Friday, 7 October 2011

The Greater Journey

I rarely purchase books these days because we have an excellent library system in Sarasota.   But I could resist buying David McCullough’s “The Greater Journey” (Simon and Schuster 2011), especially because the book was discounted by 33% at my local “Target” store.

McCullough has an easy style and I had previously read his biographies of John Adams and of Harry Truman, so I was glad to return to this Pulitzer Prize winning author.

“The Greater Journey” is about (to quote from the dust jacket) “ the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in  the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work”.

The book is a bit uneven, and sometimes reads like a listing of names from an Hotel register.

But McCullough is particularly good on folks such as 

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America; 

Mary Cassatt – the great American Impressionist painter;

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr  (pioneering American Doctor  [ He had a summer home in Pittsfield, MA which even today has an Oliver Street, a Wendell Ave and a Holmes Road!]);

Samuel F.B. Morse – a renowned painter long before he “invented” the Morse Code and helped to develop the telegraph system;

Charles Sumner who attended the Sorbonne and there saw black students “with the same ambition he had, and when he returned home, he would become the most powerful, unyielding voice for abolition in the U.S. Senate (i);  (Sumner Tunnel, Boston anyone?)

And there was “Gus and Gussie”.  “Gus” was Augustus Saint-Gaudens  ( from New York, son of an immigrant French shoemaker and an immigrant Irish mother),  “Gussie” was Augusta Homer (cousin to the painter Winslow Homer). Augustus married Augusta and were ever thereafter Gus and Gussie.  She was a notable painter, and he became the greatest of all American sculptors.  

(Boston friends, be sure to see his fantastic sculpture of Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachuetts Regiment, [the 54th was an all-volunteer Black Regiment which fought with great distinction during the American Civil War] it is  opposite the State House on Beacon Hill);

Elihu Washburne also figures prominently in the book.  I’ll write more about this outstanding American tomorrow).

“The Greater Journey” is a fine read.  Get it from your library (or buy it second-hand).

(i)  quotation from the dust jacket

54th Regiment Memorial, Boston, MA

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