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Rusling, James Fowler.

European Days and Ways.


Cincinnati: Jennings & Pye; New York: Eaton & Mains, 1902.



James Fowler Rusling, after service in the Union Army during the American Civil War that saw him rise to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General, returned to his New Jersey law practice in 1867. More than thirty years later, towards the end of a long and distinguished career, Rusling took his first tour of Europe with his wife, son, and daughter during the summer of 1899. An author best known for his travel narrative of post-Civil War western America, he took the opportunity to chronicle this journey as well. The result is an interesting set of reactions, from a life-long proponent of American greatness and "Manifest Destiny," to the habits, sights, and cultures of the continent with which his country now was competing across the world in trade and empire. Rusling recaptured easily his skills of observation and commentary seen in his earlier books. Interestingly, he also included in the volume personal photographs, holiday "snaps," taken with an early handheld "Kodak."

The tour begins with a landing in Naples, directly from New York by steamship, and proceeds through the great cities of Italy to Lake Como, through the Swiss and Austrian Alps, and on into Germany. Munich and Heidelberg left behind, the family travels down the Rhine, all the way to Amsterdam. The Ruslings visit Brussels, with a side trip to the plains of Waterloo, and go on to Paris, and finally to England and Scotland. They reach home in early October 1899. The scenery that seems to make the deepest impression is in the Alps - Rusling says that one must experience them to believe them - and the party stays on Lake Como for a week after only planning a day. The houses and farms of the Rhine valley remind him of York and Lancaster Counties in Pennsylvania. The peoples of Europe he divides between the "awake" and the dozing. Milan is "wide awake" for Italy, for example, while the Swiss are the "Yankees of Europe" and thus are a "hard working, frugal, religious, brave, kindly race." Meanwhile, the "modern German is a wide awake man and will bear watching, even by Brother Jonathan." (p.232) Political comparisons and the gauging of imperial competition can be seen in several comments, especially concerning Germany, which Rusling considers an imperial rival in the Pacific, seemingly still smarting that the United States has beaten them to the Philippines and Samoa. Holland, he pronounces, would be better off as a part of Germany.

Comments on culture reveal the quite typical American Puritanism of his class. Rusling appreciates the art he sees, rarely missing an opportunity to visit a gallery or museum - he finds his favorite in Titian's Assumption of the Virgin in Venice - but in Paris he "grew tired of their everlasting worship of the nude . . . the French seem to forget that a little drapery is sometimes in order - if only a fig leaf or two." (p.314) He hears that the Germans of Munich drink 566 liters of beer per head per year, and Rusling's response is "One of these days, let us hope, [Munich] will find a better business and a humaner industry."(p.208) He sees the lack of restraint in the huge outdoor restaurants of Brussels, with both men and women smoking and drinking, as "something new and un-American." He seems in wonder, too, at the two young English girls his party met who were walking the Alps alone, traveling very light and covering up to eighteen miles a day. He considers it sad that there is no collection of memorials to the dead on the battlefield at Waterloo as at Gettysburg, saying, "Only a republic knows how to treat men as men."

Current events also come in for commentary; he sees a large meeting in Trafalgar Square on the eve of the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, and writes with some passion on the Dreyfus Case - "that hideous French nightmare" - then rocking France. Catholicism has hurt France, he opines, and he speaks out on religion, and his hope for Methodism in Europe. The Ruslings attend services every Sunday on their journey, even in Catholic churches when no Protestant or English Church is available. The highlight remains the final stop in England where the family visits its ancestral village in Lincolnshire and meets with relatives. Arriving in the British Isles is like being "once more in God's country." The final two weeks are spent in London, which he calls the greatest and richest city ever. He does say, though, that as time passes New York City will have its own Westminster Abbey. Announcing Britain the best of all nations behind the United States, he confidently predicts the emergence of a republic there in a few decades.

For wealthy Americans, the grand tour of Europe was not a rare event, and many others have written of their travels. Rusling, though, as his other works show, has an observant eye and no hesitation to comment from his particularly northeastern "Yankee" viewpoint. He is a patriot who judges all he sees by his homeland and he remains the spokesman for Manifest Destiny that he was when he wrote his Across America a quarter-century before. From this point of view, his 1902 volume is - like his Kodak photographs - a valuable snapshot of Europe, or at least those parts of Europe on the "grand tour," at the end of a remarkable century of change.

Researched and authored by John Osborne, Ph. D.


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