Alexis de Tocqueville
CLOSE

"The storm was already almost overhead. We saw several bolts of lightning strike the sea fairly close to us. We were in constant fear of going down. Suddenly a wave caught us broadside and hurled us bodily to one side of the ship. The wave overturned benches and burst into cabins. Frightened people cried out all around us, and a dog, which had taken refuge among some barrels, made the most mournful chord you can imagine with his howls. Our alarm was great, but it lasted only an instant, as the vessel righted itself. . I then looked to the sky . and saw clearly that clouds were gathering for another storm. . This time, I confess, I thought we were done for. . I folded my arms across my chest and began reviewing in my mind the few years I had lived."
(Travels in Sicily)

"We were living in a house perched in the foothills above the road, a short way from Sorrento. From the rooftop terrace you could see Naples and Vesuvius. A glance to the left revealed valleys filled with orange trees, their fruits sparkling in the sun, and sticking out above the trees were domes, belfries, and white villas. The view was magical. What good, fine, noble things I heard him say on that terrace! Later, we took long hikes in the mountains, for, frail as he was, he was a great hiker, and since his natural direction seemed to be to go in a straight line, he did not hesitate to negotiate a hedge, a ditch, or even a wall. We would stop in some beautiful spot with the sea in front of us and the sky of Naples over our heads. Out of breath, we would rest for a time, and our conservations resumed. . Heaven, which has since taken a harsher turn, bestowed its blessing on that winter, which was remarkably fine and mild even by Naples standards. We were able to take our priceless walks nearly every day, and for a few weeks we were joined by a man highly regarded in England and blessed with a tireless energy of mind, Mr. Senior. We would conclude our walks by gathering some of the large violets growing by the wayside to make a big bouquet for Mme de Tocqueville, whose indisposition forced her to remain on the terrace."
(OC, XI, p. 443)

"Suppose that, without resigning the post of magistrate or giving up my rights of seniority, I go to America; fifteen months elapse. Parties take shape in France. One sees clearly which of them is incompatible with the grandeur and tranquility of one's country. Thus one returns with a clear, sharp opinion, free of any commitment to anyone in the world. By itself the trip has plucked you out of the most common class. The knowledge you have acquired of this much-celebrated people further sets you apart from the multitude. You know precisely what a vast republic looks like and why it is workable here and not workable there. . If the moment is ripe, a publication of some sort might alert the public to your existence and focus the attention of the parties on you. If that doesn't happen, well, your trip has at least done you no harm, for you were as obscure in America as you would have been in France, and upon your return home you are just as apt to advance as if you had remained there."
(Letter to Charles Stöffels, November 4, 1830)

"A week ago, the sea was almost still. We made headway, though the wind seemed to have finished. It was a delightful spring evening. Someone proposed dancing. Beaumont went to look for his flute, and we leapt about as gaily as could be. It was a formal ball. If you want to know where our dance hall was located, you'll have to find a map and look for the intersection of the forty-second parallel with the thirty-fourth meridian! The place was somewhere in the vicinity. Man must be a very carefree animal indeed to cavort so with a bottomless abyss beneath his feet, death to the right and left, fore and aft, and nothing over his head but the sky. Of course it's more or less the same in the finest salon of the faubourg Saint-Germain, isn't it? And in any case one can get used to anything."
(Letter to his mother, April 28, 1831)

"At sunrise we approached New York. . We exclaimed in admiration at the sight of the city's environs. Imagine the most beautifully trimmed banks, slopes covered with grass and trees in flower right down to the sea, and, more than that, an incredible number of country houses, no bigger than chocolate boxes but well cared for. On top of that, picture if you can a sea white with sail, and you will have the entrance to New York from the Sound."
(Letter to his mother, April 26, 1831)

"It was truly a beautiful spectacle. A deep silence reigned over the assembly. As the Congress listened to the eloquent indictment of England's injustices and tyranny, a murmur of indignation could be heard in the room. When the speaker invoked the justice of the cause and expressed his generous resolve to liberate America or die trying, an electric current caused all hearts to beat in unison. This was no mere theatrical reenactment, I assure you. In this reading of the promises of independence, so abundantly fulfilled, in this remembrance of the birth of a nation by an entire people, in this union of the present generation with the one that is no longer, but whose generous passions everyone for a moment shared, there was something deeply felt and truly great."
(Letter to Ernest de Chabrol, July 16, 1831)

"A majestic order reigns above us, [. and] when the midday sun bathes the forest in its light, one often hears from its depths a long moan, a plaintive cry that carries a long way. This is the last gasp of the dying wind. Everything around you then subsides into a silence so deep, a stillness so complete, that the soul is gripped by a sort of religious terror. The traveler stops; he looks around. The trees, pressed one against the other, their branches intertwined, seem to form but a single mass, an immense and indestructible edifice, under whose vaults reigns an eternal darkness."
(Two Weeks in the Wilderness)

"Man can get used to anything: to death on the battlefield, to death in hospitals, to killing and suffering. He adapts to every spectacle. An ancient people, the first and legitimate master of the American continent, is melting away with each passing day like snow in the sun, vanishing from the face of the earth. In the same location, taking its place, another race is growing with even more astonishing rapidity. Through its handiwork, forests fall and swamps are drained while lakes as big as oceans and immense rivers vainly oppose its triumphant march. Wildernesses turn into villages and villages into cities. Americans, who witness these miracles daily, are not surprised by any of them. . To them, this incredible destruction and still more surprising growth seem like the normal course of events. They are used to it, as if it were the immutable order of nature."
(Letter to his cousin Eugénie de Grancey, Octobre 10, 1831)

"Thirty years ago, Cincinnati was still forest. This city today resembles no other that I know of. It is more like an outline for a city than a city. Yet in the midst of incomplete buildings one finds a raucous life, and people engaged in rather frenetic activity: such is Cincinnati today. It may no longer be the same tomorrow, because each passing day turns the city into something its own inhabitants no longer recognize."
(Letter to his mother, December 6, 1831)

"As these negotiations were proceeding on the river bank, an infernal music could be heard in the forest. One heard the sound of a drum, the neighing of horses, the barking of dogs. Finally a large band of Indians appeared, elderly men, women, and children, together with their baggage, with a European leading the way. . The poor Indians took their elderly relatives in their arms. The women hoisted their children onto their shoulders. At last the nation moved forward, carrying its greatest treasures with it. It abandoned forever the land on which its forebears had lived for perhaps a thousand years to settle in a wilderness in which the Whites will not leave them in peace for even ten years. Do you see where a high civilization leads? . In this whole spectacle there was an air of ruin and destruction, something that had the flavor of a final, irrevocable farewell. It was impossible to watch without feeling a pang in one's heart. The Indians were calm but somber and taciturn. One spoke English, and I asked him why the Choctaws were leaving their land. 'To be free,' he answered. I couldn't get anything else out of him."
(Letter to his mother, December 25, 1831)

"Our stay in New Orleans was quite interesting and very pleasant. If you meet anyone who tells you that the climate has no influence on a people's constitution, assure them that they're wrong. We saw the French of Canada: they are a tranquil, moral, religious people. In Louisiana we leave behind other Frenchmen, restless, dissolute, and lax in every sense. The two are separated by fifteen degrees of latitude. That is truly the best explanation I can give for the difference. What mores! My dear friend, the customs of Louisiana are those of a region of the South into which slavery has been introduced. It is a picture that confounds the imagination."
(Letter to Ernest de Chabrol, January 16, 1832)

"If you want an idea of man's power to predict future events, you must visit Washington. . Within twenty years Washington was supposed to be at the center of the Union's domestic and foreign commerce. It was said that a million people would soon live there. . The people did not come. . Today, Washington is an arid, sun-baked plain in which two or three sumptuous buildings are scattered, along with five or six villages, which constitute the city."
(Letter to his father, January 24, 1832)

"I arrived in this city last Saturday, the tenth. It would be difficult to describe any of my impressions since setting foot in this immense metropolis. I am constantly dizzy and have a deep sense of my nullity. We were big in America, we are hardly anything in Paris, but I assure you that you would have to go below zero to what mathematicians call the negative numbers to reckon what I amount to here. There are two reasons for this: first, the immensity of this city, which surpasses any image Paris might call to mind, and the host of celebrities one encounters here; second, the place occupied by the aristocracy, something of which I think I had no idea. The position afforded here by fortune coupled with birth still seems a million feet above all the rest here. You will appreciate that I cannot yet say anything about the spirit of the English people. What I can say is that what strikes me most thus far in their mores is their aristocratic exterior. The aristocratic spirit seems to me to reach down into all classes: every marquis wants pages, to put it mildly. In short, I see nothing of our America here. In any event, here I am, wandering about London like a gnat on a millstone."
(Letter to Gustave de Beaumont, August 13, 1833)

"But who could describe those outlying districts that are home to vice and misery, and whose hideous folds encompass the vast palaces of industry? . Yet the unfortunate souls who live in these hovels arouse the envy of certain of their fellow men. Beneath their miserable homes lies a row of cellars, accessible by way of a half-buried corridor. In each of those damp basements twelve to fifteen human creatures live cheek by jowl. You hear the roar of the furnaces and the whistle of steam. The huge factories prevent air and light from entering the human abodes they dominate; they envelop them in a perpetual fog. Here lives the slave, there the master. There, the riches of a few, here the misery of the many. Here, in the middle of this foul sewer, lies the source of the greatest river of human industry that exists, the river that will irrigate the world. Out of this filthy gutter flows pure gold. Here the human mind perfects and numbs itself; her civilization produces its marvels, and civilized man practically turns back into a savage."
(Travels in England and Ireland)

"No matter how hard you try, my dear cousin, I defy you to imagine the misery of this country's people. Every day we visit mud huts with thatched roofs, huts that contain not one stick of furniture, nothing but a pot for boiling potatoes. I would think I was back in the huts of my friends the Iroquois if only there were a hole to let out the smoke. Here the smoke exits through the door, which by my feeble lights gives Iroquois architecture a decided advantage. But I confess that what shocked me most at first was finding a pig living in one of these houses. I have no end of respect for pigs, but I cannot believe that Providence intended to make them man's regular companions. In any case, I can tell you that this close association has had the effect of making pigs noticeably more civilized. The Irish pig eagerly joins his host family in their innocent amusements. It is not uncommon to see the children of the house clinging to his neck. This does not bother the pig at all, and he signals his pleasure by grunting happily. This makes for a charming spectacle, a most touching portrait of rural contentment. If you're not used to it, though, it can be shocking, as I indicated earlier. This is a mistake. In Ireland it's the wealthy who are lucky enough to be able to sleep with a pig. While the animal sprawls happily in the middle of the room, the master of the household gazes on it proudly, and I have so completely accepted this way of looking at things that whenever I seek shelter from the rain, I am careful to choose a house with a pig. If I see only people, I look for another place."
(Letter to his cousin Eugénie de Grancey, July 26, 1835)

"This is a place so bizarre, so different from anything else I've seen, so tumultuous and full of contrasts, that my imagination is still in turmoil and I am not sure what to think or say about it. Imagine a sampling of every race, every manner of dress, and every tongue. Europeans, Asians, Arabs, Moors, Berbers, Negroes-each with his own attitude and all confined in a space too small to hold them, scurrying about the labyrinth of Algiers' streets, where some houses lie in ruins and others are still being built. Imagine this colorful multitude as a swarm and you will still have only an incomplete idea of my first impression of this singular city, which seems, despite the disorder that reigns everywhere, remarkably vital, a picture of chaos from which a world is about to emerge."
(Letter to his wife, May 9, 1841)

"Suppose for a moment that the Emperor of China were to land in France at the head of a powerful army and conquer our largest cities and our capital. Suppose, further, that after destroying all our public records without bothering to read them, he were to shut down or disperse all our government bureaus without asking what they did, and arrest all our officials from the head of state down to the game warden, including all our senators and representatives and the whole ruling class, and deport them all at once to some remote country. Wouldn't this great prince, despite his powerful army, his fortresses, and his riches, soon find himself in great difficulty in his efforts to administer the country he had conquered? Wouldn't his new subjects, deprived of all who had led or might be capable of leading them, prove to be incapable of governing themselves, while he, having arrived from the antipodes and being unfamiliar with the religion, the language, the laws, the habits, and the administrative customs of the country, and having dispatched all who might have been able to teach him about these things, would find himself in no position to rule? You will have no trouble, I trust, seeing that while the parts of France physically occupied by the conqueror would obey him, anarchy would soon overtake the rest of the country. . In Algeria we did exactly what I have assumed the Emperor of China would do in France."
(Second Letter on Algeria)

"Imagine if you will a rather deep ravine, to the top of which cling three or four houses inhabited by bathers. At the bottom of the ravine, a torrent roars over a bed of rocks, fed by any number of small streams of hot water, which people have obliged to flow through pipes and eventually to emerge through faucets. Immerse all this in a tepid and slightly sulphurous atmosphere and you will have a fairly accurate picture of this place. You no doubt pity me already, and I confess that I would regard myself as pitiable if I had not, before leaving Paris, tossed into the bottom of my chest a certain number of books chosen at random, which I am pleased to find now that I am here."
(Letter to Royer-Collard, August 25, 1836)