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TO M. FRESLON. - 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. FRESLON.
Tocqueville, July 8, 1858.
A few days after I abused you for your handwriting, my dear friend, Lanjuinais wrote to tell me that my own became every day more illegible. We were both right. I hope that Lanjuinais’ reproof will be as effectual as mine has been. Your last letter is a miracle of caligraphy. I only fear that your taste for writing may deteriorate as your hand improves. In that case, pray return to your pot-hooks. I had rather make them out, than not hear from you.
I see that you give us little hope of a visit. I am sorry for it, and so is my wife. . . . .
I was at this part of my letter when yours of the day before yesterday arrived. I break off to talk to you about M. Royer-Collard. I am delighted that you have to write on him, and only regret that you did not know him personally. His character was original—not easily understood by those who have observed him only in the distance, as a writer and a public man. He was a strange mixture of little passions and lofty sentiments; of unconscious vanity with elevation of mind. He possessed a dignity which was felt by all who approached him, and was altogether a noble and imposing figure. Among his contemporaries there is none that more deserves our notice. To enable you to penetrate into all the folds of his character, would require, not a letter, but long conversations.
I confine myself to what chiefly seems to interest you. You think that his life wanted unity. It did not, as I will prove to you. In the details of so long a life there may have been inconsistency. But in what long life, especially a life passed among revolutions, is there not? Taking his career throughout, guided only by the great lines traced by his actions, you will find a marked unity, which was in fact, the secret of his strength. All his principal actions are connected by two ideas, both of which governed his mind, but one far more than the other.
First, M. Royer-Collard, during his whole life, firmly believed that the spirit of liberty might be, and ought to be, distinguished from the spirit of revolution. He desired eagerly the destruction of the ancien régime, and looked with horror at the possibility of its return. He was anxious for the abolition of privileges, the equality of political rights, and the liberty and dignity of man. He detested the adventurous, violent, tyrannical, demagogic spirit which has always and everywhere marked revolution. He was convinced that it was not necessary to the overthrow of the ancien régime; he hoped for better results from the Revolution. He never desired the total destruction of the old social institutions of France; he wished to break down only the obstacles to modern ideas, to well-balanced liberty, to the equality of rights, and to the opening of every career, and every success to the hopes of every man. After the Revolution, he wished to bring us back to this ideal perfection, and, as far as it was possible and desirable, to connect the past and the present. Is there any small portion of his life inconsistent with this view? I know of none; but study it as a whole, and you will see that these principles directed and explain it.
The second ruling principle in his mind, resembling the first, but not necessarily connected with it, was this: M. Royer-Collard always believed monarchy to be necessary to France, and it was sometimes amusing to see the singular effect of this doctrine in company with the most intractable opinions and the most republican feelings that I ever encountered. He held courts in horror, but was devoted to kingship. Among Royalties, that which he thought most fitted to maintain the great liberal institutions of modern ages,—institutions which he worshipped, which he spent his life in defending, sometimes against the Revolutionists, sometimes against the Ultras and the Emigrants—was the Royalty of the Elder Branch. I never knew a man less of a legitimist, less devoted to a race or to a family, or more convinced that the best result of the Revolution would be the monarchy of the Elder Branch, controlled by the institutions necessary to secure the triumph of modern ideas. The dream of his whole life was to conciliate the old family and the new opinions, and to make them support one another. After all, liberty was his object, and the monarchy of the Elder Branch only a means. But the means and the object were so confounded by the public, that I have always thought that M. Royer-Collard, who at the time of the Revolution of July had nearly reached the end of his career, would have closed it more consistently if he had then retired from public life.
Such, my dear friend, is a general and hasty sketch of this extraordinary man. I do not say that the two principles which ruled his life were equally just. I say only that they were his principles, and that he obeyed them from the time when, as member of the Commune of Paris, he negotiated between the unhappy Louis XVI. and Danton, until his last speech, made, I think, in 1838, against a parliamentary costume. The ardent sincerity and incomparable eloquence with which he supported two maxims, often supposed to be incompatible, was one of the most extraordinary of exhibitions. It was worth while to hear him talk of the Revolution. No one could better describe the grandeur of that time, and its superiority to ours, whatever might be its weakness or its violence. The finest praises of what may be called the great victories of 1789, were uttered by him. The bitterest satires of the vices of the ancien régime, of the follies and the absurdities of the Emigrants and Ultras, were pronounced by him. But if the things to be painted were the violence, the despotism, the sanguinary follies and intolerance of what he called the revolutionary spirit, he was a Tacitus. With a couple of strokes, he drew a picture never to be forgotten. He was eminent by his writings: he will live by them; but he was incomparable as a converser. Often he failed to convince me, but he always impressed me.
A little before his death, he kindly gave me a selection from his speeches. I had begged him to do so. He arranged them evidently so as to show the progress of his ideas during his public life. It is a precious collection. I have bound it, and will send it to you with some books that are going to Paris. If you wish to know still more, come and let us talk the subject over.