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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, 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.