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Correspondence. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, vol. 1 (1834-1851) 
Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, ed. M.C.M. Simpson, in Two Volumes (London: Henry S. King & Co., 1872). Vol. I.
Part of: Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, 2 vols.
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Versailles, July 2, 1851.
My dear Senior,—
One of my best friends, who is at the same time a very distinguished member of our Assembly, M. de Combarel, is going to pass a few days in London with Madame de Combarel. I recommend them very particularly to your kindness, and shall be grateful for any attentions which you may be inclined to confer on them. M. de Combarel is well informed as to the complicated state of our affairs, and you will be glad to discuss them with him.
Living as I do in the country1 and absorbed by the labour imposed on me by the commission for the revision, I was not able to visit Lord Monteagle till the day before he left Paris, when I did not find him at home. Pray be so good as to express to him my regret and make my excuses.
A. de Tocqueville.
Kensington, July 15, 1851.
My dear Tocqueville,—
The Combarels did not present themselves. They were probably too much engaged with the matériel of London to hunt up the personnel. I hope that we may be more fortunate another time.
Well, your report is out, and has enchanted everybody. It has also convinced everybody, except perhaps me. You remember that when we talked over the question of the prolongation you thought the re-election of Louis Napoleon, though an illegal candidate, by a large majority—a majority speaking the voice of the people, the least objectionable solution. Perhaps his Dijon échappée, or perhaps his allocution at Poictiers, have induced you to change your mind.
I see now that you are less favourable to the scrutin de liste. There are few subjects on which so much may be said on each side, as on the comparative advantages and disadvantages of separate and collective voting.
We have all been spinning round in the whirlpool of the London season; but by next week it will become calmer.
Our politics are all as flat as possible. Papal aggression, or at least the bill against it, has been found out to be a humbug. Since I have been here I have read the Papal bull and Cardinal Wiseman’s pastoral. They are written on the model of Chinese state papers. Nothing but puerile flatulence. It must be degrading to humanity to be governed, and directed spiritually and temporarily, by people who can seriously publish such nonsense.
Gladstone is come back foaming against Naples. Lord Aberdeen has shown me a letter of his which treats the King of Naples, and generally the Italian Governments, much worse than even my journals do. I see that on Italian matters we are becoming Carbonari, and look rather with hope than fear to the probability of a French army crossing the Alps to drive out the King, Grand Dukes, and Pope.
Kindest regards from us all to you and Madame de Tocqueville. Let us hear when you can.
N. W. Senior.
Versailles, July 27, 1851.
My dear Senior,—
I am satisfied with the general effect which my report has produced in France, and delighted by its reception in England. I care almost as much about what is said of me on your side of the Channel as I do for what is said of me on ours. So many of my opinions and feelings are English, that England is to me almost a second country intellectually.
How comes it that my reasons in favour of the revision have not convinced you? What inconsistency is there between this report and my conversations with you at Sorrento?
I then thought the unconstitutional re-election of the President very probable. I think so still. Although Louis Napoleon has effectually alienated the higher classes, and almost all our eminent political men; although his popularity among the lower classes has much diminished, and is diminishing every day; notwithstanding all this, I confess that I still think his re-election nearly inevitable, partly in consequence of the want of any competitor, and partly in consequence of our general anxiety. I believe that the Bonapartist current, if it can be turned aside at all, can be turned aside only by meeting a revolutionary current, which will be still more dangerous; and lastly, I believe that if he were to be illegally re-elected, any amount of attack on our liberties would become possible.
So convinced was I of this six months ago, that I remember telling you that I should probably retire from public life in order to have nothing to do with a government which may try to destroy, in law or in fact, all constitutional institutions, and perhaps, exhausted as we are, might for a time succeed.
The government which I should prefer, if I thought it possible, would be a republic; but, believing its continuance impossible, I should see without regret Louis Napoleon become our permanent ruler, if I could believe that he would be supported by the higher classes, and would be able and desirous to rule constitutionally. But I told you then that I did not believe either of these things to be possible, and all that I see convinces me that I was right.
The President is as proof against all constitutional ideas as Charles X. was. He has his own idea of legitimacy, and he believes as firmly in the imperial constitution as Charles X. did in divine right. Then he separates himself more and more every day from almost all the men whose talents or experience fit them for public business, and is reduced to rely on the instincts and passions of the peuple1 properly so called. His re-election, therefore, especially if illegal, may have disastrous consequences. And yet it is inevitable, unless resisted by an appeal to revolutionary passions, which I do not wish to rouse in the nation.
What is the result of this, but a desire for a revision, which may either, by changing the nature and the origin of the executive, render his re-election impossible, or by rendering it legal, may render it less dangerous?
Many persons in France, and some even in England, have reproached me for having stuck so firmly to the Constitution, and for having led the Assembly to declare its adherence. I have been accused even of having foreseen an illegal re-election, and of having urged the Assembly to resist one. This is an error, as anyone who reads carefully my report will see.
I do not foretell, I did not wish to foretell, what the Assembly will do, or ought to do, on an unconstitutional re-election. It will depend on circumstances, particularly on the number of votes. There might be a manifestation of public opinion to which it might be prudent and patriotic to yield.
What I have said, and made the Assembly say, is, that during the interval which separates us from 1852, no illegality is to be permitted; that no party, not even the Government, is to be allowed to propose an illegal candidate; that we must act, and force everyone else to act, in such a manner as to leave the nation mistress of herself, able to consult her own interests, and to follow her own opinions.
I have said all this as forcibly as I could. First, because I thought that to say so was useful to the country. Secondly, because I thought that it was right that I should say this.
A time may come when I myself may think that the people ought to be allowed to violate the Constitution. But I will let this be done by others. My hand shall never strike the flag of law.
Then this agitation for revision has two motives—one, a sincere wish for it, in order to improve the Constitution; the other, an intrigue for the purpose of undermining and injuring the Constitution. The former is mine; the latter I cannot join in.
In fact our situation is more complicated, more inextricable, and less intelligible, than it has ever been. We are in one of those strange and terrible positions in which nothing is impossible, and nothing can be foreseen. What is least improbable is the re-election of the President, and also the election of a new Assembly less favourable to him than is generally expected. If this be so, unless Louis Napoleon should take advantage of the first popular impulse which will enable him to rise to absolute power, he may find himself again opposed and hampered by a hostile Assembly.
The nation, though in this strange position, unexampled in history, is perfectly calm and not unprosperous. Trade, excepting agriculture, which has not recovered, does not fall off, perhaps increases. No one ventures on large speculations, but everyone eagerly and perseveringly follows his own business, as if all that is to happen to-morrow were not uncertain. Yet no one can see 1852 approach without terror—great, perhaps exaggerated. We have all, however, been educated by revolutions. We all know that it is our fate to live like a soldier in a campaign, whom the chance of being killed to-morrow does not prevent from caring for his dinner, his bed, and even his amusements. We are all in this position. When I see the attitude of the nation, I must admire it, and confess that, with all its follies and its weaknesses, it is a great people.
Your expectation that the habits of your people will render the Ecclesiastical Titles Act inoperative, seems to me probable. But why enact laws worse than your usages? I confess that I agree with all my heart and soul with those who, like Lord Aberdeen and Mr. Gladstone, oppose, in the spirit of liberty and of free institutions, those vain but dangerous attacks on liberty of conscience. Whither will religious freedom fly if she is driven from England? If those whose principle is freedom of inquiry and toleration become intolerant, what right have they to reproach the intolerance of Rome? Rome, if she violates the conscience of individuals, does not violate her own principles.
It is imprudent to criticise a foreign country, but I cannot but think that, a few years hence, the disturbance created by the Papal Aggression will be compared to the passions which two centuries ago produced the belief in the Popish Plot. This agitation is less violent, but no less unreasonable. Even those who now take part in it will be as little able to account for their conduct as we are.
A. de Tocqueville.
London, July 29, 1851.
My dear Tocqueville,—
A thousand thanks for your valuable and interesting letter.
I think I must have ill explained myself in my last, for I do not think that you have perfectly understood me.
When we talked over the prospects of France last year and this year, you thought the legal revision almost impossible: you thought an illegal revision impossible. You thought it, however, probable that Louis Napoleon, though an illegal candidate, would be re-elected.
So far you have not changed your opinion. But it seems to me that you have changed it on another point.
You seemed to me then inclined to think that Louis Napoleon’s illegal re-election, though a very dangerous event, would be less dangerous than any other solution of the present difficulties. And therefore you were, I think, favourable to its taking place.
Since that time the objections to his re-election seem to preponderate in your mind. His subsequent conduct may have strengthened the personal objections to him; or further reflection may have given additional force to the constitutional objections. This seems to me to be certain, that his chances of re-election are much diminished by your report. You have put forth, in language that never can be forgotten, arguments against it which cannot be refuted.
‘If it had been possible,’ you say, ‘you would have preferred retaining the Republic.’ I rather suppose that you prefer a republic, not to a constitutional monarchy, but to such a constitutional monarchy as, under the circumstances of the case, you are likely to have. The great misfortune of modern Europe seems to me to be the want of aristocracies; at least of good ones. Those of Belgium and Holland I believe are the best on the Continent, but though rich and well-disposed, they are not very intelligent. You might, I think, if you altered your law of succession, and allowed a man to dispose of his property as he liked, create one. For you are active and saving, and large fortunes would, I think, be permanent if once formed.
I quite agree in your vituperation of the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill. The Government fancy themselves forced to carry it, but they are very much ashamed of it; and I have no doubt that the Attornies-General for Ireland and for England, without whose consent no prosecution under it can take place, have had instructions to make it a dead letter.
Have you seen Gladstone’s two letters to Lord Aberdeen on Naples? They are very striking. One of your countrymen informs me that he has ascertained that Lord Palmerston is furious at the superiority in our Exposition of the French products. That he is, therefore, preparing a new French revolution in order to crush your industry, and supplies the expense of a daily dinner of 200 conspirators!
Kindest regards to Madame de Tocqueville. Mrs. Senior is not yet quite recovered, but is going on well. We go to Great Malvern, Worcestershire, on the 7th.
N. W. Senior.
Kensington, November 30, 1851.
My dear Tocqueville,—
I sent to you by Mrs. Grote the Sorrento and Paris journals, those in which you are most interested, for they derive their whole value from your conversation. I have had your last letter copied at the end of the Paris journal, but on trying to correct it I found the copy so hopelessly corrupt that I gave it up. I wish that you could find time to look at it and correct it. Any remarks on the journals will of course be very valuable. If you think fit to show both or either of them to Beaumont, I can have no objection.
We are all looking anxiously across the Channel. Your conversations have so much prepared me for the events which have passed since May, that I seem to be looking at a play which I have read in manuscript.
You would not, however, reveal the dénouement, but your fears as to the result of an alliance between the President and the mob have often occurred to me.
Palmerston is rising with us. We think that he has done nothing very monstrous for some time, unless the sending Gladstone’s pamphlet about be so considered.
Kindest regards from us all to you and Madame de Tocqueville.
N. W. Senior.
To N. W. Senior, Esq.
Paris, November 28, 1851.
I was beginning, dear friend, to complain of your silence when your letter reached me. I read it with great pleasure, and it gave me still more pleasure to talk of you with our friend, Mrs. Grote, who is as agreeable as ever, but who seems to me to be less well in health than the last time that she was in Paris.
I had already heard, and Mrs. Grote, whom I questioned on the subject, confirmed to me, that you had been offered a high place in India.1 It was not right in you to tell me nothing about it, as you know the deep interest which I take in all that concerns you. It seems, however, that there was not much in it. I am delighted. I own that I should like you to leave England, but not to go so far, or to such a completely different climate. It would not have suited your friends, nor, perhaps, your health. What I should wish for you would be some important post in the Mediterranean, which would insure your keeping well, and enable such of your friends as, like myself, find great enjoyment in your society, to obtain it from time to time.
Permit me not to allude to our public affairs, in spite of the gravity of the present circumstances, or rather, on account of that very gravity. Not that there is any obstacle to the freest discussion. But our thoughts are so painful that the best way is not to express them, and even to try, if possible, not to think. There are things which cannot be contemplated calmly when they are close at hand, even though they may have been long foreseen. Our present condition is one of these things. It can end only by some great catastrophe. My clear view of the magnitude and of the proximity of the calamity is so bitterly painful that I try as much as possible to divert from it my thoughts.
Mrs. Grote has forwarded to me the two valuable volumes containing your recollections of Paris and Sorrento. Our state of perpetual though useless excitement has prevented my looking into them. But I fully intend to do so. I shall especially enjoy reading all that will recall to me Sorrento, and the busy yet peaceful months which I spent on the shores of the Bay of Naples. I often look back with tender regret to the place itself, and to the time that I spent there. That delicious and tranquil retreat, coming as it did between the revolution of 1848 and the one which is impending, was like a rest upon some Southern isle between two shipwrecks. Write to me sometimes if only to tell me how you are.
&c. &c. &c.
Alexis de Tocqueville.
Kensington, November 30, 1851.
My dear Tocqueville,—
I wrote nothing to you about the Indian matter, because I never thought very seriously about it. If my health were to fail, or if Masters in Chancery were abolished, I would accept it for a couple of years; but I hope that the former alternative will not take place, and I fear that the latter will not. So that I would bet 100 to 1 against my going to India.
I do not wonder at the grief with which you look at the present state of affairs in France. It fills me also with alarm and regret. I am very anxious to see the state of affairs a little nearer; and if Mrs. Grote stays till the middle of January, I think that I shall brave the cold, and be in Paris about the 2nd—I say the 2nd because I cannot venture to be there le jour de l’an.
To have to visit all one’s friends in one day of about four hours, and carry about with one a hundred packets of useless trifles to be distributed with pretty speeches, would be worse than a Carnival or a holy week in Rome.
I hear, without believing it, that you are thinking of again quitting Paris for a time. If, however, there should be any truth in the report, I trust that we may hope for you here. Your and Madame de Tocqueville’s apartments stand vacant for you, and our winter, bad as it is, is not so bad as yours.
On Friday, an agreeable American, a Mr. Walker, came to us. I mention him to you because I believe that he intends to call on you. He was Polk’s Secretary of the Treasury.
Kindest regards from us all to you and to Madame de Tocqueville.
Ever yours truly,
N. W. Senior.
END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
london: printed by
spottiswoode and co., new-street square
and parliament street
In July 1851 M. de Tocqueville inhabited a country-house near Versailles belonging to M. Rivet, and attended the Legislative Assembly. He was a member of a commission, in which MM. de Montalembert, Jules Favre, Berryer, De Corcelle, De Broglie, Charras, Cavaignac, Odillon Barrot, and Baze were among his colleagues, directed to consider the proposal for the revision of the Constitution. He was the rapporteur, and his report, dated the 8th of July, 1851 (No. 2064 of the papers of that year), is a masterly production, but too long to be introduced in extenso. I cannot, however, resist the temptation of extracting a passage describing the Constitution of 1848.
The lower classes.—Ed.
Mr. Senior had been offered the post of Legislative Member of Council at Calcutta.—Ed.