An “Eternal Holyday of Taste and Magnificence”: Fanny Explores the Art World of Paris

December 29th 1835 – January 22nd, 1836

We apologize in the delay of posts. We completed the transcription of Fanny’s first travel journal in order to write about the rest of her experience in France.  The next two entries will cover the remainder of that first volume.

There is little doubt that Fanny’s Grand Tour of Europe was a pivotal time in her life. It exposed her to new experiences, shaped her aesthetic tastes, gave her a sense of what was possible for a woman of her privilege, and would be a constant reference point when she looked back on her life – not to mention that she met her future husband, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, on this trip. One strain that we’ve noticed throughout Fanny’s first journal is a penchant for the arts, and Paris proved a welcomed playground.

A look into how Fanny spends her free time by consuming the visual and performing arts sheds light onto her growing tastes. In a letter home, she says that her sister pursues antiquity hunting, her father with manufacturers, her brother with dinners, and she “with each in their turn.”[1] After a month of new experiences and sensory overload, Fanny rang in New Year’s Eve at the Italian Opera, by watching Giulia Grisi in a performance of Semiramide. The drama and unapologetic emotions of the opera were enthralling for Fanny, especially when performed by a strong female lead, and Paris provided her access to top-notch performances nightly. The Italian Opera was her favorite, but she also attended the French Opera to see Robert le Diable, in addition to the Opera Comique, La Varieté, Cirque Olympique, Theatre Français, Potre St. Martin, and the Place Vendôme. After each performance, she recorded the plot line and her impression in detail in her journal. There weren’t many operas or theaters that Fanny hadn’t managed to visit by the end of her month in Paris.


Interior of the French opera house, Salle le Peletier, during a performance of ‘Robert le Diable,’ 1832

As her time in Paris dwindled, Fanny spent her days seeking out museums and sights noted for their remarkable architecture (she called these sights “lions” or “boars,” like trophy animals). “We are preparing to slay the lions right and left sans cerémonie, and began the week well attacking first the ‘great boar’ (Notre Dame) with two tusks.”[1] She was more than a little disappointed by the cathedral, however, because “modern fingers would dare to desecrate the mother church and – white-wash Notre Dame!”[2] Fanny scorned any attempt to improve or perfect the interior of the cathedral by painting it. Overall, though, she was impressed with the artistic qualities of the sights Paris had to offer. She went to the “noble palace” of the Hotel des Invalides, which housed veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. The Louvre provided endless afternoons of visual entertainment, exposing Fanny to everything from Ancient Egyptian artifacts, to Renaissance classics and Dutch masters. Also on her checklist was the Pantheon (including climbing its dome), City Hall, and Napoleon’s Triumphal Arch, to name a few.

It was in Paris that Fanny transitioned from simply observing art, to being the subject of a piece of art by a respected master. The portrait artist, Jean-Baptiste Isabey, was commissioned to do a joint painting of Fanny and her sister, Mary. They saw it as an honor to be painted by someone in front of “whom so many crowned heads have sat,” including Napoleon.[3] During their two hours in his studio each day, Isabey charmed the Appleton daughters, talking about Napoleon, cats and love. Fanny was able to see how an artist worked and she commented on his process – how the essence and head of the subject was done in person, and then the hair color, costumes, and background were done after they left the studio. Fanny enjoyed her time with Isabey immensely and it no doubt increased her appreciation for the final piece.

Mary and Fanny Appleton

At one point, she stood atop the Pantheon and gazed out on Paris, reflecting on a city that seemed to have its own heartbeat:

The fine heights of Mont-Marte, Peie la Chaise and the grand Triumphal Arch stood like land marks in the distance. The big towers of Notre Dame and the thousand graceful spires formed as huge bristles from the back of this mighty monster cinched beneath us…. Such a strange mass of curious combinations, the long narrow streets running through its rough surface make it look like cracks in a vast mosaic seen thro a microscope…. This gazing into a great heart like Paris, so far above its pulsations, watching whither conduct its mightiest-arteries and show it lives and breathes. How like a human heart would beat its thousand… impulses – its joy and its sorrow and its madness! What must that heart be, made like this of the concentration of millions of human hearts; what kaleidoscope of actions and feelings![1]

Paris was an awakening for her, the place where she experienced really great art first-hand. This month held “happy days of greenness” when she looked up “with unfeigned awe before a Cathedral or a Raphael and where Grisi’s notes [could] summon a delicious thrill of unschooled excitement!” She hoped that her future experiences would never cause her to look on these firsts with apathetic eyes, nor that they be “wiped out by the finger of experience till we grow wearied and ashamed of admiring at all.”[2]

What Fanny didn’t know – but we do here at the museum, with 180 years of hindsight – is that Paris would leave a lasting impression on her, which she would refer back to the rest of her life, and that her passion for art would continue to grow.

Join us next time to travel by carriage through the French countryside, on our way to sunny Italy.

Citation: Frances Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow Papers, Journal LONG 21487, 29 December 1835 – 22 January 1836, pp. 91-130.

[1] Ibid., p. 114.

[2] Ibid., p. 93.

[1] Ibid., p. 111.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., p. 91.

[1] FEAL to Robert Apthorp, 2-6-1826, Box 2-Folder 6 – Item 1.


Art from the Archives: Berkshires Revisited

In this new series, we’re going to take an unsystematic look at some of the drawings of our collection, with commentary ranging from contemporary letters or journal entries that place the drawings in context, to the free association musings of your friendly “Artchivist.” Our aim is to bring some of these delightful and fascinating visual records to light and share another dimension of the site’s rich collections. For the complete collection, check out this page.

For this post we turn again to work from the Berkshires, but this time the year is 1839 and Fanny and Mary are becoming more independent. We’ll look at just one drawing for this post. It is a curious little piece and poses some interesting questions; in the next post we’ll look at two more drawings from 1839 which are more traditional, and will help frame this one.

Stockbridge, 1839

In 1839, Fanny and her sister Mary rented a house in Stockbridge from the end of June until the beginning of October, just before Fanny’s twenty-second birthday. That summer the two young women delighted in their independence, creating their own home and welcoming their circle of friends. They called their house “Yale Manor” after their landlords, and decorated it in a casual style. Fanny convinced her father to purchase a property in Stockbridge by the “ox-bow” of the Housatonic River and derived much pleasure from visiting this property, writing to her friend Emmeline about its “happy accidents of trees, rocks—views &c…” saying, “I cannot tell you my dear how happy I am here…”

Fanny also expressed relief to Emmeline at being away from the complexities of Boston’s social scene. Being away from one social scene however, did not preclude a social life in Stockbridge. It was, in fact, intensely social, with parties, many beaux, much poetry being read and written, visitors arriving and departing, informal musical and theatrical productions, and expeditions to the various natural attractions. And, of course, Fanny sketched. On July 5th she wrote her brother Tom:

“I pity you in dull Boston; here we are as merry as crickets- & as full of occupation as ants. Jewett will be here tonight or tomorrow….I am fierce for sketching now….”

Ice Glen

Ice Glen was then and remains today, a wild place in Stockbridge, so called because of its plunging ravines and overhanging rocks that sheltered snow deep into the summer. In 1839 Fanny went there several times with her sister, Mary, and others. It was an example of the unruliness of Nature in a landscape that was becoming increasingly cultivated. On June 16th Fanny described it to Emmeline:

Tuesday-Yesterday-we accomplished our mission to the Ice-Glen…. All the beaux including the awkward Mackintosh were put in requisition & a famous scrambling we had over the chaotic masses of rock & trees piled up there as if this wild ravine were the lumber-room of the world. Shawls tied round waists & parasols borne like quivers assisted the picturesque effects which every figure had in such a locale. Mary tried to creep thro’ a hole in a huge rock & seemed inclined to end her days there like the frog – till the gentlemen’s officious assistance being scolded off – she screwed up her courage to emerge. If you ever read Miss S.’s [Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s] “N. England tale” this pass is finely described. With Mr Fields’ good aid I perched myself like crazy Bet on the summit of an enormous rock – so Salvator Rosa like were the surroundings with our party sprawling hither & thither – as if down in a well. After furnishing a first-rate meal to swarms of mosquitoes we emerged to a magnificent view of hill & valley & vowed the next time to furnish ourselves with food & not solely these piquante insects.

Six weeks later Fanny described another visit to her cousin Jewett:

“We lionized Mr. Franklin Dexter thro’ the Ice Glen Monday, -who being an artist & a man of taste admired properly that petrified battle….Our complexions…& dress presented on returning the usual motley wear of soil and mosquitoe’s malice. They beset one, like so many harpies, on taking a few sketches.”

Fanny’s description to Emmeline of the expedition to Ice Glen is one of independence and full engagement with the physical demands of the place. The women remove their shawls and carry their parasols like quivers. Mary scolds off the gentlemen’s assistance, Fanny perches on the summit of an enormous rock out of a desire to be one with her surroundings and in imitation of crazy Bet, a character from Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s A New England Tale. Her description of the day’s events shows her reveling in the unconventionality of that bleak and demanding place, and the picturesqueness it engendered. Passing through Ice Glen was an adventure!

Is this what Fanny captures in her drawing?

Made on the outing with Fanny’s fellow artist, Mr. Franklin Dexter, this sketch appears unfinished, as though the mosquitoes had gotten the better of her. But she kept the drawing anyway. We see fallen trees, boulders, a figure, and a distant mountain. The trees are drawn with confidence, and the small figure—a woman seen from the back, possibly Mary—is nimbly portrayed. But Fanny seems to lose control of her idea somewhere in the middle of the composition and her attempt to create a deep space fails so it is hard to know what is important. Is it the rocks and trees? The small figure seen from the back? Is it her relationship to the landscape?

Fanny made a picture that disregarded pictorial conventions. Think back to those 1835 drawings with their lyrical, clear qualities: foreground, middleground, background, the eye led around and through the image, with resting places on a pond, a church steeple, a mountain-top. This drawing offers nothing like that. It is an awkward assembly of shapes and spaces with a small figure near the center. The broken and fallen trees create a kind of desolation. A large rock hangs dangerously above the figure. The distant mountain seems impossible to attain. Foreground and background are hard to separate, diagonals abound, and visual organization is chaotic. Our eye has no clear direction to take and is given no resting place.

The drawing probably parallels the experience of being in that landscape, so in some ways it is accurate. I think also, that the figure in this landscape is important, even if the drawing as a whole doesn’t make that clear. In the middle of all this chaos Fanny shows us a small woman, seen from the back. She looks downward and to her right, but at what, we do not know. Her appearance there is startling.

In Catharine Sedgwick’s A New-England Tale, the young Jane Elton, orphaned and being raised by a strict, unloving woman, is trying to find her place in the world and is helped by her encounters with a variety of characters. Crazy Bet, the character Fanny thought of when mounting the boulder, brought Jane into that “wild trackless region…through a pass…that none knows but the wild bird and the wild woman.” As they entered the ravine in the dark of night, crazy Bet admonished Jane to “follow me, and fear not” and in following, Jane was “inspired with almost supernatural courage.” While there, crazy Bet ascended to the top of an immense rock where “she looked like the wild genius of the savage scene, and she seemed to breathe its spirit…”

When Fanny scrambled among these rocks she had this passage in mind. Fanny admired and loved Catharine Sedgwick as a relative, a friend, and as a woman of intellect and spirit. Maybe in this drawing Fanny was searching for her own way to describe how a young woman might appear in the midst of the wildness, and maybe part of that “wildness” was deciding what direction her young life would take. Fanny was twenty-one, and of a marriageable age, but she was enjoying her growing intellect and freedom, and enjoying her developing skills and social confidence. Is it possible that in her expeditions to the Ice Glen Fanny was also exploring her own ideas of independence? And that, in this small sketch Fanny gives voice to an underlying question about what her life path would be, and about whether she would choose a conventional, or an unconventional, life? We do not know, but this drawing, incomplete though it is, offers a tantalizing glimpse of what she may have been thinking.


Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, LONG 19153, Ice-Glen, July 29th 1839. sketch by Frances Elizabeth Appleton.

Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, LONG 20257, Frances Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow Papers, 1825-1961, Series II. Correspondence, Letters from Frances Longfellow, 1839. See especially: FEAL to Emmeline Austin Wadsworth (EAW) 1839-06-16, 1839-07-07, and 1839-July; FEAL to Isaac Appleton Jewett (IAJ) 1839-07-30; and FEAL to TGA 1839-07-05.

Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, LONG 21599, Frances Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow journal, August through October, 1839.

Sedgwick, Catharine Maria, A New England Tale New York: E. Bliss & E. White, 1822, pp. 137-143. Accessed through Internet Archives:, 2017-03-02.

Art from the Archives: Berkshires

In this new bi-weekly series, we’re going to take an unsystematic look at some of the drawings of our collection, with commentary ranging from contemporary letters or journal entries that place the drawings in context, to the free association musings of your friendly “Artchivist.” Our aim is to bring some of these delightful and fascinating visual records to light and share another dimension of the site’s rich collections. For the complete collection, go here.

No. 2: Drawing the Berkshire Countryside 

This week I want to look at a few more of Fanny Appleton’s drawings from the summer of 1835, as well as highlight some journal passages which provide specific information about these drawings, and others. These passages also give insight into what Fanny was thinking over the course of that summer and help us understand her response to her natural surroundings.

From the time of her arrival in July to the end of the summer,  Fanny writes about participating in all kinds of “country” activities like berrying, milking cows, making cream cheese, visiting friends and relatives, taking walks and drives, and dancing. She writes about the landscape and the weather, and occasionally philosophizes on the Divine presence she finds in nature:

I vainly try to reconcile myself to these awful whispers of the Divinity, & can never cease wondering at the indifference of most people….The ghastly & livid smiles of the lightning glared over the sulky clouds like a fiend, over his helpless victim, triumphing in his weakness—& tossing about his dishevelled hair with his burning fingers—When the storm was over, the sky in the west assumed the most magnificent & wonderful appearance that I ever saw.

She also writes about sketching. On July 13th she spends time with her cousin:

Picked flowers and felt “delightfully un-cityfied. …rambled with Willie down to the river, through the fields—where I staid 3 hours, sketching the ruralities, & enjoying the “breezes which blew thro’ the trees—

 One week later on July 20th:

After breakfast Tom & I strolled down to the lovely Housatonic to sketch away in good earnest. He carried a stool for my accomadation, [sic] which looked as if we were “going a milking.” But we were going to draw cows in another fashion—Horrible! After scrambling over some few fences & wading thro’ the “dew spent” grass we found a most enchanting location where two branches of the river meet with a lovely little island between, as if formed for a pic nic. Here we ensconced ourselves in the shade, & sketched away lustily for 2 hours—I very much amused by two urchins who clambered a tree over my head to see what wondrous mystery I was weaving, & exclaimed “Why! the lady has got that tree right down on the paper!” There were a thousand little glimpses of scenery we longed to immortalize but the pencils were bad & the morning had flown.

On drives, she also records impressions of scenery: “After dinner I took a drive with Father in an open vehicle to Lanesboro, which is a beautiful road & along the shore of a pretty lake—the beauty of the valley & mountains led us on….”

I wonder if it isn’t the same scene that she drew on August 6th: “Took quite a nice sketch of the little pond—seated on a Virginia fence with Aunt Martha reading by me….”

In this first drawing Fanny shows her developing talent, and her sophistication. She deftly uses established conventions, framing the image with a fence, a road, and trees that direct our eye into and around the composition’s focus on the pond, and then to the farther hills. The nearest fence, and its slightly more distant companion follow the gentle arc of the foreground making it feel like we are standing on a little rise above this peaceful pond. Fanny creates a sense of distance through scale and the use of atmospheric perspective, employing her pencil with confidence to mark out the fence and areas of special interest, like the middle-ground trees, with strong, vigorous marks, and to describe the mountains and soft clouds with subtle shading. There is a kind of familiarity to the drawing, and an intimacy and peace in the view across the pond and valley toward the partially cleared hills. The composition is multi-layered, and rewards extended looking.

Where did Fanny learn these conventions, and what models was she looking at?

Interest in the visual arts in Boston in the late 1820s and early 1830s was growing. We can imagine that Fanny’s first art teacher was her mother, Maria, who was also gifted, and educated in drawing. As a young married woman, Maria Theresa Gold Appleton purchased artwork; and around the time of their marriage in 1806, Nathan and Maria each had their portraits painted by Gilbert Stuart. In 1827 the Boston Athenaeum opened Boston’s first picture gallery, allowing women to visit and giving well-off Bostonians a chance to see both European and American art. Also around 1827, German artist Francis Graeter arrived in Boston to become drawing master in Elizabeth Peabody’s school, which Fanny attended. Graeter encouraged young students to draw from nature and to keep sketchbooks and journals concurrently, and to return to their work later for re-drawing and reflection. Perhaps this is where Fanny learned these habits. And Fanny had friends and peers with whom she corresponded, and with whom she may well have gathered to look at, and share one another’s work.

Her journal also gives another clue as to how Fanny saw the landscape in her reference to Ruysdael, perhaps Salomon Ruysdael, a 17th century Dutch landscape artist:

After church Mary & I meandered down to the Housatonic, where we dawdled away an hour or two, seated on the grass & gazing at the swollen stream whose silvery rippling called to mind other days & other waters….the intensely blue sky & the grand waves of snowy clouds—with a stripe of sunshine in the distance & a spire shooting to heaven were more Ruysdaelish than anything I have seen.—

Nine days after her drawing of the pond, Fanny was again inspired to draw. Passing a view of Saddle Mountain on the way to take a walk with friends, she recognized the potential of this fine scene and understood its appeal to her senses, emotion, and perception. On her return she decided to stop and sketch.

Mr. Clay came & we made arrangements to set off to explore the famous cave we have been so long contemplating….At the place where we alighted to commence our walk was a beautiful view of Saddle Mountain, blue & misty, with the village spires peering out below it & a grand rock for foreground. This, I sketched on my return. We had a veritable scramble …While I sketched the view the Clays drove on to Lenox & Mary & Mr M. sentimentalized over a book….

Fanny was proud of this second drawing. It is filled with all kinds of detail: the handsome rock she first noticed, a series of diminishing fields separated by rows of trees, a farm worker turning hay, a horse and rider proceeding down the road. We see the spires of two churches, parts of buildings among the trees, and several handsome, gnarled trees. In the distance, presiding over it all is Saddle Mountain, as it was then known, just beginning to be called “Grey lock.”

This drawing has many of the same elements that make the drawing of August 6th successful. It is a skillful composition with a clear and interesting foreground that leads toward a middle-ground that speaks of habitation and cultivation, and finally brings our eye to the distant mountains, which in this drawing are farther away, and grander. But I think this drawing also seems to have more energy to it; perhaps I feel that because of what Fanny wrote two weeks later:

I took a long last look of Saddle Mountain from my window & felt sad indeed that I should no more watch the echo of the clouds along its ever-changing summit; ever beautiful, in sunshine or in mist: with the glory of morning flooding it with light, or its cloud-canopied brow shrinking into heaven—or its noon-day, shadow-haunted grandeur, or its twilight wanness, faint blue & undefinable—“lovelier than all”. Oh ye immortal mirrors of Heaven’s gloom or joy how my soul clings to you: ye glorious aristocracy of earth must I not revere your towering majesty. “How far is society in the presence of…skies & waters & everlasting hills!”…. Have I not felt its poverty at Niagara, the Ocean, & here!

The next day she continued:

Must I say that I felt almost sadder at parting with the mountains than with the kind hearts that have made such sunshine around us. Nature has been the one friend I have vainly sought elsewhere—& here where it is grander & lovelier than many mortal spirits, I have basked in its every shadow with a visionary’s fervor.

The act of drawing placed Fanny in direct relationship with this evocative and meaningful landscape. It offered her engagement with a source of inspiration, and challenged her to use her skills to create something of value. The act of drawing allowed her to connect with Nature, which had been her “one friend” through the summer. In these last journal entries Fanny reflects on the power of nature for her, and mourns its impending loss from her daily life. Returning to the city, Fanny must have known that her consolation for this loss would be her memories which had been cultivated and preserved in her journals and drawings, keepsakes of the landscape’s sustaining presence.

Brown, Maurice & Diana Korzenik, Art Making and Education, Univ. of Illinois Press, 1993. See pp. 134-135.

Korhnauser, Elizabeth Mankin, Hudson River School: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Yale University Press, 2003. See introduction.

Korzenik, Diana, “Face to Face: Fanny Appleton and the Old Man of the Mountain”, Historical New Hampshire, vol. 63, No. 2, Fall 2009

Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, LONG 19165, 6., Aug 6th 1835 sketch by Frances Elizabeth Appleton.

Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, LONG 19508, 8. Saddle Mountain or Grey lock. Aug 15thsketch by Frances Elizabeth Appleton.

Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, LONG 21586, Frances Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow journal, 1835.

Marshall, Megan, The Peabody Sisters, Houghton, Mifflin & Harcourt, 2006. See chapter 2.

Miller, David C., ed. American Iconology, Yale University Press, 1995. See Kenneth John Myers, “On the Cultural Construction of Landscape”.

Novak, Barbara, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875, Oxford University Press, 1980, 2007.

Sears, John F, Sacred Places: American Tourist Attraction s in the Nineteenth Century, University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

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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