For the past few weeks, I have been taking a trip through Europe in the year 1873. My guide and travel companion has been Charles C. Fulton, the editor of the Baltimore American newspaper. As a guidebook, I have used his “Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles”, which was published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. in Philadelphia in 1874.
My trip included two ocean voyages, plus a rather uncomfortable 9 hour trip across the English Channel. I went to the German cities of Bremen, Berlin, Dresden, Vienna, Munich, Frankfurt, and several others. I floated down the Rhine. I went to Paris and Marseilles. And Naples, Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan, as well as boating on Lake Como. I toured most of Switzerland, and ended up visiting London, Liverpool, Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Although I got through the trip in a couple of weeks, it took Mr. Fulton and his five companions four months, from May through September.
Not that I would necessarily recommend Mr. Fulton as my guide. He was experienced (this appeared to have been his third European trip) and energetic to be sure, but he was also quite opinionated and biased. He was not hesitant in giving his thoughts about the physical appearance of European women (he thought that all Italian women other than the very young, for example, to be quite repulsive) and European food (he especially thought that it was quite difficult to find edible food in Paris). He was also concerned that most European service personnel and retailers were out to fleece American travelers (except, interestingly, in Naples of all places, where he says prices were strongly regulated by the authorities).
But he was duly impressed by parts of the European landscape. He loved, for example, Lake Como, and Lake Lucerne and Lake Geneva (no surprise there), but he thinks the Rhine has very little to offer (except for the portion right above the city of Cologne). He loved Dresden (and Bremen, which he thought was just a smaller Dresden), but had little patience for Berlin – although he liked the cafe/beer garden life in both. Vienna was in the course of major expansion – he was there when many of the large public buildings along the Ringstrasse were under construction – and he had a lot to say about that city’s fabulous future, although he recognized a difficult political situation (he really had nothing good to say about Emperor Franz Josef at all; on the other hand, he was quite a fan of Bismark as a great uniter)
Fulton makes a lot of comparisons between European cities and Baltimore (and occasionally other American cities) and generally finds the European cities lacking. What is interesting to me is that he generally finds Baltimore to be more attractive than most of the European cities visited and certainly safer. He does believe that European cities are ahead of American ones in one area – the paving of their streets. But in other ways, he favors America. With the exception, for example, of Paris, he seems to feel that shopping in America is much the superior – he especially dislikes all of these small specialty shops you find in Europe. Give him a good old American department store anytime.
He is interested in, if not overly ecstatic about, European church architecture and approves what he describes as a high degree of Sunday morning church attendance. On the other hand, he is dismayed by the large numbers of priests and nuns he sees (particularly in Italy, but also in other Catholic countries), viewing them all as parasites on society. As to the Jews he encounters, he pays little attention – but does throw off moderately anti-Semitic remarks now and then – clearly without feeling any guilt. He enjoyed watching the ladies promenade on Sundays, and was surprised in those places where, as he puts it, Sunday seems to end at noon, and all of the shops and services operate on Sunday afternoon as they do on regular work days. Cities clearly differed as to general Sunday practices.
He finds the only country in Europe where life might begin to approach life in America to be Switzerland, but even here he believes that Baltimore is a better place to be. He really dislikes London – much dirtier and unpleasant than any of the continental cities, although he does like the Irish and Scottish places he visited. He found the Italian cities, including Naples, to be remarkably clean and organized, although the food is poorly prepared, poorly prepared, and hard to identify.
He is also very sensitive to the weather. When it is hot, he tends to fade (and complain), although he appears more comfortable with rain (he continually ran into rain on his Swiss lake trips, which he took as a matter of course).
There’s a lot of discussion of beer and beer gardens, coffee and cafes, courtship and marriage customs and more. And there is a harrowing trip across the Alps, a trip that had to be taken by horse drawn vehicles on paths subject to considerable obstacles and obstructions.
Travel from place to place was much slower in those pre-automobile and air travel days. Sure, there were railroads, but most transportation seems to have been by horse drawn vehicles, making it very slow indeed.
I am glad that Mr. Fulton invited me along for his interesting trip. But I am equally glad that he led me accompany him on it from the comfort of my own house.