The Boston socialite and diarist, Thomas Gold Appleton, once said: ‘Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris.’
Most try to get there before that. David McCullough’s latest work assembles the nineteenth-century stories of many who did, when Paris was the capital of the Old World and an irresistible magnet for the New. Americans then still felt a huge gratitude to France, the country that had pulled the young republic’s military chestnuts out of the revolutionary fire of the 1770s. Lafayette was right up there with George Washington as a hero of the American struggle for independence. The French Revolution seemed born of the same democratic seed; and Thomas Jefferson was a Francophile extraordinaire, who overlooked the Terror as a little local difficulty. And in the early nineteenth century, Paris enjoyed the supreme attribute that it was not London.