The Greater Journey is a historical reminiscence of Paris brimming with energetic Americans bound and determined to create their destiny. David McCullough, the author of The Greater Journey, not only documents the story of these adventuresome souls, but also provides a panoramic view of the city that enabled their struggles and dreams.
McCullough evokes the courage and resolve of these early Americans who gamely boarded sailing ships to endure a voyage across the Atlantic fraught with danger and drama. This was before the advent of steam ships when the voyage of 3,000 miles could take a month to six weeks, oftentimes under harrowing conditions. Those early “pioneers” who made the voyage included Samuel F.B. Morse, Oliver Wendell Holmes, George Healy, Emma Willard, Charles Sumner, and James Fenimore Cooper, just to name a few.
Besides the authors and the artists, there were Americans who journeyed to Paris to study medicine—over seven hundred in the years between 1830 and 1860—and many returned to teach medicine in American medical schools.
We learn of the inspired efforts of great artists like Samuel F.B. Morse (before he invented the telegraph), the early Impressionist Mary Cassatt, the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and George Catlin, who mesmerized Paris with his depiction of the Plains Indians. The narrative of John Singer Sargent contains some fascinating highlights about the glamorous Madame X who, ironically, was an American. (Amelie Gautreau was born in New Orleans and later brought to Paris by her widowed mother. Her father, an officer in the Confederate army, had been killed in the battle of Shiloh. She was only twenty-four years old in 1883 when she met John Singer Sargent.)
All these fascinating stories are told by McCullough with such romantic appeal that his scholarship is simply taken for granted. By the way, the illustrations, portraits, and photographs accompanying the text are truly remarkable and lend convincing testimony to the tale.
This book is an inspiring contribution to American history.