C’est magnifique!: Fanny Explores France

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 landing on French soil in the chilly afternoon of December 9th, the Appleton traveling party made their way to the Hotel de la grand Admiraulte. Nathan had previously arranged their lodging via a letter to a friend, Mr. Greene, who ensured that the wealthy Americans were comfortable. Fanny was pleased with the apartments, describing a “fine salon, with 3 enormous mirrors, the walls wainscoted to the ceiling, the uncarpeted floor of massive oak and brobdingnag[1] cast-iron fire place with quaint bas-reliefs upon it.” She was not, however, pleased with the “few dwarfish sticks” burning in the fireplace, which did nothing to warm the massive salon. Indeed, the chilly weather would prove to be a consistent complaint of this young traveler, “nearly frozen as we were with the damp, penetrating atmosphere of this most frigid weather.” Then again, a transatlantic trip in December promises to be cold.

Regardless of the chill, the Appletons immediately set to enjoying the pleasure France had to offer. That night, they dined on a delicious dinner, praising the culinary tradition of the French.

Truly did we enjoy the pleasures of gourmanderie to a most unfeminine extent, excusable if ever after ship-fare. –But the fried sole, the omelette souflee [sic], the bread and the butter…! We are in danger of becoming veritable gourmands!

The coffee, though, was not appealing to Fanny. She declared that in the future she would pass up “this milk-less, black, strong liquid” and instead demand tea. It seems that while Fanny was willing to try new things, this urge had its limits!

At the close of her first day in a foreign land, Fanny was happy to sink into her bed in the quiet of her apartments, appreciating the luxury – “no small one!” – of a night without the “lullabies of creaking masts and dashing waves. Of the extasy [sic] of silence and movelessness once more!”

The next day, they breakfasted on croissants paired with cunningly stamped butter, and finished off their first letters home, to be sent by packet ship. After, they commenced sightseeing, which Fanny and her sister referred to as “killing lions.” Fanny saw this France with the eyes of a new, curious, if at times idealistic, traveler:

The grisettes[2] their clear, bright, brunette cheeks, neat, jaunty figures, snowy caps and clattering sabots, the children talking such good French…! Everything is picturesque – houses, men, women, children, carts, horses, dogs –and donkeys, above all…. This is the great loss of America! Picturesqueness.

The early entries of Fanny’s travel journals are filled with these sweeping comments about French people. She praises everything she sees, as if it were a picture perfectly painted just for her pleasure, but generalizes in the way that new travelers are apt to do.

The traveling companions traipsed around Le Havre, through thick mud, in search of vistas. They climb to the top of a hill and are awarded with a view of the Seine and the “smoke-canopied city.” They also window shop, admiring “real French bonnets in the windows that we said would have been thought magnifique in Boston!” They only stayed in Le Havre for a day and a half before hiring two carriages to carrying them further into the countryside, to their ultimate destination of Paris.

Crack, crack crack rings forth the shrill whip of the postilion and off we rumble at a very easy rapid rate, dashing by the Cathedral of Notre Dame [in Le Havre] which is strange and old-looking and the Market… with the piles of oranges, flowers etc. And the living square of scarlet petticoats, and rainbow hues of the old women’s garniture all in the open-air.

Along the way, they spent the evenings in the hotels of various towns – Lillebonne, Rouen, Mantes – taking in the sites as they went. On the night of December 11th, they rolled into the city of Rouen, a Roman-era port town on the Seine. Its skyline was dominated by the spires of Gothic cathedrals and its streets were lined with cobblestones and half-timbered houses. While the “gents” of the party spent the morning investigating the factories of the city, and returned to the ladies by noon. From there, they made their rounds to the churches of the city and Fanny was awestruck by the “awfulness and grandeur” of the “conquering stone.”

The Rouen Cathedral was Fanny’s first up-close view of a Gothic cathedral. She compared it to the grandest thing she had seen up to that point in her young life – Niagara Falls.

We entered and I felt a creature of the dust…. There is indeed a religion in mere matter…! Never before did I comprehend in the least degree the wondrous art of Gothic architecture.

Facade de l'Eglise metropolitaine de Rouen

LONG 20300 Rouen Cathedral

Fanny was impressed that Rouen boasted not one, but two Gothic cathedrals “when one is worth making a pilgrimage to form distant lands….” The Appletons also visited the town hall, comparing it to Boston’s Athenaeum, and went to the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Fanny lamented the martyr’s fate, declaring her:

…the heroine of the world! Here was the funeral pile of that almost inspired maid, whose wonderful courage and noble patriotism coming from a woman, were thought nothing better than witchcraft and sorcery. She has proved, however, that even a weak woman can do something….

She stood in the place where she imagined that the artist, Joseph Mallord William Turner stood while sketching his watercolors of the Seine. These various paintings were made into engravings and published in a book, Rivers of France in 1833 and 1834, which she must have seen before her trip and she longed to have a copy of the book. She could spot the “high mountain of chalk in the distance and the picturesque boats on the river making one of Turner’s prettiest.”

The next day, December 13th, the traveling group set out for Mantes, through the Seine valley, which reminded Fanny of the Connecticut River valley. They lodge at the “Hotel du Cheval Blanc,” where Fanny spent her last night in the French countryside musing over their first week of foreign travel and on the differences between France and America:

They must give us supremacy in fireplaces, locks of doors, and shoeing of horses!! So much has our travelling experience taught us.

Next stop, Paris!

To explore Paris with Fanny, stay tuned for our next installment!

Citation: Frances Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow Papers, Journal LONG 21487, 16 November 1835 – 31 January 1836, pp. 59-72.

[1] A fictional land in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, occupied by giants. Fanny uses this term to describe objects of large proportions.

[2] French working class women.


“A Child of the Tempest!”

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.”

On board ship Francis de Pau Nov 18th 1835.

Leisure time on deck, Fanny’s sketchbook, LONG 18490, p.2

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.

LONG 21587-38even (26)

Tom’s drawing of chaos on deck, LONG 21587, p.38

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[1] “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.

[1] A maritime pilot is a mariner who helps to guide ships through dangerous, congested, or foreign harbors.

Fanny Sets Sail

Fanny Appleton Longfellow grew up on Beacon Street in Boston Massachusetts (1817-1861), the daughter of the textile industrialist, Nathan Appleton. As an adult, she married the famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and they live with their family at 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge. That site is now part of the National Park Service and in 2017, we will be celebrating the 200th birthday of Fanny Longfellow – Fanny 200!

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.

Fanny Sets Sail!

November 16th – November 20th, 1835

Those trackless deeps where many a weary sail
Has seen above the illimitable plain
Morning on night & night on morning rise
Whilst still no land to greet the wand’rer spread
Its shadowy mountains on the sunbright sea.


So begins the first of six journals dedicated to the travel records of Fanny Appleton.  On November 16th, 1835, we find young Fanny standing on the deck of the Francis de Pau, anxiously waiting to set sail for Europe from the New York Harbor.

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