main menu - summary - content - site map - accessibility

Voyages


Italy and Sicily

A mild winter at Sorrento (1850)
« Our house, which stands on a mountainside facing [the sea], is surrounded by a veritable forest of orange and lemon trees in which I take walks. What admirable nature, and what a charming climate, and how fortunate it is that those two things are beyond the reach of man, for if men could spoil them, surely they would not have failed to do so here. »
(Letter to his brother Edouard, December 22, 1850)

Twenty-five years later, Tocqueville's second trip to the Italian peninsula took place under quite different circumstances. It was the winter of 1850, and Alexis de Tocqueville was a major figure on the French political scene. In March of that year, he had suffered a severe attack of tuberculosis, and his doctors advised him to spend the winter in a milder climate than that of Cotentin. Regretfully leaving behind a very complex political situation in Paris, he decided to spend the winter in Italy in the company of his wife. On November 9th, the couple boarded a ship in Marseilles bound for Civitavecchia. After a difficult crossing, they decided to abandon the idea of traveling to Palermo, preferring instead to stop at Sorrento in the Bay of Naples. There, starting on December 12th, they rented a villa in the midst of orange groves that faced the sea. The natural beauty and the gentle climate seemed to have made for a wonderful holiday, and encouraged Tocqueville to take up his pen again. Starting in late December 1850, he worked enthusiastically on his Souvenirs, and it was in Sorrento that he wrote the chapters devoted to the events of June 1848 and the beginnings of the Second Republic - sections in which the author's bitterness and regrets showed plainly.
In addition, the couple's stay was enlivened by the presence of Jean-Jacques Ampère between January and March 7, 1851, as well as by the visit of 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.
. They both took part in long discussions, nearly all of which centered around the Souvenirs of 1848, according to Jean-Jacques Ampère's recounting of the holiday in the article that he wrote for Le Correspondant after his friend's death.  play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore   Nevertheless, it was during his stay in Sorrento that Alexis de Tocqueville began to harbor the desire to take a step back from politics in order to write another great historical work. The project was not yet clearly defined in the mind of the author, but it is easy to guess that it would be the future essay The Old Regime and the Revolution.

The Bay of Naples, Johan Christian Clausen Dahl

View of the Bay of Naples from Piedmont, Johan Christian Clausen Dahl
© RMN/Elke Walford

Top of page