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A Nineteenth Century Honeymoon: The Wedding Travels of Frances Henrietta and Henry Livingston Webb, 1832-1833
Frances Henrietta Delord, the only child of Henry and Betsey Delord, married Henry Livingston Webb in the Gold Parlor of her parents' home on Monday, August 13, 1832. Immediately following the ceremony, the newlyweds embarked for Burlington, Vermont, their first stop on a whirlwind honeymoon tour that would last for a year and would carry them to France, Italy, Switzerland, England, and Scotland. Frances, who celebrated her nineteenth birthday on October 13, 1832 in Nismes, France, the birthplace of her father, kept a detailed journal chronicling almost the entire trip. That journal resides at the Special Collections in Feinberg Library at the State University College in Plattsburgh and is the source for most of the information in this essay.
Three days in a stagecoach carried the happy couple from Burlington to Hartford, Connecticut. Frances and Henry spent the next two weeks “receiving and returning visits together with many pleasant rides.” Henry was born just down the road in Wethersfield, his maiden sisters lived in Hartford, and he undoubtedly had many friends in the area. Frances remarked, “We were treated with much politeness.” From Mrs. Sigourney, the poetess, she received “a few lines with the inscription `Flowers to a Bride,' a mark of attention I little expected.” Lydia Sigourney (1791-1865) was an extremely popular poet of the times commonly known as the “Sweet Singer of Hartford.” Mrs. Sigourney often wrote poems or elegies for recently deceased neighbors and friends. In 1834, the Connecticut Courant of Hartford would publish one of Mrs. Sigourney's elegies. Tragically, it was entitled: “On the Death of Mrs. Henry L. Webb.”
Frances and Henry left Hartford and the comforts of home on Wednesday, August 29, arriving at New Haven the next morning. From there, they took the noon steamboat to New York City. Friday, September 1, was spent touring the island of Manhattan, and the next day they boarded the Rhone, bound for Le Havre, France. The ocean crossing was a difficult one for Frances. Seventeen days into the trip she wrote in her journal, “Sad to relate that until a day past, I have been constantly sea sick.”
“It will doubtless be gratifying to you, my Dear Brother, to hear of our safe arrival at the haven of our destination,” Frances wrote to Charles Webb, Henry's younger brother from Le Havre on October 1. “Immediately upon touching the dock an officer came on board demanding our passport; next came the officers of health. We were finally conducted to the Hotel de L'Amirante which is a fine building and somewhat antique.” Frances and Henry left “in a splendid private carriage,” passed through Rouen, and, riding all night, reached Paris on Wednesday morning, October 3. “We are very pleasantly situated,” Frances noted, “being directly opposite the garden of the Tuileries into which opens the Palais royal, the palace of Louis Phillipe.”
The Tuileries Palace
On October 11, Frances and Henry reached Nismes, where they met the old Delord family servant, Marguerite Michael, and tended to matters relating to the settling of Frances's aunt Julia's estate. “Old Marguerite gave me some trés bon cordial and sponge cake. I gave her my portrait which affected her much.” In the fall of 1820, Henry Delord had shipped to Julia portraits of Frances at age five, Betsey at age thirty-four, and himself at age fifty-four. These portraits were painted by Abraham G.D. Tuthill, an itinerant artist who worked in Plattsburgh in 1818. Although Henry believed the resemblance to him “was not flattering,” the portraits of Betsey and Frances were “true resemblances and strikingly natural.” Now, a dozen years later, in 1832, Frances reclaimed the portraits of her parents and shipped them back to Plattsburgh. The portrait of herself, she gave to Marguerite. That portrait remained in Nismes until 1857, when Frances and Henry's daughter, Frances Hall, visited Nismes on her own honeymoon, reclaimed the portrait of her late mother, and shipped it back to Plattsburgh.
It took more than ten weeks to settle the business of Aunt Julia's estate. Finally, on December 28, Frances and Henry left Nismes for Marseille. “Eleven weeks we have been in this city and are now leaving it perhaps finally. We have spent many happy hours here altho' detained longer than we wished.” By January 7, 1833, they had reached Toulon, on the way to Italy. “Our ride today has been very agreeable, passing by a narrow road at the foot of mountains from 800 to 1,000 feet high from the tops of which issue torrents of water. The mountains are most picturesque. They were once inhabited by bandits.”
The following day found them in Fréjus, a medieval coastal town on the Côte d'Azur. “I am now writing in a room which Napoleon remained in three days on his way to Elba after banishment. We are also to sleep in the same bed where he slept, to dream perhaps of victories but more probably of wounded ambition. The room bears the marks of better times. The walls are lined with silk tapestries.”
In a journal entry penned in Nice on January 9, Frances wrote: “This morning we wound our way through desolate mountains. For several miles there was not a house. After riding a few leagues we reached the seaport of Cannes where Napoleon landed in 1815 on his way to Paris in triumph. We stopped at a hotel situated directly on the Mediterranean, the waves dashing against the house and filling our ears with clamor.” Two days later, they were in San Remo. “We have been crossing the Alps. The road across these mountains cost an immense deal of labor. It was commenced by Bonaparte and completed by his Sardinian majesty. On our right was the sea directly beneath us many feet below. On the left were the lofty Alps rearing their elevated tops to the sky. We stopped at Hotel Palma. All speak Italian. I found from my knowledge of French I could understand them and they me.”
The journey from San Remo to Rome was a difficult one. “On our ride we again crossed the Alps. We traversed one road this afternoon [January 12] several thousand feet above the sea with most winding and precipitous passages. The town below seemed like specks. I observed to Mr. Webb that my Mother would have been terrified at such a place.”
Frances and Henry left Genoa on January 16 after visiting the palace of the king of Sardinia. “As the steamboat was a little out of port, we took a rowboat to reach it. The cabins are dark and confined. We soon launched upon the waters of the Mediterranean with a light wind. The jar of the boat was most unpleasant and soon made me quite sick.” Frances and Henry landed at Civita Vecchia “compelled to adopt one of the two alternatives, either to stop at a wretched inn or come on to Rome riding in the night, not very safe in this land of robbers. We concluded to follow the latter course; took a coach after a poor breakfast and hastened onward. There was scarcely a house the whole distance, a most desolate road, a fit place for the residence of banditti. We, however, found ourselves approaching the gates of this glorious city [Rome], entering them and winding our way through the strong walls to the Hotel de Paris where we have a delightful parlor and bedroom.”
The next morning, Sunday, “we for the first time since leaving our country, had the pleasure of attending divine worship under English preaching. There was a large assembly of people, English and Americans. The scene was imposing. The idea of so many congregated in a foreign country, far from connections and friends, meeting in a city once the mistress of the world, filled the mind with elevated yet mournful thoughts.”
The Colosseum was “not as perfect as the one at Nismes,” according to Frances, but the Vatican was breathtaking. “My pen can do no justice to what we saw there. Everything that is rare, precious, and elegant is here concentrated. The walls overhead in the portico and staircase are filled with Frescoes of Raphael's. The hall of Constantine by the same, an immense suite of rooms filled with his paintings, others by Michaelangelo. The Last Judgment in one of the chapels occupies the whole space above the altar. Apollo Belvidere is truly a masterpiece. We were here several hours and I could scarcely realize it to be one.” Nine days later, Frances and Henry set out in a carriage for the Sistine Chapel. “The chapel is filled with frescoes by Michaelangelo. Where the seats are for ladies is a very open grating about the height of a person. This being the exclusive chapel of the Pope the ladies cannot look at him except through a grate. Knowing that he was to officiate we were informed that we must go in dress and the ladies with their veils.” Frances was fortunate to procure a stand directly by the grate. “The Swiss guards gazed at me for trespassing so much nearer the grate than the other ladies. But as my view was decidedly the best, I was seemingly ignorant of my encroachment.”
On Monday, January 28, Frances and Henry toured the Roman Forum. “The Forum extended for some distance. There are no remains of it. But recently by making excavations they have found heaps of ruins and piles of vegetable earth which cannot be accounted for.” Rome clearly made an impression on the young woman. “It will not be without regret that we leave the imperial city never to see it again except in retrospect,” Frances wrote on February 9. “There is in it so much to interest that I feel truly partial to it.”
The Roman Forum
Tuesday, February 19, found the couple in Florence enjoying the Medici Chapel, the Church of Santa Croce, and the Cathedral. “Husband and myself accompanied by Mr. Bissell, a naval officer, rode out to the Caseline grounds on the bank of the Arno. We saw many pheasants which were extremely tame, under the jurisdiction of the grand duke and cannot be shot without his permission.”
Torrential rains nearly washed away sections of the road between Genoa and Marseille early in March. “In consequence of the heavy rain the torrents became very violent, rushing with great force from the mountains. It is really a disgrace to the government that no bridges are thrown up across them. That we passed through with our carriage was particularly dangerous, the tumultuous waves of the ocean dashing against us.”
The final settlement of Aunt Julia's estate required one more trip to Nismes, which took place between March 11 and March 14. Frances wrote with great relief, “Left Nismes this morning rejoiced at having completed so irksome a business.”
Lyon was next on the tour, followed by Geneva. “Our windows command a fine view of the lake and of the snowy Alps towering above the city. They assume a beautiful appearance, particularly when the sun strikes them. Mont Blanc we see distinctly.” On the road from Geneva to Paris, in ascending the Jura Alps, Frances and Henry “encountered snow from ten to fifteen feet in depth. The wheels of our carriage were taken off and we were placed upon a sledge with four men to keep the carriage upright. After traveling in this way for 20 miles, having been once turned over and meeting with many difficulties, we reached the French custom house.”
This portion of the trip must have been exhausting for Frances, now in the first trimester of pregnancy. There is no other way to explain her decision to turn down a dinner invitation from James Fenimore Cooper shortly after they returned to Paris on April 1. “Received from Mr. Cooper, the novelist, a polite note with an invitation to dine on Monday, but declined.” Although they declined dinner with the best known American author of the times, they did attend a soirée where Frances spent time with the seventy-six-year old Marquis de Lafayette. “He retains his age most remarkably as apparently his vigor of intellect. But of late is not at all popular with the French, too republican. He is fond of mingling with Americans. I had a long conversation with him in which he expressed his attachment to our country, saying he still indulges the idea of returning to it.”
Frances described the Tuileries garden in a letter to John Webb, best man at their wedding, written on April 13. The garden was “now returning its summer garb and is the resort of all who are fond of walking and being in the fashionable world. Here are to be seen the Parisian beautiful, the new bonnets, fashions, etc.” Frances wrote her final journal entry on Monday, April 20 in Paris. Prophetically, she had spent the day at Père la Chaise, the cemetery established by Napoleon in 1804 and one of the most famous in the world. “The grounds are extensive and beautifully arranged. Trees are thickly interspersed throughout and on each grave is a wreath of laurel or other flowers. Abelard and Heloise and other celebrated personages are here deposited.” In less than eleven months, Frances would be dead.
Apparently, it is Henry Livingston Webb whom we have to thank for the survival of Frances's honeymoon journal. “At the request of my husband I consented to send home my journal, not without feeling mortified that my friends should cast their eyes on such scrawl as it is, always written in haste bearing the stamp of carelessness. I trust no eye but the family may glance at it.” As members of the extended Delord-Webb-Hall family, I hope you have enjoyed this glance at Frances's journal.
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