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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, Hôtel Bedford, April 9, 1857.—We reached this place last night.
The Tocquevilles are in our hotel. I went to them in the evening.
Tocqueville asked me how long I intended to remain.
‘Four weeks,’ I answered.
‘I do not think,’ he replied, ‘that you will be able to do so. Paris has become so dull that no one will voluntarily spend a month here. The change which five years have produced is marvellous.
‘We have lost our interest not only in public affairs, but in all serious matters.’
‘You will return then to the social habits of Louis Quinze,’ I said. ‘You were as despotically governed then as you are now; and yet the salons of Madame Geoffrin were amusing.’
‘We may do so in time,’ he answered, ‘but that time is to come. At present we talk of nothing but the Bourse. The conversation of our salons resembles more that of the time of Law, than that of the time of Marmontel.’
I spent the evening at Lamartine’s. There were few people there, and the conversation was certainly dull enough to justify Tocqueville’s fears.
April 10.—Tocqueville drank tea with us.
We talked of the Empress, and of the possibility of her being Regent of France.
‘That supposes,’ I said, ‘first, that Celui-ci holds his power until his death; and, secondly, that his son will succeed him.’
‘I expect both events,’ answered Tocqueville. ‘It is impossible to deny that Louis Napoleon has shown great dexterity and tact. His system of government is detestable if we suppose the welfare of France to be his object; but skilful if its aim be merely the preservation of his own power.
‘Such being his purpose, he has committed no great faults. Wonderful, almost incredible, as his elevation is, it has not intoxicated him.’
‘It has not intoxicated him,’ I answered, ‘because he was prepared for it—he always expected it.’
‘He could scarcely,’ replied Tocqueville, ‘have really and soberly expected it until 1848.
‘Boulogne and Strasbourg were the struggles of a desperate man, who staked merely a life of poverty, obscurity, and exile. Even if either of them had succeeded, the success could not have been permanent. A surprise, if it had thrown him upon the throne, could not have kept him there. Even after 1848, though the Bourbons were discredited, we should not have tolerated a Bonaparte if we had not lost all our self-possession in our terror of the Rouges. That terror created him, that terror supports him; and habit, and the dread of the bloodshed and distress, and the unknown chances of a revolution, will, I think, maintain him during his life.
‘The same feelings will give the succession to his heir. Whether the heir will keep it, is a different question.’
Sunday, April 12.—Tocqueville drank tea with us. I asked him if he had seen the Duc de Nemours’ letter.
‘I have not seen it,’ he answered. ‘In fact, I have not wished to see it. I disapprove of the Fusionists, and the anti-Fusionists, and the Legitimists, and the Orleanists—in short, of all the parties who are forming plans of action in events which may not happen, or may not happen in my time, or may be accompanied by circumstances rendering those plans absurd, or mischievous, or impracticable.’
‘But though you have not read the letter,’ I said, ‘you know generally what are its contents.’
‘Of course I do,’ he replied. ‘And I cannot blame the Comte de Chambord for doing what I do myself—for refusing to bind himself in contingencies, and to disgust his friends in the hope of conciliating his enemies.’
‘Do you believe,’ I asked, ‘that the mere promise of a Constitution would offend the Legitimists?’
‘I do not think,’ he answered, ‘that they would object to a Constitution giving them what they would consider their fair share of power and influence.
‘Under Louis Philippe they had neither, but it was in a great measure their own fault.
‘They have neither under this Government, for its principle is to rest on the army and on the people, and to ignore the existence of the educated classes.
‘You see that in its management of the press.
‘Montalembert, or Guizot, or Falloux, or I may publish what we like. We are not read by the soldier or by the proletaire.1 But the newspaper press is subject to a slavery to which it was never reduced before. The system was first elaborated in Austria, and I daresay will be copied by all the Continental autocrats, for no inventions travel so quickly as despotic ones.
‘The public avertissements are comparatively unimportant. Before a journal gets one of those its suppression has probably been decided on. Every day there are communications between the literary police and the different editors. Such or such a line of argument is altogether forbidden, another is allowed to be used to a certain extent. Some subjects are tabooed, others are to be treated partially.
‘As the mental food of the lower orders is supplied by the newspapers, this paternal Government takes care that it shall not be too exciting.’
Paris, Monday, April 13.—Tocqueville, Jobez, Marcet, St.-Hilaire,2 Charles Sumner, and Lord Granville breakfasted with us.
The conversation turned on public speaking.
‘Very few indeed of our speakers,’ said Tocqueville, ‘have ever ventured to improvise. Barrot could do it. We have told him sometimes that a speech must be answered immediately; and when he objected that he had nothing to say, we used to insist, and to assure him that as soon as he was in the tribune, the ideas and the words would come; and so they did. I have known him go on under such circumstances for an hour; of course neither the matter nor the form could be first rate, but they were sufficient.’
‘In fact,’ said Lord Granville, ‘much of what is called improvisation is mere recollection. A man who has to speak night after night, gets on most subjects a set of thoughts, and even of expressions, which naturally pour in on him as soon as his argument touches the train which leads to them.
‘One of our eminent speakers,’ he continued, ‘Lord Grey, is perhaps best when he has not had time to prepare himself. He is so full of knowledge and of inferences, that he has always enough ready to make an excellent speech. When he prepares himself, there is too much; he gives the House more facts and more deductions than it can digest.’
‘Do you agree with me,’ I asked, ‘in thinking that Lord Melbourne was best when he improvised?’
‘I agree with you,’ answered Lord Granville, ‘that his set speeches were cold and affected. He was natural only when he was quite careless, or when he was much excited, and then he was admirable.’
‘Did not Thiers improvise?’ I asked.
‘Never,’ answered Tocqueville. ‘He prepared himself most carefully. So did Guizot. We see from the “Revue rétrospective” that he even prepared his replies. His long experience enabled him to foresee what he should have to answer. Pasquier used to bring his speech ready written. It lay on the desk before him, but he never looked at it.’
‘That seems to me,’ I said, ‘very difficult. It is like swimming with corks. One would be always tempted to look down on the paper.’
‘It is almost equally difficult,’ said Tocqueville, ‘to make a speech of which the words are prepared. There is a struggle between the invention and the memory. You trust thoroughly to neither, and therefore are not served thoroughly by either.’
‘Yet that,’ said Marcet, ‘is what our Swiss pastors are required to do. They are forbidden to read, and forbidden to extemporise, and by practice they speak from memory—some well, all tolerably.’
‘Brougham,’ said Lord Granville, ‘used to introduce his most elaborately prepared passages by a slight hesitation. When he seemed to pause in search of thoughts, or of words, we knew that he had a sentence ready cut and dried.’
‘Who,’ I asked Sumner, ‘are your best speakers in America?’
‘The best,’ he said, ‘is Seward; after him perhaps comes Winthrop.’
‘I should have thought it difficult,’ I said, ‘to speak well in the Senate, to only fifty or at most sixty members.’
‘You do not speak,’ answered Sumner, ‘to the Senators. You do not think of them. You know that their minds are made up. Except as to mere executive questions, such as the approval of a public functionary, or the acceptance or modification of a treaty, every senator comes in pledged to a given, or to an assumed, set of opinions and measures. You speak to the public. You speak in order that 500,000 copies of what you say, as was the case with my last speech, may be scattered over the whole Union.’
‘That,’ I said, ‘must much affect the character of your oratory. A speech meant to be read must be a different thing from one meant to be heard. Your speeches must in fact be pamphlets, and that I suppose accounts for their length.’
‘That is true,’ replied Sumner. ‘But when you hear that we speak for a day, or for two days, or, as I have sometimes done, for three days, you must remember that our days are days of only three hours each.’
‘How long,’ I asked, ‘was your last speech?’
‘About five hours,’ he answered. ‘Three hours the first day and two hours the second.’
‘That,’ I said, ‘is not beyond our remotest limit. Brougham indeed, on the amendment of the law, spoke for six hours, during the greater part of the time to an audience of three. The House was filled with fog, and there is an H. B. which represents him gesticulating in the obscurity and the solitude.’
‘He,’ said Lord Granville, ‘put his speech on the Reform Bill at the top.’
‘The speech,’ I said, ‘at the end of which he knelt to implore the Peers to pass the bill, and found it difficult to rise.’
Tuesday, April 14.—Z., Sumner, Lord Granville, Tocqueville, M. Circourt, St.-Hilaire, and Corcelle breakfasted with us.
The conversation took the same turn as yesterday.
‘May I venture,’ said Lord Granville to Z., ‘to ask whom of your opponents you feared the most?’
‘Beyond all comparison,’ answered Z., ‘Thiers.’
‘Was not D.,’ I asked, ‘very formidable?’
‘Certainly,’ said Z. ‘But he had not the wit, or the entraînement of Thiers. His sentences were like his action. He had only one gesture, raising and sinking his right arm, and every time that right arm fell, it accompanied a sentence adding a link to a chain of argument, massive and well tempered, without a particle of dross, which coiled round his adversary like a boa constrictor.’
‘And yet,’ said M., ‘he was always languid and embarrassed at starting; it took him ten minutes to get en train.’
‘That defect,’ said Lord Granville, ‘belonged to many of our good speakers—to Charles Fox—to Lord Holland. Indeed Fox required the excitement of serious business to become fluent. He never made a tolerable after-dinner speech.’
‘Among the peculiarities of D.,’ said M., ‘are his perfect tact and discretion in the tribune, and his awkwardness in ordinary life. In public and in private he is two different men.’
‘It is impossible,’ said Tocqueville, ‘to deny that D. was great in a deliberative body, but his real scene of action is the bar. He was only among the best speakers in the Constituent Assembly. He is the greatest advocate at the bar.’
‘Although,’ said M——, ‘at the bar, where he represents only his client, one of the elements of his parliamentary success, his high moral character, does not assist him. Do you remember how, on the debate of the Roman expedition, he annihilated by one sentence Jules Favre who had ventured to assail him? “Les injures,” he said, “sont comme les corps pesants, dont la force dépend de la hauteur d’où ils tombent.”’
‘One man,’ said Z., ‘who enjoys a great European reputation, I could never think of as a serious adversary, that is Lamartine.
‘He appeared to me to treat the sad realities of political life as materials out of which he could compose strange and picturesque scenes, or draw food for his imagination and his vanity. He seemed always to be saying to himself: “How will the future dramatist or poet, or painter, represent this event, and what will be my part in the picture, or in the poem, or on the stage?”
‘Il cherchait toujours à poser.—He could give pleasure, he could give pain—he could amuse, and he could irritate,—but he seldom could persuade, and he never could convince. Even before the gate of the Hôtel de Ville, the most brilliant hour of his life, he owed his success rather to his tall figure, his fine features, attractive as well as commanding, his voice, his action—in short, to the assemblage of qualities which the Greeks called ὑπόκρισις, than to his eloquence.’
‘Was not,’ I said, ‘his contrast between the red flag and the tricolor eloquent?’
‘It was a fine bit of imagery,’ said Z., ‘and admirably adapted to the occasion. I do not deny to him the power of saying fine things—perhaps fine speeches, but he never made a good speech—a speech which it was difficult to answer.’
‘If anyone,’ he continued, ‘ever takes the trouble to look into our Parliamentary debates, Lamartine will hold a higher comparative rank than he is really entitled to. Most of us were too busy to correct the reports for the “Moniteur.” Lamartine not only corrected them but inserted whole passages.’
‘He inserted,’ said M., ‘not only passages but facts. Such as “applaudissements,” “vive émotion,” “hilarité,” often when the speech had been received in silence, or unattended to.’
‘I remember,’ said Corcelle, ‘an insertion of that kind in the report of a speech which was never delivered. It was during the Restoration, when written speeches were read, and sometimes were sent to the “Moniteur” in anticipation of their being read. Such had been the case with respect to the speech in question. The intended orator had inserted, like Lamartine, “vifs applaudissements,” “profonde sensation,” and other notices of the effect of his speech. The House adjourned unexpectedly before it was delivered, and he forgot to withdraw the report.’
‘Could a man like Lord Althorp,’ I asked, ‘whom it was painful to hear, hold his place as leader of a French Assembly?’
‘Impossible,’ said Tocqueville, ‘unless he were a soldier. We tolerate from a man who has almost necessarily been deprived of a careful education much clumsiness and awkwardness of elocution. Soult did not speak much better than the Duke of Wellington, but he was listened to. He had, like the Duke, an air of command which imposed.’
‘Was there,’ I said, ‘any personal quarrel between Soult and Thiers?’
‘Certainly there was,’ said Z., ‘a little one. I will not say that Soult was in Spain a successful commander, or an agreeable colleague, or an obedient subordinate, but whenever things went wrong there, Soult was the man whom the Emperor sent thither to put them to rights. Great as Thiers may be as a military critic, I venture to put him below Napoleon.’
‘I have been reading,’ I said, ‘Falloux’s reception speech, and was disappointed by it.’
‘In his speech and Brifault’s,’ said Circourt, ‘you may compare the present declamatory style and that of thirty years ago. Brifault has, or attempts to have, the légèreté and the prettiness of the Restoration. Falloux is grandiose and emphatic, as we all are now.’
‘Falloux,’ said Z., ‘made an excellent speech the first time that he addressed the Chamber of Deputies. The next time he was not so successful, and after that he ceased to be listened to.
‘But in the Constituent Assembly, and indeed in the Legislative, he acquired an ascendency. In those Assemblies, great moral qualities and a high social position were rarer than they were among the Deputies, and in the dangers of the country they were more wanted. Falloux possesses them all. He is honest and brave, and in his province employs liberally and usefully a large fortune.’
‘Were those the merits,’ I asked, ‘which opened to him the doors of the Academy?’
‘Certainly,’ answered Z. ‘As a man of letters he is nothing, as a statesman not much. We elected him in honour of his courage and his honesty, and perhaps with some regard to his fortune. We are the only independent body left, and we value in a candidate no quality more than independence.’
‘I am told,’ I said, ‘that Falloux is now an ultra-Legitimist.’
‘That is not true,’ said Z. ‘He is a Legitimist, but a liberal one. He would tolerate no Government, whatever were its other claims, that was not constitutional.’
‘Your Academic ceremonies,’ I said ‘seem to me not very well imagined. There is something fade, almost ridiculous, in the literary minuet in which the récipiendaire and the receiver are trotted out to show their paces to each other and to the Academy. The new member extolling the predecessor of whom he is the unworthy successor, the old member lauding his new colleague to his face, and assuring him that he, too, is one of the ornaments of the Society.’
‘Particularly,’ said ——, ‘when, as was the case the other day, it is notorious that neither of them has any real respect for the idol which he is forced to crown. Then the political innuendoes, the under-currents of censure of the present conveyed in praise of the past, become tiresome after we have listened to them for five years. We long to hear people talk frankly and directly, instead of saying one thing for the mere purpose of showing that they are thinking of another thing. The Emperor revenged himself on Falloux by his antithesis: “que le désordre les avait uni, et que l’ordre les avait séparé.’ ”
‘How did Falloux reply to it?’ I asked.
‘Feebly,’ said ——. ‘He muttered something about l’ordre having no firmer adherent than himself. In these formal audiences our great man has the advantage. He has his mot ready prepared, and you cannot discuss with him.’
We talked of the French spoken by foreigners. ‘The best,’ said Circourt, ‘is that of the Swedes and Russians, the worst that of the Germans.’
‘Louis Philippe,’ said Z., ‘used to maintain that the best test of a man’s general talents was his power of speaking foreign languages. It was an opinion that flattered his vanity, for he spoke like a native French, Italian, English, and German.’
‘It is scarcely possible,’ said Tocqueville, ‘for a man to be original in any language but his own; in all others he is forced to say what he can, and that is generally something that he recollects.’
‘I was much struck by that,’ said Z., ‘when conversing with Narvaez. He had been talking sensibly but rather dully in French. I begged him to talk Spanish, which I understand though I cannot speak. The whole man was changed. It was as if a curtain had been drawn up from between us. Instead of hammering at commonplaces, he became pointed, and spirited, and eloquent.’
‘Is he an educated man?’ I asked.
‘For a Spaniard,’ answered Z., ‘yes. He has the quickness, the finesse, and the elegance of mind and of manner which belong to the South. The want of book-learning contributes to his originality.’
‘The most wonderful speaker in a foreign language,’ said Sumner, ‘was Kossuth. He must have been between forty and fifty before he heard an English word. Yet he spoke it fluently, eloquently, and even idiomatically. He would have made his fortune among us as a stumporator.’
Tuesday, April 28.—Tocqueville drank tea with us.
We talked rather of people than of things.
‘Circourt,’ said Tocqueville, ‘is my dictionary. When I wish to know what has been done or what has been said on any occasion, I go to Circourt. He draws out one of the drawers in his capacious head, and finds there all that I want arranged and ticketed.
‘One of the merits of his talk, as it is of his character, is its conscientiousness. He has the truthfulness of a thorough gentleman, and his affections are as strong as his hatreds. I do not believe he would sacrifice a friend even to a good story, and where is there another man of whom that can be said?’
‘What think you of Mrs. T——?’ I inquired.
‘I like her too,’ he replied, ‘but less than I do Circourt. She has considerable talent, but she thinks and reads only to converse. She has no originality, no convictions. She says what she thinks that she can say well; like a person writing a dialogue or an exercise. Whether the opinion which she expresses be right or wrong, or the story that she tells be true or false, is no concern of hers, provided it be bien dit.’
‘The fault of her conversation,’ I said, ‘seems to me to be, that while she is repeating one sentence she is thinking of the next, and that while you are speaking to her, she is considering what is to be her next topic. I have noticed this fault in other very fluent conversers. They are so intent on the future that they neglect the present.’
‘It is rather a French than an English fault,’ said Tocqueville. ‘The English have more curiosity and less vanity, than we have; more desire to hear and less anxiety to shine. They are often, therefore, better causeurs than we are. Le grand talent pour le silence, or, in other words, the power of listening which has been imputed to them, is a great conversational virtue. I do not believe that it was said ironically or epigrammatically. The man who bestowed that praise knew how rare a merit silence is.’
‘May we not owe that merit,’ I asked, ‘to our bad French? We shine most when we listen.’
‘A great talker,’ I continued, ‘Montalembert, is to breakfast with us. Whom shall I ask to meet him?’
‘Not me,’ said Tocqueville, ‘unless you will accept me as one of the chorus. I will not take a premier rôle, or any prominent rôle, in a piece in which he is to act. I like his society; that is, I like to sit silent and hear him talk, and I admire his talents; and we have the strong bond of common hatreds, though perhaps we hate on different, or even opposite grounds, and I do not wish for a dispute with him, of which, if I say anything, I shall be in danger. If we differed on only one subject, instead of differing, as we do, on all but one, he would pick out that single subject to attack me on. I am not sure that even as host you will be safe. He is more acute in detecting points of opposition than most men are in finding subjects of agreement. He avoids meeting you on friendly or even on neutral ground. He chooses to have a combat en champ clos.
‘Take care,’ he added, ‘and do not have too many sommités. They watch one another, are conscious that they are watched, and a coldness creeps over the table.’
‘We had two pleasant breakfasts,’ I said, ‘a fortnight ago. You were leader of the band at one, Z. at the other, and the rest left the stage free to the great actor.’
‘As for me,’ he answered, ‘I often shut myself up, particularly after dinner, or during dinner if it be long. The process of digestion, little as I can eat, seems to oppress me.
‘Z. is always charming. He has an aplomb, an ease, a verve arising from his security that whatever he says will interest and amuse. He is a perfect specimen of an ex-statesman, homme de lettres, and père de famille, falling back on literature and the domestic affections. As for me, I have intervals of sauvagerie, or rather the times when I am not sauvage are the intervals. I have many, perhaps too many, acquaintances whom I like, and a very few friends whom I love, and a host of relations. I easily tire of Paris, and long to fly to the fields and woods and seashore of my province.’
We passed to the language of conversation.
‘There are three words,’ said Tocqueville, ‘which you have lost, and which I wonder how you do without,—Monsieur, Madame, and Mademoiselle. You are forced always to substitute the name. They are so mixed in all our forms that half of what we say would appear abrupt or blunt without them.
‘Then the tutoyer is a nuance that you want. When husband and wife are talking together they pass insensibly, twenty times perhaps in an hour, from the vous to the tu. When matters of business or of serious discussion are introduced, indeed whenever the affections are not concerned, it is vous. With the least soupçon of tenderness the tu returns.’
‘Yet,’ I said, ‘you never use the tu before a third person.’
‘Never,’ he answered, ‘in good company. Among the bourgeoisie always. It is odd that an aristocratic form, so easily learned, should not have been adopted by all who pretend to be gentry. I remember being present when an Englishman and his wife, much accustomed to good French society, but unacquainted with this nuance, were laboriously tutoyering each other. I relieved them much by assuring them that it was not merely unnecessary, but objectionable.’
May 2.—Tocqueville dined with us.
A lady at the table d’hôte was full of a sermon which she had heard at the Madeleine. The preacher said, sinking his voice to an audible whisper, ‘I will tell you a secret, but it must go no farther. There is more religion among the Protestants than with us, they are better acquainted with the Bible, and make more use of their reading: we have much to learn from them.’
I asked Tocqueville, when we were in our own room, as to the feelings of the religious world in France with respect to heretics.
‘The religious laity,’ he answered, ‘have probably little opinion on the subject. They suppose the heretic to be less favourably situated than themselves, but do not waste much thought upon him. The ignorant priests of course consign him to perdition. The better instructed think, like Protestants, that error is dangerous only so far as it influences practice.
‘Dr. Bretonneau, at Tours, was one of the best men that I have known, but an unbeliever. The archbishop tried in his last illness to reconcile him to the Church: Bretonneau died as he had lived. But the archbishop, when lamenting to me his death, expressed his own conviction that so excellent a soul could not perish.
‘You recollect the duchesse in St.-Simon, who, on the death of a sinner of illustrious race, said, “On me dira ce qu’on voudra, on ne me persuadera pas que Dieu n’y regarde deux fois avant de damner un homme de sa qualité.” The archbishop’s feeling was the same, only changing qualité into virtue.
‘There is something amusing,’ he continued, ‘when, separated as we are from it by such a chasm, we look back on the prejudices of the Ancien Régime. An old lady once said to me, “I have been reading with great satisfaction the genealogies which prove that Jesus Christ descended from David. Ça montre que notre Seigneur était Gentilhomme.” ’
‘We are somewhat ashamed,’ I said, ‘in general of Jewish blood, yet the Lévis boast of their descent from the Hebrew Levi.’
‘They are proud of it,’ said Tocqueville, ‘because they make themselves out to be cousins of the Blessed Virgin. They have a picture in which a Duc de Lévi stands bareheaded before the Virgin. “Couvrez-vous donc, mon cousin,” she says. ‘C’est pour ma commodité,” he answers.’
The conversation passed to literature.
‘I am glad,’ said Tocqueville, ‘to find that, imperfect as my knowledge of English is, I can feel the difference in styles.’
‘I feel strongly,’ I said, ‘the difference in French styles in prose, but little in poetry.’
‘The fact is,’ said Tocqueville, ‘that the only French poetry, except that of Racine, that is worth reading is the light poetry. I do not think that I could now read Lamartine, though thirty years ago he delighted me.’
‘The French taste,’ I said, ‘in English poetry differs from ours. You read Ossian and the “Night Thoughts.” ’
‘As for Ossian,’ he answered, ‘he does not seem to have been ever popular in England. But the frequent reference to the “Night Thoughts,” in the books and letters of the last century, shows that the poem was then in everybody’s memory. Foreigners are in fact provincials. They take up fashions of literature as country people do fashions of dress, when the capital has left them off. When I was young you probably had ceased to be familiar with Richardson. We knew him by heart. We used to weep over the Lady Clementina, whom I dare say Miss Senior never heard of.
‘During the first Empire, we of the old régime abandoned Paris, as we do now, and for the same reasons. We used to live in our châteaux, where I remember as a boy hearing Sir Charles Grandison and Fielding read aloud. A new novel was then an event. Madame Cottin was much more celebrated than George Sand is now. For all her books were read, and by everybody. Notwithstanding the great merits of George Sand’s style, her plots and her characters are so exaggerated and so unnatural, and her morality is so perverted, that we have ceased to read her.’
We talked of Montalembert, and I mentioned his sortie the other day against the clergy.
‘I can guess pretty well,’ said Tocqueville, ‘what he said to you, for it probably was a résumé of his article in the “Correspondant.” Like most men accustomed to public speaking, he repeats himself. He is as honest perhaps as a man who is very passionné can be; but his oscillations are from one extreme to another. Immediately after the coup d’état, when he believed Louis Napoleon to be Ultramontane, he was as servile as his great enemy the “Univers” is now. “Ce sont les nuances qui se querellent, non les couleurs;” and between him and the “Univers” there is only a nuance. The Bishop of Agen has oscillated like him, but began at the other end. The other day the Bishop made a most servile address to the Emperor. He had formerly been a furious anti-Bonapartist. “How is it possible,” said Montalembert, “that a man can rush so completely from one opinion to another? On the 4th of December in 1851 this same Bishop denounced the coup d’état with such violence that the President sent me to the Nuncio to request his interference. Now he is on his knees before him. Such changes can scarcely be honest.” Montalembert does not see that the only difference between them is that they have trod in opposite directions the very same path.’
Thursday, May 5.—Tocqueville and I dined with M. and Madame de Bourke, and met there General Dumas and Ary Scheffer.
We talked of Delaroche’s pictures, and Scheffer agreed with me in preferring the smaller ones. He thought that Delaroche improved up to the time of his death, and preferred his Moses, and Drowned Martyr, painted in 1853 and 1855, to the other large ones, and his Girondins, finished in 1856, to the earlier small ones.
We passed on to the increased and increasing population of Paris.
‘The population of Paris,’ I said, ‘is only half that of London, while that of the British Islands is not three-fourths that of France. If you were to double the population of Paris, therefore, it would still be proportionally less than that of London.’
‘That is true,’ said Tocqueville, ‘but yet there are many circumstances connected with the Parisian population each of which renders it more dangerous than the London one. In the first place, there is the absence of any right to relief. The English workman knows that neither he nor his family can starve. The Frenchman becomes anxious as soon as his employment is irregular, and desperate when it fails. The English workmen are unacquainted with arms, and have no leaders with military experience. The bulk of the Frenchmen have served, many of them are veterans in civil war, and they have commanders skilled in street-fighting. The English workmen have been gradually attracted to London by a real and permanent demand for their labour. They have wives and children. At least 100,000 men have been added to the working population of Paris since the coup d’état. They are young men in the vigour of their strength and passions, unrestrained by wives or families. They have been drawn hither suddenly and artificially by the demolition and reconstruction of half the town, by the enormous local expenditure of the Government, and by the fifty millions spent in keeping the price of bread in Paris unnaturally low. The 40,000 men collected in Paris by the construction of the fortifications are supposed to have mainly contributed to the revolution of 1848. What is to be expected from this addition of 100,000? Then the repressive force is differently constituted and differently animated. In England you have an army which has chosen arms as a profession, which never thinks of any other employment, and indeed is fit for no other, and never expects any provision except its pay and its pension. The French soldier, ever since 1789, is a citizen. He serves his six years because the law and the colonel force him to do so, but he counts the days until he can return to his province, his cottage, and his field. He sympathises with the passions of the people. In the terrible days of June, the army withstood the cries, the blessings, the imprecations and the seductions of the mob, only because they had the National Guards by their side. Their presence was a guarantee that the cause was just. The National Guards never fought before as they did in those days. Yet at the Château d’Eau, the miraculous heroism and the miraculous good luck of Lamoricière were necessary to keep them together. If he had not exposed himself as no man ever did, and escaped as no man ever did, they would have been broken.’
‘I was there,’ said Scheffer, ‘when his fourth horse was killed under him. As the horse was sinking he drew his feet out of the stirrups and came to the ground without falling; but his cigar dropped from his mouth. He picked it up, and went on with the order which he was giving to an aide-de-camp.
‘I saw that,’ said Tocqueville. ‘He had placed himself immediately behind a cannon in front of the Château d’Eau which fired down the Boulevard du Temple. A murderous fire from the windows in a corner of the Rue du Temple killed all the artillerymen. The instant that Lamoricière placed himself behind it, I thought that I saw what would happen. I implored him to get behind some shelter, or at least not to pose as a mark. “Recollect,” I said, “that if you go on in this way you must be killed before the day is over—and where shall we all be?” ’
‘ “I see the danger of what I am doing,” he answered, “and I dislike it as much as you can do; but it is necessary. The National Guards are shaking; if they break, the Line follows. I must set an example that everyone can see and can understand. This is not a time for taking precautions. If I were to shelter myself, they would run.” ’
‘How does Lamoricière,’ I asked, ‘bear exile and inactivity in Brussels?’
‘Very ill,’ said Scheffer. ‘He feels that he has compromised the happiness of his wife, whom he married not long before the coup d’état.’
‘Changarnier at Malins, who lives alone and has only himself to care for, supports it much better.’
Tocqueville and I walked home together.
‘Scheffer,’ he said, ‘did not tell all that happened at the Château d’Eau. Men seldom do when they fight over their battles.
‘The insurgents by burrowing through walls had got into a house in the rear of our position. They manned the windows, and suddenly fired down on us from a point whence no danger had been feared. This caused a panic among the National Guards, a force of course peculiarly subject to panics. They turned and ran back 250 yards along the Boulevard St. Martin, carrying with them the Line and Lamoricière himself. He endeavoured to stop them by outcries, and by gesticulations, and indeed by force. He gave to one man who was trying to run by him a blow with his fist, so well meant and well directed that it broke his collar bone.
‘At length he stopped them, re-formed them, and said: “Now you shall march, I at your head, and the drummer beating the charge, as if you were on parade, up to that house.” They did so. After a few discharges, which miraculously missed Lamoricière, the men in the house deserted it.’
‘What were you doing at the Château d’Eau?’ I asked.
‘We were marching,’ he said, ‘with infantry and artillery on the Boulevard du Temple, across which there was a succession of barricades, which it was necessary to take one by one.
‘As we advanced in the middle, our sappers and miners got into the houses on each side, broke through the party walls, and killed the men at the windows.’
‘Those three days,’ he continued, ‘impress strongly on my mind the dangers of our present state.
‘It is of no use to take up pavements and straighten streets, and pierce Paris by long military roads, and loop-hole the barracks, if the Executive cannot depend on the army. Ditches and bastions are of no use if the garrison will not man them.
‘The new law of recruitment, however, may produce a great change. Instead of 80,000 conscripts, 120,000 are to be taken each year. This is about all that are fit for service. They are required to serve for only two years. If the change ended there our army would be still more a militia than it is now. It would be the Prussian Landwehr. But those entitled to their discharge are to be enticed by higher pay, promotions, bounties, and retiring pensions—in short, by all means of seduction, to re-enter for long periods, for ten, or fifteen, or perhaps twenty years. It is hoped that thus a permanent regular army may be formed, with an esprit de corps of its own, unsympathising with the people, and ready to keep it down; and such will, I believe, be the result. But it will take nine or ten years to produce such an army—and the dangers that I fear are immediate.’
‘What are the motives,’ I asked, ‘for the changes as to the conscription, the increase of numbers, and the diminution of the time of service?’
‘They are parts,’ he answered, ‘of the system. The French peasant, and indeed the ouvrier, dislikes the service. The proportion of conscripts who will re-enlist is small. Therefore the whole number must be large. The country must be bribed to submit to this by the shortness of the term. The conscript army will be sacrificed to what is to be the regular army. It will be young and ill-trained.’
‘But your new regular army,’ I said, ‘will be more formidable to the enemy than your present force.’
‘I am not sure of that,’ he answered. ‘The merit of the French army was the impetuosity of its attack, the “furia Francese,” as the Italians called it. Young troops have more of this quality than veterans. The Maison du Roi, whose charge at Steenkirk Macaulay has so well described, consisted of boys of eighteen.’
‘I am re-editing,’ I said, ‘my old articles. Among them is one written in 1841 on the National Character of France, England, and America,1 as displayed towards foreign nations. I have not much to change in what I have said of England or of America. As they have increased in strength they have both become still more arrogant, unjust, and shameless.
‘England has perhaps become a little more prudent. America a little less so. But France seems to me to be altered. I described her as a soldier with all the faults of that unsocial character. As ambitious, rapacious, eager for nothing but military glory and territorial aggrandisement. She seems now to have become moderate and pacific, and to be devoted rather to the arts of peace than to those of war.’
‘France is changed,’ answered Tocqueville, ‘and when compared with the France of Louis XIV., or of Napoleon, was already changed when you wrote, though the war-cry raised for political purposes in 1840 deceived you. At the same time, I will not deny that military glory would, more than any other merit, even now strengthen a Government, and that military humiliation would inevitably destroy one. Nor must you overrate the unpopularity of the last war. Only a few even of the higher classes understood its motives. “Que diable veut cette guerre?” said my country neighbour to me; “si c’était contre les Anglais—mais avec les Anglais, et pour le Grand Turc, qu’est-ce que cela peut signifier?” But when they saw that it cost only men, that they were not invaded or overtaxed, and that prices rose, they got reconciled to it.
‘It was only the speculators of Paris that were tired of it. And if, instead of the Crimea, we had fought near our own frontiers, or for some visible purpose, all our military passions, bad and good, would have broken out.’
Wednesday, May 13.—Tocqueville came in after breakfast, and I walked with him in the shade of the green walls or arcades of the Tuileries chestnuts.
We talked of the Montijos, which led our conversation to Mérimée and V.
‘Both of them,’ said Tocqueville, ‘were the friends of Countess Montijo, the mother.
‘V. was among the last persons who knew Eugénie as Countess Théba. He escorted her to the Tuileries the very evening of her marriage. There he took his leave of her. “You are now,” he said, “placed so high that I can only admire you from below.” And I do not believe that they have met since.
‘Mérimée took a less sentimental view of the change. He acknowledged his Empress in his former plaything, subsided from a sort of stepfather into a courtier, and so rose to honour and wealth, while V. is satisfied to remain an ex-professor and un homme de lettres.’
. . . . . .
We met Henri Martin, and I asked Tocqueville what he thought of his History.
‘It has the merit of selling,’ he said, ‘which cannot be said of any other History of France. Martin is laborious and conscientious, and does not tell a story ill; but he is a partisan and is always biassed by his own likings and dislikings. He belongs to the class of theorists, unfortunately not a small one, whose political beau idéal is the absence of all control over the will of the people—who are opposed therefore to an hereditary monarchy—to a permanent President—to a permanent magistracy—to an established Church—in short, to all privileged classes, bodies, or institutions. Equality, not liberty or security, is their object. They are centralisers and absolutists. A despotic Assembly elected by universal suffrage, sitting at most for a year, governing, like the Convention, through its committees, or a single despot, appointed for a week, and not re-eligible, is the sort of ruler that they would prefer. The last five years have perhaps disgusted Martin with his Asiatic democracy, but his earlier volumes are coloured throughout by his prejudices against all systems implying a division of power, and independent authorities controlling and balancing one another.’
We talked of the Secret Police.
‘It has lately,’ said Tocqueville, ‘been unusually troublesome, or rather it has been troublesome to a class of persons whom it seldom ventures to molest. A friend of mine, M. Sauvaire Barthélemy, one of Louis Philippe’s peers, was standing at the door of his hotel reading a letter. A gentleman in plain clothes addressed him, announced himself as an agent de police, and asked him if the letter which he was reading was political. “No,” said Barthélemy, “you may see it. It is a billet de mariage.” “I am directed,” said the agent, “to request you to get into this carriage.” They got in and drove to Mazas. There Barthélemy was shown into a neat room with iron bars to the windows, and ordered to wait. After some time Louis Pietri, the Préfet de Police, arrived.
‘ “I am grieved,” he said, “at giving you so much trouble, but I have been commanded to see you in this place, and to inform you that the Emperor cannot bear that a man in your high position should systematically misrepresent him.
‘ “L’Empereur fait tout ce qu’il peut pour le bonheur de la France, et il n’entend pas supporter une opposition aussi constante et aussi violente. Effectivement il ne veut pas d’opposition. Voulez-vous le tenir pour dit, Monsieur, et recevoir de nouveau mes excuses du dérangement que j’ai dû vous causer? Pour le présent vous êtes libre.” ’
[Mr. Senior left Paris on the next day.
M. de Tocqueville paid his promised visit to England in June, and was received with a perfect ovation.—Ed.]
The lowest class.—Ed.
Barthélemy de St.-Hilaire is now Thiers’ private secretary and right hand.—Ed.
This article is republished in the Historical and Philosophical Essays. Longmans: 1865.—Ed.