Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO MRS. GROTE. - Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, vol. 2
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TO MRS. GROTE. - 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 MRS. GROTE.
Tocqueville, January 31, 1857.
My dearest Mrs. Grote,
I was surprised and delighted by your letter of the 18th, following so quickly that of the 3d. I cannot thank you too much for having remembered and talked of me so kindly at Harpton Court;* one result was, a letter from Lady Theresa, as charming as yours. My wife tells me that I am being spoilt. Perhaps so. It is very pleasant.
Is it possible that I have never acknowledged the illustrated plan of sheep-folds? I scarcely believe it: I am sure that my thanks will be found in some of my letters, though, perhaps, concealed from you in the darkness of my bad handwriting. Your reproaches are very amusing, and very well deserved. You infer from the improvement in my writing a falling-off in my affection. Allow me to say you are ungrateful. It was the last effort of friendship which alone could ever have made me write tolerably. Even such friendship does not enable me to suppress erasures and interlineations, and even occasional blots. I never could copy—besides hating it, I always found that I wrote the second time worse than the first.
I resign myself, therefore, to the complaints of my friends. Somebody told me the other day that my writing was midway between hieroglyphics and cuniform. I console myself, however, with trying to believe that there is a man who writes still worse, our excellent friend, Senior.
You are right when you say that a foreigner cannot understand the peculiarities of the English character. It is the case with almost all countries. I do not know how national character is formed, but I do know, that when once formed, it draws such broad distinctions between nations, that to discover what is passing in the minds of foreigners, one must give up one’s own nationality, almost one’s identity. Who but the French ever understood France? It is not, however, clear to me that they understand themselves. Like you, we are an agglomeration of different races, but these dissimilar elements have been amalgamated into a new composite being, resembling no other.
What you say of the simple character of the English is true. Their perception is just, somewhat narrow, but clear: they see only what they look at; they do well only one thing at a time. This accounts to me for one of their remarkable peculiarities. In the eyes of an Englishman a cause is just, if it be the interest of England that it should succeed. A man or a government that is useful to England, has every kind of merit, and one that does England harm every possible fault. The criterion of what is honourable, or great, or just, is to be found in the degree of favour or of opposition to English interests. There is much of this everywhere; but there is so much of it in England that a foreigner is astonished. This accounts for the Machiavellism, often attributed to the policy of England, which in my opinion does not exist among you more, but rather less than elsewhere. The principal reason of this phenomenon is because you see only one thing at a time, and also in your laudable desire to connect the actions of your country with objects greater and higher than mere interest, even though it be the interest of a nation. You want to succeed. You need for that purpose the help of a man, or of a government. You think of nothing else—you pass over the crimes of the one and the faults of the other. You scarcely perceive them in your concentrated eagerness for success. In France we often do things useful to ourselves and unjust to others; but their convenience does not conceal their injustice. We employ rogues, but we admit that they are rogues. I am not sure that our conduct is more moral than yours; but it shows greater comprehensiveness, it shows that we can see two sides of a question.
As for the indifference of the English to the liberty of the continental nations, which seem to forget that they ever were or can be free, I understand it. We cannot ask foreigners to care for us more than we do for ourselves. I do not require you to destroy, against your own interests, bad governments which are tolerated by their own subjects; but I cannot allow you to call them good governments. I admit that these are not times in which England can play in the World her great and ancient part of a liberal power. But then let her give it up, at least for a time. She must not ally herself to despotism in one country, and in another, for instance in Italy, to liberalism. She must choose.
Kindest regards, first to Mr. Grote, then to Senior, and then to Reeve.
[*]The seat of Sir G. C. and Lady Theresa Lewis.