Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1850: TO THE COMTESSE DE CIRCOURT. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
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1850: TO THE COMTESSE DE CIRCOURT. - 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 COMTESSE DE CIRCOURT.
Tocqueville, June 19, 1850.
I have heard, Madame, of the sad death of my colleague in the academy, M. de Villeneuve. This death creates a vacancy in the Institute, and I have already received many applications. Before answering them, I want to ascertain the wishes of M——, for whom I know that you are interested.
Our journey was prosperous. . . . This place continues to please me, and I should be very sorry if we were obliged to leave it; there is nothing really remarkable about it, but its associations give to it a beauty and an interest in my eyes which it would not have in any others. We live here in such absolute solitude that the rumour of politics scarcely reaches us, and I am astonished to find how little I care for any news that by chance penetrates so far. I treat the newspapers with the little respect that they deserve, and I own that I scarcely ever read them.
Can it be, Madame, that I am becoming a bad citizen? I sometimes fear it, but I comfort myself by thinking that I am only dispirited. I humbly confess (it is indeed humiliating for a man who has had some pretensions to prophecy) that I cannot see an inch in the darkness which surrounds us. I do not know how this can last, nor how it can end. I feel as if I were tossed on a shoreless sea, with neither compass, nor sails, nor oars, and tired of vain efforts, I lie down in the stern of my boat and wait.
Pray remember me particularly to M. de Circourt.
EXTRACT FROM THE JOURNAL KEPT BY MR. SENIOR IN THE SPRING OF 1850.
Paris, May 19.
I drank tea with the Tocquevilles; I mentioned the depression of A. B.
“A. B.,” said Tocqueville, “is one of the political theorists who tried to persuade others, and who succeeded in persuading themselves, that the reign of Louis Philippe was the natural termination of the French Revolution, and the beginning of a new era. In every different phase of our Revolution, clever men have fallen into this error. We are political metaphysicians; we draw from a few similar facts what we call general rules, and use those rules to explain whatever has been, and to foretel all that will be.
“My father is seventy-six; he was about sixteen at the time that the Revolution began. He recollects, therefore, the opinions that have prevailed during its progress.
“When fifteen years of disorder ended in a military despotism, everybody believed that it had run its course. It seemed to be the natural progress of events that revolution should produce war, and that war should make the army, and that the army should make its general, omnipotent.
“When the Consulate and the Empire were followed by the Restoration, it seemed also in the order of things that the military ruler should be ruined by the ambition to which he owed his empire; that he should go on playing double or quits, till he had exhausted his good fortune; that his domestic enemies should join with his foreign ones; that the ancient dynasty should be restored, and that constitutional royalty should become the permanent form of French government.
“When Charles X. tossed his crown into the hands of his cousin in 1830, this, too, seemed a natural conclusion of the drama. The parallel between France and England was now complete. ‘In a restoration,’ it was said, ‘the first king that is restored is so delighted with his return to power, that he is willing to accept it on any terms, and those terms he is likely to keep tolerably. He is resolved not to have to travel again. The successor of the restored sovereign takes the crown, not as a good fortune, but as a right. He finds the limits within which he is confined irksome, and easily believes them to be mischievous. His flatterers tell him that they are void; that his rights are unalienable, perhaps divine; and that it is his duty to save his country, without looking nicely to the technical legality of the means which must be employed.’
“He attempts to act on these principles, and is resisted and deposed.
“But a great and ancient nation that has once tried the experiment of democracy, will not repeat it. It will select for its new sovereign the next in succession who is willing and fit to accept the responsibility, and to submit to the restrictions, of a constitutional monarchy. In that dynasty the conflicting principles of legitimacy and selection, of divine right, and of popular right, are united. It may expect indefinite duration. Such a dynasty is in the second century of its reign in England, and in the first century of its reign in France.
“The Revolution of 1848 came, and all these illusions were dissipated in an hour; the great monarchical fortress which was built for ages turned out to be mere stage decoration.
“The Republic reappeared with its single Assembly, its universal suffrage, its clubs, its forced paper currency. The line along which they have been travelling since 1830 turns out to have been only a segment of a circle. They believe that 1848 has brought them back to the point at which they started in 1789; they fancy themselves now in 1791, armed, without doubt, with far more power and with far more experience than were possessed by the Legislative Assembly, but also attacked by more and much more practised enemies.
“In the presence of such dangers they despair, and add to our real sufferings a thousand others still more terrible, the creations of their disturbed imaginations. As for me, having long known that the ground under us is too unstable to support permanently any government whatever, I am, indeed, grieved and out of spirits, but I am not terrified. I do not think that all is over, nor do I think that all is lost. I look on my country as a patient whose disease cannot, at least at present, be cured, but can be palliated; who can be restored to considerable enjoyment, and whose illness itself can be made the origin of great benefits to the human race and to himself.”
TO MRS. GROTE.
Tocqueville, July 24, 1850.
If I were ill-disposed, Madame, I might complain that, knowing me to be one of the most professed admirers of your genius, you did not yourself think of sending to me your pamphlet on pauperism, so that I was forced to ask for it through our friend Mr. Senior. But rather than quarrelling with you, I prefer thanking you for the pleasure which this little work has afforded to me. I received it as I was leaving Paris, and I read it on my arrival. I could not have spent the leisure imposed upon me by illness in a more profitable manner. In your pamphlet I find the good sense of the English economist rendered more acute and more brilliant by feminine wit and imagination; an improvement which it often greatly needs. You defend the conservative principles on which our ancient system of society in Europe is founded, and the liberty and the individual responsibility attendant upon it; you defend especially the institution of property. You are quite right; you can hardly conceive life without these primary laws, no more can I.
Yet I own, that this old world, beyond which we neither of us can see, appears to me to be almost worn out; the vast and venerable machine seems more out of gear every day; and though I cannot look forward, my faith in the continuance of the present is shaken. I learn from history, that not one of the men who witnessed the downfall of the religious and social organizations that have passed away, was able to guess or even to imagine what would ensue. Yet this did not prevent Christianity from succeeding to idolatry; servitude to slavery; the barbarians from taking the place of Roman civilization, and feudalism in turn ejecting the barbarians. Each of these changes occurred without having been anticipated by any of the writers in the times immediately preceding these total revolutions. Who, then, can affirm that any one social system is essential, and that another is impossible? But it is no less the duty of honest people to stand up for the only system which they understand, and even to die for it if a better be not shown to them.
Mr. Grote continues to send me his excellent and most interesting “History of Greece;” I should regret not having yet thanked him for the latter volumes if I had not now the opportunity of conveying my thanks through you. I have just finished his eighth volume (the last that I have received); it is as full as the earlier volumes of facts that were unknown, and views that were new to me, giving me a different and often an opposite impression of the Greeks. Till now I never thoroughly understood Socrates or the ancient Sophists. I am amazed by the erudition, and astonished by the power of abstraction, which such a work must have required, those two qualities being seldom found in conjuction. Remember me very kindly to him. Madame de Tocqueville sends her affectionate regards. We are neither of us in very good health, though we are not exactly ill. . . .
TO M. DE CORCELLE.
Tocqueville, August 1, 1850.
I cannot understand how it is that I have not written to you since the 6th of July. And yet your letter gave me great pleasure; and if it had been only to get another I ought to have answered it. I did not do so, however, because I live in a sort of apathy which makes unpleasant every exertion, even to gain some desirable result. I never could have believed that I could become, not indifferent by any means, but so little anxious about either the present or the future in a country where the present is so disturbed and the future so dark. I think, however, that when revolutions continue for so long, they produce more or less of the effect of a life at sea; though running every day a chance of being drowned, the sailor at last forgets even that he is on the ocean. Thank God, the helm is no longer in my charge; I am only a passenger, and I should like to remain one, at any rate for some time longer. But I think that the restoration of my health, at least of that which I call health, and which other people would call illness, will oblige me to resume my political duties when the Assembly meets.
* * * * * *
I know not if the circumstances in which I have latterly been placed, or the increased seriousness that one acquires with age; my solitary life, or some other cause of which I am not conscious, has affected my mind, and set it working; but the truth is, that I have never felt so much the want of an eternal foundation, the solid basis on which life ought to rest.
Doubt has always seemed to me to be the most unbearable of all evils; worse than death itself.
To turn to other things, I must tell you that I do not see without apprehension the operation here of the new law of elections.* It strikes heavily and blindly. I hope for little that is good from any of the efforts made or projected for the re-establishment of our social system. I fear that, by flying from one remedy to another, they will damage the vitals of liberty; I know that at present liberty is out of favour; but, whatever may happen, I am, and always shall remain, faithful to her. I do not think that modern society will be able to do long without her. The excesses lately committed in her name may make her appear hateful, but cannot destroy her beauty or make her less essential. I think, too, that we should treat all the principles which we have long professed, when, for the moment, they become less practicable, as we do our old friends when they behave ill; and that we owe, even to ourselves, not to abuse or attack them.
Forgive this long prose, for the sake of the great pleasure afforded to me by my unrestrained communications with you.
EXTRACTS FROM THE JOURNAL KEPT BY MR. SENIOR DURING HIS VISIT TO NORMANDY.
Tocqueville, Saturday, August 17, 1850.
I talked over with Tocqueville the prospects of the four great parties.
“The terror,” he said, “which the Republic at first spread has passed off. Men see that it does not necessarily bring with it war, paper money, and bankruptcy; still less confiscation and the guillotine. But it is not trusted. The feeling of the mass of the people, of the peasant, the artizan, and the shopkeeper, as well as of the proprietor and the merchant, is against a constantly shifting chief.
“Far from valuing the power of electing a new quasi king every four years, they detest it. ‘We must,’ they say, ‘have something permanent.’
“The republican party, therefore, as a party, has become powerless. Two years hence, or perhaps sooner, some different form of government will be established.
“Will it, then, be the return of the Orleans family, excluding the elder branch?
“That seems scarcely possible at present. Their friends are a minority, small when compared with the number of those who are indifferent to them; and not large when compared with the number of those who are positively hostile to them.
“Will it be the return of Henry V.?
“The great obstacle to this is the association of the Bourbon name with the old régime. That government, gay and brilliant as it looks in our histories and in our memoirs, must have been horribly bad; for the detestation of it is almost the only feeling that has survived the sixty years that have passed since its fall.
“The French can bear oppression; they can bear to see their children carried off by the conscription, and their property by the tax-gatherer; but they cannot bear the privileges and the petty vexations of feudalism.
“You saw the roofless tower in the court. My grandfather used it as a colombier. He kept there 3,000 pigeons. No one was allowed to kill them, and no one else in the commune could keep them. In 1793, when the peasants were the masters, they did no harm to any of the rest of our property. We have lived among them as protectors and friends for centuries; but they rose en masse against the pigeons, killed every one of them, and reduced the tower to its present state.
“When I first was a candidate I failed, not because I was not personally popular, but because I was a gentilhomme. I was met everywhere by the proverb, ‘Les chats prennent les souris.’ My opponent was of a humble family which had risen to wealth and distinction in the Revolution. This is the most favourable combination in the hands of a man of ability. Mere wealth is mischievous; it gives no influence, and it excites envy. The only time when it led to political power was just after the Revolution of 1848. Every possessor of property, and few persons in the provinces are quite without it, was alarmed; and the greatest proprietors were selected as representatives, because they were supposed to have the greatest stakes. Mere birth is still worse than mere wealth; it excites not only envy, but fear.
“The remembrance of the Marian persecutions is still vivid in England after 300 years. Our fears of the revival of the tour et colombier are as fantastic as your dread of the faggot and the rack; but why should they not last as long?
“Last came the Bonapartists.
“Will Louis Napoleon succeed in becoming Emperor? I think not. I doubt whether he will attempt it. He is daring in his plans; but when the moment of execution comes, he hesitates. His best chance was on the 29th of January, 1849.
“He then enjoyed the full prestige of his six millions of votes. I have no doubt that the plan was laid, but at the decisive moment he or his advisers flinched.”
I said that one of his rashest acts seemed to be the dismissal in November, 1849, of the only respectable ministry that could be obtained.
Tocqueville answered, that supposing his object to be the establishment of himself as permanent ruler, and the subversion of the present constitution, his conduct then was, at least, plausible.
“We,” he said, “had served his purpose. We had enabled him to get through the most perilous period of his new reign; the substitution of the legislative for the constituent assembly. We had maintained peace within and without, but we were doing too well. The republic was becoming respectable, and there was a fear that the people would acquiesce in it. By throwing the administration into the hands of a set of clerks without experience or authority, he let loose the passions of the assembly, and enabled it to become, what is not easy, both formidable and contemptible.
“I will not venture to prophesy, or even to guess, but I think that the least improbable result is, that he will be re-elected at the end of his time; but that, in other respects, the present constitution will last its three years; beyond that, all is darkness.
“If any event indistinctly presents itself, it is the reconciliation of the two branches, and the success of an united effort to give the crown to Henry V. and to the Comte de Paris, as his successor; this is perhaps our best chance now, as the maintenance of the elder branch was our best chance twenty years ago.”
Monday, August 19, 1850.
We talked of Thiers’ “History of the Empire.”
“Its defect,” said Tocqueville, “is its inadequate appreciation of the causes, intrinsic and extrinsic, which united to form Napoleon.
“Few histories give to these two sets of causes their due or their relative weight.
“Some attribute too much to the circumstances in which their hero was placed, others to the accidents of his character. Napoleon, though gigantic in war and in legislation, was imperfect and incoherent in both. No other great general, perhaps no general whatever, suffered so many defeats. Many have lost one army, some perhaps have lost two; but who ever survived the destruction of four?
“So in legislation, he subdued anarchy, he restored our finances, he did much to which France owes in part her power and her glory. But he deprived her not only of liberty, but of the wish for liberty; he enveloped her in a network of centralization which stifles individual and corporate resistance, and prepares the way for the despotism of an assembly or of an emperor. Assuming him to have been perfectly selfish, nothing could be better planned or better executed. He seized with a sagacity which is really marvellous, out of the elements left to him by the Convention, those which enabled him to raise himself, and to level everything else; which enabled his will to penetrate into the recesses of provincial and even of private life, and rendered those below him incapable of acting or thinking, almost of wishing, for themselves.
“Thiers does not sufficiently explain how it was that Napoleon was able to do this, or why it was that he chose to do it; nor has his private character been ever well drawn as a whole.
“There is much truth in Bourrienne, though mixed, and inseparably mixed, with much invention.
“Napoleon’s taste was defective in everything, in small things as well as in great ones; in books, in art, and in women, as well as in ambition and in glory.
“The history of the Empire and the history of the Emperor are still to be written. I hope one day to write them.”
Thursday, August 22, 1850.
After dinner, we talked over the Revolution of 1848.
“I had a long conversation,” said Tocqueville, “with one of the ministers about a week before the émeute began. I was alarmed, but he laughed at my fears.
“ ‘There is no cause,’ he said, ‘even for uneasiness; there are 65,000 troops in Paris, besides the national guards.’
“In fact, however, there were only 25,000; but that was more than enough, if they had been allowed to act.
“As soon, however, as Louis Philippe heard that the national guards were wavering, he despaired.
“There is not a more revolutionary institution,” he continued, “that is to say, an institution more productive of revolutions, than a national guard. Just after a revolution, to be sure, it is useful, as a protector of property; but its instincts are to bring one on. The majority of its members have no political knowledge; they sympathise with the prevalent feeling, which is seldom favourable to a government. Some wish to give it a lesson, others would like to overthrow it. Very few, except in moments of excitement, like those of June, 1848, choose to expose themselves in its defence; and one national guard who joins the mob does more harm than all the good that can be done by twenty who support it. The mob have not the least respect for the uniform; but the soldiers will not fire on it.
“Even on the 24th of February,” continued Tocqueville, “the monarchy might have been saved, if the proclamation of the Provisional Government, and the retreat of the Duchess of Orleans, could have been retarded only for an hour.
“After having sat out the revolutionary scene, heard the proclamation of the Republic, and seen Lamartine and Ledru Rollin set off for the Hotel de Ville, I was quitting the Chamber, and had reached the landing-place of the staircase which leads from the waiting-room into the court now occupied by our Provisional house, when I met a company of the 10th Legion, with fixed bayonets, led by General Oudinot, not in uniform, but brandishing his cane in a military style, and crying, ‘En avant! Vive le Roi, et la Duchesse d’ Orleans Régente!’ By his side, gesticulating and shouting in the same manner, was a man whom I will not name, who, by the evening, had become a fierce republican.
“The national guards, though not numerous, uttered the same cries, and rushed up the staircase with great resolution. Oudinot recognised me, caught me by the arm, and cried,
“ ‘Where are you going? Come with us, and we will sweep these ruffians out of the Chamber.’ ‘My dear General,’ I answered, ‘it is too late; the Chamber is dissolved, the Duchess has fled, the Provisional Government is on its way to the Hotel de Ville.’
“The impulse, however, which he had given to the column of national guards was such that it did not stop. I turned back, and we all re-entered the chamber. The crowd had just left it. The national guards stood still for an instant, looking with astonishment on the empty benches, and then dispersed in all directions. They belonged to the Quartier St. Germain. Oudinot had collected them by going from house to house. If he had been able to do so two hours, or even one hour, earlier, the destinies of France, and perhaps of Europe, might have been altered.”
August 25, 1850.
Tocqueville, A. B., and I took a long walk over the downs commanding the sea.
“I am now forty-six,” said Tocqueville, “and the changes which have taken place in the habits of society, as I faintly recollect my boyhood, seem to have required centuries.
“The whole object of those among whom I was brought up, was to amuse, and be amused. Politics were never talked of, and I believe very little thought of. Literature was one of the standing subjects of conversation. Every new book of any merit was read aloud, and canvassed and criticised with an attention, and a detail which we should now think a deplorable waste of time. I recollect how everybody used to be in ecstasy about things of Delille’s, which nothing would tempt me now to look at. Every considerable country house had its theatre, and its society often furnished admirable actors. I remember my father returning after a short absence, to a large party in his house. We amused ourselves by receiving him in disguise. Chateaubriand was an old woman. Nobody would take so much trouble now. Every incident was matter for a little poem.
“People studied the means of pleasing as they now do those which produce profit or power. Causer and raconter are among the lost arts. So is tenir Salon. Madame Récamier was the delight of Paris, but she said very little. She listened and smiled intelligently, and from time to time threw in a question or a remark to show that she understood you.
“From long habit she knew what were the subjects on which each guest showed to most advantage, and she put him upon them. The last, indeed, was not difficult, for the guest, a veteran causeur, knew better even than she did his forte, and seized the thread that lead to it. It was only by inference, only by inquiring why it was that one talked more easily at her house than elsewhere, that one discovered the perfection of her art; the influence of women was then omnipotent, they gave reputation, they gave fashion, they gave political power.”
“The influence of women,” said A. B., “is considerable able now.”
“Yes,” said Tocqueville, “but in a very different way. It is not the influence of mistresses, or of friends, but of wives. And generally it is mischievous. Its effect is to destroy political independence. This is a consequence of the poverty of our public men. The wife is always there suggesting how much a little expenditure here, and a little there, would add to the comfort of the ménage, and the husband barters his principles for a few thousand francs.”
“The Limousin,” said A. B., “is among the least altered parts of France. I was at a wedding near Limoges two or three years ago, to honour which, for four days running, from seventy to eighty neighbours came every day, and went away the next.”
“Where did they sleep?” I asked.
“Why, a great portion of them,” he answered, “did not sleep at all. They danced, or talked, or amused themselves otherwise all night, and rode away in the morning. For those who chose to sleep, several rooms were strewed with mattresses as close as the floor could hold them, and there they lay; the men in one room the women in another. Many of the ladies arrived on horseback, followed by a donkey carrying the ball dress in a bandbox.”
“Among the things,” continued Tocqueville, “which have disappeared with the ancien régime, are its habits of expenditure. Nobody could now decently and comfortably spend above 200,000 francs a year; to waste more we must gamble, or give in to some absurdity. No expense has been more reduced than that of servants. The femme de charge, your housekeeper, scarcely exists; nor is the femme de chambre, in the capacity of your lady’s-maid, commonly seen. Her duties are usually divided among the other servants; and so are those of your house-maid. Then we pay much lower wages. I give Eugène 600 francs a year; but that is an exception. The general rate is from 400 to 500.
“Eugène,” he added, “is a man whom I have always envied, and I envy him now. If happiness consists in the correspondence of our wishes to our powers, as I believe that it does, he must be happy. I have all my life been striving at things, not one of which I shall completely obtain. In becoming a thoroughly good servant, he has done all that he wishes to do: in getting a master and mistress to whom he is attached, and who are attached to him, he has obtained all that he wishes to obtain. To sum up all, he is a hero. He fought like a lion in June.”
We ended our walk by calling on the curé. He has a pretty little house, and a good garden; they belong to the benefice. He surprised me by saying, that the population of his parish averaged only three to a house; there are few servants and no lodgers. In many cases, therefore, a house is inhabited by a single person. There is something dreary in the idea; but it must be recollected that the house is very small, and the neighbours very near.
He estimated the number of children to a marriage at three.
August 26, 1850.
We talked of the changes in French literature during the last hundred and fifty years.
“If,” said Tocqueville, “Bossuet or Pascal were to come to life, they would think us receding into semi-barbarism; they would be unable to enter into the ideas of our fashionable writers, they would be disgusted by their style, and be puzzled even by their language.”
“What,” I asked, “do you consider your golden age?”
“The latter part,” he answered, “of the seventeenth century. Men wrote then solely for fame, and they addressed a public small and highly cultivated. French literature was young; the highest posts were vacant; it was comparatively easy to be distinguished. Extravagance was not necessary to attract attention. Style then was the mere vehicle of thought; first of all to be perspicuous, next to be concise, was all that they aimed at.
“In the eighteenth century competition had begun. It had become difficult to be original by matter, so men tried to strike by style; to clearness and brevity, ornament was added—soberly and in good taste, but yet it betrayed labour and effort. To the ornamental has now succeeded the grotesque; just as the severe style of our old Norman architecture gradually became florid, and ultimately flamboyant.
“If I were to give a Scriptural genealogy of our modern popular writers, I should say that Rousseau lived twenty years, and then begat Bernardin de St. Pierre; that Bernardin de St. Pierre lived twenty years, and then begat Chateaubriand; that Chateaubriand lived twenty years, and then begat Victor Hugo; and that Victor Hugo, being tempted of the devil, is begetting every day.”
“Whose son,” I asked, “is Lamartine?”
“Oh,” said Tocqueville, “he is of a different breed: his father, if he had one, is Chenier; but one might almost say that he is ex se ipso natus. When he entered the poetical world, all men’s minds were still heaving with the Revolution. It had filled them with vague conceptions and undefined wishes, to which Lamartine, without making them distinct enough to show their emptiness or their inconsistency, gave something like form and colour. His ‘Meditations,’ especially the first part of them, found an accomplice in every reader. He seemed to express thoughts of which every one was conscious, though no one before had embodied them in words.”
I said that I feared that I should be unable to read them; and that, in fact, there was little French poetry that I could read.
“I have no doubt,” answered Tocqueville, “that there is much poetry, and good poetry, that no one but a native can relish. There are parts of Shakespeare which you admire, and I have no doubt very justly, in which I cannot see any beauty.”
“Can you,” I said, “read the ‘Henriade,’ or the ‘Pucelle?’ ”
“Not the ‘Henriade,’ ” he answered, “nor can anybody else; nor do I much like to read the ‘Pucelle,’ but it is a wonderful piece of workmanship. How Voltaire could have disgraced such exquisite language, poetry, and wit, by such grossness, is inconceivable; but I can recollect when grave magistrates and statesmen knew it by heart. If you wish for pure specimens of Voltaire’s wit, and ease, and command of language, look at his ‘Pièces Diverses.’ As for his tragedies, I cannot read them—they are artificial—so, indeed, are Racine’s, though he is the best writer of French that ever used the language. In Corneille there are passages really of the highest order. But it is our prose writers, not our poets, that are our glory; and them you can enjoy as well as I can.”
TO M. DUFAURE.
Paris, October 12, 1850.
I have long been wishing to write to you, dear friend. I was prevented by my ignorance of your address. I have only just heard it from Rivet. He tells me that you return to Paris about the 25th. I should rejoice at this news if I were sure of being here myself at that time; but this is far from being the case.
Some of our mutual friends have no doubt told you that my health obliges me to spend the coldest part of the winter with Madame de Tocqueville in Italy. Though I have been set up in other respects by my stay in the country, my bronchia and larynx are still so weak and irritable, that the doctors are afraid of the next winter, and of the excitement and worry of public life. They offer me the choice between staying at home and taking no part in politics, with the chance of not getting well; or going away for some months, and giving myself up to complete rest and silence; after which, they say, that I shall probably return well, and able to resume my former life. I thought it wise to choose the latter course, and I think that you will approve.
Political considerations chiefly made me hesitate. I own that I should not be sorry to be away if the Assembly is to go on as it has done during the last year. But if a decisive crisis should take place in my absence, I should be grieved and disturbed. I do not think that an immediate crisis is probable. Reasoning only upon general principles, it would appear to be likely, and even imminent; but I am too well acquainted with the characters of the men on whom it depends to believe in its being so near.
I need not tell you how I regretted that you were not able to come to Cherbourg, and thence to accompany Lanjuinais to Tocqueville, where we should have been so glad to receive you.
TO M. DE CORCELLE.
Dijon, November 1, 1850.
You heard that Dr. Andral wished me to spend the winter in the South. I write to you from the first stage. Although I have a decided, and even passionate taste for travelling, I set off this time with an uneasiness and heaviness of heart, which would augur ill if I believed in omens; but the state of my mind is explained by that of public affairs. They are, indeed, enough to make one anxious. I think that nothing of importance will happen during my absence, except that the relations between the President and the Assembly will become more and more unpleasant, without coming to an open rupture. If this prophecy of mine be realized, I own that my absence would be a relief to me; for I know nothing more fatiguing, enervating, and distressing, than to drift, as we have been doing lately, on a rolling sea, with neither wind nor tide, and out of sight of shore. Such a navigation wears out everything, ship as well as crew. If it is to go on, as seems likely, I had rather remain on land.
Still, will things be in the same state six months hence? This is what disturbs me. On general principles this is not to be expected, for we act as if on the eve of a struggle. But the general languor of the public mind may reach and keep motionless the most active. It is as difficult to be violent in a calm as it is to be moderate in a storm.
I repeat, then, my hopes, that during the ensuing six months, and perhaps even for still longer, the two powers whom the constitution has so awkwardly placed tête-à-tête, though they may quarrel, will not fight. Still these political metaphysics do not set me at rest. You must own, my dear friend, that the aspect of affairs is enough to sadden a man who is going abroad. I go, therefore, in very bad spirits; for though I do not care to be here in the statu quo, I should never forgive myself for being absent in the event of a crisis, whichever way it might turn. I need not say more about it, than to beg you to think how you yourself would feel in my situation. It will be such an anxious one, that you will perform not only a friendly, but a charitable action, by writing to me frequently, and at length. Pray do so, my dear Corcelle; I ask it as a great kindness—the greatest that you can now show to me.
You know that there are occasions in life when health must give way to duty and honour. Events may happen that will render my return absolutely necessary. Should they occur, remember that I trust to you to let me know instantly.
I have not yet fixed where to go. We think of choosing the place of all others most celebrated for its climate, Palermo; but as yet nothing is settled.
TO M. G. DE BEAUMONT.
Naples, November 24, 1850.
Our voyage from Marseilles to Italy, my dear friend, was as full of accidents as our journey from Paris to Marseilles. First, we were detained for a day longer than we ought at Genoa, and thus were prevented from taking advantage of the fine weather which we had till then enjoyed. The news of the termination of the quarantine at Naples had just arrived at Genoa and all along that coast, so that a host of English families who were unwillingly making their way by land, rushed on board our vessel, which was a merchant ship, and though good, was small. You cannot imagine what that crowd was: the fore-part of the boat was covered with carriages, and the deck and cabin so full that we could not move. It was in this condition, and in the middle of the night, that we encountered, between Leghorn and Civita Vecchia, one of the most violent gales that I ever experienced. The deck soon became untenable; the sea broke over it every minute. Men, women, and children had to run into the cabin, where they were packed like negroes in a slave-ship. When once one got in, it was impossible to get out again, for the companion ladder was so choked with people, that it soon became impossible to go up or down it. Add to this, universal sea-sickness, and you may judge of the abomination of desolation of such a place. But the worst part was, that there soon was such a want of air, that I thought that I really was going to be suffocated. Since my illness, my lungs have not recovered their elasticity, and every moment I felt as if I should cease to breathe. Happily, there was a little port-hole close to me which I succeeded in opening; my face was soon washed by the waves, but still I was able to live, which was my object for the time being. At daybreak the storm abated, and we landed at Civita Vecchia, looking like ghosts. Here our misfortunes ended. After resting one day, we pushed on to Rome, where we spent only one night. . . . On my arrival at Naples, three days ago, I read the President’s message. . . .
We have here wind, rain, hail, thunder—every weather except cold. The air has always been soft, which suits me extremely well; the material man has never been better, but the spiritual is starved. The country is wonderfully beautiful, but what a population! what a hubbub! what inconceivable dirt! what rags! what vermin! To find such abominations as one meets at every step in the streets of Naples, one must go into the most horrible corners of Algiers. From what I hear, it seems that this tattered populace is friendly to the Government, and much opposed to revolutions. The lower classes here form what we should call the party of order.
I do not yet know when we shall quit Naples, or even if we shall go any farther than its neighbourhood. For my part, I had rather be in Sicily. We are waiting for Ampère, whom we expect in a few days, to make our decision.
With regard to my leave of absence, pray settle it as you think proper. I trust this as well as everything else to you.
It is a great and valuable blessing to possess such a friendship as ours, and a trust so well justified by experience. Almost every other of the good things in this world loses its value with advancing years; but this becomes more and more precious as one knows men better and learns to look upon them, for the most part, with utter and irremediable distrust.
TO M. DUFAURE.
Sorrento, December 22, 1850.
Although I hear of you, my dear friend, in almost all the letters that I receive, I wish to have some direct news from you. In this seclusion I delight in thinking of my friends; and the best way of doing so is to communicate with them.
I wish only that I had a subject worthy of you. But I have none. For what can I say of France, which I see through a mist? And as for this country, I have too near and too correct a view of it to like to speak of it. It is sad enough to live here, I assure you, for a man in search of anything but health; and even for those who, like me, are determined to seek nothing else, the enjoyment of good health is often spoiled by the sight of so much moral sickness. Like all my contemporaries, I have acquired, not only the taste for liberty, but the habit of it—a habit which, with many people, survives even the taste. I cannot reconcile myself to living, even as a foreigner, in a country in which every conceivable liberty is either restrained or destroyed. You, who have always lived in the midst of the animation, the independence, and the noise of our society, cannot understand the moral and intellectual torture experienced in a country where every action is hampered and impeded; where not only men are silent, but where even their thoughts are paralyzed. My mind seems to suffer, as my body did ten months ago, when my lungs played ill, and I could never take a full respiration.
Again, Italy is not China. It joins on to France; and though it does not greatly influence us, we act on it with enormous power. I cannot contemplate the miserable condition into which it has fallen, without reflecting sadly on the fatal influence which we often exercise upon all around us. When a revolution breaks out in France, all Europe falls into anarchy; and when order is re-established in France, every other country restores the old abuses. We must confess that neighbouring nations love us no better than their sovereigns do. The Revolution of 1848 has done irreparable injury to Italy. It precipitated her into a political movement which had no chance of success, unless the process were slow; and it tore the country out of the hands of the liberals to place it in those of the revolutionists. One is shocked to see how many germs of liberty have been miserably wasted, trodden under foot, and destroyed in this unhappy country, during the last three years, by those who had always liberty on their lips. I do not think that human folly and perversity ever showed themselves so openly.
I turn my eyes from such spectacles as much as I can, and try to create for myself a world of my own, consisting only of these lovely shores and of these fine skies. We have found a delightful residence in this out-of-the-way part of the world; a house which is comfortably furnished, warm, open to the sun, and sheltered from cold winds; a Belvedere in a forest of orange-trees, with the Bay of Naples under our windows. I have brought some books, and in their society I try to forget all that is going on beyond my own horizon. I do not always succeed, and sometimes political rumours startle me. I dread them; and yet, when I have heard none for a long time, I grow anxious. The position of France is too critical, and the future too doubtful, to admit of my enjoying real tranquillity without knowing what is going on. I am, therefore, very grateful whenever my friends are so kind as to keep me informed as to the state of our affairs, at least, in so far as they are able; for politics with us form a labyrinth of paths, so intercepted and so devious, that even those best acquainted with them do not know in what direction the country, or even they themselves, may be walking. From all that I hear, it seems to me to be pretty clear that nothing decisive will occur before the spring. Security on this point is a great relief and comfort to me. I hope that before any considerable event takes place, I shall be at home, and ready to share with my friends the chances of fortune.
TO THE COMTESSE DE CIRCOURT.
Sorrento, December 30, 1850.
I was waiting, Madame, to write to you till I had made the acquaintance of General Filangieri, by whom I am sure that I should have been well received, as my letter to him was from you. However, I am obliged, with great regret, to tell you that I am unable to make use of your introduction. The bad effects of our first voyage on the health of Madame de Tocqueville, and our well-founded fears of finding no lodging at Palermo, except in the hotel, determined us to fix ourselves at Sorrento, whence I write to you.
I dare say that you know this charming spot, so I need not describe it to you; and you will have no difficulty in believing that I enjoy it as much as one can ever enjoy oneself away from one’s friends and one’s country. Now and then, as I said before, I think with a sigh of Sicily. I am particularly sorry to lose the opportunity of conversing with General Filangieri, who, as I hear on all sides, is the most distinguished man in this country.
I allow myself as little as possible to think of politics, and I try not to let them annoy me. Hitherto, this mode of life, and especially this admirable climate, have revived me more than I had dared to expect. I really hope to carry back with me to Paris a capital of good health. This capital I shall no doubt spend, and perhaps even, like others, I shall waste it in what is called the great business of life, as if it were not the great business of every one’s life to keep his body in health and his mind at rest.
Although I live like a hermit, and perhaps because I live like a hermit, I am extremely curious to know all that is going on in the world, or, to use the language of hermits, all secular affairs. It would be most kind and charitable in you to tell me, when you answer me (that is, at least, if you really are willing to take so much trouble), some news, and, above all, some of your own news. There is no man who could prize them more highly.
Though solitary, do not think that I am quite without resources. I have brought as companions a few excellent books. It sometimes occurs to me, I tell you this as a secret, that on the whole I prefer living with books to living with authors. One is not always happy with the latter; while books are intelligent companions, without vanity, ill-humour, or caprice; they do not want to talk of themselves, do not dislike to hear others praised; clever people whom one can summon and dismiss just as one pleases. A capital recommendation; for though there is nothing so delightful as agreeable conversation, it shares the fate of all other pleasures, and to be fully enjoyed ought to be taken only when one chooses, and as one chooses. I need not say that my distrust of authors does not extend to my friend Ampère, whom I am impatiently expecting to-morrow, or the day after. His least merit is writing; and I know by experience that no companion can be more agreeable and delightful than he is in retirement. As I wish to keep him as long as possible in our retreat, I have fitted him up a south room, with a grove of orange-trees under his window, and a glimpse of the sea in one corner. I have put in a fireplace and a carpet, two things which are sometimes necessary, though they are rare in this fortunate climate, where few precautions are taken against winter. I hope that he will like his cell; that he will stay as long as we shall at Sorrento; that we shall talk a great deal, and even work a little; for complete idleness is good for nothing; and has never fattened any but fools, so it is said, but even this I doubt.
Adieu, Madame. Forgive all this gossip in consideration of the pleasure that writing to you affords me, and believe in my respectful attachment.
[*]The law of the 31st May, 1850, which restricted the suffrage.—Tr.