Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1852: TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
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1852: TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ. - 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 N. W. SENIOR, ESQ.
March 9, 1852.
I send you, my dear Senior, an introduction to Lamoricière. This letter will be short; you know that I do not write at any length by the post.
It will contain nothing but thanks for your long and interesting letter brought by Rivet, who returned delighted with the English in general, and with you in particular.
I see that the disturbed state of parties, occasioned by Sir Robert Peel’s policy, is passing away, and that your political world is again dividing itself into the two great sects, one of which tries to narrow, the other to extend, the area of political power—one of which tries to lift you into aristocracy, the other to depress you.
The political game will be simpler. I can understand better the conservative policy of Lord Derby than the democratic one of Lord John Russell. As the friends of free trade are more numerous than those of democracy, I think that it would have been easier to attack the government on its commercial than on its political illiberality.
Then in this great nation, called Europe, similar currents of opinions and feelings prevail, different as may be the institutions and characters of its different populations. We see over the whole continent so general and so irresistible a reaction against democracy, and even against liberty, that I cannot believe that it will stop short on our side of the Channel; and if the Whigs become Radical, I shall not be surprised at the permanence in England of a Tory government, allied to foreign despots.
But I ought not to talk on such matters, for I live at the bottom of a well, seeing nothing, and regretting that it is not sufficiently closed above to prevent my hearing anything. Your visions of 29,000 troops at Cherbourg, to be followed by 29,000 more, are mere phantoms. There is nothing of the kind, and there will be nothing. I speak with knowledge, for I come from Cherbourg. I have been attending an extraordinary meeting of our conseil général on the subject of a projected railway. My reception touched and delighted me. I was unanimously, and certainly freely, elected president.
TO M. GUSTAVE DE BEAUMONT.
Paris, May 1, 1852.
. . . All work is for the present impossible. Being in Paris, I attribute my incapacity to the events that I see, and to the exciting conversations of every day. If I were in the country, I should attribute it to solitude. The truth is, that it arises from a sickness at heart, and will not cease till this is cured, which can be the work only of time, the great healer of grief, as every one knows. I must try to wait patiently for the cure. And yet I cherish this grief as one does every real sorrow to which one has a right, bitter though it be. The sight of all that is going on, and especially of the way in which it is regarded, hurts every feeling of pride, honour, and delicacy. I should be sorry to be less sad. In this respect, I ought to be thoroughly satisfied, for, indeed, I am sad unto death. I have reached my present age, and passed through all sorts of circumstances, advocating always the same cause—regulated liberty. Can this cause be lost for ever? I began to fear it in 1848, I fear it now still more; not that I am convinced that this country will never possess again constitutional institutions, but will they last, or will any others? It is a moving sand: the question is, not whether it can be fixed, but what will be the winds that will toss it about?
Still I try to work. Every day I spend two or three hours in the library of the Rue de Richelieu. In spite of my endeavours to turn my thoughts in another direction, a profound sadness sometimes steals over me; and if I allow it to seize upon me unawares, I am lost for the rest of the day. My life might be pleasant, but if I look aside from my book, I am cut to the heart.
Enclosed is the letter addressed to the electors of my canton, in which I resign my place as member of the conseil général. . . . I could not take the oath. . . . This result of the 2d of December is, perhaps, the one which has most affected me individually. My position in the department was one of unmixed satisfaction. I had the moral direction of every affair of importance: my empire over the minds of the people was founded upon personal regard, independently of political opinions. This portion of my public life shed a reflected light upon my private life, and made it all the happier. But these are only small miseries. . . .
TO THE COMTE DE CIRCOURT.
Tocqueville, June 14, 1852.
Dear M. de Circourt,—
I received your instructive and interesting letter on the 21st of last month, and I should have thanked you for it sooner, if you had not yourself told me that I was not to think of answering it before the 15th of June. That time has come, and I will not let it slip.
I have not read the book by the Abbé Barruel,* but I have often heard it talked of, and often intended to read it. I have always been discouraged by believing his starting-point to be fundamentally wrong. His first proposition is, that the French Revolution (we may now venture to call it the European Revolution) was the result of a conspiracy. It seems to me that nothing can be more untrue. I do not say that, during the course of the eighteenth century, there may not have been secret societies and underground machinations undermining the ancient social system. Beneath all great movements you will find underhand conspiracies: they form the sub-soil of revolutions. But I feel certain that those secret societies were the symptoms of the disease, and not the disease itself—the effects, and not the causes. The change in opinions which produced the change in facts was effected in broad daylight by the combined efforts of all classes; writers, nobles, princes, all rushing out of the old system without knowing what other to adopt.
However, though the first and dominant idea may be erroneous, it may have led the author to make useful discoveries, just as the search for the philosopher’s stone was the origin of chemistry.
There is one part of the political and philosophical history of Germany which I do not understand, probably on account of my deplorable ignorance of German affairs.
In France, during the whole of the eighteenth century, philosophy properly so called—theoretic science—advanced in the same direction with practical ideas and public opinion. These were inclined to novelty. Theory taught the worthlessness of tradition, and treated all that was ancient as worn out rubbish. In Germany, on the contrary, if I am not mistaken, philosophical and social theories were opposed to the march of events, opinions, and habits; they clung to tradition and sought in the past the explanation of the present, and the rule for the future. It seems to me that the German philosophers and thinkers have always tended in this direction.
Now, this to me is inexplicable. I cannot imagine that the philosophy of a people should differ so widely from the ideas that govern its daily conduct, especially in a country like Germany, where theory has in general so great an influence over events. Has the revolutionary spirit in Germany taken a different course to that which it has taken in France? What was its course then? I wish that I could be enlightened upon this point. May it not be that the difference between the French and German philosophers has been this: they both condemned the present; ours wished to abolish it in order to adapt a new plan; and theirs in order to build upon the old foundation.
You have something better to do now, than to think about philosophy and to live in the past; you are in the best place in the world for seeing and forming an opinion, not only of German, but of all European affairs.* I am curious to know what impression they make upon you. I fancy that the picture before you does not differ much from that presented by France, or at least, differs only in detail: an almost total lack of energy in the public mind; new vigor in every government, and yet considerable prudence; great fear of war, and a strong desire to tolerate all that takes place in France, if it be possible.
I left Paris a fortnight ago, and since then I have been buried in this province, where I hope to see you before the end of the summer. I am very happy in my retreat, and wish for nothing but sunshine, which, in truth, we seldom enjoy. Although, when I was in Paris, I took care to see none but people who think with me in public matters, in the end I began to feel the need of solitude. For those, who like myself, have long led an active life, it is painful to speak, even with men of similiar opinions, when words lead and can lead to no overt act. After a time silence becomes a necessary relief. I should like to do better, still—to forget; but. . . .
TO M. DUFAURE.
Tocqueville, July 4, 1852.
I fancy, dear friend, that we must both be dead, it is so long since we have given each other any signs of life. You, I suppose, are silent because you think that you can have nothing to say, buried as you are in the country, and hearing no sound from the external world. I am in an exactly similar position. Still, I will write to you if only to tell you that I always think of you with tender regard, and that I shall always be proud of our joint action in public life. You know all this; but it is not disagreeable to hear such things repeated, although they may not be new.
I arrived nearly a month ago, and though I have seen the same people as usual, I know no more than you, who are five hundred miles away, what is passing in men’s minds. I begin to think that they are quite empty, and that political life, and even all intellectual life is, for the moment, suspended. The public mind seems to be resting itself in vacuity, and to like it well enough.
Such of us as cannot live alone, and find their own resources, are much to be pitied. For out-laws like ourselves to seek dissipation and amusement abroad, is of no use. Happily I am spared this temptation; and thanks to the work, of which I confided the plan to you, and which I have set about writing with the utmost diligence, I spend some happy days in the midst of my solitude. I should scarcely have anything to wish for, if from time to time I were visited by a friend to whom I could talk unreservedly, and lessen by sharing it, the weight of grief which sometimes, in spite of myself, oppresses me. Rivet, Vivien, Lanjuinais, Freslon, Beaumont, and Corcelle, have promised to come before the end of the autumn. They hope that it will be in September. It would give me so much pleasure, my dear friend, if you would follow their example. What pleasant days we should spend together! How restoring would be the effect of such companionship! Does not your heart urge you to accept? Write and say that you will do so, and at all events, write to give me some news of yourself, of Madame Dufaure, and of your children. My wife wishes to be remembered to you both, and believe me, &c.
TO THE COMTESSE DE CIRCOURT.
Tocqueville, July 5, 1852.
I write to you, Madame, though I have nothing to tell you. I write solely to obtain an answer, and thus to hear from yourself how you are, and if the request be not indiscreet, what you are thinking. As to what you are doing, I know it without your telling me. You are employing your excellent taste in ornamenting a spot which nature has already made lovely, and you are succeeding admirably; for to the many valuable qualities which are known best to your friends, you add one which every one is able to appreciate at first sight, the art of imparting a peculiar elegance to everything around you, and of converting, as you did last year, a peasant’s hut into a delicious retreat. You have now a little country house to adorn, and I fancy that you will make it such a delightful abode that your neighbour* will be forced to confess that it would be pleasanter to live there than in his palace, among all the plants which he sends for to the Antipodes. It is no less certain that I am longing to see you in it, and to enjoy your improvements, your beautiful view, and your conversation, which you must forgive me for saying, is worth more than all the wonders which you have created or found at Les Bruyères.
Before I left Paris I received a very interesting letter from M. de Circourt, in Germany. He desired me to answer him at Hamburg, towards the 20th of June. I did so. I have heard nothing of him since; I hope that he is well.
What else can I say, Madame? I am not vain enough to suppose that you would be interested in what I could tell you about myself; and I am perfectly sure that anything I might tell you about my neighbours would tire you. Your position is different. You know well that you will always please me if you speak of yourself, and you live near the great centre of news. I am sure, that in spite of the heat, there are many agreeable people left in Paris, and that your residence in the country does not prevent their seeing you. Pray, Madame, do me the great favour of telling me a little of what is going on in the world, and particularly what people say; remember that, in consequence of the loss of interest in politics, and of the liberty of the press, the country has become a place to which neither air nor light ever penetrate. It was always a sort of cave, and now they have stopped up the last crevice. Be charitable enough, therefore, to come to my assistance.
Adieu, Madame, &c.
TO HENRY REEVE, ESQ.
Tocqueville, August 8, 1852.
I received your letter, my dear friend, just when I was expecting to see yourself. Well as you write, it was not an equivalent. We had been looking forward to the pleasure of receiving you here, and we had pushed forward most of our brick and mortar works, and adjourned others, so that you would have been less uncomfortable than I feared at first. My library, which has been turned into the drawing-room, neither you nor Mrs. Reeve would have found fault with, for you both of you like and appreciate objects of intellectual value. To increase your regret, I will tell you that you would have fallen here into the midst of a literary workshop. M. Ampère, whom you must know at least by name, is preparing for the press an account of the tour which he has just made in the United States. He is installed at the top of a tower, and I am scribbling underneath him, on the first floor. Now and then we meet in the library, and in the presence of Madame de Tocqueville, who forms the whole audience, read to each other what we have written; we criticise, we object, and we praise; and the time slips away pleasantly. You would not, perhaps, have been afraid of spending a few days in this way. You would have been amused by Ampère’s animated, brilliant, and unaffected conversation.
The elections for our conseil général have just taken place. I refused to be elected for the canton which I formerly represented. I have undergone, indeed, more trouble, made more advances, and taken more steps to prevent my election than I ever did to secure it. My neighbour, Daru, has acted in the same way.
Good-bye. Let me have news of you. Tell Mrs. Reeve how sorry we are, and how we hope to see her next year. You will still find Tocqueville, but not, perhaps, Ampére.
TO THE COMTESSE DE CIRCOURT.
Tocqueville, September 18, 1852.
I cannot think, Madame, how I can have waited for two months without thanking you for your kind letter, which was received with equal pleasure and gratitude. My MSS. will not plead for me. For many weeks past I have written as little as I have read; my time has been squandered on such trifles that I may as well say that it has been lost. You must know already by experience, and the longer you live the better you will know it, that the only way to enjoy liberty and leisure in the country is not to live in your own house. At home, domestic and local details fill the whole day; the evening comes and one is tired, though one has done nothing. These are the reasons that formerly made me adopt the maxim in which few agree with me, that the only time when the country is really pleasant is in the heart of winter. Then out-door work is over, and local business at a stand-still; one is permitted to enjoy one’s own society. A melancholy enjoyment, you will say; but this is by comparison. There are some companions whom I infinitely prefer to solitude; but I cannot say that they are many, and their number seems to diminish every day.
You ask me, Madame, in so kind, and I may even say, so friendly a manner, what my literary labours are, that I much wish that I could give you a direct answer. Unfortunately, before I can exactly tell you what I am about, I must know myself, and that I do not. I am groping for a path which I have not yet found. I think that there is much left to say on the subject of the French Revolution, on its causes, on the tendencies which led to it, and on its future consequences. I think that for appreciating, measuring, and judging this great event, as a whole, we are better placed now than we were twenty years. ago. We are near enough to see it and to understand it. The echo of the ideas and feelings of the men who precipitated the world into that terrible enterprise, is not yet silent in our own hearts; and yet we are far enough off to make it not impossible to appreciate their actions and judge of the value of what they effected.
This is the work which I meditate; but as yet I do not know how to launch myself, or how to steer through the ocean of the French Revolution. I investigate, I experimentalize; I try to grasp the facts more closely than has yet been attempted, and to wring out of them the general truths which they contain. I have as yet fixed upon no plan; nor have I written anything that can be called the beginning of a book. The annoyances that I was just now complaining of, have had something to do with it; the want of books and papers is the chief cause. I therefore intend to return in a fortnight to Paris, to be within reach of the archives and public libraries; I am more than ever determined upon executing my plan of living not in Paris itself, but in the neighbourhood. My theory of the advantages of the country when one is not at home, and of the superiority of the winter over the summer will then be fully realized. During the next six months I intend to make a great effort, and to see of what I am capable.
Next month will not roll over, Madame, without my paying you a visit, if you will allow me, at Les Bruyères. I need not tell you how glad I shall be to see and to talk with you once more. I am impatient for the time to come; and, in the meanwhile, I beg you to believe in the sincerity of my respectful friendship. Remember me to M. de Circourt.
[*]“Mémoires sur le Jacobinisme.”
[*]M. de Circourt was then at Hamburg.
[*]M. de Piscatore, a great tobacconist.—Tr.