Beginning in the 1830s, American artists, artisans, physicians, and writers seek inspiration and perfection of their craft in France. They become expatriates not out of dissatisfaction with their home country but for insight into what they want their lives to become. These mostly young adults travel to the Old World, leaving their home shores for the first time. There are no trans-ocean steamships or passenger ships at this time, so the travelers take passage on cargo ships and face the danger of sinking, as is all too common. It takes three to six weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The Americans spend their time (when not felled by seasickness) reading, chatting, and watching the waves pass. When they land on the French shore at Le Havre, they take a diligence (a large stage coach) for the twenty-four-hour trip to Paris. The Americans are awestruck by the cathedral in Rouen; they feel moved by its sense of holiness. The intense age of the Old World makes them look at America with new eyes. In Europe, everything is settled into an age-old pattern. In America, all things are new and constantly changing.
The American travelers are struck by the filth and poverty on the outskirts of Paris. It is only when they reach the center of the city that they see its glories. The primary occupation for Parisians and tourists both is to simply walk about the city. The Americans enjoy the “Frenchness” of the place about which they have heard so much, but they also appreciate the places where the Founding Fathers lived while working for a treaty with France during the Revolution. Foreigners are welcomed in Paris; the Louvre, for example, is open to native Parisians only on Sunday. University lectures, such as at the Sorbonne, are free of charge. The art, the opera, and the ballet provide new cultural encounters. At times, however, the lower elements of Parisian life are encountered. Prostitutes abound but are seldom mentioned in the diaries and letters back home. Over the course of the beginning weeks of their stay, the American travelers become accustomed to their new way of life.
Samuel Morse and James Fenimore Cooper met in Washington, D.C. In Paris, they become fast friends. Cooper has already established himself in the literary world and is the most famous American writer of his time. Morse, however, is just making a name for himself through his art. He spends his days in the Louvre working on a...
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