Letters from a Grand Tour of Europe, 1870-1871

Roger W. Swaim (1848-1872)
Roger W. Swaim (1848-1872)

Here in Vermont, the autumn leaves have faded and gone and the sky is a dull gray. Driving home from work last week, there was a fierce wind blowing snowflakes onto my windshield, so it seems that winter has come early to New England this year. I’ve lit the fireplace and settled in with a cup of coffee and a good book, but the cold weather has me longing for a balmy Italian summer.

To get me through the next few months, I’ve been reading and transcribing a set of long letters written by a young Harvard grad in the 1870s while on “The Grand Tour” of Europe and the Holy Lands. They are a travelogue from a different age, filled with lush details and wide-eyed observations, as well as some boisterous merrymaking over few pints of beer in Munich. When I think of my own tramps across Europe through the years, I’m struck not by the differences, but by just how little has changed…



ROGER WILLIAMS SWAIM, son of Samuel B. and Aurora D. (Skinner) Swaim, was born in Worcester, Mass., July 12, 1848. He was fitted for college at the Cambridge High School, and entered with the Class in 1866; after graduation, in order to restore his health, which was quite poor, he started, in July, 1870, for a tour abroad, and for fifteen months travelled in Europe, Egypt, and the Holy Land, arriving in Berlin in September, 1871, where, as a member of the University, he studied during the winter. In March, 1872, while in Italy, he was taken sick, and died in Florence, on April 1 [1872], of congestion of the brain, aged twenty-three years and nine months. He had selected the ministry as his profession.

Source: Harvard College Class of 1870, Third Triennial Report of the Secretary, page 26.

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