This blog series details Fanny’s journey at the age of 18, on her family’s two year Grand Tour of Europe. The main sources of information are the six daily journals that she kept, as well as her sketchbooks, which are now part of the collections at the Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historical Site. The journey starts here.
After a week of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, Fanny and her companions had settled into a satisfying routine of reading, playing games, and tracking their longitude and latitude. The Captain was impressed with Fanny and Mary’s progress in tracking the voyage and he showered them in praise. Fanny declared that she and her sister were “thought to be a famous sailors mentally & physically & the Captain says, will doubtless, some day, command a ship in disguise.”
Fanny may have started to reconsider this the following week, as they traveled up the coast of Newfoundland and were confronted with a series of squalls. Initially, these appeared to be an opportunity for adventure and when the first storm arrived, she ran to the top deck to see:
Remained clinging to the toprail—mast, awed, bewildered—till a monstrous wave broke over my head drenching me to the skin,–what an exulting thrill of fierce delight!– to be baptised [sic] by such a priest, at such an altar —a child of the tempest!
Nathan, Fanny’s father, soon found her and told her to change out of her dripping garments. She left reluctantly, saying she “could have remained forever watching that majestic scene.” Below deck, her older siblings, Tom and Mary, were enjoying the storm as well. As the ship rocked and rolled, the two of them slid and skated across the cabin, threatening to take out the other passengers in their fun. That night, sleep proved elusive due to the pitching of the waves and the “purgatory of perpetual motion.” In the morning, Fanny awoke “to renewed misery” and wondered “where the romance of the Sea was found – certainly not below the deck”! There were many passengers who politely declined to come to breakfast. Fanny delicately refers to this state the French way – as mal de coeur. It literally translates to heartache, but is a charming euphemism for seasickness. This ailed many of the passengers, including her cousin Jewett and father, Nathan, for the entire week.
Fanny, lucky enough to be free from nausea, was still able to retain her “child-like delight” in the squalls. The first storm was followed by another, even more intense, and Fanny gleefully records it in her journal. The door to the cabins and the lower decks was left open and “a giant wave rushed at ‘one fell swoop’ into the inviting portal.”
6 miserable mortals rose, dripping from its cold embrace…. What fun! This is a day of adventures! We are all afloat: screams, laughter, brine in equal quantities flow round…. All those fine oysters gone to ‘Davie’s locker’ [sic] cries Tom…. Creak, creak, crash crash, bang bang. As the tide ebbeth and floweth and so go and come turkeys and ducks, potatoes and soup across the shifting table.
This sort of chaos was difficult for the passengers to get used to. Their dinners often ended up in their laps, and the chandeliers on the ceiling swung dangerously to and fro over their heads. Tom seemed to share Fanny’s enjoyment and did a sketch of the scene, which was pasted into his sister’s journal, immortalizing their adventures. Luckily, by the Captain’s reckoning, they were about halfway through their voyage.
As a diversion from seasickness and squalls, the traveling party decided to place bets on their arrival time. Based on the Captain’s estimates, time slots were divvyed up and written on slips of paper, tossed into Fanny’s purse. For the cost of 5 francs, participants drew a slip of paper, which was then recorded by the secretary, cousin William. There were twenty participants. The rule was that when the Pilot “puts his honourable [sic] foot upon our deck the winner knows his destiny.” Fanny’s slot in the lottery was for December 9th, between the hours of 8 am and 4 pm, totally 22 days of passage. The first possible slot was awarded to the Captain, who promptly added another sail to the mast in hopes of increasing their speed – causing them to “carelessly” careen on into hail storms.
The next night, on Friday, November 27th, they had a dinner worthy of Thanksgiving – venison, apple beignets and champagne. Seeing as it was not the proper day for the feast, the party agreed that they should wait until the following Thursday, December 3rd, to actually celebrate the holiday. Fanny admits in her journal they decided this so they would be able to secure “an equally good [dinner]” in the future. When that day arrived, they indulged again in venison, plum pudding and an extra allowance of champagne! The evening was spent in subtle celebration, playing “Vingt-un,” also known as 21 or Black Jack, “unconsciously gambling with beans.”
The following day, they entered the English Channel and drew close to their harbor of destination, Le Havre. That night, the ship “sounded 90 fathoms bringing up some French sand!” Fanny saved a shell from the sand as a “relic of a country below the deep which few travelers can show specimens of!” Her first sight of the French shoreline was a moment worthy of recording for this young traveler:
What a fairy-scene! The exquisite light green of the water, the towering rain-bow coloured cliffs with their white-light-houses and the dark sails of the myriad of fishing boats all made a picture perfectly un-American.
The question at this point was who was going to win the lottery? The Pilot set foot onto the deck on December 6th, after the Captain’s slot had passed, but before Fanny’s. The winner was cousin William! The Appletons spent that evening packing their belongings in anticipation of landing the following day.
Again, though, the weather had something different in mind. They were “becalmed” in the Channel for two more days, the Francis de Pau forced to tack back and forth aimlessly. The party finished their last letters, read books, asked the French passengers to sing their favorite songs, and got increasingly annoyed with the Pilot, blaming him for their lack of mobility. It was in this last day that Fanny almost succumbed to “the unsatisfied demon of sea-sickness.”
Finally, on December 9th, they approach the entrance to Le Havre harbor – but were again stalled! The harbor could only be entered at high tide and the “stupid Pilot” delayed their entrance. When they finally made it to the dock, they were forced to disembark in a less than graceful manner:
The tide had fallen so much that we got fast stuck in the mud and were obliged to scramble down the ship’s side and pull to shore in a boat, a most uncivil way of deserting the good vessel.
When they finally reached land, it was in the afternoon on the 9th – the exact time slot Fanny had drawn in the lottery! If only the rules for the bet had been worded a little differently, she would have won!
To explore France with Fanny, stay tuned for our next installment, coming December early December!
Citation: Frances Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow Papers, Journal LONG 21487, 16 November 1835 – 31 January 1836, pp. 23-59.
 A maritime pilot is a mariner who helps to guide ships through dangerous, congested, or foreign harbors.