Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1838: TO THE SAME. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
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1838: TO THE SAME. - 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 THE SAME.
Baugy, January 18, 1838.
I was just going to write to you, dear friend, when your letter came. This is not a mere boast but a solemn truth. Indeed I had long been intending so to do, for I think that our communications are becoming much too slow. We are too completely absorbed by Ireland and America, and we must beware lest we return from those countries strangers to each other.
My life here is much the same as yours at La Grange. Hitherto it suits me very well; my health is excellent, and I do my very best: which does not mean that I am satisfied. Were you ever thoroughly satisfied with your own writing? As far as I can remember, such a thing has never happened to me. It always seems above or below, to the right or to the left of the aim; never exactly hitting the ideal that each of us has ever in view, but that always escapes our grasp. I know that there is a proverb which says that this happens only to those who are capable of great things. But I have always thought this a mistake. I have known many people who very sincerely believed their own performances to be bad, and whose performances were bad indeed. This effectually cured me of fancying myself a great man only because I felt that I was a dunce, and was sorry for it.
In spite of my literary tribulations, I will tell you in the strictest confidence, that I find my work get on so well that I shall stay here till the end of April. . . . .
Louis de Kergorlay has just spent four days with us. At that time I was quite entangled in a mesh of ideas of which I could not find the clue. It was a regular intellectual cul-de-sac; but he brought me out of it in a few hours. His mind is a mine of wealth which he alone is unable to work.
TO THE SAME.
Baugy, March 21, 1838.
. . . . I returned to this place on the day we parted, and set myself furiously to work till at last my brain refused to act, in which state it remains for the present. Just now my head is much more full of blood than of ideas; and I am forced to stop my work for two or three days, lest I should be obliged to interrupt it for much longer. I am enraged to be thus brought back to earth from my highest flight, and I take refuge in philosophical reflections, which, however, I shall not pass on to you because you are in good health, and therefore would not be able to appreciate the elevation of my theories.
Do not fancy that this long story means that I am ill. I am only tired. I ought to have rest, but I cannot bear to rest; so that, besides the disease, I also abhor the remedy. My impatience is increased by seeing how little progress I have made in the three months during which I have worked like a horse. If I had been as slow, and had taken as much pains with my first book, it would now have only just appeared. Am I right or wrong in subjecting my thoughts to such a severe examination before I express them in words? Indeed I do not know. You, my dear Aristarchus, will be my first judge. In about eight months I hope to pass under your inspection, just as I intend you to submit to mine.
As I had nothing better to do, I have been reading for the last few days some old books that I brought with me; among others, Plutarch, which, to my great shame, I own that I had hardly ever opened. I read first one of his Lives, thinking of something else; then another, but languidly enough. But now they afford me intense delight. What a grand old world was that of ancient times! Plutarch, who by his gossip exhibits more than any other writer its blemishes, makes its greatness only the more striking. He gives life and motion to characters which had always seemed to me to be more or less fictitious; he draws them as men only a little above life-size, and reduced to this measure they are much more imposing than a motionless colossus, or an imaginary giant. This reading has captivated my imagination to such an extent, that I sometimes fear that I shall go mad, like a second Don Quixote. My head is crammed full of heroics which are by no means suited to the present day; and life seems very flat when I wake from my dreams.
TO THE SAME.
Baugy, April 22, 1838.
I am not only absorbed by my work, but by a thousand thoughts that are inspired by the books I read, or that come of themselves. For my mind has never been so active as in this seclusion. I have not for years read so much, or meditated so much on my reading, as during the four months I have been engaged on my “Democracy.” I am now putting the last touches to the penultimate chapter. But what will be the length of the last of all? Into how many sub-divisions will it fall? As yet I cannot tell. All that I know is, that before I begin it I must collect all my powers, so as to end brilliantly. I am alarmed at the prospect of this crowning chapter. I think that I shall be several months about it. I shall not attempt it till I am at Tocqueville.
I cannot describe to you, my dear friend, the disgust that I feel, when I see the public men of our day making a traffic, to serve the petty interest of the moment, of things so serious and so sacred as political principles. These sudden conversions hurt me perhaps even more deeply than the violent opposition of former times. I am alarmed; and I ask myself if selfishness be indeed in this world the sole motive, and if what we take for opinions and feelings are not the mere organs through which it speaks and acts. I am, however, somewhat reconciled to our age, by observing in it some resemblance to what is recorded by my indiscreet and gossiping Plutarch of the most flourishing periods in ancient history. This raises a little our contemporaries, but degrades the race.
I retract, however, the last words: we must not despise man if we wish to obtain great things from ourselves or from others. The other day, as I was thinking over the intellectual creations which have taken most hold on men’s imaginations, and of which the effect has been most striking and most lasting, I found that the great majority were books deeply embued with the great principles of the good and the beautiful, with the salutary and elevating theories of the existence of a Divine Being, and of the immortality of the soul; and that the most popular works were those which set forth in the strongest relief these principles and these theories. If this be the secret of the most complete and enduring of literary triumphs, it proves that this is the strongest and most constant tendency of the human mind. Take away from Plato, for instance, the aspirations towards immortality and infinity, and leave only his antiquated style, his unfinished and often absurd science, his eloquence, which we lose at this distance of time; he would soon become unknown and unreadable. But Plato addressed himself to the noblest and most permanent instincts in our nature; and he will live as long as men live upon earth; be will carry away even those who only half understand him; and he will always occupy a distinguished place in the intellectual world.
I reproach myself for having allowed my pen to run away with me. You will not care about what I have just said: not that you are incapable of interesting yourself in ideas of this sort; but because you cannot do two things at once. Your mind is indivisible. You are not much to be pitied for this, for it is a proof of strength. You are always in a blaze, but one thing only fires you at a time; you have neither curiosity nor interest to spare for anything else. It is thus, that in spite of our extreme intimacy, there have always been some points on which we never have met nor understood one another. I have an insatiable curiosity which draws me continually to the right and to the left of my path. Your’s is equally importunate, but it always leads you straight forward. I have often been tempted to chatter to you about a thousand things, unconnected with our regular studies, which were jostling against one another in my head; but I have always been checked by remembering that, as I had for the moment wandered into a new path, I could not hope to draw you after me. Which of us regulates his mind in the wisest manner? I cannot tell. I think that the result will be that you will always know things better, and that I shall always know more things. You would laugh to see the odd heterogeneous pile of books on my table, almost all of which I have devoured within the last four months: Rabelais, Plutarch, the Koran, Cervantes, Machiavelli, Fontenelle, St. Evremont, &c. &c. I have put all this pell-mell, and without any arrangement, into my head.