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Conversations. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, vol. 1 (1834-1851) 
Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, ed. M.C.M. Simpson, in Two Volumes (London: Henry S. King & Co., 1872). Vol. I.
Part of: Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, 2 vols.
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Extract from Mr. Senior’s Journal.
Friday, May 16.—I drank tea this evening with the Tocquevilles. He attaches more importance to the events of yesterday than was given to them at the Embassy.
The cry, he said, of ‘Vive la Pologne!’ pronounced by 20,000 voices as they approached the Chamber, ‘cette voix colossalle’ as he called it, was the most formidable sound that he ever heard. He does not believe that Barbès and his companions had fully concerted their plan, otherwise their success would have been much greater.
Their entrance into the Assembly they had planned. Courtais, the commander of the National Guard, and Caussidière, the Préfet de Paris, were in the plot. They placed persons in whom they could confide at the entrance in the Rue de Bourgogne, and ordered them to let in the assailants. When they were in, the plan of Barbès was to force the Chamber either to pass his four decrees of war, the contribution of a milliard by the rich, the forbidding the rappel being beaten to summon the National Guards, and the punishment of ‘hors la loi’ against anyone who should commit violence against the people (that is, resist the mob), or refuse to pass them. For this purpose he wished the mob to retire, and leave the Chamber to obey or refuse.
If they obeyed, they became, as the Convention became after a similar obedience, the slaves of the mob. If they refused, he intended to take down the names of all who refused, declare them ‘hors la loi,’ and probably have them massacred.
But in the first place, he could not get his followers to quit the Chamber. And in the second place, he could not get them to keep silence for an interval sufficient to enable him formally to put the question on his decrees.
There were among the mob perhaps fifty persons, each of whom wanted to be the hero of the day. So they spent three hours in fighting (literally in fighting), said Tocqueville, for the possession of the tribune, and for the right to speak from it, while the members remained silent on their seats, taking no part whatever in the proceedings. This, it seems, was pre-arranged; the probability of an attack had been foreseen, and a passive resistance determined on.
‘In the meantime,’ said Tocqueville, ‘the danger became greater and greater, as hour after hour elapsed without anybody coming to our assistance, and I feared every minute that the mob would become silent from fatigue, and that then Barbès would be able to force us to act. So that it was with the utmost delight that at length I heard the drum of the National Guard, and the sound of men marching in quick time in the passage.’
I asked him how he accounted for the long delay of the rescue, when there were 40,000 of their friends round the building.
He could account for it only by the great difficulty of communicating with them from within—there being few exits from the Chamber, and all of them blocked up by the mob—and by the circumstance that Courtais, the commander in chief of the Guard, had ordered those among them on whom he could rely to assist the mob, and had left the rest without any orders at all.
It is certain, however, that the situation of the Assembly was known to some persons long before the rescue—the body whom I met in the Place de la Concorde beating the rappel knew it and so did those who ran to cheer them.
Yet this was about two o’clock, and the Chamber was not rescued till about a quarter to five. The rush of Barbès and his friends from the Chamber to the Hôtel de Ville, as soon as the rescue came, seems to have been a blind imitation of the march of the Revolutionists from the Chamber to the Hôtel de Ville on February 24. The only difference being, that then all Paris was for them, and this time it was all against them. They were pursued by 100,000 men, as I saw from the terrace of the Tuileries.
‘Le peuple,’ said Tocqueville, ‘les a pris dans sa main immense, et les a étouffés.’
I asked where was Lamartine.
‘It is not known,’ said Tocqueville; ‘he disappeared when the mob rushed in, and was not seen again till the rescue came.’
It is supposed that he was in one of the rooms of the Palace.
I asked Tocqueville, who hopes little from the Assembly, why it need work worse than the National Assembly of 1789, of which the members were still more numerous, and equally inexperienced?
He answered, ‘Because then we had the cream of France, now we have only the skim milk. The members of the late ministerial party cannot show themselves. We of the opposition party have been re-elected, indeed, by great majorities, but we are suspected with truth of being Monarchists. We cannot take any lead in the Chamber. The Legitimists, of whom there are about 120, are naturally objects of still greater suspicion. So we leave the field to the 680 merchants, lawyers, and proprietors, whom the Provinces have sent to us, timid, pacific, well-intentioned men, but quite new to public business.’
Thursday, May 25.—I went to pay a visit to Thiers, who came to Paris yesterday. I found him, however, so busy with electioneering that I could have little conversation with him, and as he goes this evening we shall not meet again. He begged me, which is significant, to send him a collection of Poor-law documents.
Afterwards I called on Madame de Tocqueville.
I told her that I had left Thiers electioneering. She feared that he would come into the Assembly, in which his powers of speaking and experience would give him great power, which he would use in attacking the present Government, without being able to form one himself.
In the evening I dined with the Tocquevilles. The guests were Cousin, Molé, Beaumont, and a deputy whose name I forget, with his wife.
The dinner was very gay. Cousin, who put me much in mind of Lord Brougham, took the lead. We talked of Thiers, and the general opinion agreed with that of Madame de Tocqueville, that he would come in, and that he would do harm. He was admitted to be the second speaker in France, Guizot being the first.
‘I have always opposed Guizot,’ said Beaumont; ‘I think him a bad politician and a bad judge of French feeling; but he is a grand speaker.’
‘I have only known two men,’ said Cousin, ‘who were really ambitious; they were Lamartine and Guizot; the rest have been only vain. Lamartine, however, is both.’
In the evening I had an opportunity of talking separately to Molé, Beaumont, Tocqueville, and Cousin. I said to each of them, ‘I think that it is probable that I shall be here again next May. Can you prophesy, or will you guess, what will then be the state of things? Shall I find the Government as it is now, consisting of an Executive Commission and an Assembly, or will there be two Chambers and a President, or no Chamber and a Dictator, or Louis XIX., or Henri V.?’
Not one would venture on even a conjecture. All that they agreed in was their expectation of another street fight within the next three months, and their belief that the Anarchical party, which they estimate at about 15,000, will be destroyed in it. The National Guards and the Army will show no mercy this time. The Anarchists have inflicted on them the Republic, ruined their trade, and wasted their time, and they are resolved to take the first opportunity of getting rid of them for ever.
It must be recollected, however, that this was the language held six weeks ago. Then, as now, we were told that the first opportunity would be seized, or one made, to crush the enemies of order. Such an opportunity occurred on the 15th. But no use was made of it. It occurred again when Sobrier and his 200 Montagnards defied the whole force of Paris. It occurred again when the Garde Républicaine, not amounting to 1,500 men, were allowed for several hours to refuse obedience to the Government, and to hold the Préfecture de Police against an army, and at length were bribed into submission.
A Frenchman is never bold when he is on the defensive. A few hundreds of the lowest street rabble, without arms or leaders, will attack an established Government, raise barricades under fire, and die content if they have enjoyed the excitement of bloodshed and riot. 200,000 men, armed and disciplined, seem paralysed if the law is on their side and they are required not to attack but to resist. Their cowardice when they are in the right, is as marvellous as their courage when they are in the wrong. Perhaps the reason is that in the former case they cannot rely on one another: in the latter case they can. Among the conservative ranks many may be lukewarm, and some, as was shown on the 15th, may be treacherous. They may only be making a show of resistance.
The Anarchists must be sincere. Whatever, however, be the explanation, it is certain that in Paris
Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel wrong.
As for the Garde Mobile, everyone seems convinced that its days are numbered. Its creation was a wise measure. 15,000 of the outcasts of a great town, thieves, chiffonniers, and vagabonds, unable some to obtain employment for want of character, and others to keep it for want of self-control, the Lazzaroni of Paris, were turned at once, by giving them good pay, little to do, and above all by flattering their vanity, into the supporters of the Government. The love of excitement and of fighting, and the indifference to life which characterise the lowest classes in Paris, necessarily make them take part in every émeute. They will now fight for the National Guards; left to themselves they would have fought against them. But as Gardes Mobiles, they are in fact soldiers: always under arms, and liable to be sent on any service; but with double the pay of the regular army, and with the privilege of choosing their own officers. It is impossible that the regular army (La Ligne as I always hear it called) can long tolerate this comparison. A Pretorian body, selected from the best of the regular army, is an object of envy. Here we have a Pretorian body selected from the refuse of society. It cannot, however, be disbanded: such a measure would double the anarchical force. It will be sent therefore to some place in which it will be destroyed by the enemy or by the fatigues of the first campaign. Perhaps towards Italy to perish in a mountain campaign in the Alps. Perhaps to Algiers to melt away under a tropical sun.
In the meantime they make an amusing part of the armed population of Paris. They have been thrown together without classification, so you see marching side by side boys apparently of fifteen and men of fifty, tall raw-boned ruffians and little scamps not half the height of their own muskets. They are said to have acquired tolerable habits of drill, but their general behaviour has very little that is military. At their posts they are sitting, lying down, and smoking, and their head-quarters in the Champs Elysées is a sort of fair. You see fifty of them in their uniforms filling the carriages of a merry-go-round or crowding before a puppet-show.
We talked of English statesmen, and Molé pronounced an eulogium on Lord Lansdowne—one of the wisest, the best-informed, and, above all, the least vain man that he had ever known. Next to him Lord Aberdeen was the favourite.
Friday, May 26.—I breakfasted with the Tocquevilles. We talked of Lamartine.
Tocqueville said ‘that it was difficult to speculate as to his conduct, as he is an incoherent, inconsistent thinker and actor—that he feared that Lamartine looked on the present unsettled state of things as favourable to his pre-eminence; that if he had thrown over Ledru Rollin and the Anarchists, which he might have done with perfect ease, in fact by merely remaining passive, he would certainly, for a time, have been at the head of the moderate party, though he would have had in it formidable rivals, but that among the Anarchists he is supreme. That it flatters his vanity to be worshipped by his own party, at least by the party now in power, and to be worshipped by the other party as the man who tempers and diminishes the mischievousness of his associates. Though in debt he is not corruptible by money. He does not receive company because he says, “Je n’ai pas le sou.” ’
Tocqueville asked him, why he did not require a salary from the Assembly. He answered, Because it might diminish his influence.
Tocqueville expressed a fear that the Republicans would try to economise by taking away the salaries of the priests. He would rather, if possible, increase them. They have considerable influence among the peasantry, and are indeed supposed to have affected materially the return of the present Assembly, and if they were better paid, a better class would enter the Church. He wishes too to alter their education, which is now carried on in seminaries admitting no others; so that they come into a world, of which they know nothing, to direct it.
I mentioned Guizot’s remark to me, that in the Revolution of 1789 the ‘Peuple’ considered the high-born and the rich as personal enemies; abolished their titles, burnt their houses, confiscated and subdivided their estates, drove them into exile, put them to death, and tried, by enforcing equal partition among their descendants, to prevent the recurrence of large fortunes; but that in 1848 the ‘Peuple’ treated them not as enemies, but as slaves, not as a class to be hunted down, but to be kept in preserves, and consumed from time to time as the wants of the ‘Peuple’ required.
Tocqueville said that the remark was very just, and that he had himself perceived the gradual transition in the minds of the people, from dislike of the rich, to indifference, and ultimately to the sort of affection which one feels for one’s milch cows, or one’s poultry yard.
‘During the Restoration,’ he said, ‘I was thought an aristocrat, and was unpopular in my department. After 1830 the people felt that they had beaten us down, and that there was little ground for any apprehension of our recovering our power. Still there was just enough fear of us to make them distant and cold. But this time, in 1848, all is changed. The people feel that as a political party, the gentry are extinct. They elected me by an immense majority; they would not injure any of my father’s châteaux for all the world. They are quite ready to tax us, but they have no wish to plunder us, much less to do us any personal harm.’
He went on to say that one of the most striking changes which he had witnessed was the decrease of the influence of women. Formerly, every young artist, or poet, or preacher, or even politician, must come out chaperoned by some patroness. The ladies in the salons of the Faubourg St. Germain were the terror of Bonaparte. Under the Restoration they decided elections, influenced majorities in the Chamber, and were still more powerful at court. But now their influence is crushed by the magnitude of the events. No female hand has meddled with this revolution.
[Mr. Senior left Paris on the 27th.—Ed.]