Sunday, February 15, 2009

Travel Observations

Alexis de Tocqueville, a well-born Frenchman, travelled in the United States in 1831. Many of his famous quotes about America are from his book "Democracy in America". His journey through the western wilderness and down the Mississippi are pretty well known. Apparently not many people know that he also went to Canada. I didn't until I came upon a website of his travels.

Monsieur de Tocqueville was both impressed with Quebec and rather bleak about it's future. It seems he was rather surprised to find a region of French speakers in Montreal and Quebec. In a letter to a friend back in France he said;"They are as French as you and I. Indeed, they are more like us than the Americans of the United States are like the English. I cannot tell you how pleasant it was to find ourselves among these people. We felt at home, and everywhere people received us as compatriots. " (Letter to Abbé Lesueur,September 7, 1831) De Tocqueville was impressed with the faithful reproduction of French customs, language, landscape and even the architecture. He found in Montreal and the villages he traveled though a striking similarity with the French countryside, and with the French countryside of the 18th century. That didn't necessarily remain the case. If you travel through Quebec, as we did at the beginning and end of our travels to France in 2007, I think it resembles North America more than it does France. You can see echos of France in old Montreal and in some of the architecture of rural Quebec, but however beautiful, you never feel as if you've been transported to France.

De Tocqueville was not so overjoyed at the perceived future of the French language in North America. "In Canada I have just seen a million fine, intelligent Frenchmen, who should have formed the nucleus of a great French nation in America but have somehow ended up living as strangers in their own land.... The die is now cast: all of North America will speak English. " (Letter to his brother Edouard, November 26, 1831) Well, he was partially right. Virtually all of North America does speak English (if you wrongly exclude Mexico as part of Central America). However, as we know, the province of Quebec speaks French and they are very adamant about that remaining the case. And in my limited experience travelling through Quebec, virtually all of them speak English as a second language.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just read a book in which De Tocqueville was mentioned...but in a more political sense. Mary Kay's brother Skip has written several books and Murz told me she had read a couple and that I should check them out.

My library had only the most recent...dedicated to his son who died in Iraq...the name is "The Limits of Power" and no recent President goes unscathed! It's less than 200 pages, but it took me a while to read it...I needed to mull it all over as I was reading.

I think you would find it very interesting. I almost wanted to send a copy to President Obama..the last chapter offered some solutions to the problems the book raised and I thought they were pretty on-target.

In case you've forgotten his real name it's Andrew J. Bacevich.

Let me know if you read the book and what you think of it.