Front Page Titles (by Subject) Correspondence. - Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, vol. 2 (1834-1851)
Return to Title Page for Correspondence and Conversations of Alexis de Tocqueville with Nassau William Senior from 1834-1859, vol. 2 (1834-1851)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Correspondence. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Kensington, August 20, 1856.
My dear Tocqueville,—
A few weeks after my return to London your book reached me—of course from the time that I got it, I employed all my leisure in reading it.
Nothing, even of yours, has, I think, so much instructed and delighted me. Much of it, perhaps, was not quite so new to me as to many others; as I had had the privilege of hearing it from you—but even the views which were familiar to me in their outline were made almost new by their details.
It is painful to think how difficult it is to create a Constitutional Government, and how difficult to preserve one, and, what is the same, how easy to destroy one.
. . . . . .
. . . . . .
Mrs. Senior is going to Wales and to Ireland, where I join her, after having paid a long-promised visit to Lord Aberdeen.
I like the conversation of retired statesmen, and he is one of our wisest. Thiers has just left us. I spent two evenings with him, but on the first he was engrossed by Lord Clarendon, and on the second by the Duc d’Aumale and by Lord Palmerston. They were curious rapprochements, at least the first and third. It was the first meeting of Palmerston and Duc d’Aumale. I am very much pleased with the latter. He is sensible, well informed, and unaffected.
Kindest regards, &c.
A. W. Senior.
Tocqueville, September 4, 1856.
I have read, my dear Senior, your letter with great pleasure. Your criticism delights me, for I rely on your judgment and on your sincerity. I am charmed that you have found in my book more than you had learned from our conversations, on my view of our history. We have known one another so long, we have conversed so much and so unreservedly, that it is difficult for either of us to write anything that the other will think new. I was afraid that what may appear original to the public might seem trite to you.
The Reeves have been with us; we have passed together an agreeable fortnight. I had charged Reeve to bring you, whether you would or not. Did he make the attempt? I am sure that you would have enjoyed your visit, and we should have rejoiced to have under our roof two such old friends as you and Reeve.
I am glad that you have printed your article; pray try to send it to me.
It seems that you intend this winter to anchor in Rome. It increases my regret that I cannot be there. It is out of the question. My wife’s health and mine are so much improved that the journey is not necessary, and business of all kinds keeps us at home. If you push on to Naples, you will, perhaps, enjoy the absence of the rascally king whom you and I found there five years ago. I applaud the virtuous indignation of the English against this little despot, and their sympathy with the unhappy wretches whom he detains arbitrarily to die slowly in his prisons, which, though not placed in the African deserts or the marshes of Cayenne, are bad enough. The interest which your great nation takes in the cause of humanity and liberty, even when that cause suffers in another country, delights me. What I regret is that your generous indignation is directed against so petty a tyrant.
I must say that America is a puer robustus. Yet I cannot desire, as many persons do, its dismemberment. Such an event would inflict a great wound on the whole human race; for it would introduce war into a great continent from whence it has been banished for more than a century.
The breaking up of the American Union will be a solemn moment in the history of the world. I never met an American who did not feel this, and I believe that it will not be rashly or easily undertaken. There will, before actual rupture, be always a last interval, in which one or both parties will draw back. Has not this occurred twice?
Adieu, dear Senior. Do not be long without letting us hear from you, and remember us affectionately to Mrs. Senior and to your daughter.
September 26, 1856.
My dear Tocqueville,—
Your letter found me at Haddo House, Aberdeenshire, where we have been spending a fortnight with Lord Aberdeen.
It has been very interesting. Lord Aberdeen is one of our wisest statesmen.
. . . . . .
I found Lord Aberdeen deprecating the war, notwithstanding its success, utterly incredulous as to the aggressive intentions attributed to Nicholas, and in fact throwing the blame of the war on Lord Stratford and, to a certain degree, on Louis Napoleon.
I found him also much disturbed by our Naples demonstration, believing it to be an unwarranted interference with an independent Government.
. . . . . .
A. W. Senior.
Tocqueville, November 2, 1856.
I am grateful to you, my dear Senior, for your kindness in telling me what I most wished to hear. The judgments of such men as those with whom you have been living, while they delight me, impose on me the duty of unrelaxed efforts.
Your fortnight at Lord Aberdeen’s amused me exceedingly, and not the least amusing part were the eccentricities of A.B.
There is one point in which the English seem to me to differ from ourselves, and, indeed, from all other nations, so widely that they form almost a distinct species of men. There is often scarcely any connection between what they say and what they do.
No people carry so far, especially when speaking in public, violence of language, outrageousness of theories, and extravagance in the inference drawn from those theories. Thus your A.B. says that the Irish have not shot half enough landlords. Yet no people act with more moderation. A quarter of what is said in England at a public meeting, or even round a dinner-table, without anything being done or intended to be done, would in France announce violence, which would almost always be more furious than the language had been.
We Frenchmen are not so different from our antipodes as we are from a nation, partly our own progeny, which is separated from us by only a large ditch.
I wonder whether you have heard how our illustrious master is relieving the working-people from the constant rise of house-rent. When they are turned out of their lodgings he re-establishes them by force; if they are distrained on for non-payment of rent, he will not allow the tribunals to treat the distress as legal. What think you, as a political economist, of this form of outdoor relief?
What makes the thing amusing is, that the Government which uses this violent mode of lodging the working classes, is the very same Government which, by its mad public works, by drawing to Paris suddenly a hundred thousand workmen, and by destroying suddenly ten thousand houses, has created the deficiency of habitations. It seems, however, that the systematic intimidation and oppression of the rich in favour of the poor, is every day becoming more and more one of the principles of our Government.
I read yesterday a circular from the prefect of La Sarthe, a public document, stuck up on the church-doors and in the market-places, which, after urging the landed proprietors of the department to assess themselves for the relief of the poor, adds, that their insensibility becomes more odious when it is remembered that for many years they have been growing rich by the rise of prices, which is spreading misery among the lower orders.
The real character of our Government, its frightful mixture of socialism and despotism, was never better shown.
I have said enough to prevent your getting my letter. If it should escape the rogue who manages our post-office, let me know as soon as you can.
A. de. Tocqueville.
Tocqueville, February 11, 1857.
I must ask you, my dear Senior, to tell me yourself how you have borne this long winter. I suppose that it has been the same in England as in Normandy, for the two climates are alike.
Here we have been buried for ten or twelve days under a foot of snow, and it froze hard during the whole time. How has your larynx endured this trial? I assure you that we take great interest in that larynx of yours. Give us therefore some news of it.
Your letter gave us fresh pleasure by announcing your intention of passing April and May in Paris. We shall certainly be there at the same time, and perhaps before. I hope that we shall see you continually. We are, you know, among the very many people who delight in your society; besides, we have an excellent right to your friendship.
I am looking forward with great pleasure to your Egypt. What I already know of that country leads me to think that of all your reminiscences it will afford the most novelty and interest.
I do not think that your visit to Paris will be a very valuable addition to your journals. If I may judge by the letters which I receive thence, society there has never been flatter, nor more insipid, nor more entirely without any dominant idea. I need not tell you that your opinion of our statesmen is the same as that which prevails in Paris, but it is of such an ancient date, and is so obvious, that it cannot give rise to interesting discussions.
A-propos of statesmen, we cannot understand how a man who made, inter pocula, the speech of —— on his travels can remain in a government. I think that even ours, though so long-suffering towards its agents, could not tolerate anything similar even if it should secretly approve. Absolute power has its limits. The Prince de Ligne, in a discourse which you have doubtless read, seems to me to have described it in one word by saying that it was the speech of a gamin.
I am, however, ungrateful to criticise it, for I own that it amused me extremely, and that I thought that Morny especially was drawn from life; but I think that if I had the honour of being Her Britannic Majesty’s Prime Minister, I should not have laughed so heartily. How could so clever a man be guilty of such eccentricities?
In my last letter to our excellent friend Mrs. Grote, I ventured to say that there was one person who wrote even worse than I did, and that it was you. Your last letter has filled me with remorse, for I could actually read it, and even without trouble. I beg, therefore, to make an amende honorable, and envy you your power of advancing towards perfection.
. . . . . . . . . .
I still think of paying a little visit to England in June. Adieu, dear Senior. Do not be angry with me for not writing on politics. Indeed I could tell you nothing, for I know nothing, and besides, just now politics are not to be treated by Frenchmen, in letters.
A. de Tocqueville.
Tocqueville, March 8, 1857.
I still write to you, my dear Senior, from hence. We cannot tear ourselves away from the charms of our retreat, or from a thousand little employments. We shall scarcely reach Paris, therefore, before you. You will therefore, yourself bring me the remainder of your curious journal. What I have already seen makes me most anxious to read the rest. I have never read anything which gave me more valuable information on Egypt and Oriental politics in general. As soon as I possibly can, I look forward to continuing its perusal.
The papers tell us that your Ministry has been beaten on the Chinese War. It seems to me to have been an ill-chosen battle-field. The war was, perhaps, somewhat wantonly begun, and very roughly managed; but the fault lay with distant and subordinate agents. Now that it has begun, no Cabinet can avoid carrying it on vigorously. The existing Ministry will do as well for this as any other. As there is no line of policy to be changed, the upsetting is merely to put in the people who are now out.
If the Ministry falls, the man least to be pitied will be our friend Lewis. He will go out after having obtained a brilliant triumph on his own ground, and he will enjoy the good fortune, rare to public men, of quitting power greater than he was when he took it, and with the enviable reputation of owing his greatness, not merely to his talents, but also to the respect and the confidence which he has universally inspired.
All this delights me; for I feel towards him, and towards all his family, a true friendship.
To return to China.
It seems to me that the relations between that country and Europe are changed, and dangerously changed.
Till now, Europe has had to deal only with a Chinese government—the most wretched of governments. Now you will find opposed to you a people; and a people, however miserable and corrupt, is invincible on its own territory, if it be supported and impelled by common and violent passions.
Yet I should be sorry to die before I have seen China open to the eyes as well as to the arms of Europe.
Do you believe in a dissolution? If so, when?
A thousand regards to Mrs. Grote, to the great historian, to the Reeves, and generally to all who are kind enough to remember my existence.
I delight in the prospect of meeting you in Paris; yet I fear that you will find it dull. All that I hear from the great town shows me that never, at least during the last two hundred years, has intellectual life been less active.
If there be talent in the official circles, it is not the talent of conversation, and among those who formerly possessed that talent, there is so much torpidity, such want of interest on public affairs, such ignorance as to what is passing, and so little wish to hear about it, that no one, I am told, knows what to talk about or to take interest in. Your conversation, however, is so agreeable and stimulating that it is capable of reanimating the dead. Come and try to work this miracle.
A thousand remembrances.
A. de Tocqueville.