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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, December 31, 1853.
I wish to spend one of the last hours in this year in writing to you, my dear friend. I rejoice in knowing you to be so agreeably occupied and surrounded. May God grant to you many such days.
Our health continues good, in spite of the severity of the weather. When I got up on the day before yesterday, my thermometer was sixteen degrees and a half below zero. I never saw either in Sicily or in Africa more brilliant nights—it was a sky for an astronomer, a firmament to please a Chaldee, and abominably cold. I wonder if it is as bad in your part of the country. Amid all these glories of the sky, my meditations were disturbed by the thoughts of the numbers of the poor—shivering and starving upon the earth. This cold produces a great increase of misery, which was already great enough.
As I could not carry my whole library to this out-of-the-way retreat, I have brought at least one volume of the works of all our great writers. Their society is noble and elevating. I read the other day Bourdaloue’s sermon on “False Conscience.” I was delighted. More, perhaps, might be said on the mysterious and awful phenomenon which it is the object of this sermon to describe; but all that the preacher says of it is true and profound. What admirable language! what consummate art! It is impossible to study him sufficiently. The skill with which he varies his expressions, so as never to let the attention of the audience flag, is really marvellous. Where could Bourdaloue, who had lived so long in the provinces, have acquired all these delicate artistic touches; and besides other more essential merits, the gift of choosing the right word (there never is more than one), and thus, if I may use the expression, of pouring out the whole contents of his thought? He is as vivid as he is perspicuous.
I have also read Bossuet’s sermons. Till now I knew little of this portion of his writings, if, indeed, one can call them writings. They are improvisations, in which his genius, less hemmed in, seems often rough, and almost wild, but more vigorous, and perhaps more extraordinary, than in any of his other works.
I am quite of your opinion as to the impertinence of the “Progressive Catholicism.” It is detestable, let alone its doctrines. A religion must be absolutely true or false. How can it make progress? As you truly say, there may be progress in the application, not in the dogma. Besides, the word “progressif” must have been suggested to a French writer by the Devil himself, it is such bad French. What a face the illustrious dead, in whose society I live, would have made at it!
Here I am, dear friend, at the end of my paper; but I cannot leave off without even warmer expressions of my regard than usual, in honour of the New Year. Our good wishes to all around you, and a kiss to little François.
TO THE COMTESSE DE CIRCOURT.
St. Cyr, January 11, 1854.
I am anxious to write to you, Madame, before you leave the country, as I am convinced that no woman, however perfect she may be, when once she has returned to Paris, has leisure, or perhaps inclination, to remember absent friends. I therefore take my precautions, and try to make you think of me before it is too late.
A thousand thanks, Madame, for your last letter, and for the charming one which preceded it. They were gleams of light in my darkness. Your description of the delicious retreat which you have created does not astonish me. Three years ago I admired the skill with which you converted a peasant’s hut into a beautiful cottage, such as, unfortunately, one never does see in Switzerland. What may you not have been able to do with your present abode? I am impatient to see you in it; for where else are you to be found? In Paris one only catches a glimpse of you. Though I know no hostess who understands better the art of distributing her attentions amongst her guests, this is not enough to satisfy those who know how to appreciate you, among whom, as you know, I place myself. While I am deprived of that pleasure I live in a solitude as complete as that of a prison, only that I am at liberty to walk about the country. I am alarmed, Madame, at finding it suit me so well. I fear that my character must be based on unsociability.
As I could not bring my library to keep me company, I have had sent to me a volume of each of my favourite great authors. They amount to only twenty-five: a small shelf holds them all. Hardly one has been written within the last hundred years. I open one at hazard; it is almost as if I conversed with the writers. I am struck by seeing how, in spite of the variety of their talent, their merits are all owing to the same causes.
I study German for not less than three hours every day, and I begin to like it. But I cannot accustom myself to the gutturals. It seems to me always as if the speaker were scolding. Have soft things ever been said in German, Madame? One is told that they are said in every language, even in Iroquois.
I hope that if you write to me from Paris, you will tell me something of what is going on there; what people say, what they write, if indeed they do write. Is any subject besides the Exchange and the war ever mentioned? Such a subject would interest me. I received a kind note from Madame de Rauzan the other day. I was much touched by it, as she cannot write, and I know by experience how wearisome it is to dictate. Be so good as to thank her from me before I have the opportunity of thanking her myself.
I ought to earn news by giving you some myself. But what can a hermit offer from his cell, except his thoughts? and they are not worth your acceptance. I will therefore conclude, Madame, begging you to forgive the stupidity of this letter, and to accept the assurance of my most respectful attachment.