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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 role, 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.
Conversation in France.
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
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 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.'