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Notes of Alexis de Tocqueville in Lower Canada

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{{title|Notes taken in Lower Canada|[[w:Alexis de Tocqueville|Alexis de Tocqueville]]|Lower Canada, August 24 to September 2, 1831<br /><br /> Partially translated from French by G. Lawrence, <br/ >with corrections and completion by [[User:Mathieugp|Mathieu Gauthier-Pilote]]}}
Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous author of ''Democracy in America'', left us posterity some interesting notes of his visit in comments on the British province of Lower Canada, today the Canadian province of Québec, which were for the first time compiled from his travel journal and correspondence in Jacques Vallée's ''Tocqueville au Bas-Canada'' in 1973 and again in 2003 in Claude Corbo's ''Alexis de Tocqueville. Regards sur le Bas-Canada''.
*Q. Is it true that instruction is spreading?
*A. Since several years a complete change is occurring in this regard. The impulsion is now given and the Canadian race that is being brought up at the moment will not resemble that which exists now.
*Q. Do you not fear that these new lights will undermine the religious principle?
:So the interests of religion came to be opposed to the government and in harmony with those of the people. Hence whenever we have had to struggle with the English, the clergy have been at our head or in our ranks. They have continued to be loved and respected by all.
:So far from being opposed to ideas of liberty, they have preached themselves. All the measures we have taken to promote [[w:Public education|public education]], which have been pretty well forced through against the will of the English government, have been supported by the clergy. In Canada it is the [[w:Protestants|Protestants]] who support [[w:Aristocracy|aristocratic]] notions. The [[w:Catholics|Catholics]] have been accused of being [[w:Demagogy|demagogues]]. What makes me suppose that the political color of our priests is peculiar to Canada, is that the priests who occasionally arrive here from France show, on the contrary, a compliance and docility towards authority which we cannot understand.
*Q. Are morals [[w:chaste|chaste]] in Canada?
The villages we saw in the surroundings are extraordinarily like our beautiful villages. Only French is spoken there. The population seems happy and well-off. The race is notably more beautiful than in the United States. The race there is strong, and the women do not have that delicate, febrile look that characterizes most of the women of America.
The Catholic religion there has none of those accessories which are attached to it in those countries of the South of Europe where its sway is strongest. There are no monasteries for men, the convents for women are directed towards useful purposes and give examples of charity warmly admired by the English themselves. One sees no [[Madonnas]] on the roads. No strange and ridiculous ornaments, no ''[[w:Ex-voto|ex-votos]]'' in the churches. Religion is enlightened, and Catholicism here does not arouse the hatred or the sarcasms of the Protestants. I own for my part that it satisfies my spirit more than the Protestantism of the United States. The parish priest here is in very deed the shepherd of his flock: he is not at all an entrepreneur of a religious industry like the greater part of American ministers. One must either deny the usefulness of clergy, or have such as are in Canada.
I went today in a lecture cabinet. Almost all the printed newspapers of Canada are in English. They have about the same dimension as of those of London. I did not yet read them. In Quebec City a newspaper called the ''[[w:Montreal Gazette|Gazette]]'', half-English, half-French; and a newspaper absolutely French called the ''[[w:Le Canadien|Canadien]]''. This newspapers have more or less the dimension of our French newspapers. I have carefully read some issues: they offer a violent opposition to the government and even to all that is English. The epigraph of the ''Canadien'' is: ''Our Religion, Our Language, Our Laws''. It is difficult to be more frank. The contents answers the title. All that can inflame both great and small popular passions against the English are carefully reported upon in this newspaper. I have seen an article in which it was said that Canada would never be happy until it had an administration that would be Canadian by birth, by principle, ideas, prejudice even, and that if Canada escaped England, it would not be to remain English. In this same newspaper one could find pieces of French verses that were quite nice. Was reported upon a distribution of prizes where the students had played ''[[ Athalie]]'', ''[[ Zaïre]]'', ''[[ la Mort de César]]''. In general the style of this newspaper is common, mixed with ''[[w:Anglicism|anglicisms]]'' and strange expressions. It resembles a lot the newspapers in the [[w:Vaud|Vaud canton]] in [[w:Switzerland|Switzerland]]. I have not yet seen in Canada a single man of talent, nor read a production proving it. The one who must awaken the French population, and rise it against the English is not yet born.{{Refl|5}}
The English and the French merge so little that the latter exclusively keep the name of ''Canadiens'', the others continuing to call themselves English.
=== Visit of a civil court in Quebec ===
We came into a large hall divided into tiers crowded with people who seemed altogether French. The [[w:Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom|British arms]] were painted in full size on the end of the hall. Beneath them was the judge in robes and bands. The lawyers were ranked in front of him.
When we came into the hall a slander action was in progress. It was a question of fining a man who had called another ''pendard'' (gallows-bird) and ''crasseux'' (stinker). The lawyer argued in English. ''Pendard'', he said, pronouncing the word with a thoroughly English accent, "meant a man who had been hanged." "No", the judge solemnly intervened, "but who ought to be". At that, counsel for the defense got up indignantly and argued his case in French: his adversary answered in English.
The argument waxed hot on both sides in English, no doubt without their understanding each other perfectly. From time to time the Englishman forced himself to put his argument in French so as to follow his adversary more closely; the other did the same sometimes. The judge, sometimes speaking French, sometimes English, endeavored to keep order. The [[crier]] of the court called for "silence" giving the word alternatively its English and its French pronunciation.
Calm re-established, witnesses were heard. Some kissed the silver [[w:Christ|Christ]] on the [[w:Bible|Bible]] and swore in French to tell the truth, the others swore the same oath in English and, as Protestants, kissed the other side of the Bible which was undecorated. The customs of [[w:Normandy|Normandy]] were cited, reliance placed on [[Denisart]], and mention was made of the decrees of the [[w:Parliament of Paris|Parliament of Paris]] and statutes of the reign of [[George III]]. After that the judge: "Granted that the word ''crasseux'' implies that a man is without morality, ill-behaved and dishonorable, I order the defendant to pay a fine of ten [[w:Louis d'or|louis]] or ten [[Wikipedia:Pound sterling|pounds sterling]]."
The lawyers I saw there, who are said to be the best in Quebec, gave no proof of talent either in the substance or in the manner of what they said. They were conspicuously lacking in distinction, speaking French with a middle class Norman accent. Their style is vulgar and mixed with odd [[w:idioms|idioms]] and English phrases. They say that a man is "charge" of ten louis meaning that he is asked to pay ten louis. "Entrez dan la boite", they shout to a witness, meaning that he should take his place in the witness-box.
There is something odd, incoherent, even [[w:burlesque|burlesque]] in the whole picture. But at the bottom the impression made was one of sadness. Never have I felt more convinced than when coming out from there, that the greatest and most irremediable ill for a people is to be conquered.
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=== Conversation with John Neilson ===
[[Image:John-neilson-profil.jpg|thumb|John Neilson, member of Parliament in Lower Canada]]Mr. [[Wikipedia:John Neilson|Neilson]] is a [[w:Scot|Scot]]. Born in Canada [''sic'']{{Refl|6}} and related by marriage to Canadians, he speaks French as easily as his own language. Mr. Neilson, although a foreigner, may be regarded as one of the leaders of the Canadians in all their struggles with the English government. Although he is a Protestant, for fifteen years continuously the Canadians have elected him as a member of the House of Assembly. He has been an ardent supporter of all measures favouring the Canadians. He with two others was sent in 1825 [''sic'']{{Refl|7}} to England to plead for redress of grievances. Mr. Neilson has a lively and original turn of mind. The [[Wikipedia:antithesis|antithesis]] between his birth and his social position leads sometimes to strange contrasts in his ideas and in his conversation.
* Q. What does Canada cost the English government in the current year?
* Q. There are still some traces of feudalism here?
* A. Yes, but so slight that they are almost unnoticed: 1) The lord receives an almost nominal rent for the land which he originally granted. It may for instance be 6 to 8 [[Wikipedia:French franc|francs]] for 90 acres [about 135 English acres]. 2) Corn must be ground at his mill, but he may not charge more than the maximum fixed by law, which is less than one pays in the United States where there is freedom and competition. 3) There are dues for ''lods et ventes'', that is to say that when feudally held land is sold, the seller must give one twelfth of the purchase price to the lord. That would be rather a heavy burden, were it not that the strongest determination of the people is to remain invincibly attached to the land. Those are all the traces of feudalism that remain in Canada. Beyond that the lord has no [[titular rights]] and no privileges. There is not and cannot be any [[Wikipedia:nobility|nobility]]. Here, as in the United States, one must work to live. There are no [[w:Tenant farmer|tenants]]. So the lord is normally a farmer himself. However, no matter how equal the footing on which the lords now stand, there is still some fear and some jealousy in the people's attitude towards them. It is only by going over to the popular party that a few of them have succeeded in getting elected to the House of Commons. The peasants remember the state of subjection in which they were held under French rule. One word lingers in their memory as a political scarecrow, that is the ''[[Wikipedia:taille|taille]]''. They no longer know exactly what the word means, but for them it stands for something not to be tolerated. I am sure they would take up arms if there were an attempt to impose any tax whatever to which that name was given.
* Q. What conditions of eligibility are there for entry into your House of Commons?
* A. Yes. A year ago our House of Commons passed a law to repeal the aliens legislation. After seven years' residence the foreigner becomes a Canadian and enjoys citizen's rights.
''We went with Mr. Neilson to see the village of Lorette three leagues from Quebec, founded by Jesuits. Mr. Neilson showed us the old church built by the Jesuits and told us:'' "The memory of the Jesuits is adored here." ''The houses of the Indians were quite clean. They themselves spoke French and have an almost European appearance despite their costume being different. All all were half-breeds. I was surprised not to see them farm the land. Bah! told me Mr. Neilson, these [[w:Huron|Huron]]s are gentlemen, they would think it a dishonour to work. Scratching the earth like bulls, they say, that is meant for French or English. They live from hunting and small crafts done by their women.''
*Q. Is it true the Indians have a predilection for the French?
*Q. What has happened to the Hurons who showed such a constant affection for the French and played such a great role in the history of the colony?
A. They assimilated little by little. They were however the greatest Indian nation on this continent. They could arm up to 60,000 men. You see what remains. We think that almost all the Indians of North America have the same origin. There are only the [[w:Inuit|Esquimaux]] from the Hudson Bay who evidently belong to another race. There, all is different: language, canoes... I was telling you a little earlier of your aptitude to become Indians. In Canada we had mostly such a race of men now almost entirely extinguished who were excellent in this matter. They were the agents of the fur trade known as the ''[[Voyageurs]]''. They were recruited among the whole population. I do not believe that intrepidity and spirit of adventure was even pushed further. They were surprising and subjugating the Indians themselves in their forests.
Mr. [[Richard]], Catholic priest, is sent to the Congress by a protestant population. Mr. Neilson is protestant, and sent to the Commons of Canada by a Catholic population. Do these facts prove that religion is better understood or that its strength is weakening? They prove, I think, one and the other.
==2nd September 1831 - Leave Montreal by steamboat ''Voyageur'' for La Prairie ==
[[Image:Tocqueville.jpg|thumb|Alexis de Tocqueville painted by Théodore Chassériau in 1850.]]We have seen a great number of ecclesiastics since our arrival in Canada. It appeared to us that they constituted the first class among the Canadians. All those we have seen were educated, polite, well raised. They speak French with purity. In general they are more distinguised distinguished than most of the curates of France. One can see in their conversation that they are ''all Canadians''. They are united by heart and interests to the population and talk about their needs very well. They however appeared to have a feeling of ''loyalty'' towards the King of England, and in general sustained the principle of legitimacy. Yet one of them told me: "We now have every reason to hope, the ministry is ''democratic''." Today to do opposition, tomorrow they might very well do rebellion if the government were to become tyrannical. ''All in all'', this people prodigiously resembles the French people. Or rather they are still French, trait for trait, and consequently perfectly different from the English populations surrounding them. Gay, lively, mocking, loving glory and noise, intelligent, eminently sociable, their mores are sweet and their character is obliging. The people in general is more moral, more hospitable, more religious than in France. There is only in Canada that one can find what we can call a ''bon enfant'' (good child) in France. The English and the American is either ''coarse'' or ''cold''.
A peasant was telling me: "While we never come an argument with them, the English are not honest."
 {{Refa|1}} And it was quite the struggle to obtain it. But in In late August 1831, at the time of Tocqueville's visit, it was believed that the days of press censorship and the imprisoning of their newspaper owners were over. They however came back in 1837-38.
{{Refa|2}} [[Dominique Mondelet]] and [[Charles-Elzéar Mondelet]] most likely.
{{Refa|3}} They possibly meant two French-language newspapers in the town of Montreal, or else maybe two daily French-language newspapers in the whole province(''La Minerve'' in Montreal, ''Le Canadien'' in Quebec City).
{{Refa|4}} And they remained the ruling class in Quebec until the [[Quiet Revolution]].
{{Refa|5}} Actually he was. Unfortunately for history, [[Wikipedia:Louis-Joseph Papineau|Louis-Joseph Papineau]] was sojourning at his country residence the whole time of Tocqueville's visit.
{{Refa|6}} John Neilson was born in Scotland in 1776, and emigrated to Canada at the age of 14. He was then joining his older brother Samuel to work at their uncle William Brown's printing shop in Quebec City. In 1793, he inherited his uncle's bilingual newspaper ''La Gazette de Québec/The Quebec Gazette'', founded in 1764, the first newspaper in the history of Quebec.
{{Refa|7}} John Neilson and Louis-Joseph Papineau were both sent to London to deliver [[Letter from L. J. Papineau and J. Neilson, Esqs., Addressed to His Majesty's Under Secretary of State on the Subject of the Proposed Union of the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada|petitions against the Union bill in of 1822]]. In 1828, John Neilson, [[Denis-Benjamin Viger]] and [[Augustin Cuvillier]] were delegated to London to present petitions against the administration of governor [[Dalhousie]]. Tocqueville was most likely referring to the second event.
{{Refa|8}} The Conquest occurred in 1760 and , after a three-year long military rule of the country, was confirmed in international law with the 1763 [[w:Treaty of Paris (1763)|Treaty of Paris]] in which the King of France ceded ''"[...] Canada'' , with all its dependencies, as well as the island of Cape Breton, and all the other islands and coasts in the gulph and river of St. Lawrence [...]" to the King of Great Britain.
{{Refa|9}} John Neilson here refers to mass education, specifically, mass literacy which was non-existent under the French regime and most other regimes of the same period. There of course was an education system in the time of New France and it compared favourably to that of many other colonies.
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[[Category:Private Travel journals]]
[[Category:19th century]]
[[Category:Commentaries on Quebec]]


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