Around the World on the Yacht Eleanor: The Slaters' Grand Tour
The phenomenon of the Grand Tour originated in the sixteenth century and reached deeper into the broadest cross-section of society in the nineteenth century. Originally a tradition done by aristocratic young men, the Grand Tour’s most often visited locations were Paris and Rome. It was believed to be a crucial step in being able to fully appreciate great works of classical art, architecture, and culture.
It was expected that the traveler would bring back souvenirs as well as knowledge. Grand Tourists also provided commerce to artists in France and Italy through purchase of existing works as well as through commissioning portraits. The traveler might also have brought home rare and ancient books, textiles, clothing and furnishings as well as plaster castings of sculpture, coinage and jewelry.
Grand Tours were embraced passionately by well-heeled English and American families in the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries and could last several months or years at a time. The wealthiest of families would make the trips together, sometimes separating in one city and re-uniting weeks later in another city or port. It was seen as necessary as a coming out or “finishing” for young ladies to travel to Europe and the Far East. The manner in which the Slater family traveled was relatively rare and remained in the realm of the incredibly affluent, like the Carnegies, Morgans and Vanderbilts, whose yachts were comparable to the Slater’s yacht, Eleanor.
By the nineteenth century, travel in general had become more affordable and available. With it becoming more acceptable, young women began to pursue the Grand Tour, often accompanied by an older female relative acting as a chaperone. The fashion was further cultivated as a result of the growing middle class, transformed by the Industrial Revolution. By 1870, the Englishman Thomas Cook’s tours were becoming a household word and even today the phrase “Cook’s Tour” has come to suggest a comprehensive trip hitting all of the highlights.
Reporting for Alta California, a San Francisco newspaper, in 1867 Mark Twain took a Grand Tour and later turned his dispatches into the book The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims Progress. Selling over 70,000 copies in its first year, it remained the best-selling of Twain's books throughout his lifetime. The book surely inspired both middle class and wealthy people of all ages to travel abroad and to return with treasures and souvenirs. Perhaps not coincidentally, William Randolph Hearst began his collecting career at 10 years old on his own Grand Tour in 1873. The newly wealthy Americans, still healing from the effects of the Civil War, may have been seeking their roots in much the same way that second and third-generation Americans do today.