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Interpreting a Correspondence, the Case of Tocqueville
Today critical editions of letters –often part of collected works-are overcrowding librarieswhich was already the case during the nineteenth century, when some contemporaries complained about that sort of tsunami of useless editions of trifles. As for Tocqueville, during the 1860 his friend Gustave de Beaumont published selected letters in several volumes, as it was usual when some prominent author was dead. From 1951 on, in France it have been published 18 volumes of complete works of Tocqueville; among them 11 are correspondence, in 16 volumes Some of these letters have been published in the US, for example see the recent edition by Aurelian Craiutu and Jeremy Jennings of Tocqueville's letters to Americans and their answers.
This is not an isolated case: in France there are huge editions of correspondence: Chateaubriand, Lamennais the Catholic thinker, George Sand, the novelist, Benjamin Constant (published in Switzerland in a huge edition). See also the English publication in 1963 of The Earlier Letters of John Stuart Mill, 1812-1848, ed. Francis E. Mineka (Vols. XII and XIII of The Collected Works), and The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIV - The Later Letters of John Stuart Mill 1849-1873 Part I, ed. Francis E. Mineka and Dwight N. Lindley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972). Earlier volumes Contained 537 letters, about half of which had not been previously published; The Last Contain volumes over 1800, More Than Half Hitherto unpublished.
We can obviously as an historian be interested in these letters to develop a history of reading (see illustrations Chartier la correspondance, les usages de la lettre au XIXème siècle,
and a greater difference with the email flood!
Figure 1 writing letters. exchange networks. popular practices. diffusion of literacy. there is a great difference between the correspondence of the philosophers of the Enlightenment. and the everyday writing of the 19th century. especially if we are historians of the 19th century.Melonio PTW 10/25/10
. an effect of the entry into the market society and of the development of public archive. or privacy of young girls. The increased mass of letters during the 19th century is one of the effects of the increasing role of writing in the 19th century. Diderot and Voltaire.
If that is a very interesting phenomenon for historians. 47 x 36. it increases the importance of family environment and social determination. v. the use of letters in political science is to be very cautious-: 1. on the contrary the work seems more profound
. to send him a cask of wine for his health – very interesting for the history of wine! Another time he asks his British friends to send some English cattle as they are the best in Europe… Even if a letter appears to be related to the theoretical work. on the opposite correspondence is often anecdotal and diminishes the singularity of the genius.8. a prominent politician. National Gallery. Washington. what can be the use of these letters for political scientists and for interpreters of a political thinker?
I was once in a Liberty Fund colloquium and somebody raised the objection that the critical edition only serves to diminish an author. What we look for in a political philosophy is how the author operates a change in the apprehension of the world. an edition of correspondence is more damaging still. Correspondence can lead to lower a thought.Melonio PTW 10/25/10
Figure 2Vermeer.1666. Some examples: Tocqueville asked Dufaure his friend. Une femme écrivant une lettre.
a. for example Aurelian craiutu spoke of letters sent by Tocqueville about America after the publication of Tocqueville Democracy in America as of a third “democracy in America”.
rédacteur du Valognes. Not less dangerous is the reverse attitude when the interpreter considers the letters as if they were part of a theoretical discourse. ce qu’il nie..s. D’ap. de l’Institut. of course we're happy to extend it… but letters are always linked with circumstances.
My hypothesis is that the reading of letters can develop another form of intellectual history. Constitutionnel Balzac (Dr) Valognes. 436438 Bibl. S. La seule manière de l’aider est de prouver que Le Marois s’est adressé au gouvernement pour être soutenu lors des dernières élections.l. Ne veut pas du soutien du gouvernement : veut arriver libre à la Chambre. de
. Tocq. de J. Arch. p.
Appuie la demande de M.
Example: file of the letters of 1839
Brouillon autographe. même si la situation est périlleuse. . lp 1/2 in 8 Catalogue de la librairie l’Abbaye n° 257 Ed. Corresp. jeune médecin qui demande à s’établir dans le département de Seine-et-Oise d’où sa famille est originaire. t.
ce10 février 1839 16 février 1839
Stoffels (Eugène) Ménant (J. Compte cependant rester à Valognes. Beaumont. Tocqueville
7 mars 1839 ce 9 mars 
Tocqueville.Melonio PTW 10/25/10 when it seems timeless 2. Ménant V 4176 . V A. un brouillon de T. The historical dimension of letters (even the anecdotes and trifles) is
not an obstacle or a disadvantage provided that the nature of these documents is kept in mind.)
10 mars 1839
Lettre de Voir lettre de Mignet du 14 protestation février et du 18 février parue dans le Constitutionnel Extraits .pièce 265 D’après une copie de G. On lui propose la candidature de l’opposition à Cherbourg. The work is very thin.
Tocq. October 5. vente n° 41. I must confess that all this tickles my heart in its vulnerable pride. 1
Letters illuminate the genesis: social determination. Copie Rédier 1p 1/2 in 12 Catalogue Demarest. circumstances
a social situation: Tocqueville is a member of an aristocratic family.
. in his social class. « Alexis de Tocqueville » du 6 avril 1839 18 avril 1839
138 139 140
Valognes. in my family's dilapidated old house.Melonio PTW 10/25/10
Beaumont Publié dans « le marquis de Blosseville » p. Drouot.a. 1837) But at the same time the aristocracy was still obsessed with public service: ancestors of Tocqueville were on one side members of robe nobility and on the other side members of military nobility and he never forgot his ancestors: the military aristocracy: « At last I am in Tocqueville. 1828) The robe nobility:
. Among his family. he said : "^ I was considered as a strange man. 177 Arch. people know that they were presumably condemned by history (as they experienced the revolutionary violence). septembre 1999 Extrait d’une lettre 1 p in 8 adresse vente drouot 14-15 dec 2009. I am surrounded by Normans whose names figure in the list of conquerors.s. and as was Tocqueville’s great grandfather Malesherbes. it is better that going to a brothel see girls "(letter to Kergorlay September 4. Aristocracy was not so interested in philosophy and in literature as in the XVIII th century. all things considered worthy occupation since then. » (Letter to Gustave de Beaumont. One league from here lies the port where William embarked for his conquest of England. that wrote to kill time. Piasa 198
Blosseville (de) Journal des débats Le Peletier de Rosambo Noël-Agnès
11 mars 1839 12 mars 1839 13 mars 1839 l.
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This does not mean reductionism or social determinism (Tocqueville had two brothers. neither of them became great thinkers…). Letters here play an irreplaceable role.Melonio PTW 10/25/10
Similarity of manners made Tocqueville feel comfortable when going to Boston. hence we can say that Tocqueville found his theoretical problem – that is how to adapt aristocratic values in democracies in his aristocratic cradle. and he seeks an equivalent value of aristocratic honor in democracy. showing how identity is socially constructed. but his genius is to elaborate a theoretical interpretation of his historical and social situation
and “clichés” particularly common in the 19th century due to the development of the press. “préfet” (To
( Family Portrait. In the history of liberalism. because liberalism is inseparable from political involvement during the 19th century Between Constant and Tocqueville. fear for individualism 3. In the correspondence we can study the language of a time.Melonio PTW 10/25/10 portrait of the young Tocqueville with his father. Tocqueville / Beaumont. and all facing the consequences of the French Revolution. of aristocratic origin. and the TOPOI. the political world has changed and therefore the theoretical concerns have changed although they have similarities: fear for a new despotism. Equality of conditions is the title of a poem by Voltaire and is part of everyday vocabulary before Tocqueville: the word recurs in his letters to his friend Stoffels. anonymous. the generations were as important as doctrinal affiliations. private collection © AD Manche/Poirier 2. For example the expression "equality of conditions" or "social state" is not invented by Tocqueville and he did not use them in a specific meaning. Generational solidarity French critic Sainte Beuve assessed that Tocqueville is part of a group. See the role of friendships in the intellectual history: Engels / / Marx. birds of the same flight. The same is true for “self-government” although
1. to be the best and eternal despair not to be. Sociological approach: the role of academic sociability and scholarly dialogue.Melonio PTW 10/25/10 Tocqueville seems to be the very origin of the large use of the term. I fall too low because I reached too high. his moods. I'm scared of the place that my stomach held in my imagination .”
. namely. we would not have syphilis and phylloxera.” Hence the 19th century dreams of Don Quixote (illustration by Daumier)
2. In all the letters of the 19th century one can be surprised of the importance of weather considerations. the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters. … Make a tirade against the self-government.. every moment. Are we disparaging Tocqueville’s work? No. the correspondence is a tool for a renewed history of political concepts. Kant has
emphasized the role of publicity and academic debates in Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784) “Nothing is required for this enlightenment. " All this avoids the illusion that a genius can think alone and replaces any work in debate and historical conditions. The singularity of the person is one of the discoveries of literary criticism 19th century. Without the discovery of America. and his illnesses. and the freedom in question is the least harmful of all. See letter in October 1829.. … By the public use of one's own reason I understand the use that anyone as a scholar makes of reason before the entire literate world. except freedom. " But the spleen is also a modern illness: evoking his melancholy. See the entry "self-government" Dictionary of Received Ideas by Flaubert' "AMERICA: A fine example of injustice: It is Columbus who discovered it and it is named after Amerigo Vespucci.. however. . he was 25 years old:" I'm afraid of being afraid . and of moments of discouragement (especially during the cloudy months).. Tocqueville acknowledged the "passionate desire I have. the importance of the individual. Anthropological approach: correspondence allows us to understand the uniqueness of a temperament.
novelist. had moved to Europe in 1842 and attended in Paris the romantic and progressive circles..Melonio PTW 10/25/10
Habermas has demonstrated that during the 19th century publicity was the very core of the political trend to democracy. medical doctor. populated by people I love and I respect and to live there. The Courrier was conservative. Alfred Charles Mercier (18161894).
. for the consideration of issues relating to slavery and the political constitution of the colonies. he was also the Paris correspondent of the Courrier de la Louisiane. On example of an “insignificant” letter on transatlantic relations: The letter is to Alfred Mercier. The report resulted from the work of a commission appointed 26 May 1840 of which Tocqueville was a member. a bilingual newspaper that gave Louisiana international news and especially news from France. 1837). hence the interest in the report of the Duke de Broglie: Report submitted to the Minister of State Secretary of the Navy and the Colonies on behalf of the Commission established . French antislavery politics was thus part of the Louisiana debate. The full publication alone can let us perceive the complexity of social networks and the exchange of ideas. I like to train alongside the great society. playwright. From an old French family based in New Orleans. Conversation as it was practiced in the ancient regime society is surviving in the “salons” of the 19th century. Victor de Broglie concluded in favor of a gradual abolition of slavery. 1843. Poet. a little ideal city. And in the country life in the castles
Hence the importance of publishing all the letters even those who seem pure trifles. »(To Royer Collard August 20. Tocqueville offers a good example of sociability and academic life “facing the direction of universal smallness..
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3 Controversies and debates: a map of controversies
most of the time read contemporary debates.Melonio PTW 10/25/10
The letters here are useful to understand how the concepts were reworked in relation to the issues and controversies. The vivid picture of a work in progress: The correspondence does not offer to the reader the perfect death mask of the published work but the workshop of the theory: hence the contradictions. 1856 "When I have any kind of subject to discuss.” But this letter is contemporary to the French conquest and tries to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity. who here is clearly in line with Montesquieu in The Spirit of Laws. However. law studies. and very often is polemical although today we are not aware of it. mainly because of our position vis-à-vis the Muslim population of Algeria and throughout the Near East. This is what 1 think I would be able to show you clearly. It is almost impossible for me to read any of the books which have Been written about the same topics. As far as I can see. Pascal. 1843 You seem to be questioning even the political utility of religions . A lot of commentaries take this letter as if it was the final truth on Tocqueville’s readings. historical works. In fact Tocqueville himself read the Koran. should the bad idea of getting circumcised ever occur to you. I must tell you that I came away from that study with the conviction that by and large. Montesquieu and Rousseau . He read the most influent newspapers and reviews of his time. and. Also misleading are his letters about his favorite readings: for example a very famous letter to Kergorlay: "There are three men with whom I live every day a little. because of pragmatic and political concerns. He has some very harsh comments on the Koran: Letter to Arthur de Gobineau. American sources. Gobineau being very critical on all religions. Tocqueville on this point is misleading: he wrote to his friend Prosper Duvergier Hauranne of September 1. which let us perceive the complexity of the theory: for example on Algeria. Montesquieu and Rousseau are very important in Tocqueville’s thought. Tocqueville supports colonization and even military violence on women and children. Although Pascal. Beaumont’s son married a Muslim. though it is less absurd than the polytheism of ancient times. and not classical “great books” –especially in matters relating to politics. contact with Other people's ideas agitate me and disturb me”." 10 novembre 1836. we can find plenty of other references. its social and political tendencies are in my opinion infinitely more to be feared. . It also reveals the side tracks which are then removed in the published work. there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Mohammed. Most of us. . and some of his friends were so interested in Muslim civilization that they were said to be Muslims (Kergorlay). and l therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself. although a democrat. The letter shows how much the political and military circumstances influence Tocqueville. As you know. I studied the Koran a great deal. it is the principal cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world.. October 22. Letters can also reveal missing chapters: Tocqueville did not deal with education in
. and the answer to the objections. but in 1836 he was writing the part of Democracy in America on the intellectual and moral features of democracies. and so on…Having a large number of letters prevent us from reducing sources to very famous “great” books.. 4. Democracy in America is not so clear about the political utility of religions. (See Jennifer Pitts’ book).
e. that my book is even remotely connected to current events or personalities. They highlight the pragmatic dimension of language. without eliminating the fact that the work also speaks to us today. Tocqueville writing on the Old Regime and the Revolution as well as Marx aimed to change society. Stael. That is why when reading Tocqueville we do not only project our imagination in the time of Tocqueville. Edward Said advocated the "impure literature".
. hesitation. 1856 « Do not imagine. The letters they received illustrate the effects of political texts. Reading letters is to take into account the historical experience of the writer and his readers. which does not flee on an Aventine. and I would not say as Quentin Skinner that good interpretation is one in which Tocqueville's contemporaries could identify. Political literature is a literature “unclean”. i. Also fascinating is the evolution of Tocqueville ideas on the America after 1840 with the progress of corruption in politics. Reading correspondence can avoid anachronisms and prevent us from questioning the author on issues that are not those of his time. Tocqueville's work is surviving beyond his time. Guizot. Whatever the book. But you know as well as I do that even the book most foreign to the particular circumstances of a period reveals in all its parts a frame of mind either favourable or unfavourable to one’s contemporaries. The letters he received demonstrate how few people were really reluctant to the imperial despotism. we know from correspondence that Tocqueville was trying not to discourage French people who felt they were doomed to despotism during the second Empire. and put in light the back and forth between observation and theory. but after the publication he actively participated in major debates on “the freedom of education” (that is the role France can concede to catholic schools). when he wrote the Old Regime and the Revolution. but we try to see what it allows us to think today. that is its soul and the reason for attracting or repelling the reader. For them to write is to act. they can not be interpreted without taking into account the date. Ex to Mme Swetchine January 7. They can reinstate the work in controversies and permit us to establish a map of controversies. The historical approach is a legitimate approach but not exclusive. So. but agrees to plead and to enter into debate with the contemporary world. Tocqueville. political ideas are a sort of praxis. For example.”
-Letters are material to be used with caution. he searched to enhance the few liberal in the history of France (in Languedoc) although he did not imagine they had had great importance. Marx were not philosophers in the academic sense of the term. the growing antagonism between the North and the Southern United States -5 Rhetorical approach Constant. abandoned tracks. Letters highlight the complexity of a work. as all the great works of thought or classics do. the strategies of argumentation and writing. They also evaluate the efficacy of language. a literature which does not feel isolated in the world. “impure”. Tocqueville did not try to be original but to integrate common places in a new intellectual architecture. Stuart Mill. remorse. the recipient. So did Stuart Mill writing On the Subject of Women.Melonio PTW 10/25/10
Democracy in America. Therefore the rhetorical dimension of their works is essential. Madame.