A question by Alexis de Tocqueville
Note: The following is a dialogue between a French observer and a French-Canadian farmer. The Frenchman is astonished that French Canadians have not settled on more of the available land. The farmer answers him with: “But why do you keep your wife, though your neighbour’s is prettier?” What does he mean by that?
Observer – “Why do you live so close together instead of spreading out over the country?
Farmer – We are in the wrong, we worry that we will eventually be surrounded by the English; there are already “silk stockings” (Irish and Scottish immigrants) nearby who have just arrived. But what can one do? We were born here; we have our parents, our friends, and our field in one place, we cannot go anywhere else.
Observer – But this is unreasonable. Above all, one must live. You are happy now, but the field that suffices today will be insufficient when your family is doubled or tripled. You will then want to take more land, but by then it will have already been taken. You see, you have to take possession of it first; otherwise your happiness has no future.
Farmer – It’s true, we are in the wrong, and would be better off doing as you say. “But why do you keep your wife, though your neighbour’s is prettier?”
Gustave de Beaumont cited in Alexis de Tocqueville. «Lettre du 28 août 1831.» Regards sur le Bas-Canada. Montréal, 2003. p. 296-297
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