Tocqueville and Beaumont set sail on the Havre amid various inconvenience. They were delayed, they ran aground, they finally got going. The crossing took 38 days and while the passengers suffered some serious seasickness, Tocqueville made this note,
". . . aside from a cow and a donkey, we number 181 souls on board, neither more nor less, to wit: 30 in the cabin, 13 'tween decks, 120 in the bow and 18 sailors."The roster included Swiss, French, Cuban, and American passengers (Pierson 43-4).
"You cannot imagine, dear Mother, what a droll life one lives in this great stage-coach called a ship. The necessity of living on top of each other and of looking each other in the eye all the time establishes an informality and a freedom of which one has no conception on terra firma. Here each one carries on in the middle of the crowd as if he were alone: some read aloud, others play, others sing, there are those who write as I do for instance at this moment, while close by a neighbour is supping. Each one drinks, laughs, eats or cries as his fancy suggests. Our cabins are so narrow that one goes outside them to dress; and but for publicly putting on one's pants, I know not what part of one's toilet doesn't take place in the face of Israel. In a word, we live on the forum like the ancients. This is the true land of liberty. But it can only be practiced between four wooden planks, there's the difficulty. Thus the majority of our companions pass the greater part of their time in the most miserable way. One may call it distilling boredom drop by drop.
As for us, we have not been touched by it. So far as the ocean allows it, we follow our land habits: we get up before day, work till breakfast . . . at noon we begin again till dinner. After dinner we chat in English with whatever gentlemen or ladies are willing to listen to us, and at 9 we go to bed in order to begin again. . . ."
Tocqueville and Beaumont used their time on board to practice and to improve their English. This is how they spent their days:
"At 5 1/2 we are aroused by an infernal charivari which drowns out both the wash of the sea and the whistling of the wind-I am speaking of Jules' alarm clock, inestimable treasure, of whose beneficent services we become daily more appreciative. One gets up as best one can, midst the tossing of the ship, that is to say in nautical language, in spite of the pitching and the rolling, which from time to time cause one to bum one's head or elbow in dressing in a narrow cabin. We work till 9. . . . At that time we are interrupted by the breakfast bell. . . .
After dejeuner one generally goes on deck. The lazy even stay there all day making observations on the rain and the fair weather. Less put to it than they to kill time, we take up our studies again at 11. At this moment we are making a translation of an English work, on the prisons of America, which it is so important for a certain French administration to know that our translation may interest them. We will present it to them on our return. As such a study is by its very nature quite fatiguing, we mix in with it readings which are exceedingly interesting and even more useful. We have already read a complete history of the United States. Now with all our energies we are doing political economy with the work of J.B.Say. This study has an extreme attraction; and it is a real happiness for us when, enclosed in our little cell, we put our ideas in common in an honest search after the truth."
Beaumont (Pierson, 46)
Their plan was this:
"We are mediating great projects. First of all we will accomplish to the best of our ability the mission given us; it is a rigorous duty which we ought to perform conscientiously. But while working on the penitentiary system we shall see America; in visiting its prisons we shall be visiting its inhabitants, its cities, its institutions, its customs, we shall come to know the mechanism of its republican government. . . . This government is not understood in Europe. People speak of it endlessly, for the sake of making false comparisons between it and countries which do not in any way resemble it. Would not that be a fine book which would give an exact conception of the American people, would paint its character in bold strokes, would analyze its social conditions and would rectify so many opinions which are erroneous on this point?"
Beaumont, letter to his father (Pierson 47-8)
Beaumont was interested in the food provided for their crossing:
"Each one takes his place at the common table and begins to eat, without worrying too much about the breaking glasses, the falling bottles, the sauces which are spilled, etc., etc. We have fresh bread every day, excellent wine, Bordeaux, as much Madeira as we want, and often champagne. Our food would also be good if we had a good cook, but he is so bad he spoils everything he touches. Still, we live ordinarily on ducks, chickens, turkeys, which are crossing with us and diminishing in number every day. I've forgotten to tell you that among our traveling companions are a cow, some sheep, a donkey . . . all of whom, with the exception of Mylord Alibron [Ass], arrive opportunely at the word lunch, for these animals will figure one after the other on our table. . . ."
Beaumont (Pierson 51)
Their sailing trip ended amid some concern for dwindling provisions and "settled" winds, when the Havre docked at Newport.