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cretion in his eyes, from the French point of view. There was
the correspondence in the English newspapers during the Cri-
mean war. Mr. Senior's notes of conversations with eminent
persons, of whom Lavergne was one, likewise appeared to him
a highly characteristic English proceeding. ' But Mr. Senior's
notes are not printed,' I suggested. ' No,' he replied, ' but
scores of people, I might say hundreds, have seen them, and
many more have heard of them. And, doubtless, tliey will be
printed. No Englishman or Englishwoman can keep anything
from the printing-press. It is astonishing to me that printing
was not an English invention, and that Caxton should have
borrowed it from the Continent.' On several occasions he



110 Leonce de Lavergne.

recurred, half in jest, to the English lack of reticence and dis-
cretion in relation to printing. I told him, for instance, that I
had visited a fevme ecole near Eennes in Britanny, about which
he had spoken to me, and on my way back to my hotel, ob-
serving a number of women as well as men coming out of a
large printing establishment, had asked a question about the
employment of women in the business. As the foreman to
whom I spoke brusquely refused to answer, I explained that I
was a professor of political economy, and therefore took an
interest in the subject, as there had been combinations against
women in the printing trade in London. Whereupon the
man gesticulated furiously, snapped his fingers in my face, and
made various other demonstrations of incredulity and hostility.
Lavergne tranquilly observed that it must have reached Bri-
tanny that the English were very indiscreet, above all in matters
of printing. On other points he took a more favourable view
of the English than his wife did. He considered them mild
and gentle, ' Les Anglais sont tres doux.' Madame, on the
other hand, maintained that the roughest creature to be seen on
the Continent was the British tourist, and that even in good
society the English were unmannerly. One instance was, that
Lord * * *, whom they had invited to dinner in Paris, kept tlie
company three-quarters of an hour waiting, and, instead of
apologizing, coolly said he had been spending three charming
quarters of an hour with the Duchesse * * *. Another English-
man had a habit of talking of the Comte de Paris and the Duo
d'Aumale as 'Paris' and ' D'Aumale,' without titles — 'as if
our princes were nobodies,' said Madame de Lavergne. She
added that she had seen English ladies and gentlemen crowd
round M. Thiers in his salon, and stare at him with a grin, as-
though he were a monkey performing tricks. Lavergne said
he did not mean to pronounce on the manners of the English
from an aesthetic point of view, but au fond they were the
best-tempered nation in Europe. He had never seen a furious
quarrel between Englishmen, such as one might see any hour
in the streets of a French town. Everything seemed to work
smoothly without a hard word. The English railway porter,



Leonce de Lavergne. Ill

compared with his fellow in Germany or France, was an angel ;
the English guard, an archangel. The liberality and courtesy
of the Company to passengers on the North-Western Railway
had impressed him as one of the most remarkable results of
modern civilization. The gentleness of the English might be
partly the effect of physical causes, but he attributed it chiefly
to a happy political and civil history, and exemption from
oppression ; the Germans of the same race being irascible aud
quarrelsome. The Englishman's voice was like that of a bird ;
it came from the head, instead of from the seat of passion.
Madame de Lavergne protested that the Englishwoman's voice
was sharp and imperious, while the Frenchwoman's was soft
and musical. ' That,' replied Lavergne, ' is because English-
men are so gentle (doux) that the women have gotten a habit
of commanding. The men are under a Q,ueen already ; they
are going to give the women the suffrage, and they will before
long be under petticoat government altogether. The female
electors will control the House of Commons.' Madame de
Lavergne said the female suffrage movement in England only
showed that Englishmen were not the sensible beings her hus-
band imagined. Women would tear each other's eyes out in
France, ' elles s'arracheraient les yeux,' if they got the suffrage,
and she believed they would do the same in England. I ven-
tured to suggest that men as well as women were more explosive
and demonstrative in France than in England ; the hero of a
French novel generally crying a great deal, whereas no man in
an English novel ever sheds a tear. Lavergne said the English
were in his opinion certainly more stoical than the French, but
he supposed his wife would retort that a Eed Indian never weeps.
In Campbell's ' Gertrude of Wyoming,' he added, the Christian
hero melts into tears, the savage may not give way to them.
Although he did not speak English, Lavergne knew the older
English poets and novelists well, and in his essay on ' English
Rural Economy ' has eloquently traced the influences of the
love of rural life on the part of the upper classes in England
upon English literature. The breath of the country, he there
observes, is almost always felt in the English poem or romance



112 Leonce de Lavcrgnc.

of the eighteenth century, while in Voltaire's * Henriade ' there
is not so much as grass for the horses.

M. de Lavergne was a very early riser, and at his desk or
his hooks at five in the morning, although I did not see him
until breakfast at ten ; after which, when his health and powers
of locomotion permitted, he walked or drove in a pony-carriage
about his demesne and visited his farm. He grew a great
variety of plants, not with a view to profit, but to show what
could be done by scientific culture in so barren a region. He
held that even granite, of which the soil of La Creuse is mainly
formed, might be made to produce anything by adding other
constituents, and undertook to demonstrate it by experiment.
The practical question, however, as he well knew, remained,
whether such farming would pay. That, he argued, depended
on communication and markets. Accordingly, he had made
earnest and not unsuccessful exertions to improve the roads of
the Department. Beyond giving general directions, he did
not, however, seem to interfere much in the working of his
farm ; but Madame de Lavergne was not too fine or too Parisian
a lady to derive amusement from a daily inspection of what
was going on. Both husband and wife had that faculty of
being easily amused which seems to distinguish the Latin from
the Teutonic nations, and which saves the former from ever
feeling bored. One day Lavergne picked up a bergere's horn,
and proceeded to blow the sheep and cattle calls with great
zeal ; Madame de Lavergne applauding the performance, which
lasted about twenty minutes : ' C'est ca ; c'est ca.' Broad and
cosmopolitan as his ideas generally were on large subjects, on
minor matters they were purely French. He told me more
than once, as an amazing instance of the oddity of English
ways, that he had seen an Englishman come with his two sons
into the Cafe Anglais at Paris and order nothing but cold meat
for lunch, without wine. And he could not get over his as-
tonishment at Lord * * * having asked him to breakfast and
given him no wine. It seemed to him quite as odd as it would
to an Englishman to be offered only tea and coffee to drink at
a dinner-party. Madame de Lavergne was devote, and went



Leonce de Lavergne. 113

on Sundays and Saints' days to a distant church ; but Lavergne
himself, at least during my visits, remained at home, having, it
may he, the excuse of an invalid : yet, in subsequent years,
when in more infirm health, he took an active part in the pro-
ceedings of the Assemblee Rationale. Politically q^d socially
he was friendly to the Church, but his theological opinions
were inscrutable to me. I told him one Sunday, while Madame
was at Mass, how a great man in England, when someone
wondered that so firm a supporter of the Church was never to
be seen inside of one, replied that the buttresses of a church
were generally outside. Lavergne smiled, and said every edifice
must have an exterior as well as an interior, and sometimes the
exterior was the more important of the two. The strength of
a palace or a throne depended, not on the number of persons
who went to Court, but on the sentiments of the people outside
who never went.

On my way back to Peyrusse, in the autumn of the follow-
ing year (1869), the distance at which its owner lived from his
nearest neighbour, and the unbroken solitude of his forests,
received a curious illustration. In a railway carriage between
Montlucon and Gueret, the chief town of La Creuse, I found
myself the object of much surprise and curiosity on the part of
a country gentleman of the Department, who said he had rarely
seen even a Frenchman from another part of France in it,
unless a commercial traveller, and a foreigner never before.
In the course of conversation, I inquired whether there were
wolves in his neighbourhood. ' Wolves ! ' he replied ; ' there are
none in La Creuse.' On my stating that I had myself seen
some the year before, he said he had lived fourteen years in the
Department since his father's death, and never had heard of a
wolf. Where did I imagine I had seen them ? ' At Peyrusse.*
* Peyrusse ! ' was the rejoinder. ' Why, that is M. de Lavergne's
place, and he is my nearest neighbour.' I could only retort
that I had been M. de Lavergne's guest the year before ; that I
had first heard of the existence of wolves in his woods from
himself ; had next been shown one by his steward, and after-
wards on several occasions had come upon a she- wolf and her

I



114 Leonce de Lavergne.

family. On the very day on which I left Peyrusse M. de
Lavergne had pointed to one near his hall-door, and I was now
going back to Peyrusse, and expected to see another before long.
Whereupon my fellow-traveller altered his tone, saying that
even nearest neighbours were far apart in La Creuse, and he
lived many miles from Peyrusse, and had never been in its
forests, which were so extensive, and might contain things not
to be found in his own small woods. At midnight we reached
Gueret, where the simple honesty of the people, which was one
of the attractions of this desert Department in Lavergne's eyes,
was exemplified. I had written from Pontarlier to an innkeeper
whose name I found in a Directory, to bespeak a room. At the
station, late as it was, he met me himself, to explain that his
auherge was a very humble one, and that he had accordingly
ordered a room for me in the principal hotel, and told the con-
ductor of its omnibus to take charge of my luggage. It seemed
to me that the poorer the man was the more important it was
to him to secure a visitor, and I begged to be allowed to adhere
to my original plan. But he was inexorable. Much, he politely
said, as he would like to have such a guest, he would be ashamed
to take advantage of a mistake on the part of a foreigner.
Lavergne, when I told him the story, was much pleased, and,
as will be subsequently seen, did not forget it.

When I repeated to him my conversation with his ' nearest
neighbour,' he said his steward had killed a wolf only that
morning, on account of the loss of two lambs, though it was not
his custom to wage war against animals that were not numerous
enough to do much harm, and were interesting objects in so
lonely a place. He added : 'You have seen things in La Creuse
that my neighbour, who lives in it, has never seen. But I dare
say, were he to go to London, he might see things that you have
never beheld.' I told him I had been lately for some days at
Ornans, in the Departement du Doubs, which detractors of
la petite projmete were recommended in his ' Economic Eurale
de la France ' to visit and be converted. I said I doubted
whether the people there would look much about them in
London: at least, at Ornans they seemed never to think of



Leonce de Lavergne. 115

«,n5'tliing beyond the little world in which they lived. The
wife of one wealthy small landowner, with whose family I be-
came acquainted, had told me she had never been in Switzerland,
though she often went to Pontarlier, on its border, to shop,
adding : ' Your countrymen go much to Switzerland, do they
not ? But, then, England is nearer to Switzerland than France
is.' Her husband showed no surprise, and quietly remarked :
*■ Non ; I'Angleterre c'est plus loin.' Lavergne said, la petite
jpropriete certainly did not teach geography ; on the other hand,
an English agricultural labourer might know as little about
France as the wife of a small proprietor at Ornans did aboiit
England, without the compensation of living in a little paradise
of his own. Englishmen of a higher class, he continued, seemed
generally to know only Paris, not France. Passages from his
own works were cited on opposite sides, for and against large
and small proj)erty, and large and small farms, in a way that
showed the controversialists had looked only at books, or they
would understand him better. ' After reading one of these
controversies,' he continued, ' I feel like the j)oor man with an
old and a young wife, one of whom pulled out the black and the
other the grey hairs from his head. I seem to be left bare,
without any definite opinion, yet I have expressed very plainly
a conviction that there are places to which each system is best
adapted ; but that, on the whole, the best cultivated parts of
France are those where small properties and small farms prevail.
What I have sought is to persuade our large proprietors to
cultivate their estates as large estates are cultivated in England,
and to take the same interest in country life that the English
nobility and gentry do.'

We spoke one day of the famous fortress of Phalsburg, which
I had lately visited, and where I had a narrow escape of being
shot by a French sentry for attempting to take a sketch — one
which two years afterwards I finished unheeded under the eyes
of G-erman soldiers. Lavergne said it was impossible to say
how soon Phalsburg might not have to stand another siege ;
the only safeguard against a war with Grermany was that the
French army was absolutely unprepared for it, and the Emperor

12



116 Leonee de Lavergne.

himself physically incapable of any great exertion. The Em-
peror, he said, was perfectly aware that systematic peculation
went on in every department of the administration, military and
civil, and that he was himself daily robbed in his household,
but regarded it with apathy and cynical indifference : * II
meprise tout — meme I'argent.' After a duration of nearly
twenty years, Lavergne continued, the Empire would be in
peril were Napoleon I., in full vigour of mind and body, at its-
head. ' Le Francais est toujours centre le gouvernement qui
est la.' That, he said, overturned the government of Loui&
Philippe, the best France ever had since Henry IV. ' The
English, on the contrary, are on the side of what exists, and
with them, as they say themselves, nothing succeeds like success.
This respect for material success has its bad side, but it has
excellent political effects. And, moreover, it proceeds in part
from a good quality. The English are not an envious people —
they like to see things well done. Their phrase, " Well done ! "■
is characteristic' M. de Lavergne, it may be observed, did not
stand alone in this opinion. I have heard a distinguished diplo-
matist, who thoroughly knows the continental nations, speak of
the English as the only unenvious people in Europe. And the
late Professor Adolf Held, of Berlin, whose promising career
was cut short by a cruel accident last year, remarked to me in,
London, not long before his death, * If you do anything well in
England, you are liked for it, and you make friends. If you do
anything well on the Continent, you make enemies. The first
idea is to pull you to pieces, and to prove that you have done
nothing at all.' Envy and jealousy doubtless exist in England,
as its statesmen, authors, and professional men are sometimes
made to feel ; but there is, at least, no disinterested dislike of
superiority. Lavergne himself was absolutely free from the
smallest tincture of jealousy. I questioned him about every
French author whose name occurred to me. The only one of
whom he said a disparaging word was Prevost Paradol : ' C'est uu
enfant ; " and even Paradol, he allowed, had great literary talent.
Of Emile de Laveleye, though in some degree his own rival as
a writer on rural economy, he spoke in enthusiastic praise.



Leonce de Lavergne. 117

Lavergne's conversation in 1869, and the facts he vehated
"with respect to the incapacity of the Imperial administration,
the torpor and debility of Louis Napoleon, and the discredit
into which he had fallen, left a full conviction on my mind that
the Emperor could not maintain his position for twelve months
longer, and would he driven to some rash and unsuccessful
attempt to recover prestige and power. Of all the schemes
open to him he chose the worst. After Sedan, Lavergne wrote
repeatedly to me from the south of France, saying that it was
the interest as well as the duty of England to come to the rescue
•of France ; referring to Arthur Young's words in a remarkable
passage to which he had himself, ten years earlier, drawn atten-
tion in his Introduction to Lesage's French translation of
Young's ' Travels in France : ' ' Suppose the German flag to
float over Paris. Where is the security of the rest of Europe ?
Have we forgotten the partition of Poland ? Were France in
real danger, it would be the duty and interest of its neighbours
to come to its rescue.'* When, more than a year later, I saw
Lavergne again, he spoke with a bitterness unusual with him of
a want of feeling, as well as of political sagacity, shown by
England, which he had always admired and esteemed. At
length I observed that I had myself seen enough to assure me
that some of his own countrymen took less to heart the loss of
territory France had suffered than some of mine did. He asked
for an instance. One was a recent one. When on the way
to see Phalsburg again, after the long siege it had sustained, I
found myself in company with a French party, in a railway
carriage from Strasburg to Liitzelburg, and in the omnibus
thence to the place of our destination. They chatted gaily on
other subjects until we came close to the drawbridge of the
battered and dismantled fortress, when both ladies and gentle-
men burst into a flood of tears. But no sooner had we crossed
the bridge, and passed through the Porte cVAllcmagne into the
old town, than all faces brightened, and the party set off to



♦ Voyages en FraHce,])a.r Aitliur Young ; Introduction par M. Leonce de Lavergne,
I. XXX vi.



118 Leonce de Lavergne.

breakfast at the best inn, where presently I heard them give a
sumptuous order. Two hours later they emerged with rosy
countenances from the inn, and took their seats in the omnibus
back to Liitzelburg. The town had suffered considerably from
the siege, and there was much to be seen, but a cheerful dejeuner
had engaged their whole time and thought, while the British
visitor had gone over every spot, and finished a sketch begun
before the war.* Lavergne listened quietly to the story, and
then said, with a melancholy smile, that when King David was
told his child was dead, he washed his face, and ate and drank,
because mourning and tears could not bring back what he had
lost. But he never again spoke to me of English want of feel-
ing during the war. He was now a member of the National
Assembly, and a leading personage among the party of the
Eight, while his sagacity, calmness, and moderation gave him
also no small influence with a considerable section of the Left.
Had his health been good, there was no office in the Republic to
which he might not have then aspired. He had at first hoped
for a restoration of Constitutional Monarchy ; but in 1873 he
declared his adhesion to the Republic in a characteristic letter,
which produced a great effect, and certainly conduced to the
peaceful establishment of a Republican form of Government.
' J'aurais prefere,' he admitted, * la monarchie constitutionelle
et parlementaire, qui est a mon avis le meilleur des gouverne-
ments. Yoyant cette monarchie impossible, j'accepte la
Republique.'

In the summer of 1874 I joined M. and Madame de
Lavergne at Bourboule, a watering-place in Auvergne. He
was at this time very infirm, but took an interest in the life of
the place, and was ready to listen to its chatter and gossip, as
well as to discuss graver subjects. Every new comer was an
object of curiosity to the crowd of visitors. One day the arrival
of another Anglais was reported, and a story about him, which
much amused Lavergne, was brought to us in the evening by a



* A fuller account was given by the writer at the time in a letter to the Bailtf'
News.



Leonce de Lavergne. 119

young Abbe, who bad sat next the stranger at the table-d'hote.
The Anglais had inquired eagerly whether Lord .... was
at Bourboule, or had been there. The Abbe had heard nothing
of an English lord, but said there was an economide Anglais, a
friend of M. de Lavergne, at the place, and then dining in
M. de Lavergne's apartments in the hotel. As the Englishman
received this information with perfect indifference, the Abbe
continued that he had himself seen and spoken to the economist.
* Je ne m'occupe pas de I'economie politique ; cette science ne
m'interesse pas,' replied the Englishman, looking bored, and
adding that he had only come to Bourboule to look for
Lord . . . , not to learn political economy. ' C'est peut-etre le
domestique d'un lord,' said the Abbe, imitating the Englishman's
voice and accent. Lavergne laughed, aud said the stranger
seemed to be following a chase which in modern England was
called tuft-hunting, but which was an ancient Teutonic pursuit,
for the companions of the German princejys were tuft-hunters.
Tet birth and rank, he continued, had, in some respects, a more
unreasonable social influence in democratic France than in
England. To be of a noble family was an almost indispensable
key to French society. In spite of tuft-hunting, English society
was the least exclusive in the world ; aud most English peers
were themselves members of new families. The old families
were the untitled landed gentry. On this point he displayed a
marvellous knowledge of English pedigrees. When asked how
he came to master such details, he replied that he had been led
to do so first in his study of English political history, and the
part played in it by aristocracy of birth, and afterwards in
connexion with English rural economy, and the tendency of
new wealth to settle finally in the country instead of the town.
Referring to the decline of aristocracy as a factor in the
modern political world, he owned that he was becoming less and
less alarmed at the rapid progress of democracy — so far, at least,
as socialistic projects were concerned. Dangerous as he had
once thought it to give predominant power to the poorest classes
by means of universal suffrage, socialism had, in fact, become
much less menacing in France. He agreed with Tocqueville



120 Leonce de Lavergne,

that democratic institutions tended to benefit mankind, so far as
their material welfare was concerned. As he laid stress on the
word * material,' I asked whether in his heart Tocqueville liked
or disliked democracy. ' II la detestait,' was the emphatic
answer. But Lavergne added, that it was in reference to an
aesthetic or intellectual standard that Tocqueville in his inmost
soul regarded it with repugnance. * Who in the next century,*
he had said, ' will execute a really great work of art for a
multitude interested only in buying in the cheapest and selling
in the dearest market ? Who will spend years on a book for a
nation which reads only cheap newspapers ? Book-making will
become, like everything else, a mere trade.'

Soon after this conversation Lavergne published a letter on
universal suffrage in relation to socialism which attracted much
attention in both the political and the economic world, and
which has its importance still for English readers : who should
bear in mind, however, that it was written in a country in which
property, as well as political power, is widely diffused. ' Certes,
je n'ai pas desire I'avenement du suffrage universel ; je I'ai vu,
au contraire, arriver avec inquietude, mais depuis vingt ans



Online LibraryT. E. Cliffe (Thomas Edward Cliffe) LeslieEssays in political economy → online text (page 11 of 41)