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THE CANVAS AND THE COLOR: TOCQUEVILLE'S “PHILOSOPHICAL HISTORY” AND WHY IT MATTERS NOW

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2006

JAMES T. KLOPPENBERG
Affiliation:
Department of History, Harvard University

Extract

In December of 1850, exhausted by his role in French politics and recuperating from tuberculosis, Alexis de Tocqueville retreated to the Amalfi coast to think, write, and recover. To his best friend Louis de Kergolay, Tocqueville wrote about completing his memoir on the 1848 revolution and his plans to undertake a comprehensive account of French history that would explain the turmoil of the past century. The appeal was powerful, he explained to Kergolay, but “the difficulties are immense. The one that most troubles my mind comes from the mixture of history properly so called with historical philosophy. I still do not see how to mix these two things,” he conceded, “and yet, they must be mixed, for one could say that the first is the canvas and the second the color, and that it is necessary to have both at the same time in order to do the picture.” Tocqueville feared “that the one is harmful to the other, and that I lack the infinite art that would be necessary in order to choose properly the facts that must, so to speak, support the ideas.

Type
Essays
Copyright
© 2006 Cambridge University Press

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