Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE COMTESSE DE CIRCOURT. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
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.
TO BARON BUNSEN.
Paris, January 2, 1853.
I venture to write to you, Sir, though I have not the honour of being personally known to you. I have no sort of right to ask you for advice, and yet I do so. I hope that you will excuse this strange behaviour, when I tell you that it is the result of your well-known kindness and talents.
Being completely excluded from public affairs, and having made up my mind to stand aloof from them, I have resumed occupations which afford me more satisfaction than I have ever obtained from politics. At this moment I am studying the circumstances which accompanied the birth of our Revolutions; or rather, I should say, of our Revolution, for there has been but one, which is still going on, and is not nearly over. I try to conjure up its first beginnings, and to form a clear idea of the impressions and ideas first suggested to foreigners by the yet indistinct view of that great convulsion. I want to trace the different opinions formed of it in foreign countries during the years 1787, ’88, ’89, ’90, ’91 and ’92, by the remarkable men of the time, whether writers, statesmen, or princes; what they at first expected that it was to be; how they thought that it would affect, or that it might affect their own countries; the degree of influence that they expected it to exercise over the general progress of European affairs, and the uses to which they thought that they might turn it.
Unfortunately, to my great regret, I do not know Germany. Till now, I have lived almost exclusively in the English world. I fancy that during the last sixty years, many memoirs, letters, and diplomatic papers, must have been published in Germany, which explain all that I want to know. As I am not acquainted with them, I cannot ask for them. It is certain that when the French Revolution first broke out, it must have given rise to publications reflecting the general impressions. My slender knowledge of German and my almost entire ignorance (which, however, is happily not incurable), of Germany, deprive me of this necessary information. In this extremity I thought of addressing myself to you, Sir; I considered that no one would be more able to enlighten me, or more disposed to do so. I, therefore, determined upon writing to you; if there are no such documents as I suppose, my resolution will, at any rate, have given me an opportunity, which I have long desired, of entering into personal relations with you.
Pray accept, Sir, my excuses, together with the assurance of my highest esteem.