Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1835: TO M. DE CORCELLE. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
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1835: TO M. DE CORCELLE. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2 
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). 2 vols.
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TO M. DE CORCELLE.
April 12, 1835.
My dear Sir,
I have examined your criticisms with all the impartiality of which an author is capable. Some seemed to me to be well founded, and all in the kindest spirit.
I will make a single objection. It is this: you suppose my view of the prospects of democracy to be more gloomy than it is. If my expectations were what you believe them to be, you would be right in thinking that there is some contradiction between them and my recommendations, which tend in fact towards the progressive development of democracy. I have endeavoured, it is true, to describe the natural tendency of opinions and institutions in a democratic society. I have pointed out the dangers to which it exposes men. But I have never said that these tendencies, if discovered in time, might not be resisted, and these dangers, if foreseen, averted. It struck me that the republicans (I take the word in its good sense) saw neither the good nor the evil of the condition into which they wished to bring society; and that thus they were exposed to mistake the means of increasing the former and avoiding the latter. I therefore undertook to bring out both as clearly and as strongly as I could, that we may look our enemies in the face and know against what we have to fight. I think that this places me in quite a different category from M. Jouffroy.
He points out the perils of democracy, and considers them as inevitable. All that remains to be done, he says, is to avert them as long as possible; and when at last they come, to cover one’s head with one’s cloak and submit to one’s fate. For my part, I wish society to confront them like a strong man who knows that danger is before him and must be met, that he may reach his object; who exposes himself to it without repining, as to a necessary part of his undertaking, and is alarmed only when he cannot see clearly what it is.
Forgive me for treating this subject at so much length. I have tried to explain to you, not all my opinions, but the idea that inspired the whole work, the parent thought; and I attach great importance to preventing the public from forming mistaken notions on this point.
I cannot conclude, my dear sir, without expressing my gratitude, or without saying that I hope that after bestowing so much undeserved praise on the book, you will consent to become a friend of the author.
P.S.—There is one passage in your letter which gave me particular pleasure. It is that in which you propose as a remedy to the excesses of democracy indirect election. It is a proposal of the greatest importance; but the minds of men anxious for liberty and equality must be cautiously and gradually familiarized with it. I am convinced that it is the most powerful instrument by which the more intellectual members of a democratic society may be made its leaders without being uncontrolled.
TO COUNT MOLÉ.
London, May 19, 1835.
I wished, dear sir, to have written to you much earlier, to tell you of the flattering reception which your introductions have obtained for me; but first the arrangements incidental to a tour, and then an indisposition which lasted some time, prevented me.
If I said that I have been received kindly by the persons to whom you sent me, it would be far below the truth. Every sort of attention has been shown to me. The Marquis of Lansdowne, especially, has proved, by his extraordinary kindness, how much he wished to gratify you. These proofs of regard are all the more valuable to me, as I consider them as one of the effects of your friendship.
On my arrival here, I found that there was a suspension of hostilities in Parliament. The Houses met three or four days ago; but as yet no important questions have been agitated, nor has there yet been time for the different parties to assume their attitudes. It would be very difficult, therefore, even for an Englishman, to predict the fate of the new ministry. A foreigner, recently landed as I am, would be absurd if he ventured to attempt to do so. All that I have tried to do has been to judge, by a few points of comparison, the principal changes that have taken place since my last visit.
Eighteen months ago, I remarked that republican ideas, though making rapid progress in all that concerns the administration, seemed to be stationary with regard to the social system; in other words, that the nation was more eager to obtain equality of rights than equality of station. Comparing what I then saw with what I now see, it seems to me that republicanism has continued to advance in the first direction, but has remained nearly stationary in the second. Eighteen months ago, the Whigs attacked the conduct of the majority in the House of Lords, but respected the peerage itself. I now hear among them words of bad omen. Many of them say that the Reform Bill has completely altered the spirit of the British constitution. Formerly the actual government resided in the House of Lords; the Commons followed in the wake of the high aristocracy. This is all to be changed. The Commons are to govern. The Peers may take part in public affairs, but are not to direct them.
Others go still farther, and ask why none but the rich can obtain seats in the House of Lords. Some even question the advantages of hereditary peerages. All these doctrines have lately been reproduced in print, and not disavowed, if they have not been publicly approved, by the Whig party. There is evidently a general tendency in the public mind to dispute the privilege assumed by the rich to govern the State.
If from political we pass to social questions, no similar advance seems to have been made. I do not meet more persons favourable to the abolition of social distinctions, and of the rights of primogeniture, than I did eighteen months ago. All who are making their fortunes, or who have any chance of becoming rich, favour the accumulation of wealth. The others have at present no voice. The British nation may be represented by two men, one of whom says to the other, “Take your choice; are you willing to divide our inheritance equally with me? We shall each be men of moderate fortune.” And the other answers, “Take all; only leave me the chance of one day stepping into your place.” The middle classes in England play double or quits. With us, the same classes prefer a lower stake; less latitude left to chance; more moderate hopes, and less fears.
When I consider attentively the state of this country, I cannot help believing that a democratic revolution, similar to that which has taken place with us, will, sooner or later, take place in England; but it will not occur in the same way, or by the same means. With us, religious indifference singularly facilitated alterations in our ancient laws. Here, revolutionary feelings are almost as much religious as political. The vehemence and the influence of religious opinions in this country, inflamed as they are by party spirit, cannot be conceived in France. The population may be thus divided: on the side of the Established Church are almost all the rich: most of the middle and many of the lower classes are Dissenters. It is observed that families, when they become rich, seldom fail to join the Church; while many of the poor every day enrol themselves among the Dissenters. After an attentive examination, I am convinced that the Established religion naturally leads to monarchical and aristocratical ideas, and Dissent to notions of republican equality.
In England, therefore, republican theories do not gain ground, as with us, in the absence of religious convictions. They are helped by these opinions, and help them in turn. It seems to me probable that the Dissenters will gain the day, and, as in 1640, upset the State after they have overthrown the Church. One instance will explain the difference between the two countries on this subject. Last year, only a few votes were wanting to pass a bill through the House of Commons, the object of which was to render still more strict the already rigid observance of Sunday. Thus, liberalism, which relaxes religious discipline with us, leads in England to puritanic austerity.
In France, the desire to own land has always been general, and the number of small landowners considerable. The Revolution rendered this system universal. Here, not only is landed property little divided, but it every day becomes more and more concentrated. The chief cause of this is, I think, the immense increase of trade and manufactures.
It is, I believe, an established fact, that as a nation becomes more civilized, its people leave off labour in the fields for work in manufactories. This natural tendency is especially observable in England, which manufactures almost everything, not only for Great Britain, but for the whole world. In England, too, as the land has never been much divided, it has never been such a source of fortune to the poor, as it is in France; and it therefore never presents itself to the fancy of the lower classes as the natural means of rising in the world. The habits and instincts of the English peasant are, consequently, totally unlike those of our own. If he possesses more intelligence or more capital than his neighbours, he turns his advantages to account in trade; the idea of becoming a landowner never enters his head. With the English, therefore, land is a luxury; it is honourable and agreeable to possess it, but it yields comparatively little profit. Only rich people buy it. With us, a great landed proprietor sometimes sells in small lots as a speculation; here, a sale is the speculation of the small landowner. Large estates, therefore, grow larger every day; agriculture is carried on on a great scale. As such agriculture requires fewer hands, every year an increasing number of labourers are out of work. So, while trade and manufactures attract labourers, the soil rejects them.
I do not know if you will agree with me in thinking that such a preponderance of the aristocratic element leads to revolution, as certainly as the tendency towards democracy does with us. Already in England, nearly two-thirds of the population have passed from agriculture to trade and manufactures. The change began long ago, and its progress must lead to an unnatural and, I believe, an unmaintainable state of society. The whole country is already lamenting over the excess of population and want of employment.* The population appears to be excessive, because it is ill distributed; and employment is deficient, because all labour flows in the same channel. Opposed to a small minority of rich is an immense majority of poor; and nowhere is the antagonism between the class that possess everything and that which has nothing so formidable. I know that the rich are beginning to agree perfectly among themselves; but the poor are more of one mind than in any other country in the world. The misunderstanding is only between the two classes.
It is true that democracy, with an army of followers, has no generals. It is ill-represented by the members whom it sends to parliament. They desire political not social equality. But it seems to me that in time they will be driven from the one position to the other. Universal discontent will urge them on. When the aristocracy has lost the greater part of its political influence, its chiefs will remain great people, for they will still be rich; but to the inferior members the result will be unendurable. The rearguard of aristocracy will in that day become the vanguard of democracy; and feeling themselves the evil, they will suggest to the people the remedy.
To sum up, I may say that if the taste of our people for possessing land, and our habit of cultivation on a small scale, have singularly facilitated our progress towards equality, it is probable that the excess of opposing causes will drive the English in the same direction. There are many other points of contrast between this country and France; but I ought to stop here; and indeed it is more than time to ask your pardon for the absurd length of this letter. I perceive that, after having allowed myself to be drawn on till I have written half a volume, I have as yet said nothing on the existing difficulties of the Government; and that while dilating on the future, I have forgotten the more important subject of the present. You probably wished for facts, and I send you only speculations. But I hope that you will have the kindness to value this letter not at its real worth, but for the sake of the motives which inspired it.
I hope that you will be so good as to remember me to Madame d’Aguesseau.
TO LORD RADNOR.*
London, May, 1835.
That I may be able to answer your questions, I think it advisable, in the first place, to establish what legally and actually was the position of the ministers of our religion before the Revolution of 1830. Afterwards I will treat of their present situation and of their prospects.
When Napoleon re-established the exercise of the Catholic religion, he did not restore their property to the clergy, but assigned to them part of the revenue of the State. From proprietors they became pensioners. This was not the only blow struck by him at their independence. In former times there was between the bishops and inferior clergy of every diocese an ecclesiastical tribunal, which was called, if I am not mistaken, “l’officialité.” Napoleon destroyed this court of appeal. He gave up the inferior clergy to the uncontrolled jurisdiction of the bishops. Whether rightly or not, the Emperor thought that he would always be able to manage easily a few bishops, and that by governing them he would be master of all the clergy. This was the position of the ministers of our religion at the Restoration.
The Bourbons returned resolved to support the monarchy by the Church; and the charter of 1814 announced that the Catholic religion was the religion of the State. But it did not dare to define the words “the Religion of the State.” The property of the clergy was not restored to them, nor were, I believe, even their salaries increased. But they were allowed an indirect share in the government. The parish priest, from the weight given to his recommendations, became a sort of political authority. Places were given with more regard to religious opinions than to capacity—so, at least, it was generally thought. As the Restoration became more firmly established, the union between Church and State became more and more evident. A law was passed punishing with the utmost rigour all sacrilegious profanation of sacred objects and theft from churches. The archbishops and some of the bishops obtained seats in the House of Peers. The nation was governed, or thought that it was governed, by the priests—their influence was felt everywhere. Then reappeared what we call in France the Voltairian spirit; the spirit of systematic hostility and sarcasm, directed not only against the ministers of religion, but against religion itself; against Christianity in all its forms. The books of the eighteenth century were reprinted in cheap editions. Plays, songs, and caricatures were filled with bitter satires against religion. The hatred of a portion of the population against the clergy became inconceivably violent. At that time I held a judicial post; and I noticed that whenever a priest was accused, whatever were the offence, the jury, in general very indulgent, almost invariably and unanimously condemned him. Under the Empire the Church took no part in politics; after the Restoration it became a political party in itself. It joined the most ardent votaries of absolute monarchy, and often declaimed from the pulpit in its favour.
The result was fatal. Almost all the liberal party, that is, the great majority of the nation, became irreligious on political grounds. Impiety was a form of opposition. Excellent men were furious when religion was mentioned; others, notoriously immoral, talked incessantly of restoring altars, and of inculcating reverence towards God.
I do not think, my Lord, that there is a single Frenchman of any party whatever, who at this day does not consider the religious hatred brought about by the Restoration as the chief cause of the downfal of the Bourbons. If it had stood alone, the elder branch would have sustained itself with difficulty; united to the clergy, and exposed to the intense animosity excited by the political influence of the priests, its fall was inevitable.
This takes us to the year 1830. Let us see what has passed since.
The Church had so closely united its fate to that of the Crown, that when the King was dethroned in 1830, the priests all believed themselves to be in personal danger; and so in fact many were. In some of the larger towns they were forced to conceal the outward signs of their calling. The archbishopric of Paris was pillaged in February, 1831, and the archbishop obliged to hide himself.
The new Government took part against them. The words “Religion of the State” were erased from the charter, and in their place “Religion of the majority” substituted. All the bishops raised to the peerage by Charles X. lost their seats. The rest have since always abstained from taking part in the debates. The clergy no longer sit in the Chamber of Deputies. The ministry for ecclesiastical affairs has been suppressed.
A still greater change occurred in the habits of the Government. The priests lost every species of indirect political influence. No hostility was in general displayed towards them, but they were kept within their own duties. The scale of salaries was changed in some respects. Part of the incomes of the bishops was taken from them, and added to the salaries of the ordinary priests.
Such is, I believe, the present state of things. Now, what will be the consequences? As to these, my Lord, you would perhaps be imprudent if you were to take my word. You are aware, that in politics it is often more difficult to understand and judge of the present than of anything else. In the great concerns of mankind the past is more obvious than the present. All that I can promise, is to show to you exactly what I see; and to explain to you, without reserve, my belief, which is that of many enlightened Frenchmen.
As soon as the clergy lost their political power, and it was perceived that they were more liable to be persecuted than favoured by the Government, the animosity which during the Restoration had pursued them, and through them religion itself, began to diminish, though not all at once nor everywhere. The irreligion which the Restoration had created or re-awakened, showed itself partially. But taking the nation as a whole, it was evident that the reaction which was to bend the public mind in the direction of religion had already begun. I think that at the present moment this tendency can escape the notice of no one. Irreligious publications have become extremely rare (I do not know of even one). Religion and priests have entirely vanished from the caricatures. It is very seldom tha one hears the clergy or their doctrines spoken ill of in public. Not that silence is a proof of great attachment to religion; but it proves that religion is no longer detested; and this is a great step. Most of the liberals, whose irreligious opinions formerly placed them foremost in the ranks of the opposition, now hold a different language. All acknowledge the political utility of religion, and deplore the general want of faith; but the greatest change is observable among the young men.
Since religion has been separated from politics, a faith, vague as to its object but powerful in its effects, is developing itself among them. The necessity of a religion is a frequent theme of their conversation. Many believe: all would like to believe. This feeling makes them crowd into the churches whenever there is a celebrated preacher. When I left Paris, the evidences of our faith were discoursed upon every Sunday in the cathedral by a young priest of remarkable eloquence.* Nearly 5,000 young men regularly attended his sermons. Among them sat, in his pontifical robes, the very Archbishop of Paris whose palace was robbed and destroyed four years before, and who for more than a year had been obliged to hide like an outlaw. Such a scene was never witnessed under the Restoration, when the bishops sat in Parliament and in the Council Chamber, and when the political influence of the priest was supposed to be all-powerful.
I think, my Lord, that I have answered nearly all your questions. If not, I hope that you will not fail to tell me. I shall always be ready to write to you on this subject or on any other. What I have just written, as I was pressed for time, may appear confused. Perhaps, too, you will find it difficult to make out my bad handwriting. In every case, I place myself at your disposal, and shall be happy to explain in conversation all that is incomplete in my letters.
P.S. I forgot to say that when the Restoration, in 1814, gave the name “Religion of the State” to the Catholic religion, it ordered all shops to be shut on Sunday and all official persons to attend the services of the Church. These two laws gave the signal to the revolt against religion. They have been repealed or they have fallen into disuse.
TO HENRY REEVE, ESQ.
Paris, Sept. 11, 1835.
My dear Mr. Reeve,
You must believe me to be drowned at the very least,—for you cannot imagine that I should have passed through London without going to see you and Mrs. Reeve: and it is almost as improbable that I should have travelled through Boulogne without stopping to take advantage of Mrs. Austin’s presence there. A few words will explain all. I returned to France by neither London nor Boulogne. One of my brothers lives near Cherbourg in the summer, and I have a tiny estate of my own there. When I was at Dublin I heard that my brother had arrived at his house, and that the wind had carried off the roof of mine: two events which made me think it advisable to return to Normandy as soon as I could, and by the shortest route. I sailed straight from Dublin to Southampton and thence to the coast, without encountering one storm to boast of. Having thus completely justified myself, I turn to you. What has become of you since I left you? Are you still breathing the pure air of Hampstead, or have you returned to London smoke? Among all your other occupations have you gone on with the “Democracy?” During my tour in England and Ireland I was gratified by seeing several copies of the first volume, and many compliments were paid to me on the translation, which I pass on to you. Here, I am bringing out my third edition.
I shall tell you nothing about our politics. I am just arrived. As yet I have called on no one. Being reduced to my own resources I have nothing to say except that I wish much to see you again, and that you must positively pay a short visit to France. You must not forget, either, that you have some American documents belonging to me, and remember that I will take them only from your hands.
In the meanwhile, believe that I am your sincerely attached friend.
TO JOHN STUART MILL, ESQ.
Paris, Sept. 12, 1835.
My dear Mr. Mill,
Beaumont tells me that you have asked him what was my decision respecting my co-operation in your Review. I answer, that after mature deliberation, I have resolved upon so doing if you still wish it; but I still am doubting what plan to adopt. I should like my articles to contain almost all I know on the political and social state of France. I hesitate only as to the form. I fear that, in spite of my endeavours, the English will not be able to understand clearly the present state of our country, unless I first show what it was just before the breaking out of the Great Revolution; and if I draw a picture of this period the colours will inevitably be somewhat faded; I fear lest I should not sufficiently interest the public. This is the difficulty—help me to solve it.
Lately, however, I have thought much on the subject of these projected letters; and as is always the case with those who are engaged in a particular study, many ideas have occurred to me which I did not see at first, and which I think may be worth producing: but of this also I cannot judge. Of one thing you may be certain, that if I undertake this work I shall do my best. You may trust me in this.
I am, &c.
TO THE SAME.
Baugy, December 3, 1835.
My dear Mill,
I have just received the third Number of the London and Westminster Review, and your letter dated the 19th of last month. I have read them both attentively, and all that remains to be done is to talk them over with you.
Your article on me is so flattering that it surpasses even an author’s appetite. Whatever be the amount of vanity with which Heaven has endowed me, and you know that authors are in general liberally provided, there is in your article one thing that I must say pleases me even more than your praise. Of all my reviewers you are, perhaps, the only one who has thoroughly understood me; who has taken a general bird’s-eye-view of my ideas; who sees their ulterior aim, and yet has preserved a clear perception of the details. The profession of an author would be too delightful if one met with many such readers! Your article, therefore, gave me intense pleasure. I keep it carefully, to prove to myself that it really is possible to understand me. I wanted this testimony to console me for all the false conclusions that are drawn from my book. I am constantly meeting people who want to persuade me of opinions that I proclaim, or who pretend to share with me opinions that I do not hold.
To return to your article. I repeat that I have read nothing so good on my book. You enter into my conception more than any one; and as you see the whole, you are capable of administering praise and blame. Believe that I do not exaggerate, when I say that your unfavourable criticisms gratified me as much as those that are favourable. The friend may always be seen through the critic. They instruct, therefore, and never wound me. I wish that I could discuss every one of your objections, my dear Mill; but I should send you a volume instead of a letter. Such a conversation as I hope that we shall soon enjoy, will clear up more questions for us than a voluminous correspondence would do. Still I will make a few remarks. . . .
Paris, December 5.
I was at this point of my letter, dear Mill, when I heard that my mother, who lives in Paris, was in imminent danger. As you may think, I hastened to her side: I found her a little better, but she still makes us very uneasy. I hope that you will forgive me if, in the present state of my mind, I do not enter into the somewhat long discussion which my last words from Baugy seemed to promise. But I cannot just yet lay aside your article, which I read over once more with great attention on my arrival. Several passages struck me much. Not one of the friends of democracy has dared as yet to draw so clear and fine a distinction between delegation and representation, or has so well defined the political meaning of these two words. Rest assured, my dear Mill, that on this occasion you have mooted a most important question; so, at least, I firmly believe. It is much less essential for the partizans of democracy to find means of governing the nation, than to teach the nation to choose the men most capable of governing; and to exercise sufficient influence over the general nature of their government without interfering with their individual acts or means of execution. This is the problem. I am quite convinced that the fate of the modern world depends on its solution. But how few are aware of it! how few assert it!
The kindness with which I have been treated by the London and Westminster, is another stimulus to make me write the articles which I promised. The first* is very far advanced; but the grandeur, as well as the difficulty of the subject, seem to increase as I consider it. You must think me very slow. You would forgive me if you knew how hard it is for me to satisfy myself, and how impossible for me to finish things incompletely. I have always thought that the public had the right to require authors to strain their powers to the utmost, and I endeavour to act up to this duty. I am working therefore at your article, as if it were to appear in French under my own name. I should esteem myself very fortunate if I could be repaid for my trouble by producing something that would please you, as well as the enlightened readers of your review.
Adieu, my dear Mill, believe in my sincere friendship. Will you not soon pay a visit to France? I should be delighted to see you, and to introduce you to my wife, who is a countrywoman of yours, and to whom I often speak of you.
[*]It is curious to compare these complaints of over-population, and of the redundancy of agricultural labour with our present state, after a lapse of twenty-four years, during which the increase of large estates has been constant, after an increase of our population from 16 millions to 20 millions, and after the abandonment of protection to agriculture. M. de Tocqueville did not perceive that the number of agricultural labourers out of work was due, not to the increase of cultivation on a great scale but to the abuses of the unreformed poor-law.—Tr.
[*]While Tocqueville was in London, in the year 1835, he was intimate with Lord Radnor, who on one occasion asked him to explain the position of the clergy in France, and the state of public opinion on religious subjects. Lord Radnor, struck by Tocqueville’s answer, requested him to put it into writing.
[*]Now the Père Lacordaire, who has replaced M. de Tocqueville in the Académie Française.
[*]The article on the state of France, reprinted in the first volume, p. 208.—Tr.