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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.
Tocqueville, November 15, 1843.
My dear Friend,
The religious question absorbs me as much as it does you, and more than that, it fills me with deep regret. One of my dreams, my chief dream when I entered public life, was to endeavour to reconcile the liberal party to the religious party; modern society to the Church. This reconciliation, essential both to liberty and to public morality, is now difficult; their relative positions, which, immediately after the Revolution of July, were uncertain, are now fixed; and it would take years to bring us back to where we were three years ago. We may think ourselves happy if we ever get back again! I repeat, that I am filled with regret, and also with irritation, against the authors of all this evil. I am angry with the vanity and passions of some of the opponents of the clergy, but I own that I am also indignant against the other party.
When I think of the state of public opinion and of the press, scarcely three years ago, in religious matters, and of what it now is, I cannot avoid seeing that the clergy must have been guilty of enormous errors. Violent personal abuse and exaggerated accusations have injured an excellent cause. Instead of supporting for others, and claiming for themselves, the right of teaching, they have exhibited a desire to influence, if not to direct, all popular education.
Still I acknowledge and approve some of your remarks. I believe with you that the faults of the clergy are far less dangerous to liberty than their subjection. I also think that the animosity of the clergy towards the Government is exceptional and temporary; that the ordinary and permanent condition to be feared is that of an unequal partition of power between the two; a sort of arrangement in which the Government and the Church would combine against liberty.
I certainly shall act and speak from this conviction; and the wrath of the public press will not prevent my saying what I think of an official papacy. I have also made up my mind to be firm on the question of freedom of teaching; but I hope that the Government will have the prudence not to bring forward the law till this storm is over, for just now the decision would be against us.
After enjoying the health of a plough-boy all through the summer, for the last month I have been quite out of sorts. I hope that this state will not last. The opening of a session, like the beginning of a battle, is not a convenient time to be sick. I worked too hard last summer; while you were in the deserts of Africa, I was travelling all over India. I flatter myself that I mastered the subject, and that I am now capable of judging of all that is going on, not only there, but throughout Asia. Still, to benefit by all this knowledge, one must live!
TO THE SAME.
Tocqueville, September 17, 1844.
I have not time to-day, dear friend, to write a long letter. Besides, why should one treat, by the laborious process of writing, of subjects on which we shall soon have long and intimate conversation? I will, therefore, confine myself to a few general ideas relating to great political events.
I think that the religious movement should be neither exaggerated nor made of too little importance; it may be expressed in these words,—a real feeling made the instrument of factitious passions.
Just now, nothing can deeply and strongly excite the public mind; the University question no more than any other. Still it is the only question which interests the public, and which is rooted in opinions and prejudices that are not got up for the occasion. It is, however, rather embarrassing for all parties.
With regard to the “Commerce,” pray do not let us lose sight of the object of this newspaper. It is intended to give to us, the opposition, an organ which is to be perfectly independent in all questions of home and foreign politics; in which we may be able to defend, from a liberal point of view, liberty of teaching, without involving ourselves in the war against the clergy.
As to the style of polemics to be admitted, I agree with you that no violence should be allowed. But you wish a newspaper writer to be a “perfect gentleman;” and, if I am not mistaken, this is an error on your part which may cause you endless trouble and anxiety.
There is nothing more relative, nor to which universal propositions are less applicable, than style; pray consider this. The same man speaks differently in a drawing-room, in a book, in Parliament, to a friend, or to a thousand listeners; to an assembly of students, or to a crowd. His feelings and opinions remain intrinsically the same, but the way in which he brings them forward, the degree of animation, his choice and turn of expression, are different. To one audience he tells the whole, to the other he leaves half to be inferred.
A newspaper is a speech made from the window to the chance passers by in the street, among whom are to be found men of every degree of cultivation.
To make your opinions reach their minds and affect them as you wish, some warmth is necessary; arguments must be obvious; important truths must be mixed with common places; and the picture must be highly coloured, in order that it may be seen from a distance.
How can this be helped? It is the appropriate style. These articles will certainly not be found among the works that posterity will read; they are intended to produce, by constant repetition, a temporary effect. I fear that your ideal of what the style of a newspaper should be, is above all possibility of attainment. At least, I know of no example in any party, or country, or age.
I also think that you greatly exaggerate the responsibilities of the undertaking. Public men, especially if absent, are responsible only as to the general tone of a paper; never for each separate article. Do you not think that I was as much annoyed as you at some of the articles on our relations with England, where I have valuable friends, who may fancy that these were the expression of my personal opinions?
It is not, indeed, a time for stirring up our old griefs against England, when there is so much excitement on both sides. Our duty is to preserve the feeling of the nation within just and legitimate bounds. But to exceed these limits, and to throw oil upon the flames by reviving old disputes, seems to me to be almost wicked in the present critical juncture. I own that we do not do all that we want to do; but political affairs must be treated in a political spirit, and not with the scrupulous refinement of private life. What combined movement ever fulfils the exact object of the individuals engaged in it, each of whom does a little more, a little less, and a little differently than if he stood alone? It is a necessary condition of all association.
If you are resolved not to submit to it, you undoubtedly retain your individuality intact; but you can do none of the good that you wish to others, and your object in fact becomes selfish.
Good bye. I cannot tell you how I delight in the idea of spending a whole week with you in the stillness of the country, before I return to the din of warfare. I shall leave you with increased strength and composure.
TO CHARLES BULLER, ESQ.*
Paris, June 21, 1846.
It is an age, my dear Buller, since I have been anxious to write to you, but I have never had a spare minute. But we must not allow ourselves to become strangers. My friendship for you is already so strong, that I am sure that it will grow with intimacy. I am grieved that you could not be with us in the country last summer, for it is only in the country that perfect intimacy can be formed. So I trust that you will do next year what you planned last year.
I will not talk to you at any length about our politics. You know all that I could tell. Good fortune, the faults of the Opposition, the weariness of the whole nation, and the commercial spirit which has stifled all public spirit, have given to our Cabinet an overwhelming power, which, distant as you are, you must have perceived.
The King is stronger, not merely than he ever was before, but than any one has been, since the empire. Every thing shows that this Government has obtained an ascendency resembling, but with more reality and more completeness, that gained by the Restoration after the Spanish war in 1824. Every obstacle falls before it, and for a time it will be restrained by nothing but its own will. According to all appearances, the next elections will give us, what is not easy, a Chamber still more submissive than this is.
As for the Peers, you know that, as against the throne, they are nothing. A new phase is beginning.
Will the dynasty use this new omnipotence for the purpose of establishing and consolidating its power? Or, like the Restoration, and like many other dynasties, will it waste it in faults which will produce a reaction?
The future will tell us.
At this instant, we are thinking as much about your politics as about our own. Your affairs, as seen from hence, have a grandeur which ours are far from possessing. I know nothing more exciting or more interesting that the spectacle now offered to the world by England. What is new and what is old is equally striking. Never was a constitutional nation in so strange a situation, or in one from which, to a foreigner, at least, the issue was so incapable of being foreseen.
I own that I cannot imagine how Mr. Peel can retain office, or how the Tories can govern without him; or how the Whigs can find a substitute for him, or how they can really and cordially join him. If you can see into this darkness, pray give me a little of your light.
I have long thought that a fusion of the Whigs with some of the old Tories was preparing itself, and that the solution of the perplexities of the last year might be found in the creation of a new party. But events seem to have been so hurried on as to render this solution, for the present at least, very difficult. There are personal difficulties, apparently insurmountable; and there are practical ones, above all with respect to Ireland, equally formidable.
I end, therefore, as I began, by saying, that I look on your course with extreme interest, but cannot guess in what direction it is leading you.
Kindest regards from us both.
[*]This letter, which is not included in M. de Beaumont’s selection, I have received permission to publish from Madame de Tocqueville.—Tr.