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Voyages


England and Ireland

First trip to England (1833)
« People say that [the English] are sure to plunge into revolution soon and that one must make haste to see them as they are! So I am rushing off to England as to the last performance of a good play! »
(Letter to his cousin Madame de Pisieux, July 3, 1833)

At the end of their stay in the United States, Tocqueville and Beaumont longed to return to France via England, as they hoped to complete their analysis of American society and institutions by examining the role that was played by America's English heritage. However, they were dissuaded from this project by the cholera epidemic that was raging there. Nevertheless, Tocqueville made the trip alone between August 3 and September 7, 1833, hoping to find in England some initial answers to the question that - given the period of political and social transformation that France had undergone since 1789 - preoccupied him: how can a society go from an aristocratic to a democratic state? Indeed, if America had offered him a vision of a stable democratic society, England (which every political commentator assumed was on the brink of a revolutionary movement) should allow him to observe how the characteristics of a still-aristocratic society blended with the initial traces - or jolts - of a democratic transition or revolution. The reality of his trip across the Channel did not exactly square with his expectations, as seen in the notes he took during his stay as well as his correspondence. First of all, he was surprised at the difficulty he had in meeting London upper-class society, because he was not sufficiently well-known or regarded.   play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore  His subsequent travels only rarely went beyond the beaten track of a convention tour of England: he attended a session of the House of Lords and visited the Oxford colleges, although he did make several side trips to see the great aristocratic houses. This first trip to England gave him the chance to meet William Nassau SeniorWilliam Nassau Senior (1790-1864)
English political economist, lawyer, professor at Oxford. Principal architect of the English poor law of 1834. Corresponding member of the Académie des sciences morales et politiques. Tocqueville's primary English contact until his death.
and lord RadnorLord William Pleydell Bouverie Radnor (1779-1869)
English Whig politician who lived in France at the end of the Ancien Régime and the beginning of the Revolution. Deputy to Salisbury (1802-1828) and later peer, he sought to promote social reform. Tocqueville met him in 1833 and maintained the connection until his death.
, who became some of his most faithful cross-Channel correspondents.
Above all, Tocqueville returned convinced that England would not have to face revolution for a long time, because the classes beneath the aristocracy, far from wanting to abolish the upper class's privileges, desired instead to acquire them. Remaining in principle a open social class, since it was founded on wealth and not birth, the English aristocracy could, according to him, avoid the fate of the French aristocracy: this is without doubt the most essential information that he gleaned on this first trip to England.

House of Lords, London

House of Lords, anonymous © BNF

London (near the British Museum)

London (near the British Museum), anonymous
© BNF

View of London

View of London, Anonymous © BNF

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