Front Page Titles (by Subject) Journal. - 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:
Journal. - 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:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
Tocqueville, Sunday, August 11, 1861.—We left Paris on Saturday evening, got to Valognes by the Cherbourg railway by six the next morning, and were furnished there with a good carriage and horses, which took us, and our servants and luggage, in three hours to Tocqueville.
Valognes has been immortalised by Le Sage in Turcaret. It is a town of about 6,000 inhabitants, built of granite, and therefore little altered from what it was 200 years ago. Over many of the doors are the armorial bearings of the provincial nobility who made it a small winter capital: the practice is not wholly extinct. I asked who was the inhabitant of an imposing old house. ‘M. de Néridoze,’ answered our landlady, ‘d’une très-haute noblesse.’ I went over one in which Madame de Tocqueville thinks of passing the winter. It is of two stories. The ground floor given up to kitchen, laundry, and damp-looking servants’ rooms; the first floor in this form:—
The longer side looks into the street, the shorter, which is to be Madame de Tocqueville’s bedroom, into a small garden.
August 11.—At Tocqueville we find M. and Madame de Beaumont, their second son—a charming boy of ten years old, and Ampère.
It is eleven years since I was here. Nothing has been done to the interior of the house. This is about the plan of ground floor.
The first floor corresponds to the ground floor, except that on the western sides a passage runs, into which the library, which is over the drawing-room, and the bedrooms open. The second consists of garrets. My room is on the first floor of the eastern tower, with deep windows looking south and east. The room dedicated by Tocqueville to Ampère is above me. Creepers in great luxuriance cover the walls up to the first floor windows. The little park consists of from thirty to forty acres, well wooded and traversed by an avenue in this form,1 leading from the road to the front of the house. To the west the ground rises to a wild common commanding the sea, the lighthouses of Gatteville, Barfleur, La Hogue, and a green plain covered with woods and hedgerow trees, and studded with church
towers and spires of the picturesque forms of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. It has no grand features, except the sea and the rocky coast of the Cherbourg peninsula, but it is full of variety and beauty. I can understand Tocqueville’s delight in the house and in the country. The weather is perfect; the thermometer in my bedroom, the walls of which are about six feet thick, is 71°, in the sun it is 80°; but there is a strong breeze.
August 12th.—Madame de Beaumont, my daughter, and Ampère drove, and Beaumont and I walked, to the coast about three miles and a half off. Our road ran through the gay wooded plain which I have described.
We talked of Italian affairs.
‘Up to the annexation of Tuscany,’ said Beaumont, ‘I fully approve of all that has been done. Parma, Modena, and Tuscany were eager to join Piedmont. During the anxious interval of six months, while the decision of Louis Napoleon was doubtful, the conduct of the Tuscans was above all praise. Perhaps the general wish of the people of Romagna justified the Piedmontese in seizing it. Though there the difficult question as to the expediency of stripping the Pope of his temporal power rises.
‘Perhaps, too, the facility with which Sicily submitted was a justification. But I cannot pardon the seizure of Naples. It is clear to me that if the Neapolitans had been left to themselves they would have driven out the Garibaldians. Garibaldi himself felt this: nothing but a conviction of its necessity would have induced him to call for the assistance of the Piedmontese. I do not believe that in defiance of all international law—indeed in defiance of all international morality—Cavour would have given that assistance if the public opinion of Piedmont had allowed him to refuse it. And what is the consequence? A civil war which is laying waste the country. The Piedmontese call their adversaries brigands. There are without doubt among them men whose motive is plunder, but the great majority are in arms in defence of the independence of their country. They are no more brigands now than they were when they resisted King Joseph. The Piedmontese are as much foreigners to them as the French were: as much hated and as lawfully resisted. They may be conquered, they probably will be conquered. An ignorant corrupt population, inhabiting a small country, unsupported by its higher classes—its fleet, its fortresses, and all the machinery of its government, in the hands of its enemies—cannot permanently resist; but the war will be atrocious, and the more cruel on the part of Piedmont because it is unjust.’
‘You admit,’ I said, ‘that the higher classes side with Piedmont?’
‘I admit that,’ he answered; ‘but you must recollect how few they are in number, and how small is the influence which they exercise. In general, I detest universal suffrage, I detest democracy and everything belonging to it, but if it were possible to obtain honestly and truly the opinion of the people, I would ask it and obey it. I believe that it would be better to allow the Neapolitans, ignorant and debased as they are, to choose their own sovereign and their own form of government, than to let them be forced by years of violence to become the unwilling subjects of Piedmont.’
‘Do you believe,’ I said, ‘that it is possible to obtain through universal suffrage the honest and true opinion of a people?’
‘Not,’ he answered, ‘if the Government interferes. I believe that in Savoy not one person in fifty was in favour of annexation to France. But this is an extreme case.
‘The Bourbons are deservedly hated and despised by the Neapolitans, the Piedmontese are not despised, but are hated still more intensely. There is no native royal stock. The people are obviously unfit for a Republic. It would be as well, I think, to let them select a King as to impose one on them. The King whom Piedmont, without a shadow of right, is imposing on them is the one whom they most detest.’
‘If I go to Rome,’ I asked, ‘in the winter, whom shall I find there?’
‘I think,’ he answered, ‘that it will be the Piedmontese. The present state of things is full of personal danger to Louis Napoleon. As his policy is purely selfish, he will, at any sacrifice, put an end to it. That sacrifice may be the unity of Catholicism. The Pope, no longer a sovereign, will be under the influence of the Government in whose territory he resides, and the other Catholic Powers may follow the example of Greece and of Russia, and create each an independent Spiritual Government. It would be a new excitement for Celui-ci to make himself Head of the Church.’
‘Assassinations,’ I said, ‘even when successful have seldom produced important and permanent effects, but Orsini’s failure has influenced and is influencing the destinies of Europe.’
‘If I were an Italian liberal,’ said Beaumont, ‘I would erect a statue to him. The policy and almost the disposition of Louis Napoleon have been changed by the attentat. He has become as timid as he once was intrepid. He began by courting the Pope and the clergy. He despised the French assassins, who were few in number and unconnected, and who had proved their unskilfulness on Louis Philippe; but Orsini showed him that he had to elect between the Pope and the Austrians on one side, and the Carbonari on the other. He has chosen the alliance of the Carbonari. He has made himself their tool, and will continue to do so.
‘They are the only enemies whom he fears, at least for the present.
‘France is absolutely passive. The uneducated masses from whom he holds his power are utterly indifferent to liberty, and he has too much sense to irritate them by wanton oppression. They do not know that he is degrading the French character, they do not even feel that he is wasting the capital of France, they do not know that he is adding twenty millions every year to the national debt. They think of his loans merely as investments, and the more profligately extravagant are the terms and the amount, the better they like them.’
‘Ten years ago,’ I said, ‘the cry that I heard was, “Ça ne durera pas.” ’
‘That was my opinion,’ he answered; ‘indeed, it was the opinion of everybody. I thought the Duc de Broglie desponding when he gave it three years. We none of us believed that the love of liberty was dead in France.’
‘It is not,’ I said, ‘dead, for among the higher classes it still lives, and among the lower it never existed.’
‘Perhaps,’ he answered, ‘our great mistakes were that we miscalculated the courage of the educated classes, and the degree in which universal suffrage would throw power into the hands of the uneducated. Not a human being in my commune reads a newspaper or indeed reads anything: yet it contains 300 electors. In the towns there is some knowledge and some political feeling, but for political purposes they are carefully swamped by being joined to uneducated agricultural districts.
‘Still I think I might enter the Corps législatif for our capital Le Mans. Perhaps at a general election twenty liberals might come in. But what good could they do? The opposition in the last session strengthened Louis Napoleon. It gave him the prestige of liberality and success.’
‘You think him, then,’ I said, ‘safe for the rest of his life?’
‘Nothing,’ he answered, ‘is safe in France, and the thing most unsafe is a Government. Our caprices are as violent as they are sudden. They resemble those of a half-tamed beast of prey, which licks its keeper’s hand to-day, and may tear him to-morrow. But if his life be not so long as to enable the fruits of his follies to show themselves in their natural consequences—unsuccessful war, or defeated diplomacy, or bankruptcy, or heavily increased taxation—he may die in the Tuileries.
‘But I infer from his conduct that he thinks an insurrection against his tyranny possible, and that he is preparing to meet it by a popular war—that is to say, by a war with England.
‘I found my opinion not so much on the enormous maritime preparations, as on the long-continued systematic attempts to raise against England our old national enmity. All the provincial papers are in the hands of the Government. The constantly recurring topic of every one of them is, the perfidy and the malignity of England. She is described as opposing all our diplomacy, as resisting all our aggrandisement, as snarling and growling at our acquisition of Savoy, as threatening us if we accept Sardinia, as trying to drive the Pope from Rome because we protect him, as trying to separate the Danubian provinces because we wish to unite them, as preventing the Suez Canal because we proposed it—in short, on every occasion and in every part of the world as putting herself in our way. To these complaints, which are not without foundation, are added others of which our ignorant people do not see the absurdity. They are told that the enormous conscription, and the great naval expenditure, are rendered necessary by the aggressive armaments of England. That you are preparing to lay waste all our coasts, to burn our arsenals, to subsidise against us a new Coalition, and perhaps lead its armies again to Paris.
‘The Emperor’s moderation, his love of England, and his love of peace, are said to be the only obstacles to a violent rupture. But they are prepared for these obstacles at length giving way. “The Emperor,” they are told, “is getting tired of his insolent, and hostile, and quarrelsome allies. He is getting tired of a peace which is more expensive than a war. Some day the cup will flow over. ‘Il en finira avec eux,’ will dictate a peace in London, will free the oppressed Irish nationality, will make England pay the expense of the war, and then having conquered the only enemy that France can fear, will let her enjoy, for the first time, real peace, a reduced conscription, and low taxation.”
‘Such is the language of all the provincial papers and of all the provincial authorities, and it has its effect. There never was a time when a war with England would be so popular. He does not wish for one, he knows that it would be extremely dangerous, but he is accustomed to play for great stakes, and if submitting to any loss of his popularity, or to any limitation of his power is the alternative, he will run the risk. He keeps it, as his last card, in reserve, to be played only in extremity, but to be ready when that extremity has arrived.’
Tuesday, August 13.—We drove to La Prenelle, a church at the point of a high table-land running from Tocqueville towards the bay of La Hogue, and commanding nearly all the Cherbourg peninsula. On three sides of us was the sea, separated from us by a wooded, well-inhabited plain, whose churches rose among the trees, and containing the towns and lofty lighthouses of Gatteville, Barfleur, Vast, and La Hogue. We sat on the point from whence James II. saw the battle of La Hogue, and admired the courage of his English rebels.
Ampère has spent much of his life in Rome, and is engaged on a work in which its history is to be illustrated by its monuments.
We talked of the Roman people.
‘Nothing,’ said Ampère, ‘can be more degraded than the higher classes. With the exception of Antonelli, who is charming, full of knowledge, intelligence, and grace, and of the Duke of Sermoneta, who is almost equally distinguished, there is scarcely a noble of my acquaintance who has any merits, moral or intellectual.
‘They are surrounded by the finest ancient and modern art, and care nothing for it. The eminent men of every country visit Rome—the Romans avoid them for they have nothing to talk to them about.
‘Politics are of course unsafe, literature they have none. They never read. A cardinal told me something which I doubted, and I asked him where he had found it. “In certi libri,” he answered.
‘Another, who has a fine old library, begged me to use it. “You will do the room good,” he said. “No one has been there for years.” Even scandal and gossip must be avoided under an Ecclesiastical Government.
‘They never ride, they never shoot, they never visit their estates, they give no parties; if it were not for the theatre and for their lawsuits they would sink into vegetable life.’
‘Sermoneta,’ I said, ‘told me that many of his lawsuits were hereditary, and would probably descend to his son.’
‘If Sermoneta,’ said Ampère, ‘with his positive intelligence and his comparative vigour, cannot get through them, what is to be expected from others? They have, however, one merit, one point of contact with the rest of the world—their hatred of their Government. They seem to perceive, not clearly, for they perceive nothing clearly, but they dimly see, that the want of liberty is a still greater misfortune to the higher classes than to the lower.
‘But the people are a fine race. Well led they will make excellent soldiers. They have the cruelty of their ancestors, perhaps I ought to say of their predecessors, but they have also their courage.’
‘They showed,’ said Beaumont, ‘courage in the defence of Rome, but courage behind walls is the commonest of all courages. No training could make the Spaniards stand against us in the open field, but they were heroes in Saragossa. The caprices of courage and cowardice are innumerable. The French have no moral courage, they cannot stand ridicule, they cannot encounter disapprobation, they bow before oppression; a French soldier condemned by a court-martial cries for mercy like a child. The same man in battle appears indifferent to death. The Spaniard runs away without shame, but submits to death when it is inevitable without terror. None of the prisoners taken on either side in the Spanish civil war asked for pardon.’
‘Indifference to life,’ I said, ‘and indifference to danger have little in common. General Fénelon told me that in Algeria he had more than once to preside at an execution. No Arab showed any fear. Once there were two men, one of whom was to be flogged, the other to be shot. A mistake was made and they were going to shoot the wrong man. It was found out in time, but neither of the men seemed to care about it; yet they would probably have run away in battle. The Chinese are not brave, but you can hire a man to be beheaded in your place.’
‘So,’ said Ampère, ‘you could always hire a substitute in our most murderous wars, when in the course of a year a regiment was killed twice over. It was hiring a man, not indeed to be beheaded, but to be shot for you.’
‘The destructiveness,’ said Beaumont, ‘of a war is only gradually known. It is found out soonest in the villages when the deaths of the conscripts are heard of, or are suspected from their never returning; but in the towns, from which the substitutes chiefly come, it may be long undiscovered. Nothing is known but what is officially published, and the Government lies with an audacity which seems always to succeed. If it stated the loss of men in a battle at one half of the real number, people would fancy that it ought to be doubled, and so come near to the truth; but it avows only one-tenth or only one-twentieth, and then the amount of falsehood is underestimated.’
‘Marshal Randon,’ I said, ‘told me that the whole loss in the Italian campaign was under 7,000 men.’
‘That is a good instance,’ said Beaumont. ‘It certainly was 50,000, perhaps 70,000. But I am guilty of a délit in saying so, and you will be guilty of a délit if you repeat what I have said. I remember the case of a man in a barber’s shop in Tours, to whom the barber said that the harvest was bad. He repeated the information, and was pubished by fine and imprisonment for having spread des nouvelles alarmantes. Truth is no excuse; in fact it is an aggravation, for the truer the news the more alarming.’
‘In time of peace,’ I asked, ‘what proportion of the conscripts return after their six years of service?’
‘About three-quarters,’ answered Beaumont.
‘Then,’ I said, ‘as you take 100,000 conscripts every year even in peace, you lose 25,000 of your best young men every year?’
‘Certainly,’ said Beaumont.
‘And are the 75,000 who return improved or deteriorated?’ I asked.
‘Improved,’ said Ampère; ‘they are dégourdis, they are educated, they submit to authority, they know how to shift for themselves.’
‘Deteriorated,’ said Beaumont. ‘A garrison life destroys the habits of steady industry, it impairs skill. The returned conscript is more vicious and less honest than the peasant who has not left his village.’
‘And what was the loss,’ I asked, ‘in the late war?’
‘At least twice as great,’ said Beaumont, ‘as it is in peace. Half of those who were taken perished. The country would not have borne the prolongation of the Crimean War.’
‘These wars,’ I said, ‘were short and successful. A war with England can scarcely be short, and yet you think that he plans one?’
‘I think,’ said Beaumont, ‘that he plans one, but only in the event of his encountering any serious difficulty at home. You must not infer from the magnitude of his naval expenditure that he expects one.
‘You look at the expense of those preparations, and suppose that so great a sacrifice would not be made in order to meet an improbable emergency. But expense is no sacrifice to him. He likes it. He has the morbid taste for it which some tyrants have had for blood, which his uncle had for war. Then he is incapable of counting. When he lived at Arenenburg he used to give every old soldier who visited him an order on Viellard his treasurer for money. In general the chest was empty. Viellard used to remonstrate but without effect. The day perhaps after his orders had been dishonoured he gave new ones.’
‘Is it true,’ I asked, ‘that the civil list is a couple of years’ income in debt?’
‘I know nothing about it,’ said Beaumont; ‘in fact, nobody knows anything about anything, but it is highly probable. Everybody who asks for anything gets it, everybody is allowed to waste, everybody is allowed to rob, every folly of the Empress is complied with. Fould raised objections, and was dismissed.
‘She is said to have a room full of revolutionary relics: there is the bust of Marie Antoinette, the nose broken at one of the sacks of the Tuileries. There is a picture of Simon beating Louis XVII. Her poor child has been frightened by it, and she is always dwelling on the dangers of her position.’
‘So,’ I said, ‘did Queen Adelaide—William IV.’s Queen. From the passing of the Reform Bill she fully expected to die on the scaffold.’
‘There is more reason,’ he answered, ‘for the Empress’s fears.’
‘Not,’ I said, ‘if she fears the scaffold. Judicial murder, at least in that form, is out of fashion. Cayenne and Lambressa are your guillotines, and the Empress is safe from them.’
‘But there are other modes of violent death,’ he answered; ‘from one of which she escaped almost by miracle.’
‘How did she behave,’ I asked, ‘at the attentat?’
‘Little is known,’ he answered, ‘except that the Emperor said to her, as he led her upstairs to her box: “Allons, il faut faire notre métier.” ’
‘Then she is disturbed by religious fears. The little prince has been taught to say to his father every morning: “Papa, ne faites pas de mal à mon parrain.” The Pope was his godfather.’
‘If the Emperor dies, the real power will pass into the hands of Prince Napoleon. And very dangerous hands they will be. He has more talent than the Emperor, and longer views. Louis Napoleon is a revolutionist from selfishness. Prince Napoleon is selfish enough, but he has also passion. He detests everything that is venerable, everything that is established or legal.
‘There is little value now for property or for law, though the Government professes to respect them. What will it be when the Government professes to hate them?’
Wednesday, August 14.—We talked at breakfast of Rome.
‘Is there,’ said Beaumont to Ampère, ‘still an Inquisition at Rome?’
‘There is,’ said Ampère, ‘but it is torpid. It punishes bad priests, but does little else.’
‘If a Roman,’ I asked, ‘were an avowed infidel, would it take notice of him?’
‘Probably not,’ said Ampère, ‘but his curé might—not for his infidelity, but for his avowing it. The curé, who has always the powers of a commissaire de police, might put him in prison if he went into a café and publicly denied the Immaculate Conception, or if he neglected going to church or to confession: but the Inquisition no longer cares about opinions.’
‘Is there much infidelity,’ I asked, ‘in Rome?’
‘Much,’ said Ampère, ‘among the laity. The clergy do not actively disbelieve. They go through their functions without ever seriously inquiring whether what they have to teach be true or false. No persons were more annoyed by the Mortara1 business than the clergy, with the exception of Antonelli. He hates and fears the man who set it on foot, the Archbishop of Bologna, and therefore was glad to see him expose himself, and lose all hope of the Secretaryship, but he took care to prevent the recurrence of such a scandal. He revived an old law prohibiting Jews from keeping Christian nurses. But he could scarcely order restitution. According to the Church it would have been giving the child to the Devil, and, what is worse, robbing God of him. The Pope’s piety is selfish. His great object is his own salvation. He would not endanger that, to confer any benefit upon, or to avert any evil from Rome; or indeed from the whole world. This makes him difficult to negotiate with. If anything is proposed to him which his confessor affirms to be dangerous to his soul, he listens to no arguments. As for Mortara himself, he is a poor creature. A friend of mine went to see him in his convent. All that he could get from him was:
‘ “Sono venuti i Carabinieri.”
‘ “And what did they do to you?”
‘ “M’hanno portato quì.”
‘ “What more?”
‘ ‘M’hanno dato pasticci; erano molto buoni.”
‘What is most teasing,’ continued Ampère, ‘in the Roman Government is not so much its active oppression as its torpidity. It hates to act. An Englishman had with great difficulty obtained permission to light Rome with gas. He went to the Government in December, and told them that everything was ready, and that the gas would be lighted on the 1st of January.
‘ “Could you not,” they answered, “put it off till April?”
‘ “But it is in winter,” he replied; “that it is wanted. Every thing is ready. Why should we wait?”
‘ “It is a new thing,” they replied; “people will be frightened. It may have consequences. At least put it off till March.”
‘ “But they will be as much frightened in March,” he replied.
‘ “If it must be done,” they said, “as a kindness to His Holiness and to us put it off till February.”
‘There is, however, one sort of oppression which even we should find it difficult to tolerate.
‘A Monsignore has a young friend without money, but an excellent Catholic and an excellent politician, a fervid believer in the Immaculate Conception and in the excellence of the Papal Government. He wishes to reward such admirable opinions: but the Pope has little to give. Monsignore looks out for some young heiress, sends for her father, describes his pious and loyal protégé, and proposes marriage. Her father objects—says that his daughter cannot afford to marry a poor man, or that she does not wish to marry at all—or that he or she has some other preference.
‘Monsignore insists. He assures the father that what he is proposing is most favourable to the salvation of his daughter, that he suggests it principally for the benefit of her soul, and that the father’s objections are inspired by the Evil One. The father breaks off the conversation and goes home. He finds that his daughter has disappeared. He returns furious to Monsignore, is received with the utmost politeness and is informed that his daughter is perfectly safe under the protection of a cardinal who himself did her the honour of fetching her in his gilded coach. “You have only,” the Monsignore says, “to be reasonable, and she shall be returned to you.”
‘The father flies to the cardinal.
‘The same politeness and the same answer.
‘ “Do not oppose,” he is told, “the will of the Pope, who, in this matter, seeks only your daughter’s happiness here and hereafter. She is now with me. If you will give up your sinful obstinacy she shall be restored to you to-day. If not, it will be our duty to place her in a convent, where she will be taken the utmost care of, but she will not leave it except to marry the person whom His Holiness thinks most fitted to promote the welfare of her soul.”
‘I have known several cases in which this attempt has been made. With such timid slaves as the Roman nobility it always succeeds.’
Thursday, August 15.—This is the fête of St. Louis—the great fête of Tocqueville. Madame de Tocqueville and Madame de Beaumont spent much of the morning in church.
Beaumont and his son walked to the coast to bathe. Minnie, Ampère, and I strolled among the deep shady lanes of the plateau above the castle. Throughout Normandy the fields are small and are divided by mounds planted with trees. The farmhouses, and even the cottages, are built of primitive rock, granite, or old red sandstone. At a distance, peeping out of the trees that surround them, they look pretty, but they have more than the usual French untidiness. The out-houses are roofless, the farmyards are full of pools and dung heaps, which often extend into the road; and the byroads themselves are quagmires when they do not consist of pointed stones. I was struck by the paucity of the children and the absence of new houses. The population of Normandy is diminishing.
We conversed on the subject of Italy.
‘If we are in Rome next winter,’ I asked, ‘shall we find the French there?’
‘I think not,’ said Ampère; ‘I think that you will find only the Piedmontese.
‘Every day that Louis Napoleon holds Rome is a day of danger to him, a danger slight perhaps now, but serious if the occupation be prolonged. The Anti-papal party, and it includes almost all that are liberal and all that are energetic, are willing to give him time, but not an indefinite time. They are quiet only because they trust him. He is a magician who has sold himself to the Devil. The Devil is patient, but he will not be cheated. The Carbonari will support Louis Napoleon as long as he is doing their work, and will allow him to do it in his own way and to take his own time, as long as they believe he is doing it. But woe to him if they believe that he is deceiving them. I suspect that they are becoming impatient, and I suspect too, that he is becoming impatient. This quarrel between Mérode and Goyon is significative. I do not believe that Goyon used the words imputed to him. We shall probably keep Civita Vecchia, but we shall give up Rome to the Piedmontese.’
‘And will the Pope,’ I asked, ‘remain?’
‘Not this Pope,’ said Ampère, ‘but his successor. Nor do I see the great evil of the absence of the Pope from Rome. Popes have often been absent before, sometimes for long periods.’
‘Most of my French friends,’ I said, ‘are opposed to Italian Unity as mischievous to France.’
‘I do not believe,’ he answered, ‘in the submission of Naples to this Piedmontese dynasty, but I shall be delighted to see all Italy north of the Neapolitan territory united.
‘I do not think that we have anything to fear from the kingdom of Italy. It is as likely to be our friend as to be our enemy. But the Neapolitans, even if left to themselves, would not willingly give up their independence, and Celui-ci is trying to prevent their doing so.’
‘What do they wish,’ I asked, ‘and what does he wish?’
‘I believe,’ he answered, ‘that their wishes are only negative.
‘They do not wish to recall the Bourbons, and they are resolved not to keep the Piedmontese. His wish I believe to be to put his cousin there. Prince Napoleon himself refused Tuscany. It is too small, but he would like Naples, and Louis Napoleon would be glad to get rid of him. What would England say?’
‘If we believed,’ I said, ‘in the duration of a Bonaparte dynasty in France, we should, of course, object to the creation of one in Naples. But if, as we think it probable, the Bonapartists have to quit France, I do not see how we should be injured by their occupying the throne of Naples.
‘I should object to them if I were a Neapolitan. All their instincts are despotic, democratic, and revolutionary. But even they are better than the late king was. What chance have the Murats?’
‘None,’ said Ampère. ‘They have spoiled their game, if they had a game, by their precipitation. The Emperor has disavowed them, the Neapolitans do not care for them. The Prince de Leuchtenberg, grandson of Eugène Beauharnais, has been talked of. He is well connected, related to many of the reigning families of the Continent, and is said to be intelligent and well educated.’
‘If Naples,’ I said, ‘is to be detached from the kingdom of Italy, Sicily ought to be detached from Naples. There is quite as much mutual antipathy.’
‘Would you like to take it?’ he asked.
‘Heaven forbid!’ I answered. ‘It would be another Corfu on a larger scale. The better we governed them, the more they would hate us. The only chance for them is to have a king of their own.’
August 15.—In the evening Ampère read to us a comedy called ‘Beatrix,’ by a writer of some reputation, and a member of the Institut.
It was very bad, full of exaggerated sentiments, forced situations, and the cant of philanthropic despotism.
An actress visits the court of a German grand duke. He is absent. His mother, the duchess, receives her as an equal. The second son falls in love with her at first sight and wishes to marry her. She is inclined to consent, when another duchy falls in, the elder duke resigns to his brother, he becomes king, presses their marriage, his mother does not oppose, and thereupon Beatrix makes a speech, orders her horses, and drives off to act somewhere else.
Ampère reads admirably, but no excellence of reading could make such absurdities endurable. It was written for Ristori, who acted Beatrix in French with success.
Friday, August 16.—We talked at breakfast of 1793.
‘It is difficult,’ said Madame de Beaumont, ‘to believe that the French of that day were our ancestors.’
‘They resembled you,’ I said, ‘only in two things: in military courage, and in political cowardice.’
‘They had,’ she replied, ‘perhaps more passive courage than we have.1 My great-great-grandmother, my great-grandmother, and my great-aunt, were guillotined on the same day. My great-great-grandmother was ninety years old. When interrogated, she begged them to speak loud, as she was deaf. ‘Écrivez,’ said Fouquier Tinville, ‘que la citoyenne Noailles a conspiré sourdement contre la République.’ They were dragged to the Place de la République in the same tombereau, and sat waiting their turn on the same bench.
‘My great-aunt was young and beautiful. The executioner, while fastening her to the plank, had a rose in his mouth. The Abbé de Noailles, who was below the scaffold, disguised, to give them, at the risk of his life, a sign of benediction, was asked how they looked.
‘ “Comme si,’ he said, ‘elles allaient à la messe.” ’
‘The habit,’ said Ampère, ‘of seeing people die produces indifference even to one’s own death. You see that among soldiers. You see it in epidemics. But this indifference, or, to use a more proper word, this resignation, helped to prolong the Reign of Terror. If the victims had resisted, if, like Madame du Barry, they had struggled with the executioner, it would have excited horror.’
‘The cries of even a pig,’ said Madame de Beaumont, ‘make it disagreeable to kill it.’
‘Sanson,’ I said, ‘long survived the Revolution; he made a fortune and lived in retirement at Versailles. A lady was run away with between Versailles and Paris. An elderly man, at considerable risk, stopped her horse. She was very grateful, but could not get from him his name. At last she traced him, and found that it was Sanson.’
‘Sanson,’ said Beaumont, ‘may have been an honest man. Whenever a place of bourreau is vacant, there are thirty or forty candidates, and they always produce certificates of their extraordinary kindness and humanity. It seems to be the post most coveted by men eminent for their benevolence.’
‘How many have you?’ I asked.
‘Eighty-six,’ he answered. ‘One for each department.’
‘And how many executions?’
‘About one hundred a year in all France.’
‘And what is the salary?’
‘Perhaps a couple of thousand francs a year.’
‘Really,’ said Ampère, ‘it is one of the best parts of the patronage of the Minister of the Interior. M. le Bourreau gets more than a thousand francs for each operation.’
‘We pay by the piece,’ I said, ‘and find one operator enough for all England.’
‘A friend of mine,’ said Beaumont, had a remarkably good Swiss servant. His education was far above his station, and we could not find what had been his birth or his canton.
‘Suddenly he became agitated and melancholy, and at last told my friend that he must leave him, and why. His father was the hereditary bourreau of a Swiss canton. To the office was attached an estate, to be forfeited if the office were refused. He had resolved to take neither, and, to avoid being solicited, had left his country and changed his name. But his family had traced him, had informed him of his father’s death, and had implored him to accept the succession. He was the only son, and his mother and sisters would be ruined, if he allowed it to pass to the next in order of inheritance, a distant cousin. He had not been able to persist in his refusal.’
‘The husband of an acquaintance of mine,’ said Madame de Beaumont, ‘used to disappear for two or three hours every day. He would not tell her for what purpose. At last she found out that he was employed in the chambre noire, the department of the police by which letters passing through the post are opened. The duties were well paid, and she could not persuade him to give them up. They were on uneasy terms, when an accident threw a list of all the names of the employés in the chambre noire, into the hands of an opposition editor, who published them in his newspaper.
‘She then separated from him.’
‘If the Post-office,’ I said, ‘were not a Government monopoly, if everyone had a right to send his letters in the way that he liked best, there would be some excuse. But the State compels you, under severe penalties, to use its couriers, undertaking, not tacitly but expressly, to respect the secrecy of your correspondence, and then systematically violates it.’
‘I should have said,’ answered Ampère, ‘not expressly but tacitly.’
‘No,’ I replied; ‘expressly. Guizot, when Minister for Foreign Affairs, proclaimed from the tribune, that in France the secrecy of correspondence was, under all circumstances, inviolable. This has never been officially contradicted.
‘The English Post-office enters into no such engagements. Any letters may be legally opened, under an order from a Secretary of State.’
‘Are prisoners in England,’ asked Beaumont, ‘allowed to correspond with their friends?’
‘I believe,’ I answered, ‘that their letters pass through the Governor’s hands, and that he opens them, or not, at his discretion.’
‘Among the tortures,’ said Ampère, ‘which Continental despots delight to inflict on their state prisoners the privation of correspondence is one.’
‘In ordinary life,’ I said, ‘the educated endure inaction worse than the ignorant. ‘A coachman sits for hours on his box without feeling ennui. If his master had to sit quiet all that time, inside the carriage, he would tear his hair from impatience.
‘But the educated seem to tolerate the inactivity of imprisonment better than their inferiors. We find that our ordinary malefactors cannot endure solitary imprisonment for more than a year—seldom indeed so long. The Italian prisoners whom I have known, Zucchi, Borsieri, Poerio, Gonfalonieri, and Pellico, endured imprisonment lasting from ten to seventeen years without much injury to mind or body.’
‘The spirit of Pellico,’ said Madame de Beaumont, ‘was broken. When released, he gave himself up to devotion and works of charity. Perhaps the humility, resignation, and submission of his book made it still more mischievous to the Austrian Government. The reader’s indignation against those who could so trample on so unresisting a victim becomes fierce.’
‘If the Austrians,’ I said, ‘had been wise, they would have shot instead of imprisoning them. Their deaths would have been forgotten—their imprisonment has contributed much to the general odium which is destroying the Austrian Empire.’
‘It would have been wiser,’ said Beaumont, ‘but it would have been more merciful, and therefore it was not done. But you talk of all these men as solitarily imprisoned. Some of them had companions.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but they complained that one permanent companion was worse than solitude. Gonfalonieri said, that one could not be in the same room, with the same man, a year without hating him.
‘One of the Neapolitan prisoners was chained for some time to a brigand. Afterwards the brigand was replaced by a gentleman. He complained bitterly of the change.
‘The brigand,’ said Minnie, ‘was his slave, the gentleman had a will of his own.’
‘How did M. de La Fayette,’1 I asked Madame de Beaumont, ‘bear his five years’ imprisonment at Olmütz?’
‘His health,’ said Madame de Beaumont, ‘was good, but the miseries of his country and the sufferings of his wife made him very unhappy. When my grandmother came to him, it was two days before she had strength to tell him that all his and her family had perished. I was once at Olmütz, and saw the one room which they had inhabited. It was damp and dark. She asked to be allowed to leave it for a time for better medical treatment and change of air. It was granted only on the condition that she should never return. She refused. The rheumatic attacks which the state of the prison had produced, continued and increased: she was hopelessly ill when they were released—and died soon afterwards. The sense of wrong aggravated their sufferings, for their imprisonment was a gross and wanton violation of all law, international and municipal. My grandfather was not an Austrian subject; he had committed no offence against Austria. She seized him simply because he was a liberal, because his principles had made him the enemy of tyranny in America and in France; and because his birth and talents and reputation gave him influence. It was one of the brutal stupid acts of individual cruelty which characterise the Austrian despotism, and have done more to ruin it than a wider oppression—such a one, for instance, as ours, more mischievous, but more intelligent,—would have done.’
‘Freedom,’ said Ampère, ‘was offered to him on the mere condition of his not serving in the French army. At that time the Jacobins would have guillotined him, the Royalists would have forced duel after duel on him till they had killed him. It seemed impossible that he should ever be able to draw his sword for France. In fact he never was able. America offered him an asylum, honours, land, everything that could console an exile. But he refused to give up the chance, remote as it was, of being useful to his country, and remained a prisoner till he was delivered by Napoleon.’
‘He firmly believed,’ said Madame de Beaumont, ‘that if the Royal Family would have taken refuge with his army in 1791 he could have saved them, and probably the Monarchy. His army was then in his hands, a few months after the Jacobins had corrupted it.’
‘Two men,’ said Ampère, ‘Mirabeau and La Fayette, could have saved the Monarchy, and were anxious to do so. But neither the King nor the Queen would trust them.
‘Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette are among the historical personages who have most influenced the destinies of the world. His dulness, torpidity and indecision, and her frivolity, narrow-minded prejudices and suspiciousness, are among the causes of our present calamities. They are among the causes of a state of things which has inflicted on us, and threatens to inflict on all Europe, the worst of all Governments—democratic despotism. A Government in which two wills only prevail—that of the ignorant, envious, ambitious, aggressive multitude, and that of the despot who, whatever be his natural disposition, is soon turned, by the intoxication of flattery and of universal power, into a capricious, fantastic, selfish participator in the worst passions of the worst portion of his subjects.’
‘Such a Government,’ I said, ‘may be called an anti-aristocracy. It excludes from power all those who are fit to exercise it.’
‘The consequence,’ said Beaumont, ‘is, that the qualities which fit men for power not being demanded, are not supplied. Our young men have no political knowledge or public spirit. Those who have a taste for the sciences cultivated in the military schools enter the army. The rest learn nothing.’
‘What do they do?’ I asked.
‘How they pass their time,’ said Madame de Beaumont, ‘is a puzzle to me. They do not read, they do not go into society—I believe that they smoke and play at dominos, and ride and bet at steeple-chases.
‘Those who are on home service in the army are not much better. The time not spent in the routine of their profession is sluggishly and viciously wasted. Algeria has been a God-send to us. There our young men have real duties to perform, and real dangers to provide against and to encounter. My son, who left St. Cyr only eighteen months ago, is stationed at Thebessa, 300 miles in the interior. He belongs to a bureau arabe, consisting of a captain, a lieutenant, and himself, and about forty spahis. He has to act as a judge, as an engineer, to settle the frontier between the province of Constantine and Tunis—in short, to be one of a small ruling aristocracy. This is the school which has furnished, and is furnishing, our best generals and administrators.’
We talked of the interior of French families.
‘The ties of relationship,’ I said, ‘seem to be stronger with you than they are with us. Cousinship with you is a strong bond, with us it is a weak one.’
‘The habit of living together,’ said Beaumont, ‘has perhaps much to do with the strength of our feelings of consanguinity. Our life is patriarchal. Grandfather, father, and grandson are often under the same roof. At the Grange1 thirty of the family were sometimes assembled at dinner. With you, the sons go off, form separate establishments, see little of their parents, still less of their cousins, and become comparatively indifferent to them.’
‘I remember,’ I said, ‘the case of an heir apparent of seventy; his father was ninety-five. One day the young man was very grumpy. They tried to find out what was the matter with him; at last he broke out, “Everybody’s father dies except mine.” ’
‘An acquaintance of mine,’ said Beaumont, ‘not a son, but a son-in-law, complained equally of the pertinacious longevity of his father-in-law. “Je n’ai pas cru,” he said, “en me mariant, que j’épousais la fille du Père Éternel.” Your primogeniture,’ he continued, ‘must be a great source of unfilial feelings. The eldest son of one of your great families is in the position of the heir apparent to a throne. His father’s death is to give him suddenly rank, power, and wealth; and we know that royal heirs apparent are seldom affectionate sons. With us the fortunes are much smaller, they are equally divided, and the rank that descends to the son is nothing.’
‘What regulates,’ I asked, ‘the descent of titles?’
‘It is ill regulated,’ said Beaumont. ‘Titles are now of such little value that scarcely anyone troubles himself to lay down rules about them.
‘In general, however, it is said, that all the sons of dukes and of marquises are counts. The sons of counts in some families all take the title of Count. There are, perhaps, thirty Beaumonts. Some call themselves marquises, some counts, some barons. I am, I believe, the only one of the family who has assumed no title. Alexis de Tocqueville took none, but his elder brother, during his father’s life, called himself vicomte and his younger brother baron. Probably Alexis ought then to have called himself chevalier, and, on his father’s death, baron. But, I repeat, the matter is too unimportant to be subject to any settled rules. Ancient descent is, with us, of great value, of far more than it is with you, but titles are worth nothing.’
Saturday, August 17.—We drove to the coast and ascended the lighthouse of Gatteville, 85 métres, or about 280 feet high. It stands in the middle of a coast fringed with frightful reefs, just enough under water to create no breakers, and a flat plain a couple of miles wide behind, so that the coast is not seen till you come close to it. In spite of many lighthouses and buoys, wrecks are frequent. A mysterious one occurred last February: the lighthouse watchman showed us the spot—a reef just below the lighthouse about two hundred yards from the shore.
It was at noon—there was a heavy sea, but not a gale. He saw a large ship steer full on the reef. She struck, fell over on one side till her yards were in the water, righted herself, fell over on the other, parted in the middle, and broke up. It did not take five minutes, but during those five minutes there was the appearance of a violent struggle on board, and several shots were fired. From the papers which were washed ashore it appeared that she was from New York, bound for Havre, with a large cargo and eighty-seven passengers, principally returning emigrants. No passenger escaped, and only two of the crew: one was an Italian speaking no French, from whom they could get nothing; the other was an Englishman from Cardiff, speaking French, but almost obstinately uncommunicative. He said that he was below when the ship struck, that the captain had locked the passengers in the cabin, and that he knew nothing of the causes which had led the ship to go out of her course to run on this rock.
The captain may have been drunk or mad. Or there may have been a mutiny on board, and those who got possession of the ship may have driven her on the coast, supposing that they could beach her, and ignorant of the interposed reefs, which, as I have said, are not betrayed by breakers.
Our informant accounted for the loss of all, except two persons, by the heavy sea, the sharp reefs, and the blows received by those who tried to swim from the floating cargo. The two who escaped were much bruised.
A man and woman were found tied to one another and tied to a spar. They seemed to have been killed by blows received from the rocks or from the floating wreck.
In the evening Ampère read to us the ‘Bourgeois Gentilhomme.’ His reading is equal to any acting. It kept us all, for the first two acts, which are the most comic, in one constant roar of laughter.
‘The modern nouveau riche,’ said Beaumont, ‘has little resemblance to M. Jourdain. He talks of his horses and his carriages, builds a great hotel, and buys pictures. I have a neighbour of this kind; he drives four-in-hand over the bad roads of La Sarthe, visits with one carriage one day, and another the next. His jockey stands behind his cabriolet in top-boots, and his coachman wears a grand fur coat in summer. His own clothes are always new, sometimes in the most accurate type of a groom, sometimes in that of a dandy. His talk is of steeple-chases.’
‘And does he get on?’ I asked.
‘Not in the least,’ answered Beaumont. ‘In England a nouveau riche can get into Parliament, or help somebody else to get in, and political power levels all distinctions. Here, wealth gives no power: nothing, indeed, but office gives power. The only great men in the provinces are the préfet, the sous-préfet, and the maire. The only great man in Paris is a minister or a general. Wealth, therefore, unless accompanied by the social talents, which those who have made their fortunes have seldom had the leisure or the opportunity to acquire, leads to nothing. The women, too, of the parvenus always drag them down. They seem to acquire the tournure of society less easily than the men. Bastide, when Minister, did pretty well, but his wife used to sign her invitations “Femme Bastide.”
‘Society,’ he continued, ‘under the Republic was animated. We had great interests to discuss, and strong feelings to express, but perhaps the excitement was too great. People seemed to be almost ashamed to amuse or to be amused when the welfare of France, her glory or her degradation, her freedom or her slavery, were, as the event has proved, at stake.’
‘I suppose,’ I said to Ampère, ‘that nothing has ever been better than the salon of Madame Récamier?’
‘We must distinguish,’ said Ampère. ‘As great painters have many manners, so Madame Récamier had many salons. When I first knew her, in 1820, her habitual dinner-party consisted of her father, her husband, Ballanche, and myself. Both her father, M. Bernard, and her husband were agreeable men. Ballanche was charming.’
‘You believe,’ I said, ‘that Bernard was her father?’
‘Certainly I do,’ he replied. ‘The suspicion that Récamier might be was founded chiefly on the strangeness of their conjugal relations. To this, I oppose her apparent love for M. Bernard, and I explain Récamier’s conduct by his tastes. They were coarse, though he was a man of good manners. He never spent his evenings at home. He went where he could find more license.
‘Perhaps the most agreeable period was at that time of Chateaubriand’s reign when he had ceased to exact a tête-à-tête, and Ballanche and I were admitted at four o’clock. The most illustrious of the partie carrée was Chateaubriand, the most amusing Ballanche. My merit was that I was the youngest. Later in the evening Madame Mohl, Miss Clarke as she then was, was a great resource. She is a charming mixture of French vivacity and English originality, but I think that the French element predominates. Chateaubriand, always subject to ennui, delighted in her. He has adopted in his books some of the words which she coined. Her French is as original as the character of her mind, very good, but more of the last than of the present century.’
‘Was Chateaubriand himself,’ I said, ‘agreeable?’
‘Delightful,’ said Ampère; ‘très-entrain, très-facile à vivre, beaucoup d’imagination et de connaissances.’
‘Facile à vivre?’ I said. ‘I thought that his vanity had been difficile et exigeante.’
‘As a public man,’ said Ampère, ‘yes; and to a certain degree in general society. But in intimate society, when he was no longer “posing,” he was charming. The charm, however, was rather intellectual than moral.
‘I remember his reading to us a part of his memoirs, in which he describes his early attachment to an English girl, his separation from her, and their meeting many years after when she asked his protection for her son. Miss Clarke was absorbed by the story. She wanted to know what became of the young man, what Chateaubriand had been able to do for him. Chateaubriand could answer only in generals: that he had done all that he could, that he had spoken to the Minister, and that he had no doubt that the young man got what he wanted. But it was evident that even if he had really attempted to do anything for the son of his old love, he had totally forgotten the result. I do not think that he was pleased at Miss Clarke’s attention and sympathy being diverted from himself. Later still in Madame Récamier’s life, when she had become blind, and Chateaubriand deaf, and Ballanche very infirm, the evenings were sad. I had to try to amuse persons who had become almost unamusable.’
‘How did Madame de Chateaubriand,’ I asked, ‘take the devotion of her husband to Madame Récamier?’
‘Philosophically,’ answered Ampère. ‘He would not have spent with her the hours that he passed at the Abbaye au bois. She was glad, probably, to know that they were not more dangerously employed.’
‘Could I read Chateaubriand?’ I asked.
‘I doubt it,’ said Ampère. ‘His taste is not English.’
‘I have read,’ I said, ‘and liked, his narrative of the manner in which he forced on the Spanish war of 1822. I thought it well written.’
‘It is, perhaps,’ said Ampère, ‘the best thing which he has written, as the intervention to restore Ferdinand, which he effected in spite of almost everybody, was perhaps the most important passage in his political life.
‘There is something revolting in an interference to crush the liberties of a foreign nation. But the expedition tended to maintain the Bourbons on the French throne, and, according to Chateaubriand’s ideas, it was more important to support the principle of legitimacy than that of liberty. He expected, too, sillily enough, that Ferdinand would give a Constitution. It is certain, that, bad as the effects of that expedition were, Chateaubriand was always proud of it.’
‘What has Ballanche written?’ I asked.
‘A dozen volumes,’ he answered. ‘Poetry, metaphysics, on all sorts of subjects, with pages of remarkable vigour and finesse, containing some of the best writing in the language, but too unequal and too desultory to be worth going through.’
‘How wonderfully extensive,’ I said, ‘is French literature! Here is a voluminous author, some of whose writings, you say, are among the best in the French language, yet his name, at least as an author, is scarcely known. He shines only by reflected light, and will live only because he attached himself to a remarkable man and to a remarkable woman.’
‘French literature,’ said Ampère, ‘is extensive, but yet inferior to yours. If I were forced to select a single literature and to read nothing else, I would take the English. In one of the most important departments, the only one which cannot be re-produced by translation—poetry—you beat us hollow. We are great only in the drama, and even there you are perhaps our superiors. We have no short poems comparable to the “Allegro” or to the “Penseroso,” or to the “Country Churchyard.” ’
‘Tocqueville,’ I said, ‘told me that he did not think that he could could now read Lamartine.’
‘Tocqueville,’ said Ampère, ‘could taste, like every man of genius, the very finest poetry, but he was not a lover of poetry. He could not read a hundred bad lines and think himself repaid by finding mixed with them ten good ones.’
‘Ingres,’ said Beaumont, ‘perhaps our greatest living painter, is one of the clever cultivated men who do not read. Somebody put the “Misanthrope” into his hands, “It is wonderfully clever,” he said, when he returned it; “how odd it is that it should be so totally unknown.” ’
‘Let us read it to-night,’ I said.
‘By all means,’ said Madame de Tocqueville; ‘though we know it by heart it will be new when read by M. Ampère.’ Accordingly Ampère read it to us after dinner.
‘The tradition of the stage,’ he said, ‘is that Célimène was Molière’s wife.’
‘She is made too young,’ said Minnie. ‘A girl of twenty has not her wit, or her knowledge of the world.’
‘The change of a word,’ said Ampère, ‘in two or three places would alter that. The feeblest characters are as usual the good ones. Philinte and Eliante.
‘Alceste is a grand mixture, perhaps the only one on the French stage, of the comic and the tragic; for in many of the scenes he rises far above comedy. His love is real impetuous passion. Talma delighted in playing him.’
‘The desert,’ I said, ‘into which he retires, was, I suppose, a distant country-house. Just such a place as Tocqueville.’
‘As Tocqueville,’ said Beaumont, ‘fifty years ago, without roads, ten days’ journey from Paris, and depending for society on Valognes.’
‘As Tocqueville,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘when my mother-in-law first married. She spent in it a month and could never be induced to see it again.’
‘Whom,’ I asked, ‘did Célimène marry?’
‘Of course,’ said Ampère, ‘Alceste. Probably five years afterwards. By that time he must have got tired of his desert and she of her coquetry.’
‘We know,’ I said, ‘that Molière was always in love with his wife, notwithstanding her légèreté. What makes me think the tradition that Célimène was Mademoiselle1 Molière true, is that Molière was certainly in love with Célimène. She is made as engaging as possible, and her worst faults do not rise above foibles. Her satire is good-natured. Arsinoé is her foil, introduced to show what real evil-speaking is.’
‘All the women,’ said Ampère, ‘are in love with Alceste, and they care about no one else. Célimène’s satire of the others is scarcely good-natured. It is clear, at least, that they did not think so.’
‘If Célimène,’ said Minnie, ‘became Madame Alceste, he probably made her life a burthen with his jealousy.’
‘Of course he was jealous,’ said Madame de Beaumont, ‘for he was violently in love. There can scarcely be violent love without jealousy.’
‘At least,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘till people are married.
‘If a lover is cool enough to be without jealousy, he ought to pretend it.’
Sunday, August 18.—After breakfast when the ladies were gone to church, I talked over with Ampère and Beaumont Tocqueville’s political career.
‘Why,’ I asked, ‘did he refuse the support of M. Molé in 1835? Why would he never take office under Louis Philippe? Why did he associate himself with the Gauche whom he despised, and oppose the Droit with whom he sympathised? Is the answer given by M. Guizot to a friend of mine who asked a nearly similar question, “Parce qu’il voulait être où je suis,” the true one?’
‘The answers to your first question,’ said Beaumont, are two. In 1835 Tocqueville was young and inexperienced. Like most young politicians, he thought that he ought to be an independent member, and to vote, on every occasion, according to his conscience, untrammelled by party connections. He afterwards found his mistake.
‘And, secondly, if he had chosen to submit to a leader, it would not have been Molé.
‘Molé represented a principle to which Guizot was then vehemently opposed, though he was afterwards its incarnation—the subservience of the Ministry and of the Parliament to the King. In that house of 450 members, there were 220 placemen; 200 were the slaves of the King. They received from him their orders; from time to time, in obedience to those orders, they even opposed his Ministers.
‘This, however, seldom occurred, for the King contrived always to have a devoted majority in his Cabinet.
‘It was this that drove the Duc de Broglie from the Government and prevented his ever resuming office.
‘ “I could not bear,” he said to me, “to hear Sebastiani repeat, in every council and on every occasion, ‘Ce que le Roi vient de dire est parfaitement juste.’ ” The only Ministers that ventured to have an opinion of their own were those of the 12th of May 1839, of which Dufaure, Villemain, and Passy were members, and that of the 1st of March 1840, of which Thiers was the leader; and Tocqueville supported them both.
‘When Guizot, who had maintained the principle of Ministerial and Parliamentary, in opposition to that of Monarchical Governments, with unequalled eloquence, vigour, and I may add violence, suddenly turned round and became the most servile member of the King’s servile majority, Tocqueville fell back into opposition.
‘In general it is difficult to act with an opposition systematically and, at the same time, honestly. For the measures proposed by a Government are, for the most part, good. But, during the latter part of Louis Philippe’s reign, it was easy, for the Government proposed merely to do nothing—either abroad or at home. I do not complain of the essence of M. Guizot’s foreign policy, though there was a want of dignity in its forms.
‘There was nothing useful to be done, and, under such circumstances, all action would have been mischievous.
‘But at home every thing was to be done. Our code required to be amended, our commerce and our industry, and our agriculture required to be freed, our municipal and commercial institutions were to be created, our taxation was to be revised, and above all, our parliamentary system—under which, out of 36,000,000 of French, only 200,000 had votes, under which the Deputies bought a majority of the 200,000 electors, and the King bought a majority of the 450 deputies—required absolute reconstruction.
‘Louis Philippe would allow nothing to be done. If he could have prevented it we should not have had a railroad. He would not allow the most important of all, that to Marseilles, to be finished. He would not allow our monstrous centralisation, or our monstrous protective system, to be touched. The owners of forests were permitted to deprive us of cheap fuel, the owners of forges of cheap iron, the owners of factories of cheap clothing.
‘In some of this stupid inaction Guizot supported him conscientiously, for, like Thiers, he is ignorant of the first principles of political economy, but he knows too much the philosophy of Government not to have felt, on every other point, that the King was wrong.
‘If he supposed that Tocqueville wished to be in his place, on the conditions on which he held office, he was utterly mistaken.
‘Tocqueville was ambitious; he wished for power. So did I. We would gladly have been real Ministers, but nothing would have tempted us to be the slaves of the pensée immuable, or to sit in a Cabinet in which we were constantly out-voted, or to defend, as Guizot had to do in the Chamber, conduct which we had disapproved in the Council.
‘You ask why Tocqueville joined the Gauche whom he despised, against the Droit with whom he sympathised.?
‘He voted with the Gauche only where he thought their votes right. Where he thought them wrong, as, for instance, in all that respected Algeria, he left them. They would have abandoned the country, and, when that could not be obtained, they tried to prevent the creation of the port.
‘Very early, however, in his parliamentary life, he had found that an independent member—a member who supporting no party is supported by no party—is useless. He allowed himself therefore to be considered a member of the Gauche; but I never could persuade him to be tolerably civil to them. Once, after I had been abusing him for his coldness to them, he shook hands with Romorantin, then looked towards me for my applause, but I doubt whether he ever shook hands with him again. In fact almost his only point of contact with them was their disapprobation of the inactivity of Louis Philippe. Many of them were Bonapartists like Abbatucci and Romorantin. Some were Socialists, some were Republicans; the majority of them wished to overthrow the Monarchy, and the minority looked forward with indifference to its fall.
‘They hated him as much as he did them, much more indeed, for his mind was not formed for hatred. They excluded him from almost all committees.’
‘Would it not have been wise in him,’ I asked, ‘to retire from the Chamber during the King’s life, or at least until it contained a party with whom he could cordially act?’
‘Perhaps,’ said Beaumont, ‘that would have been the wisest course for him—and indeed for me. I entered the Chamber reluctantly. All my family were convinced that a political man not in the Chamber was nothing. So I let myself be persuaded. Tocqueville required no persuasion, he was anxious to get in, and when in it was difficult to persuade oneself to go out. We always hoped for a change. The King might die, or he might be forced—as he had been forced before—to submit to a liberal Ministry which might have been a temporary cure, or even to a Parliamentary reform which might have been a complete cure. Duchâtel, who is a better politician than Guizot, was superseding him in the confidence of the King and of the Chamber.
‘In fact, the liberal Ministry and Parliamentary reform did come at last, though not until it was too late to save the Monarchy.
‘If Tocqueville had retired in disgust from the Chamber of Deputies, he might not have been a member of the Constituent, or of the Legislative Assembly. This would have been a misfortune—though the shortness of the duration of the first, and the hostility of the President during the second, and also the state of his health, prevented his influencing the destinies of the Republic as much as his friends expected him to do, and indeed as he expected himself.’
‘I have often,’ I said, ‘wondered how you and Tocqueville, and the other eminent men who composed the committee for preparing the Constitution, could have made one incapable of duration, and also incapable of change.’
‘What,’ he asked, ‘are the principal faults which you find in the Constitution?’
‘First,’ I said, ‘that you gave to your President absolute authority over the army, the whole patronage of the most centralised and the most place-hunting country in the world, so that there was not one of your population of 36,000,000 whose interests he could not seriously affect; and, having thus armed him with irresistible power, you gave him the strongest possible motives to employ it against the Constitution by turning him out at the end of his four years, incapable of reelection, unpensioned and unprovided for, so that he must have gone from the Élysée Bourbon to a debtor’s prison.
‘Next, that, intending your President to be the subordinate Minister of the Assembly, you gave him the same origin, and enabled him to say, “I represent the people as much as you do, indeed much more. They all voted for me, only a fraction of them voted for any one of you.” Then that origin was the very worst that could possibly be selected, the votes of the uneducated multitude; you must have foreseen that they would give you a demagogue or a charlatan. The absence of a second Chamber, and the absence of a power of dissolution, are minor faults, but still serious ones. When the President and the Assembly differed, they were shut up together to fight it out without an umpire.’
‘That we gave the President too much power,’ said Beaumont, ‘the event has proved. But I do not see how, in the existing state of feeling in France, we could have given him less. The French have no self-reliance. They depend for everything on their administrators. The first revolution and the first empire destroyed all their local authorities and also their aristocracy. Local authorities may be gradually re-created, and an aristocracy may gradually arise, but till these things have been done the Executive must be strong.
‘If he had been re-eligible, our first President would virtually have been President for life. Having decided that his office should be temporary, we were forced to forbid his immediate re-election.
‘With respect to his being left unprovided for, no man who had filled the office decently would have been refused an ample provision on quitting it. As for this man, no provision that we could have made for him, if we had given him three or four millions a year, would have induced him to give up what he considered a throne which was his by descent. He swore to the Constitution with an idée fixe to destroy it. He attempted to do so on the 29th of January 1849, not two months after his election.
‘I agree with you that the fault of the Constitution was that it allowed the President to be chosen by universal suffrage; and that the fault of the people was that they elected a pretender to the throne, whose ambition, rashness, and faithlessness had been proved.
‘No new Constitution can work if the Executive conspires against it. But deliberating and acting in the midst of émeutes, with a Chamber and a population divided into half a dozen hostile factions, the two Royalist parties hating one another, the Bonapartists bent on destroying all freedom, and the Socialists all individual property, what could we do? My wish and Tocqueville’s was to give the election to the Chamber. We found that out of 650 members we could not hope that our proposition would be supported by more than 200. You think that we ought to have proposed two Chambers. The great use of two Chambers is to strengthen the Executive by enabling it to play one against the other; but we felt that our Executive was dangerously strong, and we believed, I think truly, that a single Chamber would resist him better than two could do. The provision which required more than a bare majority for the revision of the Constitution was one of those which we borrowed from America. It had worked well there. In the general instability we wished to have one anchor, one mooring ring fixed. We did not choose that the whole framework of our Government should be capable of being suddenly destroyed by a majority of one, in a moment of excitement and perhaps by a parliamentary surprise.
‘With respect to your complaint that, there being no power of dissolution, there was no means of taking the opinion of the people, the answer is, that to give the President power of dissolution would have been to invite him to a coup d’état. With no Chamber to watch him, he would have been omnipotent.
‘I agree with you that the Constitution was a detestable one. But even now, looking back to the times, and to the conditions under which we made it, I do not think that it was in our power to make a good one.’
‘Tocqueville,’ I said, ‘told me that Cormenin was your Solon, that he brought a bit of constitution to you every morning, and that it was usually adopted.’1
‘Tocqueville’s memory,’ answered Beaumont, ‘deceived him. Cormenin was our president. It is true that he brought a bit of constitution every morning. But it scarcely ever was adopted or capable of being adopted. It was in general bad in itself, or certain to be rejected by the Assembly. He wished to make the President a puppet. But he exercised over us a mischievous influence. He tried to revenge himself for our refusal of all his proposals by rendering our deliberations fruitless. And as the power of a president over a deliberative body is great, he often succeeded.
‘Many of our members were unaccustomed to public business and lost their tempers or their courage when opposed. The Abbé Lamennais proposed a double election of the president. But of thirty members, only four, among whom were Tocqueville and I, supported him. He left the committee and never returned to it. Tocqueville and I were anxious to introduce double election everywhere. It is the best palliative of universal suffrage.’
‘The double election,’ I said, ‘of the American President is nugatory. Every elector is chosen under a pledge to nominate a specified candidate.’
‘That is true,’ said Beaumont, ‘as to the President, but not as to the other functionaries thus elected. The senators chosen by double election are far superior to the representatives chosen by direct voting.
‘We proposed, too, to begin by establishing municipal institutions. We were utterly defeated. The love of centralisation is almost inherent in French politicians. They see the evil of local government—its stupidity, its corruption, its jobbing. They see the convenience of centralisation—the ease with which a centralised administration works. Feelings which are really democratic have reached those who fancy themselves aristocrats. We had scarcely a supporter.
‘We should perhaps have a few now, when experience has shown that centralisation is still more useful to an usurper than it is to a regular Government.’
August 18.—We drove in the afternoon to the coast, and sat in the shade of the little ricks of sea-weed, gazing on an open sea as blue as the Mediterranean.
We talked of America.
‘I can understand,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘the indignation of the North against you. It is, of course, excessive, but they had a right to expect you to be on their side in an anti-slavery war.’
‘They had no right,’ I said, ‘to expect from our Government anything but absolute neutrality.’
‘But you need not,’ she replied, ‘have been so eager to put the South on the footing of belligerents.’
‘On what other footing,’ I asked, ‘could we put them? On what other footing does the North put them? Have they ventured, or will they venture, to hang a single seceder?’
‘At least,’ she said, ‘you might have expressed more sympathy with the North?’
‘I think,’ I answered, ‘that we have expressed as much sympathy as it was possible to feel. We deplore the combat, we hold the South responsible for it, we think their capricious separation one of the most foolish and one of the most wicked acts that have ever been committed; we hope that the North will beat them, and we should bitterly regret their forcing themselves back into the Union on terms making slavery worse, if possible, than it is now. We wish the contest to end as quickly as possible: but we do not think that it can end by the North subjugating the Southerns and forcing them to be its subjects.
‘The best termination to which we look forward as possible, is that the North should beat the South, and then dictate its own terms of separation.
‘If they wish to go farther than this, if they wish us to love or to admire our Northern cousins in their political capacity, they wish for what is impossible.
‘We cannot forget that the Abolitionists have been always a small and discredited party; that the Cuba slave trade is mainly carried on from New York; that they have neglected the obligations formally entered into by them with us to co-operate in the suppression of the slave trade; that they have pertinaciously refused to allow us even to inquire into the right of slavers to use the American flag; that it is the capital of the North which feeds the slavery of the South; that the first act of the North, as soon as the secession of the South from Congress allowed it to do what it liked, was to enact a selfish protective tariff; that their treatment of us, from the time that they have felt strong enough to insult us, has been one unvaried series of threats, bullying, and injury; that they have refused to submit their claims on us to arbitration, driven out our ambassadors, seized by force on disputed territory, and threatened war on every pretence.’
‘It is true,’ said Beaumont, ‘that during the last twenty years American diplomacy has not been such as to inspire affection or respect. But you must recollect that during all that time America has been governed by the South.’
‘It is true,’ I said, ‘that the presidents have generally been Southerns, but I am not aware that the North has ever disavowed their treatment of us. This is certain, that throughout the Union, insolence to England has been an American statesman’s road to popularity.’
Monday, August 19.—We walked in the afternoon over the commons overlooking the sea, and among the shady lanes of this well-wooded country.
We came on a group of about twelve or thirteen reapers taking their evening meal of enormous loaves of brown bread, basins of butter, and kegs of cider.
M. Roussell, the farmer in whose service they were, was sitting among them. He was an old friend and constituent of Tocqueville, and for thirty years was Maire of Tocqueville. He has recently resigned. He rose and walked with us to his house.
‘I was required,’ he said, ‘to support the prefect’s candidate for the Conseil général. No such proposition was ever made to me before. I could not submit to it. The prefect has been unusually busy of late. The schoolmaster has been required to send in a list of the peasants whose children, on the plea of poverty, receive gratuitous education. The children of those who do not vote with the prefect are to have it no longer.’
I asked what were the wages of labour.
‘Three francs and half a day,’ he said, ‘during the harvest, with food—which includes cider. In ordinary times one franc a day with food, or a franc and a half without food.’
‘It seems then,’ I said, ‘that you can feed a man for half a franc a day?’
‘He can feed himself,’ said M. Roussell, ‘for that, but I cannot, or for double that money.’
The day labourer is generally hired only for one day. A new bargain is made every day.
The house was not uncomfortable, but very untidy. There are no ricks, everything is stored in large barns, where it is safe from weather, but terribly exposed to vermin.
A bright-complexioned servant-girl was in the kitchen preparing an enormous bowl of soup, of which bread, potatoes, and onions were the chief solid ingredients.
‘Roussell,’ said Beaumont, ‘is superior to his class. In general they are bad politicians. It is seldom difficult to get their votes for the nominee of the prefect. They dislike to vote for anyone whom they know, especially if he be a gentleman, or be supported by the gentry. Such a candidate excites their democratic envy and suspicion. But the prefect is an abstraction. They have never seen him, they have seldom heard of his name or of that of his candidate, and therefore they vote for him.
‘Lately, however, in some of my communes, the peasants have adopted a new practice, that of electing peasants. I suspect that the Government is not displeased.
‘The presence of such members will throw discredit on the Conseils généraux, and, if they get there, on the Corps législatif, much to the pleasure of our democratic master, and they will be easily bribed or frightened. Besides which, the fifteen francs a day will be a fortune to them, and they will be terrified by the threat of a dissolution. I do not think that even yet we have seen the worst of universal suffrage.’
‘What influence,’ I asked, ‘have the priests?’
‘In some parts of France,’ said Beaumont, ‘where the people are religious, as is the case here, much. Not much in the north-east, where there is little religion; and in the towns, where there is generally no religion, their patronage of a candidate would ruin him. I believe that nothing has so much contributed to Louis Napoleon’s popularity with the ouvriers as his quarrel with the Pope. You may infer the feelings of the lower classes in Paris from his cousin’s conduct.’
‘I study Prince Napoleon,’ said Ampère, ‘with interest, for I believe that he will be the successor.’
‘If Louis Napoleon,’ I said, ‘were to be shot tomorrow, would not the little prince be proclaimed?’
‘Probably,’ said Ampère,’ ‘but with Jérôme for regent, and I doubt whether the regency would end by the little Napoleon IV. assuming the sceptre.
‘Louis Napoleon himself does not expect it. He often says that, in France, it is more than two hundred years since a sovereign has been succeeded by his son.
‘On the whole,’ continued Ampère, ‘I had rather have Jérôme than Louis Napoleon. He has more talent and less prudence. He would bring on the crisis sooner.
‘On the 31st of October, 1849,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘I was in Louis Napoleon’s company, and he mentioned some matter on which he wished to know my husband’s opinion. I could not give it. “It does not much signify,” he answered, “for as I see M. de Tocqueville every day, I will talk to him about it myself.” At that very time, the ordonnance dismissing M. de Tocqueville had been signed, and Louis Napoleon knew that he would probably never see him again.’
‘I do not,’ said Ampère, ‘give up the chance of a republic. I do not wish for one. It must be a very bad constitutional monarchy which I should not prefer to the best republic. My democratic illusions are gone. France and America have dispelled them: but it must be a very bad republic which I should not prefer to the best despotism. A republic is like a fever, violent and frightful, but not necessarily productive of organic mischief. A despotism is a consumption: it degrades and weakens, and perverts all the vital functions.
‘What is there now in France worth living for? I find people proud of our Italian campaign. Why should the French be proud that their master’s soldiers have been successful in a war as to which they were not consulted; which, in fact, they disapproved, which was not made for their benefit, which was the most glaring proof of their servility and degradation? We knew before that our troops were better than the Austrians. What have we gained by the additional example of their superiority?
‘I fear,’ I said, ‘that a republic, at least such a republic as you are likely to have, would begin by some gross economical enormities—by the droit au travail, by the impôt progressif sur la fortune présumée, by a paper currency made a legal tender without limitation of its amount.’
‘The last republic,’ said Ampère, ‘did some of these things, but very timidly and moderately. It gave to its paper a forced currency, but was so cautious in its issue, that it was not depreciated. It created the ateliers nationaux, but it soon dissolved them, though at the expense of a civil war. Its worst fault was more political than economical: it was the 45 centimes, that is to say, the sudden increase by 45 per cent. of the direct taxes. It never recovered that blow. Of all its acts it is the one which is best recollected. The Provisional Government is known in the provinces as “ces gredins des quarante-cinq centimes.” The business of a revolutionary government is to be popular. It ought to reduce taxation, meet its expenditure by loans, abolish octrois and prohibitions, and defer taxation until it has lasted long enough to be submitted to as a fait accompli.’
‘I fear,’ said Madame de Tocqueville, ‘that our working classes are in a much worse frame of mind than they were in 1848. Socialist opinions—the doctrine that the profits of capitalists are so much taken fraudulently or oppressively from the wages of labourers, and that it is unjust that one man should have more of the means of happiness than another—are extending every day. The workpeople believe that the rich are their enemies and that the Emperor is their friend, and that he will join them in an attempt to get their fair share, that is, an equal share, of the property of the country—and I am not sure that they are mistaken.’
‘Nor am I,’ said Beaumont. ‘Celui-ci fully sympathises with their feelings, and I do not think that he has intelligence enough to see the absurdity of their theories.’
‘You do not deny him,’ I said, ‘intelligence?’
‘Not,’ said Beaumont, ‘for some purposes, and to some extent, practical intelligence. His ends are bad, but he is often skilful in inventing and pertinacious in employing means for effecting those bad ends. But I deny him theoretic intelligence. I do not think that he has comprehension or patience to work out, or even to follow, a long train of reasoning; such a train as that by which economical errors and fallacies are detected.’
‘Are there strikes,’ I asked, ‘among your workmen?’
‘They are beginning,’ said Beaumont. ‘We have had one near us, and the authorities were afraid to interfere.’
‘I suppose,’ I said, ‘that they are illegal?’
‘They are illegal,’ he answered, ‘and I think that they ought to be so. They are always oppressive and tyrannical. The workman who does not join in a strike is made miserable. They are generally mischievous to the combined workmen themselves, and always to those of other trades. Your toleration of them appears to me one of the worst symptoms of your political state of health. It shows among your public men an ignorance or a cowardice, or a desire of ill-earned popularity, which is generally a precursor of a democratic revolution.’
‘It is certain,’ said Ampère, ‘that the masters are becoming afraid of their workmen. Péreire brings his from their residences to the Barrière Malesherbes in carriages. You are not actually insulted in the streets of Paris, but you are treated with rude neglect. A fiacre likes to splash you, a paveur to scatter you with mud. Louis Napoleon began with Chauvinism. He excited all the bad international passions of the multitude. He has now taken up Sansculotteism. Repulsed with scorn and disgust by the rich and the educated, he has thrown himself on the poor and ignorant. The passions with which he likes to work are envy, malignity, and rapacity.
‘I do not believe that he feels them. He is what is called a good-natured man. That is to say, he likes to please everyone that he sees. But his selfishness is indescribable.
‘No public interest stands in the way of his slightest caprice. He often puts me in mind of Nero. With the same indifference to the welfare of others with which Nero amused himself by burning down Rome, he is amusing himself by pulling down Paris.’
N. W. Senior.
[We left Tocqueville on the following day with great regret. The same party was never to meet again—the only survivors are Madame de Beaumont and myself and the Beaumonts’ son, then a very intelligent boy of ten years old.
One day my father and I visited the little green churchyard on a cliff near the sea where Tocqueville is buried. The tomb is a plain grey stone slab—on it a cross is cut in bas-relief, with these words only:—
ICI REPOSE ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE. NÉ 24 FÉVRIER 1805. MORT 16 AVRIL 1859.
My father laid a wreath of immortelles on the tomb.—Ed.]
See next page.—Ed.
The Jewish child who was taken away from his parents and converted.—Ed.
This incident is described in a little book published last year, the Memoirs of Madame de Montaign.—Ed.
M. de La Fayette was Madame de Beaumont’s grandfather.—Ed.
The château of M. de La Fayette.—Ed.
Under the ancien régime even the married actresses were called Mademoiselle.—Ed.
See Vol. I. p. 212.—Ed.