“A Universe of New Sensations”: Fanny Explores Paris

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.

When last we left Fanny, she was eagerly anticipating her arrival in Paris. The city was an undisputed cultural capital and for Fanny, it was the opening of a new world.[1] While in Boston, she had avidly followed French fashion, read travel books about which sights to see, and studied the artists whose works were in the Louvre. Now it was her chance to see it all in person. While in Paris, Fanny experienced a buffet of the arts, consuming opera, theater, art museums, fashion, and even French cafés and department stores with the newly awakened appetite of a young traveler.

The Appletons arrived in Paris on December 14th. Their drive into the city gave them a distant glimpse of the Rue Rivoli,[2] the Tuileries[3] and the newly completed church, La Madeleine.[4] Their accommodations at the English hotel, the Bedford, were not up to Fanny’s expectations nor dreams. The next day, Nathan Appleton sought out more luxurious apartments on the Rue de Rivoli, at Le Meurices. Here, Fanny was much more comfortable, delighted with the apartments that were “mirrored and curtained a la Francaise & warmed & carpeted a l’Anglaise.”[5] This hotel, which opened in 1815, is a 5-star hotel still open today.

For the wealthy and privileged Appletons, Paris’ shops, cafés and boutiques were a pleasure ground waiting to be explored. Fanny eagerly wrote home to her friend, Susan Benjamin, that “we make discoveries of new worlds at every step, like Columbus!”[6] The Palais Royal’s arcade of shops was the center of fashion and commerce for Parisians:

…A square… each side about the length of Beacon St. & where the brilliancy in the evening carries me into the “Arabian nights” splendors as by magic & see every variety of costume from the pretty tasteful grisettes to the stalking grenadiers & exquisites of every nation.[7]

Fanny comments to Susan that the French are not as far advanced in their fashion tastes, though, as she had thought back in Boston. The women still wear “long dresses & enormous bonnets” with “large bishop sleeves & cloaks” that give an overall “portly appearance to the damoiselles,” [8] and that there is a predominance of mustachioed dandies, that a “smooth face is quite a wonder.” [9]

All these fashionable people strolled along the nearly quarter mile arcade of shops and cafés, “the choicest articles arranged with exquisite taste all in the windows, most tempting game & bonbonoreries [sic],[10]  cloaks, hats/caps, beautiful miniatures & such jewelry! -all is glare, glitter & splendor….” [11] People line the tables at the cafés, drinking coffee, eating “dainties” and reading the paper. In a world so rich and glamorous, the desire to spend money was “annihilated” with an excess of temptation, one bijou[12] lost in such a world. One shop that Fanny mentioned in particular was Giroux’s, a luxury goods store established in 1799 by Francois-Simon-Alphonse Giroux, which sold furniture and artwork to the likes of the royal families. Truly, for Fanny, every street in Paris was a Vanity Fair.[13]

One of Fanny’s chief complaints about Paris in the winter was that there was too much mud, it was too cold, and there were no leaves on the trees of the Tuileries. How was a girl supposed to indulge herself in the romance of the city in frigid temperatures with the threat of a cold fogging her head? “Paradise could never have been cradled within the reach of east-winds, or 20℉ahrenheit! Imagine Eve with the Influenza & blue cheeks!”[14] The cold weather had its positive effects, though – it drove them into the Louvre, which proved to be another spark to her budding passion for art. While in the museum, she flew from “one glorious picture to another, like a bee,” until her “senses were nearly extinguished with the bewilderment.” She took particular note of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, a Spanish Baroque painter known for his religious works – a genre of art Fanny would come to greatly admire on this trip. She also noted that there were “a great many copyists at work & several females – Was I not envious?”[15] It seemed this young art enthusiast had higher aspirations than simply looking at the artwork.

On another family excursion, Fanny was impressed with the artistry and industry of silk tapestry makers. This particular sightseeing endeavor was probably motivated by the interests of Nathan Appleton, who was a key figure in the creation of the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. The success of that business was no doubt what Fanny had to thank for this Grand Tour experience in the first place. So, the Appletons went to the Gobelin Manufactory in Paris. This factory supplied exquisite tapestry to French monarchs since Louis XIV. The weavers, hard at work on an “enormous picture of Raphael,” made “perfect imitations of these splendid pictures, growing inch by inch, from nothing [and] look very like enchantment.” It was even possible, she pondered, that these copies, made of worsted silk, might outlast the original artwork. “What an immortalization for the genius entrusted to perishable colours and canvass.” And the carpets were so grand that they were “worthy to be pressed by royalty alone.” She found the establishment neat and the workers industrious, thoroughly enjoying her day. [16]

As Fanny’s artistic palate improved, she began to critique art as well. It seems that her tastes were decidedly old-fashioned, leaning towards the Renaissance classics (more on that when the Appletons get to Italy). She was not, therefore, entirely enthusiastic about the “modern art” at the Luxembourg Palace. This “modern” art may refer to French Romanticism from the early 19th century, but she never states it as such. Instead she describes this “absurd school” as a:

…collection of horrible figures and extravagant attitudes and disagreeable subjects! It is a veritable morgue. There is hardly a picture (all with figures as large or larger than life) without some pallid, lifeless body with trampling horses & attiduinizing women – all from classical stories, excellently drawn, but such taste!… If there was ever an apology for a nightmare it would be after seeing such a collection of bloody horrors as that Luxembourg gallery displayed. May my dreams be free from such visitants![17]

These intense paintings were not what she considered in good taste – neither as art form nor as proper expression of emotion.  Lucky for Fanny, there were other emotional art forms that she did approve of and that were alive and well in Paris.

If Fanny had a love of the art she saw in Paris (mostly), it could only be outdone by the opera and theatrical performances that she witnessed while in the city. At the insistence of a wealthy friend, Mrs. Wiggins, Fanny and her sister were waited on by servants and “coiffered” in preparation to attend the Italian Opera. Here, Fanny saw Giulia Grisi perform in the opera Norma and was spellbound. To her friend, Susan, Fanny tried to find the words to describe this performer’s skill, saying that she could “compare it to nothing but a torch of melody shaken in the air. She is so beautiful too, and acted this fine character of Norma with great tragic power.”[18] Later, in her journal she wrote that Grisi’s voice was “forever ringing in my ears and the whole floats thro’ my memory as a vision filled with melody not of this earth. And her beauty — and grace — & tragic power!”[19]

That was just the beginning of her eye-opening experiences that would compel her to be a lover of theater her entire life. They also went to a production of Byron at School, performed by juvenile actors. The young hero was “acted by a fine-looking youth resembling very strikingly the little Lord. He made it really pathetic” and had some fine speeches.[20] Another memorable performance at the Theatre Francais, was Don Juan d’Autriche by Casimir Delavigne. Based on history, this tragic story brought tears to Fanny’s eyes and left such an impression on her that she recounted the play’s entire plot in her journal. “This play made a great impression on me & I skeletonize it here as a jog to Memory. Such perfect acting throughout is an intellectual treat…. One would think this my ‘first play’!”[21]

By comparison to their first few thrilling weeks in Paris, the passage of the Christmas holidays felt foreign and hollow to Fanny. It was “far from a merry day with us.”[22] The sky was gloomy, the festivities lacked gaiety, and the church services gaudy. She went to the Catholic St. Roch Church for the chance of seeing the royal family at the service and was disappointed on that account, as well as by the “gold tinsel noise and mummery.” While she was impressed with the grand architecture of the church, she found the rich apparel of the priests clashed with her sense of propriety.  She disapproved that a mere man covered “his frame of dust in splendor when his unclothed spirit in all the dignity of its immortal nature is hardly worthy to stand before that Presence even tho’ thrice washed in the blood of the Redeemer.”[23] It seems she was experiencing a sort of religious culture shock as the ritual and finery of the Catholic ceremony clashed with the Puritan meeting house style of worship she would have been more familiar with. In time, Fanny would find value in these sort of processions – but again, that will have to wait until Italy!

In the meantime, there were plans of Fanny patronizing a certain French sculptor and murmurings of being presented at court.[24]

Join us next time to conclude Fanny’s exploration of Paris.

[1] LONG 21587, p. 74.

[2] The Rue de Rivoli is one of the most famous streets of Paris, with fashionable shops. On one side of the road is the Louvre Palace and the Tuileries.

[3] During Fanny’s time the Tuileries included both the royal and imperial palace in Paris, as well as the gardens, which were a public park. The palace was burned down in the Paris Commune in 1871.

[4] Roman Catholic church, built as a temple in dedication of Napoeon’s army.

[5] LONG 21587, p. 76.

[6] FEAL-B2-F5-I11 FEAL to Susan Benjamin, 1835-12-19.


[8] Ibid.

[9] LONG 21587, pp. 79.

[10] Bonbonnière – French, fancy box for bonbons.

[11] LONG 21587 p.75.

[12] Bijou – French for jewel.

[13] LONG 21587, p. 75.

[14] Ibid., p. 86.

[15] Ibid., p. 80.

[16] Ibid., p. 85-86.

[17] LONG 21587, pp. 83-84.

[18] FEAL-B2-F5-I11 FEAL to Susan Benjamin, 1835-12-19.

[19] LONG 21587, pp.77-79.

[20] Ibid., p. 85.

[21] LONG 21587, p. 86-88.

[22] Ibid., p. 89.

[23] Ibid., pp. 89-90.

[24] Ibid., p.81.

Citation: Frances Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow Papers, Journal LONG 21487, 14 December 1835 – 29 December 1835, pp. 73-91.


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.