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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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Journal in Normandy.
Tocqueville, August 16, 1850.—The Château of Tocqueville is built of granite, and parts of it appear to be very ancient, particularly three round towers. One is detached and roofless, but may once have been connected with the body of the castle. Another contains two inhabited stories, besides one on the ground, which looks as if it had been the dungeon; the third is filled by a large winding staircase of granite. The inhabited rooms are principally modern, that is to say, of the time of Louis XIII., and form a very agreeable house.
The Count de Tocqueville offered to his son a much finer castle, Tourlainville, on an eminence about two miles from Cherbourg; but it is a shell, and would have cost 100,000 francs to render it habitable, so the Tocquevilles wisely preferred their present less ambitious residence. Though on high land and not a mile and a half from the sea, it has no sea-view.
At Tocqueville I found, besides M. and Madame Alexis de Tocqueville, his father and his elder brother, with two sons and a daughter. Madame de Tocqueville appears to be quite recovered. She complains, however, of bronchitic affection whenever the weather is damp, and is easily fatigued. Alexis de Tocqueville speaks of himself as well. He can talk as much as he likes, and intends to attend the Conseil général on the 26th, where he will have not only to speak but to debate.
The Count looks like a fine old man of sixty-five or sixty-six, but is really seventy-eight. His hair is white and has been so for the last fifty-seven years, for it was turned in 1793, when he was imprisoned for nine months with six members of his family, and saw them all leave the prison on one afternoon for trial, judgment, and execution. His own trial was fixed for the 10th thermidor. So that if Robespierre’s fall had been delayed two days we should have lost ‘La Démocratie en Amérique,’ and all that we may hope is to follow.
One gets used to everything, even to imminent death. The disagreeable time in every day was about half-past three, when those selected for trial were summoned. The Count accustomed himself to pass from three to four in sleep.
We talked after dinner of the new election law.
Tocqueville said that his Government intended to pass an amended election law, really to effect the purpose which is the pretext of this, the exclusion of the vagabond population. How this will work no one can say. It is so obscurely worded that it receives different interpretations everywhere. The only thing certain is, that it will destroy at least three millions of votes, many of them those which, if the principle of universal suffrage is to be retained, well deserve to be preserved. In Tocqueville, for instance, no heads of families had taken the trouble to register their sons, lodgers, or servants. All these, probably a majority of the voters, would have been excluded if Tocqueville had not sent round to them papers to be filled up.
August 17.—I talked over with Tocqueville the prospects of the four great parties.
‘The terror,’ he said, ‘which the Republic at first spread has passed off. Men see that it does not necessarily bring with it war, paper currency, and bankruptcy, still less confiscation and the guillotine. But it is not trusted; the feeling of the mass of the people, of the peasant, the artisan, and the shop-keeper, as well as of the proprietor and the merchant, is against a constantly shifting chief. Far from valuing the power of electing a new quasi-king every four years, they detest it. “We must,” they say, “have something permanent.” The Republican party, therefore, as a party, has become powerless. Two years hence, or perhaps sooner, some different form of government will be established.’
‘Will it then be the return of the Orleans family, excluding the elder branch?’
‘That seems scarcely possible; their legal claims are no better than those of Changarnier or of Lamartine. All that their friends can say is, that the people have a right to choose their rulers, and would do wisely in choosing them. But their friends are a minority, small when compared with the number who are indifferent to them, and not large when compared with the number who are positively hostile to them.’
‘Will it be the return of Henri V.?’
‘The great obstacle to this is the association of the Bourbon name with the old régime; that Government, gay and brilliant as it looks in our histories and in our memoirs, must have been horribly bad, for the detestation of it is almost the only feeling that has survived the sixty years of revolution that have passed since its fall.
‘The French can bear oppression, they can bear to see their children carried off by the conscription, and their property by the tax-gatherer, but they cannot bear the privileges and petty vexations of feudalism. You saw the roofless tower in the court. My grandfather used it as a colombier. He kept there 3,000 pigeons. No one was allowed to kill them, and no one else in the commune could keep them. In 1793, when the peasants were the masters, they did no harm to any of the rest of our property. We have lived among them as protectors and friends for centuries—but they rose en masse against the pigeons, killed everyone of them, and reduced the tower to its present state. When I first was a candidate I failed, not because I was not personally popular, but because I was gentilhomme. I was met everywhere by the proverb: “Les chats prennent les souris.” My opponent was of a humble family which had risen to wealth and distinction in the Revolution. This is the most favourable combination in the hands of a man of ability. Mere wealth is mischievous; it gives no influence, and it excites envy. The only time when it led to political power, was just after the revolution of 1848. Every possessor of property, and few persons in the provinces are quite without it, was alarmed. And the greatest proprietors were selected as representatives because they were supposed to have the greatest stakes. Mere birth is still worse than mere wealth; it excites not only envy but fear.
‘The remembrance of the Marian persecutions is still vivid in England after 300 years. Our fears of the revival of the tour et colombier are as fantastic as your dread of the faggot and the rack; but why should they not last as long?
‘Last come the Bonapartists. Will Louis Napoleon succeed in becoming Emperor? I think not; I doubt whether he will attempt it. He is daring in his plans, but when the moment of execution comes he hesitates. His best chance was on January 29, 1849. He then enjoyed the full prestige of his six millions of votes, and his moral and intellectual mediocrity had not been detected. I have no doubt that the plan was laid, but at the decisive moment he, or his advisers, flinched.’
I said that one of his rashest acts seemed to be, the dismissal in November 1849 of the only respectable ministry that could be obtained.
Tocqueville answered that supposing his object to be the establishment of himself as permanent ruler and the subversion of the present Constitution, his conduct then was at least plausible.
‘We,’ he said, ‘had served his purpose. We had enabled him to get through the most perilous period of his new reign, the substitution of the Legislative for the Constituent Assembly. We had maintained peace within and without, but we were doing too well. The Republic was becoming respectable, and there was a fear that the people would acquiesce in it. By throwing the administration into the hands of a set of clerks without experience or authority, he let loose the passions of the Assembly, and enabled it to become, what is not easy, both formidable and contemptible.
‘I will not venture to prophesy or even to guess, but I think that the least improbable result is, that he will be re-elected at the end of his time, but, that in other respects, the present Constitution will last its three years: beyond that all is darkness.
‘If any event indistinctly presents itself, it is the reconciliation of the two branches, and the success of an united effort to give the crown to Henri V. and to the Comte de Paris as his successor. This is perhaps our best chance now, as the maintenance of the elder branch was our best chance twenty years ago. The almost inconceivable folly of Charles X. and of his advisers or flatterers ruined us then, and perhaps the animosities and jealousies of the two branches may interpose themselves when the next occasion arises. The younger Princes are, we are told, favourable to this arrangement. It would restore them to France, and in a high position.
‘The Duchess of Orleans, however, is said to be opposed to it, and no one can tell what will be the conduct five or six years hence of the Comte de Paris.’
As we were going to walk, Rivet arrived from Paris. His news was that the Republican party had almost ceased to exist. He talked on Thursday with Bergeron, one of their leaders, a revolutionist of 1848, a conspirator of 1849, who had fled to England after the affairs of June. Bergeron told him that his party was all dispersed or demoralised. Many have gone to California, others were engaged in commerce and manufactures.
‘If I wanted,’ he said, ‘an émeute, I could not find three persons to raise a paving stone.’
Socialism, too, has ceased to occupy people’s minds. Everybody, in short, is tired of even thinking about politics.
He too thinks the re-election of the President the most probable of near events. Much may depend on his present progress. If it should ultimately be considered a failure, he is lost, and such a result is not improbable. Public receptions are not scenes in which he shows to advantage. He can ride well, and looks imposing when he enters a town on horseback, and he can deliver tolerably a speech which he has learned by heart, but in those two things are summed up his powers of acting the king before a crowd. He does not captivate by manner, for he is cold and reserved. His inferiority to the Orleans Princes must strike everyone. Still he is there, and he has therefore for him one of the strongest of the present feelings of France—the fear of change.
Sunday, August 18, 1850.—Tocqueville joined me as I was walking before breakfast. He told me that after early mass, the priest had authorised his parishioners to spend the day in getting in their harvest—only advising them to cherish pious thoughts while doing so. This led us to talk of the general state of religion in France.
‘In the last century,’ said Tocqueville, ‘religion had almost ceased among the higher classes, and incredulity, beginning with them, had spread to the middle and even to the lower classes.
‘The Revolution of 1789 changed the feelings of the aristocracy, they connected irreligion with democracy, and tried to revive Christianity as a political engine. To do this it was necessary to appear to believe it, at least to treat it with respect. And accordingly no gentleman in the present century writes, or even speaks, irreligiously. The lower and middle classes however, who have been gainers by the Revolution, felt rather grateful to scepticism for its assistance. They were led by the conduct of Louis XVIII. and his courtiers to connect religion with aristocracy, and to impute to those who affected the one a desire to bring back the other. The revolution of 1830 was almost as anti-religious as it was anti-legitimist.
‘Christianity was less hated by the bourgeoisie under Louis Philippe, than it had been under Charles X., because it was less dreaded, but it was quite as much despised. 1848, however, by dethroning the middle classes, has converted them. They too see the want of the religious sanction; they now wish to join the aristocracy in imposing its restraints on the people.
‘None but the lowest classes now profess irreligion. All the higher and all the middle classes are anxious to promote and to extend Christianity.’
I said that it did not seem to me that a political faith of this kind would do much. That it might produce an outward surface of respect and even of conformity, covering general unbelief.
Tocqueville answered that he did not believe that such a surface would cover general unbelief. That the instinct which leads the mass of mankind to assume the existence and the influence of a supernatural Being is so strong that it will always prevail unless it is violently opposed. That a religious system which is taught in every school, preached from every pulpit, and treated by all the educated portion of society as if it were true, will be received without examination by nine-tenths of those to whom it is offered, and adopted and retained by them without suspicion. Many of his friends, men of intelligence and learning, are undoubting Catholics. Falloux is an example. A man of high talents and acquirements and virtues, who, much against his will, took office, because his confessor told him that it was his duty.
I said that there were duties imposed by Catholicism so disagreeable that I should be unable to undergo them, and being unable to conform without submitting to them, I should break loose.
‘Certainly,’ he said, ‘many of our observances are painful, and on some minds they produce the effect they would on you, but to many others the very irksomeness is an incentive. They estimate the merit by the disagreeableness. They delight in the idea that they are performing palpable, measurable, countable good works—that they are laying up a treasure in Heaven, of which the amount can be calculated, and for which the security is perfect.’
After breakfast the Count, Alexis de Tocqueville, his nephew and his niece, and I visited the four principal farmhouses of the estate. There are no ricks in this country, everything is housed, and the farm-buildings therefore are enormous—to the great detriment of the landlord, who has to keep them up. They are constructed of granite, but thatched, and seem to require no rebuilding but frequent repairs. All looked as if they had existed for centuries, during several of which they may have been gentlemen’s houses. One was pointed out to me as the berceau or traditional first residence of the De Tocquevilles.
All had the untidiness which belongs to the agricultural classes of France. The farmyards were unlevelled and full of pools of water and manure. The kitchen of every house, apparently the only sitting-room, and, in two cases, serving as the best bedroom, was much in the same state: its floor was merely an extension of the farmyard. The people were exceedingly civil and kind, but perfectly unformed. Their manners in general were more uncouth than those of our labourers. Their great effort was to persuade us to keep on our hats in their rooms; to effect which they usually set us the example. Some of the girls were exceedingly handsome. In the first that we visited we found all the family—parents, children, and servants—just finishing their dinner, probably about twenty persons. I could perceive no distinction in manners or dress. By far the most civilised person was a very pretty maid-servant. The master of this house occupied 200 verges, or 100 acres, for which he paid 5,000 francs a year. The taxes, however, both general and local, are paid by the landlord, and they are heavy in this part of Normandy; not less than a quarter of the rent.
The next farm was of the same extent, but rented at only 3,000 francs. The occupier has an estate of his own of about equal value. His son is at the college of Valognes, and will be an avocat. I was struck by the number of children. One farmer had seven; another had nine. This is very unusual in France, where the children to a marriage average only three. Tocqueville told me that in this class of life children are wealth. The sons seldom marry or leave their father’s house till they are nearly forty, or the girls till they are long past thirty. In the meantime they are by far the best labourers that he can have. The name applied to a girl amused me. It is ‘créature.’ If you ask a peasant what family he has, he answers perhaps that he has two garçons and three créatures.
With all their rudeness they are said to be excellent cultivators, as may be inferred from the high rents which they pay. Their horses and cattle are fine. One farm only appeared to have a waggon. In the others the harvest was being carried home on a sort of cradle placed on a horse’s back and supporting six sheaves on each side. Twenty years ago no other mode of conveyance was possible, for what were called roads were mere lanes just broad enough to admit a horse and its burden. In the coach-house of the castle I saw the old family carriage. It is the body of a vis-à-vis supported by four shafts extending before and behind like a large bath-chair, only that two horses carried it instead of men.
The capital necessary to a farm is supposed to be about 3l. or 4l. an acre. In Picardy, or the Isle of France, it is much more. There a farm of 300 acres would require a capital of 4,000l. The Métayer system is unknown. All the land is cultivated by its owner or farmed.
The whole of this estate contains about 1,200 verges, or 600 acres, and is worth about 1,000 francs a verge or 80l. an acre. This would be a high value with us, especially in a district remote from the capital and from any great town. The land, however, is eminently fertile, and the seaweed called vanecque is an excellent manure always at hand. Rivet estimated the annual value at 25,000 francs. Tocqueville said that it was rather more. Farm wages are thirty sous a day, or nine francs a week. On these wages it is supposed that a man can support himself, a wife, and three children unable to earn anything. If he have more he requires assistance. The labourer’s cottage is generally his own.
Here, as in the rest of France, there is distress among the landlords and tenants. There is much arrear of rent, and it is difficult to relet a farm that is on hand. Agriculture is the only industry that has not recovered from the revolution of 1848. I cannot understand this. One solution is the enormous harvests of 1848 and 1849, which have lowered the price more than in proportion to the excess of quantity; but this would not affect cattle, which have fallen as much as corn.
Another is want of confidence in the existing institutions which stops agricultural improvements. This might affect the labourer by lessening the demand for labour, but not the other classes. Tocqueville says that consumption has diminished, not indeed of bread, but of meat. This is a real, but not an adequate cause. The fact however, whatever be the explanation, is certain. ‘Were it otherwise,’ said Tocqueville, ‘my neighbours would not complain of the Republic.’
This is a breeding country, but horses are dear. A very good hack costs from 1,800 to 2,000 francs. The Government imports stallions, and supplies good ones at a low price, but the farmers, farmer-like, will not attend to the selection of the dams. Still the breed is improving.
That of the Limousin country is becoming extinct, in consequence of the extension of enclosures. It was originally Arab, and very active and persevering. A good Limousin horse now costs about 1,800 francs.
At Bayeux I saw posted up the programme of the Races of the Department for the 25th of next September. The prizes are given by the Government and as high as 2,500 francs. All the horses were to be stallions, born in France, and not less than four years old. At an older age they were to be weighted proportionately. The contests were not confined to galloping. Some were for trotting, and others for drawing.
This is a more sensible racing system than ours.
Monday, August 19, 1850.—The Count de Tocqueville left us this morning.
As I was going out of the gate before breakfast, I met a professional beggar entering with his wallet on his back. Strangers receive a sou, but on only one day in the week. The poor belonging to the parish are relieved with food by the Tocquevilles, and by the farmers, and sometimes with money. I saw the Count give the curé a five-franc piece for a particular case. There is no collection in the church, nor any regular fund for the poor. All is left to private charity.
Tocqueville took me a long walk along the side of a valley traversed by a stream which turns three mills. The land is his and might be converted into excellent water meadow. It is now neglected, and merely used by the millers to pasture their horses.
Tocqueville says that if things were in a settled state, he should set to work to improve it.
We talked of Thiers’s ‘History of the Empire.’
Tocqueville said that it disappointed him. He expected more from so good a speaker and so admirable a converser. It is too long and too detailed. What do we care whether the Duke of Dalmatia marched on a given point by one path or by another? These are positive faults. Its negative defect is its inadequate appreciation of the causes, intrinsic and extrinsic, which united to form Napoleon.
‘Few histories,’ said Tocqueville, ‘give to these two sets of causes their due, or their relative weight. Some attribute too much to the circumstances in which their hero is placed, others to the accidents of his character. Napoleon, though gigantic in war and in legislation, was imperfect and incoherent in both. No other great general, perhaps no other general whatever, suffered so many defeats. Many have lost one army, some perhaps have lost two, but who ever survived the destruction of four? So in legislation: he subdued anarchy, he restored our finances, he did much to which France owes in part her power and her glory. But he deprived her not only of liberty, but of the wish for liberty; he enveloped her in a network of centralisation, which stifles individual and corporate resistance, and prepares the way for the despotism of an Assembly or of an Emperor. Assuming him to have been perfectly selfish, nothing could be better planned, or better executed. He seized with a sagacity which is really marvellous, out of the elements left to him by the Convention, those which enabled him to raise himself, and to level everything else; which enabled his will to penetrate into the recesses of provincial and even of private life, and rendered those below him incapable of acting and thinking, almost of wishing, for themselves. All this is very inadequately shown by Thiers. He does not sufficiently explain how it was that Napoleon was able to do this, or, why it was that he chose to do it. Nor has his private character been ever well drawn as a whole.
‘There is much truth in Bourrienne, though mixed, and inseparably mixed, with much invention. Napoleon’s taste was defective in everything, in small things as well as in great ones; in books, in art, and in women, as well as in ambition and in glory; and his idolizers cannot be men of much better taste. The History of the Empire and the History of the Emperor are still to be written. I hope one day to write them.’
We drove afterwards to St. Pierre, an estate belonging to Madame de Blangy, a cousin of Tocqueville’s. She is an old lady of seventy-five, and lives there with her son, Gaston de Blangy.
It formerly belonged to the family of St. Pierre, the author of the project of universal peace, and was sold to the Blangy’s forty years ago for a trifling price, about 4,000l.
The family were absent, and we wandered over the park and château. The building is a vast parallelogram quite regular, and very ugly, and, as it is composed of blocks of granite, its ugliness will probably endure for centuries. It stands on a plateau about a mile from the sea, more than half way up the ridge of a hill, which all along this peninsula overlooks the coast. The sea-views therefore are fine. The park is extensive and perfectly French, the greater part of it covered by trees thickly planted and never thinned, and therefore tall and boughless. In the midst of this artificial forest are patches of cultivated ground, and it is pierced by long avenues some running up the hill, and others opening on the sea. Such combinations, though they may not be natural, are grand and imposing.
We talked of the life in English country-houses.
‘I cannot understand,’ said Tocqueville, ‘how your great people, after having passed six months of representation in London, like to create a little London for themselves in the country. We never think of filling our country-houses with crowds of acquaintances. Our parties are mere family parties, and all our arrangements are meant for ease and comfort. There is no luxury or display in our furniture, no ostentation in our dinners.’
I answered, that the presence of a large party at a country-house is the exception; that a man who can afford it fills his house for four or five weeks, and then lives with only his family, or some intimate friends, for a month or two. And that there is a motive for inviting our friends in England which is wanting in France. In Paris, where the town is comparatively small, the distances near, the persons who form a set not numerous, and everybody’s evenings disengaged from business, there is much intimacy. Those who like one another’s society can obtain it habitually. In London, where one has to go three or four miles to see one’s friends, where the names in a visiting book are counted by hundreds, where few busy men can spare more than one or two evenings in a week, one scarcely sees the persons that one likes best a dozen times in a season, and then perhaps it is at a large dinner, or in a crowded party. One can really enjoy their society only in the country.
From the park we went to the stables, which are large and lofty. There were several fine horses. One, a mare, was thirty years old, another had won several prizes. M. de Blangy, some years ago, set to work to improve the breed of the district. He imported stallions and mares, established races, and has at length so far succeeded as to be often beaten. He is also a great agricultural improver, and notwithstanding his high birth, might represent the department, if he did not systematically abstain from politics.
The curé dined with us. He is about thirty-five, tall, rather thin, very decent and well behaved. He did not seem embarrassed, but took scarcely any part in the conversation at dinner or in the drawing-room. This, Tocqueville said, was convenable.
We talked of the paucity of modern great men. A few names were suggested. One was Sir Robert Peel. ‘Peel,’ I said, ‘certainly did great things, and the last four years of his life were useful and dignified; but his character, both moral and intellectual, was too imperfect for greatness.
‘He had a clear perception, for instance, for what was expedient for the moment. He could conjecture, perhaps, what would be necessary in six months to come,—but he could not foresee for a year. It is impossible to believe that when in 1828 he denounced Catholic Emancipation as fatal, he thought it possible that in 1829 he should have to support it himself. When he turned out the Whigs for proposing free trade in 1841, he could not have supposed that he should have to bring it forward in 1845. He was very clear-sighted, but very short-sighted. Then, as to his public spirit. No one certainly made greater sacrifices to patriotism. He threw away for the sake of his country, honour and truth. He submitted to the misery of wearing a mask for years, and to the shame of throwing it off.
‘On no other terms, perhaps, could he have carried his great measures. But a man who will use such means, can scarcely be called great. And though the fear of civil war forced him ultimately to assist in repealing the Catholics’ disabilities, and the fear of famine, perhaps of revolution, forced him ultimately to repeal the corn laws, he supported those institutions long after he must have perceived them to be mischievous. His doing this was evidence of moral defects. His not perceiving sooner the extent of their mischief was an intellectual defect.’
Washington and Wellington were proposed. The moral merits of each were admitted, and the possession by each of good sense in the highest degree; but they were denied genius.
With respect to the Duke of Wellington, Tocqueville acknowledged his greatness as a general. He ought not, perhaps, to be put on a par with Cæsar, or Alexander, or Hannibal, but he was fully equal to Turenne; but he doubted his greatness as a statesman. He believed that his advice in 1815 had been mistaken, and his influence mischievous.
‘His English career as a statesman,’ I answered, ‘though disfigured by some great errors, was useful and even glorious. The manner in which he carried Catholic Emancipation was a masterpiece of decision, energy, and skill. Perhaps we owe to him the existence of the House of Lords. Under guidance less wise and less firm than his, that House might have dashed itself to pieces against the House of Commons in the storms of the Grey and Melbourne administrations.’ We afterwards got to smaller people—Soult, Bugeaud, and Lamoricière.
I asked what sort of a statesman Soult was.
‘Nothing,’ said Rivet,’ ‘could be weaker than his character as a politician, nothing more admirable than his skill as an administrator. All who know anything of the war department will tell you that he was the greatest minister of war we ever had.’
‘Bugeaud,’ said Tocqueville, ‘with all his weaknesses and vanity, had many of the elements of greatness. His courage amounted to heroism, and it was political as well as military. He had more public spirit than is often found in this narrow-minded generation. And his care of his soldiers was exemplary. When I was with him in Algiers, I saw how carefully he examined every detail. His officers did not much like him, but he was adored by the men.’
Both the Tocquevilles and Rivet were surprised to hear from me that Bugeaud had cherished hopes of the Presidentship. I have seen a letter in his own hand in which he gave instructions as to the mode in which he wished to be brought forward as a candidate.
Lamoricière seemed to be the favourite of everybody. Madame de Tocqueville praised his wit and his conversation. He has lived so un-Parisian a life that it is all original. Tocqueville spoke of his powers of application. He can work from dinner-time to two in the morning without fatigue. He is killing himself, however, by smoking. The cigar is literally never out of his mouth. Rivet went to see him on February 25, 1848. He was lying incapable of moving from exhaustion, fatigue, and scratches from bayonets. All he could do was to smoke.
‘When Lamoricière,’ said Tocqueville, ‘went to Petersburg in 1848, a friend of mine, an eminent professor, travelled with him for the first day. My friend, with his professional habits, lectured him on what he should say to Nicholas. “Tell him,” he said, “that he has nothing to fear from the Republic; that we wish to interfere with nobody, and merely to be allowed to settle our own affairs in our own way; and that if he will leave us quiet, we shall be delighted to be his friends.” When Lamoricière returned, he said to me, “Well, I delivered our friend’s message to the Czar, and he answered, ‘My good friend, there was no need to tell me all this: I have not the least wish to interfere with you. Whether you have a Republic, or a Dictator, or an Emperor, I do not care a rouble. The only government that I cannot tolerate is a Constitutional Monarchy, and in your case I see no immediate danger of that.’ ” ’
Tuesday, August 20.—Tocqueville, Rivet, and I rode along the coast. We talked of a subject which has lately much engaged Rivet—the mode of recruiting the army. The French army now consists of about 80,000 men in Algiers, and 300,000 in France. Of these 380,000 men, about 80,000 are remplaçants who have been attracted into the service as substitutes, 16,000 are volunteers, and the rest are conscripts. It serves for seven years. Of these three elements the remplaçants, though they serve for the longest period, are the worst. This seems to be partly the consequence of the treatment which they receive. Their companions look down on them as mercenaries who serve, not as paying the debt which they owe to their country but for money, and they are refused promotion. Next to them are the volunteers, and far superior to the rest are the conscripts. The best soldier is the conscript taken from the plough.
About 7,000 punishments are inflicted every year, of which, 5,800 fall on the 96,000 remplaçants and volunteers, and only 1,200 on the 284,000 conscripts. France is called a military nation, but never, in her utmost need, or when, as in 1848, distress among the labouring classes has been general, have the voluntary enlistments exceeded 24,000 in a year. The remedy would be an increase of pay or of bounty; but this is forbidden by the state of the finances. The budget of the army is already enormous.
I asked what amount of first-rate troops would be sufficient to maintain order in France.
Tocqueville said that a permanent army of 150,000 men well paid and disciplined, the members of which adopted it as a profession, would be more than enough.
‘Then why not substitute it for the 300,000 ill-disciplined troops that you keep there now?’
‘Because,’ he answered, ‘with an army of only 150,000 men, we should be unable to make war, and the nation would think itself betrayed. The power, and under certain circumstances the willingness, to make war, is the first duty which the nation requires from its Government. The great complaint against Louis Philippe—the fault which most produced his overthrow, was the belief that he was incurably pacific. With much less than 400,000 men, we cannot make war. What we hope to do is, to give to the Government the duty and the monopoly of finding substitutes, to take them out of the 55,000 men that are every year disbanded, and to make the service of remplaçants honourable by selecting them as a reward from among the best-conducted men. But while Germany and Russia remain armed, we cannot materially reduce our army, and until we materially reduce it, we cannot render it attractive by increase of bounty or pay.’
I asked for an outline of the new law on education.
‘Anybody,’ they said, ‘wishing to open a school must apply to the Maire of the Commune, and produce testimony of his fitness. If no objection be made for a month, he may open it, and except that his school is inspected from time to time by persons appointed by the Government, he is subject to little interference. If his application be refused by the Maire, or objected to by the Commune, an appeal lies to a Court in the chef lieu of the department of which the Bishop and the Prefect are members: the same tribunal can close a school that has been complained of.’
This is the law which has been introduced by the Clergy, and is attacked as throwing all education into their hands.
It appears to me a reasonable one. All schools are subject to inspection, and the superintending it is a considerable branch of the duties of the Minister of Public Instruction.
I asked how the École Polytechnique was filled.
‘By public competition,’ answered Tocqueville. ‘Every year there are about 120 vacancies, for which there are about 1,200 candidates. The severity of the competition injures the health of many of the candidates, and the prize, after all, is scarcely to be desired.
‘The education is rather scientific than practical. They come out of it des bétes savantes. The prizes, however, which it offers are considerable. It is the only avenue to the Ponts et Chaussées, the mining department, the engineers and artillery. The pupils are revolutionists while there, but their education seems little to affect their subsequent politics. Its defect is, that it does not fit them for the world.’
At dinner we talked of the society of the country. When Paris could be reached only by a journey of eight or nine days, Valognes, a small town about fifteen miles off, was the provincial metropolis. All the country-gentlemen had houses there, in which they passed the winter. The Comte de Tocqueville sold his some years ago. The noblesse and bourgeoisie, however, formed then, indeed form now, distinct societies. The only place of amusement in which they met was a concertroom. A friend of Madame de Tocqueville proposed, a year or two ago, to give a ball to both sets. The noble ladies sent her word that their husbands might go, but that they should not. She persisted, and so did they, and as far as ladies were concerned the ball was bourgeois.
When Alexis de Tocqueville entered his name on the roll of avocats, with the intention of pursuing the judicial career, his noble friends at Valognes were scandalised. ‘Your ancestors,’ they said to him, ‘were always gens de l’épée, et vous portez la robe.’
We passed to the subject of Marriage. In the higher classes they are usually marriages de convenance, and indeed must be so, as young ladies go out but little, and it is not the practice to talk much. On the female side they are generally early; a girl unmarried at twenty-one or twenty-two gets alarmed. She frequently takes to devotion—dislikes dancing and the theatre, and is very regular at mass. On her marriage, however, the relapse into the world is instantaneous. From a vieille fille she turns into a jeune femme—from a grub into a butterfly. There are several reasons for this interval of devotion. The curés are the principal marriage-makers. They alone know everybody. A man of eight or nine and twenty may wish for a wife, but is too busy or too awkward to set about getting one for himself. He applies to the curé, tells him perhaps that he has twenty or twenty-five thousand francs a year. ‘Well,’ answers the curé, ‘I think that I have three or four charming demoiselles at about that price.’ So the introduction is managed, and the affair is concluded in a few weeks.
‘The life of an unmarried girl,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘is very triste. She never quits her mother’s side except perhaps to dance, and then does not exchange a word with her partner; she takes no part in conversation; she effaces herself, in short, as much as possible. Were she to do otherwise she would ruin her chances of marriage.’
Wednesday, August 21, 1850.—At six o’clock this morning we set off for Cherbourg, to see a rehearsal of the naval review which is to be given to the President a fortnight hence, and to go over the Arsenal.
Tocqueville and his nephews and niece filled one carriage, Rivet and I another.
On the road we talked of the party to which Tocqueville belongs, of which Dufaure, Beaumont, and Lanjuinais are the principal members.
Tocqueville’s talents and knowledge, and courage and character, seem to point him out for the leader. But, in the first place, he wants physical strength. As a consequence of that want he has never practised the constant debating which is required from the head of a party. And, secondly, he is intolerant of mediocrity. He will not court, or talk over, or even listen to, the commonplace men who form the rank and file of every Assembly; he scarcely knows their names. The leadership, therefore, has fallen to Dufaure, or rather has been forced on him. He is an admirable speaker, and has shown great skill in the management of the Assembly; but he is diffident and seems almost afraid to take the lead that is offered to him.
Lanjuinais is a man of high character, and his opinions on the subjects which he has considered are clear and precise and generally just.
Beaumont has not yet become a fluent speaker, though he has spoken well occasionally. His diplomatic absences have put him out of practice, but his talents and knowledge must force him on, and they are aided by his popularity. Never was there a more delightful companion. He must have astonished, however, his colleagues in London and Vienna.
His vehemence, his brusquerie, his abandon are charming, but not quite diplomatic.
Rivet thinks that Tocqueville would be happier in public than in private life. And I suspect that he thinks so himself.
‘What I regret,’ he said to me the other day, ‘of my ministerial functions is the labour and the absorption. I delighted in not having a moment of the day to myself. I am naturally, perhaps, melancholy, and when it has nothing else to do, my mind preys on itself.’
The rain began to fall as we started, and by the time we reached Cherbourg it became a regular wet day. We were to have left the pier in the boat of the ‘Henri Quatre’ at a quarter after nine, but instead of a boat came a message to say that the review is put off till tomorrow. The messenger brought us all sorts of tickets for the yards and forts, but the weather has been so pertinaciously bad that we have stayed in the hotel overlooking the basin, and the last sixteen pages of my journal have been the result on my part. It is now about half-past four. M. Hippolyte de Tocqueville, whose château, Nacqueville, is about four miles off, has begged us to spend the evening there, and we are going as soon as Alexis de Tocqueville has paid a few visits to constituents.
Wednesday evening, August 21.—Nacqueville is beautifully placed half way up a long wooded valley rising from the sea. A stream runs through the valley which has been dammed, and forms a lake just below the château, and is crossed opposite to it by a bridge and an ancient castellated barbican which they barbarously call a postern. The château itself is an old granite house of the fourteenth or fifteenth century, with a high roof and square stone windows, which the Hippolyte de Tocquevilles have converted into a large comfortable residence.
On a smaller scale the place itself and the scenery about resemble Glenarm, in Ireland. So indeed does the climate. Though in the middle of August we were glad to find a fire. We have never been without one at Tocqueville.
The evening was very agreeable. The whole Tocqueville family, except Édouard and his wife, were present, and they were represented by their sons and daughters, very pleasing young people.
Thursday, August 22.—The windows of my bedroom looked up the valley on one side, and caught a side view of the sea on the other.
We left Nacqueville at six this morning, and returned to Cherbourg. On our way we visited the Arsenal militaire. It is a large fortified enclosure containing an arsenal, a dockyard, a floating basin, and two artificial harbours. The second or inner harbour is now in process of formation, by blasting the rock which, in the neighbourhood of Cherbourg, lies immediately under the surface, and creating a square of about twenty acres in extent, and fifty feet deep, in which at low tide there will be thirty feet of water. The outer harbour is of the same depth, but appeared to me to be about half the size. This was the harbour which was opened on August 27, 1813, in the presence of Maria Louisa—as Napoleon was marching towards his fall in Russia. It employed 1,500 men and 400 horses for ten years, and cost 17,400,000 francs, about 700,000l. The floating dock, dry dock, and four covered slips, each large enough to build a three-decker, were constructed during the Restoration—the slips are gigantic absurdities. Each is surrounded by walls and arches of granite, which would carry the tubular bridge over the Menai, and really support only a light timber roof. The dry dock, in which ships of the line were to be repaired, is placed so high as to be accessible to them only at the equinoctial high tides.
After breakfast we went on board the ‘Friedland,’ a three-decker, of 120 guns, carrying the admiral’s flag. The men were exercised with the musket and cutlass, in boarding and repelling boarders, and this was followed by a cannonade by the whole fleet. The pieces recoiled little, but the poop, on which we stood, shook with every discharge. The effect was fine. The flashes in the midst of the white smoke, and the gradual rolling away of the smoke along the sea, were very striking.
It was not comparable, however, to a cannonade which I once witnessed in the Bay of Genoa. I was on board a frigate, on each side of which were two others. It was a dark night, and every discharge from the guns which were opposed to us looked like the eruption of a volcano.
We then rowed to the Digue, and walked nearly a mile and a half from its centre to the western extremity. It is finished as a breakwater, though the forts which are to crown each end are not yet constructed. The roadstead which it encloses cannot contain less than a couple of square miles, but the bottom is rock and the depth unequal. Still it is supposed to afford safe anchorage for sixty-five ships of the line, and, as respects smaller vessels, for more than France possesses.
It will not, however, be much frequented by merchantmen. Cherbourg, placed at the extremity of a narrow peninsula, and with Havre for its rival, can never have much trade. It is valuable merely as a weapon against England. For this purpose France has spent on it, during the last sixty years, about nine millions sterling, and probably will spend one or two millions more. Had the difficulty of the execution, or even the amount of the expenditure been foreseen, it is probable that it would not have been attempted; but Tocqueville thinks that the money has been well laid out. Its influence in a naval war will be great, greater perhaps than it is easy to estimate.
Hitherto we have been able to blockade every French port. Cherbourg alone will be a refuge without being a prison. Its coast is too dangerous and its sea too stormy to be constantly blockaded, and having both an eastern and a western outlet, there are few winds in which it cannot be quitted.
A large fleet, as large as France can man, may be united or even built behind its fortifications, and be there safe, but ready to start at a moment’s notice, for battle, or plunder, or invasion.
It will be joined to Paris by the Chartres Railway, and perhaps by that of Rouen, for each of them proposes to have a branch to Caen. The different Governments under whose direction it has been completed, have each buried among its works inscriptions containing their titles and their self-gratulations.
‘If ever,’ said Tocqueville, ‘some convulsion of Nature should uncover the deep foundations of the port of Cherbourg, the vestiges of five different dynasties will be revealed, each of which has deposited there a memorial of its power, of its confidence, and of its instability.’
We returned to Tocqueville by six o’clock. A curé from the neighbourhood dined with us. He was older and more familiar than the curé of Tocqueville.
The conversation turned on learned women: he repeated the Norman proverb, ‘Prêtre qui danse, poule qui chante, et femme qui parle Latin, ne sont bons à rien.’
After dinner we talked over the Revolution of 1848.
‘One of its conditions,’ said Tocqueville, ‘was the substitution which we made in 1844 of open voting for the ballot. Nothing but open voting kept Guizot in power from 1845 to 1848. And yet Duchâtel was opposed to the change.
‘Guizot was wiser. Another of its conditions was the dismissal of Guizot neither before nor after February 23. If Louis Philippe had turned him out a week sooner, or had kept him in a week longer, he would still have been on the throne. I had a long conversation with one of the ministers about a week before. I was alarmed, but he laughed at my fears. “There is no cause,” he said, “even for uneasiness; there are 65,000 troops in Paris besides the National Guards.”
‘In fact, however, there were only 25,000; but that was more than enough if they had been allowed to act. As soon, however, as Louis Philippe heard that the National Guards were wavering he despaired.
‘There is not a more revolutionary institution,’ he continued, ‘that is to say, an institution more productive of revolutions, than a National Guard. Just after a revolution, to be sure, it is useful as a protector of property, but its instincts are to bring one on. The majority of its members have no political knowledge, they sympathise with the prevalent feeling, which is seldom favourable to a Government; some wish to give it a lesson, others would like to overthrow it; very few, except in moments of excitement, like those of June 1848, choose to expose themselves in its defence; and one National Guard who joins the mob does more harm than all the good that can be done by twenty who support the Government. The mob have not the least respect for the uniform, but the soldiers will not fire on it.
‘Even on February 24,’ continued Tocqueville, ‘the Monarchy might have been saved if the proclamation of the Provisional Government and the retreat of the Duchess of Orleans could have been retarded one hour. After having sat out the revolutionary scene, heard the proclamation of the Republic, and seen Lamartine and Ledru Rollin set off for the Hôtel de Ville, I was quitting the Chamber, and had reached the landing-place of the staircase which leads from the waiting-room into the court now occupied by our Provisional House, when I met a company of the 10th Legion, with fixed bayonets, led by General Oudinot, not in uniform, but brandishing his cane in a military style, and crying “En avant! Vive le Roi, et la Duchesse d’Orléans Régente!” By his side, gesticulating and shouting in the same manner, was a man1 whom I will not name, who by the evening had become a fierce Republican. The National Guards, though not numerous, uttered the same cries, and rushed up the staircase with great resolution. Oudinot recognised me; caught me by the arm and cried, “Where are you going? Come with us and we will sweep these ruffians out of the Chamber.” “My dear General,” I answered, “it is too late; the Chamber is dissolved, the Duchess has fled, the Provisional Government is on its way to the Hôtel de Ville.” The impulse, however, which he had given to the column of National Guards was such that it did not stop. I turned back, and we all re-entered the Chamber. The crowd had just left it. The National Guards stood still for an instant, looking with astonishment on the empty benches, and then dispersed in all directions. They belonged to the Quartier St. Germain. Oudinot had collected them by going from house to house. If he had been able to do so two hours, or even one hour earlier, the destinies of France, and perhaps of Europe, might have been altered.’
Rivet recalled to Tocqueville’s recollection a meeting of the moderate party on the Sunday morning, at which it was resolved to endeavour to persuade the leaders of the opposition to abandon the banquet. The great events which immediately followed had quite obscured it in Tocqueville’s memory, but he gradually called it to mind. The result was that Rivet was sent as spokesman to Odillon Barrot and Duvergier de Hausanne; Odillon Barrot acquiesced without much difficulty, but Duvergier de Hausanne resisted, so that their attempt failed. It was only the next morning, after seeing the programme for their proceedings which the newspapers had invented for them in the night, that those who promoted the banquet gave it up.
Rivet was present, or nearly present, at the fatal fire on the Boulevard des Capucins. Its immediate effect has been exaggerated. He saw a band of most sinister-looking ruffians make their way towards the Affaires Étrangères, and foresaw that something would happen. Immediately afterwards there was a discharge, and he and his friend were enveloped in a wave of fugitives which carried them up to the Rue Richelieu, but there did not appear in those around him much exasperation.
La Grange denies that he was present, and he may be believed. The transaction was not one in which he would be ashamed to claim a part.
Friday, August 23.—After breakfast we walked along the plateau behind the house, which commands on three sides the plain extending to the sea, dotted over with church towers which seem to rise from a forest, scooped into deep bays, and extending into promontories, each of which has its old castle or its lighthouse, and washed by a sea, which to-day was blue as the Mediterranean. The defect of this magnificent view is the absence of ships. France appears to have little coasting-trade; and no one, except from necessity, approaches these reefs.
Reverting to our conversation of yesterday, Tocqueville said, that though the revolution of 1848 was a surprise, the existing state of things would not have long continued. The pays légal, the 200,000 persons who paid 200 francs of contribution, could not have been allowed much longer to govern absolutely thirty-five millions.
‘Never,’ he continued, ‘was a Government built on narrower or on shallower foundations. It did not rest on numbers, or on wealth, or on education, or on antiquity, or on prejudice, or on respect. It was despised by the lower classes, and detested as well as despised by the higher classes. Few of those whom in England you would call gentry were Orleanists. Most of the persons belonging to the aristocracy were real Legitimists, by feeling as well as by education, and the rest had rallied round the Restoration as the only power which had a past or a future.
‘Louis Philippe’s conduct was not forgiven. As Regent in the name of Henri V. he might have stood between the throne and the people as effectually as he did as King. By condescending to be the founder of a usurping dynasty, by recognising the right of a Parisian mob to be a setter up and puller down of kings, he set one of the few precedents which are absolutely certain to be followed.
‘Sooner or later the Orleans dynasty must have been upset, even if it had reposed on a really democratic basis. But it rested on the most selfish and grasping of plutocracies. There were no nomination seats for the nobles; no scot and lot boroughs for the agitators; no venal ones for the millionnaires; the road to power lay along one flat level terrace of bourgeoisie, looked up to with envy and dislike by the multitude below it; and looked down on with scorn amounting to disgust by the better born and better educated classes above it. The pays légal were the electors and the elected. They were the donors and the receivers of office and of patronage.
‘They made the laws as deputies, they applied them as administrators, and their legislation and their administration were a series of jobs for their own party interests, or for those of their handful of constituents. Their whole conduct excited suspicion, contempt, envy—in short, every hostile passion, except fear. Such a Government was doomed. Its destruction in 1848 was an accident, but sooner or later some such accident was inevitable.’
I asked what he thought of the system of paid representatives.
‘Both the Government,’ he said, ‘and the people dislike it. The Government because it renders the members independent. The people because they cannot understand the necessity of paying a man to do what he is anxious to do without being paid. But I do not see how we can do without it. It may be abolished, but it will be resumed. Unless the representatives are paid they must be allowed to hold office. With the feelings of our people the greater part of those who will be elected will be poor men. They will not starve with supreme power in their hands. They will force the public to pay them as functionaries if it does not as representatives. But a Chamber of officials would be distrusted by the people. They would be believed, probably with justice, to be the tools of the Executive.’
He prefers on the whole the new system of departmental or collective voting. Under the old system, according to which one electoral body, averaging about 500 persons, returned one deputy, the deputy in fact bought all his constituents, and paid for them out of the public purse. He got for every elector the little place that he wanted at the expense merely of voting with the Minister. Neither the present English plan of buying votes at 10l. a-head, nor Sir Robert Walpole’s old habit of asking a member to dinner, and putting bank notes or lottery tickets under his plate, was adopted, but it was not less a system of organised corruption. To have got rid of this is a great thing, to force these democratic electors to select men enjoying at least notoriety is another advantage, and a still greater one is the candidate’s independence on any individual elector.
We afterwards talked of the subdivision of property. I said that it did not appear to me probable that it was progressive; that with a population slowly increasing as that of France, there must be nearly as much coalition as separation, and that agricultural improvement must more than compensate for any slight augmentation in the number of properties. Tocqueville agreed with me.
‘The tendency,’ he said, ‘is to create farms of the size which one family can cultivate, which much exceeds the quantity of land necessary to feed one family. Almost every peasant has his own house; on this beginning he tries, by investing all his savings in land, to add more and more, till he reaches the limit which I have mentioned. Frequently he borrows the money, and that is one of our dangers. The enormous mortgages which oppress our landed interest, comprising three-fourths of our population, create a formidable revolutionary party. It is pretty clear that the first act of a république rouge would be, directly or indirectly, to destroy mortgage debts. Such a Government might not live six months, but it might do this in six days. It might simply apply the sponge, and declare all mortgages void; or it might make its paper a legal tender, and lend it at one per cent. to everyone who offered what it would call a moral security—that is, to every applicant whatever.
‘And the next Government would find it difficult to avoid ratifying the acts of its predecessor, or to annul repayments which had been made with a currency legal, however depreciated.’
Saturday, August 25, 1850.—Tocqueville, Rivet, and I took a long walk over the downs commanding the sea.
‘I am now forty-five,’ said Tocqueville, ‘and the change which has taken place in the habits of society, as I faintly recollect my boyhood, seem to have required centuries. The whole object of those among whom I was brought up was to amuse and be amused. Politics were never talked of, and I believe very little thought of. Literature was one of the standing subjects of conversation. Every new book of any merit was read aloud and canvassed and criticised with an attention and a detail which we should now think a deplorable waste of time. I recollect how everybody used to be in ecstasy about things of De Lille’s which nothing would tempt me now to look at. Every considerable country-house had its theatre, and its society often furnished admirable actors. I remember my father returning after a short absence to a large party in his house. We amused ourselves by receiving him in disguise. Chateaubriand was an old woman. Nobody would take so much trouble now. Every incident was matter for a little poem.
‘People studied the means of pleasing as they now do those which produce profit or power. Causer and raconter are among the lost arts. So is tenir salon. Madame Récamier was the delight of Paris, but she said very little; she listened and smiled intelligently, and from time to time threw in a question or a remark to show that she understood you. From long habit she knew what were the subjects on which each guest showed to most advantage, and she put him upon them. The last, indeed, was not difficult, for the guest, a veteran causeur, knew better even than she did his fort, and seized the thread that led to it. It was only by inference, only by inquiring why it was that one talked more easily at her house than anywhere else, that one discovered the perfection of her art. The influence of women was then omnipotent: they gave reputation, they gave fashion, they even gave political power.’
‘The influence of women,’ said Rivet, ‘is considerable now.’
‘Yes,’ said Tocqueville, ‘but in a very different way. It is not the influence of mistresses, or of friends, but of wives. And generally it is mischievous. Its effect is to destroy political independence. This is a consequence of the poverty of our public men. The wife is always there suggesting how much a little expenditure here, and a little there, would add to the comfort of the ménage; and the husband barters his principles for a few thousands of francs.’
‘The Limousin,’ said Rivet, ‘is among the least altered parts of France. I was at a wedding near Limoges two or three years ago, to honour which, for four days running, seventy to eighty neighbours came every day, and went away the next.’
‘Where did they sleep?’ I asked.
‘Why, a great portion of them,’ he answered, ‘did not sleep at all. They danced, or talked, or amused themselves otherwise all night, and rode away in the morning. For those who chose to sleep, several rooms were strewed with mattresses as close as the floor could hold them, and there they lay, the men in one room, the women in another. Many of the ladies arrived on horseback followed by a donkey carrying the ball-dress in a band-box.’
‘Among the things,’ continued Tocqueville, ‘which have disappeared with the ancien régime, are its habits of expenditure.1 Nobody could now decently and comfortably spend above 200,000 francs a year; to waste more he must gamble or give into some absurdity. No expense has been more reduced than that of servants. The femme de charge—your housekeeper—scarcely exists. Nor is the femme de chambre in the capacity of your lady’s maid commonly seen; the duties are usually divided among the other servants, and so are those of your housemaid. Then we pay much lower wages. I give Eugène 600 francs a year—but that is quite an exception. The general rate is from 400 to 500.
‘Eugène,’ he added, ‘is a man whom I have always envied, and I envy him now. If happiness consists in the correspondence of our wishes to our powers, as I believe that it does, he must be happy. I have all my life been striving at things, not one of which I shall completely obtain. In becoming a thoroughly good servant he has done all that he wishes to do; in getting a master and mistress to whom he is attached, and who are attached to him, he has obtained all that he wishes to obtain. To sum up all, he is a hero. He fought like a lion in June.’
We ended our walk by calling on the curé. He has a pretty little house and a good garden. They belong to the benefice. He surprised me by saying that the population of his parish averaged only three to the house. There are few servants and no lodgers. In many cases, therefore, a house is inhabited by a single person. There is something dreary in the idea; but it must be recollected that the house is very small, and the neighbour very near. He estimated the number of children to a marriage at three.
In the evening Rivet left us.
St. Lo, August 26, 1850.—To-morrow the Conseil Générale of the Département meets at St. Lo, and Tocqueville, much to his dislike, must attend. St. Lo was not much out of my way towards Havre, so I accompanied him. His horses took us half way, and we posted the remainder. The whole distance is eighteen lieues or forty-five miles. A lieue, the old demi-poste, being two miles and a half.
We talked of the changes in French literature during the last 150 years.
‘If,’ said Tocqueville, ‘Bossuet or Pascal were to come to life, they would think us receding into semi-barbarism; they would be unable to enter into the ideas of our fashionable writers; they would be disgusted with their style, and be puzzled even by their language.’
‘What,’ I asked, ‘do you consider your Golden Age?’
‘The latter part,’ he answered, ‘of the seventeenth century. Men wrote then solely for fame; and they addressed a public small and highly cultivated.
‘French literature was young, the highest posts were vacant, and it was comparatively easy to be distinguished. Extravagance was not necessary to attract attention. Style then was the mere vehicle of thought. First of all to be perspicuous, and then being perspicuous, to be concise, was all they aimed at.
‘In the eighteenth century competition had begun; it had become difficult to be original by matter, so men tried to strike by style; to clearness and brevity ornament was added; soberly and in good taste, but yet it betrayed labour and effort. The ornamental has now succeeded the grotesque; just as the severe style of our old Norman architecture gradually became florid, and ultimately flamboyant. If I were to give a Scriptural genealogy of our modern popular writers, I should say that Rousseau lived twenty years, and then begat Bernardin de St.-Pierre; that Bernardin de St.-Pierre lived twenty years, and then begat Chateaubriand; that Chateaubriand lived twenty years, and then begat Victor Hugo; and that Victor Hugo, being tempted of the Devil, is begetting every day.’
‘Whose son,’ I asked, ‘is Lamartine?’
‘Oh!’ said Tocqueville, ‘he is of a different breed—his father, if he had one, is Chénier, but one might almost say that he is ex se ipso natus. When he entered the poetical world, all men’s minds were heaving with the revolution. It had filled them with vague conceptions and undefined wishes, to which Lamartine, without making them distinct enough to show their emptiness or their inconsistency, gave something like form and colour. His “Méditations,” especially the first part of them, found an accomplice in every reader; he seemed to express thoughts of which everyone was conscious, though no one before had embodied them in words.’
I said, that I feared that I should be unable to read them; and that, in fact, there was little French poetry that I could read.
‘I have no doubt,’ answered Tocqueville, ‘that there is much poetry, and good poetry, that no one but a native can relish. There are parts of Shakespeare which you admire, and I have no doubt very justly, in which I cannot see any beauty.’
‘Can you,’ I said, ‘read the “Henriade” or the “Pucelle”?’
‘Not the “Henriade,” ’ he answered, ‘nor can anybody else, nor do I much like to read the “Pucelle;” but it is a wonderful piece of workmanship. How Voltaire could have disgraced such exquisite language, poetry, and wit by such grossness is inconceivable; but I can recollect when grave magistrates and statesmen knew it by heart. If you wish for pure specimens of Voltaire’s wit and ease and command of language, look at his “Pièces diverses.” As for his tragedies, I cannot read them. They are artificial; so indeed are Racine’s, though he is the best writer of French that ever used the language. In Corneille there are passages really of the highest order. But it is our prose writers, not our poets, that are our glory, and them you can enjoy as well as I can.’
The whole road to St. Lo was English in everything but the houses. It ran between hedges, hedgerow trees, paths, gates, and even stiles—all of them things almost unknown in other parts of France. The churches, each with its tower and spire, put me in mind of those of our midland counties, but are finer. The finest is Charenton.
That of St. Lo is a cathedral, partly round and partly pointed. The form of the choir is irregular, the western side inclining outwards to admit a florid chapel. The aisles are divided from the centre only by pillars; and the tasteless moderns have run horrible painted wooden screens from the pillars to the wall in order to make a succession of chapels each with its altar, surrounded by a dwarf Grecian pediment propped on wooden pillars with gilt Corinthian capitals.
The position of the town is beautiful, on the side of a deep wooded valley; but as it rained all the evening and the next morning, I saw little of it.
The inn has a bad character, but I did not find it uncomfortable. I suspect that what I have heard, that even in the inferior inns of France the beds are good, is true.1
Caen, Monday, August 27.—Tocqueville took leave of me this morning, and I started, under a pouring rain, by the diligence for Bayeux. The country resembled that of yesterday, but was still more wooded.
The cathedral of Bayeux is, next to St. Ouen in Rouen, and St. Étienne in Caen, the finest building that I have seen in Normandy, far superior to the cathedral of Rouen; and I am not sure that I am not guilty of preferring it to St. Ouen. It has less lightness, but far more grandeur. The palladium or Wren-like central cupola is a solecism, but beautiful in itself.
From the cathedral I went to the tapestry. It is far better executed than I expected to find it. Many of the men and horses have great spirit. Harold and the other Saxons are distinguished by their moustache. The Normans are all clean shaved. The gentlemen generally carry a falcon on the right fist, apparently as a distinction. Harold does so on ship-board, Guy of Ponthieu when on his road to seize Harold, occasions on which the falcon must have been in the way.
The towns are indicated symbolically by towers not so high as a man, like those in the Assyrian bas-reliefs, which in fact the tapestry much resembles, though superior in composition and expression. The transport of the horses across the Channel seems to have been thought a great feat. Every boat is represented as full of them, and one compartment is dedicated to their landing. Each boat has a single sail, held by the sheet, not belayed.
In the battle, William’s army seems to consist almost entirely of cavalry; the few infantry are archers. Harold’s consists principally of foot, and they are chiefly armed with battle-axes.
In the last compartment Harold is falling from his horse, still retaining his sword, but the arrow which is said to have killed him does not appear. Neither party have visors: the faces of the Saxons are quite unprotected, those of some few of the Normans are defended by small nose-pieces. The horses are generally red or blue, which is intended, I suspect, to intimate the colours which we call red roan and blue roan, these being in Normandy the prevalent colours. I am inclined to think our word roan merely means Rouen. A roan horse is a Rouen horse.
I spent two hours in Bayeux, and then took a diligence to Caen. Caen is very large, and as my tendon has not yet recovered I saw it imperfectly. I visited only three of its churches: St. Sauveur, St. Pierre, and St. Ètienne. St. Sauveur consists of two large chapels, very florid, separated by the widest arch that I ever saw in an interior.
St. Pierre has a wonderfully beautiful tower and spire. The tower, as is the case with several other towers in Caen, is pierced by tall lancet windows, with very deep receded mouldings. The vaulting, in the interior of the chapels which surround the choir, descends in pendent fringes resembling stalactites. The effect is not good. St. Etienne is the finest thing that I have seen in Normandy. The west front is plain, almost bald, but imposing from its height. As at first designed it was a vast wall, with a tower on each side, and a few round-headed windows merely to give light. The spires which add much to its effect, and indeed dignify the approach to Caen, are additions. What may be the merit of the rest of the exterior I do not know, for it is inaccessible to the eye as well as to the foot; being built up by houses on all sides, as is the misfortune of the greater part of the fine churches of France.
During the last two centuries, the walls and buttresses on which so much skill and taste and labour were lavished by their ancestors, seem to have been considered by the French as mere props for stalls, shops, and dwelling-houses Frequently, so frequently that I scarcely recollect an exception, one of the finest windows is plastered up to make a party wall. This is the case at St. Ouen, at St. Lo, at the Rouen cathedral, and at Bayeux. Many of our own cathedrals are thus smothered: the south side, for instance, of Westminster Abbey. A general cleansing of the cathedrals of France from these vile parasitical accretions would open a new architectural world. The interior is grand, almost awful. When one sees it, one does not wonder that the man who had the boldness and taste to plan, and the power to execute such a work, conquered the rude Saxons of England.’ It is remarkable that the round and massive style of William the Conqueror’s nave, and the pointed and lighter character of the choir, harmonise perfectly. They probably would not do so if the nave were light and the choir heavy, or if the two styles were mixed in the same parts of the building.
Tuesday, August 27.—I left Caen at eleven this morning by the steamer for Havre. To-day we had a hot sun, the first that I have felt in Normandy; there was no awning and I went below. After steaming for about an hour we suddenly stopped. Across the narrow channel of the Orne, down which we were running, two great sloops had thought fit to anchor; and they just filled it. For a long time they refused to move; at last they condescended to raise their anchors, and we towed them out of the way so as to pass between them, but in doing so got aground. This cost us an hour. We consequently did not get to Havre till twenty-five minutes to four. The train to Yvetot, which I had intended to take, starts at four. There would have been time to catch it, but for the formalities which throughout the Continent have been invented to consume time and trouble. The luggage was to be weighed, and that takes a quarter of an hour; it was to be put into a van, and that takes a quarter of an hour more. Then the office closes ten minutes before the train starts. So I was forced to wait for the next train, starting at half-past five. It was eight before I reached Yvetot, which is about three leagues from M. Anisson’s château, St. Aubin.
It was a dark wet night. I got a cabriolet, of course without lamps, and we started at half-past eight. After we had driven half an hour, we saw dimly a huge object before us. It proved to be a hay-waggon, upset, and filling the middle of the road. The great highways of France, and we were on that from Havre to Rouen, are very wide, so we managed to grope our way round it.
Soon after a voice hailed us from the road. It came from a man who had dropped his purse, and he politely requested us to get out and help him to find it; a request, which my driver, I must say, not with equal politeness of language, rejected. We then turned off into a bye road, being, according to the driver, about a league from the château. We passed through a long wood, trusting to the instinct of our horse, for in the darkness under the trees we could not see his tail, much less anything of the road. Directly after we had emerged from the wood we heard voices, and found again the path blocked up. This time it was an overturned corn-waggon, which completely filled it. The peasants who were employed about it, dragged our carriage up a slope into the field, and, when we had passed the waggon, dragged it down again. This was a rather dangerous manœuvre in the dark. They told us that we were a quarter of an hour from the château. We drove for a quarter of an hour, and for a quarter of an hour longer, and the path, as far as we could judge from its ruts and its stones, became worse and worse. It was difficult to suppose that it led to a gentleman’s house. At length it seemed to end in a wood, and the driver admitted that we were lost. By this time, however, the moon had risen, though behind clouds, and it was a little lighter. The driver, who professed to know the road well by day, thought that he knew whereabouts the château lay, and we took a road which led in that direction. This part of Normandy is, à la française, all open field. If it had consisted, like the Tocqueville country, of inclosures and deep lanes, we must have resigned ourselves to pass the night where we were. The new path, however, ended in a ploughed field, and we turned back again. There was not a cottage to be seen, and I think that we should have wandered till daylight, if we had not met a labourer whom I pressed as a guide. He led us for above a mile across the field to the garden gate. Everybody but M. Anisson had gone to bed—the servant dressed himself and let us in, and M. Anisson was kind enough to come and drink tea with me. There is nobody in the château except M. and Madame Anisson, and their unmarried son and daughter.
Wednesday, August 28.—The château is large and has nothing military. It is built of brick and stone and belongs to the age of Louis XIII. It contains three stories; the rooms all look to the garden front, south-east; the other front contains only a corridor on each floor.
Early in the morning, bread and coffee are brought into the bedroom; at half past eleven there are short family prayers, at a quarter before twelve is the regular breakfast, and at seven dinner. The habits, in fact, of a century ago are continued; except that what then was called dinner is now called breakfast, and what they called supper is now called dinner. And except also, and it is an important exception, that they then prepared themselves for their twelve o’clock meal by full dress. Arthur Young, living in the country with the Rochefoucaulds, Liancourts, and other people of the highest fashion, bitterly laments having to put on silk stockings and to be bien poudré at noon. What is one fit for after that, he asks, but to gossip and play at cards? in fact these seem to have been their afternoon employments.
The great want in this country is water—not indeed from the sky, for Jupiter Pluvius is very liberal, but on the earth. Our supply depends wholly on the rain, which is carried off from the eaves by pipes meeting in one great filter of sand, and thence passes into two reservoirs in the cellars. Thence it is pumped or carried over the rest of the house—that for drinking is driven by a forcing pump through another filter, and comes out soft and clear. These cisterns are cleaned out once in two years. They are never recollected to have been empty, or even to have wanted water.
The peasants depend principally on ponds also filled by the rain. I asked if they drank such water, and was answered that nobody drinks water, except on very rare occasions or in coffee. Their constant beverage, and at all meals, is cider. The farmers and a few peasants have water-butts, filled from the roof.
As we were walking after breakfast this morning, a girl of about twenty-four, in a monastic dress, pale, with regular features and a sweet countenance and manner, met us, whom M. Anisson addressed as ‘ma sœur.’ She is the village schoolmistress. When he fixed himself here he found only one school for both boys and girls, kept by a man fitted for it neither by morals, nor knowledge, nor habits, but holding his appointment under the Minister of the Interior, and removable, if removable at all, only by legal proceedings. He resolved at least to rescue the girls from him; built a school-house and residence for a mistress, and obtained this girl from a neighbouring convent. Her mother lives near Dieppe in easy circumstances, her two sisters are well married, but she felt a vocation for conventual life, and obeyed it. She was going to call on Madame Anisson, but before we had finished our walk, she had finished her visit, for we found her at home in her school-house. She lives there alone on an income which M. Anisson calls nothing: a few sous a month from those among her scholars who are able and willing to pay, and what the Anissons give her: for she has nothing from her friends, and, as to the convent, she is not a dependent but a benefactress: out of her little pittance she saves something to carry to its funds. Every year all the nuns pass five or six weeks there en retraite, and she is going thither next week. The Anissons fear that she may never return, as she has an alarming cough and the worn look which often precedes consumption. Should she survive her mother she will have some fortune; but in all probability she will renounce it in favour of her sisters, or give it to the convent—for though monastic vows are not enforced by law, they are scarcely ever abandoned. They are taken for five years, a longer engagement being illegal on the part of both maker and receiver, but constantly renewed. A nun who chose to quit her convent would be shunned and probably unable to marry tolerably.
The post brought in the death of Louis Philippe. The Anissons seemed a good deal affected by it. M. Anisson knew Louis Philippe intimately. He had a conversation with him at Twickenham in 1816, which has ever since dwelt in his memory. Louis Philippe spoke with regret of the reactionary course which Louis XVIII. was taking, of his abandoning the tricolor, and of his subserviency to the priesthood. ‘And yet,’ he said, ‘he is a man of talent and a man of liberal opinions; but as soon as you put a crown on a man’s head it seems to fall over his head like a bandage. I myself, who venture to blame and to criticise, if I were tried should perhaps commit, not perhaps the same faults, but others quite as serious. I see all this with great pain, yet I cannot venture to whisper my disapprobation. But those who think that I wish to supplant my cousin, and many honest and intelligent men think so, know me very little. The position of a constitutional king is without doubt a very fine one, but that of a Prince of Wales or a Duke of Orleans is much happier. I have rank, wealth, consideration, everything in short except power, and power I do not wish for.’
M. Anisson thinks that his prevailing passion was not vanity, or ambition, or avarice, but the desire to promote the interests of the Bourbon family. ‘Of the younger branch?’ I asked.
‘No,’ he replied; ‘of the whole family.’
‘Yet,’ I said, ‘he has injured that family perhaps irreparably. The great obstacle to the restoration of that family is the schism which his usurpation created.’
‘He could not avoid it,’ said Anisson; ‘or rather, if he had avoided it, we should have had the Republic.’
‘The theory at Tocqueville.’ I answered, ‘was that he might have saved the crown by accepting it temporarily as regent.’
‘I do not believe,’ said Anisson, ‘that such a Government would have lasted a fortnight. The Republican party was then strong, far stronger in positive numbers than it is now, when its apparent strength arises from the number of factions into which its adversaries are divided. The doctrinaire party was angry and suspicious. Charles X. was known to have said that he would rather chop wood than be a constitutional king. The example of England, whose history seemed merely a type of ours, was present to their minds, and, perhaps without their knowing it, influenced their conduct. They forgot that it was the religious element which consolidated the throne of the successors of William III. If the Duc de Bordeaux had been a Protestant, and if the French had been a nation of fervent Catholics, Henri V. might have been a pretender as little dangerous as James III.; but it was absurd to think that the friends of monarchy would acquiesce in the substitution of merely an irregular for a regular inheritor. Believe it, however, they did, and no one more fully than Louis Philippe. He did not oppose the revolution of 1830, but he did not promote it. There is nothing of the conspirator in his character. He was guilty of profiting by the misfortunes of the elder branch, but he could not have averted them. For a time the reign of that branch was over. To attempt to prolong it in the forms which, from frequent and unhappy experience, we most detest—that of a minority and a regent—was perhaps impossible and certainly would have been fruitless.’
Thursday, August 29.—M. Anisson has bought a farm for 23,000 francs. It was deeply incumbered, and the vendors and incumbrancers were to meet him at Valmont, a village about ten miles off, this morning to receive the money and execute the conveyance. They would not accept cheques, so the money was sent to him by railway from Paris in a bag containing 20,000 francs in notes, and 3,000 in silver, and weighing therefore about forty pounds. We started with our bag at seven this morning. The road lay through an open table-land, slightly undulating, and apparently dotted by compact masses of forest. Each of these masses was, however, hollow. Each was what is called here a cour de ferme. Every farmhouse is surrounded by a rampart of earth about four feet high, called a fosse, and nine broad, on which a double, and sometimes a treble row of trees, generally beech, but sometimes mixed with oak, is planted very closely. It comprehends five or six acres, containing the farmhouse with its extensive out-buildings, farmyard, pond and garden, and a large orchard, where the cows graze under the apple trees. A similar enclosure surrounds every cluster of houses and every detached house. The object is to protect them from the sea winds which sweep over this high peninsula with tremendous violence. It gives to the country the appearance of a partially cleared forest; not a habitation is to be seen, nothing but open fields and lofty woods. The wind had shifted to the north with a bright sun. It was a fine December day: with all our clothing we could scarcely keep ourselves warm in the sun, and were frozen in the shade.
On our way we passed Trouville, a magnificent Louis XIII. château in a large wooded park. It was bought some years ago by a man who had made a fortune as a pedler, and passed his old age in a corner of the kitchen with scarcely a servant. Having no relations, he left it to his homme d’affaires, who has sold the park in lots and is at a loss what to do with the château. Valmont stands in a deep wooded valley which reaches the sea about three miles farther, at Fécamp, and is divided by a small clear river. We arrived at about half-past nine. The notaire told us that he had appointed ten o’clock for the meeting of the persons who were to sign, and that it would take a couple of hours to apportion the purchase-money among them and obtain their signatures; so that we had two hours and a half to visit the abbey and château. The abbey is placed just above the village, where the valley widens a little; a situation supplying for the monks their two great wants, shelter and water. It was founded soon after the Conquest, and was destroyed about once a century, sometimes in civil war and sometimes by the English, during the next 400 years. In the beginning of the sixteenth century it was rebuilt with great splendour; but seems not to have flourished. It had a lawsuit with a neighbouring community which lasted 300 years: it fell into bad repute and was suppressed by a decree of the Archbishop of Rouen, and the land and buildings sold a few years before the revolution of 1789. All that now remains is a part of the choir, and the whole of the Lady Chapel. The latter is elaborately beautiful. The roof is of the richest groining, the windows florid Gothic, painted in a masterly manner, with the legendary parts of the Virgin’s history, her birth, education, marriage, and death. Over the altar is the Annunciation; the walls represent a room, with a bed on one side and a door on the other, in the middle is a table containing a sort of tambour frame in which is the Virgin’s work, below is a little shelf of books. In front are two kneeling figures; one represents her, the other the angel.
The whole is of the delicate workmanship of the Renaissance. There is a bas-relief of our Saviour’s baptism, and an alabaster tomb over which one of the Estoutevilles and his wife are recumbent, of equal merit. The femme de charge, who showed it to us, entered thoroughly into all its beauties.
M. Bournon, the present possessor, whose house is built on the site of the inhabited part of the monastery, and out of its materials, is an avoué.
The three businesses which with us are united in the attorney, are in France divided between the avoué, the homme d’affaires, and the notaire. The avoué transacts the contentious part of an attorney’s business: he is called in only to conduct a lawsuit. The homme d’affaires is the uncontentious attorney: he is the trouble-taker of the rich, and the adviser of the bourgeois. He manages purchases, investments, leases, and loans. This has been the most certain road to fortune during the last sixty years. The notaire prepares, authenticates, and preserves all legal instruments. He is both a conveyancer and a registrar. The number is limited, and the vacancies are filled up by the Minister of the Interior, but unless a notary is dismissed for fraud, he is allowed to recommend his successor—which of course enables him to sell his office. A charge de notaire in Paris may sometimes sell for 400,000 francs. When we consider the confidence which is reposed in these three persons, it is unfortunate that not one of them holds the position of a gentleman. An avocat ranks a little higher—he may become a gentleman when he has acquired high distinction; but then it is notwithstanding his profession: that scarcely ever leads to the bench.
From the abbey we went to the château, placed château-like on the brink of the table-land, and looking down on the abbey and village.
In this castle in the beginning of the sixteenth century was celebrated the marriage of François de Bourbon with the heiress of the Estoutevilles. Francis I. with his principal courtiers attended it. We were shown the apartment in which he is said to have spent some weeks: it is the centre room of a tower with three cabinets, I suppose for his attendants, opening into it. The furniture professed to be unaltered. M. Anisson was incredulous. I thought it my duty to believe its authenticity; it certainly might have been collected from any broker’s shop on the Quai Voltaire.
Of the old fortifications only a huge square tower and a part of the curtain leading to it remain. The modern part belongs to the times of Francis I. and Henry II.
The successor of the Estoutevilles and Bourbons is a cotton spinner of Rouen—a violent protectionist. At a public meeting a few years ago he attacked M. Anisson for his free-trade principles. Anisson had to reply, and is rather proud of having done so, before a Norman audience, with some success. It was in the spring of 1846. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘at what England is doing; while you are clinging to prohibition, she is breaking all her fetters. Do you think that your industry, shackled by the legislation of centuries, will be a match in the markets of Europe and America for her young and untrammelled energy? Free trade must be encountered by free trade. Like the diamond, it can be acted on only by itself.’ This illustration excited great applause.
This led M. Anisson to talk of his parliamentary life. He formerly represented as deputy the Puy de Dome, but after the revolution of 1830, his constituents required him to vote against an hereditary peerage; he refused, and was not re-elected. Soon afterwards the people of Yvetot sent to offer him a seat, which he accepted on the condition of being left at perfect liberty.
After the dissolution of 1843, he told Guizot that he was so utterly displeased with the turn which things were taking; he saw so little tendency in the Government to adopt liberal views, or in the Chamber to listen to them, that he had resolved to retire.
Guizot remonstrated and urged the certainty of his being re-elected.
‘I know that,’ said Anisson, ‘as well as you do. I know that the man whom I shall recommend will be my successor; but I will not remain member of a Chamber, which, instead of advancing, is receding from all that I think right.’
Three years afterwards a peerage was pressed on him and he yielded.
But a seat in that house of peers was not a satisfactory position. It was indeed a good debating club: great questions were well discussed there, but it had no influence—and nothing could be more disagreeable than its judicial duties. It was almost degrading to have to unravel the turpitudes of Teste and Cubières.
I asked him if he thought that France retained the elements of an Hereditary Upper Chamber. He said, ‘Yes. There are still many great fortunes in France, and the hereditary peerage gave the means of increasing them by marriage. In the chambers of a notary the current value of a peerage was 40,000 francs a year.’
At twelve we returned to the notary. The vendors were there, but there seemed little prospect of the termination of the business. Interest had to be calculated for days and even half days. There were no tables to assist them, and everyone challenged the notary’s computations. I walked among woods as long as I thought it prudent, and then studied the Indicateur des chemins de fer, at the little inn. M. Anisson went backwards and forwards between the inn and the notary, reporting progress or rather the absence of progress. At length it was half-past five. He got desperate, signed himself, and left the money with the notary, to be divided among the claimants as quickly as their signatures could be got. The duty on the conveyance was 1,600, francs, the notary’s fees on the part of the purchaser about 600 more. In all, nearly ten per cent., or nearly four years’ income; for land does not give more than two and a half per cent. net. This is dear, however; the ordinary expense is estimated at eight per cent.
In the evening we talked of the separation of ranks in Paris. Madame Anisson maintained that distinction in society depended on personal qualities; that the only persons avoided were those who bored, and the only persons courted were those who amused. This Anisson stoutly denied.
‘Do you think,’ he said, ‘that an amusing homme de lettres or politician is received like a Rochefoucauld? He is received, without doubt, with quite as much civility, perhaps with more attentions, for his host wishes to make him forget the distance between them, but it is a different sort of reception. It is not the reception of an equal. I am inclined to think that persons of different ranks met on more equal terms under the old régime. There seems then to have been really a sort of fusion. There is none now.’
‘How,’ I asked, ‘are the wives and daughters of your agreeable men received?’
‘Oh,’ said Madame Anisson, ‘agreeable men have no wives or daughters.’
‘That,’ I replied, ‘seems to settle the question.’ I asked if power or place gave any advantage in society.
‘Not the least,’ said Madame Anisson. ‘Great actions may, at least for a season—they make a lion. Changarnier was a lion last season.’
‘What is Lamoricière?’ I asked.
‘Nothing,’ said Madame Anisson: ‘he is too soldatesque for us.’
Friday, August 30.—I walked with M. Anisson over the farm nearest to his house. It contains 120 hectares, or 300 acres, and is let on a twenty years’ lease at 6,000 francs, the farmer paying all rates and taxes, which amount to nearly 2,000 francs more. This is a low rent, and was so fixed by M. Anisson in order to obtain a first-rate farmer.
This man’s capital employed in the land exceeds 3,000l. He purchases a great deal of manure. The outbuildings are enormous. There are two vast barns, one capable of containing 20,000 sheaves of wheat, the other 25,000; for in this country; as in La Manche, there are no ricks. Each barn has its thrashing machine. The farmer’s house is long and low, and contains, besides the kitchen, two sitting rooms, perfectly neat. The stock is fine: a good riding horse costs 40l., a good cow 14l.
Here, as in La Manche, agricultural distress is complained of, though not in the same degree; and the same explanation—low prices—is given of it. A fat beast scarcely sells for more than a lean one, so that little profit is made by the grazier. The labourers, however, who make, as with us, the bulk of the population, are better off than they ever were, for their wages have not fallen. The ordinary farm labourer receives about forty sous a day, or about ten shillings a week and his food, but does not dine with the farmer. I saw a long outbuilding near the stables, containing a table and some rude bedsteads full of straw: this is their refectory, and just now during the harvest the beds are occupied by men brought from a distance, but in general they are not lodged. Their cottages are seldom their own. The rent is from 50 to 100 francs a-year.
We went into several of them: they were neat, as well furnished as ours, and had small well-stocked gardens before them.
The lower and middle classes on this side of the Seine seem to be a hundred years more advanced in civilisation than in La Manche. The manners of this farmer and of another whom we met at Valmont were simple and easy; a contrast to the uncouth rusticity of most of those on the Tocqueville estate. We walked on to the little village of Tourville; it is quite as neat as the best English village. The houses are built either in alternate courses of brick and flint, or of narrow compartments of brick or flint in frames of timber. Each has its garden before it in excellent order. The church is pewed, as is generally the case in Normandy.
We talked of the careers open in France to a gentleman. From many of those which naturally suggest themselves to us he is almost excluded by the low estimation in which they are held. Such are the Church, the Bar, and Medicine. Unless under peculiar circumstances, a gentleman would not select one of these professions for his son.
France has not the Indian and Colonial empire in which the cadets of the English aristocracy find place. None but the sons of men engaged in banking, trade, or manufactures follow these pursuits. In time, agriculture, perhaps, will be a profession, but it is not so yet. Farming is in France, as it is in England, an expensive amusement. The great outlet is public employment, military or civil. The navy, however, is accessible to very few. The army affords a more considerable field: the road generally taken to it is to enter one of the government military schools—St. Cyr, Saumur, or the École Polytechnique, which are open to those who can pass their strict examinations, and give commissions to those who have passed through them, or to enrol, as is not unfrequently done, as simple soldiers. A still wider field is opened by the civil employments of the state, either administrative or judicial.
For either of these purposes, at about eighteen or nineteen, after he has passed through a college, a young man completes a cours de droit at the University of Paris, or of some provincial capital; and then if he take the judicial career, after an examination which is not much more than formal, he is inserted on the roll of Avocats, and tries to obtain the place of auditeur in one of the courts; thence he may rise to be sous-procureur du Roi, (or de la République) afterwards, procureur, and afterwards judge. If his son select the administrative line, the father tries to make him an auditeur in the Conseil d’État, which leads him, in time, to be a sous-préfet, and préfet, or to the higher posts in the public offices.
It must be recollected, however, that, as compared with England, the proportion of gentlemen in France, and indeed on the Continent, is comparatively small. The enormous number of persons whose fortunes enable them to refuse to place their sons in any professions but those which are held to be gentlemanlike, is peculiar in England. It is odd that we have not a word corresponding to rentier. We have the thing in greater abundance than any other nation in the world.
I asked what were the plans of his own sons.
‘The eldest,’ he answered, ‘who is married, wishes for public life; he will probably enter the Assembly at the next election. The plans of the second, who is twenty-one, are not yet decided; he has passed the examination at St. Cyr, not with any military view, but as an incitement and a distinction. He is now going through some courses of physical studies in Paris. He sometimes thinks of diplomacy, but I rather discourage that as an idle life. He has time before him to choose.’
The young man is pleasing, intelligent, and well-informed, and so is the daughter.1 She has the frankness and ease of an English girl who has lived in the world.
Saturday, August 31.—M. Anisson drove me to Caudebec. It is only in approaching the river that one discovers how high is the table-land on which St. Aubin is mounted. For three or four miles we were constantly descending. The view of the valley of the Seine from the lofty wooded bank overlooking Caudebec is magnificent.
Caudebec was the residence of Warwick when he was preparing the expedition against Edward IV. which terminated disastrously at Barnet. It was formerly a considerable town, the metropolis of its neighbourhood, and contains specimens of what were fine houses in their day, from the time of Henry IV. down to the Revolution. Now, from their unsuitableness to the habits of their present owners, they give it a decayed look. The church is a beautiful work of the sixteenth century. It consists of a nave, choir, and aisles, but no transept. In allusion to this want, Henry IV., who made Caudebec his head-quarters during the siege of Rouen, said that it was the finest chapel that he had ever seen. The painted glass is good and nearly perfect; only one window has been destroyed. At the bottom of one on the north, next the west door, a benefactress has introduced herself, followed by a line of daughters. The sleeves of her gown are open and at least a yard deep. The key-stone of the roof of the Lady Chapel descends in what the French call a cul de lampe 13 feet. There is something bold in the appearance of this unsupported projection, but it suggests the idea of insecurity, and after all it is an architectural trick: it is really maintained by an internal bar of iron running down from the vaulting of the roof. The tower and spire, the arches over the doors, the pinnacles, indeed the whole exterior, are elaborately enriched with shrines, niches, statues, and all the gorgeousness of the most florid Gothic. We returned through the forest of Maulevrier, one of a set of national forests which extend widely over this part of Normandy. It is an unprofitable property. ‘It has been ascertained,’ said M. Anisson, ‘that the treasury would gain if all the national forests were given away. We should get from the impôt foncier a larger income than they now afford, after deducting the expenses of management. But they are kept as a capital to be drawn upon in every revolution. In 1830 and again in 1848, the new Government found the sale of some square miles of forest a convenient resource; and we may often have to employ it again.’
We got out at St. Gertrude to look at the village church, desecrated in 1793 and restored during the last two or three years at the joint expense of the Government and of the parish: M. Anisson being the principal contributor. It was formerly rich in painted glass and in elaborate shrines and niches. The former has disappeared, a few of the latter remain and show great delicacy and beauty. The expense was 14,000 francs, of which the Government gave 7,000. These local subsidies form an important part of the budget.
The Government, however, in respect of its enormous land tax, is a joint proprietor, and cannot perhaps follow our example of rejecting such claims. When we had reascended the plateau on which St. Aubin stands it was like passing from summer to winter.
We talked of the country clergy. M. Anisson is less favourable to them than Tocqueville. He thinks very ill of their information, and not well, at least not universally well, of their morals. There are none whom he could invite to his house. He agrees with Tocqueville as to the great increase of religious feeling since the revolution of 1789, and his experience is long. He was educated in England, and returned to Paris, at the age of sixteen, on August 10, 1792. He came back because his absence in England was called an emigration, and endangered his father. His return, however, was useless. His father was guillotined, his mother would have shared the same fate if Robespierre’s power had lasted a few days longer, for she had been examined by Fouquier Tinville, and the day of trial was fixed. He and his brother were in surveillance in a house a few miles from Paris. In the same house, in disguise, was Gillaume, an ex-member of the Constituent Assembly, who prepared what is called the petition of the 18,000, asking pardon for Louis XVI. He first introdnced Anisson to the knowledge of the works of Adam Smith, and may thus have influenced his whole subsequent life. One day Anisson found Gillaume’s pistols on the table: they were out of order and he cleaned and loaded them. A few days after, Gillaume’s retreat was discovered, and the gardes municipaux came to arrest him. He used the pistols, but it was to destroy himself.
Sunday, September 1.—We drove to Allonville, a village about three miles off, to see the great oak supposed to be more than 800 years old. Its diameter is 36 feet near the ground, and 26 feet at the height of a man. Two chapels are hollowed out of its trunk, one level with the earth, and bearing the date of 1696, the other half way up. Each is consecrated and from time to time used. Every aperture is carefully roofed, and thus protected, the oak may well last for some centuries more. Its bark seems healthy, and at about 20 feet from the ground it sends out lateral boughs which would be respectable trees. If its age be correctly estimated, it must have been a fine tree in the times of the Conqueror.
Close to it is the château of Bellefosse, surrounded by the usual hedge of tall trees, which in this instance are clipped up to about 50 feet high, like those in the Tuileries gardens, so as to form a vast wall of verdure. I thought the effect good. The Anissons objected to it as too formal. They do not seem to have any intercourse with the inhabitants of Bellefosse, or, indeed, with any of their other neighbours, if other neighbours they have. And this I find is generally the case in the country. While I was at Tocqueville, a gentleman and lady, living about five miles off, once dined with us, and there were two morning visits—which were treated as inflictions: these were all the neighbours that I saw during three weeks. Madame Anisson, who has lived in English country-houses in what are called good social neighbourhoods, wondered at our liking such a life. It was amusing, she said, to her as a foreigner, but she could conceive nothing more dull for the parties both active and passive, for those who spent a couple of hours coming and going, to sit full dressed two and a half hours at table and one in the drawing-room, or for those who had to receive them at six, dismiss them at half-past nine, and then sit for an hour and a half alone with nothing to do but to talk over their guests. We talked of the want, in English, of words answering to Monsieur, Madame, and Mademoiselle.
‘What do you do,’ said Madame Anisson, ‘when you want to attract a person’s attention?’
‘You call to him,’ I said, ‘by his name.’
‘But,’ answered she, ‘if you do not know his name, can you address anybody by the word “Mister” or “Mistress” or “Miss”?’
‘No,’ I said; ‘if you do not know the name, you have nothing to do for it but to catch the eye.’
‘With us,’ she replied, ‘the name is very seldom used, except, indeed, by royal personages. The Queen used to address me as Madame Anisson, to show that she knew my name, but in society it would be bad taste.’
I left St. Aubin on Monday, September 2nd, after breakfast, took the railway to Havre, and the boat in the evening, was at Southampton at nine the next morning, and at home by three in the afternoon.
I never made a pleasanter tour. I saw grand architecture, fine scenery, and agreeable and interesting society. And I never had so good an opportunity of recording my impressions. As we did not breakfast till half-past eleven, and I rose at half-past six and went out little before breakfast, I wrote every morning for about four hours.
But I found that only a very small part of a day’s talk, and not the most amusing part, would bear to be recorded. Anecdotes, and serious discussions, may appear as well on paper as in reality, but the light play of easy conversation is as evanescent as the gestures of Mrs. Siddons or the tones of Fanny Kemble. In general, in the morning I could recollect all the outline, and most of the details of what had been said in the evening before—but scarcely ever could make use of either of them. The bulk of what I have preserved passed in morning walks or drives.
N. W. Senior.
It is evident that this was written before the Second Empire.—Ed.
Although M. de Tocqueville does not appear in the remainder of this journal, I am unwilling to omit it. M. Anisson Duperron has been dead for some years. He was a deputy, much esteemed by the Orleanist party. His wife was sister to M. de Barante, the eminent writer, who died a short time ago.—Ed.
Now the Comtesse de Bourke.—Ed.