Americans in Paris
They were there, Lafayette
Paris was their goal
Sargent’s love of Paris revealed in this painting of the Luxembourg Gardens
Jun 2nd 2011 | from the print edition
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.
By David McCullough. Simon & Schuster; 544 pages; $37.50. Buy from Amazon.com
“WHEN good Americans die, they go to Paris,” observed Thomas Gold Appleton, a Boston wit of the 19th century. Appleton is just one of the characters in David McCullough’s excellent reminder that Americans’ love of Paris began a good century before the arrival in the “City of Light” of men such as Ernest Hemingway or James Baldwin. From James Fenimore Cooper, author of “The Last of the Mohicans”, to Samuel Morse, a painter better known now as the inventor of the telegraph, American visitors were seduced by Paris: “Never in their lives had the Americans seen such parks and palaces, or such beautiful bridges or so many bridges.”
Paris was so much more advanced—in the arts, the sciences and medicine—than Boston, New York or Washington, DC. Morse, already a successful artist in America when he was commissioned at 28 to produce a portrait of President Monroe, declared that he had to go to Paris: “My education as a painter is incomplete without it.” This desire for improvement was “the greater journey” of Mr. McCullough’s title, following the often dangerous journey across the Atlantic, first by sailing ship and only later under steam.