Tocqueville – The success of Manchester

Alexis de Tocqueville is a fine analyst. Here, his reflection is coupled with literary qualities.

The question Alexis de Tocqueville asks himself during his trip to England, and more precisely to Manchester, is the following:

How can we be surprised that Manchester, which already has 300,000 souls, is constantly growing with prodigious rapidity?

Alexis de Tocqueville, Complete Works: Travels in England, Ireland, Switzerland and Algeria

While he describes the misery and disgust, he nevertheless comes out with gold. The industry is prodigious, and allows in a filthy environment, to feed this world.

All around this asylum of misery, one of the streams slowly drags its fetid and muddy waters, which the works of industry have tinted with a thousand colors. They are not enclosed in quays; houses have risen randomly on its banks. Often, from the top of its steep banks, one can see the river, which seems to be painfully opening a path in the middle of the debris of the ground, of rough residences or of recent ruins. (…) Raise your head and all around this square you will see the immense palaces of industry rise up. You will hear the noise of the furnaces, the whistles of the steam. These vast mansions prevent air and light from penetrating the human dwellings they dominate; they envelop them in a perpetual fog; here is the slave, there is the master; there, the wealth of a few; here, the misery of the many; there, the organized forces of a multitude produce, for the benefit of one, what society has not yet been able to give (…). A thick and black smoke covers the city. The sun appears through it like a disk without rays. It is in the middle of this incomplete day that 300.000 human creatures are constantly agitated. It is in the middle of this foul cesspool that the greatest river of human industry takes its source and goes to fertilize the universe. From this foul sewer, pure gold flows. It is there that the human mind is perfected and stultified; that civilization produces its wonders and that civilized man becomes almost savage again…”

Alexis de Tocqueville, Collected Works: Travels in England, Ireland, Switzerland and Algeria

General Knowledge: the City