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Intellectual Inferiority of the Age.
impelling you to no action. I like vivid emotions, but I seek them in real life, in society, in travelling, in business, but above all in political business. There is no happiness comparable to political success, when your own excitement is justified by the magnitude of the questions at issue, and is doubled and redoubled by the sympathy of your supporters. Having enjoyed that, I am ashamed of being excited by the visionary sorrows of heroes and heroines.
I had a friend,' he continued, 'a Benedictine, who is now ninety-seven. He was, therefore, about thirteen when Louis XVI. began to reign. He is a man of talents and knowledge, has always lived in the world, has attended to all that he has seen and heard, and is still unimpaired in mind, and so strong in body that when I leave him he goes down to embrace me, after the fashion of the eighteenth century, at the bottom of his staircase.'
‘And what effect, I asked, “has the contemplation of seventy years of revolution produced in him ? Does he look back, like Talleyrand, to the ancien régime as a golden age ?'
He admits,' said Tocqueville, “the material superiority of our own age, but he believes that, intellectually and morally, we are far inferior to our grandfathers. And I agree with him. Those seventy years of revolution have destroyed our courage, our hopefulness, our self-reliance, our public spirit, and, as respects by far the majority of the higher classes, our passions, except the vulgarest and most selfish ones-vanity and covetousness. Even ambition seems extinct. The men who seek power, seek it not for itself, not as the means of doing good to their country, but as a means of getting money and flatterers.
It is remarkable,' he continued, that women whose influence is generally greatest under despotisms, have none now. They have lost it, partly in consequence of the gross vulgarity of our dominant passions, and partly from their own nullity. They are like London houses, all built and furnished on exactly the same model, and that a most uninteresting one. Whether a girl is bred up at home or in a convent, she has the same masters, gets a smattering of the same accomplishments, reads the same dull books, and contributes to society the same little contingent of superficial information.
When a young lady comes out I know beforehand how her mother and her aunts will describe her. a les goûts simples. Elle est pieuse. Elle aime la campagne. Elle aime la lecture.
lle n'aime pas le bal. Elle n'aime pas le monde, elle y ira seulement pour plaire à sa mère." I try sometimes to escape from these generalities, but there is nothing behind them.'
• And how long,' I asked, 'does this simple, pious, retiring character last?'
• Till the orange flowers of her wedding chaplet are withered,' he answered. “In three months she goes to the messe d'une heure.'
• What is the “messe d'une heure ?”' I asked.
'A priest,' he answered, 'must celebrate Mass fasting ; and in strictness ought to do so before noon. But to accommodate fashionable ladies who cannot rise by noon,
« Elle 1858.]
Education of Women.
priests are found who will starve all the morning, and say Mass in the afternoon. It is an irregular proceeding, though winked at by the ecclesiastical authorities. Still to attend it is rather discreditable; it is a middle term between the highly meritorious practice of going to early Mass, and the scandalous one of never going at all.'
What was the education,' I asked, "of women under the ancien régime?'
'The convent,' he answered.
• It must have been better,' I said, 'than the present education, since the women of that time were superior to ours.'
It was so far better,' he answered, 'that it did no harm. A girl at that time was taught nothing. She came from the convent a sheet of white paper. Now her mind is a paper scribbled over with trash. The women of that time were thrown into a world far superior to ours, and with the sagacity, curiosity, and flexibility of French women, caught knowledge and tact and expression from the men.
'I knew well,' he continued, Madame Récamier. Few traces of her former beauty then remained, but we were all her lovers and her slaves. The talent, labour, and skill which she wasted in her salon, would have gained and governed an empire. She was virtuous, if it be virtuous to persuade every one of a dozen men that you wish to favour him, though some circumstance always occurs to prevent your doing so. Every friend thought himself preferred. She governed us by little
distinctions, by letting one man come five minutes before the others, or stay five minutes after. Just as Louis XIV. raised one courtier to the seventh heaven by giving him the bougeoir, and another by leaning on his arm, or taking his shirt from him.
She said little, but knew what each man's fort was, and placed from time to time a mot which led him to it. If anything were peculiarly well said, her face brightened. You saw that her attention was always active and always intelligent.
‘And yet I doubt whether she really enjoyed conversation. Tenir salon was to her a game, which she played well, and almost always successfully, but she must sometimes have been exhausted by the effort. Her salon was perhaps pleasanter to us than it was to herself.
One of the last,' he continued, of that class of potentates was the Duchesse de Dino.
Her early married life was active and brilliant, but not intellectually. It was not till about forty, when she had exhausted other excitements, that she took to bel esprit. But she performed her part as if she had been bred to it.'
This was our last conversation. I left Paris the next day, and we never met again.
Tocqueville, June 30, 1858. I must complain a little of your silence, my dear Senior. I hear that before you left Paris you suffered a
great deal from your throat. Is it true, or have you recovered ?
I have not either much to boast of on the score of health since we parted. The illness which I had in Paris became still worse, and when I got a little better in that way I had a violent bronchial attack. began to spit blood, which had not happened to me for many years, and I am still almost reduced to silence. Still I am beginning to mend, and I hope, please God, to be able to speak to my friends when they visit me.
You are aware that I wished to induce my wife to accompany me to the South; but the length of the journey, the difficulties of transport, the heat, and indeed the state of my health, were reasons which she brought forward with so much force that we have remained here, and shall not leave till the end of September. We still hope that you and Miss Senior will join us the first week in that month. We shall be very happy to have you both with us. This is no compliment ... I hope soon to be able to enjoy more frequent communication with my English friends. A steamboat is about to run from Cherbourg to the coast of England. We shall then be able to visit each other as neighbours (voisiner).
Between ourselves, I do not think that the events in England during the last six months are of a nature to raise the reputation of Parliamentary Government in the rest of the world. A bientôt !
A. DE TOCQUEVILLE.