u.s. grant's famed world tour -- 4/8/19

Today's selection -- from Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis. Immediately after completing his second (and scandal-filled) term in office, President U.S. Grant embarked on a world tour:

"It was the most famous and perhaps longest family vacation in Amer­ican history. 'Under a crescendo of criticism for the corruption of his administration,' the newly retired president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, his wife Julia, and son Jesse left Philadelphia in spring 1877 for Europe. The ostensible purpose of the trip was to spend some time with daughter Nellie in England, who was married (after the fashion that Henry James would celebrate) to a 'dissolute English gentleman.'

"Poor Nellie, in fact, saw little of her publicity-hungry parents, who preferred red carpets, cheering throngs and state banquets. As one of Grant's biog­raphers has put it, 'much has been said about how Grant, the simple fellow, manfully endured adulation because it was his duty to do so. This is nonsense.' Folks back home were thrilled by New York Herald journalist John Russell Young's accounts of the 'stupendous dinners, with food and wine in enormous quantity and richness, followed by brandy which the general countered with countless cigars.' Even more than her husband, Mrs. Grant -- but for Fort Sumter, a drunken tanner's wife in Galena, Illi­nois -- 'could not get too many princely attentions.' As a result, 'the trip went on and on and on' -- as did Young's columns in the Herald.

Grant (front row, center) and family at Karnak, January 1878

"Wherever they supped, the Grants left a legendary trail of gaucheries. In Venice, the General told the descendants of the Doges that 'it would be a fine city if they drained it,' while at a banquet in Buckingham Palace, when the visibly uncomfortable Queen Victoria (horrified at a 'tantrum' by son Jesse) invoked her 'fatiguing duties' as an excuse to escape the Grants, Julia responded: 'Yes, I can imagine them: I too have been the wife of a great ruler.' In Berlin, the Grants hovered around the fringes of the great Congress of Powers as it grappled with the 'Eastern Question' as a prelude to the final European assault on the uncolonized peoples of Africa, Asia and Oceania.

"Perhaps it was the intoxication of so much imperialist hyperbole or the vision of even more magnificent receptions in oriental palaces that prompted the Grants to transform their vacation into a world tour. With James Gordon Bennett Jr. of the New York Herald paying the bar tab and the US Navy providing much of the transporta­tion, the ex-First Family plotted an itinerary that would have humbled Alexander the Great: up the Nile to Thebes in Upper Egypt, back to Pal­estine, then on to Italy and Spain, back to the Suez Canal, outward to Aden, India, Burma, Vietnam, China and Japan, and, finally, across the Pacific to California."

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Mike Davis


Late Victorian Holocausts


Verso Books


Copyright Mike Ddavis 2001, 2002, 2017


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