July 5, 2013
Observations thus far (19 pages and two chapters in): First of all, the title of the book is, in my case, very apt since this book is definitely a greater journey than my usual novel reading. Which, by the way is in no way taking away from the value of reading a well written novel. It is a greater journey for me because it is so rich in historical, literary, and artistic references that I am constantly having to note, remember, or wonder about the people and events in the story. I’m left wanting more and excited about what I’m learning. At the same time, the story is gripping and ever so readable.
I think it’s interesting that “artist” and “writer” were considered noble and popular professions at the time of the story – the first half of the 19th Century. It seems it was respectable and common for young men (Who cared about young women?! But that’s another story.) to aspire to those professions – at least in urban, educated societies. We still have artists and writers, of course, but just tell your parents that you’re going to be an English Major, and see what happens! At best, they’ll suggest a minor in Business.
As a side note to that thought, I wonder if those graduating from high school and college today, with the emphasis in education on “career preparedness” and the move away from arts education and the liberal arts, would have the background information in history, literature, and the arts to understand and enjoy the references in this book. And if most of the characters and events are new to them, would they enjoy the book? Maybe. But it would be harder work.
August 29, 2013
At last, I have finished The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. It is a very, very, readable story, but it was slow going because I wanted to study, take notes, and try to remember the history part of it. It was my “study” book, while others I was reading at the same time were more for entertainment (Find Me by Carol O’Connell), book club (The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe) or reference (It Starts With Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig). I’ve decided that I really enjoy having a book going that is something to study, almost like taking a class. And since history is a subject about which I have much to learn, and since I loved this book so much, I’ve ordered David McCullough’s 1776. American history is a great place to begin.
Reading and Research Notes:
Painter George P.A. Healey is one of the artists featured in the book. He arrived in Paris in the 1830s and to study and paint. [His portrait of Frances (Fanny) Appleton (p.9), who married Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, now resides in the dining room at the Longfellow National Historic Site in Cambridge, MA.] Ultimately, Healey became one of America’s most noted portrait artists and painted images of many significant figures in American history of both his own time and those who came before.
Nathaniel Parker Willis, a young and very handsome, “even beautiful,” writer and journalist who traveled to Europe during the period, was later described by Wendell Holmes, another expat of the times, as looking like an “anticipation of Oscar Wilde.” (p. 10) Love it! Willis was paid by the New York Mirror and wrote a series of “letters” during the 1830’s about the doings of Americans in Paris and about life in Europe at the time.
A little gossip: Chopin had a love affair with George Sand (p.165).
Commenting on the improvements to Paris made by Napoleon III during the dictatorial second empire (1852-1870), the author says, “And with order and prosperity the people might continue to forget the loss of their essential liberties.” (p. 209) So Maslow! If our basic needs are met and we have a degree of “prosperity” , it seems to be human nature to be less likely to question the politics and ethics of our leaders.
Mary Cassat came to Paris with her family at the time of Napoleon III’s coup d’etat. She was 7. It is speculated that her interest in painting began then.
Most Americans who came to Paris in the early part of the 19th century arrived by ship at Le Havre and proceeded overland by diligence (a very large stagecoach-like vehicle) for 110 miles southeast to Paris. “Most memorable on the overland trip was a stop at Rouen, halfway to Paris to see the great cathedral at the center of the town…. It was their first encounter with a Gothic masterpiece…far more monumental, not to say centuries older, than any they had ever seen.” (p. 21-22)
Cast of Characters
Among the Americans living in Paris during the 1830’s and on were artists, writers, and medical students. At the time, Paris had the most advanced medical schools and hospitals in the world. Among those studying medicine in Paris were Wendel Holmes, James Jackson, Jr., and Mason Warren. A school principal, Emma Willard came to Paris to broaden her own education and in turn to improve the curriculum at her school. Thomas Appleton was uncertain whether he wanted to be an artist or a writer, but while visiting Paris and other locations in Europe, he wrote letters and journals depicting the city and the lives of the Americans who were living there. Charles Sumner, a lawyer, was “the ultimate industrious scholar” and studied voraciously and widely across disciplines (p.59).
Teacher and writer John Sanderson wanted to be “the Boswell of Paris,” and his book Sketches of Paris: In Familiar Letters to His Friends; by an American Gentleman in Paris “would be widely read on both sides of the Atlantic.” (p. 58)
Other noted writers who spent time in Paris during the period include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emmerson, and James Fenimore Cooper.
Noted Boston portrait artist George Healey came to Paris to study his art, as did Samuel F.B. Morse, who later achieved his greatest fame as an inventor responsible for the telegraph. Artists of the time spent a great deal of time copying the masters in the Louvre as part of their training. Also, Paris’ atelier were considered the best in the world at the time. Morse’s huge painting Gallery of the Louvre was completed during his student years in Paris. He saw himself as “a cultural evangelical” bringing home the great works to his own people for their benefit and that of the country (p. 65). He went on to paint portraits of many great Americans. [Note of interest: among Morse’s portraits was one painted in 1825 of Benjamin Silliman, who was his science professor at Yale. Silliman is also one of the faces in the gallery in Morse’s House of Representatives.]
The Louvre was built in the sixteenth century for Catherine de Medici. It opened as a museum to the public in 1793. At the time of this book, Parisians were admitted only on Sunday, but, fortunately for the American artists, “etrangers” were welcome every day (p.41). Appreciation of art, architecture, and beautiful gardens was not confined to only the wealthy. The French too time to savor “l’entente de la vie,” the harmony of life. The Americans contrasted this philosophy with the tendency at home to “measure value [of property] by the capacity to answer some practical, physical need” (p.44).
“…The conviction of the French that the arts were indispensable to the enjoyment and meaning of life affected the Americans more than anything else about Paris….” (p. 47)
Notes from part II
Samuel F. B. Morse went to Paris to study art and became a significant portrait artist. However, he was also a scientist and is probably best known for his invention of the telegraph in 1938. In 1844 the telegraph was completed between Washington and Baltimore. Before the end of the century, transcontinental cable was laid for the telegraph between the US and Europe. In addition, in 1840, Morse became a portrait photographer using Daguerreotypes.
Richard Rush, American Minister to France secured the bequest from the Englishman James Smithson that made possible the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution (p. 180).
Margaret Fuller, whose “letters from Paris” narrated life in that city for the New York Tribune, died in 1850 with her family on the trip home from France when the ship they were on went down in sight of Long Island (p. 190).
After studying medicine in Paris, Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman doctor, founded the New York Infirmary and College for Women (p. 194).
In 1849, William Wells Brown, lecturer, writer, ardent abolitionist, and fugitive slave, spoke at the request of Victor Hugo at an international peace conference to great acclaim from the Parisian people.
Following a long and exhausting tour of England on behalf of the anti-slavery movement, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, came to Paris with her family, keeping her presence in the city as quiet as possible. She spent a great deal of time visiting the wonders of Paris and spent many hours viewing art in the Louvre. She was especially transported by Theodore Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa. She saw it as the work of a man “who had not seen human life and suffering merely on the outside, but had felt in the very depths of his soul the surging and earthquake of those mysteries of passion and suffering which underlie our whole existence in this world.” (p.217)
Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens came to Paris in 1867 at the age of nineteen to study his art. In describing his early years when he studied at the National Academy of Design, he said, ” I became a terrific worker, toiling every night until eleven o’clock after class was over, in the conviction that in me another heaven-born genius had been given to the world.” (p. 242) Saint-Gaudens’ rise to success as a sculptor is described in detail in this book and is quite fascinating. His Farragut Monument, unveiled in 1881 in Madison Square Park in NYC, launched his career as a prolific monumental sculptor. His Sherman Monument (with Victory) stands at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue at the entrance to Central Park. Among his other works: the statue of Lincoln in Chicago’s Lincoln Park (1887), The Shaw Memorial in the Boston Common opposite the State House commemorating the 54th regiment massacred in the Civil War in 1863 (commissioned 1884, unveiled in 1897). He died of cancer in Cornish, New Hampshire at age 59. Later his home became The Saint-Gaudens Memorial and remains a property of the National Park Service.
notes from part iii
French architect Henri Labrouste is credited with saying, “In architecture form must always be appropriate to the function for which it was intended.” Later, Paris-trained American Louis Sullivan amended it to the more well-know “form follows function.” So in quotations “less is more”?
Henry Adams lived and studied in Paris during the period and was great friends with Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Adams wrote a monumental multi-volume History of the United States and, more personally, his autobiographical The Education of Henry Adams. Interestingly, his great-grandfather, John Adams, more than a hundred years earlier at a desk in Paris had written a statement of his purpose in life:
I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study paintings, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.