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TO M. DE CORCELLE. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2 
Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville. Translated from the French by the translator of Napoleon’s Correspondence with King Joseph. With large Additions. In Two Volumes (London: Macamillan, 1861). 2 vols.
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TO M. DE CORCELLE.
St. Cyr, near Tours, September 17, 1853:
I have been often thinking and speaking of you, my dear friend, during the last fortnight. I can explain my silence only by the soporific effect produced by a life so uniform that at last it never occurs to me to do anything that I have not been doing the day before. It is a voluntary treadmill, in which I think only of lifting up one foot after the other till the wheel stops.
To answer your friendly questions, I will tell you at once that since you left us my health has been in a more satisfactory state, and my doctors continue to assure me that I shall be entirely cured. On this last point I am absolutely incredulous, and I no more expect to see my own perfect recovery than I do that of France. Our disorders are of too long standing; and all that I have learned to desire for both is a tolerable state of health. You see that as I grow older I grow more moderate in my wishes.
I have been reading your letter over again, and it seems to me that you have mistaken the sense of what I said when we talked over my new book, which is not surprising, for it is difficult to explain clearly the plan of so vast an undertaking as that which I contemplate.
I told you that it was not my intention to suggest a remedy for the state into which the Ancien Régime, the Republic, and the Empire, have thrown our country. This is true: my fixed resolution is to stop before I set foot on this ground, to consider it only from afar, and not to try to write a book of temporary interest. But it by no means follows that no clear results are to be drawn from the historical study on which I am at work, that it is to give only a vague notion of the opinions and sentiments of the author, and to leave the reader uncertain as to the judgments which he ought to form upon facts, and upon men; on the events themselves, on their causes, and as to the lessons which they teach us. It would be strange, considering that I enter upon this work with decided and often enthusiastic preferences, fixed opinions, and a clear and certain object, if I should leave the reader to float rudderless on the sea of my ideas and of his own.
I think that the books which have most roused men to reflection, and have had most influence upon their opinions and their actions, are those in which the author does not tell them dogmatically what they are to think, but puts them into the way of finding the truth for themselves. If God grants me time and strength enough to finish my task, you may be sure that no one will have any doubts as to my object.
You tell me that institutions form only half of my subject. I go farther still; I say that they do not form so much as half. You are well enough acquainted with my opinions to know that I consider institutions as exercising only a secondary influence over the destinies of man. Would to God that I could believe them to be all-powerful! I should have more hopes for our future; for we might, some day, chance to stumble upon the precious recipe which would cure all our ills, or upon a man acquainted with the nostrum. But, alas! there is no such thing; and I am convinced that the excellence of political societies does not depend upon their laws, but upon what they are prepared to become by the sentiments, principles, and opinions, the moral and intellectual qualities given by nature and education to the men of whom they consist. If this truth does not appear in every part of my book; if it does not induce the reader to apply this lesson continually to himself; if it does not, without pretending to teach, show to him in every page what are the sentiments, opinions, and morals which lead to prosperity and freedom, and what are the vices and errors infallibly opposed to these blessings, I shall not have attained the chief, and I may say the only, object that I have in view.
To turn to another subject: you are, perhaps, right in saying that I attach too much importance in religious matters to an accident—the conduct of the clergy. You must make excuses for the grief, I might almost say the despair, with which the sight of what is now going on affects a man as convinced as I am that the real greatness of mankind must arise from the combined action of liberty and religion; the one to animate, the other to restrain; and whose only political passion, for the last thirty years, has been to bring about this combination. I am far from saying that respect for our religion is not increasing among our countrymen; but, unhappily, this is not the same thing as an increase of religious belief.
My father is to spend a few days with us in the beginning of next month. After this, we shall renounce the society of the living for that of the illustrious dead: books will be our only company. I do not despair, however, of seeing, before next spring, a good friend, like yourself, tear himself from Paris for a short time to pay us a charitable visit. Do I deceive myself?
The world seems to me to be growing narrower and narrower, so as to contain only five or six people, whose society pleases, soothes, or restores me. You are at the head of the list. You may judge, therefore, if I am satisfied with conversing with you for so many months only through the post.