Front Page Titles (by Subject) TWO LETTERS TO ALEXIS * STOFFELS. - 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:
TWO LETTERS TO ALEXIS * STOFFELS. - 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.
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.]
[*]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.