restricted access Chapter 13.a Literary Physiognomy of Democratic Centuries
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800 s4s4s4s4s4 c h a p t e r 1 3a Literary Physiognomy of Democratic Centuries When you enter the shop of a bookstore in the United States, and when you go over the American books that fill their shelves, the number of works appears very large, while that of known authors seems in contrast very small.b a. 1. The Americans do not have literature so to speak. All their literary works come to them from England, or are written according to English taste. 2. This is due to particular and temporary causes and must not prevent us from searching for what the literature natural to democracy is. 3. All ranks are marked and men immobile in their places, literary life like political existence is concentrated in an upper class. From that fixed rules, traditional literary habits, art, delicacy, finished details, taste for style, for form . . . 4. When ranks are mixed, men of talent and writershavediverseorigins,adifferent education, they constantly change, only a little time can be given to the pleasures of the mind. . . . From that, absence of rules, scorn for style, rapidity, fertility, liberty. 5. There is a moment when the literary genius of democracy andthatof aristocracy join, short and brilliant period, French literature of the XVIIIth century (YTC, CVf, pp. 14–15). b. In the Rubish, under the title influence of democracy on literature, the chapter begins in this way: “⫽I am speaking about America and America does not yet so to speak have literature, but the subject attracts me and holds me. I cannot pass by without stopping⫽. When you enter . . .” (Rubish, 1). Another title of the chapter, still in the Rubish, was this one: general ideas on the effect produced by equality on literature. The initial plan of Tocqueville probably included this sole chapter that, becoming too long, was subsequently divided . The rough drafts of this chapter and of those that follow, up to chapter 18, are found in several jackets; the contents do not always coincide with the title. The reflections of Tocqueville on literature have given rise to various commentaries: Katherine Harrison, “A French Forecast of American Literature,” South Atlantic Quar- literary physiognomy 801 First you find a multitude of elementary treatises intended to give the first notion of human knowledge. Most of these works were written in Europe. The Americans reprint them while adapting them to their use. Next comes a nearly innumerable quantity of books on religion, Bibles, sermons, pious stories, controversies, accounts of charitable institutions. Finally appears the long catalogue of political pamphlets: in America, parties , to combat each other, do not write books, but brochures that circulate with an unbelievable rapidity, live for a day and die.c terly 25, no. 4 (1926): 350–56; Donald D. Kummings, “The Poetry of Democracies: Tocqueville’s Aristocratic Views,” Comparative Literature Studies 11, no. 4 (1974): 306– 19; Reino Virtanen, “Tocqueville on a Democratic Literature,” French Review 23, no. 3 (1950): 214–22; Paul West, “Literature and Politics. Tocqueville on the Literature of Democracies ,” Essays in Criticism 12, no. 3 (1972): 5–20; Françoise Mélonio and José-Luis Dı́az, editors, Tocqueville et la littérature (Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2005). c. “For these statistical details look in Beaumont” (Rubish, 1). Cf. Marie, I, pp. 238–58. Beaumont always showed a more intense interest than Tocqueville in literature. At the time of their voyage in England in 1835, it is Beaumont who questioned J. S. Mill on the relationship between literature and democracy. Literature./ Democracy./ Conversation with John Mill, 18 June 1835. London./ Question. Up to now I consider democracy as favorable to the materialwell-being of the greatest number, and from this perspective I am a partisan of it. But a shadow exists in my mind; a doubt troubles me. I do not know if the tendency of democracy is not anti-intellectual; it gives to the greatest number physical well-being; up to a certain point it is even a source of morality for all those whose condition it renders middling, either by destroying great wealth, which corrupts, or by bringing an end to great poverty, which degrades and debases; it also spreads more general, more uniform instruction. There are its benefits; but to what point is it not contrary to the taste for literature, to the development of the advanced sciences, to speculative studies , to intellectual meditations? In order to devote oneself to the love of literature and the pleasures of the mind, leisure...


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