Front Page Titles (by Subject) Conversations. - 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:
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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Paris, May 1850.—The law called afterwards ‘The law of the 31st of May,’ which restricted the suffrage, was at this time under discussion in the Assembly.
The foul copy of this journal was shown to M. de Tocqueville immediately after it had been written; and it was returned by him without alteration.
Some months afterwards I sent to him a fair copy, on which he made numerous notes, which are inserted after the conversations to which they refer.
Tuesday, May 14.—After breakfast I sat for half an hour with Tocqueville.
He utterly disapproves of what is going on, and, if he is to be ill, is glad to be ill now and to have nothing to do with it. His object, he says, has always been to make the best of the Constitution for the time being, and he believes that that which now exists might be made to work tolerably,1 and this he thinks is the wish of the majorityof the majority in the Assembly. They are not men of much experience, or of much knowledge, or, perhaps, of much talent—but they are honest. They have no leader, however. Odillon Barrot keeps retired, Dufaure is gone on some inquiry to Toulon, and the reactionary, or, as we now call them, the revolutionary party have it all their own way. They believe that the next Chamber must at all events be Montagnard. He does not know what rashness and folly on the part of the Government may do; but he is sure that, with tolerable prudence, it would not be so. These recent Parisian elections are mere protests against counter-revolution. The people see that the Government is conspiring against the Republic, and try to warn it.
I mentioned Z.’s parallel of the present state of things to that which preceded the election of the Convention.
‘I wish,’ answered Tocqueville, ‘that all our history could be burnt, if this is the use that is made of it. The next Assembly will be no Convention unless they make it one. No one is deceived by the protests of the reactionary, or, as they call themselves, the Conservative party. No one believes that they really care about improving the constituencies. Their real objects are two. One is to engage the whole majority of the Assembly in a counter-revolutionary course, to bring them gradually, by a series of measures each a little more unconstitutional than the previous one, into an anti-republican position. The other is to produce a revolt, a victory, and an anti-republican Constitution, probably a presidency for ten years, surrounded by monarchical institutions. In the first attempt they probably will succeed. The really moderate portion of the Assembly will find itself counter-revolutionary before it is aware of what it has done. In the latter they will probably fail. The adverse chances are too many. In the first place an émeute is improbable. The leaders of the Montagne are perfectly satisfied with their position. The twenty-five francs a day, though they are obliged to surrender much of it to the public purse of the party, is still a great deal to men who had nothing before they were deputies, and will have nothing after they cease to be so. They are afraid too of their followers—they know that they will themselves be the first victims of a “rouge” republic. They will strive to prevent a revolt, and I think will prevent one. In the second place, if there be a fight, the émeutiers may succeed. The reactionists are very confident, but I have seen too many confident parties beaten to be sanguine. The 10,000 graciés have nothing to lose. They have a fair pretext to fight for. If the Government was unpopular before it brought in this law,1 what will it be afterwards? I hope that the National Guard will be stanch; but 125,000 of its members voted for Sue. Many thousands of them will be among the disenfranchised. If they side with the émeute, the soldiers can no longer be relied on. Thirdly, suppose the battle fought and won. I am not sure that the majority of the present Assembly would vote an anti-republican constitution. They might the day after the victory, but I doubt whether they would three weeks after. And what sort of an anti-republican constitution would work? I foresee no prospect of alteration in our present situation, unless accident should offer one; and as for its ending, that seems as far off as it was in 1789.’2
Thursday, May 16.—I drank tea with the Tocquevilles. As he does not admit the usual explanation that the whole matter was a scheme to insult France, he is as much puzzled by the Greek affair as I am. His intercourse with Lord Palmerston led him to believe him faithful to his engagements, though troublesome, litigious, and unscrupulous. He has the esprit d’un procureur (which was also Beaumont’s expression), but also of an honest attorney—so far, at least, as an attorney can be honest!1
I asked in what respect unscrupulous.
‘He seemed to me,’ answered Tocqueville, ‘to interfere in the affairs of the Continent for the purpose of serving his own personal or party interest at home, with little regard to the consequences on the rest of Europe. He ought to have known in 1847 that he could not stir the inflammable elements of Rome and Naples without risking a general conflagration.’
‘The conflagration,’ I answered, ‘was caused by your revolution, and who in 1847 foresaw that? I remember your saying to me in October in that year that Louis Philippe was the most autocratic sovereign that had reigned over France since Charlemagne—that he approached nearer to absolute power than Louis XIV.’
‘Yes,’ replied Tocqueville, ‘he was nearly absolute; but it was of the extent, not of the durability, of his power that I spoke. He had so thoroughly corrupted the Chamber that he had no parliamentary opposition to fear. He had so thoroughly corrupted the 200,000 electors that he had nothing to fear from an electoral opposition. With his 200,000 or rather 400,000 places, all the middle classes, on whom his government rested, were his tools. But, by abusing for these purposes the gigantic means conferred by our system of centralisation, he had rendered those middle classes, on whom his throne was built, unfit to sustain its weight. His monarchy was constructed with great skill and great solidity, but its foundation was a quicksand. He made the middle classes objects of hatred and contempt, and the people trampled them and him under foot. I never thought him during the latter years of his reign safe from a revolution.’
‘No,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘you prophesied one three years before it occurred.’
‘Well,’ said Tocqueville, ‘this is what Lord Palmerston must have perceived. He must have known that all the Continent was mined. And he had no right to presume on his insular position and throw combustibles over the rest of the world.’
I asked how he liked Lord Normanby.
‘Very much indeed,’ he said. ‘It was impossible for a minister to cultivate more anxiously a good understanding between the two countries. He pushed his endeavours to consult the feelings of France to the utmost extent that his duty to England would allow. Lately, however, he has excited much jealousy by his intimacy with Mrs. Howard. I once,’ continued Tocqueville, ‘encountered her at St. Cloud. I went there unexpectedly, and was introduced into the room where she was dining with a party of men. Lord Normanby frequents these parties. That perhaps is unavoidable; but he also visits her familiarly in her own house. He has the grandes and the petites entrées there.1 Of course the motive is a wish to influence the President through her, and this we do not like. Lady Normanby delights everybody.’
We talked of a retreat for the winter. ‘Hyères,’ said Tocqueville, ‘is charming. You live among groves of oranges and lemons, with a fine sea and a pretty country; and you are safe, or nearly safe, from the scourge of the northern coast of the Mediterranean—the Mistral.’
‘My delight,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘is Algiers. The sky, the light, the mountains, and the sea are like nothing in Europe. Our sun is pale, our air is fog, our sea is muddy compared to those of Africa. But I cannot promise you comfort there. Your food will be good, but, whatever pains you take, your bed will be alive.’1
‘On the whole,’ said Tocqueville, ‘my choice is Palermo. You have there a fine town, a delightful climate and country, plenty of society, and all Sicily for excursions.’
He left the room for a minute, and Madame de Tocqueville said, ‘I don’t tease him now about passing the winter out of France, but I think that he must do it. He cannot bear to quit the Assembly in such times as these; but, if he is not to speak, if he is not to write, if he is not to read or even to think about politics—and such are the orders of his physician—what is the use of his staying here?’
‘Well,’ he said when he came back, ‘you have seen Madame de Cirourt. Did you remember that I begged you to let her know que je lui trouve infiniment de l’esprit. I see that you did not. You were anxious to promote your own interests in that quarter, and forgot mine. Pray remember it next time.’
He soon came back to politics. ‘With the exception of the Montagnards,1 and of a few really moderate members of the Opposition, everybody is conspiring against everybody. The Legitimists, the Orleanists, and the Bonapartists, are each furious against the two others, and all three are determined to overthrow the Republic. “Ils veulent en finir,” they say, “avec ces gens-là.” “En finir!” as if it were possible to kill, imprison, transport, or in any way to drive out of Paris 100,000 men. There will be no fin in our time, or in the time of our children. It must be confessed, however, that this revolutionary regimen does not suit us ill.2 Every interval of convulsion has been succeeded by one of increased prosperity. Old prejudices are weakened, the experience of years is gained in months, and the most acute intellects and the most decided wills assume power. This revolution, however, has as yet been an exception. It has brought forward nobody except some militaires, and they came from Algiers. They are nearly the sole produce of that soil. We sow soldiers there broadcast, and we reap from time to time a general.’
Saturday, May 18.—After Gioberti left us I went to Tocqueville’s. He is as puzzled as ever by the Greek affair,1 but warns me not to believe the Government papers. The moderate party are resolved to turn out Lord Palmerston, and, if possible, the Whigs. No ministry that we could have in England would be Tory enough for them; but they think they could get a neutral one—one that, if it gave them no assistance, would, at least, interpose no obstacle to their restoring in Europe what they call order; that is, destroying every advance to liberality that has been made since 1830. For this purpose they are using every effort pour envenimer la dispute, and Lord Palmerston has most unfortunately assisted by putting them at present in the right. He himself would deeply regret their success, as respects the Whigs—always excepting Lord Palmerston, whom he is as anxious to get rid of as Berryer or De Broglie can be, since he believes the tranquillity of Europe incompatible with his presence in our Foreign Office.
I said that I had heard that something like this was supposed to have occurred in Switzerland—that Lord Palmerston had been accused of carrying on a double negotiation, and, while supporting the Sonderbund in London, of urging at Berne the revolutionary party to invade Lucerne.
He answered that he found in the French Foreign Office a tradition that such had been the case, though he had not examined the documents.
I mentioned the Abbé Gioberti’s visit, and Tocqueville spoke of him with great pleasure. He had enjoyed a most agreeable breakfast with him and Cousin. This led us to talk of the general state of the Catholic clergy. I said that, with the exception of one or two Italians, I had never met in society a foreign priest; that at Gäesbeck in Belgium, Madame Arconati spoke to me in high terms of their priest, and that I asked if she could let me meet him at dinner; but she answered that he could not dine with the family; it would be uncomfortable for both parties.
Tocqueville replied that such was not the case in France; that in many cures, though of course comparatively few, the priest was a gentleman by birth; that if a son of his chose to take orders he should make no objection. In general, however, the priest is the son of a rich peasant; he is not a polished man, but he has manners that do not offend, and considerable information.1 His worst fault is his pride. His morals are always pure. A dissolute priest would be hunted out of the country—but, whatever his personality, his profession entitles him to be treated as an equal. ‘When you come to Tocqueville,’ he added, ‘you will find the curé dining frequently with me, and once a year Madame de Tocqueville and I dine with him. A brother of the predecessor of the present curé was my servant; the curé has dined with me while his brother waited, and neither of them perceived in this the least inconvenance.
‘The institution is certainly a democratic one.1 It places the peasant on a level with the noble, but the politics of the clergy are essentially conservative. They are dependent on the State for their salaries, and therefore cannot resist the party that is dominant for the time being, be it despotic or anarchical, but the tendency of their wishes and their habits is monarchical.’2
I asked whether the regular clergy multiplied. ‘Not,’ answered Tocqueville, ‘the mendicant orders: we have none of them now, nor of the comfortable orders, such as the Benedictines; but the number of the active orders—those engaged in education and charity—and also of the most austere, contemplative orders, such as the Trappists, augment strikingly. The Trappists are admirable cultivators. Their time, when not devoted to prayer, is spent in the fields. They are under excellent direction, work harder than our peasants, and are the great introducers of new instruments and processes. Those who have settled in Africa have magnificent herds and flocks. If you could tempt them in numbers into Ireland they would be the best improvers.’
May 19.—I dined with M. Anisson Duperron. The Duc de Broglie, M. de Viel Castel, and Baron de Billing were of the party. The Duke seemed much out of spirits. I drank tea with the Tocquevilles. I mentioned the depression of the Duc de Broglie.1
‘He is one,’2 said Tocqueville, ‘of a numerous class who at each successive phase of our Revolution have believed that it was over, and that a settled state of things was to ensue. My father is 76; he was about 16 at the time when the Revolution began. He recollects therefore the opinions that have prevailed during its progress. When fifteen years of disorder ended in a military despotism, everybody believed that it had run its course. It seemed to be the natural progress of events that revolution should produce war, and that war should make the army, and that the army should make its General omnipotent. When the Consulate and the Empire were followed by the Restoration, it seemed also in the order of things that the military ruler should be ruined by the ambition to which he owed his empire; that he should go on playing double or quits till he had exhausted his good fortune; that his domestic enemies should join with his foreign ones; that the ancient dynasty should be restored, and that constitutional Royalty should become the permanent form of French government. When Charles X. tossed his crown into the hands of his cousin in 1830, this too seemed a natural conclusion of the drama. The parallel between France and England was now complete. In a restoration, it was said, the first king that is restored is so delighted with his return to power that he is willing to accept it on any terms. And those terms he is likely to keep tolerably. He is determined not to have to travel again. The successor of the restored sovereign takes the crown not as a good fortune, but as a right. He feels the limits within which he is confined irksome, and easily believes them to be mischievous. His flatterers tell him that they are void; that his rights are unalienable, perhaps divine, and that it is his duty to save his country without looking nicely to the technical legality of the means which must be employed. He attempts to act on these principles, and is resisted and deposed. But a great ancient nation that has once tried the experiment of democracy will not repeat it. It will select for its new sovereign the next in succession who is willing and fit to accept the responsibility and submit to the restrictions of a constitutional monarch. In that dynasty the conflicting principles of legitimacy and selection, of divine right and popular right, are united. It may expect indefinite duration. Such a dynasty is in the second century of its reign in England, and in the first century of its reign in France.
‘The revolution of 1848 came, and these illusions were dissipated in an hour. The great monarchical fortress which was built for ages, proved to be a mere stage decoration. The Republic re-appeared with its single Assembly, its universal suffrage, its clubs, its journals, its forced paper currency. The line along which they have been travelling since 1830 turns out to have been only the segment of a circle. They believe that 1848 has brought them back to the point at which their fathers started in 1789. They fancy themselves now in 1791, armed without doubt with far more power and far more experience than were possessed by the Legislative Assembly, but also attacked by much stronger and much more practised enemies. I do not wonder at their despondency; indeed, I share it. The difference is that what seems strange to them seems natural to me. I have long seen that the Orleans family were mere actors, whose exit was approaching, and I fear that mere actors have followed them.’1
We talked of La Hitte’s despatch. He must have written it, Tocqueville thinks, himself, which a foreign minister, especially an inexperienced one like La Hitte, ought never to do. He should give full instructions as to the substance, but leave the form to those who have been bred up to the office, and know how to use the double-edged weapons of diplomatic controversy.
Madame de Tocqueville asked me if I had kept a journal. I said Yes, and that, if she wished to see it, I would send it to her the next morning. And I did so, ending with this page.
May 21.—I drank tea with the Tocquevilles, but saw little of him. It was the first day of the debate on the electoral bill, and one member after another came in and held a council with him in the next room. His longest conference was with Lamoricière. He came out of it rather exhausted. Lamoricière had thrown away his cigar only at the top of the stairs, and Tocqueville, never very tolerant of tobacco, is peculiarly sensitive after his long illness. He said that he was empesté.
Madame de Tocqueville spoke highly of the wit and conversational powers of Lamoricière.
She amused me with an account of the schemes of some of the President’s friends, I suspect of the lady members of the party. When the émeute takes place (for they have decided that there shall be one) the President is to show himself in the moment of triumph and march as Emperor to the Tuileries. Changarnier, of course, will be his competitor, but they rely on his beating him, as he is a better rider, and has the best horse in Paris.
La Hitte’s letter recalling Drouyn de l’Huys, was not inserted in the body of the ‘Moniteur.’ It appeared in a supplement. Dupin, who, as president, transmits to the ‘Moniteur’ the official documents that are communicated to the Assembly, explained from his chair at some length the circumstances through which this happened. I forget what they were, but they proved that it was a mere accident.
The President (Louis Napoleon I mean), of his own authority, forbad the insertion of the letter. Hereupon La Hitte tendered his resignation, and, as a compromise, it was inserted in the supplement. I do not think that, in England, a Speaker of the House of Commons could be prevailed on to tell a series of deliberate falsehoods in order to conceal a Cabinet dispute.
May 22.—I drank tea with Tocqueville. Madame de Tocqueville was confined to her bedroom. Tocqueville returned to me my journal. He had read all that related to himself, and saw nothing to explain or to alter.1
‘The great misfortune,’ he said, ‘of France is the preference of égalité to liberty.’ I begged him to give me a lecture upon égalité—a term about which I had heard a great deal, without accurately comprehending its meaning.
‘Generally,’ he said,2 ‘it is a wish that no one should be better off than oneself; but, to explain it, I must begin historically. The ancien régine was the reign of privilege. All power, all distinction, and, as far as it was possible, all pleasure, was reserved for one caste. The people paid the taxes, the noblesse spent them. The people furnished the soldiers, the noblesse the officers; the people had nothing to do with the laws but to obey them; the noblesse made them and administered them. The noblesse alone were good company; if a roturier penetrated into their salons it was through their condescension.
‘The Revolution destroyed this system, at least that part of it which, consisting in positive institutions, was destructible; but it could not destroy the social distinctions which depend upon manners. It could not enable the bourgeois to feel himself the equal of the gentilhomme. It could not deprive the noble of his superior manners, of his self-confidence, of the respect paid to his birth, or of many other advantages incident to his position. These things excite the envy of the bourgeois. Again, wealth, though less powerful with us than with you, gives great power. The rich man’s son is better educated, and better launched, and better assisted. He gets on better, and this excites the envy of the poor. The great majority of the French consist, of course, of the low-born and the poor, and the égalité which they fight for is the destruction of the advantages of birth and wealth.
‘This is the reason why they clamour against the use of substitutes in the army. Nothing would so much destroy the happiness of the higher orders as the forcing every young man, whatever were his birth or his fortune or his profession, to serve for three years as a private soldier. This is the reason why they cling to the law which limits testamentary power; why they will not tolerate a peerage, or an upper house, or a qualification. Socialism and Communism are the same feelings logically carried out. Égalité is an expression of envy. It means, in the real heart of every Republican, “No one shall be better off than I am;” and while this is preferred to good government, good government is impossible. In fact, no party desires good government. The first object of the reactionary party is to keep down the Republicans; the second, if it be the second object of each branch of that party, is to keep down the two others. The object of the Republicans is, as they admit, égalité—but as for liberty, or security, or education, or the other ends of government, no one cares for them.
(End of Journal of May 1850.)
July 17, 1850.
My dear M. de Tocqueville,—
Mrs. Grote has just shown me your letter of June 25. I was delighted to think, as I read it, that you and Madame de Tocqueville must be really convalescent, for it does not read like a letter from a sick-house.
Friday, August 9, sets us, the slaves of the seal, free.
Pray tell me whether your kind plan that I should pass a few days with you, holds.
And if it perfectly suits you and Madame de Tocqueville’s health and convenience to receive me, when shall I come?
M. Anisson Duperron has proposed to me to visit him at St. Antin. If I go to you, I can go to him either before or after.
We are all looking on with amazement at the doings of your Assembly. The monarchs of Europe need not fear the liberality of a republic.
I am inclined to think that civil liberty flourishes best under the protection of a throne, and religious liberty under that of a mitre.
With our united best regards to you and to Madame de Tocqueville, believe me, ever yours truly,
Nassau W. Senior.
Tuesday, May 14.—Ceci demande quelques développements pour que ma pensée soit bien comprise.
The law, then under discussion, passed on May 31, 1850, restricting the suffrage.—Ed.
Ceci demande encore un développement pour être bien compris.
Lord Palmerston est un homme d’État de premier ordre, dont la politique appelle quelquefois à son aide les petites ruses et les expédients d’un ‘attorney.’—A. de Tocqueville.
I afterwards ascertained that M. de Tocqueville was quite misinformed.—N. W. S.
My experience was the reverse. The bed was good, the food was bad.—N. W. S.
Il y a certainement là une nuance de ma pensée qui a échappé à M. Senior.
Tout ce qui suit, jusqu’à la fin de la page, me paraît plus approbatif que ce que j’ai dû dire, et fondé sur des raisons non pas contraires à celles qui motivent mon opinion, mais un peu différentes.
The dispute with Greece arose out of demands made by our Foreign Minister for damages for certain injuries to British subjects (Mr. Finlay and Don Pacificos). These demands not being satisfied, Admiral Parker proceeded to blockade the Piræus. A misunderstanding with the French Government ensued which led to the recall of M. Drouyn de l’Huys from the Court of St. James’.—Ed.
Le fait serait exagéré si on le présentait d’une manière si générale. Ce que M. Senior me fait dire est vrai, mais dépend des provinces. Dans tout l’ouest que je connais, et je crois, dans tout le midi, que je ne connais pas, le prêtre appartient (non pas peut-être en général, mais très-souvent) à des familles riches, ou du moins très-aisées. Dans les environs de Paris, par exemple, c’est le contraire. En général, partout où la foi a gardé de profondes racines, et où le prêtre reste très-honoré, à cause de son caractère saint, par la population, on remarque que le clergé se recrute dans des classes plus élevées que dans les provinces où la foi est pour ainsi dire éteinte, et où le clergé n’a pas d’influence sur les habitants.—A. de Tocqueville.
Je ne crois pas avoir été aussi affirmatif. Je dois avoir dit, parce que je le pense, qu’il y avait dans la constitution du clergé catholique deux aspects, ou deux caractères qui permettaient à ce clergé de s’identifier assez aisément, soit à des institutions politiques aristocratiques, soit à des institutions politiques démocratiques. Par sa hierarchie officielle de servants, curés, évêques, archevêques, pape, et sa subordination exacte, il tend vers l’aristocratie et la monarchie. Par le principe de son recrutement et de son avancement, qui repose uniquement sur la capacité et l’unit par les liens de l’origine à toutes les classes de la société, les plus basses comme les plus hautes, par sa doctrine, qu’aux yeux de l’église et de la religion tout au dehors du clergé doit être considéré comme égal et traité de même, le paysan comme le noble, il incline vers la démocratie.—A. de Tocqueville.
Tout cela est très-vrai, mais il faut ajouter qu’au fond le clergé n’appartient qu’à lui-même, que les formes politiques seront toujours pour lui des choses secondaires; que les pouvoirs politiques qui ont cru l’avoir lié à leur fortune n’ont jamais manqué de se tromper, et qu’à ses yeux les affaires de l’église restent toujours les grandes affaires auxquelles tout le reste doit être subordonné.—A. de Tocqueville.
The father of the present ambassador.—Ed.
La phrase est construite de manière à faire croire que je place le duc de Broglie parmi ceux qui ont passé leur vie à croire que tout était fini: il y a une nuance qui a échappé à M. Senior, et ma pensée devrait être rédigée à peu près ainsi:—
Pour rendre plus complètement et plus exactement ma pensée, il faudrait ajouter:—
The reader has seen, by the notes, that when M. de Tocqueville read the fair copy, some months later, he found much to alter.—N. W. S.
Je ne saurais voir dans ce qui suit l’expression complète et nuancée de ma pensée. Je crois, cependant, mes paroles fidèlement reproduites, mais ce sont de ces paroles qu’on jette dans une conversation avec un ami, sans y attacher grande importance, et sans avoir la prétention d’approfondir le sujet dont on parle, se livrant plutôt à la disposition du moment qu’à une recherche sérieuse. Pour bien peindre ce qu’on doit entendre par la passion de l’égalité en France il faudrait une étude beaucoup plus détaillée des différents sentiments et des différentes idées dont cette passion s’alimente. Le portrait que j’en fais ici est vrai dans les parties qu’il représente, mais fort inexacte si l’on considère l’ensemble des traits de l’original.