Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work.
After risking the hazardous journey across the Atlantic, these Americans embarked on a greater journey in the City of Light. Most had never left home, never experienced a different culture. None had any guarantee of success. That they achieved so much for themselves and their country profoundly altered American history. As David McCullough writes, “Not all pioneers went west.”
Some of my favorites stories/excerpts:
·            James Fenimore Cooper became a writer after one day while reading a novel to his wife, became disgusted with the book, threw it aside and said he could write a better book, whereupon he set to work.
·            Samuel Morse was an accomplished artist/painter before he invented the “Morse Code” and the telegraph.
·            Charles Sumner, who was in Paris studying medicine, one day came across some black students.  In observing the group he came to the realization that “the distance between free blacks and white among us is derived from education, and does not exist in the nature of things.”
·            Harriet Beecher Stowe went to Paris to escape the notoriety that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” brought to her.  She loved studying the works of the Louvre, not knowing much about art she compared the artists to certain authors.  Rembrandt was like Hawthorne, in that he chose simple, every objects “so arranges light and shadow as to give them somber richness…The House of Seven Gables is a succession of Rembrandt pictures done in words instead of oils.”
·            Henry James came to Paris with his family when he was twelve. He and his older brother, William, were “set loose own their own in Paris, the two boys would often head down the Champs-Elysees to the Louvre. Henry would remember how he looked and looked again at the pictures.”
·            One of the more prominent people in the book was the mostly unknown Elihu Washburne, who was the minister to France from the United States and was there during the “Siege of Paris” or the Franco-Prussian War. He just quietly went about serving the Americans and others who found themselves lacking during that time.  He was an incredible man and kept a detailed diary during that time. 
·            The engineer Eiffel of the ‘tower’ fame was the same person who designed the locks of the Panama Canal.
·            Finally, there was actually a “Mormon Mention” in the book.  During the late 1880’s there was a huge influx of artists who came to France to study art.  “A group of aspiring young Mormon painters who called themselves ‘art missionaries’ arrived from Utah, many to enroll at the Academie Julian.  Their expenses were being provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in return for work they would later contribute, painting murals in the Temple at Salt Lake City.  As one of their leaders, an especially gifted painter named John Hafen, said, their motivation was the belief that ‘the higher possible development of talent is the duty we owe to our Creator’.”

4 Stars (Rated PG – for a few graphic stories concerning medical practices and the Siege of Paris)

No comments:

Post a Comment