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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, 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.
TO THE SAME.
Tocqueville, January 6, 1839.
. . . I have nearly finished one volume. This work demands much labour, and often affords little satisfaction. What especially interferes with it is my health, which though not actually bad, has certainly been failing for the last two months. Work tires me, and yet is so essential to me, that I often return to it, and then am obliged to leave off again. After sitting at my desk for five or six hours, I can write no longer; the machine refuses to act. I am in great want of rest, and of a long rest. If you add all the perplexities that besiege an author towards the end of his work, you will be able to imagine a very wretched life. I could not go on with my task if it were not for the refreshing calm of Marie’s companionship. It would be impossible to find a disposition forming a happier contrast to my own. In my perpetual irritability of body and mind, she is a providential resource. . . . . Adieu, dear friend; remember us both to Madame de Beaumont, whom we shall be charmed to see again. I shall reach Paris on the 14th.