Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

I have followed your advice, and I have read, or rather re-read, Blackstone. I studied him twenty years ago. Each time he has made upon me the same impression. Now, as then, I have ventured to consider him (if one may say so without blasphemy) an inferior writer, without liberality of mind or depth of judgment; in short, a commentator and a lawyer, not what we understand by the words jurisconsulte and publiciste. He has, too, in a degree which is sometimes amusing, a mania for admiring all that was done in ancient times, and for attributing to them all that is good in his own. I am inclined to think that, if he had had to write, not on the institutions, but on the products of England, he would have discovered that beer was first made from grapes, and that the hop is a fruit of the vine-rather a degenerate product, it is true, of the wisdom of our ancestors, but as such worthy of respect. It is impossible to imagine an excess more opposite to that of his contemporaries in France, for whom it was enough that a thing was old for it to be bad. But enough of Blackstone; he must make way for what I really want to say to you.

In comparing the feudal institutions in England in the period immediately after the conquest with those of France, you find between them, not only an analogy, but a perfect resemblance, much greater than Blackstone seems to think, or, at any rate, chooses to say. In reality, the system in the two countries is identical. In France, and over the whole Continent, this system produced a caste; in England, an aristocracy. How is it that the word

1853.]

Institutions in France and England.

45

gentleman, which in our language denotes a mere superiority of blood, with you is now used to express a certain social position, and amount of education, independent of birth ; so that in two countries the same word, though the sound remains the same, has entirely changed its meaning ? When did this revolution take place ? How, and through what transitions? Have no books ever treated of this subject in England ? Have none of your great writers, philosophers, politicians, or historians, ever noticed this characteristic and pregnant fact, tried to account for it, and to explain it ?

If I had the honour of a personal acquaintance with Mr. Macaulay, I should venture to write to ask him these questions. In the excellent history which he is now publishing he alludes to this fact, but he does not try to explain it. And yet, as I have said before, there is none more pregnant, nor containing within it so good an explanation of the difference between the history of England and that of the other feudal nations in Europe. If you should meet Mr. Macaulay, I beg you to ask him, with much respect, to solve these questions

But tell me what you yourself think, and if any other eminent writers have treated this subject.

You must think me, my dear friend, very tiresome with all these questions and dissertations; but of what else can I speak ? I pass here the life of a Benedictine monk, seeing absolutely no one, and writing whenever I am not walking. I expect this cloistered life to do a great deal of good both to my mind and body. Do not think that in my convent I forget my friends. My wife

for me.

and I constantly talk of them, and especially of you and of our dear Mrs. Grote. I am reading your MSS.,' which interest and amuse me extremely. They are my relaxation. I have promised Beaumont to send them to him as soon as I have finished them.

St. Cyr, December 8, 1853. I must absolutely write to you to-day, my dear Senior. I have long been wishing to do so, but have been deterred by the annoyance I feel at not being able to discuss with you a thousand subjects as interesting to you as they are to me, but which one cannot mention in a letter; for letters are now less secret than ever, and to insist upon writing politics to our friends is equivalent to their not hearing from us at all. But I may, at any rate, without making the police uneasy, assure you of the great pleasure with which we heard that you intended paying us a little visit next month.

There is an excellent hotel at Tours, where you will find good apartments; for the rest, I hope that you will make our house your inn. We are near enough to Tours for me to walk there and back, and we regulate our clocks by the striking of theirs; so you see that it is difficult to be nearer.

I think that it is a capital idea of yours to visit French Africa. The country is curious in itself, also on account of the contrasts afforded by the different populations which spread over the land without ever mixing.

· Mr. Senior's Journals.-ED.

1854.]

Mrs. Grote's Notes.

47

You will find them materials for some of those excellent and interesting articles which you write so well. When you come I shall be able to give you some useful information, for I have devoted much attention to Algiers. I have here a long report which I drew up for the Chamber in 1846, which may give you some valuable ideas, though things have considerably changed since that time. Kind remembrances, &c.,

A. DE TOCQUEVILLE.

[The following are some more of Mrs. Grote's interesting notes. She preceded Mr. Senior at St. Cyr.—ED.]

The notes relating to St. Cyr are memoranda of various conversations which I enjoyed during a stay of some ten days or so at Tours, in February 1854, with Monsieur Alexis de Tocqueville. I occupied an apartment in the hotel at Tours, and on almost every day passed some hours in the company of this interesting friend, who at this time lived at St. Cyr, in a commodious countryhouse having its garden, &c., which he rented. I drove out to dine there frequently, and M. de Tocqueville walked over on the intervening days and stayed an hour or two at the hotel with me talking incessantly.-H. G.

St. Cyr, February 13, 1854.—The French allow no author to have a claim to the highest rank unless he joins the perfection of style with the instructiveness of his matter. Only four first-rate writers in the eighteenth century -grands écrivains, comme grands penseurs originaux ; these being Montesquieu, Voltaire, J. J. Rousseau, and Buffon. Helvetius not en première ligne, because his forme was not up to the mark. Alexis himself is often hung up for days together, having the thoughts, yet not hitting off the phrases’ in a way to satisfy his critical ear as to style.

Thinks that when a man is capable of originating a belle pensée, he ought to be also capable of clothing that thought in felicitous language.

Thinks that a torpid state of political life is unfavourable to intellectual product in general.

I instanced the case of Louis XIV. as contradicting this. Not admitted by Tocqueville. The civil wars of Louis XIV.'s reign had engendered considerable activity in the minds of the educated class. This activity generated speculation and scientific inquiry in all the departments of human thoughts. Abstract ideas became the field on which thinkers occupied themselves. No practical outlet under despotism, but a certain social fermentation nevertheless existing, and the want of making itself a vent impelled intellectual life and writings. I instanced Louis XV. At least,' I said, 'the torpor of political life was become yet more a habit.' 'Yes,' said Alexis, “but then there was the principle of discontent very widely diffused, which was the germ of the revolution of 1789. This restless, disaffected state of the national mind gave birth to some new forms of intellectual product, tending to rather more distinct practical results, which filtered down among the middle classes, and became the objects of

« НазадПродовжити »