than ever the truth of what I have already said to you, that you must beware of spoiling your style when you polish it too highly. Your carefully-finished writings have, indeed, all the appearance of being torn from the book of an author of the seventeenth century, but not from that of a first-rate author; your familiar style, on the other hand, with all its faults, has often first-rate merits, and these merits incline me to give it the preference, in spite of its defects. But we must consider the subject again.
What you say on material enjoyments has always seemed to me to be true, and all the more just now when I am reading Plato. The philosophers of his school do not, I think, make the marked division which you complain of, in the pleasures of sense. Immorality and luxury are in their eyes, if not synonymous at least analogous, and of the two they are more indulgent to the former than to the latter. . . .
Your ideas are expressed with great originality; in substance they are rather recent than new. The Platonists and the Fathers of our Church have said, I think, something like them before; but I do not remember having ever seen expressed so strongly and so clearly the strong resemblance that exists between the various sensual pleasures. They were satisfied with condemning all. Now I will state my own opinion. Whatever we do, we cannot prevent men from having a body as well as a soul, as if an angel occupied the form of an animal. . . . A system of philosophy or of religion that chooses entirely to ignore the one or the other may produce some extraordinary cases, but will never exercise any general influence over mankind: this I believe and deplore, for you know that though the animal is not more subdued in me than in most people, I adore the angel, and would give anything to make it predominate. I am, therefore, continually at work to discover a middle course which men may follow without becoming disciples either of Heliogabalus or of St. Jerome; for I am convinced that the great majority will never be persuaded to imitate either, and less the saint than the emperor. I am, then, not so much shocked as you are by the decorous materialism of which you complain so bitterly; not that it does not excite my contempt as much as it does yours; but I consider it practically, and I ask myself whether, if not exactly this, something like it, be not, in fact, all that one can expect, not of any particular man, but of the species in general? Reflect on these ideas, and give me an answer. Now I will turn to another subject, for I have not much to do here, and I have great pleasure in writing to you.
The Machiavelli of the “History of Florence” is to me the same Machiavelli who wrote the “Prince.” I cannot understand the perusal of the first work leaving any doubt as to the object and meaning of the second. Machiavelli, in his history, often praises great and noble actions: but with him this is obviously an affair of the imagination. The foundation of his ideas is, that all actions are morally indifferent in themselves, and must be judged according to the skill they display and the success they secure. For him the world is a great arena, from which God is absent, in which conscience has nothing to do, and where every one must manage as as well as he can. Machiavelli is the grandfather of M———. I need say no more.
As for the events that he relates, I own that his picture of those times startles me, and leads me to think that our own may be unjustly censured. The Italian republics in the middle ages, had, indeed, a sort of coarse energy, but how little real virtue! What brutal violence joined to refinement of vice! What selfishness! What disregard of right! What scepticism in the higher, and what superstition in the lower classes! What utter corruption without cultivation, in society!
I am aware, however, that what was true of the Italians in the sixteenth century, was not the case with the other European nations. Still I imagine that the times immediately before the Reformation were everywhere periods of great corruption. Ignorance and bigotry in the lower classes, doubt and unbelief in the higher; in short, the evils of barbarism and of civilization combined. This proves to me more than ever, that when once the religious belief of a nation is shaken, no time should be lost in educating its reasoning faculties. For if an intellectual but sceptical nation presents a sad spectacle, there can be none so frightful as that of a people at the same time ignorant, brutal, and incredulous.
But I begin to tire of writing. Good-bye. Answer quickly. Your letters always give great pleasure to me: here more than elsewhere. Marie sends her kind regards. We often talk of you. I wish that you could hear us.
Nacqueville,* October 10, 1836.
I write from Nacqueville, where I am spending a few days. Your letter from Châlons reached me here. I suppose that my answer should be directed to Berlin, lest my letter should miss you at the intermediate address that you have given me. Your present journey is deeply interesting to me, not alone on your account, though I believe that it will be useful to you, but also on my own. You will see things which greatly excite my curiosity. After England, the country that I have always most wished to travel in, is Prussia. All that I have heard makes me think that there is none more deserving careful observation. Many things that I have been told about it are very striking, among others this:—the Prussian government, acting either from principle or instinct, tries, they say, to make its subjects forget that they have not real freedom, by granting them liberally all the lesser liberties that are compatible with absolute monarchy; so that voluntarily it prepares the people to stand alone, and without any violent change to govern themselves. To me it is interesting to study the indirect influence exercised by the free states of the west of Europe over the great despotic monarchies in the East and the North. It somewhat resembles the state of affairs in the sixteenth century, when the reformed countries modified Catholicism in those which still remained Catholic.
I point this out to you, not as being in itself, perhaps, the subject most interesting generally, but as being that which most interests me. In detail, I would ask you to obtain as precise information as you can on the Prussian provincial and municipal systems, as well as on the extent of its centralization. I attach great importance to this. It is not with arguments taken from republican or half-republican nations that we can hope to attack with advantage French centralization. The examples that can produce a real impression on the ordinary crowd of illiberals must be taken from nations with an absolute government. I should like you, then, to get me all the documents that you can, and also to enter yourself into the spirit, and understand the system of administration, or you will not be able to explain it, nor I to comprehend it.
As to general advice about your travels, recollect that it is most important to mix with as many people as possible; and by making each talk on what he knows best, to draw out of him all that you can in the shortest possible time. It is good, too, to make men talk of one another. This sort of information is precious; and as you do not intend to communicate it, you may innocently obtain it. Your name and letters of introduction will secure your reception among the aristocracy. All your endeavours should therefore be directed to becoming acquainted with the middle and literary classes. I should also, as an experienced traveller, advise you to listen to every one and take part with no one. You are a foreigner; you need not have an opinion on Prussian affairs. Only say enough to make your interlocutor develope fully his ideas. Above all, be on your guard against a tendency natural to you, which even in France you carry to an extreme, that of associating only with those whom you esteem. Write a great deal; you cannot write too much. In writing you become aware of the vagueness of your ideas, and you see whence they sprang. Do not hesitate, therefore, to send me as much MS. as you like. It will be useful to you and interesting to me. For such a purpose to regard expense would be absurd. . . . I need not add that you may put into the packet as many sealed letters as you please. As you so well said, the singular and in a moral point of view really elevated side of our friendship, is to have combined so much independence of thought and action with so much intimacy. Now I think that I have said all. I will add, however, as a general remark, that you should vigorously shake off during your tour the disposition to carelessness to which almost all travellers are subject, and you especially, because you are given to dreaming. Be as active therefore as possible. Never lose an opportunity of seeing things, or above all of making acquaintances. . . .
Our visit to Switzerland has done Marie good in many respects. Still it tired her, and has left her with a sort of general physical irritation which we find a difficulty in subduing. If, however, our tour was not entirely satisfactory as far as health is concerned, it at least drew our minds closer together, if possible, than before. I cannot tell you the inexpressible charm which I found in living so continually with Marie, nor the treasures that 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. 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. You asked me, my dear friend, to speak of myself and of Marie; I have opened to you my whole heart. There is one idea connected with this subject which often troubles me. You will soon be married, and I cannot help trembling lest the kind and friendly relations that would be so favourable to our intimacy should not be established between our wives; for experience will teach you how difficult it is to separate oneself in any way from one’s partner. In this respect Beaumont’s recent marriage is sure to be very agreeable to me. I see that a real friendship is likely to spring up between Marie and Madame de Beaumont, and from that minute our intimacy will be secure for the rest of our lives. Take notice that I speak of intimacy not of friendship, which can be affected by no external circumstances. Good-bye, my paper is out.
Baugy,* October 10, 1836.
A few days ago I received your letter of the 27th October, dated from Geislingen, in which you complain of finding nothing from me. When you reached Berlin you must have found that I was not in fault. More than a month ago I wrote to you at the latter address, fearing lest my letter should run after you, and at last lose you, as has often happened to me in travelling. I hope, therefore, that you now are no longer angry, and that you are prepared to write to me at length while you remain in Prussia.
Your letter from Geislingen interested me much. There was a passage on the intellectual somnolence of our time, that I think excellent and full of spirit. Why do you not always write with the same liveliness and originality? I agree with you entirely as to the fact, but it is difficult to ascribe it entirely to the reason which you give. Do you not think that, independently of King Louis Philippe, our unnatural horror of intellectual exertion arises from the exhaustion produced by a protracted revolution, every outbreak in which was preceded by great mental excitement, by theories, ideas, and principles more or less true or plausible, and yet in the end producing results so little satisfactory, as to inspire disgust for all intellectual activity, and to cause the frightful consequences that you describe? Louis Philippe gives no impulse to the production of new ideas: true; but he does not stifle them. Try to bring out the cause that you assign, try to place it in a strong light and high relief, and you will have made great progress in the political inquiries of our day; but I doubt your being able to do so.
On the subject of Louis Philippe, no doubt you heard long ago of the Strasburg attempt. That our greatest dangers would come from the army we had long foreseen; and I myself think that not only our present but our future dangers will arise in the same quarter; and that not only the existing government, but all future governments, will long continue to be threatened by them. This subject has long occupied my thoughts, and it seems to me that the same reasons that incline a democratic people to wish for peace and quiet, ought to induce a democratic army to desire war and tumult. The same wish to get on, and the same possibility of doing so, drives the citizens in one direction and the soldiers in the other. The cause is the same, the effects only are different; and the cause is essentially permanent. The recent attempt was put down with ease; but the apathy of the nation is alarming; for it did not arise from dislike of the existing Government, but from the absolute indifference of the French to any form of government whatever. I am sure that at the present time three-fourths of the nation either have never heard, or never bestow a thought upon, what has happened. Trade and manufacturers are prosperous, that is enough for them; and they have such an imbecile love of comfort, that they seem to fear to think of the causes that procure it, and maintain it, lest they should endanger it.
You will see in my letter to Berlin, the almost personal interest which I take in your inquiries. Your journey, full of interest for you, is a piece of luck to me. You will come back with a number of ideas and of reflections which will be new to me; for I have never set foot in Germany. We shall find it an inexhaustible mine of useful and agreeable conversations. I cannot tell you how much pleasure I felt in reading your last letter to see your eagerness to examine and to understand everything before you, and your lamentations that you cannot be in two places at once, or prolong your visit. You know, too, what I think ought to be the turn of mind of a traveller. How rare it is, and how little can be done without it. I never believed that the scheme, of which we so often talked, of making our letters during your tour a sort of biography, could be realized. In a foreign country every instant has its demands. One must catch one’s impressions flying, and record them without trying to reflect on them. That must be done afterwards. Pray attend, if you have time, to the municipal institutions of Prussia. Do not hurry back. You cannot be better employed as respects yourself, or as respects the world, than you are at present.
I am here on my return from Normandy, and shall probably remain till the 15th of December. I work seven hours a day and make little progress, for I feel that my second book will find the world and critics ready to pounce on it. I must therefore do my best. There is not a day when I do not feel your absence. A crowd of ideas remains undefined in my mind, from my inability to talk them over with you, and hear how you would oppose them, or observe the new form that they would assume if you admitted them. I pass a short portion of every day with three men, Pascal, Montesquieu and Rousseau; I miss the presence of a fourth, and that is you. Although we often differ even upon serious points, there is so much resemblance in our general views and impressions, that your society always rouses and animates me. You alone have habitually this effect upon me, and this is the chief proof that I have of some remarkable or at least peculiar quality in you; for most people leave me more or less cold, while you almost always excite me. Goodbye. I leave you to resume my work. Besides I shall wait for your first letter from Germany, before I write to you at length.
Paris, December 26, 1836.
I received, two days ago, your letter No. 1. It suggested to me several ideas which I will not allow to vanish before I utter them. You return to the subject of the revolution of July. To speak freely, I fear lest politics should in the end cool our friendship, which I should consider as one of the greatest misfortunes that could happen to me. I am not afraid of such an event on my side, but on yours. When politics are in question you have an instinct independent of your reason, secretly forcing you to act and to feel without being under the control of your will. It is on this rock that I fear the shipwreck of our intimacy; for though we sympathize in many things, we are separated on one that is important, and that time will render of still more consequence; this cannot be denied. Every day I deplore the events of July; on this we are agreed. I should see without much regret the restoration which you think essential. Here our minds diverge. You believe that we ought from this instant to endeavour at any risk to bring about this restoration by every honest means. I do not think so. At present I see no chance of a restoration except by foreign aid. If the restoration were effected in that or in any other way, by force and against the wish of the majority of the nation, I see no chance of its lasting; nor do I think that it would be able or willing to establish amongst us certain liberal principles to which I attach as much importance as to the restoration itself.
You see things in a different light, and you think and act accordingly. But you must feel that such being my sincere impression I cannot conscientiously assist in the overthrow of the existing Government. I shall never ask a favour from it, I shall oppose its encroachments all my life; but I cannot wish to upset it till I am convinced that I have found some good and permanent substitute. This is the gulf between us. I am sure that your reason will appreciate the train of ideas that I have suggested, even though you may think that I am mistaken. I am confident, too, that you will always think me sincere; but as I said in the beginning of my letter, I fear your instinct; I feel impelled to caution you. If ever I imagined that in consequence of some difference of opinion you would change towards me in any way, I should grieve deeply. For in our friendship there is an element that nothing could replace, that coolness would kill: it is a pure, free, fine and manly feeling, and it has always elevated us.—If once it were to become an ordinary friendship, a mere habit, the charm would disappear. Let us therefore struggle with all our might against the common enemy, the only enemy whom we have to fear—political difference on the points that I have just considered.
I turn now to the other subjects in your letter. All that you tell me of the centralizing, pedantic tendency of European democracy seems to me to be perfectly true. But after fully developing your ideas, you add that on these points we are nearly agreed; that is not saying enough. Those ideas are interwoven with my life, they occupy my mind every day and every moment in the day. To show men if possible how in a democracy they may avoid submitting to tyranny, or sinking into imbecility, is the theme of my book, and the attempt will be repeated in every page of that which I am now writing. To labour for such an object is, in my mind, a sacred calling, in which one must grudge neither one’s money, one’s time, nor one’s life.
I am as great a partizan as you are of public education, and for the same reasons; and I much wish you to examine the subject in Prussia, where the system is said to be better than elsewhere. My curiosity is at present excited principally on these points: 1. Is the law obliging parents to send their children to school still in force? what are its effects and how is it applied? 2. What part do the local authorities take in education? Do the schools excite any local interest? By what means has the public been induced to take an interest in education? 3. Is there any intermediary instruction between the primary and principal education? 4. Is the chief education given in schools, or in universities?
Good-bye—Marie desires to be remembered to you. Scarcely a day passes without our talking of you.
Paris, January 26, 1837.
Your letter, No. 2, which I received four or five days ago, gave me even more pleasure than your former ones. I read attentively, over and over, what you say upon the means of preventing our political opinions from jarring with our friendship. I have often had the same thoughts, but you make them clearer to my mind than they ever were before. I think with you, that the past is a guarantee for the future, and that we shall achieve the difficult task of uniting entire independence to perfect intimacy. Few men could do this, but experience shows that we differ from most men. And we have one great safeguard—differing as to the means, we agree as to the ends of government. Our minds are like two lines, that however long asunder, always find some points of meeting. To finish the subject, I must tell you once for all, that there is nothing in the world that I hold so precious as your friendship. For me it is a never-failing source of energy and highmindedness, of elevated feeling and generous resolution; it is a world in itself, perhaps an ideal world, but still a resting-place to which I escape, not from indolence, but like a weary man, who stops for an instant to recover strength, that he may be more active in the fight. If ever it cooled or died, I should begin to doubt of myself and of all that is good.
February 1st.—I was forced to leave off here by an attack of influenza, which made me lose four days in bed. I am up again, but very weak, and my head not in a state to add much to this letter. At the end of yours, however, is an observation which I must answer. You ask me, if in America and England I find the same prudery and affectation which so justly disgust you in Berlin. Yes; and especially in England, where it is easier to enter a woman’s bedroom in order to make love to her, than for any other purpose. Still I must say, that in those two countries, where the affectation of virtue and propriety is carried by women to an absurd extent, there is more real virtue than with us. Is this the case in Berlin? The discovery of this good result made me indulgent towards the accompanying evil, though I naturally have not much indulgence in the matter, and at last I thought that all that external and conventional parade of propriety was, perhaps, to female virtue, what an established worship is to religion—a form which powerful minds, whether for good or for evil, break through, but which serves as a protecting barrier to the weak and ordinary. So I thought that all the pretence of modesty, and rules of affected delicacy, which are unnecessary for a really virtuous woman, may perhaps be of use to the majority. As to your remark upon Protestantism, I am much inclined to share your opinion. But it is a subject that one cannot discuss fasting as I am. . . .
Tocqueville, June 11, 1837.
Up to this time, dear friend, my journey has been a melancholy one. I had scarcely arrived, when I was seized by one of those frightful attacks of neuralgia in the stomach, with which you are familiar. I had been free from them for nineteen months; but this attack has been so bad that it may count for two. It has left me in such a state of weakness and discomfort, that I can neither walk nor write long at a time, and I am condemned to idleness and dreaming, two things which, as you know, do not suit me at all. Life becomes a burden. I am excited and worn out by my own imagination, and when I attempt to escape from this state, physical fatigue drives me back to it. It is sad to have a mind that cannot exist without taking violent remedies, such as intellectual labour, physical activity, or strong emotions. During the last twelve days, Marie and I have often regretted your absence; your society would be enough for us if we could only have it, for I can talk to no one and listen to no one so well as to you. I delight in thinking over our conversations of last winter. I have never enjoyed your society so much nor so long, as during the last few months in Paris. I cannot tell you how I prize our friendship; it is to me a source of light, and strength, and high aspirations. I am always repeating this, for I am always feeling it. When in our childish days we were so united, I could not help fearing lest age, and the so-called realities of life, might loosen the ties that were so dear to me; but I find that every day they draw us closer.
Tocqueville, July 5, 1837.
My dear Louis,—Our good friend * * * asks you for my opinion of Mademoiselle ———. Here is what I know and what I think of her. She is the daughter of a clever selfish man, and of a foolish bigoted mother. However, I do not think that either would wish to tease or to domineer over a son-in-law. The young lady is not more than sixteen or seventeen. The outside is charming, the inside common-place. She is shy, amiable, gentle, and dull. Such is the impression that she has left on my mind. I do not think that as yet she has more in her than the materials for a strictly correct woman, without any higher qualities. She is, as I have said, extremely pretty; she is fond of dress, in spite of the dull retirement in which she lives, and from her earliest years, I am told, has excelled in turning every scrap of finery to the best account, both for herself and her sisters. This is the only talent that I have ever heard attributed to her, and joined with her small capacity, it will probably cause her to turn into a very pretty and equally insignificant little creature. . . . I own, that to me, her family would also be a great obstacle. An atmosphere of common-place pervades the whole house. * * * has escaped from it by his resemblance to his father, who, together with his feebleness, has given to him his pure and earnest heart. In all the rest of the family, the influence of * * * predominates. They have the virtues of the middle class, combined with the narrowest possible range of ideas, and are quite free from all aristocratical extravagances, such as the love of one’s country, and enthusiasm for bold and brilliant actions.
These are exactly my impressions. It is hard to form a final opinion on so young a girl. She may be, to a certain extent, modified by the continual influence of a husband. Still I should never recommend a young man of the character of * * * to undertake the task of such an education; and I cannot help thinking with pain, of the way in which marriages are made in France. * * * is as likely to have such a wife as any other; for it is a great chance if, before he marries, he finds again a man who can give him as much information.
I am obliged to hurry away from you, my dear Louis, for I must return to my work; I get on so slowly that I am out of patience. We are most anxious for your arrival; I cannot tell you how glad we shall be to see you. We shall have a better opportunity of enjoying each other’s society, than we have had for the last ten years. I would have given a great deal, if you could have carried out your intention of spending six or eight months with us; such a long period of intimate companionship would have been an epoch in our lives; it would have closed our youth and launched us into maturity.
Tocqueville, September 4, 1837.
I have put off answering you because I am constantly expecting an afternoon of perfect leisure, which will enable me to communicate to you ideas and feelings which are crowding into my mind. I have waited in vain, and at last I have resigned myself to writing you a trifling letter, lest you should be too long without news of me.
The other day I met Madame ——— at Caen; in the course of conversation I told her that I had just received from you a letter of ten pages, and that I hoped to answer it with one as long. She opened her eyes as wide as a park gate. She knew of our friendship, but a friendship producing letters of ten pages seemed to her to be supernatural. You would, I know, have been annoyed, you would have taken it for another proof that we live among those who do not understand us; but I laughed heartily. I should be sorry to be too well understood by such people, though they are highly respectable in their way, for it would prove that I am more like them than I care to be. I never quite enter into your displeasure when people whom you love and esteem misunderstand you. It gives me some pain, but not the pain which it gives to you; and the pain rather excites than depresses me. It makes me eager to justify my eccentricities by success, which is the only valid argument in such cases.
I cite myself, as I know myself; when I began to write, my family, it is true, encouraged me, but I relied little on that, for I thought them blinded by affection. One’s relations are always in extremes, sometimes they are disposed to exaggerate one’s merits, at others to make the most of one’s faults. I was, therefore, not elated by the praise of my own family; the world thought of me just as it does of you. I passed for a poor eccentric young man, who having no profession, wrote in order to kill time; at any rate, a respectable occupation, for it is better to write a bad book than to live in bad company.
I began surrounded by these difficulties. I remember well that they depressed, annoyed, and irritated me; but far from discouraging me, they kindled a fire within me. I felt that a man must either live quietly like other men, or show that he has in him something more than they have. Now that my book has obtained almost as much success as I desired, I see that I am allowed to go my own way without interference. Why should you not attain the same exemption? for though I do not wish to compliment you, I feel that you are my superior.
I must repeat what I have often said to you. You exaggerate every difficulty: first, as to that of allying yourself to a family that will leave you free to follow your own tastes. Probably your new connexions will not appreciate you, still they will be charmed by your studious habits, for it is better to write stupid books than to gamble. A father’s first wish is that his daughter’s husband should be steady, and with plenty of occupation. Of what sort? No matter whether he collects stones like * * * or ideas. What is wanted is, that he should not fold his arms and sit still.
Your second error is as to the difficulty of interesting your wife in your work, for I fancy that the sort of approbation which I have described would not satisfy you from her. Believe me, dear friend, you are mistaken. There are such women as you imagine, but many less than you suppose. On the contrary, I am amazed at the number of women, ordinary enough in other respects, whom I see taking a passionate and often exaggerated interest in the literary labours of their husbands. It is easily explained; for fame of whatever kind is still fame, and the woman who bears your name is, at least, as much affected by it as yourself. You must think then that she would have a low opinion of you and your talents. But is this possible? Is a wife often deceived on these points? If in no other way, is she not enlightened upon them by what she hears, and by the opinions which her husband’s friends have of him? No one can be mistaken about you who has once heard you talk freely upon a serious subject. Madame de B——— who has just left us, told us, that in a long conversation which you had had with her husband, in her presence, she had been struck by your superiority, and that she could not believe that you were the “good fellow,” she had heard of from the * * *. Your own wife could still less fail to receive a similar impression, for, however frivolous they may be, women soon discover the remarkable qualities of their husbands, and are generally willing to recognise a superiority in which they may almost be said to have a personal interest. Still I own that there are in the world some cold, silly, female fools, over whom one can have no influence, and who very likely would speak of their husbands as Madame ——— did to me of Bonaparte, whom she saw frequently before his Italian campaigns: “I never knew such a tiresome man with his eternal politics; so I always ran away when I saw him coming in.” But these are exceptions.
P.S.—Beaumont has brought back excellent materials from Ireland. He has given me some curious details on England. It seems that there the democratic movement has stopped for the present. Though too late it is a great lesson for the continental aristocracies, who after placing themselves under the protection and guidance of the crown, are at this instant being hurried by that power to destruction; while the only aristocracy which has retained the management of its affairs and has dared to look the enemy in the face, still stands and will stand for some time longer.
Tocqueville, November 14, 1837.
I believe that I have already told you that, although I did not offer myself, a considerable number of the electors of the arrondissement of Valognes wished to propose me as deputy; the attempt has been made. My friends, who belonged to every shade in the opposition, failed, but by only a few votes; and on the whole I recollect the struggle with pleasure, on account of the ardour with which a portion of the people embraced my cause. A great tie, in consequence, unites us, and I shall return to this place hereafter with delight. In the course of the election, I was induced to publish a little pamphlet, which I send to you. In general our difference of opinion on an essential point, makes me avoid talking to you of my political occupations. But I must not leave you in ignorance of my important actions, and in my eyes the putting forth of this pamphlet is one.
As I was not elected, I am out of public life at least for several years. I am, I assure you, far from complaining of it. I shall quietly set to work again, and it will not be my fault, if you do not share my labours. You know that this has always been a dream of mine. We yet have time, you see, to philosophise like two Greeks. . . .
I take, as you do, unceasing, and perhaps even more interest than I acknowledge to myself, in Lamoricière, whom I am inclined to think somewhat indifferent to every one of us, and only, and passionately, attached to his profession. He carries me away in spite of myself; and when I read the assault of Constantine, I fancied that I saw him standing alone on the top of the breach, and for an instant my whole soul was with him. I love him, too, for the sake of France: for I cannot help thinking that a great general is contained in that little man.
Baugy, March 21, 1838.
I have just received a letter from you; but first I must answer the one that I carried away with me the other day.
Your letter is interesting, and on the whole I think that you are right. You would entirely satisfy me, if I were merely a reasonable being; but I have within me powerful instincts, which your words cannot pacify. I own that it is unreasonable to long for a better fate than that of man. But such is my involuntary and irresistible impulse. There are some views of humanity so mean, that I feel contempt for the whole affair creeping over me in spite of myself. This impression would be unfortunate, if it were frequent, and, if it became permanent, would paralyse instead of stimulating my exertions. I should have too much to say on this subject, so as time passes, I turn to your second letter.
I reply to the first part of it by telling you, that during the last few days I have been reading the life of Mahomet and the Koran. The Koran is the most annoying and the most instructive of books; for, on looking closely, one sees all the threads by which the prophet held, and still holds, his votaries. It is a complete compendium of the art of prophecy, and I strongly advise you to read it. I cannot imagine, how ——— could say, that that book was an advance upon the Gospel. In my opinion there is no comparison between them, and I think that reading it is enough to explain the difference between Musselmans and Christians. The Koran seems to me to be no more than a clever compromise between materialism and spiritualism. Mahomet has opened the door to the coarsest passions of our nature, in order to introduce with them certain highly refined notions; so that, one set balancing the other, human nature may hang tolerably suspended between heaven and earth.
This is the philosophical and disinterested part of the Koran; as for the selfish part it is still more evident. The doctrine that “faith saves;” that “the first of religious duties is to believe blindly in the prophet;” that “the sacred war is the best of God’s works;” and many other doctrines, of which the practical result is easily seen, are found in every page, and almost in every sentence in the Koran.
The violent and sensual tendencies of the Koran are so striking, that I cannot conceive their escaping the observation of a reasonable man. It is an advance on polytheism, inasmuch as it contains clearer and truer ideas of the Divine Being, and a more intelligible and wider analysis of certain duties common to man. But the passions which it excites have made it more mischievous to mankind than polytheism, which, having no unity in doctrine or priesthood, never had much hold over men, and left them considerable freedom of action; whilst Mahometanism has exercised over the human race an immense, and on the whole a far from salutary influence. I should like to say more about Mahometanism in particular, and religion in general. But of late my head soon tires, and forces me to think as little as possible on serious and engrossing topics. I stop, therefore, though with regret. It makes me sad, to think of the long period of separation still before us: nearly two months. I feel the wish and almost the necessity of conversing with you. I cannot understand why it should be impossible for you to spend Easter-week with us. Neither society nor business engages people in our world at that period. Besides the extreme pleasure it would give us to have you to enliven our solitude, we should have more leisure than we have ever enjoyed to clear up some ideas of practical importance, which discussion only can render less obscure. Come then, I pray.
Tocqueville, August 8, 1838.
I wish you to hear once more from me before you return, and I direct to Rennes as the safest place. . . . I pass immediately, and, as we often do, without transition from you to your antipodes, that is to Plato. Your view of him seems to me to be admirable, because it exactly coincides with my own. The epithet “puerile,” which you apply to the bearded old philosopher, especially pleased me; I smiled at it approvingly, for it is precisely the appropriate adjective. There is, indeed, something childish in the ideas, and still more in the arrangement, sometimes methodical, and sometimes irregular peculiar to Plato. But on several occasions he is more than man, especially if one considers the time when he lived. On the whole, I consider him a poor politician; but as a philosopher superior to any, and I admire his attempts to introduce, as much as is possible, morality into politics. There is a high and spiritual aspiration about that man which excites and elevates me. I think that it is to this more than to anything else that he owes his glorious immortality. For, after all, men in every age like to hear about their souls, though they seem to care only for their bodies. Adieu; I go back to work. We are looking forward to seeing you again.
Nacqueville, October 9, 1838.
I have lately been leading such an exciting and wandering life, dear friend, that I have not been able to answer your last letter. Yet I was much moved by it. Its expressions of attachment to me are very touching. Pray forgive me for having told you of my fears and doubts: my only excuse is the great value that I set upon our intimacy. Although I differ from you on several important points, still there is no mind to which I am so bound, or with which I have such real sympathy, as your’s. Only with you can I give full vent to my highest instincts, which I am forced to control or to suppress in my habitual intercourse with men. With you I yield freely to every impulse of my head and of my heart. With you I can sift every idea and every feeling without fear of hurting either you or myself. With no one else is this the case, and the effect is delightful. It is the greatest and most manly enjoyment that I know. Nothing could pain me more than its loss. . . .
I must say that I approve and understand the urgent endeavours of your family to prevent your visit to Africa at the present moment. Such a journey would not be well-timed. But if you are not in Africa, why do you not write? You know how impatiently Marie and I long for news of you. . . .
. . . . I have already tried to resume my work, but I find great difficulties in satisfying myself. My ideas seem to flit before me like tableaux vivans; there is always some gauze before them which prevents my seeing them distinctly. I do not know if it be my fault, or that of my subject: probably, it is the fault of both. The subject is the concluding chapter, of which we have talked so much without coming to a decision. If any new thoughts occur to you about it, pray let me know. You are aware that I want an idea so general, that the mind of the reader, after going through the whole book, may rest on it; and yet so simple, as not to require a long development, which might exhaust an attention already fatigued. Perhaps in a few days I may write to you a very long letter on this subject; at present, I am too much in the dark to discuss it advantageously. I am sent for to ride, so good-bye.
Algiers, May 23, 1841.
Thank you, dear friend, for your letter, which I received here ten days ago. I see that you expect much benefit for me from this journey. I hope so, too; but I doubt its lasting long enough to restore mind and body, both of which have been for some time in rather a poor way. I have but little to tell you of either. So as I have not much leisure, I will talk to you about Algiers. I am only beginning to see what are the questions connected with this country; but my view is a little clearer than it was in France. The situation is difficult and complicated; still I think that we should manage it if were not for faults inherent in our character and in our institutions. But these faults, joined to the nature of the undertaking, will, perhaps, cause us to fail. The state of things is this.
We are every day gaining ground in the province of Constantine, and we soon shall have turned out the Turks, and established there a government somewhat similar to theirs. In this there is nothing very glorious. But there is reason to hope, that by holding the population of the interior in quiet and subjection, we may be permitted to colonise the environs of Bona in peace. However, I doubt whether the time has come to make this attempt.
In the province of Algiers the enemy’s marauders chop off heads even as near as the hills above the town. The plain of Mitidja is a desert. The colonists are gone, and so are its old inhabitants, the Arabs. Still Algiers is a large, and looks like a prosperous town. The energy shown by the inhabitants in the midst of so much danger and misery is surprising. There is evidently a higher and firmer tone of feeling here than in France. All the province of Oran, and that of Tittery, with the exception of those towns, is in the hands of the Emir. From all that I hear, he is stronger in some respects, and weaker in others, than formerly. His government has acquired consistency and a better organization; more obedience is paid to him than was paid to the Turks. Like them he has created a permanent and regular army, which he instantly directs on a rebellious tribe and crushes it. He uses hatred towards Christians, the only feeling common to all Arabs, with more skill than the Turks did. But it seems certain, that the population, in spite of its fanaticism, is growing tired of war, which destroys property and trade. We may, therefore, hope that a war of “razzias,” well managed, may in the end force Abd-el-Kader to ask for peace, or may induce some of his tribes to desert him. The provinces of Algiers and Oran would then resemble that of Constantine, French dominion would be established with more or less security in the interior; a result of little importance in itself, but which would render possible the colonisation of the environs of Algiers—the real object of France. Our dominion here is only a means.
There are two things which as yet I think I see clearly. The first and most important is, that if we allow a real Arab power to establish itself in the interior of Africa, to organise itself, and every day to profit by our example, to accustom more and more the tribes to act together, and in case of a war between France and a European nation, to be ready to receive from that nation instruction, men, money, and arms; if we permit this, our African possessions will have no future existence, colonisation will be difficult, and the result always precarious. Those who expect a permanent peace with the Emir are mistaken. He cannot maintain it if he would, for two reasons. I have said that the only feeling which the tribes have in common, is fanaticism. His strength depends on his encouraging this feeling, and he can do so only by war. In the second place, all who are acquainted with Arabs are strongly impressed by their cupidity, which is almost equal to their fanaticism. A long peace would establish between them and us relations so advantageous to them, that Abd-el-Kader will never permit it to subsist, or if it should last he would accompany it by commercial restrictions that would destroy its usefulness. To destroy his rising power is, therefore, what we must try to do and succeed in doing.
The second point which seems to me clear is this, that such success is not impossible, and is more easy now than it will be later. You must be aware that Abd-el-Kader does not rule over individuals, but over groups of individuals, whom we call tribes. Some of these can furnish 6,000 horsemen. Such a government, especially if you consider the wandering life of these tribes, is essentially difficult and precarious. You will feel this if you remember that each of these great tribes contains great aristocratic families, naturally as fit to take the command as that of Abd-el-Kader, who therefore submit to his dominion with impatience. I may say, however, by the way, that Abd-el-Kader is as active as a European king would be in diminishing this evil, by getting rid as fast as possible of these great families. On some pretext he has already cut off the heads of almost all the chiefs. I return to my system. A government of this kind is always difficult and precarious. We may hope that by flattering the vanity or stimulating the avarice of the chiefs of some of the powerful tribes, we may gain them over, or that by ravaging by war we may indispose them towards the Emir, and so bring about his fall. If this result, of which, for want of time, I have rudely sketched the means, be possible, it must be easier now that the power of Abd-el-Kader is only beginning than it will be when time shall have added to its strength. We ought then to continue our exertions, however painful, and to prosecute the war in every direction without giving the Arabs breathing time. As to the mode of making war on such people, I am beginning to have some clear ideas which I will explain to you at another time. Today I will only say, that it has been proved to me that 6,000 infantry, even without artillery, might march all over the hostile country without fear; that they ought not to attempt any more great expeditions, but to go in every direction, now here and now there, as long as they have any provisions left, in order to surprise and astound the enemy; and to show that destruction no longer follows straight lines and fixed plans, but falls unexpectedly everywhere.
Hitherto colonisation has appeared to me to be easy, especially if protected by earth-works, and if we build fortified villages instead of solitary houses. It has been proved that a mere loop-holed wall is impregnable to the Arabs; they could never get over one of our Norman fences. At a little distance from Oran, I saw a fossé* nine feet wide, which Lamoricière made his troops dig in three months. It cost nothing, and is quite enough to ensure perfect security within it. As for the soil, it is admirable, and only wants hands. When I have studied the subject farther, I will tell you how I think that labour might be attracted and kept here.
I saw Lamoricière for two days at Mostaganem, just as he was starting with the army for Tagdempt. . . . He is already the first man in the country; he succeeds here admirably; he has the confidence of his soldiers, and at the same time satisfies the people. His system of razzias is excellent. His professional talents seem to me to increase.
Here is a letter, as in old times; let me have an answer as in old times; that is to say, of interminable length, and let me have it quickly. Why do we write less to each other? and yet our attachment is as great as ever. As for me, experience of the world and of public affairs makes me turn every day more and more to you; and when I search my heart I find that on the whole I am more really bound to you, and that I set a higher value on your friendship than I did even twenty years ago. Chance united us: the more I see of other men the more I feel that our intimacy ought to have been the result of choice.
Good bye, write to me at Algiers; I intend to leave it for a short time for a tour in Constantine, which is open to us, and where one sees the Arabs at home. Try to put all sorts of questions to me in your letter, that my mind may be set to work.
Tocqueville, October 25, 1841.
Time goes on, my dear friend, and yet I do not hear that you are preparing to join us. Till now I have not regretted your absence, because we have had friends constantly with us or have been interrupted by visits; but at last, thank God, we are on the point of being alone. This is when I like to have you, the only time when we can really enjoy each other’s society. Pray then come, if you can. You would give us real and great pleasure. Such a meeting is as useful as it is agreeable; for in Paris, though we see each other we have no intimate communion, and for myself, I shall always consider it essential to renew every year our valuable habit of close companionship. It is still more necessary now that I am about to enter the political arena. Your mind, in fact, is the only one on which I rely, and that has a real influence over mine. Many others have some effect on my actions, but none has the influence possessed by you over the ruling opinions and principles of which they are the result. It is when laying this first foundation of my conduct that I often want to consult you, especially in the moment of calm and reflection that precedes the struggle. I then feel the necessity of reviewing with you the chief principles which ought to guide me in the details of practice. Experience teaches me that in this world success and greatness depend much more on a good choice of these general principles, than on the skill with which you every day solve the petty problems of life.
I have passed a very pleasant summer. I have not been so happy for many years. I have enjoyed something which, if not contentment, is at least very like it. Will it last, or will it be lost in the political excitement of Paris? I shall not know till I try. You know with what incurable folly men attribute to reason a state of mind which is the accidental result of health, of place, of opportunities, of a thousand causes, which, forming no part of their being, must and will change. I hesitate, therefore, to attribute the comparative peace and contentment which I have enjoyed for the last few months to any real change in my views of life; and yet it does seem to me as if these views were somewhat modified.
I expect less from life. I aspire less. This is what I think that I have gained. Domestic happiness seems to me more desirable than formerly, and public applause and power less essential than till now I had thought them. I contemplate more calmly the possibility of passing my life like the ordinary run of mortals; and I no longer resist as intolerable the idea that I shall have no exalted destiny. In short, my desires, as far as I can see, are more moderate, and I have become more patient; what can be the cause? This is what, as yet, I cannot quite make out, and consequently I tremble for the future. What can have curbed the ambition which, though peculiar, was so strong and so boundless? As I said before, I cannot yet tell, and time alone will teach me. Is it that this violent ambition has subsided on meeting the obstacles presented by my own character and by external circumstances? I think so. These obstacles are, in fact, very great; perhaps insurmountable. The impossibility of attaining anything satisfactory is evident. Is this the reason of my tranquillity, and will this tranquillity follow me into action? Not in the measure that I now enjoy it. But, though I may not be calm, it would be a great gain to be, at least, less excitable. To this I confine my hopes for the winter. In the meanwhile I experience a singular phenomenon, of which I leave the explanation to your perspicacity. As life appears to me less noble and less valuable, I am better pleased to live. . . .
Tocqueville, August 23, 1842.
I received your letter this morning, dear friend, and I hasten to give you a line in reply. I hold * * * to be an excellent fellow and a very honourable man. His family is good. As he is obliged to work for his bread, he is forced to fill rather an inferior position. I quite believe, that whenever he may have an opportunity of associating with such men as you are, he anxiously seizes upon it. He has, besides, great vivacity in conversation: there is even a sort of irritability in his manner. All this is sufficient, without any other cause, to explain his eagerness to make himself agreeable to you, and to cultivate your society. It is not impossible, too, that, without entertaining any profound and Machiavellian plot for getting at your thoughts, he may be charmed to profit by your reflections on the subject which at present occupies him. This may be one motive of his conduct, but it is not the only one. Rest assured, however, that this motive is common to all men who turn ideas to account by making books or speeches. Above all, it is irresistible to newspaper writers, who, forced for three parts of their time to write without having leisure to think, steal ideas ready-made wherever they find them. . . .
With regard to the talents of the man whom we are talking of, this is what I think: I believe his mind to be superficial and shallow, and therefore his opinions on a subject that you have studied would have little influence over me. Besides these natural defects, he has acquired others, proceeding from the period when he first entered society, and from the nature of his studies. He belongs, it must be acknowledged, to the crowd of pigmies who, coming after revolutions, imagine that manliness and profound thought are exhibited by a contempt for all political questions and passions, by seeing nothing very serious in the things which so much excited their fathers, fancying that they are nearer to Voltaire because they hold up his train. * * * certainly has this weakness, he even puts it on, thinking it becoming; and this is what at first made me take a dislike to him. But on nearer acquaintance, I found that his heart was worth more than his head; and that the principles which regulate his actions are safer and more upright than those that govern his pen and his tongue. . . .
Tocqueville, October 25, 1842.
I have not written to you during the six weeks that I have spent here; and, indeed, I should not have had much to tell you. I have been leading a wandering and barren life—barren, at least, as regards ideas, still I hope that I have not wasted my time. Just now it is not by political speeches or actions that one secures constituents; but by making personal friends of them. It is a vicious system I own, but may be used for good purposes. It is only by submitting to this species of slavery that one obtains liberty in great things. However, I have just gone through it, not without fatigue, but without being disgusted. I have learnt to find pleasure in my relations with these men, whom I sought at first from political motives; I now feel for many of them sincere regard and esteem. Personal contact with this class shows me that the country is worth more than its rulers.
A few days ago I returned home. I ought to be happy and contented; I am uneasy and anxious. For what reason? It is not easy to say; for after all I am not to be pitied. I possess as much domestic happiness as ever falls to the lot of man; and as to external goods, I am not worse off than my neighbours. Yet I am habitually gloomy and irritable. I attribute this wearisome unproductive state of mind, sometimes to one cause, and sometimes to another. But I believe, that in truth, there is but one, and that is deep and lasting—dissatisfaction with myself. You know that there are two distinct species of pride, or rather pride takes two forms, one grave and the other gay. There is a pride that revels in the advantages that it enjoys, or thinks that it enjoys. This is called conceit. As it pleased God to give me a large dose of the vice of pride, He might at least have let me have this kind. But my pride is of a quite opposite nature. It is always uneasy and discontented; not, however, envious, but gloomy and melancholy. Every instant it is reminding me of the faculties that I want, and driving me into despair at not possessing them. The fact is, that my abilities if I have any, are not those which are specially wanted in such a career as mine; and those that I have not are precisely those which would be of every-day use to me; prompt conception, ease in execution, a clear perception of details, calmness, &c. I might add many others, if I wished to paint my portrait as it is constantly rising before my eyes; but it is unnecessary to the man in the whole world who knows me best. . . .
Did you ever read the History of England after the Revolution of 1688? I am at this moment studying it, and I find it very attractive, although Smollett is the sorriest writer that ever cumbered the ground. I own that this history inclines me to think that we often judge our own country and our own times with excessive severity. We often imagine as peculiar to ourselves and to our age, certain errors, weaknesses, and vices, which are caused by the form of our institutions, and by their special action on the corrupt side of human nature. The part played by selfish venal passions, the want of principle, the veering about of opinions, the degradation and the almost universal corruption of public men, in this History of Constitutional England, are enormous. The power of personal intrigues, the littleness and deformity of the passions that flourish in tranquil times, when the occasions that evolve great exertions and great characters no longer occur, are infinite. When one enters into these details, one can hardly believe, that at the time when all this meanness and vice were prevalent, or rather were allowed full play by free institutions, the nation began and carried through the great deeds with which it astonished the world in this century. It is striking in this history to see to what an extent quarrelling and passionate discussion belong to the very essence of a free country. The consequence is, that when no occasion is afforded for a grand debate, they squabble about nothing, and torment themselves to find some subject of disagreement and discussion. . . . There are more than ten periods in the history of the last century in England which afford this spectacle. I should be curious to have your opinion on this book. Among other things you would see some curious points of resemblance between the times immediately following the Revolution of 1688 and our own; with this distinguishing feature, however, that as the Revolution of 1688 restored England to her natural allies and to her proper position among nations, the appearance which she presented to foreign countries immediately became more important. With us since 1830 the contrary has taken place, and for opposite reasons.
Enough of politics and history. What are you about? You have given up too much the habit of writing to me. I know that it is very difficult to write satisfactory letters at long intervals, but still it is better than silence. . . . Have you passed all the time since I saw you at Fosseuse? and have you done more than attend to your own affairs? I believe not; and I fear, that to induce you to do anything else with animation and perseverance, you require nothing less than the shock of some great public event, of another revolution, or of some similar disturbance. In the mental temperament that one knows best, there are secrets which one cannot penetrate, in spite of all one’s efforts. I am sure, that during three parts of my time I am in a state of intellectual excitement that you cannot understand; and, in the same way, the slumber of your intelligence for the last few years is a problem which I cannot solve. That with such a mind as yours, you should not be determined to prove, at least to yourself, by some great work, your own capacity; and that as you have no political career, you should not try your powers in the only arena open: this is so mysterious to me, that I give up the attempt to throw any light upon it, or even to speak of it; for, as I said just now, even to those who know and love each other best, there are certain instincts and feelings, so peculiar to the possessor, that words are worth nothing in expressing or in arguing against them. Language, which is adapted only to the ordinary wants of men, in such cases tells nothing. There is no one who, on some subjects, does not share the fate of the deaf and dumb.
. . . . Contrive to pass a week with us, that we may at least once a year communicate freely with each other. Let us not allow public or private business, absence or age to freeze up our sympathies.
Tocqueville, October 19, 1843.
You are quite right in what you say of my disposition. It is true that from a momentary impulse I am capable of the most inconsistent behaviour, and of suddenly turning away from the road which was leading me to the object of my most passionate desires. Many people do not understand me, and I am not surprised; for I do not understand myself. There are two opposite elements in my nature; but how have they become united? I know not. I am the most impressionable of men in my every-day actions, the most easily drawn to the right or to the left, and at the same time the most obstinate in my aims. I am constantly oscillating, and yet never lose my equilibrium. All the principal objects that I have proposed to myself in life I have pursued, and with unceasing and often painful endeavours. I have preserved all my affections. There is some inflexible principle which governs my versatile and excitable nature; I cannot understand it in the least myself, and therefore I have no right to blame another for not being able to explain it.
However interesting this subject may be to me, I must quit it, for my time is limited, and there is something about which I want to talk to you. . . .
Clairoix,* near Compiègne.
. . . . I am delighted to hear that the politicians whom you meet share in general your opinions on the affairs of Germany.† Two days ago I saw in Paris a distinguished Englishman, Mr. Senior, who has just returned from Germany. I talked with him, and was glad to find that his impressions on the state of Prussia resembled yours; at least I thought so. This proves to me that you are in the right, and increases my wish that you would make up your mind some day to write about the country with which you are so well acquainted. If you should do so, I would give you this advice. The difficulty would lie in drawing a picture intelligible to a French reader of a state of society and of mind so different, not only from our own, but from what our experience of ourselves would lead us to imagine. The prejudices arising from what we see at home, and from what our history tells us, stand in our way more than our ignorance. Unfortunately I can give you no advice on this point, except to recall constantly your own earlier impressions, asking yourself what you expected to find in Germany before you studied the country, trying to retrace the path which led you from your preconceived notions to your matured opinions, and to induce your readers to follow in your footsteps.
I am sure that this is the object that you should propose to yourself; but by what means will you be able to attain it? The author alone can judge in this matter. Should you explain the resemblance and the difference between the two countries, or write so as enable the reader to find them out? I cannot tell. In my work on America, I have almost always adopted the latter plan. Though I seldom mentioned France, I did not write a page without thinking of her, and placing her as it were before me. And what I especially tried to draw out, and to explain in the United States, was not the whole condition of that foreign society, but the points in which it differs from our own, or resembles us. It is always by noticing likenesses or contrasts that I succeeded in giving an interesting and accurate description of the New World. I do not quote this as an example to be followed, but as a useful piece of information. I believe that this perpetual silent reference to France was a principal cause of the book’s success.
On the subject of religious enthusiasm you put me a question which I think insoluble, except upon general and fixed principles. To me it is incontrovertible that political liberty has sometimes deadened and sometimes animated religious feeling. That has depended on many circumstances: on the nature of the religion itself, and of the age attained, at the moment when they came in contact, by the two passions, religious and political. For passions, like everything else in the world, have their periods of growth, maturity, and decline. If religious excitement be in its decline, and political excitement just beginning, the latter passion will extinguish the former. These causes and many others that I do not mention may help to explain the great diversities, according to time and place, observable on these subjects. If, however, setting aside particular cases, one seeks to discover the truth most generally applicable, I should be more inclined to share the opinion of your German friends than your own. I believe that, as a general principle, political freedom rather increases than diminishes religious feeling. There is a greater family likeness than is supposed between the two passions. Both have in view universal and, on the whole, immaterial blessings; both aim at a certain ideal perfection of the human race, the contemplation of which lifts the mind above the consideration of petty personal interests. For my part, I can more easily understand a man full of both religious and political fervour, than I can one possessed at the same time by the love of liberty and of material comfort. The two first may exist side by side, and unite in the same heart; but not the other two. There is another reason, less comprehensive and less high-sounding, but perhaps in fact more efficient, which makes these passions co-exist and excite one another. It is that they often help one another. Free institutions are often the natural and sometimes the indispensable instrument of religious enthusiasm. Almost every effort made by the moderns towards liberty has been occasioned by the desire to manifest or to defend their religious convictions.
Religion drove the Puritans to America; and when there, made them insist on governing themselves. The object of the two English revolutions was to acquire liberty of conscience. The same necessity inclined in France the Huguenot nobility of the 16th century towards republican ideas. Religious excitement on all these occasions produced political excitement, and political passions in turn helped to develop religion. If religious convictions met with no obstacle, this effect would probably not be produced. But they almost always do. When they have obtained all that they wanted this effect may again cease. Your theory may be applicable to a society which is religious without being agitated by controversy or fanaticism. It is possible that public affairs may then gradually and almost entirely absorb the attention of society: and yet I do not feel certain of this unless politics happened to be in a very interesting state. It is more likely that the excitement of mind created and sustained by political liberty will stir up all the religious elements remaining in the country.
This seems to me to be what is going on in America. Time and prosperity have there deprived the religious element of three-fourths of its original power. Still what remains is in vehement agitation. The religious world in the United States assemble, speak and act together more than anywhere else. I think that the habits induced by political freedom, and the impulse given by it to everything, count for a great deal in the religious ferment still observable in the country. I think that, though they cannot restore its former omnipotence, these circumstances maintain its influence and are the causes of all its present strength.
We must be careful not to confound political liberty with certain effects that it sometimes produces. When once it is well established and undisturbed in its exercise it inclines men to enjoy luxury, to desire and labour to acquire wealth; and these tastes, wants, and cares kill religious enthusiasm. But these tardy and secondary results of liberty deaden political passions as much as they do religious ones.
This is all that I had to say on this particular point; which, however, I am far from having examined with all the care that its importance deserves. The only universal truth that I see in the matter is, that there is no universal truth. I therefore conclude that the wise plan is to examine particular cases.
You tell me at the end of your letter, that our correspondence is no longer either so frequent or so full as it used to be. I have made the same remark. But though I am sorry for it, I do not allow it to distress me too much, because I think I see clearly that it is not caused by any change in our mutual sentiments. When I consider my attachment for you, our friendship seems to me as firm and as close as ever. Some of the enthusiasm of early youth has gone from it, but it has acquired a steadfastness, resulting from experience of life and of men, which could not formerly belong to it. The longer I have lived, and the nearer I have seen the political world, the more I have felt that I could place absolute reliance on you; for your mind is incapable of admitting the petty passions which in the long run loosen the ties of all ordinary friendships. Therefore, I may say, that I set as high, and indeed a much higher value upon our intimacy than ever, and I believe that you feel as I do. And now, why do we less often desire to pour out our hearts to each other? For two reasons: the actual business in which our lives are spent leaves us less time and less interest for the long discussions which almost always turned upon some general question; and still more the difference of our occupations. . . . Still, I agree with you, we must try to resist these influences. . . .
July 22, 1852.
I do not like to answer your wife’s letter, dear friend, without adding a line for you. I can write nothing amusing, however, for to-day I am very sad. I have just heard of the death of our excellent friend, Stoffels! Although his death had been long foreseen, and the last letters left in doubt only the exact hour, the news has deeply agitated and distressed me. What a character was his! What a high moral tone he preserved in the narrow circle to which his life was confined. He is the first intimate friend whom I have lost, and though the separation was foretold it is no less bitter! . . . . and what will become of his family? I know none more estimable and interesting. Happily his children have inherited his great qualities. . . . I cannot describe to you the gloom that this event has shed over me, nor the melancholy reflections that occur to me on youth that has passed away so quickly, on old age which is approaching, and on the sad destiny of man.
Since I have been here I have set seriously to work on the book that I mentioned to you. One or two chapters are sketched already. I am most anxious to know if it is worth anything. I have not begun by what ought to be the beginning of the book. I took it up at the part to which the notes that I made in Paris chiefly referred, and which I was most inclined to write. For the difficulty is to warm to one’s work, and for this purpose one must begin with what one most fancies. The part that I have written is a description of the state of things before the eighteenth Brumaire, and of the moral causes of that coup d’état. . . . A great question which has often occurred to me, fell in my way: what material advantages did the people derive from the Revolution? In other words, at what should we estimate the value of the confiscated estates that were abandoned to them, of the feudal rights that were abolished, of the galling and oppressive taxes that were removed, and lastly, of the debts and rents that were fictitiously paid by means of assignments. . . . If you have ever turned your mind to these questions let me know what you think of them. To act in concert will stimulate our minds. If we do not profit by the years still remaining to us, while our intellects are in their prime, we shall have wasted, if not a treasure, still a capital of which we were intended to make a better use.
P.S.—Just now I am annoyed by having to oppose my nomination to the Conseil général. I have more difficulty in avoiding it than most people have in obtaining it.
St. Cyr, near Tours, Sept. 9, 1853.
I write you a line, dear friend, to say that if it is the same to you, to make your little excursion in the beginning of October, instead of the latter end of September, I should prefer it. I am leaving home on a visit to the Beaumonts.
You have greatly encouraged me about my book. You always were, and still are, the man of all others most capable of understanding my undeveloped ideas, and of helping me to bring them out; there is something in the contact with your mind, which makes mine fruitful. The two fit in somehow, and when pursuing the same idea, they keep step wonderfully. These conversations unfortunately have become very rare. You have such a variety of business, that naturally your thoughts are no longer disengaged, and you have lost the intense fondness for discussion that I used to notice in you in our youth. You are as much interested as ever in the friend, but not in the subject. It is sad that during the whole course of our life we have never been able to join in the same pursuits. When I was writing my first book, you were absorbed by politics. When your time and thoughts became free, I was buried in public affairs. And now that I am driven back to a life of conversation and reflection, you are absorbed in the necessary business of private life. Such has been our history during the last thirty years. It is a great pity; I think that each of us might have done better if we had been occupied at the same time with the same things.
Bonn, July 2, 1854.
I think I remember your telling me that you had met in the North of Germany a very great man, one of the nobles of Mecklenburgh, an old friend of your family, who had been very hospitable to you, and to whom you could introduce me. I forgot to mention the subject again to you when I passed through Paris, although I should have liked to make such an acquaintance. But since I have been in Germany, I attach still more importance to it. One of my principal studies, as you know, is the old system of Germany. I now find that there is nothing so difficult as to form a clear idea of it; the traces are entirely swept away in a great part of the country, and they are half effaced in the rest. To understand it thoroughly, and perhaps to form a more accurate idea even of France one hundred years ago, it seems to me to be necessary to visit that portion of Germany where the institutions of the middle ages have not been entirely destroyed, and where they have left many vestiges in the customs, manners, society, and political economy of the country. From all that I hear, the old kingdom of Prussia and Mecklenburgh are the most remarkable in this respect. But as I especially wish to collect information from the old nobility and the peasantry, what would be most useful to me would be to visit for a few days a country house. Do you think that either directly or indirectly you could enable me to do any of these things? . . . . . . . . .
We met with no accident on our journey. In Belgium I saw Lamoricière, who talked to me of you, with real friendship. I also saw Bédeau. These visits pleased and distressed me for several days. It is, indeed, melancholy to see such men, still so full of vigour, reduced to look on from afar while others act. Such is fate!
If I were to return to-day to France, and to be asked my impressions of this country, I should not have a word to answer. I begin to have a glimmering of the state of ancient Germany, but as to modern Germany, I know nothing about it, I have lived so exclusively in the past. I hope at last to come to my contemporaries, but at present I live only with their grandfathers.
Tocqueville, July 29, 1856.
I ought to have thanked you sooner for your letter, for it gave me great pleasure. I consider you to be one of the very best literary judges that I know. I even think it a sort of a phenomenon, that a man so full of ideas as you are, and whose ideas are often so profound and original, whom I should select among a thousand for these qualities—that this man, I say, should never have attempted a work that would mark his place and his name among his contemporaries and for posterity. You have certainly one of the most remarkable minds that I have ever met with. Experience has only confirmed the opinion of my youth. Where then is the invisible spot, the hidden weakness, which has prevented such incontestable superiority from producing its natural fruits? No question has ever perplexed me so much as this. I have never been able to answer it to my own satisfaction. My wife and I, for she shares my opinion of you, have often discussed it, but always in vain. God has endowed you with great and rare abilities. By what strange inconsistency has he denied you the means, or rather the will, to make use of them, and to make the world appreciate what is so obvious to a few chosen spirits? Nothing is more astonishing.
You have drawn me from my book.* I return to it. I repeat that your opinion of it charmed me. Both before and after your letter I received numerous proofs of sympathy; but your judgment remains in my mind as the most solid basis of my satisfaction. I was so saturated with the facts and ideas contained in my book, that its originality had completely faded away. It struck you as well as others. I am delighted. I am also glad that you say that my style has become more simple. I have tried hard for it, but the effort did not always tend to simplicity, and I much feared that I had missed my object. I endeavoured to be myself, and to imitate no one in particular; not even any of the greatest writers. I hope that in this I have succeeded. I shall be grateful if, when you are at leisure, you will mark in your copy the errors that you mention, that I may correct them in the next edition. The present edition will soon be sold. My editor tells me that the book is going off at an extraordinary rate. Almost all the papers have noticed it at length. Some praise and others blame; none speak of it with moderation. If I can believe the letters that I receive, my success has surpassed my expectations. But I am too well acquainted with my time and my country to exaggerate the value of my success. We have ceased to be what we were in a remarkable degree during two centuries—a literary nation. Still more important is the fact that power is now in different hands. The influential classes are no longer those who read. Whatever, therefore, may be the success of a book, it does not powerfully affect the public mind; nor can the writer hope to attract attention for any length of time, or indeed, ever to obtain that of the majority. Still, as even among the nations that read least, certain ideas, often indeed very abstract ideas, in the end govern society, it may be of some use to disseminate them. Besides, I do not see, in our day, any more honourable or more agreeable mode of employing one’s time than in writing true and honest words that may draw the attention of the civilized world to their author, and serve, however humbly, the good cause.
We have been very well since our arrival; this place has rested and calmed us. It often reminds us of you; for we have spent here with you some of the happy days of our youth. Alas! will those days never return? and shall we never again be together for some time in the perfect quiet of the country, discussing all sorts of subjects, and stimulating each other to good thoughts and deeds?
Tocqueville, Aug. 28, 1856.
. . . . Of all the letters I have received since the publication of my book, from friends and also from strangers, almost enough to fill a volume, yours is incontestably the most striking as well as the most useful. I cannot sufficiently urge you to complete your criticism, and to amplify it as much as possible. You will thus render me an important service; for, thrown back, as I am, upon a literary life, I have more reasons than ever for attaining in it the highest eminence that I can. I was surprised at your finding on a first perusal so many errors as your first letter seemed to indicate; for though the book was written eagerly, in only two months, and without any interruption, I took, before I published it, great pains with the arrangement, and I attended very closely to the style. I was glad to see that the faults seemed to you fewer on the second reading than at first.
But now your criticism soars higher, and reaches what may be called the substance of the style, a matter which escapes the vulgar eye, and that all the grammatical talent in the world cannot discover. I was especially struck by the part of your letter relating to this. I have always had a vague suspicion of the defect that you point out: the inclination to include every shade of an idea in the same sentence, so that, in the endeavour to explain and to draw conclusions from the original thought, it is weakened, and the reader obtains a general impression, but not a distinct image. But no one has ever set this defect clearly before me; and indeed it belongs to those of which the inconvenience is felt without the cause being ascertained. You not only clearly mark it, but you offer to prove it by giving perspicuity to some of my sentences by suppressing portions of them. . . . You will do me a great service. By showing me examples of my fault, you will have done much to cure me of it; for, as I said before, I know that I am subject to it. I know that between my style and that of the great writers there is some hitch that I must get over before I can take my place among them. But I seem to stumble against this impediment in the dark, without making out either exactly in what it consists or its extent, and, above all, without knowing how to overcome it.
It is, I think, in general, the result of the final touches. The first mould is often in a much better shape than that which the thought receives upon reflection. But the idea itself gains by reconsideration and trituration, by being taken up and laid down again, and looked at on all sides. Experience has taught me that thus it often acquires its real value. The difficulty is to combine freshness of expression with ripeness of thought. I know not if I shall ever attain it. It would be a great gain if I could only see clearly the means. As soon as you have written all your remarks on your copy, and added all the notes that may assist me in seizing your idea, send the whole back to me.
Tocqueville, Sept. 21, 1856.
The book which you announced has not arrived. I am impatient for it, though I am no longer in immediate want of it. The first edition being exhausted, and the demand continuing, the bookseller proposes to publish immediately a second edition of 2,000 copies, to be a reproduction of the first, with a few verbal corrections. I have consented, and it is already in hand. Michel Lévy hopes that we shall have to issue a third edition next summer. Before that comes out I shall have time to reconsider the subject, and remodel the whole work. I shall employ your annotated volume for this purpose. Even now, I shall study it with the greatest interest. I shall seek in it, not so much the faults of the last book as the means of improving the next. I think that it is possible, during a whole life, to advance nearer and nearer to perfection. There is no more important maxim. Many eminent men make the contrary opinion an excuse for not becoming still more eminent. Above all, I am convinced that one may gradually eliminate all the faults that one sees. The real difficulty is in seeing them, and especially in seeing the way to attack them. Whenever I am pleased with my own performance, my satisfaction is mixed with uneasiness, as I know that it is a proof, not that I have reached perfection, but that I no longer see opening out beyond what I have done, new paths towards it. What is still worse, and happens to me still oftener, is to feel that I might do better, and yet not to see clearly what that better ought to be. . . .
Paris, Nov. 10, 1856.
. . . . The X * * * have been here for the last fortnight. They will stay ten days longer. We should have been very glad, for many reasons, to see you before they go. Your presence would have been agreeable, and also useful. These poor people are an example of one of the saddest of human miseries. They both are good-natured, refined, and full of high feeling; but they are becoming unfit for one another, because each insists on finding in the other some small merits which are not possessed, losing sight of the good qualities which are there. The result has been a gradual alienation, which became so painful, that, at the time of their arrival here, X * * * was seriously contemplating a separation. Is not such a sight enough to make one groan in despair, and to be tempted to curse human nature, and the extravagance of our expectations? There was only one way of treating this disease, now perhaps incurable; it was to show to each of them the excellent qualities of the other. This always answers; for it is another contemptible fact in our nature that the opinions of others have never so much influence as upon our inmost feelings, that is, on the subjects of which we ourselves ought to be the best judges. Without previous concert, Marie and I have tried to do this. It has already had some success; as each of them has perceived the value which we set upon the merits of the other, each has thought less of the other’s little deficiencies. This is better than direct advice. I am very sorry that you cannot take your share in the good work. . . . .
You say truly that our two minds resemble a machine, in which the moving power has lost its connexion with the working power, so that the one wastes its force, and the other stands still. My mind is like the former. It is in violent motion, and produces nothing. This is the natural effect of the present state of our country, and of the perpetual recurrence of small annoyances, without great events or strong passions to stir up and absorb the whole mind. The destiny of society is a problem for ever present to my imagination; it shuts out every other object of attention. And yet it does not excite in me such intense interest as to force me to devote myself to its solution. It prevents my thinking of other things, and yet does not stimulate my mind; I brood over it sadly and absently, and come to no conclusion. This is the chief reason why it is so much less easy for me to enter into ordinary conversation. There is another which, though on the surface, you have never been able to understand.
. . . . At this point of my letter I was interrupted. I have not time to-day to finish the subject. I will in the next . . . .
Tocqueville, Feb. 2, 1857.
I quite understand, my dear friend, that, hurried as you were in your last journey, you could not come as far as this place.
You must have strangely mistaken my last letter, since you thought that I intended to give up Paris, and retire altogether to the country. Not only I never intended to do so, but it would be quite contrary to all my notions. It is true that I intend every year to spend at least eight months here, to make this my principal establishment, and to seek here for my chief sources of happiness. But to shut myself up here entirely, has never entered, and—I think I may answer for it—never will enter into my head. Your observations are true and are strikingly put, as you well know how to do, but they did not convince me, for I was convinced already.
You know that one of my firmest opinions is, that life has no period of rest; that external, and still more internal, exertion is as necessary in age as in youth—nay, even more necessary. Man is a traveller towards a colder and colder region, and the higher his latitude, the faster ought to be his walk. The great malady of the soul is cold. It must be combated by activity and exertion, by contact with one’s fellow-creatures, and with the business of the world. In these days one must not live upon what one has already learnt, one must learn more; and instead of sleeping away our acquired ideas, we should seek for fresh ones, make the new opinions fight with the old ones, and those of youth with those of an altered state of thought and of society. Such have always been, and are now more than ever my maxims, and the longer I live, the more am I convinced of them. By observing them, I have seen men who were ordinary in youth, become agreeable and distinguished in old age. By neglecting them, I have seen eminent men fall into a torpor as heavy and unproductive as death. When strength decays, we may retire from the great struggles of the world. But absolute retirement away from the stir of life is right for no man, nor at any age.
We still intend to return towards the end of February. I hope, with you, that we shall see a great deal of each other in Paris. I shall be alone during most of the time, as Marie will have to go to Chamarande.* As I shall have no one at my home, I shall often go over to yours. I intend to go moderately into society, and a great deal to the museums and libraries. I am beginning to work again with considerable vigour, and I fancy that the ideal in my mind is well worth realizing. But the immensity of the task frightens me.
Tocqueville, Feb. 27, 1858.
. . . . We have returned to our first plan, which was not to be in Paris till the end of March. But I will not wait till then to ask for news of you, I have had none for such a long time. All I know is that you returned to Paris several months ago. I hope that you all have been well since then. We have had nothing to complain of till lately, when I have been suffering under influenza, an ailment difficult to shake off. With this exception, I have spent my time pleasantly. Since the autumn my life has been very retired, and even solitary, but suited to my taste. I take increasing interest in country pursuits; all that I ask is that God will grant me health to live here nine months out of every year.
I have not written so much as this long retirement would lead you to expect. This has been caused by the difficulty of setting my mind to work again after a long interval of repose, and of forcing it back to the subject whence it had escaped. There has been an obstinate struggle between will and inclination, in which, however, the will came off victorious. Much time was thus spent; I have got on very little with my work, but my interest in it has returned, and that was the hardest part. I have succeeded, after many trials and efforts, in finding the road that I ought to follow. I assure you that it was not easy. Am I, indeed, in the right path? Time will show. The first chapters of the new book are sketched out, but they are too unfinished for me to show them even to you. I am longing to have something ready to submit to you. All that I could say about my plan would be vague and difficult to understand. Half an hour spent in reading my MS. will make it evident to you, and you will not till then be able to tell me, if I am in the path that will lead to my object.
Six months ago, on my return from England, you wrote to me an interesting letter. On the spirit of self-government belonging to the English you say, that it can exist only when the local authorities are as good administrators as the central government, or even better. This is not always the case in England. In the local governments there are many faulty details which seem to me to be both seen and felt. The superiority of the central government in those things over which it has jurisdiction is acknowledged. Yet not only powerful private influence, but an insurmountable public conviction opposes itself to the extension of its sphere. There are many reasons, I think, for this: first, the aristocratic mould of English society. The aristocracy is wise enough to understand that, if the government took possession of the administration of the whole kingdom, on that day there would no longer be any reason for the existence of their body. There is also a vague but strong impression afloat that the system, though weak in many of its details, is the cause of so much life, activity, and variety; that, on the whole, it is the great cause which has made England the richest as well as the freest country in the world. Finally, the Englishman’s great objection to allowing the government to do his business even well, is simply his wish to do it himself. This passion for being master at home, even to act foolishly, essentially characterises the British race. “I had rather plough badly for myself than give up the stilts into the hands of the government.” We ourselves have some of this feeling in private life. The English carry it to the greatest extent in municipal life. I am inclined, however, to think that centralization is gradually gaining ground in England, but so slowly that its encroachments are scarcely perceptible.
Tocqueville, May 16, 1858.
I was much annoyed at leaving Paris, dear friend, without having seen you; at least, without once having had an opportunity for full and unrestrained conversation after such a long separation, and before another separation which may be as long. I have no notion how we shall spend our summer and autumn. . . . .
Among the things that I wanted to talk over with you, my book was the first. I am beginning to be anxious about it. I am sure that I shall not make it long; but the way in which I set about examining facts and preparing for the final execution of my task, makes me fear that I shall never end it. Unfortunately, I know no rule by which to limit my researches. For the “literature of the Revolution,” as a German would say, is so enormous, that a life might be spent in obtaining even a superficial acquaintance with it. You know that I am seeking less for facts than for the march of ideas and feelings. They are what I wish to describe. My subject consists in the successive changes in the social condition, the institutions, the public opinion and manners of the French, as the Revolution advanced. As yet I have discovered only one way of finding this out: it is to live over every moment of the Revolution with its contemporaries by reading not what has been said of them, or what they said afterwards of themselves, but what they themselves said at the time, and, as much as possible, what they really thought. Short pamphlets, and private letters, &c. are more useful for this purpose than the debates in the Assembly. By these means I certainly attain my object, which is to live gradually through the period; still my progress is so slow that I am often in despair. But is there any other way?
There is also in the disease called the French Revolution, a peculiarity which I feel, though I cannot exactly describe it or explain its cause. It is a virus of a kind that was new and unknown. Many violent revolutions have taken place in the world: but the unrestrained, fierce, radical, desperate, fearless, almost mad behaviour of the heroes of that time has, I think, no precedent in the great social earthquakes of past centuries. Whence came this new race? what produced it? what made it so effective? how is it perpetuated? For the same men are still with us, although circumstances are altered, and they have struck root over the whole civilized world. My mind exhausts itself in trying to form a true conception of these facts, and in endeavouring to reproduce it correctly. Besides all that can be explained in the French Revolution, there is a mysterious element in its motives and actions. I can perceive its presence, but I try in vain to lift the veil that hides it. A foreign substance seems interposed, which prevents me from feeling or seeing it distinctly.
Cannes, Nov. 29, 1858.
Since I last wrote my health has continued to improve, that is to say, the balance in the different functions is restored; the traces left by the extreme fatigue of the journey have nearly disappeared, and strength at last seems to be gradually returning, though so slowly as to discourage me. In all these respects I am another man from the one I was when I arrived. As to the bronchial affection, I myself see no apparent change; but this is in truth not extraordinary, since the state of my stomach has, till now, prevented any remedy from being tried, and the weather has also been unfavourable. It is mild, but there is incessant rain or wind, and the inhabitants do not recognise their own climate.
What you said in your first letter on the power that we fully retain, and which we ought to use, of discussing all the subjects, however abstract, that used formerly to interest and excite us, pleased me extremely. Although our lives are so different as to separate us, I still consider you as the only man in the world capable of thoroughly understanding the thoughts which I express, of completing them, and of rendering my mind still more fertile by adding to it the fruits of a similar soil. You will understand, therefore, that, for me, whose greatest pleasures now are intellectual, your communications are of infinite value. . . . .
Cannes, March 18, 1859.
You must not think, dear friend, that my silence is caused by forgetfulness or indifference. The only causes are sickness and solitude, the two things that most absorb the mind and take away all inclination for exertion, even for the trifling exertion mixed with pleasure of writing to so old and valued a friend.
I will describe to you our state; you will see that it is not cheerful. The painful and, above all, tedious illness which I came here to cure is indeed, as the doctors say, gradually yielding, but with an intolerable tardiness, increased and sometimes interrupted by a thousand trifling accidents, produced by the disordered state of my nerves. For instance, a slight return of the stomach affection has, during the last week, deprived me of appetite, and with my appetite I have lost some of the strength that I had regained, and which I want so much.
Enough of myself. My wife arrived here ill. At first she became much worse, so as to add anxiety for her to that which I experienced on my own account. As I got better her health improved. To-day she is infinitely better, but is still condemned for some time to silence. We are now entirely alone, one of us can speak only in a whisper, and the other cannot speak at all. Hippolyte spent three months with us. It was a great comfort. . . .
Now let us turn to you. You also have been much tried, but in another way. The terrible misfortune that has happened to your sister—the no less cruel blow that has fallen upon you—such trials are sad indeed. Remember me to all your family, and tell them, pray, that my own afflictions never make me indifferent to those of my friends. Good-bye for to-day. Do not wait long before giving me news of you.
LETTERS TO EUGÈNE AND ALEXIS STOFFELS.
TO EUGÈNE STOFFELS.
Paris, Oct. 22, 1822.
I will not wait till my return to Metz to talk with you, my dear Stoffels. Our silence has lasted long enough. I will be the first to break it. I hope that after this you will not tell me that distance and the pleasures of Paris make me forget my old friends in the rhetoric class. At least, if I forget any of them, it will certainly not be you, you may depend upon it. We are too much united by the similarity of our opinions to be able to separate now, unless a total change took place in both of us, of which I have no fear. . . . Tell me how you spent the vacation; I hope more agreeably than I did, and that would not be difficult, for since I have been here I have led a quiet, monotonous life, which agrees neither with my disposition nor with my tastes. . . .
Paris, Aug. 7, 1823.
I did not intend to write to you till I reached Amiens, as I wished to tell you how we were established there.* But first one thing and then another have kept my father in Paris till now. As I thought every day that we should start on the next, I put off my letter. At last I am tired of waiting, and I write to you from Paris. I arrived in good health but in bad spirits. One is not aware of the ties that bind one to a place where one has been happy. They are not felt till one breaks through all of them at once. At first it is very painful. Metz and some of its inhabitants will long be present to my memory, perhaps more than I could wish. . . . As for you, dear friend, we shall meet again in three months; and this thought is one on which I dwell with the most pleasure. We were very intimate at Metz, I hope that we shall be so in Paris. What are you doing now, my dear friend? Pray send me a full account. With your few friends, and the need that you have of sympathy, you must feel lonely. Take care of yourself in this respect, dear Stoffels; you know that you are inclined to give your friendship readily, and you may repent when it is too late. One loses nothing by keeping one’s thoughts for a time to oneself, one almost always regrets having confided them too soon; at least I often have. I have longed to take back what I have told, and I have never repented my silence. Tell me about Metz, what is doing there, what is said there; you know that I am tolerably curious. Are you satisfied with your compositions? They must be finished. You would be a good fellow if you would send me your French composition. If by chance it is not yet done, remember when you are writing it to beware of enthusiasm.
Amiens, Sept. 16, 1823.
I am as indignant as you are, my dear Stoffels, at the way in which the “Conseil” has behaved to you. I see no motive for such a measure, and I can understand your first angry impulse. But, dear friend, you should be above all that. Two “accessits,” followed by three others, are a better answer to the conduct of these gentlemen than all the eloquence in the world. Why throw the blade after the hilt? Why become desperate? There is no doubt of the existence of injustice and treachery in the world; but did you want this proof to be convinced of it? Certainly not. You must, therefore, live with your enemies, as you cannot always live with your friends; you must take men for what they are, be satisfied with their virtues; try to be as little annoyed as possible by their vices; confine yourself to a small circle of intimate friends, out of it expect only coldness and indifference, either hidden or apparent, and be upon your guard. Besides these considerations, I have known you, my dear friend, more than once prefer the voice of conscience to that of the world. Conscience cannot reprove you. Well, then, you are above everything. The part of the affair that most distressed me was that I feared lest this delay might prevent your journey to Paris. But you re-assure me. I have already arranged in my mind a little excursion to the sea. We will go to my father’s at Amiens for a few days, and from thence it is only a step to the coast.
Till then try to take exercise—shoot, dance, keep continually moving. Let bodily exertion take the place of mental activity. The first tires, but does not wear out the machine. But if the mind be unduly used, especially at our age, it will prey upon itself, and invent evils which, though without foundation, are no less painful. I am, unhappily, not without experience of this. . . . .
Paris, Feb. 21, 1835.
It is a long time since I have had any talk with you, dear friend; yet I often think of you. Among other anxieties, I am anxious about your present and future position. I fancy that if, as seems probable, present events have their full swing, you have little chance of preserving the situation* which is of such importance to you. . . . . .
You have no doubt seen in the papers that my departure for America is at last fixed. I know not whether to be glad or sorry; there are reasons both for and against. Still I am generally approved. . . . . . I think that we shall start between the 20th of March and the 1st of April. In the way of travelling, it is impossible to imagine anything pleasanter than what we are about to do. Invested with an official character, we shall have a right to ask to see everything, and an entrance into the most exclusive circles. However, it will not be our business to look at great cities and fine rivers. We set forth with the intention of examining as fully and as scientifically as possible, all the springs of that vast machine—American society; everywhere talked of, and nowhere understood. And if public affairs at home give us time, we expect to bring back the materials for a valuable book, or at least, a new book; for there is nothing whatever extant on the subject.
Charles told me that you wished to read my “Tour in Sicily.” When I go I will leave it out for you. You must keep it during my absence; and if (for one must provide for all chances) I should never return, you must keep it altogether. There are only a few pages in it that I think worth anything. I flatter myself that I should now do better. Good-bye. Answer quickly.
New York, July 28, 1831.
We are very far apart, dear friend, and yet in spite of distance our hearts are united. As for me, I feel as much, perhaps even more, than when I was in France, that we are bound together for life, and that wherever fate may place us, we may each depend upon all the friendship and assistance that one man can give to another. . . . .
You know that we set sail on the 2d April, after midnight. The weather at first was in our favour; we seemed to glide over the ocean. I cannot tell you how imposing is the solitude of the Atlantic. For a few days flights of birds followed the ship; myriads of fishes covered the sea; not an hour passed without a sail appearing on the horizon. Soon all these things became rarer. At length birds, fishes, and vessels vanished. Above, below, and around reigned perfect solitude, and absolute silence. Our own ship, then indeed, became our world. You know that such a scene would please me; but constantly repeated, and every day the same, in the end it oppresses and weighs on the spirits. When we neared Newfoundland, the sea sparkled all over. I believe that this effect is produced by the thousands of phosphorescent creatures which people the waters. Whatever be the cause, the effect is most extraordinary. I remember especially one evening; the weather was very stormy; our vessel, driven by a furious wind, pitched violently, throwing up on each side huge clouds of foam. This foam looked like fire. The ship seemed to be passing through one of the large furnaces for melting iron ore which I saw at Hayeuche. She left behind her a fiery track. The night was quite dark; we could scarcely see the rigging against the sky: the beauty of this scene was indescribable. A few days later we fell in with heavy gales; but there was no danger, for our vessel was too large to fear them. Thirty-five days had passed since our departure, when we heard the first cry of land. The shores of America before us were low and barren: I can believe that they did not enchant the Europeans who first sighted them three centuries ago. We thought ourselves in port, when a storm from the south-west forced us to leave in haste the neighbourhood of New York. As our wood and sugar were exhausted, as our bread was failing, and we had some sick on board, the attempt to land at New York was given up. We chose instead a little harbour sixty leagues to the north, called New Port.* I can assure you that it is a great pleasure to tread on terra firma after crossing the immense chasm which separates Europe from America. The next day we got on board a steamer, which brought us to this place in eighteen hours. These steamers are huge, much bigger than houses, containing 500 or 600, and sometimes 1,000 passengers, who have vast saloons, beds, and a good table at their disposal; and thus quickly and imperceptibly travel eight or ten miles an hour.
The situation of New York is one of the most beautiful that I know; the harbour is immense, and at the mouth of a river navigable for fifty miles by men-of-war. It is the key of Northern America. Hither come every year thousands of foreigners on their way to people the wilds of the west, and all the European manufactures on their road into the interior. The population, which fifty years ago amounted to only 20,000, has now reached 230,000. It is a clean town, built of brick and marble, but without remarkable edifices. It resembles little our European capitals. The French are in general liked. Our mission gave us a special claim, and both public and private persons agreed in bestowing on us a flattering reception. All the public documents have been placed at our disposal, and every information that we ask is immediately given.
. . . . You must feel that as yet I can have formed no opinion on this people. Like every other nation, it presents at first sight a combination of good and evil difficult to analyse, or to combine into a consistent whole. Morals are pure. The marriage tie, especially, is held more sacred than in any other country. Respect for religion is carried to an extreme. For instance, no one ventures to shoot, to dance, or even play upon an instrument on Sunday. Even strangers are bound by the same rules. I have seen chains across the streets in front of the churches during Divine service. In this these republicans are very unlike our radicals. There are many other peculiarities in their opinions, manners, and material condition; but I have no time to point them out. This is the favourable view. The unfavourable is an immoderate desire to grow rich, and to do so rapidly; perpetual instability of purpose, and a continual longing for change; a total absence of established customs and traditions; a trading and manufacturing spirit which is carried into everything, even where it is least appropriate. Such, at least, is the external physiognomy of New York. . . .
To-day we plunge into the interior. We shall go up the Hudson as far as Albany. Thence we shall visit the Falls of Niagara. After looking at the Indian tribes on the shores of Lake Erie, we shall return by Canada to Boston, and make our way to New York, whence we shall set out on another expedition. . . .
Philadelphia, Oct. 18, 1831.
It is a long time since I have written to you, dear friend, or heard from you, though you are among the few who make me regret my exile, and attach me to France. Since I last wrote, I have been running about unmercifully. We embarked at Buffalo, a little town situated at the lower extremity of Lake Erie. Our voyage extended over 1,500 miles; we had a glimpse of Lake Superior, and reached almost the further end of Lake Michigan. One look at the map will show you our route. On our return to Buffalo we visited Niagara; thence we went down the St. Lawrence and penetrated into the two Canadas; we came back by Lake Champlain, and went all over the states of New England, particularly the state of which Boston is the capital, and thence to New York. At last we have reached Philadelphia, having done what no Frenchman had accomplished for many years. It is not that the journey is in itself difficult, but that the opportunites of taking it are rare. The shores of Lakes Huron and Michigan, which in a hundred years will be covered with towns, are now quite uninhabited. The forests have flourished undisturbed ever since the creation; even the pioneers have not yet introduced the axe into them. It is nobody’s business therefore to go thither; and it was by a great chance that we found a vessel bound for this route.
On one occasion, when alone with Beaumont and our Indian guides in the midst of these forests, I suddenly remembered that it was the 29th of July! I cannot describe the effect of this recollection. . . . For an instant I was carried back to the scenes of civil war which we together witnessed. No past event was perhaps ever so vividly painted by my imagination. The various feelings and passions by which at that time I was agitated, from my mother’s drawing-room till I reached the little house at St. Cloud, seized on my mind with violent and irresistible force. And when afterwards I looked round upon the strange scene about me, on the dark forest, the shattered remnants of previous generations of trees, and the wild faces of our guides, I for an instant doubted if I were the same man who had witnessed the events just recalled by my memory. At least, it seemed to me as if more than a year must have passed; and indeed I can scarcely yet believe that they are so recent. The midnight tocsin, the firing down the streets, our escape from Paris, our walks under arms in Versailles, the nights passed in the guardhouse, all still appear a dream, a passage in some other life.
On my return from this adventure, I found awaiting me news of one of the greatest misfortunes which could have happened to me: the death of the friend of my whole life.* I own, dear friend, that this event has embittered the rest of my journey. I looked forward to my meeting with him as one of the great pleasures of my return. It is an additional grief to me that he expired without any of us, whom he always treated like his children, having been able to receive his last breath. The two people in the world who, after my parents, have loved me best, are now separated from me for ever. To see all the others pass away, it is only necessary to live. We pay this price for existence.
I hope that all your family are well. Edward tells me that his little girl already makes him very happy. I hope that you say the same. The more I see of the world, the more inclined am I to believe that domestic happiness is all that signifies. But will it ever be mine? To tell the truth, I doubt it. My reason says that it ought to be sufficient for the human heart, but my passions contradict the assertion. When I am leading an agitated, wandering life, the idea of the tranquillity of home is delightful. When I return to regular habits, the monotony is fatal to me; I am possessed by an internal restlessness. I must have bodily or mental excitement, even at the risk of my life. The desire for strong emotions becomes irresistible, and my mind preys upon itself if it is not satisfied. In short, there is no one whom I do not know better than myself. I cannot find the clue to my own character. My head is cool, and my reason may even be called calculating; yet I am possessed by violent passions, which carry me away without persuading me, and conquer my will, though my judgment remains unconvinced.
I stay only a month here. In November we shall go towards the Mississippi, which will carry us down to New Orleans. We shall then return to New York by Savannah, Charleston, and Washington. It will be a tremendous journey, more than 4,000 miles.
Perhaps you will be disappointed by my telling you so little about this country, but I really do not know what to say. I should be obliged to send you a volume, and I have not time for that.
St. Germain, April 22, 1832.
I greatly fear lest you should fancy me dead, dear friend. You would be quite wrong, at least as to the present instant; one cannot answer for anything beyond in these times.* This pestilence carries off in a few hours the strongest and healthiest. So we must not boast. . . . Enough of this sad subject. You tell me that Charles accuses me of having the spleen.* There is some truth in the remark. He may have observed that I suffer from ennui, melancholy, and a sort of moral dejection. I believe that these are the ingredients of which spleen is composed. Many causes, some accidental, and others more permanent, have combined in producing this unpleasant state of mind. Have you never felt, after a change that has even been an improvement, an intellectual restlessness, caused, I think, by the alteration in one’s habits? This is exactly what I experienced after my return home. I was delighted to get back, and yet I did not know what to do with my leisure after a whole year spent in almost feverish excitement. My mind was tired of quiet before my body had recovered from the fatigue. This impression has now nearly worn off, but I still have enough to make me serious. I am distressed at the condition in which I find my country. . . . Good-bye! Believe that I am your old and attached friend. One can build on no other foundation in this world but a loving heart.
Paris, January 12, 1833.
I was beginning to be angry, when I received your letter . . . . You speak of what you call your “political atheism,” and you ask me if I share it. On this we must understand each other. Are you disgusted with the parties themselves, or with the ideas which they profess? In the first case, you know that I have been always inclined to that opinion; but to the second I cannot in any way subscribe. There is now a growing indifference towards every idea that can disturb society, whether true or false, mean or ennobling. All seem agreed in considering the government of this country sicut res inter alios acta. All are becoming more and more devoted to their personal interests. Those only who desire power for themselves, and not the strength or glory of their country, can rejoice in such a spectacle. One must have but little penetration into the future to depend upon tranquillity so purchased. There is nothing healthy or manly in such repose. It is a kind of apoplectic torpor, which, if it lasted long, would infallibly lead to great disasters. No! I certainly do not laugh at political convictions; I do not consider them as indifferent in themselves, and as mere instruments in the hands of men. I laugh bitterly at the monstrous abuse that is every day made of them, as I laugh when I see virtue and religion turned to dishonest uses, without losing any of my respect for virtue and religion. I struggle with all my might against the false wisdom, the fatal indifference, which in our day saps the energy of so many great minds. I try not to have two worlds: a moral one, where I still delight in all that is good and noble, and the other political, where I may lie with my face to the ground, enjoying the full benefit of the dirt which covers it. I try not to imitate, after another fashion, the nobles of old times, who held that it was honourable to deceive a woman, but infamous to break one’s word to a man. I try not to separate what is inseparable. Here, dear friend, is a long tirade, and as I have no more paper, I am forced to finish my letter.
Paris, February 16, 1835.
My dear friend,—
I shall write only two lines this time. In the first place, because I am in a great hurry; and in the second, because I have no news for you. Hitherto the book is succeeding wonderfully. I am astonished at its popularity; for belonging to no party, I feared, if not a failure, at least a cold reception. I am welcomed everywhere, and receive advances that surprise me. M. Royer Collard, whom I did not know, asked to see me. I was with him last evening. He told me, with many compliments, that in his opinion my book was the most remarkable political work that had appeared for thirty years. I know that he has said the same thing to other people. So have M. de Chateaubriand and M. de Lamartine. At present, therefore, I am going on swimmingly; I am much astonished at my position, and quite confused by the praises sounding in my ears. There was a lady of Napoleon’s court whom he one day chose to make a duchess. In the evening she went to a party, and hearing herself announced by her new title, she forgot that it belonged to her, and made way for the great lady to pass. I assure you that I feel like her. I ask myself if they really are talking of me; and when I can doubt no longer, I conclude that the world must be full of very insignificant people, if the work of my brain (of which I know so well the deficiencies) can produce such a sensation.
Paris, Feb. 21, 1835.
To return to the principal subject of your letters. I may say, dear friend, that the impression produced on you by my book, though in one respect stronger than I intended, is not of a kind that alarms or surprises me. This is the political object of the work:
I wished to show what in our days a democratic people really was; and by a rigorously accurate picture, to produce a double effect on the men of my day. To those who have fancied an ideal democracy, a brilliant and easily realized dream, I endeavoured to show that they had clothed the picture in false colours; that the republican government which they extol, even though it may bestow substantial benefits on a people that can bear it, has none of the elevated features with which their imagination would endow it, and moreover, that such a government cannot be maintained without certain conditions of intelligence, of private morality, and of religious belief, that we, as a nation, have not reached, and that we must labour to attain before grasping their political results.
To those for whom the word democracy is synonymous with destruction, anarchy, spoliation, and murder, I have tried to show that under a democratic government the fortunes and the rights of society may be respected, liberty preserved, and religion honoured; that though a republic may develop less than other governments some of the noblest powers of the human mind, it yet has a nobility of its own; and that after all it may be God’s will to spread a moderate amount of happiness over all men, instead of heaping a large sum upon a few by allowing only a small minority to approach perfection. I attempted to prove to them that whatever their opinions might be, deliberation was no longer in their power; that society was tending every day more and more towards equality, and dragging them and every one else along with it; that the only choice lay between two inevitable evils; that the question had ceased to be whether they would have an aristocracy or a democracy, and now lay between a democracy without poetry or elevation indeed, but with order and morality; and an undisciplined and depraved democracy, subject to sudden frenzies, or to a yoke heavier than any that has galled mankind since the fall of the Roman Empire.
I wished to diminish the ardour of the republican party, and, without disheartening them, to point out their only wise course.
I have endeavoured to abate the claims of the aristocrats, and to make them bend to an irresistible future; so that the impulse in one quarter and resistance in the other being less violent, society may march on peaceably towards the fulfilment of its destiny. This is the dominant idea in the book—an idea which embraces all the others, and that you ought to have made out more clearly. Hitherto, however, few have discovered it. I please many persons of opposite opinions, not because they penetrate my meaning, but because, looking at only one side of my work, they think that they find in it arguments in favour of their own convictions. But I have faith in the future, and I hope that the day will come when all will see clearly what now only a few suspect. . . . .
The material success of the book continues. . . . . From what you say of your arrangements for the summer, my dear friend, I greatly fear that I shall not be able to visit you this year. Beaumont and I intend, in a month’s time, to go to England.
Paris, January 11, 1836.
I cannot allow you to learn from a formal announcement, my dear friend, the terrible blow which has just fallen upon us. My poor mother died on the evening before last. We had long seen the increasing probability of this event. I was not the less overwhelmed by it. There are some scenes for which one never can prepare one’s imagination; and this is one. The last two months of my poor mother’s life were very painful; but her last day was peaceful. After receiving the communion in the morning, she fell into a state of apparent insensibility, which lasted till half-past eight in the evening. She then seemed suddenly to awake from a deep sleep. She called us, Louis de Chateaubriand and ourselves, to her bedside. She blessed us in a distinct voice, and seemed to fall asleep once more. She had ceased to exist. Since then I have had complete experience of what I had often thought, that the only consolation in intense sorrow is in the heart of a loving wife. This is what I now feel, and the proof is present to me in my own home. Marie’s own grief is great, for my mother was always full of kindness towards her, and she understands and does everything to soften my distress, naturally and without an effort. I shall add no more; you will, I hope, forgive me.
Berne, July 24, 1836.
. . . . You must indeed be demented if you think that I dislike or despise your counsels. Thank heaven, I am not yet too old to consider good and sincere advice as one of the greatest blessings of friendship. If it had been possible, therefore, your letters would have increased my affection for you. As for the letter itself, I candidly own to you that I think it surpasses all that you have ever said, and that it gives additional proofs of what you might do if you would shake off the accursed misanthropical laziness which overpowers you. . . . .
I scarcely know how to answer you. If I am to be understood I must do so at length, and I have not time for a long letter; you must therefore take my answer only as a vague outline which requires much filling up.
You seem to me to have understood the general ideas on which my programme is founded. What has always most struck me in my country, and especially of late years, has been to see ranged on one side the men who value morality, religion, and order, and on the other those who love liberty and legal equality. To me this is as extraordinary as it is deplorable; for I am convinced that all the things which we thus separate are indissolubly united in the eyes of God. They are all sacred, if I may use the expression; man can be great and happy only when they are combined. From the time that I found this out I believed that one of the greatest achievements in our time would be to prove it, to show that all these advantages are not merely compatible but necessarily connected. Such is the outline of my idea. You can quite understand it, for you share it. Still there is a shade of difference between us. My love for liberty is more ardent and more sincere than yours. You like it if it can be got without any trouble, but you are ready to do without it. Such is the case with many excellent people in France. Such is not my feeling. I have always loved liberty instinctively, and the more I reflect, the more convinced am I that neither political nor moral greatness can long subsist without it. I therefore am as tenaciously attached to liberty as to morality, and I am ready to sacrifice some of my tranquillity to obtain it.
With this slight difference, we agree as to the object. But you say that we differ prodigiously as to the means; and in truth, I believe that on this point you do not perfectly understand me.
You think that I intend to put forward radical and even revolutionary theories. In this you are mistaken. I have shown, and shall continue to show a strong and deliberate preference for liberty, for two reasons; first, because it is my fixed opinion; and, secondly, because I do not choose to be confounded with those friends of order who are indifferent to freedom and justice, provided that they can sleep quietly in their beds. There are quite enough of such people, and I venture to predict that they will never effect anything great and lasting; I shall therefore avow my attachment to liberty, and my desire to see it carried into every political institution in my country; but at the same time, I hope to show so much respect for justice, such sincere love of order and law, such a deliberate attachment to morality and religion, that I cannot but believe that I shall be discovered to be a liberal of a new kind; not to be confounded with our ordinary modern democrats. This is the whole of my plan. My account of it is incoherent, but I have kept back nothing. It is impossible for me to tell you beforehand how I shall attempt to illustrate these ideas. God alone knows if I ever shall be able to acquire any influence over my contemporaries, and perhaps it is presumption on my part to attempt it. But if ever I obtain any, it will be gradually and prudently, allowing my ideas to be inferred from my conduct, and to unfold themselves by degrees, instead of being thrown in a heap at the head of the public. If I have hitherto shown any qualities, I think that tact and prudence have been among them. I hope to continue to show them, but you must always bear in mind my starting point.
My object, as I said in the beginning of my letter, is to combine the great principles that are now separate. For that purpose I must begin by proving, as is most true, that I am as passionately attached to one set of principles as to the other. You would have found this out long ago if you had been a demagogue. You would have heard me plead far more ardently the cause of religion and morality than that of liberty. But you are one of the excellent men whom I esteem highly, and cannot reason with calmly; for though they might direct the fate of their country, they will not stretch out their hands to help her. If these excellent men would love liberty as much as they love virtue, each principle would assist the other, and we should be saved.
This is a hasty sketch of what I had to say. Far from regarding such letters as your last with displeasure, I shall always consider them as the most precious results of our friendship, and you cannot make it closer than by often writing to me similar ones.
Tell me, if you please, that my undertaking is rash and above my powers; that it is a dream or a chimera; well and good. But leave me, at least, the belief that it is a great and noble attempt, and that it is worthy of the sacrifice of time, fortune, and even of life; that failure in it is better than success in any other cause. To persuade men that respect for law, both human and Divine, is the best way to be free, and that to grant freedom is the best way to ensure morality and religion—such is my object. You will tell me that this is impossible; I am inclined to the same opinion; but it is the truth, and I will speak it at all risks. . . . I shall reach Geneva on the 15th of August. . . . .
Tocqueville, Oct. 5, 1836.
I found at Geneva your letter of the 18th of August; your arguments do not touch me, because I entirely share your opinion. We evidently are fighting in the dark. I expressed myself to you with a warmth that you took for a sign of a mind violently impelled to put its own ideas into action: this is not the case. You represent, with great reason, that revolutions are great evils, and give no good education to a people; that prolonged disturbance is, in itself, pernicious, and that respect for law can grow only out of the stability of the laws. . . . . All these things I firmly believe. I do not think that there is in France a man less favourable to revolution than I am, nor one that has a more intense hatred for what is called the revolutionary spirit, which spirit, by-the-bye, is easily combined with the love of absolute government.
What am I then? and what is it that I want?
That we may understand each other better, let us distinguish the end from the means. What is the end? What I want is not a republic, but an hereditary monarchy. I would rather even that it were legitimate than elected as ours is, because it would be stronger, especially externally. What I want is a central government, energetic in its own sphere—an energetic central power is much more necessary in a democratic nation, where social influences are scattered, than in an aristocracy. Besides, our position in Europe makes what we ought to choose, if our choice were free, a necessity. But I desire that the sphere of this central power be clearly defined: that it may interfere only with what comes within its own jurisdiction, and that its principles may be always subordinate to public opinion as represented in the legislative bodies. I believe that the central power may be invested with high prerogatives, and exercise great authority in its sphere; and at the same time, that ample room may be allowed to municipal liberties. I think that under such a government as this, the majority of the nation may share in the management of its affairs; that political life may animate almost the whole country; and that the direct or indirect exercise of political rights may be widely extended. I wish the general principles of the government to be liberal, that the largest possible margin should be left to individual action. I believe that all these things are compatible; I will even say that I am perfectly convinced that we shall never enjoy order and tranquillity till we shall have succeeded in combining them.
If this be admitted to be the end, I do not quarrel about the means. I should be among the first to admit that we must advance slowly, carefully, and legally. My impression is that the institutions which we now have give sufficient room for the result that I contemplate. Far from wishing to violate the laws, I respect them superstitiously. But I wish our laws to incline by slow degrees towards the ends that I have just mentioned, instead of making impotent and dangerous efforts to turn back. I wish the government itself to prepare the country for doing without it in many cases in which its intervention is still necessary, or thought necessary. I wish the people to be introduced into public life as soon as they appear capable of being of use, instead of banishing them from it at all hazards. Finally, I wish to proceed towards some definite end, and to choose the right path, instead of wandering about as we have been doing for the last twenty years. What else have I to say to you, dear friend? One might preach for a whole day upon this text without exhausting it. By this time you must understand my meaning without my attempting to dilute it, or to explain it by a thousand examples. . . . . To sum up, I have a clear conception of a government, neither revolutionary nor subversive, which I think might be established in our country. But I am as well aware as anyone that such a government (which however would be only an extension of what we now have) could not be maintained without the aid of opinions, usages and laws which we do not yet possess, and which must be introduced slowly, and with great precaution.
Valognes, March 7, 1839.
I was elected last Monday, dear friend—by a majority of eighty. Afterwards almost the whole population pressed round me, and accompanied me home with a complete uproar of acclamations. All this was very exciting, as you may think, and I thanked these good people from the window in a little speech, of which I send you the report. This is a great success, and, I may add, an honourable success; for I do not owe it to intrigue. I did not pay one visit; I have not promised one place. I confined myself to making an earnest appeal to the purest and most honourable feelings in the human breast, and I have succeeded. This proves that the race is not yet as depraved as it seems to be. However, I cannot conceal from myself that the hardest part is yet to come. The esteem in which I am held, the opinion entertained of me, impose on me obligations so formidable, that the thought of them already overpowers me. I greatly fear being unequal to my task. But if I am distinguished in no other way, I hope at least to be remarkable for honesty and political integrity. This will be easier for me than to be a great statesman, and it has its value. I have decided upon spending at any rate the whole of next session in the study of affairs and of men, within the Chamber, as well as without. I feel the necessity of an apprenticeship, and I shall have strength of mind to submit to one.
Your last letter somewhat distressed me, dear friend. I fear lest I should have pained you unnecessarily by reproving too severely your depression. You have, indeed, great causes for grief; and fortune, I own, has not as yet given you reason to trust her. You say truly that my position does not qualify me for speaking to you in this way. Almost all that I have attempted has, as you say, succeeded for the last ten years. This ought to make me more tolerant towards you. But do not think that I am intoxicated by my success. It surprises me perhaps as much as it astonishes you; and far from relying on the future, I tremble when I think of it. I remember where I was after the revolution of 1830, and all that has since happened to me strikes me with astonishment. I should be mad, if I expected things always to go on in this manner. I am now entering a new stage, without knowing if I am fit to play my part on it, and obliged to try my powers in a way that perhaps neither my mind nor my body will be able to endure; for, it must be acknowledged, I have no longer at my disposal the iron constitution which you remember, and which lent itself so kindly to the strong emotions and extreme activity of my mind. Excitement, beyond a certain point, fatigues me, and I now and then feel that I require rest. I cannot help thinking that Providence, who has already bestowed on me so many keenly felt and elevated enjoyments, does not intend my life to be long. I am not strong enough to bear incessant work, yet inactivity kills me. But one must not think of such things. I own to you that of all the blessings which God has given to me, the greatest of all in my eyes is to have lighted on Marie. You cannot imagine what she is in great trials. Usually so gentle, she then becomes strong and energetic. She watches over me without my knowing it. She softens, calms, and strengthens me in difficulties which disturb me, but leave her serene.
Tocqueville, July 14, 1840.
You are quite right, dear friend, to complain of my silence; not that it has been voluntary, or that I had forgotten you, but because in truth there is a meanness in not writing to one’s best friend, in order to give oneself up more completely to the political world, where in spite of all one’s efforts, one meets only with cold hearts, capable of no enthusiasm, except for themselves. I have long been reproaching myself for not writing to you. But I must impress upon you that I have never been less indifferent to you. Public life seems to affect me in another way from most men. It makes me cling the more to old feelings, and to the friends whom I have left behind. Your friendship, and that of Louis, have never seemed to me to be such real blessings as now.
It is not that I have reason to complain of political men. I receive as much respect in the Chamber, and enjoy as much influence as were to be gained in my short experience. But the side of human nature disclosed by politics is, indeed, miserable. Without a single exception, one may say that perfect purity and disinterestedness are unknown, that there is no real generosity or natural impulse. Even the youngest are no longer young. In moments of the highest excitement there is an undercurrent of cold selfishness and premeditation. Such a spectacle cannot fail to drive one back upon oneself; one seeks elsewhere for a purer mental atmosphere. I have entered public life, I like its excitement, and the great interests involved in it stimulate my mind; but there are many things absolutely wanting in it, without which I cannot live. And I can find them only in my wife and in two or three friends, who have remained much as we all were ten years ago. This is the explanation of what I before said on the increasing value that I set upon your friendship in the midst, and even in consequence, of the affairs that prevent my writing to you . . . .
I wrote from Tocqueville, which I reached only four days ago. I was kept in Paris by a report on prisons, which I will send to you. I cannot tell you how I enjoy the quiet of the country. You know that quiet is not in my line, nor do I take pleasure in rest. But rest and quiet occurring from time to time, and at long intervals, amid the turmoil of passions and politics, exercise a great charm even over my restless and anxious disposition. For a long while, I besought Heaven to give me too much to do. My prayers have been so well heard, that during the last few years I have often longed for time to take breath. Perhaps this may be the beginning of old age; for I cannot conceal from myself the fact, that for me youth is over, entirely over. I feel this much more mentally than physically. . . .
Do you think that the obstacles which prevented your coming this year will again stand in your way next year? The calm and even tenour of the life we lead here makes us still more anxious that you should share our retreat for a few months. . . .
P.S.—This day fifty-one years, the French revolution commenced; and after the destruction of so many men and institutions we may say that it is still going on. Is not this encouraging to the nations that are only just beginning theirs? . . . .
Tocqueville, Nov. 30, 1841.
Before I quit this place, dear friend, I must have a little talk with you. I hoped to have been able to remain at Tocqueville till the end of December, perhaps even till the beginning of January; for it would have been soon enough if I had arrived in time for the discussion of the Address. One of the many incidents that disturb my life and that prevent my ever settling anything definitely, forces me, against my will, to hasten my return. The friends who voted for me on the last vacancy in the Academy of France, think of proposing me again this time. I have, during the last fortnight, received letters upon letters, urging me to come and show myself. I cannot, without disobliging them, refuse any longer.
However, as I said before, this unexpected return costs me much. In the first place, I have not a very exalted idea of my chance in the Academy. Secondly, Tocqueville, even in this season, is so delightful to me that every day taken away from it seems to me a great and irreparable loss. Yet I must make up my mind to it. I start to-morrow. My stay at Tocqueville this year has been of great use. It has proved to me that I can be happy in the most retired life; that solitude, shared only by Marie, is, on the whole, not only the most agreeable, but the most useful mode in which I can pass my time. I repeat, that this experience is for me an important discovery. It makes me quite easy as to the future. I cannot hide from myself that, if I do not entirely regain my health, I shall sooner or later be obliged to give up politics, or at least to make them only a slight accessory to my existence. Bodily strength is as requisite in the Chamber as in battle; and at present I have none.
But even admitting, and I will not yet despair, that I may continue to make politics the business of my life, it still is a rare and inestimable comfort to feel that if it should be right or prudent for me to retire, either for a time or permanently, into private life, I should not be unhappy, and that if needful, I should return to it with pleasure. The power to quit without repining the political arena is, perhaps, the most essential qualification for acting independently and nobly. Almost all the meanness that we see in public men is caused either by the want of fortune, which makes them fear ruin if they should lose their places; or, by such a concentration of all their passions in the pursuit of power, that they cannot contemplate quitting it without a horror which misleads their judgment, and makes them sacrifice the future to the present, and honour to place.
Paris, January 1, 1842.
Thank you, dear friend, for your last letter. I knew very well that you would be pleased at my election into the Academy, for I have as much confidence in your friendship as I hope that you have in mine. I had alarmed you too much as to the result of the contest. You know that I am not given to false hopes. I am more inclined to look on the dark than on the bright side of the future. When I wrote to you, too, my success was very doubtful. The King was acting openly in favour of M. Vatout, and it was difficult to say how much he might influence the event. Happily for me, public opinion, which in our day is more powerful than kings, was on my side. There was a large majority, as you saw. It would have been still larger if a succession of accidents had not occasioned the absence of four of my best friends from the Academy on the day of the battle.
I am delighted, and as you say, I have many reasons for so being, besides the Academy. It would be an injustice to Providence to deny it. Many external circumstances of happiness have been granted to me. But more than all, I have to thank Heaven for having bestowed on me true domestic happiness, the first of human blessings. I never appreciated it so highly as I now do. As I grow older, this portion of life, which in my youth I used to look down upon, every day becomes more important in my eyes, and would now easily console me for the loss of all the rest.
I hope, however, dear friend, to escape the danger that you mention, and which threatens all the happy in this world. If I am better off than others in many respects, I am worse off in the first requisite of all, and that is health. My health is the weight that drags me down. It is often very heavy. This year I have taken certain invalid precautions, which hitherto have answered. I never go out in the evening, and never dine out. By this means I am sure to be careful in my diet, and to sleep at night. It is, however, sad at my age to be forced to live like an old man: I do not say this to complain, but to show you that there are two sides to every picture. Another thorn in my flesh, is the state of politics: they affect me more than most people, for it is my duty to mix in them, and it is an ungrateful task, I assure you. There is no good to be done at present, nor probably in future.
Baugy, Jan. 3, 1843.
The letter which you sent to Tocqueville, dear friend, has been forwarded to me here, where I have been staying for the last month, but to-morrow I return to Paris. . . .
A misanthropy, which I think exaggerated, breathes in your whole letter. I am no longer a child. I have seen many countries, studied many men, mingled in many public transactions, and the result of my experience is very different from yours. You make human nature worse than it is. The truth lies between the dreams of your early youth and the dark impressions of your maturity. Men in general are neither very good nor very bad; they are indifferent. According to the view one takes, they exhibit both qualities. I never was thrown into close contact with the best, without discovering some weaknesses, and even vices, which at the first glance I had not seen. In the worst, I have always found some points on which they were accessible to good impressions. In every man there are two men, as Solomon truly said 3,000 years ago; if it be childish to see only the one, it is miserably unjust to fix one’s eyes only on the other. This last, however, it seems to me that you do, and you are wrong. If to console you for having been born, you must meet with men whose most secret motives are always actuated by fine and elevated feelings, you need not wait, you may go and drown yourself immediately. But if you would be satisfied with a few men, whose actions are in general governed by those motives, and a large majority, who from time to time are influenced by them, you need not make such faces at the human race. Man with his vices, his weaknesses, and his virtues, strange combination though he be of good and evil, of grandeur and of baseness, is still, on the whole, the object most worthy of study, interest, pity, attachment, and admiration in the world; and since we have no angels, we cannot attach ourselves, or devote ourselves to anything greater or nobler than our fellow-creatures. These are the feelings that I wish to be yours in the year 1843. . .
Tocqueville, Oct. 1843.
I have been here a month already, my dear friend, and that month has passed like a single day. I should like to know if the delight which I take in solitude and in the freedom of the country is natural, or arises from the fatigue of living in Paris for seven or eight months. Is it the place itself that makes me happy, or its contrast with another? Unfortunately, I fear that the latter hypothesis is nearer to the truth. In any case, I think that the life which I lead here would be agreeable to me; but it is delightful, because it follows the incessant and prolonged turmoil of Paris. I am much afraid that if I were compelled to give up the excitement which is often so trying to me, to bury myself for ever in the retirement which I value so highly, it would end by becoming insipid. Is the fever of public life, then, essential to my temperament? I am inclined to think so; and yet I often suffer cruelly from it. What a miserable condition is that of man: plunged in such deep ignorance, that he knows no more of himself than of the most distant objects, and cannot see more clearly into his own heart than into the bowels of the earth!
Without wearying myself by trying to solve this riddle, I endeavour to enjoy, as much as possible, the present. I wish I could show you Tocqueville now. It is nearly finished. Your gate, the one whose removal to the top of the avenue you superintended, is already being covered with moss and ivy. The dirty courtyard has been converted into a beautiful green lawn. All along the walls that we want to hide, trees are growing, which as yet, it must be owned, are far from covering them. Why are you not here with Madame Stoffels, to see all these changes, and to listen indulgently to the admiration of the owners? In spite of the lapse of time, we still think and say that the most agreeable month that we have ever spent here, and the most in accordance with our own tastes, was when you both were here. We cannot persuade ourselves that it is never to return, and our greatest wish is that you may be able to arrange to pay us another visit soon, not alone, this time, but with your children; at least with several of them. You know that this is not a form of speech, but our most sincere desire.
Tocqueville, April 3, 1844.
I have been carrying about your last letter, dear friend, for a month, in my pocket, hoping to find time to answer it, and to have it at hand whenever I wanted to read it over again. The opportunity is always escaping me. I have just looked at the date, and am horrified by it. It is in last November, so that it came more than four months ago, and yet it seems as if I had only just received it. With what ill-omened rapidity life is beginning to pass! If I am not mistaken, this is a proof that youth has fled for ever, and that the impressions produced on the mind are becoming fainter; for life is measured by the number of impressions that remain graven on the memory. When many are retained, time seems to pass slowly; when they begin to escape us, time appears to fly; every recollection of past emotion is a sort of landmark, like the objects which measure the road to the traveller. It is unfortunate for me that while I lose the impression of past feelings, I do not become more calm, or at least, much more calm. I have still too much of the almost morbid irritability which makes me impatient of the obstacles which stand in the way of every man; and yet I ought to accustom myself to them, for the career which I have embraced is full of them. Political life is an arena where not a day passes without one’s being forced to rouse oneself to fight, and the victory gained is always far below one’s anticipations.
One passage in your letter distressed me. You put off indefinitely revisiting Normandy, and you talk of five or six years!! Our ideas and habits may have become so different in such a length of time, that we shall scarcely recognise one another. In such a long separation, the ties of intimacy become looser and looser, and we should both have to begin again. If you should be really obliged to put off our meeting for five or six years, I shall consider it as a serious calamity. For ourselves, we seem to have no prospect of a long tour which would enable us to take Metz in our way. Last year I was nominated to the Conseil général, which obliges me to spend next August in Normandy. I am very sorry for this; not only because I lose the episode of our visit to you, but because I lose the tour itself. I think that my taste for travelling grows by privation. I long to extend the horizon, to see new countries, new people, and new customs. But there is another obstacle which prevents me, and that is money. It often limits my wishes, which, however, are moderate enough. It annoys me when I think of it, but I seldom do; and the slight inconvenience which I experience in this respect, does not prevent my thanking God daily, and with all my heart, for having permitted me to pay this price for my admirable wife. I certainly cannot accuse Heaven of having ill-treated me; but beyond every other blessing, I feel increasing gratitude to Providence for having placed Marie in my path. I would willingly relinquish every other gift in order to preserve this. Good-bye, dear friend; my heart becomes always tender and expansive when I get upon this subject. It is the source of all the sweet and restorative influences of domestic life. All the rest is a barren desert, where one is forced to struggle from morning till night in the sun and dust. Adieu.
Paris, November 14, 1844.
Your letters, my dear friend, notwithstanding my pleasure in hearing from you, always cause me some slight annoyance. You always treat me as if my head were so turned by politics as to make me almost forget my friends. I have often told you that you were mistaken. Politics often sever two friends when they are both engaged in the same sphere, because differences of opinion and interests may bring collision. I own that there are few friendships which entirely survive this trial; but this is not your case, and the remembrance of you is all the more valuable and refreshing in the heart-sickness caused by public life. Before I entered it, I set a high value upon my old and true friends; since that time they have risen a hundred per cent. in my estimation. If I were to lose them I feel that I should form no similar attachments. The time when such ties are contracted is now for ever past for me. Outside the small circle of my affections, I look on men only as neutrals or as enemies; as supporters or as adversaries; as people to be esteemed or despised, but not as friends; and if those whom I still possess die before me, I shall die alone; at least my heart will be solitary. You must feel, that with this disposition, I am not tempted to forget my best and earliest friends; and are you not at the head of them? I never shall forget you nor become indifferent to your fate, nor to that of your children. But our intellectual sympathy may be diminished if years should pass without our meeting. . . . . You constantly speak of the impossibility of coming to see me at Tocqueville; I cannot believe in it . . . . A week or ten days at Tocqueville, if you cannot spare more, would be enough to knit our minds together again, and to enable us to live apart for two years without misunderstanding each other. . . .
Paris, July 21, 1848.
I need not tell you, my dear friend, that I have been wishing to write to you sooner, but the events which have taken place since your letter came, have made a sufficient noise to serve as an excuse for me.
You ask me to write about politics. I would willingly do so if I had more time, but I have little, and must confine myself to a general summary.
Ever since February, I never doubted that a great battle was impending in Paris. I said it, repeated it, and wrote it a hundred times. The four days of June, therefore, only surprised me by their colossal proportions. Our victory restored some of the ground that social order had lost. For the first time for four months a regular government is possible; and though I am convinced that both those who hold the reins of government, and the Assembly itself, will be unequal to the difficulties of the position, and will not do all that they might towards the speedy and permanent accomplishment of this object, I think that it will be attained in spite of them by the irresistible impulse which the late events have given to the spirit of order; but great dangers are to be feared in the immediate present, and still more in the future.
The first will be caused by the state of our finances. If we continue to vote supplies, and the receipts continue to diminish, it will be impossible for us to escape a financial crisis, of which the consequences cannot be foretold. . . . This is the immediate danger. It is great and alarming. I am inclined, however, to think that it will not destroy us. I should not be surprised if, after these trials, the Republican Government were to become settled, and to go on for some time with regularity. But I have no confidence in the future. I feel a deep dejection, arising less from immediate apprehensions (though they are considerable), than from the absence of hope. I scarcely dare hope to see a regular government strong, and, at the same time, liberal, established in our country. This ideal was, as you know, the dream of my youth, and likewise of the portion of my mature age that has already passed. Is it possible still to believe in its realization? For a long time I thought (but long before last February this belief had been much shaken) that we had been making our way over a stormy sea, on which we still were tossing, but that the port was at hand. Was I not wrong? Are we not on a rolling sea that has no shore? or is not the land so distant, so unknown, that our lives, and perhaps those of our children, may pass away before it is reached, or at least before any settlement is made upon it? I do not expect a series of revolutions. I believe in tolerably long intervals of order, tranquillity, and prosperity; but how can one continue to hope for a good system of government firmly settled? In 1789, in 1815, even in 1830, France might still be supposed to be suffering under a sharp illness, after which the health of society would be restored to more than its former vigour and permanence. But do we not now see that the complaint is chronic, that the evil is more deeply seated; that though intermittent, it will continue longer than we ever expected; that it is not only a single form of government which seems to be impracticable, but any sort of settled government; and that we are fated to oscillate between despotism and liberty, and to bear neither for a continuance?
I am indeed alarmed at the state of the public mind. It is far from betokening the close of a revolution. At the time it was said, and to this day is perpetually repeated, that the insurgents of June were the dregs of the populace; that they were all outcasts of the lowest description, whose only motive was lust of plunder. Such, of course, were many of them; but it is not true that they were all of this kind. Would to God that they had been! Such wretches are always a small minority, they never prevail; they are imprisoned or executed, and all is over. In the insurrection of June, besides bad passions, there were, what are far more dangerous, false opinions. Many of the men who attempted to overthrow the most sacred rights were carried away by an erroneous notion of right. They sincerely believed that society was built upon injustice, and they wished to give it another foundation. Our bayonets and our cannon will never destroy this revolutionary fanaticism. It will create for us dangers and embarrassments without end.
Finally, I begin to ask myself whether anything solid and durable can be built on the shifting basis of our society? whether it will support even a despotism, which many people, tired of storms, would, for want of a better, hail as a haven? We did not see this great revolution in human society begin; we shall not see it end. If I had children, I should be always repeating this to them, and I should tell them that in this age, and in this country, one ought to be fit for everything, and prepared for everything, for no one can count on the future. And I should add, that in France especially, men should rely on nothing that can be taken away; but try to acquire those things which one can never lose till one ceases to exist; fortitude, energy, knowledge, and prudence. Adieu! dear friend; believe that my gloomy views of the future are in part due to the melancholy produced by what is passing around me, and trust always in my warm regard.
Paris, April 28, 1850.
. . . . My strength has almost entirely returned, and except politics, which I have set aside for the present, I have almost resumed my ordinary life. But this illness is an unpleasant recollection. It came for no apparent cause; it may come again without my being able to guard against it. Happily, the doctors assure me that the lung is sound. The mischief, therefore, done already, is not much; but is it entirely got rid of? . . .
You wish for political prognostications; who can venture to make any? The future is as black as night; the most far-sighted admit that they cannot look forward. As for me, I see a tolerably clear outline of what seems to be the future destiny of this country; but the details escape me, and the next turn that affairs will take is as much hidden from me as from one who has never been engaged in them. All I can say is, that I am more uneasy than I have been for a long time. What I see clearly is, that for sixty years we have been deceiving ourselves by imagining that we saw the end of the Revolution. It was supposed to be finished on the 18th Brumaire, and again in 1814; I myself thought, in 1830, that it might be over when I saw that democracy, having in its march passed over and destroyed every other privilege, had stopped before the ancient and necessary privilege of property. I thought that, like the ocean, it had at last found its shore.
I was wrong. It is now evident that the tide is rising, and that the sea is still enlarging its bed; that not only we have not seen the end of the stupendous revolution which began before our day, but that the infant just born will scarcely see it. Society is not in process of modification, but of transformation. Into what form? I have not the least idea, and I think that no one has. One feels that the old world is passing away; but what will be the new? The master spirits of the age can no more foresee it than the ancients could the abolition of slavery, the establishment of Christianity, the invasion of the barbarians, or any other of the great events which have changed the condition of the world. They knew that the institutions of their own day were crumbling, and that was all that they knew. . . .
To return to something nearer and more distinct, I do not think, as many do, that the present framework of society in France is in immediate peril. It yet contains far too much vital power to collapse; and I therefore disbelieve in the speedy and total overthrow with which we are threatened. . . .
Sorrento, December 30, 1850.
I am writing to you, dear friend, from a little town on the shores of the Bay of Naples, facing that city and Mount Vesuvius. Our original destination was Palermo. . . . We have been forced to seek another wintering place. We found it here, and here we have been for the last three weeks, congratulating ourselves every day on having thought of coming. It would be impossible to find a more enchanting country, or, hitherto, a more delightful climate. We have taken a furnished house on the outskirts of Sorrento. We stand in the midst of olives and orange trees, on a hill fronting Naples and the sea. It is true that we have no society; but I require it much less than I used. I have brought plenty of books, and I expect one of my dearest friends, Ampère, to spend the rest of the time with us. We intend to remain here till the middle of March, when we shall travel quietly home. As yet the climate and mode of life have agreed admirably with my health, and I hope to take back to Paris sufficient strength to enter actively into public affairs. My wife, too, has been very well since our arrival, and we are both experiencing the pleasure mingled with anxiety, perhaps all the greater on account of the admixture, that one feels in a safe and comfortable refuge in the midst of a storm, or rather between two storms.
You know that a mind as active as mine, and to which complete rest is as fatal now as it was in our youth, could not endure this life, in spite of its tranquil enjoyments, without some useful occupation. I am therefore not idle. My time is filled up with several interesting studies. I have long wished to begin writing again. For the last ten years politics have prevented my realizing this wish. But at the same time they have given to me a knowledge of men and of business which will enable me, when I have leisure, to write more easily and better. I profit by the short respite which I am now enjoying, not to write another book, but to choose a subject and to prepare materials. I do not know if I shall ever turn my present labours to account, but at least they amuse me.
In this retirement the remembrance of public affairs and public men gradually grows fainter, while my true friends become more dear. It is not astonishing, therefore, that we have often thought and talked of you in our hermitage. We long for news of you all, father, mother, and children, and the sooner the better.
Good-bye, dear friend. Here is the end of the year 1850. Remember that you have 1,500 miles off two friends who heartily wish that the coming year will bring all sorts of blessings to yourself and to your family. A thousand kind remembrances to Madame Stoffels, and a kiss for each child.
Versailles, July 23, 1851.
. . . . At length, dear friend, our great parliamentary battle is over. The result is what was to have been expected. As for me, I still think that the revision would have been, as I said, the least dangerous measure. But it has now become nearly impossible, and we are almost irresistibly impelled towards a reaction which will not be constitutional. . . . .
Many members of the political world drew, like you, from my report* an impression that I was opposed to the revision. This is caused, I think, by the fact that to complete my argument I must have said some things that I could not mention in my official position, and which I left the reader to infer. I am much annoyed by this meaning being attached by yourself and by others to my report, for I may be supposed to have been insincere, and to have pleaded for the purpose of losing my cause. This is false, and would be very injurious to me. On the contrary, I was perfectly convinced of the necessity of a revision, and I have become more so than ever during the last few days, when I have been calmly reconsidering my previous reasons. . . . .
My wife received a delightful letter from yours a few days ago. She intends to answer it soon. A postscript was added by your daughter, written in a style as natural and graceful as herself. She really is a charming girl. . . . .
TWO LETTERS TO ALEXIS* STOFFELS.
Tocqueville, January 4, 1856.
Thank you for your letter, my dear friend. It gave us great pleasure. We are touched by the affection which it proves, and to which ours, as you know, corresponds. We shall be delighted to see you again, and our house will always be open to you. You will be ever welcome. You know all this, so I need not dwell on it. I will only add that in spite of all that you have been told, we shall have opportunities of meeting, during four or five months, for we shall be in Paris towards the end of this month or the beginning of next at farthest, and as usual stay there till June.
Now, let us talk a little about yourself. You are plunged into all the horrors of Roman law. You find the subject difficult, perhaps even distasteful. I am not surprised, for it had the same effect upon me. But it is impossible to be a great lawyer without having studied it seriously. Roman law has played a most important part in almost all modern nations. It has done them much good, and in my opinion, still more harm. It has improved their civil laws, and spoilt their political laws; for Roman law has two sides.
The one concerns the relations between individuals, and in this respect it is one of the most admirable products of civilization; the other part has to do with the relations between subjects and sovereign; and then it is full of the spirit of the age when the last additions were made to its compilation—the spirit of slavery. Aided by Roman law and by its interpreters, the kings of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries succeeded in founding absolute monarchy on the ruins of the free institutions of the middle ages. The English alone refused to adopt it, and they alone have preserved their independence. Your professors will not tell you this. But it is the most important part. Still, the present is not the time for considering it, for your examination will not relate to it.
You tell me, without adding any explanation, that you are advised not to go far into the law. This surprises me. You would then have to renounce the degree of doctor, which seems to be now, the natural, and even indispensable complement to a magisterial or legal education. I wish that you had been more explicit on a point of so much importance, and that you would let me know the reasons which incline you to be satisfied with the degree of licentiate. Perhaps they are sufficient; I shall be sorry if this is the case. In all things one should aim boldly at perfection. However one tries, one never gets near enough to it. I wish, dear Alexis, that you had a stronger will. I have often told you so. One never succeeds, especially in youth, without a spark of the devil. At your age, I would have tried to jump over the towers of Notre Dame if I had expected to find what I wanted on the other side. You have distinguished and amiable qualities, but you have not enough enthusiasm; this is the only reproach which my friendship allows me to make to you; I hope that you will forgive it, as a proof of my affection. . . .
We have passed our time here tranquilly and agreeably. The duties of the proprietor have rather interfered with the labours of the writer. I hope, however, to return to Paris with a volume ready for publication. Shall I publish it? I am not yet certain. My subject is the French Revolution, considered from a point of view which, if I am not mistaken, is original. The book is written in a spirit now almost unknown to my contemporaries. I have remained an old superannuated lover of liberty in an age when almost every one wishes for a ruler. This want of sympathy between myself and the public alarms me, for past experience shows that the books whose appearance produces a sensation, are those in which the author swims with the current of public opinion, not those in which he attempts to stem it.
Adieu! dear friend; be brave. Do not go to sleep over “Usucaption,”* and think of us sometimes.
Tocqueville, December 12, 1856.
I take advantage, my dear friend, of a moment’s leisure to write a few words to you.
. . . Really you have no reason to complain. I own that the career embraced by you is not very delightful at starting; but you enter it under favourable auspices, with a respected name, a good character, and friends that reflect honour upon you. How many have had to row against wind and tide, instead of, like you, being favoured by both! I have so often discoursed to you in this fashion that I will say no more to-day. Allow me only to repeat, that one may spend one’s life without success, or anything but disgust, in the languid, imperfect pursuit of a profession, but that every profession to which one gives oneself up produces success and pleasure. However toilsome the first efforts may appear, one becomes attached to every employment, if steadily persisted in. . . . But enough of sermons for to-day.
I like better telling you that your last letter pleased us much; it is frank and natural. You should always treat me thus. Tell me all that happens to you, all that comes into your head, just as if I were not thirty years older than you are. You know that I like young people, provided that, though they have some of the faults incidental to their age, they be not without the corresponding virtues. It is not only the barrister or the future magistrate that interests me in you, but the man; and nothing that excites or occupies your mind is indifferent to me. So you are fully warned: if your correspondence is to be pleasant to me and useful to yourself, it must be a true picture of all that happens to you, within and without.
I am very glad that you were not tired of Tocqueville; I need not tell you how pleased we were with your visit. You saw that yourself. Both husband and wife were of one mind on that point. . . .
P.S.—Your essay appeared to me to be good. I do not mean as to the matter; I can no longer judge of that; but as to the style, which is easy and agreeable, like the author. It remains for him to prove that he has energy. This world belongs to the energetic.
[After the two correspondences with Count Louis de Kergorlay and Eugène Stoffels, his earliest friends, the letters of M. de Tocqueville are arranged by M. de Beaumont chronologically.—Tr.]
TO THE BARON* AND BARONESS DE TOCQUEVILLE.
Paris, August 8, 1829.
I intend to write to both of my dear friends at once to-day; I have not time for two letters, because we are in the middle of the assizes; and yet I wish to have a little talk with both. The difficulty is to know which to address first, for there are things which would not interest you equally. My heart puts neither first or last, so I will begin with the lady of the house; but she must be aware that it is out of pure politeness.
I will tell you, then, dear sister, that if my letter touched your heart, yours found its way straight to mine. I said so to your husband a few days ago. I cannot describe to you the impression that this proof of your friendship produced on me. One has constantly to thank people for their kind expressions, and one’s thanks are often warmer than the feeling that inspires them; one returns bad money for good, and with. a good conscience, for no one is deceived. Well, I wish you on the contrary to take mine for what it represents, and at its real value; but I know not how to manage this. I should like to tell you exactly what I felt, neither more nor less. I repeat, then, simply, and from the bottom of my heart, that your letter touched me; moreover, that I believed in it without any restriction, because my own feelings reflected all that you expressed so well. I solemnly assure you that your friendship towards myself, and the happiness which you bestow, and I hope always will bestow upon Edward, are the two things most likely to contribute to mine, and to make me look forward with pleasure to the future.
It is not only I who have to thank you for your letter, there is a chorus on this point. Whenever a letter from Switzerland reaches Paris, the whole clan is summoned; the assembly is not very numerous, but it is unanimous. We do not read all at once, but little by little. We follow you upon the map. We make comments on your movements; we share in your enjoyment of the splendid scenery that you describe. The account of the fatigue which you undergo almost terrifies us; happily our fears are imaginary. At last when we have finished reading, we allow ourselves to talk. Then come the remarks. If it were only true that the ears tingle when one is well spoken of, what a singing you would have in them! We end by saying that your letters are a perfect picture of yourself, and to this we can add nothing. Sometimes we venture to remark that your style is excellent, and perfectly natural. But I ought not to tell you this, and we are angry with ourselves when it strikes us. Neither the reader nor the writer ought ever to pay attention to such things.
. . . . But it is time for me to turn to your husband. You no doubt are already aware of the strange events that are happening here. The ministers have resigned in a body. A new ministry, composed of M.M. de Polignac, La Bourdonnaye, Montbel, and others, has taken the helm. How will they manage to stand? God only knows. Or rather He knows already what we only suspect, that they will not stand. It seems that they intend, at first, to retain the present Chamber; but it is highly improbable that it will go with them. If they summon another, all the chances will be against them should the present election laws continue. To obtain the consent of this Chamber to a change in those laws appears to me to be quite impossible. So, then, they will be driven to the system of coups d’ Étât, of legislating by proclamations. Royal power and popular power being at war, there will be a pitched battle, in which the people will risk only the present, while the monarchy stakes both the present and the future. If this ministry falls, it will greatly damage the crown, whose child it is. Guarantees will be demanded by the people which will reduce to almost nothing a power which is already too weak. God grant that the House of Bourbon may not one day deeply repent what has just been done! . . .
Adieu, dear friends, I embrace you as I love you, sincerely and affectionately.
TO M. GUSTAVE DE BEAUMONT.
Tocqueville,* August 30, 1829.
I have just received a second letter from you. I could not answer the first, as you did not tell me where to find you; but I thank you for remembering me twice. You seem to expect me to give an account of all that I have seen here. I shall do no such thing. 1stly. Because it would be very long. 2dly. Because it would not in the least amuse me. 3dly. (This is my chief reason) because it would not amuse you. This last head may be subdivided. You would be bored. 1stly. Because a description of a fine thing is almost always a bad thing. 2ndly. (I kept this for the last) because you are the least curious of men as to all that has no actual or practical utility for you; a defect, by-the-bye, which seems to me to be an abuse of your excellent abilities, and a real imperfection.
All I shall tell you is, that a great vessel of 100 guns has been launched; that I managed to climb up to the poop, which is more than fifty feet high, and that I then felt myself glide into the sea amidst a flourish of trumpets, a discharge of artillery, and the cheers of an immense crowd collected round the harbour. This was indeed a fine sight, and one that your imagination will easily picture. When the captain called out to cut the last mooring, and we began to move, I myself was seized with a fit of enthusiasm such as I had not experienced for a long time. I must say, that the indescribable sensation which filled my breast and upset my mental balance gave me intense pleasure. . . .
I have not done much intellectually since our separation. However, we learnt this year, among other things, to employ our odd moments. I have turned this knowledge to account by reading the greater part of Guizot. We must read it again together next winter: its analysis of ideas and accuracy of language are wonderful. Wonderful indeed. This book sheds a light on the fourth century which was totally unknown to me; and yet it is full of interest, as exhibiting the decay of the great Roman system.
TO THE SAME.
Neufchâtel, October 4, 1829.
Allow me, my good friend, to offer you no congratulations.* Your happiness costs me so dear, that I have not the power of putting on a joyous air. I would have done all that man could do to bring about the event which has happened, but I cannot sincerely rejoice at it. . . . . I did not think our separation possible, and the more I think over it, the less can I accustom myself to the idea. We are now close friends, and friends for life I believe. . . . But our intimacy, dear Beaumont, the intercourse of every moment, the unlimited confidence, all that, in short, made our united lives so delightful, that is all over. This thought must be less sad for you, who will find great and immediate compensations; a boundless future is now open to you, the circle in which you are known may widen indefinitely. But for me, who lose everything at once, who will return alone to the lodging where I used not to be able to live a week without you—walking with you in the evening, studying with you in the day—for me, crushed now under the weight of my own thoughts, with no one of whom I may ask advice in the little difficulties and annoyances incidental to our profession; what future is in store for me? I am sick at heart. . . . Although a decline in our intimacy seems inevitable, still, dear friend, we must struggle against it with all our might. We must, therefore, continue to tell everything to each other, to study some things in common, and to meet on certain days. I cannot conceal from you that I have some fears on your account, dear friend. I know no one more capable of friendship, but your mind is so versatile. . . . As for me, I have given my friendship to few, my confidence to scarcely any; even my esteem is obtained with difficulty; but the man on whom I have once bestowed all these, may depend on possessing them always. . . .
I have much to say to you about your new position, but such things are better spoken than written. If the government were to wish to make use of you now, your position would be very delicate. . . . Be ruled by your own opinion, and be the servant of no one. . . . Goodbye: forgive the involuntary sadness of this letter. You are happy, so you will have plenty of congratulations: but among all those who come to wish you joy, believe that there is not one who at heart rejoices so much in your success as I do.
Write to me at Geneva . . . . a long letter full of plans for the preservation of our intercourse; tell me what you think of my own future, of the chances left to me. . . .
TO THE SAME.
Gray, October 29, 1829.
At length, dear friend, here I am, sitting by the fire with my table in front of me, and ready to talk to you. This is just what I like, and yet I cannot be gay to-day. On my arrival four days ago, I was seized with one of the attacks in the stomach that you know, and so sharp a one this time that fever followed. They were obliged to bleed me. Now I am up again as usual, able to walk and talk and transact my business; but I still feel the effects of my illness, and I am not yet quite recovered. All this makes me gloomy; and besides, it rains, the wind whistles through my door, and my chimney smokes; a concentration of circumstances calculated to make one misanthropical, and reflect deeply on the faults, the vices, and the baseness of mankind.
Seriously, dear friend, my health is beginning to make me really uneasy. It seems to me as if years were far from improving it, that bodily fatigue affects me more than formerly. I fear that the life which we lead may increase the evil, so that in time I may become a valetudinarian. And this is not all. The hardest part to understand is, that I am afraid of being afraid: I mean, of my mind dwelling on the state of my body, and aggravating its importance. I am alarmed at the room that my physical evils occupy in my imagination, of the distaste with which they cause me to regard the future, and every sort of ambition—I might as well say, life itself. It is this moral weakness creeping over me, threatening to destroy the only virtue I really value in man,—energy, that I especially dread. And now, dear friend, what can you do? why have I told you all this? I really do not know; all I can say is, that these are the thoughts that press upon me; that my mind is more full of them than of any other; and that I felt the necessity of lightening my burden by shifting some of it on you. Now that I feel better, I will turn to something else.
Your letter, which reached me at Geneva five days ago, gave me much pleasure, and did me a great deal of good. Only you took too much to heart the hasty things I said to you about the instability of your friendships. You must allow something for first impressions, dear friend. When a man has just received a blow on the head, you should not reproach him for stepping unsteadily, provided that he is in the right direction. . . . It is quite true that I cannot yet reconcile myself to the impending change in our lives. From the first moment I perceived (with my imagination no doubt, rather than on reflection), that the tie which has united us so closely for the last two years must necessarily be loosened, I saw you launched into a different sphere. These considerations grieved me deeply; more deeply, perhaps, than I can say. This is what I tried to express. If my words were ill-chosen, and I am willing to own it, you cannot at any rate complain of the intention.
However, I believe that I was wrong. I do not mean to admit that there is not a real change in our respective conditions, but that I feel persuaded that two men of our age, who understand each other, who have disclosed every corner of their hearts the one to the other, and whose mutual affection has grown with their intimacy, cannot greatly change. They cannot fail to be friends for life; and even if they have not frequent opportunities of meeting, they will still continue to confide in each other freely. These are the sage reflections which I had made before your letter came; and that I imparted to Kergorlay in the long talks which we often have about you, in our walking expeditions, in places where your name was never before pronounced since the creation. But your letter did better than help to convince me; it convinced something better than my head; in short, it deeply touched my heart. I tell you this plainly, and the feeling is too serious for me to add any commentary. Yes, my friend, you are right in saying that we must have as many interests as possible in common. I quite enter into your plans. Some useful historical work might be our joint production. We must, of course, fit ourselves for political life, and for this purpose we must study the history of our race, and especially of the generations immediately preceding us.
General history is useful only in respect of the light which it throws upon human nature, and as a preparation. In that, my dear friend, I am almost as great a novice as yourself. I know more of the events themselves; but with regard to their causes, to the means furnished by men to those who have influenced them for the last two hundred years; to the state of the different nations before the outbreak of revolutions and afterwards; their classification, manners, and instincts; their present resources, the distribution and causes of these resources, of all this I am ignorant; and to this everything else is merely an introduction. There is one science which I long despised, but which I now own to be not only useful, but necessary; I mean Geography; not to learn the exact meridian of towns, but everything that relates to the knowledge which I have just mentioned; such as a clear understanding of the configuration of the earth as it influences the political condition and wealth of nations. Some countries are almost forced by their geographical position alone to adopt a certain form of government, to exercise a certain influence; their destiny even is caused by it. I confess that this is not the sort of geography that is taught in schools; but I fancy that it is the only kind which we can understand or recollect.
In conclusion, dear friend, let us hold fast to each other as much as we can. Especially let us preserve the habit of telling everything to one another, and we shall still have something like the time we spent at Versailles, which was one of the happiest periods of my past, and will be of my future, life.
TO THE BARON AND BARONESS DE TOCQUEVILLE.
Paris, April 6, 1830.
It was not without misgiving, dear friends, that I wrote to you in Rome. Something told me that I had better have directed my letters to Naples. But all our family went against me. Yet I was right. I thought that your calculations would be so exact, that we might be certain of your following your intended route, and that your silence ought to have been interpreted in my way. At length I yielded: my letter is in Rome with many others. No one can approve more strongly than I do your resolution to remain where you are. The holy week in Rome is finer seen from a distance than close; as in many other sights, there is more fatigue than real interest. Besides, it is said that the Pope will not officiate. Continue then to bask in the sunshine of Naples; content yourselves with enjoying the place you are now in, and the happiness that you find in each other. No one can appreciate better than I do your reasons for doing what many people will think extraordinary.
I was dining with some of my colleagues when Edward’s long letter on the Neapolitan Constitution arrived. I read all the political part aloud; many compliments were paid to me which I transmit to the rightful owner. I shall pay you no compliments, dear Edward; but I thank you heartily for your letter. It taught me more about the country which you are now in, than I learnt in the six months I spent in Italy. How is it that two grown-up men, one of whom had completed his legal studies, can have travelled together for so long without directing their attention to the subject of most interest?
I am sorry that you did not get the letter which I sent to Rome; it would have given you all our political news. I confess that I am too idle to write it over again. Besides, by this time you must be acquainted with the outline. The address from the Chamber, as might have been expected, was strong: the King showed, in his reply, that he was offended, and on the next day the Chambers were prorogued till the 1st of September. Little has happened since. The ministry becomes more and more illiberal. It is supposed that M. de Chabrol and two other moderate members will resign. The King talks of nothing but force, the ministers of firmness. The wise royalists are uneasy; the fools—and they are the majority, are enchanted. They are always discussing Coups d’Étât, changes in the election laws by proclamations, &c. &c. In spite of all this, the French people is perfectly quiet. Newspaper writers on both sides are condemned every day by the tribunals. Nobody is satisfied with their decisions. The newspapers scream like sea-gulls, which is natural, since the decision is against them. The government is equally dissatisfied, since the grounds of the decision maintain the right of resistance to every unconstitutional measure. As for me, I own that I think that the judges do their duty in each case.
I am alarmed for the ministry, 1st, on account of the mediocrity of its members—there is but one opinion of their chief; 2d, the warmth and number of its enemies; 3d, the lukewarmness of most of those who think themselves obliged by conscience to support it; 4th, the arrogance of its most ardent upholders. They imagine that they are still at Coblentz. The royalists proper are only a small handful; and yet they try all they can to make themselves still fewer. They abuse each other with a virulence which would be amusing if it were not lamentable. One would think that they had only to share the prizes of victory. And so M. de Villèle’s organ, La Gazette, and La Quotidienne, the ministerial organ, attack each other every morning, to the great delight of the liberals.
In the midst of all this we are preparing for war with incredible activity (the expedition to Algiers). It is worth remarking, that since war has been resolved on, the liberal papers have in general ceased to criticise both the end in view and the preparations. The unanimity of opinion upon this point shews the spirit of the nation.
You have heard, no doubt, of Hippolyte’s endeavour to be allowed to join the campaign. He even stopped the Dauphiness as she was getting into her carriage. This was well received, and has made him popular; but as yet there is no positive result. Adieu.
TO THE BARON DE TOCQUEVILLE.
Versailles, May 6, 1830.
I see, my dear brother, from your last letter, that in reality we agree. You perceive the evil, but not the remedy. There are dangers, indeed, on every side. If we adhere to the constiution I do not think that the ministry can stand. It has no ardent supporters. All parties, even the ministers themselves, are aware of its instability. The Premier is an honest man, presumptuous and commonplace, who inspires no confidence. The royalists are undecided, disunited, without zeal; and what is worse, without much fear for the future, because they think that the House of Bourbon alone is threatened, and not monarchy itself; and that a revolution may take place without public disturbance.
Therefore if the charter be acted on, there is not much probability that the ministry will remain. If the King abandons it, there will be a reaction, and the royal authority will fall very low. Still this would be the safest course; for if the King sets his power above that of the charter, he will infallibly lose his throne. Such, at least, is my conviction. Let us consider, for a moment, how he would extricate himself if he were to set aside the law. What support would he have? Certainly not that of public opinion. There is scarcely a man who would approve of the measure. Almost the whole nation would rise up if it were attempted. That of the tribunals? But on the day that the King began to rule by proclamations, the tribunals would refuse to enforce them. I know them well enough to answer for this. He would have then to supersede them by executive commissions, to violate the laws more and more, to reign by military force, to fill the streets with soldiers. But could he be sure that they would long be satisfied with this employment? And then, and this reason is conclusive, is it possible that a man like Charles X., a man of seventy-two, with his kind and easy disposition, could face such consequences, and carry out persistently such a scheme? Is there among all the boasters round his throne one man brave enough to act under him, or skilful enough to act for him? What would happen then if force were resorted to? Perhaps the downfall of the present dynasty, or at any rate, an extreme diminution in the power of the crown. No one in France wants to be governed by proclamations. It is nobody’s interest. The judicial bodies would lose their importance; the peers their rank; men of talent their expectations; military men their promotion; and the lower classes all their security. If so, can he fight against the general will?
I have no private news for you. The expedition to Algiers must have sailed. I am anxious about Louis de Kergorlay, who told me, as a secret, that he is to be the first to land with a light portable battery, which is to open fire long before the arrival of the heavy artillery, and to protect the disembarkation.
TO M. GUSTAVE DE BEAUMONT.
Versailles, May 8, 1830.
I begin this letter at Versailles, dear friend, but I shall finish it in Paris, whither I start in half an hour. I am unwilling to lose any time in answering the kind, long letter which I received yesterday.
You have a remarkable power of moulding hearts according to your will. Your letter set me on my legs again. I mean that it has restored me to my previous state, neither happier nor more anxious than usual. The fact is, that you are the only man whose judgment I trust. Kergorlay would be well able to give an opinion; but he is not of our profession. You alone have the power and the means of judging.
When I reflect upon it, I think that we are not sufficiently grateful for the happiness of having stumbled upon each other amid the crowd. It is especially fortunate for me; not that I mean to affect modesty, and say that I am inferior to you, although I think so in many respects; but that you had more chances of being known and appreciated than I had, with my icy and unattractive manners. You have already many friends. Sooner or later, you would have found one who would have been as much attached to you as I am. But among the calculating minds who wear black gowns, I know not where I could have found a friend, if I had not met with you. Whatever might have been our fate, the thing is done. We are friends, and I think for life. The same studies, the same plans, the same places unite us, and may unite us throughout our lives. What rare and inappreciable good fortune! Each of us finds in the other the man most capable of giving him good advice, and the most resolved not to spare him. Believe me, that the longer we live the more we shall see that we cannot depend upon hearing the truth except from each other. Nothing is rarer than to meet a man who is qualified for speaking it, except to find a man who is willing to speak it. As for him who both can and will, where is he to be found? I am frightened sometimes when I feel how suspicious I have grown. There is scarcely any praise which I do not suspect; and I often put an unfavourable interpretation on blame. On you alone I depend entirely.
TO THE VICOMTE DE TOCQUEVILLE.*
Versailles, August 18, 1830.
My Dear Brother,
We all approve of your plan; none of us will ever advise you to resign your commission. With your lively mind and disposition you would soon find idleness intolerable. One may try a quiet life, but not throw oneself into it headlong and irrevocably. For the last two days my father has been in Paris acting for you. He has asked the Directeur du personnel for an audience. He probably obtained one yesterday. I can quite imagine that you would like to keep an opening in case of war; it would, in fact, be the path where you would most clearly see your duty. We must not allow invasion under any pretext! This is the cry even of the royalists. The nation would rise as one man if any interference were attempted with its internal affairs. . . .
I took the new oath of allegiance yesterday; it was an unpleasant moment. Not that it went against my conscience, but my pride suffered from the thought that others might fancy that I was acting from interested motives against my convictions. I remain, therefore, but will it be for long? I know not. The magistracy as well as the army is humiliated. But we cannot as you can, regain our position at the point of the sword. I feel this so much, that I think I should abandon this career if I saw an opening in any other, but I do not, so I stay till I am sent away. See what it is to be moderate! If the Polignac ministry had triumphed, I should have been dismissed for resisting the proclamations. It has lost, and I shall perhaps be set aside by the conquerors; for I cannot approve all that is going on.
We hear from Emilie* almost every day. It would be impossible to show us more affection than she does. My father was quite touched by it the other day, and he said that his only consolation in these sad circumstances was the attachment shown by his sons and his daughters-in-law. For my part I have been much pleased at the calm with which he has contemplated all these changes.
If I allowed myself, I should have a great deal more to tell you. What I have seen during this revolution would fill a volume. We shall soon talk about it, which will be better.
TO M. GUSTAVE DE BEAUMONT.
London, August 14, 1833.
At last I have reached England, dear friend; I assure you not without trouble. First I sailed from Cherbourg to Guernsey, in a yacht, whose owner offered me a passage. There I found a steamer which took me in ten hours to Weymouth, a little town on the south coast of England, whence I made my way to London. I arrived last Saturday. It would be difficult to describe my impressions since I set foot in this huge metropolis. I feel in perpetual confusion, and deeply conscious of my insignificance. We were great people in America. We are not much in Paris. But one must fall below zero, and take what the mathematicians call minus quantities, to calculate what I am here. There are two reasons for this; first the enormous size of the town, which is beyond all that Paris can give an idea of, and the number of remarkable men to be found in it; secondly, the position occupied by the aristocracy, of which I had no previous conception. The advantages bestowed by fortune, when it is added to high birth, seem to me to be a thousand times greater than any others. Of course I cannot yet speak of the character of the English nation; I can only tell you what strikes me most in their manners: it is their aristocratic form; the aristocratic spirit seems to me to penetrate all classes. . . . I find nothing at all like America. . . . I wander all over London like a midge over a haystack. . . . All the people to whom I have access receive me kindly, but the difficulty is to get sight of them. . . . The hardest part is to confine one’s curiosity within certain limits; the multitude of interesting objects (intellectually speaking), weigh one down; I want to be directed in my choice. . . . Write to me as soon as possible.
TO THE SAME.
Paris, July 5, 1834.
I received from you the other day, my dear friend, just such a letter as I like—long and full of details. I thank you for it, and beg you to go on in the same way. I will try on my part to be a punctual correspondent. You, indeed, are the only person to whom I can write without wasting time. All I say to you flows so naturally, that my letters take me only the time that is occupied in tracing the characters. Independently of our friendship, which however is the primary cause, this is occasioned by my conviction that, knowing me so well, I have nothing to lose or to gain with you. So I go on without thinking of consequences.
On the day before yesterday I went again to Gosselin.* If he had read my MS. the result of my visit would not have been flattering; for the more questions of his I answered about the book, the more frightened he became. He ended by telling me that he would print 500 copies. I wondered, and then he explained his motives. It does not, indeed, cost much more to print 1,000 than 500 copies. But if the work does not sell, the surplus is lost. When, on the other hand, a second edition is called for, it costs, of course, more than if the necessary number had been printed at first, but one is tolerably safe. By the first plan one risks loss, by the second diminution of gain. Now in publishing one must be satisfied with aiming at small but safe profits. All this seemed to me to be very sensible. It is no less true that Gosselin is horribly afraid of losing, or at least of gaining very little by my book. This was the moral that I drew from my visit.
It is a humiliating part of an author’s profession to be obliged to have to treat with one’s publisher as if he were one’s superior.
I still am determined, or rather I am more than ever determined, to go to you towards the 15th of next month. I shall arrive with my MS. under my arm, and my gun across my shoulders. Prepare yourself beforehand for every exercise of mind and body.
TO THE SAME.
April 1, 1835.
I shall write to you, dear friend, only a few hurried lines. It seems as if you had been a month away, so many things, little things I mean, have taken place. Yesterday morning I went to Gosselin. He received me with the most beaming face, and said, “Ah! so it appears that your book is a masterpiece!” Does not this paint the tradesman? I sat down. We talked about the second edition. We were obliged to make a bargain, which I did as awkwardly as possible, and looking like a little boy before his master. In short, I found no objections to make to any of his proposals; and after putting on my head the hat that I had been twirling in my hand for the last quarter of an hour, I went away convinced of two things:—first, that Gosselin intended to behave well; and, secondly, that though a little man, I am, in business, a great dunce. . . .
On the day before you left I went to see Madame Récamier, who invited me to come on the day after, which was yesterday, at three o’clock, to hear the great man* read a portion of his memoirs. So I went. I found a troop of budding and full-blown celebrities; a well-selected circle. At the head, Chateaubriand, Ampère, Ballanche, St. Beuve, the Duc de Noailles, and the Duc de Laval; the same whom I heard say ten years ago in Rome, “By Jove! I have spent some delightful hours with that woman!” Chateaubriand introduced me to all these people in terms calculated to make a few of them my friends, and the greater number my sincere enemies. They all paid me many compliments. When this little piece was over, the real play began. It would take too long to tell you all about it. It was on the First Restoration and the One Hundred Days. Some bad taste, some very bitter feeling, some profound views in his picture of the perplexities experienced by Napoleon when on the throne, all with great spirit, and full of poetry. Napoleon’s march on Paris after his return from Elba, told as it would have been by Homer and Tacitus in one; the battle of Waterloo described so as to make every nerve vibrate, though the booming of the cannon is now so distant. . . . How shall I repeat it to you? I was deeply moved, excited, and agitated; and when I expressed my warm admiration, I was perfectly sincere. Madame Récamier, and afterwards M. de Chateaubriand, desired me to say that they regretted your not being present.
I returned home after this reading, transported to that region midway between earth and heaven, in which one finds oneself after any great excitement, while the impression still lasts. . . .
TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ.
Paris, February 21, 1835.
My dear Mr. Senior,
I thank you much for the kind letter which you have just sent to me. There is no approbation that I was more anxious to gain, and I am proud of having obtained it. How much I wish that the book could be read by a large majority of your countrymen, and that the opinion which you have formed of it could become general. Its success here much surpasses my expectations. But I shall not be satisfied unless it extends to a country to which I am intellectually indebted almost as much as to my own.
I am about to remark upon your objections, which gave me almost as much pleasure as your praise; because they prove the attention with which you read my book, and because I intend to make use of several of them in preparing the second edition.
You tell me, with much truth, respecting a note on page 77, that a poor law is no proof of a republican government; but my reason for quoting America in this respect, was to give French readers an instance of the expense willingly incurred by a democracy. There are many causes which may induce any government to relieve the poor at the expense of the public, but a republican government is, from its nature, forced to do so.
In page 115, I said that in English legislation, the bien du pauvre, had in the end been sacrificed to that of the rich. You attack me on this point, of which you certainly are a competent judge. You must allow me, however, to differ from you. In the first place, it seems to me that you give to the expression le bien du pauvre, a confined sense which was not mine; you translate it wealth, a word especially applied to money. I meant by it all that contributes to happiness; personal consideration, political rights, easy justice, intellectual enjoyments, and many other indirect sources of contentment. I shall believe, till I have proof of the contrary, that in England the rich have gradually monopolized almost all the advantages that society bestows upon mankind. Taking the question in your own restricted sense, and admitting that a poor man is better paid when he works on another man’s land, than when he cultivates his own, do you not think that there are political, moral, and intellectual advantages attached to the possession of land, which are a more than sufficient, and above all, a permanent compensation for the loss that you point out?
I know, however, that this is one of the most important questions of the age, and perhaps the one on which we differ most entirely. Soon I hope that we shall have an opportunity for discussing it. In the meanwhile, I cannot help telling you how dissatisfied I was at the way in which Mr. McCulloch, whose talents, however, I acknowledge, has treated this question. I was astonished at his quoting us Frenchmen in support of his arguments in favour of the non-division of landed property; and at his asserting that the physical well-being of the people deteriorated in proportion to the subdivision of property: I am convinced, that up to the present time, this is substantially false. Such an opinion would find no echo here, even from those who attack the law of succession as impolitic and dangerous in its ultimate tendency. Even they acknowledge that as yet the progress of our people in comfort and civilization, has been rapid and uninterrupted; and that in these respects, the France of to-day is as unlike as possible to the France of twenty years ago. I repeat, however, that such questions cannot be treated in writing. They must be kept for long conversations.
END OF VOL. I.
r. clay, son, and taylor, printers, bread street hill.
[*]At the ages of nineteen and twenty, Alexis de Tocqueville and Louis de Kergorlay took it into their heads to visit England. Against this plan there were several obstacles; among others, 1st, that they knew not how to obtain passports; 2dly, they had no money; 3dly, they did not know how to gain their parents’ consent, or how to do without it. These early letters, of which only two fragments have been found, are curious proofs of the restless disposition, and of the remarkable activity of mind, of A. de Tocqueville.
[*]Now General Lamoricière. He entered the École Polytechnique with Louis de Kergorlay, who introduced him to Tocqueville. This interview first brought together men who were again to meet in public life.
[*]A small village on the Hudson, near New York.
[*]Aunt of the Miss Mottley whom he married two years afterward.
[*]The country seat of his brother, Hippolyte de Tocqueville, near Cherbourg.
[*]The country seat of his brother, Edward Vicomte de Tocquevile.
[*]A “fossé” is a mound, from four to eight or nine feet wide, and about four or five feet high, generally raised round a farm in Normandy, and planted.—Tr.
[*]A country house then occupied by his father.
[†]Louis de Kergorlay was then in Germany.
[*]“L’Ancien Régime et la Revolution.”
[*]The residence of her aunt.—Tr.
[*]The Comte de Tocqueville was prefect of Amiens.
[*]That of a receiver of taxes at Metz.
[*]In Rhode Island.
[*]The venerable Abbé Lesueur, a second father to Tocqueville, for whom he had always a tender and filial regard.
[*]This was the year of the cholera.
[*]Sic in orig.—Tr.
[*]On the Revision of the Constitution. An extract from it is given, vol. ii. p. 164.—Tr.
[*]Eugène Stoffels died in July, 1852. Tocqueville’s affection extended to his children, especially to the eldest, Alexis, his godson, to whom he often wrote. There is something paternal about his letters, as will be seen from these two specimens.
[*]A technical term in Roman law.
[*]His brother Edward, afterwards Vicomte de Tocqueville, who, with his bride, was travelling in Switzerland and Italy. During this time, Alexis de Tocqueville used to send them news of the progress of affairs in France, which every day became more serious till they ended in the Revolution of July, 1830.
[*]Then belonging to his father.
[*]M. de Beaumont had just been appointed to the “parquet” in Paris.
[*]His eldest brother Hyppolyte, since Count de Tocqueville. He was then captain in a cavalry regiment. This letter was written three weeks after the Revolution of July, 1830.
[*]The Vicomtesse de Tocqueville.
[*]M. de Chateaubriand.