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Violence and Corruption.
I could point out to you several communes governed by the prefect's nominees who cannot read. In time, of course, tyranny will produce corruption; but it has not yet prevailed extensively in the country, and the cause which now tends to depopularise him there is arbitrary violence exercised against those whom his agents suppose to be their enemies.
On the other hand, what is ruining him in Paris is not violence, but corruption.
*The French are not like the Americans; they have no sympathy with smartness. Nothing so much excites their disgust as friponnerie. The main cause that overthrew Louis Philippe was the belief that he and his were fripons—that the representatives bought the electors, that the Minister bought the representatives, and that the King bought the Minister.
Now, no corruption that ever prevailed in the worst periods of Louis XV., nothing that was done by La Pompadour or the Du Barry resembles what is going on now. Duchâtel, whose organs are not over-acute, tells me that he shudders at what is forced on his notice. The perfect absence of publicity, the silence of the press and of the tribune, and even of the bar—for no speeches, except on the most trivial subjects, are allowed to be reported-give full room for conversational exaggeration. Bad as things are, they are made still worse. Now this we cannot bear. It hurts our strongest passion-our vanity. We feel that we are exploités by Persigny, Fould, and Abbattucci, and a swarm of other adventurers. The injury might be tolerated, but not the disgrace.
Every Government in France has a tendency to become unpopular as it continues. If you were to go down into the street, and inquire into the politics of the first hundred persons whom you met, you would find some Socialists, some Republicans, some Orleanists, &c., but you would find no Louis Napoleonists. Not a voice would utter his name without some expression of contempt or detestation, but principally of contempt.
'If then things take their course—if no accident, such as a fever or a pistol-shot, cut him off-public indignation will spread from Paris to the country, his unpopularity will extend from the people to the army, and then the first street riot will be enough to overthrow him.'
And what power,' I said, 'will start up in his place?'
'I trust,' answered Tocqueville, 'that the reins will be seized by the Senate. Those who have accepted seats in it excuse themselves by saying, “A time may come when we shall be wanted.” Probably the Corps Législatif will join them; and it seems to me clear that the course which such bodies will take must be the proclamation of Henri V.'
* But what,' I said, 'would be the consequences of the pistol-shot or the fever?'
* The immediate consequence,' answered Tocqueville, would be the installation of his successor. Jérôme would go to the Tuileries as easily as Charles X. did, but it would precipitate the end. We might bear Louis Napoleon for four or five years, or Jérôme for four or five months.'
• It has been thought possible,' I said, 'that in the
Effect of a successful War.
event of the Jérôme dynasty being overset by a military revolution, it might be followed by a military usurpation; that Nero might be succeeded by Galba.'
'That,' said Tocqueville, ‘is one of the few things which I hold to be impossible. Nero may be followed by another attempt at a Republic, but if any individual is to succeed him it must be a prince. Mere personal distinction, at least such as is within the bounds of real possibility, will not give the sceptre of France. It will be seized by no one who cannot pretend to an hereditary claim.
What I fear, continued Tocqueville, “is that when this man feels the ground crumbling under him, he will try the resource of war. It will be a most dangerous experiment. Defeat, or even the alternation of success and failure, which is the ordinary course of war, would be fatal to him ; but brilliant success might, as I have said before, establish him. It would be playing double or quits. He is by nature a gambler. His self-confidence, his reliance, not only on himself, but on his fortune, exceeds even that of his uncle. He believes himself to have a great military genius. He certainly planned war a year ago. I do not believe that he has abandoned it now, though the general feeling of the country forces him to suspend it. That feeling, however, he might overcome; he might so contrive as to appear to be forced into hostilities; and such is the intoxicating effect of military glory, that the Government which would give us that would be pardoned, whatever were its defects or its crimes.
It is your business, and that of Belgium, to put yourselves into such a state of defence as to force him to make his spring on Italy. There he can do you little harm. But to us Frenchmen the consequences of war must be calamitous. If we fail, they are national loss and humiliation. If we succeed, they are slavery.'
Of course,' I said, 'the corruption that infects the civil service must in time extend to the army, and make it less fit for service.'
Of course it must,' answered Tocqueville. “It will extend still sooner to the navy. The matériel of a force is more easily injured by jobbing than the personnel. And in the navy the matériel is the principal.
Our naval strength has never been in proportion to our naval expenditure, and is likely to be less and less so every year, at least during every year of the règne des fripons.'
Tuesday, May 24.-I breakfasted with Sir Henry Ellis and then went to Tocqueville's.
I found there an elderly man, who did not remain long.
When he went, Tocqueville said, “That is one of our provincial prefects. He has been describing to us the state of public feeling in the South. Contempt for the present Government, he tells us, is spreading there from its headquarters, Paris.
'If the Corps Législatif is dissolved, he expects the Opposition to obtain a majority in the new House.
* This,' continued Tocqueville, is a state of things with which Louis Napoleon is not fit to cope. Opposition makes him furious, particularly Parliamentary oppo
Effect of a Plébiscite.
sition. His first impulse will be to go a step further in imitation of his uncle, and abolish the Corps Législatif, as Napoleon did the Tribunat.
• But nearly half a century of Parliamentary life has made the French of 1853 as different from those of 1803 as the nephew is from his uncle.
• He will scarcely risk another coup d'état; and the only legal mode of abolishing, or even modifying, the Corps Législatif is by a plébiscite submitted by ballot to universal suffrage.
Will he venture on this ? And if he do venture, will he succeed? If he fail, will he not sink into a constitutional sovereign, controlled by an Assembly far more unmanageable than we deputies were, as the Ministers are excluded from it?'
*Will he not rather,' I said, "sink into an exile ?'
That is my hope,' said Tocqueville, but I do not expect it quite so soon as Thiers does.'
St. Cyr, July 2, 1853. I am not going to talk to you, my dear Senior, about the Emperor, or the Empress, or any of the august members of the Imperial Family; nor of the Ministers, nor of any other public functionaries, because I am a well-disposed subject who does not wish that the perusal of his letters should give pain to his Government. I shall write to you upon an historical problem, and discuss with you events which happened five hundred years ago. There could not be a more innocent subject.