Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1856: TO MADAME SWETCHINE. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
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1856: TO MADAME SWETCHINE. - 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 MADAME SWETCHINE.
Tocqueville, January 7, 1856.
It is very long, Madame, since I have profited by your permission to write to you. I hoped to do much better—to return to Paris and to see you. But one duty after another kept me here, and will probably detain me for three weeks longer. I will not wait so long without thanking you for your interesting and touching letter. It is a full-length portrait of yourself. I wish that I could deserve its kindness, for the friendship of such as you are, imposes obligations. Not only ought one to be grateful, but to justify it. For this reason I wish that I could cure myself entirely of the tendency to despondency which you argue against in your letter. The disease is, unfortunately, almost as old as myself, and it is not easy to get rid of it entirely. I have, however, struggled much against it during the last few years, and I have certainly diminished its violence. Your letter has helped me, and done me real good. Do not, however, think that the attack I mentioned to you was entirely due to my morbid and habitual melancholy. It especially arose from my reflections on facts which are only too real. As I proceed in the work in which you are so kind as to interest yourself, I find myself more and more carried away by a stream of feelings and opinions which are exactly opposed to those of most of my contemporaries. I still love passionately things which they no longer care for.
I still consider liberty as the first of blessings; I still see that it is one of the most fertile sources of manly virtues and great actions. No tranquillity and no material comfort can in my mind make up for its loss. And yet I see that most of the men of my time, of the most honest among them, for I care little about the others, think only of accommodating themselves to the new system, and, what most of all disturbs and alarms me, turn a taste for slavery into a virtue. I could not think and feel as they do if I tried: it is even more repugnant to my nature than to my will. An unconquerable instinct keeps me consistent.
You can hardly imagine how painful, and often bitter, it is to me to live in this moral isolation; to feel myself shut out of the intellectual commonwealth of my age and country. Solitude in a desert would be less intolerable to me than this solitude among men. For I own my weakness, I have always dreaded loneliness; I cannot be happy, or even calm, unless I meet with the encouragement and sympathy of some of my fellow-creatures. To me, more than to any one else, may be applied the saying, which has such a deep meaning, “It is not good to be alone.” This condition of my mind which I have ventured to unfold to you, will explain the utter despondency which sometimes seizes me when I am writing; for in working for the public it is sad to remember how different from one’s own are its thoughts and feelings. I wish that I possessed the virtue of indifference to success, but I do not. Long experience has taught me that the success of a book depends more upon the previously conceived opinions of the reader than upon those expressed by the writer.
You must not, however, think that the object of my book is connected, either nearly or remotely, with the events or the men of the present day. But you are as well aware as I am that however little a book may seem to have to do with the circumstances of the time, it is pervaded with a spirit which is either sympathetic or antipathetic to that of the age. This is the soul of the book, the principle by which it attracts or repels.
I have said a great deal about myself, Madame, but you yourself were the snare that drew me into this fault, which is not habitual to me. I had much rather speak of you. . . .
TO M. DE CORCELLE.
June 18, 1856.
Forgive me, my excellent friend, for not having answered your letter earlier. And yet I was deeply touched by it. I should have said so before, but my grief is not of the sort that likes to display itself, even to my best friends.* Forgive me; you know how tenderly I am attached to you, and you cannot suppose that any consolations would be more gratefully received by me. But is there any consolation for so great a misfortune? My dear and excellent father has left a void which seems to increase every day. You saw how gentle and how kind he was. These qualities were striking even to strangers; to his sons his indulgence knew no bounds; his tenderness was that of a mother; his interest in all that concerned us was incessant, yet never intrusive. Instead of becoming weaker, his sensibilities grew keener with age; I never have seen a similar instance. His disposition had always been sweet, but in his latter years he became the most amiable of men. I may say that he and my dear Marie were the only two beings who bound me strongly to life, and I tremble when I think that only one of them is left. I used to observe in my father what I have never seen in any one else: religion presided over every action, and every minute of his life, and, without ever seeking to display itself, filled all his thoughts, influenced not only his belief, but modified and sanctified his whole character. His confessor said to me on the day before his death, “Your father sends for me for consolation, and I find in him a continual subject of edification.” Indeed, to me, the greatest proofs of religion have been the life and death of my poor father.
I long for solitude; it is as much required by my body as by my mind. The former is ill at ease. Adieu, my very dear friend. A thousand tender remembrances to you all.
TO THE SAME.
June 29, 1856.
My dear and excellent friend, I have just reached Tocqueville, where I found your letter of the 26th. When I read it, I felt the first pleasurable emotion which I have experienced for the last three weeks. I was anxious that you should approve of my book and as you directed to me, very rightly, to this place instead of to Paris, where business detained me longer than I expected, I was in a painful state of uncertainty as to your opinion. Before I left Paris I received many tokens of approval, which, considering from whom they came, I greatly appreciated; but all the congratulations in the world would not have enabled me to bear philosophically any sharp criticism from you; imagine, therefore, the impression produced on me by your praise, expressed so nobly, with so much delicacy, and relating to the very points which I was most anxious that a mind like yours should approve. A thousand thanks.
You have done me great good, and I was much in want of it; for I arrived with my spirits more depressed than I can tell you. My poor father was looking forward to visiting this year his “dear Tocqueville,” as he called it. He wished, he said, to see once more the home of his childhood, where he was brought up under the care of the admirable mother whom Providence bestowed upon him. Only an hour before he died, he talked to me of his youthful recollections. With all these thoughts in my head, my house looked desolate, and it still seems to me a desert. I knew that I loved my father; but I did not conceive the charm which death has spread over his memory, over all the qualities that endeared him to us; that his kindness, his gentleness, his indulgence, and his unselfishness would seem to me even more loveable when I had lost him. Part of your letter affected me even to tears—the allusion to him in the midst of your praise of me. You are quite right. If I am worth anything, I owe it above all to my education, to those examples of uprightness, simplicity, and honour which I found around me on coming into the world, and as I advanced in life. I owe to my parents much more than existence. I thank you from my heart.
TO BARON BUNSEN.
Tocqueville, July 19, 1856.
My dear Sir,
I wrote a few lines to you from Paris, when I was in great distress. I had just lost my father. I have now returned to the quiet of the country, and I write to thank you properly for the book which you sent to me through our excellent friend.* I do indeed feel the value of the present. As Mrs. Grote told you, I followed with intense interest all the discussion to which you gave rise in the Augsburg Gazette. I read the analysis of your work, and understood its spirit and its tendency. This glimpse made me wish to see the book itself. You have gratified me in the most agreeable manner, as I possess it given to me by you. I am reading, but I have not yet finished it; for I am not a first-rate German scholar, and, besides, such subjects cannot be studied quickly. But, as I go on, I find all the interest that I expected in your pages. I find the liberal spirit which struck me, even in the analysis; a spirit rare in itself, and peculiarly delightful when found in a lively theological discussion. I understand still better the sensation produced by your book in Germany, a sensation which has not yet ceased.
I do not know if you have received the volume which I have just published, “L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution.” More than three weeks ago I sent it to M. Frank, a German bookseller, who promised to forward it to you. I am most anxious that this book should obtain the approval of so great a judge of political and historical literature. I think that it contains much that is new, and that will interest you.
I admire, Sir, the indefatigable activity with which you turn your leisure to account. I own that I am somewhat ashamed to see how little I have done during nearly four years that I have been similarly occupied, when I consider that the number of your works has not injured their depth, nor their brilliancy. May you long preserve this extraordinary vigour and fertility of mind. This must be the ardent wish of all who are interested in the progress of mankind.
Again receive my best thanks, and believe me yours truly and respectfully, &c.
TO M. CHARLES DE RÉMUSAT.
Tocqueville, July 22, 1856.
Although, my dear friend, I did not immediately answer your letter of the 28th of last June, you must not suppose that I was indifferent to it. I never received one that gave me greater pleasure. The approbation of such a mind was a great point for me. I own that I hoped to obtain it; but your praise was so lively, so natural, and so friendly, that the man was as much touched as the author, and I shall never forget, not only what you wrote, but the feeling with which you wrote. Experience, however, taught me long ago to depend upon your friendship.
I have not yet read the introduction you mention,* though it has often been quoted to me as a thing which must be read by every one. Twice I held the book in my hand, and even opened it; but you know my weakness—my horror, when I am writing on any subject, of reading any general remarks upon it. It was because I expected to find so much similitude in our views, that I could not bear the idea of reading your book at that time. I think I told you that you were the man in the world who most alarmed me, and made me hurry on my work. I had a presentiment that you would travel over the same ground, and I saw that you were every day putting into circulation some of the ideas on which my work is founded. Your chapter upon Richelieu gave me a sleepless night. When we meet, I will make my wife tell you what I said to her. It will amuse you.
But when, dear Rémusat, shall we have the pleasure of again being together? I mean together so as to have opportunities for conversing without arranging beforehand the time and the subject. This can be the case only in the country, and we live at the opposite ends of the world. Will you never come into these parts? You would be received in a way which would prove to you our pleasure in seeing you. To return to your book: now that I have laid my egg, I should like to enjoy yours, but I have not got it here. I hope soon, however, to have it, for our friend Ampère has promised to bring it to me from Paris.
It would be an affectation on my part if I did not tell you that I am very anxious to see what you will say of me in the Révue des Deux Mondes. I am glad, however, that the periodical press has been allowed time to notice the work, and that all the papers have appreciated it from their own peculiar points of view with all their different opinions and passions, before you come at length to sum up the defects and merits of the book, and to pronounce a final sentence upon it. Now that the public voice has been heard, I long for yours.
My correspondents tell me that all Paris is talking about Spain. You are near that country; but I dare say that you are no better informed. Our state in France is as if we were in an exhausted receiver, where distance no longer affects sound. As for Spain, I am sure that she will never be a subject of congratulation to the real friends of liberty. She seems to have been created in order to disgust all who still cherish the ridiculous fancy for freedom.
Adieu. Remember me to Madame de Rémusat, and to your two sons, whom I envy you.
TO MADAME SWETCHINE.
Tocqueville, July 22, 1856.
Allow me, Madame, to begin by thanking you for your last letter. The kind feeling which it expressed comforted and strengthened me. Your letters have always this effect. The great reason is, I think, that your temperament is easily excited, while your mind is regulated by fixed principles. To these causes you owe your charm and your influence. I wish that I could derive more benefit than I do from such a valuable friendship, and I lament my want of success. Since I last wrote I have, however, regained some of the calm which I had lost towards the end of my stay in Paris, and during the first part of my return hither; but as yet I can take a lively interest in nothing. No book, nor even employment, has any hold upon me; a state in which I am always restless. For tranquillity with me arises not from repose, but from an active intellectual effort towards a definite point.
. . . . I hope that this letter will find you in your retreat, whither I should so much like to follow you, were it only for a single day, in order to enjoy with you long conversations, uninterrupted, as in Paris, by visitors.
The life so devoted to others which you lead there, though it procures for you the great happiness of doing good, must in the long run be trying to your health, and I rejoice in the idea of your solitude. Enjoy it, Madame, at your ease, and think of others only to remember the strong affection which some, and the esteem which all, entertain for you.
I have been reading a book which has much interested me. Albert de Broglie’s “Church and Empire of Rome in the Fourth Century.” I think it very clever. Though sincerely religious, the author has a sufficiently liberal spirit to admit of his judging impartially the men whom God used as His instruments. The whole style and arrangement of the book seemed to me very good. The decay of the Roman Empire always inspired me with disgust, and the Prince de Broglie’s is the first work that has ever interested me on the subject. . . .
TO M. VICTOR LANJUINAIS (FORMERLY MINISTER OF COMMERCE).
Tocqueville, July 18, 1856.
I ought to have thanked you before, my dear friend, for your last letter; it not only gratified, but delighted me. The impression which my book produced on you has made me quite happy. Nothing could have given me more pleasure. At the same time, and afterwards, I received letters of congratulation, many in very flattering terms. None of them gratified me more than yours. Not only your approbation of my book, but your manner of expressing it, charmed me. I should keep your letter, even if it were not addressed and did not allude to me, for the sole pleasure of reading from time to time such sentiments so admirably expressed. You are really eloquent without intending it in this letter, and it touched us deeply.
In the midst of our satisfaction, we were much grieved to find that we were not to expect you this year. We regret it most sincerely. It will be a very long time before we meet again. I do not intend to return to Paris before the first of February. After the painful excitement of last month, solitude and rest were absolutely necessary for me. I am less able than usual to enjoy them, for my mind is restless and unoccupied. I have finished the book which employed me from morning to night. I am not inclined nor able just at present to go on to the next part. This second part, too, looks to me much more difficult than what I have already done. The subject is so well known, and has been treated so often, that it is not easy to be both new and true. I can hope to discover no secret documents. I have a confused view of enormous difficulties, and yet I have already several ideas which seem to me valuable; and I have gone so far that I ought not to turn back. I am resolved to venture on this great undertaking; but first I must have rest.
I ought to travel, but I cannot at present. The tour which I should prefer would be that which you, my dear friend, propose to me.* It would have been very pleasant to thank you in person, instead of sending to you this letter; but business of all kinds prevents my leaving home this year. My presence is indispensable. . . . . I wish, at any rate, that you would write to me sometimes; for I want to be, not only in friendship, but in frequent communication with you.
TO PRINCE ALBERT DE BROGLIE.
Tocqueville, July 20, 1856.
I should have thanked you sooner, Sir, for the book which you have been so kind as to give me,† if I had not wanted first to read it. I have been able to do so with great attention, in this complete retirement. You interested me greatly. I must, however, begin by telling you (and I shall thus diminish the value of my praise), that, before reading your book, I was more ignorant than I had any right to be of the subject. I have very little studied it, and I own that the period always somewhat revolted me. The miserable spectacle of the decay of the Roman Empire is so connected with the triumph of the Church, that I was disinclined for either. Much of what you say was, therefore, new to me; and you, perhaps, excited my curiosity more powerfully than you would have done that of better judges.
Your book was a source of continual interest to me. In the introduction (which in itself is a book), your description of the first development of Christianity, its diversities, and, at the same time, its unity; the peculiarities of the different Churches, and of their founders; the excitement which caused the schism; the relations of religion with philosophy, and what they borrowed from each other; all this interested me immensely, and set me thinking. I was glad to see that sincere religious faith, seeking neither to display nor to hide itself, need not impair either the sagacity or the liberality of the historian; and could allow him to discern second causes, acting often in a contradictory sense, though guided by the hand of God. I may say the same thing of the history which follows the introduction. Your attachment to general truths does not seem to me to conceal from you the weaknesses of the men who spread them and maintain them.
In this part of your book, there are many new and striking views. For instance: till I read it, I had never so clearly perceived the features which, in the Roman Empire, distinguished the East from the West, either politically or ecclesiastically: in the former, the complete assimilation to the Roman spirit, and in the latter, the grafting of Rome on a subsisting Greek civilization. This clears up considerably all that has subsequently taken place in the world.
To conclude (that I may not tire you with a longer analysis): you have impressed on my mind a portrait of Constantine, which must, I think, resemble the original; and you have enabled us to estimate the man who decided such great events, without being himself a really great man. Till now, I had only a confused idea of him. You have made it definite and clear.
I did not, however, find in your book as much explanation as I wished, of a problem, for which I searched most anxiously, and the absence of which in all books relating to Christianity, has always greatly disturbed me. How is it that the Christian religion, which has, in so many respects, improved individuals and advanced our race, has exercised, especially in the beginning, so little influence over the progress of society? Why is it, that in proportion as men become more humane, more just, more temperate, more chaste, they seem every day more and more indifferent to public virtue; so much so, that the great family of the nation seems more corrupt, more base, and more tottering, while every little individual family is better regulated?
You several times touch upon this subject, but you never go to the bottom of it. In my opinion, it deserves particular notice; for, after all, neither you nor I feel bound, morally, to render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s, without inquiring, who is Cæsar, and what are his claims on us? This contrast, which strikes us from the beginning of Christianity, between Christian virtues and what I call public virtue, has frequently reappeared. There is nothing which seems to me so difficult of explanation, when we consider that God, and after Him, His revelation, are the foundations, or rather the sources of all virtues, the practice of which is necessary in the different states of mankind. This great question ought to be solved, and your intelligence is capable of coping with it.
I will not finish this letter, already too long, without sincerely complimenting you on the form and style of your work. Perhaps I attach too much importance to these merits, for I confess that even good thoughts, ill expressed, repel me. Your book appears to me to be well arranged, and well written. Your style belongs to a better age, and yet is not imitated, or affectedly antique. Your words depend on your thoughts, while in modern writing, the thought seems often to be made to suit and to introduce the words.
Let me add, that I finished you with regret, that I trust that you are continuing your excellent work, and will soon give us further results.
TO MADAME SWETCHINE.
Tocqueville, August 4, 1856.
I have nothing new to say of ourselves. The longer we remain in our solitude the nearer we seem to approach the attainment of calm. It is a blessing from God, when retirement is a solace. It is a remedy against the troubles and the evils of life, which is constantly accessible; while that sought for in crowds is not always found, and sometimes aggravates the disease. I feel our improvement by the increasing quickness with which time passes. You know that our happiest days are our shortest. That such should be the test of happiness, shows more than anything else the misery of life. Yet it is true. I have not recommenced any serious work, but I have many regular employments, which, without satisfying me, interest me, so that the day goes leaving slight, but agreeable traces.
The news about my book is always good. I candidly confess that this charms me, and that I do not possess the philosophical indifference to success which I ought to affect. To you, however, I ought, perhaps, to apologise, rather for being too little, than too much, pleased; for my real mental defect is the restlessness which causes me always to long for what is beyond my grasp, and makes what I have most coveted lose its charm as soon as I have caught hold of it. It is not, I know, my especial malady, but that of human nature; still, I believe that I suffer from it peculiarly. My life has been one of considerable anxiety, intermingled with, from time to time, great joys. But to my imagination these always seemed to be mere steps to something still better. I have no right to complain of fortune, but I do complain of myself. . . .
TO M. DE RÉMUSAT.
Tocqueville, August 6, 1856.
My dear friend,
I received only yesterday the number of the Revue des Deux Mondes of the first of this month. Your article,* which I eagerly expected, has exceeded my hopes, and I cannot thank you too much for it. I shall always remember that I have been so well praised, and praised by you. Really I cannot tell you how grateful I am, nor how much what I have just read increases my old and sincere affection. Not only have you said the most agreeable things of me, but you have said them in a way which will make everybody read them. I should have read your article with delight, even if it had not related to me. It contains all the grace, and the sagacity, and the breadth of your mind, so that those who differ from you as to the merits of the author, will read to the very end, and with great enjoyment, all that you say of him, or about him. Next to me, the man most pleased with the article must be M. Buloz.† You have been as useful to him as to me. I will say no more about it, except to repeat, that I shall never forget the service which you have rendered to me, nor the pleasure which you have given me. The substance and the form pleased me equally.
Buloz, in the letter in which he announced to me your article, pressed me to write for the Review. Certainly this is not the time at which I ought to refuse; and yet I do not know how to comply. I never wrote an article in a Review,‡ and I am frightened at the difficulty of having to compress into so small a frame a picture which shall be worth looking at. You, who do it so well, must suggest to me a subject. When we were political colleagues, every one said, “Let us talk on this to Rémusat. He has ideas about everything.” I follow this counsel, and beg you, if it does not give you too much trouble, to tell me how to satisfy Buloz. I am full of zeal, but my mind is barren. If your intelligence and experience do not help me, at least as to the subject, I do not know how I shall manage.
TO MRS. GROTE.
Tocqueville, August 10, 1856.
My dear Mrs. Grote,
We have lately received three papers, the Spectator, the Press, and the Examiner, which have much pleased us. We infer, from your handwriting on the covers, that we owe them to you; an instance of the active and useful friendship of which we have had such large experience during so many years. Still I have something to ask. You have not given your verdict on my book, though you must be aware how anxious I am for it. You have long known what I think of your mind, in which feminine grace, and manly vigour and breadth are so well united. It is easy, therefore, for you to understand the weight which I attach on so important a subject, to your opinion, and you ought, in charity, to have given it to me. I do not wish you to tire yourself by details. Let me have your general impression, and let me have it quickly.
We have received from Lady Theresa a charming invitation to her country house. It is very tempting, but business of all sorts, connected with the death of my poor father, keeps us at home. Up to this time we have lived in the solitude which propriety and our own feelings required. It has not been unpleasant. We have returned to the little employments which we like—among them are our daily readings together, of English and German.
In this way we have just finished Mr. Grote’s last volume. I deferred writing till then. We have been deeply interested, and deeply grieved. Mr. Grote, while he removes Alexander from legend to history, effaces the brilliant colours with which the conqueror was gilded by imagination. After all, it is a service to humanity to strip its enemies of their ill-gained brilliancy, and to reduce them to what they generally have really been—great birds of prey. Perhaps I may venture to think Alexander more of a Greek than Mr. Grote does. I do not deny the barbarism which is under his Greek skin; still I think him a product of Greek civilization—a civilization which, both by its merits and by its defects, was likely to produce such a man. Till I read Mr. Grote, I never understood the march of Alexander across Asia, the facility or the extent of his conquests, the conduct of Darius, or the causes of his fall. Like all good books, this book has not only told me much, but made me think much.
Adieu, my dear Mrs. Grote. Remember me to the great historian, and tell him confidentially, that I earnestly wish to know his opinion on my book. Above all, believe in my friendship.
TO M. DUVERGIER DE HAURANNE.
Tocqueville, September 1, 1856.
You wrote to me three weeks ago, my dear Duvergier, an interesting and instructive letter, for which I cannot thank you too much: I recognised your friendship and your activity, which always make what has been done a starting point for doing more.
The continuation of my book, in which you are already kind enough to interest yourself, does indeed make me anxious. The difficulties alarm me; they are of all kinds. The ancien régime was little known: as soon as one had dug through the surface of ordinary opinions, one came to what was new and true. But the Revolution, especially in its earlier period, has been deeply studied by the greatest thinkers of our times. To be interesting on such a subject and yet to be true, is difficult. Again, the ancien régime is dead; the feelings associated with it are weak. The Revolution is alive: you cannot touch it without wounding somebody, and all these somebodies, much as they hate one another, join to attack the writer. On this part of my subject, which, as you may well believe, I have studied more, and indeed before turning to any other, I have not yet formed complete or consistent notions. I could not, at this instant, prudently write on it, since my thoughts are not ripe, and the active and detailed study which I am eagerly pursuing, of what was done and said at the time, may modify, in different ways, my present general ideas.
I think that I had better follow the same plan that I adopted in the composition of my last work, and indeed formerly of the “Democratie.” It is disagreeable to talk so much about oneself, but I will explain it to you, in the hope of getting from you good advice.
When I have a subject to treat, it is almost impossible for me to read what has been already written on it: the contact of the ideas of other men disturbs and affects me painfully. I try, therefore, to avoid knowing the explanations which other writers have given of the facts which I have to relate, or the inferences which they have drawn from them. Which, I may say parenthetically, makes me in danger of reproducing, without knowing it, what has been already written. I make the utmost efforts to ascertain, from contemporary evidence, what really happened; and often spend great labour in discovering what was ready to my hand. When I have gathered in this toilsome harvest, I retire, as it were, into myself; I examine with extreme care, collate and connect the notions which I have acquired, and I make it a rule to give the result, without bestowing a thought on the inferences which others may draw from what I write.
Not that I am indifferent to the opinions of my readers, but because I know from experience, that if I were to write with a purpose, in order to support some preconceived system, I should write ill—that my only means of writing well is to state clearly my own personal impressions and opinions.
Forgive, my dear friend, this long egotism, which, after all, is only for you, and confidential.
My object was this. You know now my method of working: how am I to apply it to the immediate continuation of my last book? In what direction do you recommend me to search most for facts? In what quarter do you advise me to direct my efforts to discover for myself facts which have already been studied by others; to appropriate them, and to draw from them intellectual food, which shall be my own?
I know that no new facts in the French Revolution can be discovered. What I want is your counsel as to the best means of using what is known, as to the facts, the ideas, and the passions of the period between 1789 and the Directory. Up to this time, I have attended principally to the conduct of the Constituent Assembly, and to the discussions which that conduct occasioned, both in and out of the Assembly. These are, I think, the documents that are the most authentic, the fullest of matter, and the best subjects of my early study. But there is much besides. When I was preparing the “Ancien Régime,” the great difficulty arose from the want of sufficient and certain information: with respect to the first period of the Revolution, one is embarrassed by the immense mass of contemporary publications. To disregard any is dangerous—to read all is impossible.
I once employed myself on this early revolutionary period. But this study, to which I devoted myself many years ago, has left in my mind a confused multitude of notions, from which I cannot easily extract the clear and useful ideas of which I am now in search. The mass of what I already know, prevents my seeing clearly what I have now to learn. I should value much your advice as to the mode of prosecuting this last study. You are one of those who have gone deepest into this portion of our recent history: pray let me profit by some of your great experience. You know my object; I am not writing a history of the Revolution, I shall not follow in detail its incidents, but I wish to show how that great event advanced, what was its true character, what were the principal causes which led it in one direction rather than in another, which drove it on, which turned it aside, which stopped it. How is one to choose upon this heap of evidence a point from whence one can have general views?
If you can give me advice—your long friendship authorises me to expect it, and I shall receive it with sincere gratitude. Kind regards to Madame Duvergier.
TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ.
Tocqueville, September 4, 1856.
I have read, my dear Senior, your letter with great pleasure. Your criticism delights me, for I rely on your judgment and on your sincerity. I am charmed that you have found in my book more than you had learned from our conversations, on my view of our history. We have known one another so long, we have conversed so much and so unreservedly that it is difficult for either of us to write anything that the other will think new. I was afraid that what may appear original to the public might seem trite to you.
The Reeves have been with us; we have passed together an agreeable fortnight. I had charged Reeve to bring you, whether you would or not. Did he make the attempt? I am sure that you would have enjoyed your visit, and we should have rejoiced to have under our roof two such old friends as you and Reeve.
It seems that you intend this winter to anchor in Rome. It increases my regret that I cannot be there. It is out of the question. My wife’s health and mine are so much improved that the journey is not necessary, and business of all kinds keeps us at home. If you push on to Naples, you will, perhaps, enjoy the absence of the poor king whom you and I found there five years ago. I applaud the virtuous indignation of the English against this little despot, and their sympathy with the unhappy wretches whom he detains arbitrarily to die slowly in his prisons. The interest which your great nation takes in the cause of humanity and liberty, even when that cause suffers in another country, delights me. What I regret is that your generous indignation is directed against so petty a tyrant.
I must say that America is a puer robustus. Yet I cannot desire, as many persons do, its dismemberment. Such an event would inflict a great wound on the whole human race: for it would introduce war into a great continent from whence it has been banished for more than a century.
The breaking up of the American union will be a solemn moment in the history of the world. I never met an American who did not feel this, and I believe that it will not be rashly or easily undertaken. There will, before actual rupture, be always a last interval, in which one or both parties will draw back. Has not this occurred twice?
Adieu, dear Senior; do not be long without letting us hear from you, and remember us affectionately to Mrs. Senior and to your daughter.
TO MADAME SWETCHINE.
Tocqueville, September 10, 1856.
You wrote to me, Madame, three weeks ago, the kindest and most interesting of letters, and I have not answered it. I hope that you will find in your heart, which is so full of indulgence, some excuse for me. I have none. All that I can say is that I have always been the worst of correspondents; the most irregular and the most intermittent; and that my best friends, always complaining, have always pardoned me: believing that the defect is owing, not to forgetfulness or to indifference, but to irresistible laziness. I could imitate one of my countrymen, settled in America, who, when he had an important communication to make, would travel a hundred miles rather than write a letter. Very different was the feeling of one of my neighbours, who so much preferred his pen to his voice, that if he called on you, and got engaged in an argument, he remounted his horse and galloped back to his little manor house to write his answer. I am the opposite to the latter, but not very different from the former.
Your opinion as to my book charms me. It is impossible to enter more thoroughly into my thoughts, or to master more completely the whole work. Your letter shall be kept among the select criticisms. I must indeed, tell you, Madame, that your place in my mind is singular and apart. My feelings towards you are a mixture of respect and affection, so peculiar, that they can be accounted for only by a very rare combination of different merits.
I delight in your noble hatred of slavery in all its forms. I agree with you that a more equal distribution of property and of rights is the great object at which those who govern men should aim; but my definition of political equality, is not that which we so often hear in the present day—general subjection to one ruler—but general freedom.
I suspected, I own, that you would not thoroughly approve my picture of the clergy of the ancien régime, or assent to my wish to link a clergy to their country by worldly interests. I will not enter on so great a subject by letter. But when I obtain one of the hours, so precious and so rare, in which I can talk with you freely, I hope to explain to you my whole thoughts, and to search for the truth with the help of a mind as sincere as my own, and more enlightened on these subjects. Perhaps you will allow me now to confine myself to explaining the feelings with which I wrote.
It appears to me that morality is divisible into two portions, both equally important in the eyes of God, but which His ministers do not teach with equal energy. One respects private life—the duties of mankind as fathers, children, husbands, and wives. The other respects public life—the duties of every citizen to his country, and to the portion of the human race to which he especially belongs. Am I mistaken in thinking that our clergy care much about the first branch of morality, and little about the second? This seems to me to be proved by the way in which women think and feel. I find among them a thousand private virtues—fruits of the direct influence of religion. Religion makes them faithful wives, excellent mothers, just and indulgent mistresses, and kind to the poor. But of public duties they seem not to have a notion. That they do not perform any may be natural; but they do not even inculcate their performance. This side of education has escaped their notice.
It was not so under the ancien régime. Mixed with its vices were proud masculine virtues. I have often heard that my grandmother, a woman of great piety, after having urged her young son to exercise the virtues of private life, never failed to add,—“And then, my child, never forget that a man belongs, above all, to his country; that there is no sacrifice which he must not make to it; and that God requires him to be ready to devote, on every occasion, his time, his fortune, and his life, to the service of the State and of the King.”
But I see, Madame, that I am going too deeply into a subject on which I wish to talk to you. It is too large for a letter.
I cannot end without thanking you for your quotation from Bossuet. Nothing, even in Bossuet, is finer. This one sentence contains all that can raise man, yet retain him within his proper sphere. It exhibits human greatness and Divine greatness. It is proud, yet humble. Where did you find it? It was unknown to me.
Adieu! Madame. Let us hear of you. My wife sends to you her kindest remembrances, and I beg you to believe in my tender and respectful attachment.*
TO MRS. GROTE.
Tocqueville, October 1, 1856.
My dear Mrs. Grote,—
I want some information from you, as the creator and mistress of “History Hut.”* It relates to moveable fences to keep in sheep. Reeve tells me that you have some which are good and cheap—qualities important to us, who like good things as much as if we were rich, and value cheapness because we are not rich. Reeve’s description would have enabled me to send to England for some, were it not for the trouble and expense of passing them through our Custom House. I had rather, therefore, have them made here. For that purpose I must have a model. Is it too much to beg you, in your next letter, to sketch for me one of these fences, and to add its dimensions? I know that your fingers are almost as clever as your head, and that you will do it all with three or four scratches. . . . What I want, are fences which will make a little moveable inclosure, in which a few sheep can be penned, and shifted from place to place on our lawn. Afterwards, we must have fixed fences, against cattle and horses. If you can also give us any advice on this matter, and explain it by a sketch, you will add to our gratitude, and you will help us to remedy the horrible disorder of our gardens. I smile when I read over these pages, and consider the subject of our correspondence. An academician writes to one of the cleverest women in England about horses, cattle, and sheep. One would not have expected this. Laugh at me if you like, but answer me.
My request will, at least, prove to you, my dear Mrs. Grote, that from author I have turned farmer. I should like to go back to the work of which you have seen the beginning; but when the fire in one’s mind has gone out it is difficult to light it again. I feel this now very painfully. I begin to tire of inactivity, and have not spirit to do anything. There is nothing that one understands less than oneself. What is it that kindles our spirit? What is it that cools it? What is it that extinguishes it? What is it that lights it again? Alas! we know no more than if we were asking about a stranger.
Cannot you teach me how to set to work again? This is more difficult, perhaps, than to plan a sheepfold, but it would be still more useful.
Adieu! dear Mrs. Grote. Remember me to Mr. Grote, whose historic fame seems to grow every day, and believe in our sincere friendship.
TO M. LANJUINAIS.
Tocqueville, October 13, 1856.
It is an age since I wrote to you, my dear friend, for I knew not your direction. Now I direct to you in Paris, depending on my letter being sent on to you, as your address must be known there. Another reason for my silence was, my absolute want of news. This cause continues; but I am tired of not hearing of you, and I write as if I really had something to say.
Your last letter, from Cauteret, told me nothing of your plans. How have you since then passed your time? I do not say, “What have you been working at?” for I suspect that, like Beaumont, you talk of working and do nothing—which is a great pity. But your friends cannot help that. And, in fact, since I have been here I have not done much better. I talk every morning of what I am going to do, and in the evening I find that I have done nothing, or nothings. If, indeed, like you, I were wise enough to enjoy the far nientè! but I am not; I am a melancholy idler, while you are an agreeable mixture of idleness and contentment. Abuse me as I abuse you, and let us shame one another into industry.
Or, instead of abusing me, tell me what you think of this monetary crisis? you, who have taken your degree in this science. What does it tell you, or what does your experience tell you, as to what is passing? Will the crisis become more violent? Will it bring on a commercial crisis? Enlighten a little my ignorance on a question, the solution of which affects every one.
Adieu! You see that I was right when I told you that I had nothing to say—at least, nothing new; for I am sure that there is nothing new in my warm and sincere friendship.
TO MADAME SWETCHINE.
Tocqueville, October 20, 1856.
I assure you, Madame, that I am not tempted to use the permission of not answering you. Even if my feelings towards you, a mixture of affection and esteem, allowed me to be silent, the mere desire of having another letter from you would force me to write. Your letters give me such pleasure, that no idleness can prevent my endeavouring to deserve them.
In your last letter, you write truly and well on the inevitable obscurity of our political duties in our troubled, unstable, and revolutionary times, and on the difficulty of laying down rules for the guidance of men’s consciences. You would be right, if the thing to be done were to advise or to discountenance certain political acts, or certain political opinions.
But that was not my meaning. I believe that in politics, as in all that relates to human actions, besides the special counsels which apply only to special cases, there are principles, which ought to be inculcated; feelings, which ought to be inspired; and a general direction, which ought to be given to opinions and to intentions. I do not ask the clergy to make those whom it educates, or influences, conscientiously Republicans or Royalists. But I wish it to tell them more frequently, that while Christians, they also belong to one of the great Human Societies which God has formed, apparently in order to show more clearly the ties by which individuals ought to be mutually attached—societies which are called nations, inhabiting a territory, which they call their country. I wish the clergy to instil into their very souls that every one belongs much more to this collective Being than he does to himself; that towards this Being no one ought to be indifferent, much less, by treating such indifference as a sort of languid virtue, to enervate many of our noblest instincts; that every one is responsible for the fortunes of this collective Being; that every one is bound to work out its prosperity, and to watch that it be not governed except by respectable, beneficent, and legitimate authorities.
I know that from the Gospel of the Sunday before last, it has been inferred that the political duty of a Christian is merely to obey the existing authority, whatever it be. Permit me to think that this is rather a comment than a text, and that it is not the definition of Christian public virtue. Without doubt, Christianity can exist under every government. This is an evidence of its truth. It never has been bound, and never will be bound, to any form of government, or to the grandeur of any single nation. It can reign in the worst governments, and extract, from the calamities which they inflict, the occasion for admirable virtues. But it does not follow that it ought to render us insensible, or even indifferent, to those calamities, or that it does not impose on every citizen the duty of boldly striving to abate them by all the means which his conscience indicates and approves.
This is what I wish to have taught to men, and still more to women.
During my experience, now long, of public life, nothing has struck me more than the influence of women on this matter—an influence all the greater, because it is indirect. I do not hesitate to say that they give to every nation a moral temperament, which shows itself in its politics. I could illustrate this by many examples. A hundred times I have seen weak men show real public virtue, because they had by their sides women who supported them, not by advice as to particulars, but by fortifying their feelings of duty and by directing their ambition. More frequently, I must confess, I have observed the domestic influence gradually transforming a man, naturally generous, noble, and unselfish, into a cowardly, common-place, place-hunting self-seeker, thinking of public business only as the means of making himself comfortable;—and this simply by daily contact with a well-conducted woman, a faithful wife, an excellent mother, but from whose mind the grand notion of public duty was entirely absent.
Forgive, Madame, these wanderings. I yield to the pleasure of showing my inmost ideas to a person whose open and genial mind will understand even those which it does not accept.
Alas! it is a pleasure which I seldom taste, and perhaps shall taste less and less the older I grow. My contemporaries tread paths so different from mine, often so contrary, that our feelings and our opinions scarcely ever are the same. I ought not to complain of them; I do not complain: we live on good terms, but there is a gap between us. They have ceased to think of what is always pressing on my mind. They care nothing for what is most dear to me. I despise or am indifferent to their new idols, while my purposes in life are no longer comprehended by them. We do not oppose, but we do not understand, one another. I have relations, and neighbours, and friends, but my mind has not a family or a country.
I assure you, Madame, that this moral and intellectual insulation makes me feel more alone than I did in the American forests. I read the other day this sentence quoted by M. de Broglie from an ancient philosopher:—“Support patiently the approach of death; for those from whom it will separate you, do not think as you do.” I do not share the position, the creed, or the philosophy of the speaker, but I have often felt like him.
Adieu! Madame. While I retain your esteem and friendship I ought not to complain.
TO N. W. SENIOR, ESQ.
Tocqueville, November 2, 1856.
I am grateful to you, my dear Senior, for your kindness in telling me what I most wish to hear. The judgments of such men as those with whom you have been living, while they delight me, impose on me the duty of unrelaxed efforts.
Your fortnight at Lord Aberdeen’s amused me exceedingly, and not the least amusing part were the eccentricities of A. B.
There is one point in which the English seem to me to differ from ourselves, and, indeed, from all other nations, so widely, that they form almost a distinct species of men. There is often scarcely any connexion between what they say and what they do.
No people carry so far, especially when speaking in public, violence of language, outrageousness of theories, and extravagance in the inferences drawn from those theories. Thus your A. B. says, that the Irish have not shot half enough landlords. Yet no people act with more moderation. A quarter of what is said in England at a public meeting, or even round a dinner table, without anything being done or intended to be done, would in France announce violence, which would almost always be more furious than the language had been.
We Frenchmen are not so different from our antipodes as we are from a nation, partly our own progeny, which is separated from us by only a large ditch.
I wonder whether you have heard how our illustrious master is relieving the working-people from the constant rise of house-rent. When they are turned out of their lodgings, he re-establishes them by force; if they are distrained on for non-payment of rent, he will not allow the tribunals to treat the distress as legal. What think you, as a political economist, of this form of out-door relief?
What makes the thing amusing is, that the Government which uses this violent mode of lodging the working-classes, is the very same Government which, by its mad public works, by drawing to Paris suddenly a hundred thousand workmen, and by destroying suddenly ten thousand houses, has created the deficiency of habitations. It seems, however, that the systematic intimidation and oppression of the rich in favour of the poor, is every day becoming more and more one of the principles of our Government.
I read yesterday a circular from the Prefect of . . . . a public document, stuck up on the church doors and in the market-places, which, after urging the landed proprietors of the department to assess themselves for the relief of the poor, adds, that their insensibility becomes still more odious when it is remembered that for many years they have been growing rich by the rise of prices, which is spreading misery among the lower orders.
The real character of our Government, its frightful mixture of socialism and despotism, was never better shown.
I have said enough to prevent your getting my letter. If it should escape the rogue who manages our post-office, let me know as soon as you can.
TO HENRY REEVE, ESQ.
Tocqueville, November 7, 1856.
Many thanks, my dear Reeve, for your kind present of the two Edinburgh Reviews; they form a valuable volume. I have read, indeed studied, with much interest and instruction, your article on the Austrian Concordat. You have put into it, knowingly or not, an anti-Catholic spirit, which is a symptom of our times. I am inclined to think that you exaggerate the prevalence of Ultra-montanism, and its Papal origin.
What is passing in Rome is a symptom of a general and more important phenomenon, which you disregard—the re-awakening of a Catholic spirit over the whole world, the new and youthful life which has been breathed into this ancient body.
Do you suppose that the destruction of Gallicism, and the adoption of Ultra-montanism by the majority of the clergy, and of their flocks, in France, are owing to the Pope? By no means. The French Catholics are led towards it spontaneously, by motives with which Rome has nothing to do. It is not the Pope who tries to assume spiritual despotism, but the faithful who excite him to do so.
This excitement, though not universal, is general throughout the Catholic world. I was surprised to find it as strong in Germany as in France. You ought to study this phenomenon: no one could do it better. The present attitude of Rome is rather an effect than a cause. This is my conviction.
Permit me another observation: those who talk of the liberty of the Church fall often into a confusion of thought, which you have not altogether escaped. The Church may be said to be enslaved when the Pope, instead of being, as the Council of Constance supposed him to be, a constitutional monarch, becomes a despot, unrestrained by any general or local rights among the faithful. This is the present tendency. You protest very properly against this tendency, and you say that it leads to the slavery of the Church. But you do not appear to see that there is another slavery, and in Catholic—perhaps, too, in Protestant countries—a still worse slavery, where the Church is so thoroughly in the hands of the State as to become an instrument of government; of this Russia is an example. No slavery can be more formidable nor more mischievous. Those who see with pleasure a Catholic sovereign shake off the yoke of Rome, should take care that the clergy, by becoming independent of the Pope, do not become the servants of the prince; that he does not force them to give to his passions, or to his despotism, a religious sanction. Do not forget that Bossuet, who established against Rome the four articles of the Gallican Church, wrote a book to prove the divine right of kings, and the duty of passive obedience.
I think that there is a middle course. I believe that both the Pope and the King may have each his own share of ecclesiastical power. But I say, that to limit the authority of the Pope is not liberty, unless the authority of the King be also limited; and that if I must choose between the two slaveries, I had rather subject the Church to its spiritual chief, and thus separate altogether the spiritual and temporal powers, than place both Church and State under the sceptre of a layman.
Adieu! my friend. A thousand regards, and particularly to Mrs. Reeve.
TO MADAME SWETCHINE.
Tocqueville, December 4, 1856.
You are too kind, Madame, when you are grateful for my confidence; for gratitude is due only where there has been an effort. My confidence in you has always been instinctive and involuntary. It was not, I confess, your eminent intelligence, nor the halo of virtue surrounding you, that subjugated me; it was the real sensibility, the truthfulness of thought and of feeling, still more rare, which distinguish you. I am not one of those who think all men false and treacherous. Many people are sincere in important affairs and on great occasions, but scarcely any are so in the trifles of every day; scarcely any exhibit their true feelings, but merely those which they think useful or popular; scarcely any, in ordinary conversation, seek and express their real opinions, instead of searching for what will sound ingenious or clever. This is the kind of sincerity which is rare, particularly, I must say, among women and in drawing-rooms, where even kindness has its artifices. You had from the first day I saw you my full confidence, and you have retained it. . . .
Your last letter wandered in search of me for two days. It went first to my brother. I believe, because you gave me a title. I never assumed one. I did not do so thirty years’ ago, when I entered the world—I thought myself too young. I got accustomed to be known by my Christian name, and I have kept to it.
TO M. GUSTAVE DE BEAUMONT.
Tocqueville, December 21, 1856.
. . . . I have nothing interesting to tell you. I am doing nothing, absolutely nothing. Yet my time flies pleasantly and with prodigious rapidity. This is one of the wonders of a country life; it is made up of little duties, not one important or very agreeable, which yet fill the day, one knows not how, without ennui, yet with no great pleasures. I should like, however, to give Buloz* the article which he writes for. But on what subject? If one occurs to you, and you do not wish to take it up yourself, as is too probable, pray mention it to me.
Have you read Marmont’s Memoirs? You ought to do so. The writer, though a gentleman, is one of the heroic adventurers brought forward by the Revolution, without moral greatness, detesting liberty, and all that checks physical force, but intelligent and moderate. His narrative is easy and natural, it paints well the men of his time, and especially the most extraordinary one among them all. But it is strange that a man who has taken part in such great affairs, and lived in such company, should not have more to tell. Yet the book ought to be read, especially the narrative, leaving out three-quarters of the documentary evidence.
You should read too, as we have done, the third and fourth volumes of Macaulay. It is more amusing than any novel, and almost as superficial. When I say superficial, I mean that it wants the sagacity which penetrates through the passions of the time and of the country, down to the general character of an epoch, and to its place in human progress. As to mere facts, it is far from superficial—the author has studied them well.
You must read the book to see how the substantial honesty, good sense, moderation, and virtue of a nation, and the institutions which these qualities have created or preserved, can struggle against the vices of those who manage its affairs. Never was there a set of statesmen more dishonest than those whom Macaulay here describes; never was there a society more admirable than that which grew up under their hands. Among nations, as among individuals, there are constitutions proof, not only against disease, but even against physicians.
Mr. Grote sometimes delights us by sending English newspapers. There is a charming frankness in their nationality. In their eyes the enemies of England must be rogues, and her friends great men. It is their only standard.
Ampère, whom we keep as long as we can, works like a Benedictine. Every week he gives us a lecture from his “Roman Emperors.” The book will be most interesting, and will live. He unites two rare qualities—sound learning and a style unconstrained, clear, brilliant, and full of anecdote. All is animated by a love for liberty, which warms the writer and the reader. Ampère never wrote with more spirit.
TO MADAME SWETCHINE.
Tocqueville, December 29, 1856.
I belong enough to the ancien régime, which I am accused of abusing, to feel that I cannot see a year close without telling my best friends how much I love them. Allow me, Madame, to continue with you this custom of the good old times, and to assure you, as warmly as it can be done by letter and from afar, that there is no one whose welfare interests me more, nor for whom I more cordially desire every source of happiness—that is to say, the sources of happiness which you prize, though little desired, or even understood, by most people—many opportunities of doing good, of comforting, of assisting, of improving, all who approach you. You value and you enjoy this noble use of life. God therefore has favoured you with the greatest of his gifts; all that can be wished for you and for your friends is, that you may long enjoy it.
It was kind of you to remember that M. de Rosambo was my uncle. Though his death had long been expected, it gave us great pain. His place in our family was peculiar. He was not quite a father, but he was more than an uncle. The last band that kept the remains of our family together is broken. With him has disappeared the last of a generation which set us such brilliant examples of virtue. He united fervent piety to the highest sense of honour. Kind and mild almost to weakness, he was heroic in all that affected his self-respect or his duty. Though admirable and excellent, he was unhappy. He had to bear many domestic calamities, rendered peculiarly severe by his sensitiveness. The justice of God will reward him, and his example would, by itself, prove to me that there must be a future, and that the inconsistencies of this world will be set right in another.
* * * * * *
You are wrong, Madame, in thinking that I laid down my title. I never accepted nor refused it. I have always thought that, now that titles have no meaning, we should treat them as La Bruyère advises us to treat dress. “There is always vanity,” he says, “in being overdressed, and sometimes in being underdressed. A gentleman leaves the matter to his tailor.”
[*]M. de Tocqueville had recently lost his father.
[*]“The Signs of the Times,” transmitted through Mrs. Grote.
[*]This was the introduction to M. de Rémusat’s remarkable work, entitled “England in the Eighteenth Century,” 2 vols. 8vo. In it there are some comparisons between the Histories of France and of England.
[*]In Italy, where M. de Lanjuinais then was.
[†]“L’Eglise et l’Empire Romain au IVe Siécle.”
[*]This article is reproduced, almost without change, in an excellent work published by M. de Rémusat, in the winter of 1859, entitled, “La Politique Liberale.”
[†]The Editor of the Review.
[‡]M. de Tocqueville had forgotten the admirable article contributed by him twenty years before to the Westminster Review, and republished in Vol. I.—Tr.
[*]This is Madame Swetchine’s quotation from Bossuet:—“Lord, I know not if Thou art satisfied with me. I acknowledge that there are many reasons why Thou shouldest not be so; but, to Thy glory, I must confess that I am satisfied with Thee, and perfectly satisfied. To Thee it does not matter whether I be so or not. But, after all, it is the highest tribute that I can pay to Thee. For to say that I am satisfied with Thee, is to say that Thou art my God, since nothing less than God could satisfy me.”
[*]The name given by Mrs. Grote to the house which she built near Burnham Beeches.
[*]Editor of the Revue des Deux Mondes.