Title Reviewed:
Alexis de Tocqueville: Journey to America

Author Reviewed:
George Lawrence; J. P. Mayer

Harry R. Stevens


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 56, Issue 3, pp 257-258

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

Alexis de Tocqueville: Journey to America. Translated by George Lawrence. Edited by J. P. Mayer. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1960. Pp. 394. Appendix, index. $6.50.)

Since 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville has been known chiefly for his classic study, Democracy in America, an analysis and description that remains unsurpassed in perceptivity, lucidity, and charm. For more than a century virtually nothing was known of its background, conception, or preparation. In 1938 George W. Pierson, having discovered some of the notebooks Tocqueville kept on his American tour, published a monumental study based on them, Tocqueville and Beaumont in America. Nineteen years later J. P. Mayer made the original texts available as part of the fifth volume of his complete works of Tocqueville. Now they are available in an English translation by George Lawrence. They comprise thirteen notebooks, some arranged topically and others chronologically, and three travel sketches covering a period of nine months from May 10, 1831, through January, 1832. The contents include notes and extracts from a variety of books, diary entries, observations and comments on American affairs, and reports of interviews, many of them given in dialogue form.

The wide range of Tocqueville's interests, his sensitivity to the people he met and to his physical surroundings, his delight in the adventure of an American tour (especially to the Michigan frontier, Lake Oneida, Quebec, and New Orleans), and the cordiality with which he was received are all clearly evident throughout. The rapid growth of his interest beyond the original purpose of studying the penitentiary system is particularly striking. Here is the raw material on which a good many studies will no doubt be based; and much of it, even though not written for the public eye, will be read with pleasure by those who enjoy travel accounts of bygone times.

Unfortunately the editing is designed neither for the scholar nor the general reader. The introduction is abridged in translation and the bibliography omitted. Most of the footnotes are cross references to Pierson's volume and will be useless to those without it. Some are used to identify such men as Calhoun and John Quincy Adams, but less eminent persons are left in complete obscurity. Occasionally notes in the French edition are silently suppressed. Misleading paging (e.g., pp. 150-151) seems to have been determined by the compositor. The author's errors go uncorrected (e.g., p. 214, Berian for Berrien? and p. 216, Arisban for Harristown or Harrisburg?). The translation is on the whole excellent, but errors in proofreading are compounded by the introduction of mistakes that do not appear in the Paris edition. A university press has done a valuable service in publishing this English version, but it has not done justice to itself.

Ohio University Harry R. Stevens

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.