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The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville By Alexis de Tocqueville Characters: 15856

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

I did not perceive anything on the 22nd of February calculated to give rise to serious apprehensions. There was a crowd in the streets, but it seemed to be composed rather of sight-seers and fault-finders than of the seditiously inclined: the soldier and the townsman chaffed each other when they met, and I heard more jokes than cries uttered by the crowd. I know that it is not safe to trust one's self to these appearances. It is the street-boys of Paris who generally commence the insurrections, and as a rule they do so light-heartedly, like schoolboys breaking up for the holidays.

When I returned to the Chamber, I found a seeming listlessness reigning there, beneath which one could perceive the inner seething of a thousand restrained passions. It was the only place in Paris in which, since the early morning, I had not heard discussed aloud what was then absorbing all France. They were languidly discussing a bill for the creation of a bank at Bordeaux; but in reality no one, except the man talking in the tribune and the man who was to reply to him, showed any interest in the matter. M. Duchatel told me that all was going well. He said this with an air of combined confidence and nervousness which struck me as suspicious. I noticed that he twisted his neck and shoulders (a common trick with him) much more frequently and violently than usual; and I remember that this little observation gave me more food for reflection than all the rest.

I learnt that, as a matter of fact, there had been serious troubles in many parts of the town which I had not visited; a certain number of men had been killed or wounded. People were no longer accustomed to this sort of incident, as they had been some years before and as they became still more a few months later; and the excitement was great. I happened to be invited to dine that evening at the house of one of my fellow-members of Parliament and of the Opposition, M. Paulmier, the deputy for Calvados. I had some difficulty in getting there through the troops which guarded the surrounding streets. I found my host's house in great disorder. Madame Paulmier, who was expecting her accouchement and who had been frightened by a skirmish that had taken place beneath her windows, had gone to bed. The dinner was magnificent, but the table was deserted; out of twenty guests invited, only five presented themselves; the others were kept back either by material impediments or by the preoccupations of the day. We sat down with a very thoughtful air amid all this abundance. Among the guests was M. Sallandrouze, the inheritor of the great business house of that name, which had made a large fortune by its manufacture of textile fabrics. He was one of those young Conservatives, richer in money than in honours, who, from time to time, made a show of opposition, or rather, of captious criticism, mainly, I think, to give themselves a certain importance. In the course of the last debate on the Address, M. Sallandrouze had moved an amendment[7] which would have compromised the Cabinet, had it been adopted. At the time when this incident was most occupying attention, M. Sallandrouze one evening went to the reception at the Tuileries, hoping that this time, at least, he would not remain unrecognized in the crowd. And, in fact, no sooner had King Louis-Philippe seen him than he came up to him with a very assiduous mien, and solemnly took him aside and began to talk to him eagerly, and with a great display of interest, about the branch of manufacture to which the young deputy owed his fortune. The latter, at first, felt no astonishment, thinking that the King, who was known to be clever at managing men's minds, had selected this little private road in order to lead round to affairs of State. But he was mistaken; for, after a quarter of an hour, the King changed not the conversation but the person addressed, and left our friend standing very confused amid his carpets and woollen stuffs. M. Sallandrouze had not yet got over this trick played upon him, but he was beginning to feel very much afraid that he would be revenged too well. He told us that M. émile Girardin had said to him the day before, "In two days, the Monarchy of July will have ceased to exist." This seemed to all of us a piece of journalistic hyperbole, and perhaps it was; but the events that followed turned it into an oracle.

On the next day, the 23rd of February, I learnt, on waking, that the excitement in Paris, so far from becoming calmer, was increasing. I went early to the Chamber; silence reigned around the Assembly; battalions of infantry occupied and closed the approaches, while troops of Cuirassiers were drawn up along the walls of the Palace. Inside, men's feelings were excited without their quite knowing the reason.

The sitting had been opened at the ordinary time; but the Assembly had not had the courage to go through the same parliamentary comedy as on the day before, and had suspended its labours; it sat receiving reports from the different quarters of the town, awaiting events and counting the hours, in a state of feverish idleness. At a certain moment, a loud sound of trumpets was heard outside. It appeared that the Cuirassiers guarding the Palace were amusing themselves, in order to pass the time, by sounding flourishes on their instruments. The gay, triumphant tones of the trumpets contrasted in so melancholy a fashion with the thoughts by which all our minds were secretly disturbed, that a message was hurriedly sent out to stop this offensive and indiscreet performance, which caused such painful reflections to all of us.

At last, it was determined to speak aloud of what all had been discussing in whispers for several hours. A Paris deputy, M. Vavin, commenced to question the Cabinet upon the state of the city. At three o'clock M. Guizot appeared at the door of the House. He entered with his firmest step and his loftiest mien, silently crossed the gangway, ascended the tribune, throwing his head almost back from his shoulders for fear of seeming to lower it, and stated in two words that the King had called upon M. Molé to form a new ministry. Never did I see such a piece of clap-trap.

The Opposition kept their seats, most of them uttering cries of victory and satisfied revenge; the leaders alone sat silent, busy in communing with themselves upon the use they would make of their triumph, and careful not to insult a majority of which they might soon be called upon to make use. As to the majority, they seemed thunderstruck by this so unexpected blow, moved to and fro like a mass that sways from side to side, uncertain as to which side it shall fall on, and then descended noisily into the semi-circle. A few surrounded the ministers to ask them for explanations or to pay them their last respects, but the greater number clamoured against them with noisy and insulting shouts. "To throw up office, to abandon your political friends under such circumstances," they said, "is a piece of gross cowardice;" while others exclaimed that the members ought to repair to the Tuileries in a body, and force the King to re-consider his fatal resolve.

This despair will arouse no astonishment when it is remembered that the greater number of these men felt themselves attacked, not only in their political opinions, but in the most sensitive part of their private interest. The fall of the Government compromised the entire fortune of one, the daughter's dowry of another, the son's career of a third. It was by this that they were almost all held. Most of them had not only bettered themselves by means of their votes, but one may say that they had lived on them. They still lived on them, and hoped to continue to live on them; for, the Ministry having lasted eight years, they had accustomed themselves to think that it would last for ever; they had grown attached to it with the honest, peaceful feeling of aff

ection which one entertains for one's fields. From my seat, I watched this swaying crowd; I saw surprise, anger, fear and avarice mingle their various expressions upon those bewildered countenances; and I drew an involuntary comparison between all these legislators and a pack of hounds which, with their jaws half filled, see the quarry withdrawn from them.

I grant, however, that, so far as many of the Opposition were concerned, it only wanted that they should be put to a similar test in order to make the same display. If many of the Conservatives only defended the Ministry with a view to keeping their places and emoluments, I am bound to say that many of the Opposition seemed to me only to attack it in order to reap the plunder in their turn. The truth-the deplorable truth-is that a taste for holding office and a desire to live on the public money are not with us a disease restricted to either party, but the great, chronic ailment of the whole nation; the result of the democratic constitution of our society and of the excessive centralization of our Government; the secret malady which has undermined all former powers, and which will undermine all powers to come.

At last the uproar ceased, as the nature of what had happened became better known: we learnt that it had been brought about by the insurrectionary inclinations of a battalion of the Fifth Legion and the applications made direct to the King by several officers of that section of the Guard.

So soon as he was informed of what was going on, King Louis-Philippe, who was less prone to change his opinions, but more ready to change his line of conduct, than any man I ever saw, had immediately made up his mind; and after eight years of complacency, the Ministry was dismissed by him in two minutes, and without ceremony.

The Chamber rose without delay, each member thinking only of the change of government, and forgetting about the revolution.

I went out with M. Dufaure, and soon perceived that he was not only preoccupied but constrained. I at once saw that he felt himself in the critical and complicated position of a leader of the Opposition, who was about to become a minister, and who, after experiencing the use his friends could be to him, was beginning to think of the difficulties which their pretensions might well cause him.

M. Dufaure had a somewhat cunning mind, which readily admitted such thoughts as these, and he also possessed a sort of natural rusticity which, combined with great integrity, but rarely permitted him to conceal them. He was, moreover, the sincerest and by far the most respectable of all those who at that moment had a chance of becoming ministers. He believed that power was at last within his grasp, and his ambition betrayed a passion that was the more eager inasmuch as it was discreet and suppressed. M. Molé in his place would have felt much greater egoism and still more ingratitude, but he would have been only all the more open-hearted and amiable.

I soon left him, and went to M. de Beaumont's. There I found every heart rejoicing. I was far from sharing this joy, and finding myself among people with whom I could talk freely, I gave my reasons.

"The National Guard of Paris," I said, "has upset a Cabinet; therefore it is during its good pleasure only that the new Ministers will remain at the head of affairs. You are glad because the Government is upset; but do you not see that it is authority itself which is overthrown?"

This sombre view of the political situation was not much to Beaumont's taste; he was carried away by rancour and ambition.

"You always take a gloomy view of everything," he said. "Let us first rejoice at the victory: we can lament over the results later."

Madame de Beaumont, who was present at the interview, seemed herself to share her husband's elation, and nothing ever so thoroughly proved to me the irresistible power of party feeling. For, by nature, neither hatred nor self-interest had a place in the heart of this distinguished and attractive woman, one of the most truly and consistently virtuous that I have met in my life, and one who best knew how to make virtue both touching and lovable. To the nobility of heart of the La Fayettes she added a mind that was witty, refined, kindly and just.

I, nevertheless, sustained my theory against both him and her, arguing that upon the whole the incident was a regrettable one, or rather that we should see more in it than a mere incident, a great event which was destined to change the whole aspect of affairs. It was very easy for me to philosophize thus, since I did not share the illusions of my friend Dufaure. The impulse given to the political machine seemed to me to be too violent to permit of the reins of government falling into the hands of the moderate party to which I belonged, and I foresaw that they would soon fall to those who were almost as obnoxious to me as the men from whose hands they had slipped.

I was dining with another of my friends, M. Lanjuinais, of whom I shall have to speak often in future. The company was fairly numerous, and embraced many shades of political opinion. Many of the guests rejoiced at the result of the day's work, while others expressed alarm; but all thought that the insurrectionary movement would stop of its own accord, to break out again later on another occasion and in another form. All the rumours that reached us from the town seemed to confirm this belief; cries of war were replaced by cries of joy. Portalis, who became Attorney-General of Paris a few days later, was of our number: not the son, but the nephew of the Chief President of the Court of Appeal. This Portalis had neither his uncle's rare intelligence, nor his exemplary character, nor his solemn dulness. His coarse, violent, perverse mind had quite naturally entered into all the false ideas and extreme opinions of our times. Although he was in relation with most of those who are regarded as the authors and leaders of the Revolution of 1848, I can conscientiously declare that he did not that night expect the revolution any more than we did. I am convinced that, even at that supreme moment, the same might have been said of the greater number of his friends. It would be a waste of time to try to discover what secret conspiracies brought about events of this kind. Revolutions accomplished by means of popular risings are generally longed for beforehand rather than premeditated. Those who boast of having contrived them have done no more than turn them to account. They spring spontaneously into being from a general malady of men's minds, brought suddenly to the critical stage by some fortuitous and unforeseen circumstance. As to the so-called originators or leaders of these revolutions, they originate and lead nothing; their only merit is identical with that of the adventurers who have discovered most of the unknown countries. They simply have the courage to go straight before them as long as the wind impels them.

I took my leave early, and went straight home to bed. Although I lived close to the Foreign Office, I did not hear the firing which so greatly influenced our destinies, and I fell asleep without realizing that I had seen the last day of the Monarchy of July.


[7] M. Sallandrouze de Lamornaix' amendment proposed to modify the expression "blind or hostile passions," by adding the words: "Amid these various demonstrations, your Government will know how to recognise the real and lawful desires of the country; it will, we trust, take the initiative by introducing certain wise and moderate reforms called for by public opinion, among which we must place first parliamentary reform. In a Constitutional Monarchy, the union of the great powers of the State removes all danger from a progressive policy, and allows every moral and material interest of the country to be satisfied."-Cte. de T.

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