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Conversations. - 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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Paris, May 16.—M. de Tocqueville has scarcely been visible since my return to Paris. Madame de Tocqueville has been absent. She returned yesterday, and they spent this evening with us.
Tocqueville is full of his book, which is to appear in about a week. His days and nights are devoted to correcting the press and to writing notes—which he thought would be trifling, but which grow in length and importance.
The object of the work is to account for the rapid progress of the Revolution, to point out the principal causes which enabled a few comparatively obscure men to overthrow in six weeks a Monarchy of many centuries.
‘I am inclined,’ I said, ‘to attribute the rapidity with which the old institutions of France fell, to the fact that there was no lex loci in France. That the laws, or rather the customs, of the different provinces were dissimilar, and that nothing was defined. That as soon as the foundations or the limits of any power were examined, it crumbled to pieces; so that the Assembly became omnipotent in the absence of any authority with ascertained rights and jurisdiction.’
‘There is much truth in that,’ answered Tocqueville, ‘but there is also much truth in what looks like an opposite theory—namely, that the Monarchy fell because its power was too extensive and too absolute. Nothing is so favourable to revolution as centralisation, because whoever can seize the central point is obeyed down to the extremities. Now the centralisation of France under the old Monarchy, though not so complete as its Democratic and Imperial tyrants afterwards made it, was great. Power was concentrated in Paris and in the provincial capitals. The smaller towns and the agricultural population were unorganised and defenceless. The 14th of July revealed the terrible secret that the Master of Paris is the Master of France.’
Paris, May 18.—I spent the day at Athy, the country-seat of M. Lafosse,1 who had been my companion in our Egyptian journey.
‘What do you hear,’ I asked, ‘of the Empress?’
‘Nothing,’ he answered, ‘but what is favourable; all her instincts and prejudices are good. Lesseps, who is nearly related to her, has many of her letters, written during the courtship, in which she speaks of her dear Louis with the utmost affection, and dwells on the hope that if ever she should become his wife, she may be able to induce him to liberalise his Government.’
‘And now,’ he said, ‘tell me what you heard in England about our Canal?’
‘I heard nothing,’ I answered, ‘except from Maclean. He told me that he thought that the Maritime Canal, if supplied from the sea, would become stagnant and unwholesome, and gradually fill. That that plan was formed when the levels of the two seas were supposed to differ, so that there would be a constant current.
‘ “Now that the equality of their levels has been ascertained,” he said to me, “the only mode of obtaining a current is to employ the Nile instead of the sea.” “But can the Nile spare the water?” I asked. “Certainly,” he answered. “An hour a day of the water from the Nile, even when at its lowest, would be ample.” “And what do the other engineers say?” I asked. “Randall,” he replied, “agrees with me. The others are at present for the salt water. But we are to meet in time and discuss it thoroughly.” ’
‘It is not the opinion of the engineers,’ answered Lafosse, ‘that I want, but that of the politicians.
‘We are told that Lord Palmerston threatens to prevent it as long as he is Minister. This makes us very angry. We think that we perceive in his opposition his old hatred of France and of everything that France supports or even favours—feelings which we hoped the Alliance had cured.
‘The matter,’ he continued, ‘was to have been brought before the Congress. Buol had promised to Nigrelli to do so, and Cavour to Lesseps and Paleocapa. But after the occupation of Italy, and the Belgian press, and the rights of Neutrals had been introduced, the Congress got impatient, and it was thought inexpedient to ask them to attend to another episodical matter. The Emperor, however, did something. He asked Ali Pasha, the Turkish Minister, what were the Sultan’s views. “They will be governed,” said Ali Pasha, “in a great measure by those of his allies.” “As one of them,” said the Emperor, “I am most anxious for its success.” “In that case,” replied Ali Pasha, “the Sultan can have no objection to it in principle, though he may wish to annex to his firman some conditions—for instance, as to the occupation of the forts at each end by a mixed garrison of Turks and Egyptians.” The Emperor then turned to Lord Clarendon. “What are your views,” he asked, “as to the Suez Canal?” “It is a grave matter,” answered Lord Clarendon, “and one on which I have no instructions. But I believe it to be impracticable.” “Well,” replied the Emperor, “but supposing for the sake of the argument, that it is practicable, what are your intentions?” “I cannot but think,” answered Lord Clarendon, “that any new channel of commerce must be beneficial to England. The real difficulty is the influence which the Canal may have in the relations of Egypt and Turkey.” “If that be the only obstacle,” replied the Emperor, “there is not much in it, for Ali Pasha has just told me that if we make no objection the Sultan makes none. We cannot be more Turkish than the Turk.” ’
‘I am most anxious,’ added Lafosse, ‘that this stupid opposition of yours should come to an end. Trifling as the matter may seem, it endangers the cordiality of the Alliance. The people of England, who do not know how jealous and passionnés we are, cannot estimate the mistrust and the irritation which it excites. That an enterprise on which the French, wisely or foolishly, have set their hearts, should be stopped by the caprice of a wrong-headed Englishman, hurts our vanity; and everything that hurts our vanity offends us much more than what injures our serious interests.
‘If the engineers and the capitalists decide in favour of the scheme, you will have to yield at last. You had much better do so now, when you can do it with a good grace. Do not let your acquiescence be extorted.’
Paris, May 19.—After breakfast I spent a couple of hours with Cousin.
‘You have been in England,’ he said, ‘since you left Egypt. What is the news as to our Canal? Will Palmerston let us have it? You must stay a few weeks in Paris to estimate the effect of your opposition to it. We consider Palmerston’s conduct as a proof that his hatred of France is unabated, and the acquiescence of the rest of your Cabinet as a proof that, now we are no longer necessary to you, now that we have destroyed for you the maritime power of Russia, you are indifferent to our friendship.
‘I know nothing myself as to the merits of the Canal. I distrust Lesseps and everything that he undertakes. He has much talent and too much activity, but they only lead him and his friends into scrapes. I daresay that the Canal is one, and that it will ruin its shareholders; but as I am anxious we should not quarrel with England, I am most anxious that this silly subject of dispute should be removed.’
‘Louis Napoleon,’ he continued, ‘professed to wish that you should allow the Sultan to give his consent; but I doubt whether he is sincere. I am not sure that he is not pleased at seeing the Parisians occupied by something besides his own doings, especially as it promotes the national dislike of England. Now that the war is over we want an object. He tries to give us one by launching us into enormous speculations. He is trying to make us English; to give us a taste for great and hazardous undertakings, leading to great gains, great losses, profuse expenditure, and sudden fortunes and failures. Such things suit you; they do not suit us. Our habits are economical and prudent, perhaps timid. We like the petty commerce of commission and detail, we prefer domestic manufactures to factories, we like to grow moderately rich by small profits, small expenditure, and constant accumulation. We hate the nouveaux riches, and scarcely wish to be among them. The progress for which we wish is political progress—not within, for there we are satisfied to oscillate, and shall be most happy if in 1860 we find ourselves where we were in 1820—but without. I believe that our master’s sortie against Belgium was a pilot balloon. He wished to see what amount of opposition he had to fear from you, and from Belgium, and how far we should support him. He has found the two former greater than he expected. I am not sure that he is dissatisfied with the last.’
I spent the morning at H.’s. He too attacked me about the Canal.
‘Do entreat,’ he said, ‘your public men to overrule their ill-conditioned colleague. I told you a year ago, the mischief that you were doing, but I do not think that you believed me. You may find too late that I was right.’
I repeated to him Ellice’s opinion that the commerce of England would not use the canal.
‘I have heard that,’ he said, ‘from Ellice himself, but I differ from him. I agree with him, indeed, that your sailing vessels will not use the canal, but I believe that a few years hence you will have no purely sailing vessels, except for the small coasting trade. Every large ship will have a propeller; and with propellers, to be employed occasionally, and sails for ordinary use, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea are very manageable. I believe that the canal will be useful, and particularly to you. But whatever be the real merits of the scheme, for God’s sake let it be tried. Do not treat us like children, and say, “We know better what is good for you than you do yourselves. You shall not make your canal because you would lose money by it.” ’
‘What did you hear,’ I said, ‘about the Congress?’
‘I heard,’ he answered, ‘that Clarendon was very good, and was the best, and that Walewski was very bad, and was the worst.’
‘Can you tell me,’ I said, ‘the real history of the Tripartite Treaty?’
‘I can,’ he answered. ‘There was an old engagement between the three Powers, entered into last spring, that if they succeeded in the war, they would unite to force Russia to perform any conditions to which she might submit.
‘This engagement had been allowed to sleep; I will not say that it was forgotten, but no one seemed disposed to revert to it. But after the twenty-second Protocol, when Piedmont was allowed to threaten Austria, and neither England nor France defended her, Buol got alarmed. He feared that Austria might be left exposed to the vengeance of Russia on the north and east, and to that of the Italian Liberals on the South. An alliance with France and England, though only for a specified purpose, at least would relieve Austria from the appearance of insulation. She would be able to talk of the two greatest Powers in Europe as her allies, and would thus acquire a moral force which might save her from attack. He recalled, therefore, the old engagement to the recollection of Clarendon and Louis Napoleon, and summoned them to fulfil it. I do not believe that either of them was pleased. But the engagement was formal, and its performance, though open to misconstruction, and intended by Austria to be misconstrued, was attended by some advantages, though different ones, to France and to England. So both your Government and ours complied.’
Tuesday, May 20.—The Tocquevilles and Rivet drank tea with us.
I mentioned to Tocqueville the subject of my conversations with Cousin and H.
‘I agree with Cousin,’ he said. ‘The attempt to turn our national activity into speculation and commerce has often been made, but has never had any permanent success. The men who make these sudden fortunes are not happy, for they are always suspected of friponnerie, and the Government to which they belong is suspected of friponnerie. Still less happy are those who have attempted to make them, and have failed. And those who have not been able even to make the attempt are envious and sulky. So that the whole world becomes suspicious and dissatisfied.
‘And even if it were universal, mere material prosperity is not enough for us. Our Government must give us something more: must gratify our ambition, or, at least, our vanity.’
‘The Government,’ said Rivet, ‘has been making a desperate plunge in order to escape from the accusation of friponnerie. It has denounced in the “Moniteur” the faiseurs; it has dismissed a poor aide-de-camp of Jérôme’s for doing what everybody has been doing ever since the coup d’état. When Ponsard’s comedy, which was known to be a furious satire on the agioteurs, was first played, Louis Napoleon took the whole orchestra and pit stalls, and filled them with people instructed to applaud every allusion to the faiseurs. And he himself stood in his box, his body almost out of it, clapping most energetically every attack on them.’
‘At the same time,’ I said, ‘has he not forced the Orleans Company and the Lyons Company to buy the Grand Central at much more than its worth? And was not that done in order to enable certain faiseurs to realise their gains?’
‘He has forced the Orleans Company,’ said Rivet, ‘to buy up, or rather to amalgamate the Grand Central; but I will not say at more than its value. The amount to be paid is to depend on the comparative earnings of the different lines, for two years before and two years after the purchase.’
‘But,’ I said, ‘is it not true, first, that the Orleans Company was unwilling to make the purchase? and, secondly, that thereupon the Grand Central shares rose much in the market?’
‘Both these facts,’ answered Rivet, ‘are true.’
‘Do you believe,’ I said to Tocqueville, ‘H.’s history of the Tripartite Treaty?’
‘I do,’ he answered. ‘I do not think that at the time when it was made we liked it. It suited you, who wish to preserve the statu quo in Europe, which keeps us your inferiors, or, at least, not your superiors. You have nothing to gain by a change. We have. The statu quo does not suit us. The Tripartite Treaty is a sort of chain—not a heavy one, or a strong one—but one which we should not have put on if we could have avoided it.’
‘Do you agree,’ I asked Tocqueville, ‘with Lafosse, Cousin, and H. as to the effect in Paris of our opposition to the Suez Canal?’
‘I agree,’ he answered, ‘in every word that they have said. There is nothing that has done you so much mischief in France, and indeed in Europe.
‘I am no engineer; I should be sorry to pronounce a decided opinion as to the feasibility or the utility of the canal; but your opposition makes us believe that it is practicable.’
‘Those among us,’ I answered, ‘who fear it, sometimes found their fear on grounds unconnected with its practicability. They say that it is a political, not a commercial, scheme. That the object is to give to French engineers and French shareholders a strip of land separating Egypt from Syria, and increasing the French interest in Egypt.’
‘What is the value,’ answered Tocqueville, ‘of a strip of land in the desert where no one can live? And why are the shareholders to be French? The Greeks, the Syrians, the Dalmatians, the Italians, and the Sicilians are the people who will use the canal, if anybody uses it. They will form the bulk of the shareholders, if shareholders there are.
‘My strong suspicion is, that if you had not opposed it, there never would have been any shareholders, and that if you now withdraw your opposition, and let the scheme go on until calls are made, the subscribers, who are ready enough with their names as patriotic manifestations against you as long as no money is to be paid, will withdraw en masse from an undertaking which, at the very best, is a most hazardous one.
‘As to our influence in Egypt, your journal shows that it is a pet project of the Viceroy. He hopes to get money and fame from it. You imitate both his covetousness and his vanity, and throw him for support upon us.’
Paris, May 21.—The Tocquevilles and Chrzanowski1 drank tea with us.
We talked of the French iron floating batteries.
‘I saw one at Cherbourg,’ said Tocqueville, ‘and talked much with her commander. He was not in good spirits about his vessel, and feared some great disaster. However, she did well at Kinburn.’
‘She suffered little at Kinburn,’ said Chrzanowski, ‘because she ventured little. She did not approach the batteries nearer than 600 mètres. At that distance there is little risk and little service. To knock down a wall two mètres thick from a distance of 600 mètres would require at least 300 blows. How far her own iron sides would have withstood at that distance the fire of heavy guns I will not attempt to say, as I never saw her. The best material to resist shot is lead. It contracts over the ball and crushes it.’
‘Kinburn, however,’ said Tocqueville, ‘surrendered to our floating batteries.’
‘Kinburn surrendered,’ said Chrzanowski, ‘because you landed 10,000 men, and occupied the isthmus which connects Kinburn with the main land. The garrison saw that they were invested, and had no hope of relief. They were not Quixotic enough, or heroic enough, to prolong a hopeless resistance. Scarcely any garrison does so.’
We talked of Malta; and I said that Malta was the only great fortification which I had seen totally unprovided with earth-works.
‘The stone,’ said Chrzanowski, ‘is soft and will not splinter.’
‘I was struck,’ I said, ‘with the lightness of the armament; the largest guns that I saw, except some recently placed in Fort St. Elmo, were twenty-four pounders.’
‘For land defence,’ he answered, ‘twenty-four pounders are serviceable guns. They are manageable and act with great effect within the short distance within which they are generally used. It is against ships that large guns are wanted. A very large ball or shell is wasted on the trenches, but may sink a ship. The great strength of the land defences of Malta arises from the nature of the ground on which Valetta and Floriana are built, indeed of which the whole island consists. It is a rock generally bare or covered with only a few inches of earth. Approaches could not be dug in it. It would be necessary to bring earth or sand in ships, and to make the trenches with sand-bags or gabions.’
I asked him if he had read Louis Napoleon’s orders to Canrobert, published in Bazancourt’s book?
‘I have,’ he answered. ‘They show a depth of ignorance and a depth of conceit, compared to which even Thiers is modest and skilful. Canrobert is not a great general, but he is not a man to whom a civilian, who never saw a shot fired, ought to give lectures on what he calls “the great principles” or “the absolute principles of war.” He seems to have taken the correspondence between Napoleon and Joseph for his model, forgetting that Canrobert is to him what Napoleon was to Joseph. Then he applies his principles as absurdly as he enunciates them. Thus he orders Canrobert to send a fleet carrying 25,000 men to the breach at Aboutcha, to land 3,000 of them, to send them three leagues up the country, and not to land any more, until those first sent have established themselves beyond the defile of Agen. Of course those 3,000 men would be useless if the enemy were not in force, or destroyed if they were in force. To send on a small body and not to support them is the grossest of faults. It is the fault which you committed at the Redan, when the men who had got on to the works were left by you for an hour unsupported, instead of reinforcements being poured in after them as quickly as they could be sent.
‘In fact,’ he continued, ‘the horrible and mutual blunders of that campaign arose from its being managed by the two Emperors from Paris and from St. Petersburg. Nicholas and Alexander were our best friends. Louis Napoleon was our worst enemy.
‘There is nothing which ought to be so much left to the discretion of those on the spot as war. Even a commander-in-chief actually present in a field of battle can do little after the action, if it be really a great one, has once begun.
‘If we suppose 80,000 men to be engaged on each side, each line will extend at least three miles. Supposing the general to be in the centre, it will take an aide-de-camp ten minutes to gallop to him from one of the wings, and ten minutes to gallop back. But in twenty minutes all may be altered.’
M. Lafosse died many years ago. He was a friend of M. de Lesseps, by whom he and Mr. Senior were invited to join the expedition to Egypt.—Ed.
‘Chrzanowski has passed thirty years fighting against or for the Russians. He began military life in 1811 as a sous-lieutenant of artillery in the Polish corps which was attached to the French army. With that army he served during the march to Moscow, and the retreat. At the peace, what remained of his corps became a part of the army of the kingdom of Poland. He had attained the rank of major in that army when the insurrection on the accession of Nicholas broke out. About one hundred officers belonging to the staff of the properly Russian army were implicated, or supposed to be implicated, in that insurrection, and were dismissed, and their places were supplied from the army of the kingdom of Poland. Among those so transferred to the Russian army was Chrzanowski. He was attached to the staff of Wittgenstein, and afterwards of Marshal Diebitsch, in the Turkish campaigns of 1828 and 1829. In 1830 he took part with his countrymen in the insurrection against the Muscovites, and quitted Poland when it was finally absorbed in the Russian Empire. A few years after a quarrel was brewing between England and Russia. Muscovite agents were stirring up Persia and Affghanistan against us, and it was thought that we might have to oppose them on the shores of the Black Sea. Chrzanowski was attached to the British Embassy at Constantinople, and was employed for some years in ascertaining what assistance Turkey, both in Europe and in Asia, could afford to us. In 1849 he was selected by Charles Albert to command the army of the kingdom of Sardinia.