Front Page Titles (by Subject) EXTRACTS FROM THE JOURNAL KEPT BY MR. SENIOR DURING HIS VISIT TO NORMANDY. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
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EXTRACTS FROM THE JOURNAL KEPT BY MR. SENIOR DURING HIS VISIT TO NORMANDY. - 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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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.”