This is the story of Americans who traveled to Paris during the seven final decades of the 19th century. It's a history of the young years of individuals who ended up being famous and important Americans in their later mature years. Generally speaking, many of them were single, affluent individuals (mostly men) in their 20's intent on learning the artistic, scientific, and medical skills of the French who were perceived to be leaders in these fields.
I too spent some time traveling in Europe when I was young, and reading of the experiences of these early Americans reminded me of my own excitement of being young in a foreign country. So I would like to think that I was able to identify with some of their experiences, particularly their commiserating with other Americans they met abroad.
Here's a partial list of individuals covered by this book:
Oliver Wendell Holmes (physician, professor, lecturer, and author)
James Fenimore Cooper (author)
Charles Sumner (abolitionist politician)
Samuel F. B. Morse (failed artist and inventor of the telegraph)
Elizabeth Blackwell (America’s first female physician)
Harriet Beecher Stowe (author)
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (sculptor)
Elizabeth Fisher Nichols (wife of Augustus Saint-Gaudens)
Mary Cassatt (artist-painter)
John Singer Sergeant (artist-painter)
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (artist-painter)
James Adams (author)
In the process of telling the story of the Parisian adventures of these individuals, the book also provides a summary history of France during these same years. This includes the Franco-Prussian War and the terror of the temporary reign of the Paris Commune.
There's a story in the book that I enjoyed because it gave an example of the advantages of speaking bad French. During the reign of the Paris Commune an unruly mob came to an estate owned by a rich American and demanded every animal on the premises. He replied, ". . . you may have 'le cheval' but not the 'le vache' using the masculine pronoun le for cow, it was more than they
(the mob) could bear."
The mob convulsed with laughter. So they took the horse and left the cow; The bad French thus defused a potentially deadly confrontation and turned it into a funny story.
The book contains an epilog that briefly tells what happened to many of these individuals after they returned home.