Saturday, February 24, 2007

Remarkable Alexis

He was tiny, five foot four according to some though others allowed him an inch or so more, very slightly built with sloping shoulders. But his lovely brown eyes and wavy black hair and his wicked mouth were capable of enchanting, as was his melodious voice which was startling, coming from such a little man. We think of Alexis de Tocqueville as a chilly aristocrat looking on the follies and brutalities of his times with an austere and unsparing eye. An aristocrat he was, the son of a landowner in the Cotentin – the Château Tocqueville is just over the hill as you come in to land at Cherbourg – but he was warm, hot-tempered and sentimental. He burst into tears when he visited his childhood home after five months’ absence. He was amorous, too, nearly fought a duel, wrote love letters in invisible ink made out of lemon juice, married for love Marie Mottley, an English girl with no money, and never stopped loving her despite his numerous strayings. In middle age he lamented “how could I manage to stop that sort of boiling of the blood that meeting a woman, whatever she may be, still causes me as it did twenty years ago?”. Marie was probably the perfect wife for him, almost absurdly English, fond of small dogs and gardening and chewing her food thoroughly. She ate so slowly that one day Tocqueville got up, snatched her plate of pie and threw it to the floor. “Some more pie”, she said calmly to the servant.

Ferdinand Mount
reviews Hugh Brogan’s biography of de Tocqueville.

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