‘Custine’s 1839 trip to Russia was spurred by the triumph of Tocqueville’s De la démocratie en Amérique [1835–40], where democracy is represented as the ineluctable political evolution of advance societies. Custine may have hoped that Russia was the proof that enlightened despotism was an equally viable system … What Custine discovered, or believed he had discovered in Russia, turned out to be of a totally different nature from what he had expected to find: a country dominated by fear of a tyrannical power served by an implacable bureaucracy, in other words a police state. Reluctant at first to publish his impressions, he did so after four years of discreet work. The success of the book was considerable. The 3000 copies of the first printing sold out. Four pirate editions came out in Brussels before the second edition appeared in Paris. The first English edition, entitled The Empire of the Czar, was issued in the same year, as was the first German edition; both were reprinted the following year. In Russia, Custine’s book was banned at once …’ (Vincent Giroud, St Petersburg: a Portrait of a Great City (Beinecke Library, 2003), p. 108).
Cat. Russica C-1415; Cross G66 (‘a damning critique of Nicholas I and his Russia. The English translation was republished several times during the Crimean War; retranslated as Journey for our time during the Cold War’); Nerhood 215 (1951 translation, by Phyllis Penn Kohler). For the first edition, see En Français dans le texte 262 (‘fit l’effet d’une bombe’).