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Conversations with Mr. Senior. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, vol. 2 (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. II.
Part of: Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, 2 vols.
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Conversations with Mr. Senior.
St. Cyr, Tuesday, February 21, 1854.1 —On the 20th I left Paris for Le Trésorier, a country-house in the village of St. Cyr, near Tours, which the Tocquevilles have been inhabiting for some months. It stands in a large enclosure of about fifteen acres, of which about ten are orchard and vineyard, and the remainder are occupied by the house, stables, and a large garden. The house has a great deal of accommodation, and they pay for it, imperfectly furnished, 3,000 francs a year, and keep up the garden, which costs about 500 francs more, being one man at one and a-half francs a day.
This is considered dear; but the sheltered position of the house, looking south, and protected by a hill to the north-east, induced the Tocquevilles to pay for it about 1,000 francs more than its market value.
I will throw together the conversations of February 22 and 23. They began by my giving to him a general account of the opinions of my friends in Paris.
‘I believe,’ said Tocqueville, ‘that I should have found out many of your interlocutors without your naming them. I am sure that I should Thiers, Duvergier, Broglie, and Rivet; perhaps Faucher—certainly Cousin. I translate into French what you make them say, and hear them speak. I recognise Dumon and Lavergne, but I should not have discovered them. The conversation of neither of them has the marked, peculiar flavour that distinguishes that of the others. You must recollect, however, that some of your friends knew, and most of the others must have suspected, that you were taking notes. Thiers speaks evidently for the purpose of being reported. To be sure that shows what are the opinions that men wish to be supposed to entertain, and they often betray what they think that they conceal. Still it must be admitted that you had not always the natural man.’ ‘I am sorry,’ he added, ‘that you have not penetrated more into the salons of the Legitimists. You have never got further than a Fusionist. The Legitimists are not the Russians that Thiers describes them. Still less do they desire to see Henri V. restored by foreign intervention. They and their cause have suffered too bitterly for having committed that crime, or that fault, for them to be capable of repeating it. They are anti-national so far as not to rejoice in any victories obtained by France under this man’s guidance. But I cannot believe that they would rejoice in her defeat. They have been so injured in their fortunes and their influence, have been so long an oppressed caste—excluded from power, and even from sympathy—that they have acquired the faults of slaves—have become timid and frivolous, or bitter.
‘They have ceased to be anxious about anything but to be let alone. But they are a large, a rich, and comparatively well-educated body. Your picture is incomplete without them, et il sera toujours très-difficile de gouverner sans eux.1
I quite agree,’ he continued, ‘with Thiers as to the necessity of this war. Your interests may be more immediate and greater, but ours are very great. When I say ours, I mean those of France as a country that is resolved to enjoy constitutional government. I am not sure that if Russia were to become mistress of the Continent she would not allow France to continue a quasi-independent despotism under her protectorate. But she will never willingly allow us to lie powerful and free.
‘I sympathise, too, with Thiers’s fears as to the result. I do not believe that Napoleon himself, with all his energy, and all his diligence, and all his intelligence, would have thought it possible to conduct a great war to which his Minister of War was opposed. A man who has no heart in his business will neglect it, or do it imperfectly. His first step would have been to dismiss St.-Arnaud. Then, look at the other two on whose skill and energy we have to depend. One is Ducos, Minister of Marine, a man of mere commonplace talents and character. The other is Binneau, Minister of Finance, somewhat inferior to Ducos. Binneau ought to provide resources. He ought to check the preposterous waste of the Court. He has not intelligence enough to do the one, or courage enough to attempt the other. The real Prime Minister is without doubt Louis Napoleon himself. But he is not a man of business. He does not understand details. He may order certain things to be done, but he will not be able to ascertain whether the proper means have been taken. He does not know indeed what these means are. He does not trust those who do. A war which would have tasked all the powers of Napoleon, and of Napoleon’s Ministers and generals, is to be carried on without any master-mind to direct it, or any good instruments to execute it. I fear some great disaster.
‘Such a disaster might throw,’ he continued, ‘this man from the eminence on which he is balanced, not rooted. It might produce a popular outbreak, of which the anarchical party might take advantage. Or, what is perhaps more to be feared, it might frighten Louis Napoleon into a change of policy. He is quite capable of turning short round—giving up everything—key of the Grotto, protectorate of the orthodox, even the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus—to Nicholas, and asking to be repaid by the Rhine.
‘I cannot escape from the cauchemar that a couple of years hence France and England may be at war. Nicholas’s expectations have been deceived, but his plan was not unskilfully laid. He had a fair right to conjecture that you would think the dangers of this alliance such as to be even greater than those of allowing him to obtain his protectorate.
‘In deciding otherwise, you have taken the brave and the magnanimous course. I hope that it may prove the successful one.
‘I am sorry,’ continued Tocqueville, ‘to see the language of your newspapers as to the fusion. I did not choose to take part in it. I hate to have anything to do with pretenders. But as a mere measure of precaution it is a wise one. It decides what shall be the conduct of the Royalist party in the event—not an improbable one—of France being suddenly left without a ruler.
‘Your unmeasured praise of Louis Napoleon and your unmeasured abuse of the Bourbons are, to a certain degree, the interference in our politics which you professedly disclaim. I admit the anti-English prejudices of the Bourbons, and I admit that they are not likely to be abated by your alliance with a Bonaparte. But the opinions of a constitutional sovereign do not, like those of a despot, decide the conduct of his country. The country is anxious for peace, and, above all, peace with you—for more than peace, for mutual good-feeling. The Bourbons cannot return except with a constitution. It has become the tradition of the family, it is their title to the throne. There is not a vieille marquise in the Faubourg St.-Germain who believes in divine right.
‘The higher classes in France are Bourbonists because they are Constitutionalists, because they believe that constitutional monarchy is the government best suited to France, and that the Bourbons offer us the fairest chance of it.
‘Among the middle classes there is without doubt much inclination for the social equality of a Republic. But they are alarmed at its instability; they have never known one live for more than a year or two, or die except in convulsions.
‘As for the lower classes, the country people think little about politics, the sensible portion of the artizans care about nothing but cheap and regular work; the others are Socialists, and, next to the government of a Rouge Assembly, wish for that of a Rouge despot.’
‘In London,’ I said, ‘a few weeks ago I came across a French Socialist, not indeed of the lower orders—for he was a Professor of Mathematics—but participating in their feelings. “I prefer,” he said, “a Bonaparte to a Bourbon—a Bonaparte must rely on the people, one can always get something out of him.” “What have you got,” I asked, “from this man?” “A great deal,” he answered. “We got the Orleans confiscation—that was a great step. Il portait attente à la propriété. Then he represents the power and majesty of the people. He is like the people, above all law. Les Bourbons nous chicanaient.”’
‘That was the true faith of a Rouge,’ said Tocqueville ‘If this man,’ he added, ‘had any self-control, if he would allow us a very moderate degree of liberty, he might enjoy a reign—probably found a dynasty. He had everything in his favour; the prestige of his name, the acquiescence of Europe, the dread of the Socialists, and the contempt felt for the Republicans. We were tired of Louis Philippe. We remembered the branche aînée only to dislike it, and the Assembly only to despise it. We never shall be loyal subjects, but we might have been discontented ones, with as much moderation as is in our nature.’
‘What is the nuance,’ I said, ‘of G——?’
‘G——,’ answered Tocqueville, ‘is an honest man, uncorrupt and public-spirited; he is a clear, logical, but bitter speaker; his words fall from the tribune like drops of gall. He has great perspicacity, but rather a narrow range. His vision is neither distant nor comprehensive. He wears a pair of blinkers, which allow him to see only what he looks straight at—and that is the English Constitution. For what is to the right and to the left he has no eyes, and unhappily what is to the right and to the left is France.
‘Then he has a strong will, perfect self-reliance, and the most restless activity. All these qualities give him great influence. He led the centre gauche into most of its errors. H——used to say, “If you want to know what I shall do, ask G——.”
‘Among the secondary causes of February 1848 he stands prominent. He planned the banquets. Such demonstrations are safe in England. He inferred, according to his usual mode of reasoning, that they would not be dangerous in France. He forgot that in England there is an aristocracy that leads, and even controls, the people.
‘I am alarmed,’ he continued, ‘by your Reform Bill. Your new six-pound franchise must, I suppose, double the constituencies; it is a further step to universal suffrage, the most fatal and the least remediable of institutions.1
‘While you preserve your aristocracy, you will preserve your freedom; if that goes, you will fall into the worst of tyrannies, that of a despot, appointed and controlled, so far as he is controlled at all, by a mob.’2
Madame de Tocqueville asked me if I had seen the Empress.
‘No,’ I said, ‘but Mrs. Senior has, and thinks her beautiful.’
‘She is much more so,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘than her portraits. Her face in perfect repose gets long, and there is a little drooping about the corners of the mouth. This has a bad effect when she is serious, as everyone is when sitting for a picture, but disappears as soon as she speaks. I remember dining in company with her at the President’s—I sat next to him—she was nearly opposite, and close to her a lady who was much admired. I said to the President, looking towards Mademoiselle de Montigo, “Really I think that she is far the prettier of the two.” He gazed at her for an instant, and said, “I quite agree with you; she is charming.” It may be a bon ménage.’
‘To come back,’ I said, ‘to our Eastern question. What is Baraguay d’Hilliers?’
‘A brouillon,’ said Tocqueville. ‘He is the most impracticable man in France. His vanity, his ill-temper, and his jealousy make him quarrel with everybody with whom he comes in contact. In the interest of our alliance you should get him recalled.’
‘What sort of man,’ I asked, ‘shall I find General Randon?’
‘Very intelligent,’ said Tocqueville. ‘He was to have had the command of the Roman army when Oudinot gave it up; but, just as he was going, it was discovered that he was a Protestant. He was not so accommodating as one of our generals during the Restoration. He also was a Protestant. The Duc d’Angoulême one day said to him, “Vous êtes protestant, général?” The poor man answered in some alarm, for he knew the Duke’s ultra-Catholicism, “Tout ce que vous voulez, monseigneur.” ’
To N. W. Senior, Esq.
St. Cyr, March 18, 1854.
Your letter was a real joy to us, my dear Senior. As you consent to be ill lodged, we offer to you with all our hearts the bachelor’s room which you saw. You will find there only a bed, without curtains, and some very shabby furniture. But you will find hosts who will be charmed to have you and your MSS. I beg you not to forget the latter.
My wife, as housekeeper, desires me to give you an important piece of advice. In the provinces, especially during Lent, it is difficult to get good meat on Fridays and Saturdays, and though you are a great sinner, she has no wish to force you to do penance, especially against your will, as that would take away all the merit. She advises you, therefore, to arrange to spend with us Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and to avoid Friday and Saturday, and especially the whole of the Holy Week.
Now you are provided with the necessary instructions. Choose your own day, and give us twenty-four hours’ warning.
A. de Tocqueville.
St. Cyr, March 31, 1854.
My dear Senior,—
As you are willing to encounter hard meat and river fish, I have no objection to your new plan. I see in it even this advantage, that you will be able to tell us de visu what went on in the Corps Législatif, which will greatly interest us.
The condemnation of Montalembert seems to me to be certain; but I am no less curious to know how that honourable assembly will contrive to condemn a private letter which appeared in a foreign country, and which was probably published without the authorisation and against the will of the writer.
It is a servile trick, which I should like to see played.
Do not hesitate to postpone your visit if the sitting of the Corps Législatif should not take place on Monday.
A. de Tocqueville.
My conversations with M. de Tocqueville during this visit were written out after my return from Paris and sent to him. He returned them with the remarks which I have inserted.—N. W. Senior.
Le portrait va plus loin que ma pensée.—A. de Tocqueville. The picture expresses more than my idea.
Cela va plus loin que ma pensée. Je crois que le vote universel peut se concilier avec d’autres institutions, qui diminuerait le danger.—A. de Tocqueville.
Cela aussi va plus loin que ma pensée. Je crois très-désirable le maintien des institutions aristocratiques en Angleterre. Mais je suis loin de dire que leur abolition mènerait nécessairement au despotisme, surtout si elles s’affaiblissaient peu à peu et n’étaient pas renversées par une révolution.—A. de Tocqueville.