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A. de Tocqueville before America

His studies: At the lycée in Metz

Domestic scene

Domestic scene, anonymous
© AD Manche/A. Poirier

The real break with Alexis de Tocqueville's family home and his tutor's supervision came in 1820. Alone and leaving his childhood behind, he joined his father who had been posted to Metz as prefect of Moselle. For Alexis, this was a time of freedom and discovery. The first of these discoveries was the lycée, the Collège Royal de Metz, which he began attending in 1821. He studied, successively, rhetoric and philosophy, receiving his baccalaureate in 1823. His attendance at this school allowed him to show what a good student he was, and to consolidate his knowledge of Latin, mathematics, and especially rhetoric. It also allowed him to enlarge his circle of friends to those who were not members of the aristocracy. These included Eugène Stöffels (and to a lesser extent his brother Charles), who were Tocqueville's classmates before they became faithful and lifelong friends.

« Sequel to the Death of Clitus. »
« Nature, which usually grants men knowledge of the past rather than foresight concerning the future, has ill equipped them to look after their own interests. »
(Translation of Quintus Curtius by Tocqueville, excerpted from his lycée notebooks)

It was also at this time that he discovered the excitement of his first adolescent loves, first with a servant at the prefecture, with whom he fathered an illegitimate child, and then with Rosalie Mayle, with whom he was very much in love. Finally, he discovered the philosophical counterpart to his new-found freedom. At the age of sixteen, he was seized by a serious crisis of "universal doubt" after reading the philosophers of the Enlightenment, whose works he had borrowed from his father's library at the Metz prefecture. This profoundly undermined the Catholic faith of his childhood, as well as any blind faith in the aristocratic values with which he had been raised. No longer able to take shelter behind any a priori certainties, Alexis de Tocqueville became aware that he had to question the world in order to try and understand it. play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore

View of Metz from the Saint-George Bridge

View of Metz from the Saint-George Bridge
© Bibliothèque de Metz

Aerial view of Metz

Aerial view of Metz
© Bibliothèque de Metz

Archives

Rhetoric exercise book

Rhetoric exercise book; Tocqueville Archives, private collection
© AD Manche/A. Poirier

Baccalaureate diploma

Baccalaureate diploma
© AD Manche/A. Poirier

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