Front Page Titles (by Subject) Correspondence. - Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, vol. 1 (1834-1851)
Return to Title Page for Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, vol. 1 (1834-1851)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Correspondence. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
London, January 29, 1849.
My dear M. de Tocqueville,—
I have begged Mr. Bancroft to take with him copies of two papers of mine in the last ‘Edinburgh Review,’ which, I think, may interest you and Madame de Tocqueville.
My time since I left you in Paris in May has been spent partly in Ireland, partly in the West of England, and partly, I am sorry to say, in my own room, under an attack of bronchitis, from which I recovered about three weeks ago. Yours has been more agreeably and more usefully employed. I was delighted, like the rest of the world, with your defence of property. Mrs. Grote thinks of making it a peg for an article on Pauperism.
We are to have Committees in each House on the Irish poor laws.
They will contain illustrations valuable to a political economist. Experiments are made in that country on so large a scale, and pushed to their extreme consequences with such a disregard to the sufferings which they inflict, that they give us results as precious as those of Majendie.
I am sorry that you have resigned the mission to Brussels, though I fear that the Congress may separate with little result. The pretensions of Austria and of Sardinia are separated by a gulf which diplomacy cannot fill.
I very much fear, from a very long conversation which I had yesterday with the Sardinian Minister, Marquis Sauli, that the people of Piedmont and Genoa will force their Governments into a fresh war with Austria. It seems that they think their honour requires them to make a second fight. I only hope that, if they are beaten, as I fear must be the case again, they will acquiesce in a second defeat.
I look forward with some anxiety to our parliamentary proceedings. A grave attack will be made on the Government as to both their Irish and their foreign policy. And I do not see how they can defend either. Their Irish poor-law extension, passed in 1846, was brought in against the better judgment of the wisest part of the Cabinet, in obedience to ignorant popular clamour—and has done, what was not easy, aggravated enormously both the moral and physical evils of that country. Their foreign policy appears to me to have been good, as far as France is concerned—but in Italy detestable. Their willingness to acknowledge the Duke of Genoa as King of Sicily was the most absurd and most wicked breach of the law of nations that has occurred in my time.
How Lord Palmerston will defend it I cannot conceive, and, if he falls, the Government can scarcely stand. I hear that he maintains that Metternich is still governing Austria from Brighton. If so, this is the most successful part of his long administration.
We regret the failure of Cavaignac very much—not the less, as it deprives us of M. de Beaumont, who was, as might have been expected, most popular here. Can you tell me anything of Admiral Cécile, his successor—nobody here seems to have heard his name?
Pray tell me your own news; and whether we may hope to see you and Madame de Tocqueville in the summer. Since I saw you we have added to our establishment a daughter-in-law, a very charming person. Still we have a couple of bedrooms vacant for our friends; but if the daughter-in-law is followed by grandchildren, they will be turned into nurseries. So I hope that you will come to us while there is room. I hope myself to be in Paris in May. In August we shall probably be at Carlsbad, and in September and October in Italy, if the Liberals will let us.
Best regards to you and Madame de Tocqueville, from all our circle.
N. W. Senior.
March 8, 1849.
My dear Mr. Senior,—
You wrote to me the kindest and most interesting letter, and I reproach myself for not having answered it.
I am all the more guilty as my political duties are trifling, and I have not wanted time for correspondence. Perhaps this may be the cause of my laziness. The exhaustion which has succeeded to the feverish excitement of last year, renders me incapable of any effort, even the very agreeable one of writing to my friends.
This universal listlessness is the characteristic of the period.
On the one hand we have our present Assembly, decrepid, feeble, in whose discussions we do not care to take a part; and on the other the prospect of a new Chamber, the spirit of which is still enveloped in mystery, while its approach holds the whole political machine in suspense.
When I say that the spirit of the new Assembly is still a secret, I am not perfectly accurate.
The immense majority of the legislative body which will assemble next May will certainly be animated by a strong spirit of opposition and even of reaction to all the mad follies, all the false systems, and all the men who rose up in the early days of the revolution of February 1848.
But how far will it go in this direction?
Will it be sufficiently obedient to the violent instincts of the agricultural masses, whence it will have sprung, to go so far as to overthrow the Republic?
If it should go so far, what will it set up in the place of the Republic?
This is what is completely hidden behind the thick curtain of the Future. If I dared to raise it for a moment, I should say that the most probable course still appears to me to be the maintenance, at least provisionally, of the Republic.
The new Chamber will be composed of three or four parties, of which each would prefer the maintenance of the Republic to the triumph of its old enemies.
I think that these parties, having no hope of the success of their favourite project, will be forced to be satisfied with the government which is next best after the one which they would prefer.
This, at least, is what I catch a glimpse of in the midst of the darkness which surrounds us.
Our Constitution is very bad, but it may get better; and if material prosperity, which is beginning to revive, could be completely restored, the masses would before long become attached to the Republic, which is, one must own, well suited to our social condition, as well as to the passions and ideas to which that social condition has given rise.
So much for the future. As to the present, France exhibits at this moment the most extraordinary and to most people the most startling spectacle that could possibly be conceived.
Do you know what is the actual consequence of this ultra-democratic revolution, which has extended the suffrage beyond even the limits known in America? You would certainly find it difficult to guess.
The actual consequence of this revolution has been to give to the rich and even to the old nobility a political influence which they had lost for sixty years.
The men belonging to these classes are those whom the people everywhere select for election to offices of State.
There is another phenomenon: this revolution, which appeared destined to continue and perhaps to surpass the work of 1793, has restored not only to religion but to the clergy an influence a thousand times greater than the Restoration, which actually ruined itself for their sake, was able to do.
What say you to all this? Is it not a curious scene in the great drama of human affairs, and one well worth studying?
I think that I could easily disentangle and explain to you the causes, mostly accidental, which have quite naturally brought about this strange reaction, and why I think that it would be wrong to expect the results to be very durable, though they will be of great importance. But such a subject cannot be treated in a letter. It requires a long conversation.
Come and see us. The events passing in France deserve the attention of a clear and strong mind, such as yours.
Mr. Bancroft brought us the two pamphlets which you confided to him. Thank you warmly for them; they appear to be both interesting and instructive. How much I wish that I could go and thank you in person, and accept your kind and pressing invitation. It would be unfortunately impossible for us just now. But if I should not be elected, I will certainly take advantage of your friendly offer after the general elections. This chance, which universal suffrage renders always possible, does not, however, seem to me to be probable. I would rather therefore meet you here.
Remember me very particularly to Mrs. and Miss Senior, and believe me to be yours sincerely and affectionately,
A. de Tocqueville.
Kensington, April 22, 1849.
My dear M. de Tocqueville,—
A thousand thanks for your letter of March 8, which has given me more information and better views as to France than I have had since I left it.
I am thinking of being in Paris from about the 9th to the 23rd of May, if I am likely to find you there; but I fear that you and my other friends will either be absent from Paris, canvassing, or, if in Paris, be so engaged as not to be visible. And in that case visiting Paris would be merely tantalising.
Pray tell me how things will be, then.
If you have looked at our debates you will have seen that our Government has not been very successful.
Their rate-in-aid for the distressed Irish Unions must be given up.
Lord Palmerston’s foreign policy has been a series of blunders—except as respects you.
Peel has risen far above Lord John in public estimation. Nothing but his unwillingness to take office, and the weakness of each of the other two parties, Protectionists and Radicals, keep the present party in.
I hope that we shall get through our Irish difficulty by the only expedient—emigration. We sent 200,000 people from Ireland in 1847, and rather more in 1848. And I have no doubt that a still larger number will go this year.
The United States are quite ready to take 300,000 a year, and our own colonies 200,000. I never believed such an enormous emigration to be possible.
I trust that you will be a member of the next Assembly. If not, we rely on your and Madame de Tocqueville’s promised visit. Best regards to you and to her from us.
N. W. Senior.
May 9, 1849.
I cannot describe to you, my dear Mr. Senior, the annoyance I feel at the mischance which has befallen me.
I am obliged to leave Paris, and I shall not be able to be there during the few days of your visit.
My health has been so much shaken by the agitations and the labours of the last twelvemonth, that the doctors peremptorily order me to avoid Paris for some weeks, in order to take the rest and recreation which have become indispensable.
They declare that I shall be incapable of taking any part in the Chamber, in the very probable case of my election, unless it is preceded by this interval of complete relaxation. I yield to them with extreme regret. In the first place, I regret our not meeting; and in the second, that I shall not be present at the close of this Assembly and the opening of the next. But I must submit.
A. de Tocqueville.
[M. de Tocqueville’s absence from Paris was a very great disappointment to Mr. Senior. There is therefore no mention of him in the next journal. To supply the omission Mrs. Grote has kindly furnished me with the following notes.—Ed.]
In April 1849, Mr. Grote and I went to Paris, for the first time since the revolution of February 1848. Some of our friends gave us interesting particulars of the events which had passed in Paris, and of certain incidents which occurred to themselves, during the last twelve months. The interest which attached to the details of the terrible days of June 1848 surpassed all the rest. On the morning, I think, of the 24th, M. de Tocqueville (then a Député), left his house in the Rue Castellane, to repair to the Chamber. He had not proceeded far before he perceived signs of extensive agitation, and when he reached the Chamber of Deputies a strong conviction presented itself to his mind that some formidable conflict was at hand. The Chamber on that morning appointed a certain fraction of its members to attend officially in different quarters of the city where fighting was going forward. They were directed to tie their tricoloured scarves about their waists, and to animate and encourage by their presence the efforts made by the National Guards to suppress the revolutionary movement. M. de Tocqueville with two others (one of whom was M. Goudchaux, afterwards Minister of Finance) was ordered to the quarter in which the Louvre is situated. M. Goudchaux proved himself a stouthearted citizen. He manfully seconded M. de Tocqueville in his endeavours to inspire the civic guard with courage and determination. There was, however, but little need of these endeavours; the National Guards were full of the best sentiments. When M. de Tocqueville would cry out, ‘Now, my lads, press your advantage; another drive at them and the barricade is taken!’ they would shout out, ‘Ah! M. le Député, laissez-nous faire,—we know what we have got to do—Vive la République!’ When M. de Tocqueville found his name drawn for the service I have here specified, he felt that he was ‘in’ for a struggle of the most momentous character. He had but just time to pen a hasty note to his wife, which ran thus: ‘Leave Paris immediately, and do not return till you hear from me.’ Madame de Tocqueville, guessing the gravity of the circumstances, also lost no time in obeying her husband’s mandate. Taking all the money she had in the house, and concealing it upon her person, she repaired to St. Germain-en-Laye, and there awaited, in a state of mind of the most painful anxiety and suspense, such news as might arrive from the scene of action. She stayed there three nights (these were the dreadful days of June), during which she was without any authentic information concerning M. de Tocqueville. I think it was on the fourth day that, her uneasiness and impatience getting the better of her conjugal obedience, she ventured back to Paris. During her seclusion at St. Germain, she continually heard the lower class of people discussing on the events which were passing in Paris. The prevailing sentiment seemed to be a cordial desire that the insurgents should gain the victory, whilst a great number appeared disposed to go up to Paris and assist their brother ‘Rouges.’ This of course increased her already anxious sufferings. M. de Tocqueville had returned home a few hours before her. He had scarcely had any repose during the whole of this fearful struggle. His domestic servant Eugène fought valiantly by his master’s side, but both fortunately had come through unhurt. M. de Tocqueville described the condition of Paris during the second day of the conflict as being intensely agitating. The streets were deserted, except by combatants: all the ‘portes-cochères’ closed. At night you might hear a foot fall. Here and there a man would be seen lurking under a doorway, armed. Everyone suspected the presence of enemies in the upper windows, from whence musket-balls were frequently heard to whiz. On the second day M. de Tocqueville had serious misgivings as to the final result, but on the third morning he felt tolerably certain that the victory was passing to the side of the bourgeoisie. A day or two after the struggle had ceased, and the ‘Rouges’ were beginning to hide their heads again, Madame de Tocqueville’s cook came to her and said: ‘Madame ought to know that the concierge of our house is a Rouge, and that he bears my master an ill grudge for his conduct during the fight.’ Madame de Tocqueville asked how she knew this. ‘I have it,’ replied the cook, ‘from our greengrocer, where he goes, and where he permits himself to use very threatening expressions in relation to M. de Tocqueville. He said yesterday, “Il y a longtemps que j’en veux à ce gredin-là.” ’ Upon this, Madame de Tocqueville became extremely uneasy, and besought her husband to be upon his guard against the concierge. M. de Tocqueville (of whom his father once said to me, ‘Alexis does not know what fear is’) took little heed of his wife’s warnings. But it happened that, very soon afterwards, he had occasion to stay out somewhat late, returning to his dwelling some time after the inmates of the hotel had retired to rest. He knocked at the ‘porte-cochère;’ and the concierge opened it in person. (It is customary in large hotels in Paris for the concierge to pull a string from his bed which unlatches the outer gate when anyone wishes to enter after a certain hour.) The concierge accosted him thus: ‘Do you know, M. de Tocqueville, that I am very much alarmed at some unaccountable noises, which seem to proceed from a building at the farther end of our court?’ Now this building was a disused stable or cowhouse, and was at some distance up a narrow garden court. ‘Well, what do you want me to do?’ said M. de Tocqueville. ‘Oh,’ replied the concierge, ‘if Monsieur would be so good as to come with me; for I am afraid to go alone, and yet I should like to know from whence these odd noises proceed.’ M. de Tocqueville instantly saw that this was a pretext to entice him to a lonesome spot. But he dissembled his suspicions, and told the concierge that he did not believe that there was any ground for alarm, but, as he wished it, he would go and assist him in his search. ‘Allons,’ cried he, ‘we will soon find out the ghost. Do you march first, since you carry the light.’ The concierge was a stout, square-built man, of middle height. M. de Tocqueville is a small man, but not destitute of muscular strength. At this particular period he habitually carried in his breast pocket a small, loaded pistol, and, as he followed the concierge up this long silent entry, he kept his right hand upon the weapon. When they got to the stable, the concierge made signs to him to listen attentively; they did so, but no sounds, except the sighing of the wind, were heard. After a few minutes, M. de Tocqueville, more than ever convinced that it was a feint for drawing him into an ambush, told the concierge that ‘there was nothing, and that he must now light him back into the hotel.’ They ascended the stairs to M. de Tocqueville’s own door, of which he had the key. Turning to the concierge, he bade him ‘good night!’ in a firm voice, without any symptom of distrust. The man wished him ‘good night!’ in his turn, and went downstairs again. Not long afterwards M. de Tocqueville left this hotel, and took another apartment. They could not rid themselves of this very disagreeable functionary, who was the servant of the landlord of the hotel, and he chose to keep the concierge in the lodge.
Alexis de Tocqueville probably owed his escape from the designs of the ‘Rouge’ to his insisting on the latter preceding him. He never once suffered the concierge to get near to or behind him, and the latter probably guessed M. de Tocqueville to be ‘ready for him,’ by his keeping his hand in his bosom.
[Louis Bonaparte was President, M. Faucher was Prime Minister, and M. de Tocqueville was Minister for Foreign Affairs when Mr. Senior next visited Paris, on his way to the Pyrenees, in July. There are no letters to be found on either side during this interval.—Ed.]