Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters and Journals
Samuel F. B. Morse
Part 5 out of 7
as far as New York. Writing of the parting he says: "A thousand affecting
incidents of separation from my beloved family crowded upon my
recollection. The unconscious gayety of my dear children as they
frolicked in all their wonted playfulness, too young to sympathize in the
pangs that agitated their distressed parents; their artless request to
bring home some trifling toy; the parting kiss, not understood as meaning
more than usual; the tears and sad farewells of father, mother, wife,
sister, family, friends; the desolateness of every room as the parting
glance is thrown on each familiar object, and 'farewell, farewell' seemed
written on the very walls,--all these things bear upon my memory, and I
realize the declaration that 'the places which now know us shall know us
[Illustration: LUCRETIA PICKERING WALKER, WIFE OF S.F.B. MORSE, AND TWO
Painted by Morse]
It must be borne in mind that a journey in those days, even one from New
York to Washington, was not a few hours' ride in a luxurious Pullman, but
was fraught with many discomforts, delays, and even dangers.
As an example of this I shall quote the first part of a letter written by
Morse from Washington to his wife on April 11, 1824:--
"I lose not a moment in informing you of my safe arrival, with all my
baggage, in good order last evening. I was much fatigued, went to bed
early, and this morning feel perfectly refreshed and much better for my
"After leaving you on Wednesday morning I had but just time to reach the
boat before she started. In the land carriage we occupied three stages
over a very rough road. In crossing a small creek in a ferry-boat the
stage ahead of ours left the boat a little too soon and came near
upsetting in the water, which would have put the passengers into a
dangerous situation. As it was the water came into the carriage and wet
some of the baggage. It was about an hour before they could get the stage
out of the water.
"Next came our turn. After travelling a few miles the springs on one side
gave way and let us down, almost upsetting us. We got out without
difficulty and, in a few minutes, by putting a rail under one side, we
proceeded on again, jocosely telling the passengers in the third stage
that it was their turn next.
"When we arrived at the boat in the Delaware to our surprise the third
stage came in with a rail under one side, having met with a similar
accident a few miles after we left them. So we all had our turn, but no
injury to any of us."
His high hopes of success in this enterprise were soon doomed to be
shattered, and once again he was made to suffer a bitter disappointment.
On April 19 he writes: "I am at this moment put into a very embarrassing
state of suspense by a political occurrence which has caused a great
excitement here, and will cause considerable interest, no doubt,
throughout the country. This morning a remonstrance was read in the House
of Representatives from the Honorable Ninian Edwards against Mr.
Crawford, which contains such charges and of so serious a nature as has
led to the appointment of a select committee, with power to send for
persons and papers in order to a full investigation; and I am told by
many members of Congress that Mr. Edwards will undoubtedly be sent for,
which will occasion, of course, a great delay in his journey to Mexico,
if not cause a suspension of his going until the next season."
The Mr. Crawford alluded to was William Harris Crawford, at that time a
prominent candidate for the Presidency in the coming election.
With his customary faith in an overruling Providence, Morse says later in
the same letter: "This delay and suspense tries me more than distance or
even absence from my dear family. If I could be on my way and pursuing my
profession I should feel much better. But all will be for the best;
though things look dark I can and will trust Him who will make my path of
duty plain before me. This satisfies my mind and does not allow a single
The sending of the legation was indefinitely postponed, and Morse, much
disappointed but resolved not to be overwhelmed by this crushing of his
high hopes, returned to New Haven.
He spent the summer partly at home and partly in Concord, New Hampshire
(where his wife and children had gone to visit her father), and in
Portsmouth, Portland, and Hartford, having been summoned to those cities
by patrons who wished him to paint their portraits.
We can imagine that the young wife did not grieve over the failure of the
Mexican trip. Her letters to her husband at that period are filled with
expressions of the deepest affection, but with an undertone of
melancholy, due, no doubt, to the increasing delicacy of her health,
never very robust.
In the fall of 1824 Morse resolved to make another assault on the purses
of the solid men of New York, and he established himself at 96 Broadway,
where, for a time, he had the satisfaction of having his wife and
children with him. They, however, returned later to New Haven, and on
December 5, 1824, he writes to his wife:--
"I am fully employed and in excellent spirits. I am engaged in painting
the full-length portrait of Mr. Hone's little daughter, a pretty little
girl just as old as Susan. I have made a sketch of the composition with
which I am pleased, and so are the father and mother. I shall paint her
with a cat set up in her lap like a baby, with a towel under its chin and
a cap on its head, and she employed in feeding it with a spoon....
"I am as happy and contented as I can be without my dear Lucrece and our
dear children, but I hope it will not be long before we shall be able to
live together without these separations."
"_December 17, 1824._ I have everything very comfortable at my rooms. My
two pupils, Mr. Agate and Mr. Field, are very tractable and very useful.
I have everything 'in Pimlico,' as mother would say.
"I have begun, and thus far carried on, a system of neatness in my
painting-room which I never could have with Henry. Everything has its
place, and every morning the room is swept and all things put in
"I have as much as I can do in painting. I do not mean by this that I
have the overflow that I had in Charleston, nor do I wish it. A hard
shower is soon over; I wish rather the gentle, steady, continuing rain. I
feel that I have a character to obtain and maintain, and therefore my
pictures must be carefully studied. I shall not by this method paint so
fast nor acquire property so fast, but I shall do what is better, secure
a continuance of patronage and success.
"I have no disposition to be a nine days' wonder, all the rage for a
moment and then forgotten forever; compelled on this very account to
wander from city to city, to shine a moment in one and then pass on to
In a letter of a later date he says:--
"I am going on prosperously through the kindness of Providence in raising
up many friends who are exerting themselves in my favor. My storms are
partly over, and a clear and pleasant day is dawning upon me."
JANUARY 4, 1825--NOVEMBER 18, 1825
Success in New York.--Chosen to paint portrait of Lafayette.--Hope of a
permanent home with his family.--Meets Lafayette in Washington.--Mutually
attracted.--Attends President's levee.--Begins portrait of Lafayette.--
Death of his wife.--Crushed by the news.--His attachment to her.--Epitaph
composed by Benjamin Silliman.--Bravely takes up his work again.--
Finishes portrait of Lafayette.--Describes it in letter of a later date.
--Sonnet on death of Lafayette's dog.--Rents a house in Canal Street, New
York.--One of the founders of National Academy of Design.--Tactful
resolutions on organization.--First thirty members.--Morse elected first
president.--Reelected every year until 1845.--Again made president in
1861.--Lectures on Art.--Popularity.
It is a commonly accepted belief that a particularly fine, clear day is
apt to be followed by a storm. Meteorologists can probably give
satisfactory scientific reasons for this phenomenon, but, be that as it
may, how often do we find a parallel in human affairs. A period of
prosperity and happiness in the life of a man or of a nation is almost
invariably followed by calamities, small or great; but, fortunately for
individuals and for nations, the converse is also true. The creeping
pendulum of fate, pausing for an instant at its highest point, dips down
again to gather impetus for a higher swing.
And so it was with Morse. Fate was preparing for him a heavy blow, one of
the tragedies of his eventful life, and, in order to hearten him for the
trial, to give him strength to bear up under it, she cheered his
professional path with the sun of prosperity.
Writing to his wife from New York on January 4, 1825, he says:--
"You will rejoice with me, I know, in my continued and increasing
success. I have just learned in confidence, from one of the members of
the committee of the corporation appointed to procure a full-length
portrait of Lafayette, that they have designated me as the painter of it,
and that a subcommittee was appointed to wait on me with the information.
They will probably call to-morrow, but, until it is thus officially
announced to me, I wish the thing kept secret, except to the family,
until I write you more definitely on the subject, which I will do the
moment the terms, etc., are settled with the committee.
"I shall probably be under the necessity of going to Washington to take
it immediately (the corporation, of course, paying my expenses). But of
this in my next."
"_January 6, 1825._ I have been officially notified of my appointment to
paint the full-length portrait of Lafayette for the City of New York, so
that you may make it as public as you please.
"The terms are not definitely settled; the committee is disposed to be
very liberal. I shall have at least seven hundred dollars--probably one
thousand. I have to wait until an answer can be received from Washington,
from Lafayette to know when he can see me. The answer will arrive
probably on Wednesday morning; after that I can determine what to do
about going on.
"The only thing I fear is that it is going to deprive me of my dear
Lucretia. Recollect the old lady's saying, often quoted by mother, 'There
is never a convenience but there ain't one'; I long to see you."
It was well for the young man that he did not realize how dreadfully his
jesting fears were to be realized.
Further on he says: "I have made an arrangement with Mr. Durand to have
an engraving of Lafayette's portrait. I receive half the profits.
Vanderlyn, Sully, Peale, Jarvis, Waldo, Inman, Ingham, and some others
were my competitors in the application for this picture."
"_January 8._ Your letter of the 5th I have just received, and one from
the committee of medical students engaging me to paint Dr. Smith's
portrait for them when I come to New Haven. They are to give me one
hundred dollars. I have written them that I should be in New Haven by the
1st of February, or, at farthest, by the 6th; so that it is only
prolonging for a little longer, my dear wife, the happy meeting which I
anticipated for the 25th of this month. Events are not under our own
"When I consider how wonderfully things are working for the promotion of
the great and _long-desired_ event--that of being constantly with my dear
family--all unpleasant feelings are absorbed in this joyful anticipation,
and I look forward to the spring of the year with delightful prospects of
seeing my dear family permanently settled with me in our own hired house
here. There are more encouraging prospects than I can trust to paper at
present which must be left for your private ear, and which in magnitude
are far more valuable than any encouragement yet made known to me. Let us
look with thankful hearts to the Giver of all these blessings."
"_Washington, February 8, 1825._ I arrived safely in this city last
evening. I find I have no time to lose, as the Marquis will leave here
the 23d. I have seen him and am to breakfast with him to-morrow, and to
commence his portrait. If he allows me time sufficient I have no fear as
to the result. He has a noble face. In this I am disappointed, for I had
heard that his features were not good. On the contrary, if there is any
truth in expression of character, there never was a more perfect example
of accordance between the face and the character. He has all that noble
firmness and consistency, for which he has been so distinguished,
strongly indicated in his whole face.
"While he was reading my letters I could not but call to mind the leading
events of his truly eventful life. 'This is the man now before me, the
very man,' thought I, 'who suffered in the dungeon of Olmuetz; the very
man who took the oaths of the new constitution for so many millions,
while the eyes of thousands were fixed upon him (and which is so
admirably described in the Life which I read to you just before I left
home); the very man who spent his youth, and his fortune, and his time,
to bring about (under Providence) our happy Revolution; the friend and
companion of Washington, the terror of tyrants, the firm and consistent
supporter of liberty, the man whose beloved name has rung from one end of
this continent to the other, whom all flock to see, whom all delight to
honor; this is the man, the very identical man!' My feelings were almost
too powerful for me as I shook him by the hand and received the greeting
of--'Sir, I am exceedingly happy in your acquaintance, and especially on
such an occasion.'"
Thus began an acquaintance which ripened into warm friendship between
Morse and Lafayette, and which remained unbroken until the death of the
"_February 10, 1825._ I went last night to the President's levee, the
last which Mr. Monroe will hold as President of the United States. There
was a great crowd and a great number of distinguished characters, among
whom were General Lafayette; the President-elect, J.Q. Adams; Mr.
Calhoun, the Vice-President elect; General Jackson, etc. I paid my
respects to Mr. Adams and congratulated him on his election. He seemed in
some degree to shake off his habitual reserve, and, although he
endeavored to suppress his feelings of gratification at his success, it
was not difficult to perceive that he felt in high spirits on the
occasion. General Jackson went up to him and, shaking him by the hand,
congratulated him cordially on his election. The General bears his defeat
like a man, and has shown, I think, by this act a nobleness of mind which
will command the respect of those who have been most opposed to him.
"The excitement (if it may be called such) on this great question in
Washington is over, and everything is moving on in its accustomed channel
again. All seem to speak in the highest terms of the order and decorum
preserved through the whole of this imposing ceremony, and the good
feeling which seems to prevail, with but trivial exceptions, is thought
to augur well in behalf of the new administration."
(There was no choice by the people in the election of that year, and John
Quincy Adams had been chosen President by a vote of the House of
"I went last night in a carriage with four others--Captain Chauncey of
the navy; Mr. Cooper, the celebrated author of the popular American
novels; Mr. Causici (pronounced Cau-see-chee), the sculptor; and Mr.
Owen, of Lanark, the celebrated philanthropist.
"Mr. Cooper remarked that we had on board a more singularly selected
company, he believed, than any carriage at the door of the President,
namely, a _misanthropist_ (such he called Captain Chauncey, brother of
the Commodore), a _philanthropist_ (Mr. Owen), a _painter_ (myself), a
_sculptor_ (Mr. Causici), and an _author_ (himself).
"The Mr. Owen mentioned above is the very man I sometimes met at Mr.
Wilberforce's in London, and who was present at the interesting scene I
have often related that occurred at Mr. Wilberforce's. He recollected the
circumstance and recognized me, as I did him, instantly, although it is
twelve years ago.
"I am making progress with the General, but am much perplexed for want of
time; I mean _his time_. He is so harassed by visitors and has so many
letters to write that I find it exceedingly difficult to do the subject
justice. I give him the last sitting in Washington to-morrow, reserving
another sitting or two when he visits New York in July next. I have gone
on thus far to my satisfaction and do not doubt but I shall succeed
entirely, if I am allowed the requisite number of sittings. The General
is very agreeable. He introduced me to his son by saying: 'This is Mr.
Morse, the painter, the son of the geographer; he has come to Washington
to take the topography of my face.' He thinks of visiting New Haven again
when he returns from Boston. He regretted not having seen more of it when
he was there, as he was much pleased with the place. He remembers
Professor Silliman and others with great affection.
"I have left but little room in this letter to express my affection for
my dearly loved wife and children; but of that I need not assure them. I
long to hear from you, but direct your letters next to New York, as I
shall probably be there by the end of next week, or the beginning of the
"Love to all the family and friends and neighbors. Your affectionate
husband, as ever."
Alas! that there should have been no telegraph then to warn the loving
husband of the blow which Fate had dealt him.
As he was light-heartedly attending the festivities at the White House,
and as he was penning these two interesting letters to his wife, letters
which she never read, and anticipating with keenest pleasure a speedy
reunion, she lay dead at their home in New Haven.
His father thus conveys to him the melancholy intelligence:--
"_February 8th, 1825._ My affectionately beloved Son,--Mysterious are the
ways of Providence. My heart is in pain and deeply sorrowful while I
announce to you the sudden and unexpected death of your dear and
deservedly loved wife. Her disease proved to be an _affection of the
heart_--incurable, had it been known. Dr. Smith's letter, accompanying
this, will explain all you will desire to know on this subject.
"I wrote you yesterday that she was convalescent. So she then appeared
and so the doctor pronounced. She was up about five o'clock yesterday
P.M. to have her bed made as usual; was unusually cheerful and social;
spoke of the pleasure of being with her dear husband in New York ere
long; stepped into bed herself, fell back with a momentary struggle on
her pillow, her eyes were immediately fixed, the paleness of death
overspread her countenance, and in five minutes more, without the
slightest motion, her mortal life terminated.
"It happened that just at this moment I was entering her chamber door
with Charles in my arms, to pay her my usual visit and to pray with her.
The nurse met me affrighted, calling for help. Your mother, the family,
our neighbors, full of the tenderest sympathy and kindness, and the
doctors thronged the house in a few minutes. Everything was done that
could be done to save her life, but her 'appointed time' had come, and no
earthly power or skill could stay the hand of death.
"It was the Lord who gave her to you, the chiefest of all your earthly
blessings, and it is He that has taken her away, and may you be enabled,
my son, from the heart to say: 'Blessed be the name of the Lord.'... The
shock to the whole family is far beyond, in point of severity, that of
any we have ever before felt, but we are becoming composed, we hope on
grounds which will prove solid and lasting.
"I expect this will reach you on Saturday, the day after the one we have
appointed for the funeral, when you will have been in Washington a week
and I hope will have made such progress in your business as that you will
soon be able to return....
"You need not hurry home. Nothing here requires it. We are all well and
everything will be taken good care of. Give yourself no concern on that
account. Finish your business as well as you will be able to do it after
receiving this sad news."
This blow was an overwhelming one. He could not, of course, compose
himself sufficiently to continue his work on the portrait of Lafayette,
and, having apprised the General of the reason for this, he received from
the following sympathetic letter:--
I have feared to intrude upon you, my dear sir, but want to tell you how
deeply I sympathize in your grief--a grief of which nobody can better
than me appreciate the cruel feelings.
You will hear from me, as soon as I find myself again near you, to finish
the work you have so well begun.
Accept my affectionate and mournful sentiment.
The day after he received his father's letter he left Washington and
wrote from Baltimore, where he stopped over Sunday with a friend, on
MY DEAR FATHER,--The heart-rending tidings which you communicated reached
me in Washington on Friday evening. I left yesterday morning, spend this
day here at Mr. Cushing's, and set out on my return home to-morrow. I
shall reach Philadelphia on Monday night, New York on Tuesday night, and
New Haven on Wednesday night.
Oh! is it possible, is it possible? Shall I never see my dear wife again?
But I cannot trust myself to write on this subject. I need your prayers
and those of Christian friends to God for support. I fear I shall sink
Oh! take good care of her dear children.
Your agonized son,
Another son had been born to him on January 20, 1825, and he was now left
with three motherless children to provide for, and without the sustaining
hope of a speedy and permanent reunion with them and with his beloved
Writing to a friend more than a month after the death of his wife, he
"Though late in performing the promise I made you of writing you when I
arrived home, I hope you will attribute it to anything but forgetfulness
of that promise. The confusion and derangement consequent on such an
afflicting bereavement as I have suffered have rendered it necessary for
me to devote the first moments of composure to looking about me, and to
collecting and arranging the fragments of the ruin which has spread such
desolation over all my earthly prospects.
"Oh! what a blow! I dare not yet give myself up to the full survey of its
desolating effects. Every day brings to my mind a thousand new and fond
connections with dear Lucretia, all now ruptured. I feel a dreadful void,
a heart-sickness, which time does not seem to heal but rather to
"You know the intensity of the attachment which existed between dear
Lucretia and me, never for a moment interrupted by the smallest cloud; an
attachment founded, I trust, in the purest love, and daily strengthening
by all the motives which the ties of nature and, more especially, of
"I found in dear Lucretia everything I could wish. Such ardor of
affection, so uniform, so unaffected, I never saw nor read of but in her.
My fear with regard to the measure of my affection toward her was not
that I might fail of 'loving her as my own flesh,' but that I should put
her in the place of Him who has said, 'Thou shalt have no other Gods but
me.' I felt this to be my greatest danger, and to be saved from this
_idolatry_ was often the subject of my earnest prayers.
"If I had desired anything in my dear Lucretia different from what she
was, it would have been that she had been _less lovely_. My whole soul
seemed wrapped up in her; with her was connected all that I expected of
happiness on earth. Is it strange, then, that I now feel this void, this
desolateness, this loneliness, this heart-sickness; that I should feel as
if my very heart itself had been torn from me?
"To any one but those who knew dear Lucretia what I have said might seem
to be but the extravagance of an excited imagination; but to you, who
knew the dear object I lament, all that I have said must but feebly
shadow her to your memory."
[Illustration: STUDY FOR PORTRAIT OF LAFAYETTE
Now in New York Public Library]
It was well for him that he found constant occupation for his hand and
brain at this critical period of his life. The Fates had dealt him this
cruel blow for some good reason best known to themselves. He was being
prepared for a great mission, and it was meet that his soul, like gold,
should be purified by fire; but, at the same time, that the blow might
not utterly overwhelm him, success in his chosen profession seemed again
to be within his grasp.
Writing to his parents from New York, on April 8, 1825, he says:--
"I have as much as I can do, but after being fatigued at night and having
my thoughts turned to my irreparable loss, I am ready almost to give up.
The thought of seeing my dear Lucretia, and returning home to her, served
always to give me fresh courage and spirits whenever I felt worn down by
the labors of the day, and now I hardly know what to substitute in her
"To my friends here I know I seem to be cheerful and happy, but a
cheerful countenance with me covers an aching heart, and often have I
feigned a more than ordinary cheerfulness to hide a more than ordinary
"I am blessed with prosperity in my profession. I have just received
another commission from the corporation of the city to paint a
common-sized portrait of Rev. Mr. Stanford for them, to be placed in the
The loss of his young wife was the great tragedy of Morse's life. Time,
with her soothing touch, healed the wound, but the scar remained. Hers
must have been, indeed, a lovely character. Professor Benjamin Silliman,
Sr., one of her warmest friends, composed the epitaph which still remains
inscribed upon her tombstone in the cemetery at New Haven. (See opposite
IN MEMORY OF
SAMUEL F.B. MORSE
WHO DIED 7TH OF FEBRUARY A.D. 1825,
AGED 25 YEARS.
SHE COMBINED, IN HER CHARACTER AND PERSON,
A RARE ASSEMBLAGE OF EXCELLENCES:
BEAUTIFUL IN FORM, FEATURES AND EXPRESSION
PECULIARLY BLAND IN HER MANNERS,
HIGHLY CULTIVATED IN MIND,
SHE IRRESISTIBLY DREW ATTENTION, LOVE,
DIGNIFIED WITHOUT HAUGHTINESS,
AMIABLE WITHOUT TAMENESS,
FIRM WITHOUT SEVERITY, AND
CHEERFUL WITHOUT LEVITY,
HER UNIFORM SWEETNESS OF TEMPER
SPREAD PERPETUAL SUNSHINE AROUND
EVERY CIRCLE IN WHICH
"WHEN THE EAR HEARD HER IT BLESSED HER,
WHEN THE EYE SAW HER IT GAVE
WITNESS TO HER."
IN SUFFERINGS THE MOST KEEN,
HER SERENITY OF MIND NEVER FAILED HER;
DEATH TO HER HAD NO TERRORS,
THE GRAVE NO GLOOM.
THOUGH SUDDENLY CALLED FROM EARTH,
ETERNITY WAS NO STRANGER TO HER THOUGHTS,
BUT A WELCOME THEME OF
RELIGION WAS THE SUN
THAT ILLUMINED EVERY VIRTUE,
AND UNITED ALL IN ONE
BOW OF BEAUTY.
HERS WAS THE RELIGION OF THE GOSPEL;
JESUS CHRIST HER FOUNDATION,
THE AUTHOR AND FINISHER OF HER FAITH.
IN HIM SHE RESTS, IN SURE
EXPECTATION OF A GLORIOUS
With a heavy heart, but bravely determining not to be overwhelmed by this
crushing blow, Morse took up his work again. He finished the portrait of
Lafayette, and it now hangs in the City Hall in New York. Writing of it
many years later to a gentleman who had made some enquiries concerning
it, he says:--
"In answer to yours of the 8th instant, just received, I can only say it
is so long since I have seen the portrait I painted of General Lafayette
for the City of New York, that, strange to say, I find it difficult to
recall even its general characteristics.
"That portrait has a melancholy interest for me, for it was just as I had
commenced the second sitting of the General at Washington that I received
the stunning intelligence of Mrs. Morse's death, and was compelled
abruptly to suspend the work. I preserve, as a gratifying memorial, the
letter of condolence and sympathy sent in to me at the time by the
General, and in which he speaks in flattering terms of the promise of the
portrait as a likeness.
"I must be frank, however, in my judgment of my own works of that day.
This portrait was begun under the sad auspices to which I have alluded,
and, up to the close of the work, I had a series of constant
interruptions of the same sad character. A picture painted under such
circumstances can scarcely be expected to do the artist justice, and as a
work of art I cannot praise it. Still, it is a good likeness, was very
satisfactory to the General, and he several times alluded to it in my
presence in after years (when I was a frequent visitor to him in Paris)
in terms of praise.
"It is a full-length, standing figure, the size of life. He is
represented as standing at the top of a flight of steps, which he has
just ascended upon a terrace, the figure coming against a glowing sunset
sky, indicative of the glory of his own evening of life. Upon his right,
if I remember, are three pedestals, one of which is vacant as if waiting
for his bust, while the two others are surmounted by the busts of
Washington and Franklin--the two associated eminent historical characters
of his own time. In a vase on the other side is a flower-the
helianthus--with its face toward the sun, in allusion to the
characteristic stern, uncompromising consistency of Lafayette-a trait of
character which I then considered, and still consider, the great
prominent trait of that distinguished man."
Morse, like many men who have excelled in one branch of the fine arts,
often made excursions into one of the others. I find among his papers
many scraps of poetry and some more ambitious efforts, and while they do
not, perhaps, entitle him to claim a poet's crown, some of them are
worthy of being rescued from oblivion. The following sonnet was sent to
Lafayette under the circumstances which Morse himself thus describes:--
"Written on the loss of a faithful dog of Lafayette's on board the
steamboat which sank in the Mississippi. The dog, supposing his master
still on board, could not be persuaded to leave the cabin, but perished
with the vessel.
"Lost, from thy care to know thy master free
Can we thy self-devotion e'er forget?
'Twas kindred feeling in a less degree
To that which thrilled the soul of Lafayette.
He freely braved our storms, our dangers met,
Nor left the ship till we had 'scaped the sea.
Thine was a spark of noble feeling bright
Caught from the fire that warms thy master's heart.
His was of Heaven's kindling, and no small part
Of that pure fire is His. We hail the light
Where'er it shines, in heaven, in man, in brute;
We hail that sacred light howe'er minute,
Whether its glimmering in thy bosom rest
Or blaze full orb'd within thy master's breast."
This was sent to General Lafayette on the 4th of July, 1825, accompanied
by the following note:--
"In asking your acceptance of the enclosed poetic trifle, I have not the
vanity to suppose it can contribute much to your gratification; but if it
shall be considered as an endeavor to show to you some slight return of
gratitude for the kind sympathy you evinced towards me at a time of deep
affliction, I shall have attained my aim. Gladly would I offer to you any
service, but, while a whole nation stands waiting to answer the
expression of your smallest wish, my individual desire to serve you can
only be considered as contending for a portion of that high honor which
all feel in serving you."
Concealing from the world his great sorrow, and bravely striving always
to maintain a cheerful countenance, Morse threw himself with energy into
his work in New York, endeavoring to keep every minute occupied.
He seems to have had his little daughter with him for a while, for in a
letter of March 12, 1825, occurs this sentence: "Little Susan has had the
toothache once or twice, and I have promised her a doll if she would have
it out to-day--I am this moment stopped by her coming in and showing me
the _tooth out_, so I shall give her the doll."
But he soon found that it would be impossible for him to do justice to
his work and at same time fulfil his duties as a parent, and for many
years afterwards his motherless children found homes with different
relatives, but the expense of their keep and education was always borne
by their father.
On the 1st of May, 1825, he moved into new quarters, having rented an
entire house at No. 20 Canal Street for the sum of four hundred dollars a
year, and he says, "My new establishment will be very commodious for my
professional studies, and I do not think its being so far '_up town_'
will, on the whole, be any disadvantage to me."
"May 26, 1825. I have at length become comfortably settled and begin to
feel at home in my new establishment. All things at present go smoothly.
Brother Charles Walker and Mr. Agate join with me in breakfast and tea,
and we find it best for convenience, economy, and time to dine from
home,--it saves the perplexity of providing marketing and the care of
stores, and, besides, we think it will be more economical and the walk
will be beneficial." While success in his profession seemed now assured,
and while orders poured in so fast that he gladly assisted some of his
less fortunate brother artists by referring his would-be patrons to them,
he also took a deep interest in the general artistic movement of the
He was, by nature, intensely enthusiastic, and his strong personality
ever impressed itself on individuals and communities with which he came
in contact. He was a born leader of men, and, like so many other leaders,
often so forgetful of self in his eager desire for the general good as to
seriously interfere with his material prosperity. This is what happened
to him now, for he gave so liberally of himself in the formation of a new
artistic body in New York, and in the preparation of lectures, that he
encroached seriously on time which might have been more lucratively
His brother Sidney comments on this in a letter to the other brother
Richard: "Finley is well and in good spirits, though not advancing very
rapidly in his business. He is full of the Academy and of his lectures--
can hardly talk on any other subject. I despair of ever seeing him rich
or even at ease in his pecuniary circumstances from efforts of his own,
though able to do it with so little effort. But he may be in a better
way, perhaps, of getting a fortune in his present course than he would be
in the laborious path which we are too apt to think is the only road to
wealth and ultimate ease."
We have seen that Morse was one of the founders of an academy of art in
Charleston, South Carolina, and we have seen that, after his departure
from that city, this academy languished and died. Is it an unfair
inference that, if he had remained permanently in Charleston, so sad a
fate would not have overtaken the infant academy? In support of this
inference we shall now see that he was largely instrumental in bringing
into being an artistic association, over which he presided for many
years, and which has continued to prosper until, at the present day, it
is the leading artistic body in this country.
When Morse settled in New York in 1825 there existed an American Academy
of Arts, of which Colonel Trumbull, the celebrated painter, was the
president. While eminent as a painter, Trumbull seems to have lacked
executive ability and to have been rather haughty and overbearing in his
manner, for Morse found great dissatisfaction existing among the
professional artists and students.
At first it was thought that, by bringing their grievances before the
board of directors of the Academy, conditions might be changed, and on
the 8th of November, 1825, a meeting was called in the rooms of the
Historical Society, and the "New York Drawing Association" was formed,
and Morse was chosen to preside over its meetings. It was not intended,
at first, that this association should be a rival of the old Academy, but
that it should give to its members facilities which were difficult of
attainment in the Academy, and should, perhaps, force that institution to
become more liberal.
It was not successful in the latter effort, for at a meeting of the
Drawing Association on the evening of the 14th of January, 1825, Morse,
the president, proposed certain resolutions which he introduced by the
"We have this evening assumed a new attitude in the community; our
negotiations with the Academy are at an end; our union with it has been
frustrated after every proper effort on our part to accomplish it. The
two who were elected as directors from our ticket have signified their
non-acceptance of the office. We are therefore left to organize ourselves
on a plan that shall meet the wishes of us all.
"A plan of an institution which shall be truly liberal, which shall be
mutually beneficial, which shall really encourage our respective arts,
cannot be devised in a moment; it ought to be the work of great caution
and deliberation and as simple as possible in its machinery. Time will be
required for the purpose. We must hear from distant countries to obtain
their experience, and it must necessarily be, perhaps, many months before
it can be matured.
"In the mean time, however, a preparatory, simple organization can be
made, and should be made as soon as possible, to prevent dismemberment,
which may be attempted by outdoor influence. On this subject let us all
be on our guard; let us point to our public documents to any who ask what
we have done and why we have done it, while we go forward minding only
our own concerns, leaving the Academy of Fine Arts as much of our
thoughts as they will permit us, and, bending our attention to our own
affairs, act as if no such institution existed.
"One of our dangers at present is division and anarchy from a want of
organization suited to the present exigency. We are now composed of
artists in the four arts of design, namely, painting, sculpture,
architecture, and engraving. Some of us are professional artists, others
amateurs, others students. To the professed and practical artist belongs
the management of all things relating to schools, premiums, and lectures,
so that amateur and student may be most profited. The amateurs and
students are those alone who can contend for the premiums, while the body
of professional artists exclusively judge of their rights to premiums and
"How shall we first make the separation has been a question which is a
little perplexing. There are none of us who can assume to be the body of
artists without giving offence to others, and still every one must
perceive that, to organize an academy, there must be the distinction
between professional artists, amateurs who are students, and professional
students. The first great division should be the body of professional
artists from the amateurs and students, constituting the body who are to
manage the entire concerns of the institution, who shall be its officers,
"There is a method which strikes me as obviating the difficulty; place it
on the broad principle of the formation of any society--universal
suffrage. We are now a mixed body; it is necessary for the benefit of all
that a separation into classes be made. Who shall make it?
"Why, obviously the body itself. Let every member of this association
take home with him a list of all the members of it. Let each one select
for himself from the whole list _fifteen_, whom he would call
professional artists, to be the ticket which he will give in at the next
"These fifteen thus chosen shall elect not less than _ten_, nor more than
_fifteen_, professional artists, in or out of the association, who shall
(with the previously elected fifteen) constitute the body to be called
the National Academy of the Arts of Design. To these shall be delegated
the power to regulate its entire concerns, choose its members, select its
"Thus will the germ be formed to grow up into an institution which we
trust will be put on such principles as to encourage--not to depress--the
arts. When this is done our body will no longer be the Drawing
Association, but the National Academy of the Arts of Design, still
including all the present association, but in different capacities.
"One word as to the name 'National Academy of the Arts of Design.' Any
less name than 'National' would be taking one below the American Academy,
and therefore is not desirable. If we were simply the 'Associated
Artists,' their name would swallow us up; therefore 'National' seems a
proper one as to the arts of design. These are painting, sculpture,
architecture, and engraving, while the fine arts include poetry, music,
landscape gardening, and the histrionic arts. Our name, therefore,
expresses the entire character of our institution and that only."
From this we see that Morse's enthusiasm was tempered with tact and
common sense. His proposals were received with unanimous approval, and on
the 15th of January, 1826, the following fifteen were chosen:--S.F.B.
Morse, Henry Inman, A.B. Durand, John Frazee, William Wall, Charles C.
Ingham, William Dunlap, Peter Maverick, Ithiel Town, Thomas S. Cummings,
Edward Potter, Charles C. Wright, Mosely J. Danforth, Hugh Reinagle,
Gerlando Marsiglia. These fifteen professional artists added by ballot to
their number the following fifteen:--Samuel Waldo, William Jewett, John
W. Paradise, Frederick S. Agate, Rembrandt Peale, James Coyle, Nathaniel
Rogers, J. Parisen, William Main, John Evers, Martin E. Thompson, Thomas
Cole, John Vanderlyn (who declined), Alexander Anderson, D.W. Wilson.
Thus was organized the National Academy of Design. Morse was elected its
first president and was annually reelected to that office until the year
1845, when, the telegraph having now become an assured success, he felt
that he could not devote the necessary time and thought to the interests
of the Academy, and he insisted on retiring.
In the year 1861 he was prevailed upon by Thomas S. Cummings, one of the
original academicians, but now a general, to become again the president,
and he served in that office for a year. The General, in a letter to Mr.
Prime in 1873, says, "and, I may add, was beloved by all."
I shall not attempt to give a detailed account of the early struggles of
the Academy, closely interwoven though they be with Morse's life. Those
who may be interested in the matter will find them all detailed in
General Cummings' "Records of the National Academy of Design."
Morse prepared and delivered a number of lectures on various subjects
pertaining to the fine arts, and most of these have been preserved in
pamphlet form. In this connection I shall quote again from the letter of
General Cummings before alluded to:--
"Mr. Morse's connection with the Academy was doubtless unfavorable in a
pecuniary point of view; his interest in it interfering with professional
practice, and the time taken to enable him to prepare his course of
lectures materially contributed to favor a distribution of his labors in
art to other hands, and it never fully returned to him. His 'Discourse on
Academies of Art,' delivered in the chapel of Columbia College, May,
1827, will long stand as a monument of his ability in the line of art
"As an historical painter Mr. Morse, after Allston, was probably the best
prepared and most fully educated artist of his day, and should have
received the attention of the Government and a share of the distributions
in art commissions."
That his efforts were appreciated by his fellow artists and by the
cultivated people of New York is thus modestly described in a letter to
his parents of November 18, 1825:--
"I mentioned that reputation was flowing in upon me. The younger artists
have formed a drawing association at the Academy and elected me their
president. We meet in the evenings of three days in a week to draw, and
it has been conducted thus far with such success as to have trebled the
number of our association and excited the attention and applause of the
community. There is a spirit of harmony among the artists, every one
says, which never before existed in New York, and which augurs well for
the success of the arts.
"The artists are pleased to attribute it to my exertions, and I find in
them in consequence expressions and feelings of respect which have been
very gratifying to me. Whatever influence I have had, however, in
producing this pleasant state of things, I think there was the
preparation in the state of mind of the artists themselves. I find a
liberal feeling in the younger part of them, and a refinement of manners,
which will redeem the character of art from the degradation to which a
few dissipated interlopers have, temporarily, reduced it.
"A Literary Society, admission to which must be by unanimous vote, and
into which many respectable literary characters of the city have been
denied admission, has chosen me a member, together with Mr. Hillhouse and
Mr. Bryant, poets. This indicates good feelings towards me, to say the
least, and, in the end, will be of advantage, I have no doubt."
JANUARY 1, 1826--DECEMBER 5, 1829
Success of his lectures, the first of the kind in the United States.--
Difficulties of his position as leader.--Still longing for a home.--Very
busy but in good health.--Death of his father.--Estimates of Dr. Morse.--
Letters to his mother.--Wishes to go to Europe again.--Delivers address
at first anniversary of National Academy of Design.--Professor Dana
lectures on electricity.--Morse's study of the subject.--Moves to No. 13
Murray Street.--Too busy to visit his family.--Death of his mother.--A
remarkable woman.--Goes to central New York.--A serious accident.--Moral
reflections.--Prepares to go to Europe.--Letter of John A. Dix.--Sails
for Liverpool.--Rough voyage.--Liverpool.
January 1, 1826
MY DEAR PARENTS,--I wish you all a Happy New Year! Kiss my little ones as
a New Year's present from me, which must answer until I visit them, when
I shall bring them each a present if I hear good accounts from them....
The new year brings with it many painful reflections to me. When I
consider what a difference a year has accomplished in my situation; that
one on whom I depended so much for domestic happiness at this time last
year gave me the salutations of the season, and now is gone where years
are unknown; and when I think how mysteriously I am separated from my
little family, and that duty may keep me I know not how much longer in
this solitary state, I have much that makes the present season far from
being a Happy New Year to me. But, mysterious as things seem in regard to
the future, I know that all will be ordered right, and I have a great
deal to say of mercy in the midst of judgment, and a thousand unmerited
blessings with all my troubles.
But why do I talk of troubles? My cup is overflowing with blessings. As
far as outward circumstances are concerned, Providence seems to be
opening an honorable and useful course to me. Oh! that I may be able to
bear prosperity, if it is his will to bestow it, or be denied it if not
accompanied with his blessing....
I am much engaged in my lectures, have completed two, nearly, and hope to
get through the four in season for my turn at the Athenaeum. These
lectures are of great importance to me, for, if well done, they place me
alone among the artists; I being the only one who has as yet written a
course of lectures in our country. Time bestowed on them is not,
therefore, misspent, for they will acquire me reputation which will yield
wealth, as mother, I hope, will live to see.
"_January 15, 1826._ On this day I seem to have the only moment in the
week in which I can write you, for I am almost overwhelmed by the
multitude of cares that crowd upon me.... I find that the path of duty,
though plain, is not without its roughness. I can say but in one word
that the Association of Artists, of whom I am president, after
negotiations of some weeks with the Academy of Fine Arts to come into it
on terms of mutual benefit, find their efforts unavailing, and have
separated and formed a new academy to be called, probably, the National
Academy of the Arts of Design. I am at its head, but the cares and
responsibility which devolve on me in consequence are more than a balance
for the honor. The battle is yet to be fought for the need of public
favor, and were it not that the entire and perfect justness of our cause
is clear to me in every point of view, I should retire from a contest
which would merely serve to rouse up all the 'old Adam' to no profit; but
the cause of the artists seems, under Providence, to be, in some degree,
confided to me, and I cannot shrink from the cares and troubles at
present put upon me. I have gone forward thus far, asking direction from
above, and, in looking around me, I feel that I am in the path of duty.
May I be kept in it and be preserved from the temptations, the various
and multiplied and complicated temptations, to which I know I shall be
exposed. In every step thus far I feel an approving conscience; there is
none I could wish to retrace....
"I fear you will think I have but few thoughts for you all at home, and
my dear little ones in particular. I do think of them, though, very
often, with many a longing to have a home for them under a parent's roof,
and all my efforts now are tending distantly to that end; but when I
shall ever have a home of my own, or whether it will ever be, I know not.
The necessity for a second connection on their account seems pressing,
but I cannot find my heart ready for it. I am occasionally rallied on the
subject, but the suggestion only reminds me of her I have lost, and a
tear is quite as ready to appear as a smile; or, if I can disguise it, I
feel a pang within that shows me the wound is not yet healed. It is
eleven months since she has gone, but it seems but yesterday."
"_April 18, 1826._ I don't know but you will think I have forgotten how
to write letters, and I believe this is the first I have written for six
"The pressure of my lectures became very great towards the close of them,
and I was compelled to bend my whole attention to their completion. I did
not expect, when I delivered my first, that I should be able to give more
than two, but the importance of going through seemed greater as I
advanced, and I was strengthened to accomplish the whole number, and, if
I can judge from various indications, I think I have been successful. My
audience, consisting of the most fashionable and literary society in the
city, regularly increased at each successive lecture, and at the last it
was said that I had the largest audience ever assembled in the room.
"I am now engaged on Lafayette in expectation of completing it for our
exhibition in May, after which time I hope I shall be able to see you for
a day or two in New Haven. I long to see you all, and those dear children
often make me feel anxious, and I am often tempted to break away and have
a short look at them, but I am tied down here and cannot move at present.
All that I am doing has some reference to their interest; they are
constantly on my mind.
"... My health was never better with all my intense application, sitting
in my chair from seven in the morning until twelve or one o'clock the
next morning, with only about an hour's intermission. I have felt no
permanent inconvenience. On Saturday night, generally, I have felt
exceedingly nervous, so that my whole body and limbs would shake, but
resting on the Sabbath seemed to give me strength for the next week.
Since my mind is relieved from my lectures I have felt new life and
spirits, and feel strong to accomplish anything."
"_May 10, 18S6._ I have just heard from mother and feel anxious about
father. Nothing but the most imperious necessity prevents my coming
immediately to New Haven; indeed, as it is, I will try and break away
sometime next week, if possible, and pass one day with you, but how to do
it without detriment to my business I don't know....
"I have longed for some time for a little respite, but, like our good
father, all his sons seem destined for most busy stations in society, and
constant exertions, not for themselves alone, but for the public
Whether this promised visit to New Haven was paid or not is not recorded,
but it is to be hoped that it was made possible, for the good husband and
father, the faithful worker for the betterment of mankind, was called to
his well-earned rest on the 9th of June, 1826.
Of him Dr. John Todd said, "Dr. Morse lived before his time and was in
advance of his generation." President Dwight of Yale found him "as full
of resources as an egg is of meat"; and Daniel Webster spoke of him as
"always thinking, always writing, always talking, always acting." Mr.
Prime thus sums up his character: "He was a man of genius, not content
with what had been and was, but originating and with vast executive
ability combining the elements to produce great results. To him more than
to any other one man may be attributed the impulses given in his day to
religion and learning in the United States. A polished gentleman in his
manners; the companion, correspondent, and friend of the most eminent men
in Church and State; honored at the early age of thirty-four with the
degree of Doctor of Divinity by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland;
sought by scholars and statesmen from abroad as one of the foremost men
of his country and time."
The son must have felt keenly the loss of his father so soon after the
death of his wife. The whole family was a singularly united one, each
member depending on the others for counsel and advice, and the father,
who was but sixty-five when he died, was still vigorous in mind, although
of delicate constitution.
Later in this year Morse managed to spend some time in New Haven, and he
persuaded his mother to seek rest and recuperation in travel,
accompanying her as far as Boston and writing to her there on his return
to New Haven.
"_September 20, 1826._ I arrived safely home after leaving you yesterday
and found that neither the house nor the folks had run away.... Persevere
in your travels, mother, as long as you think it does you good, and tell
Dick to brush up his best bows and bring home some lady to grace the now
On November 9, 1826, he writes to his mother from New York:--
"Don't think I have forgotten you all at home because I have been so
remiss in writing you lately. I feel guilty, however, in not stealing
some little time just to write you one line. I acknowledge my fault, so
please forgive me and I will be a _better boy_ in future.
"The fact is I have been engaged for the last three days during all my
leisure moments in something unusual with me,--I mean _electioneering_.
'Oh! what a sad boy!' mother will say. 'There he is leaving everything at
sixes and sevens, and driving through the streets, and busying himself
about those _poison politics_.' Not quite so fast, however.
"I have not neglected my own affairs, as you will learn one of these
days. I have an historical picture to paint, which will occupy me for
some time, for a proprietor of a steamboat which is building in
Philadelphia to be the most splendid ever built. He has engaged
historical pictures of Allston, Vanderlyn, Sully, and myself, and
landscapes of the principal landscape painters, for a gallery on board
the boat. I consider this as a new and noble channel for the
encouragement of painting, and in such an enterprise and in such company
I shall do my best.
"What do you think of sparing me for about one year to visit Paris and
Rome to finish what I began when in Europe before? My education as a
painter is incomplete without it, and the time is rapidly going away when
my age will render it impossible to profit by such studies, even if I
should be able, at a future time, to visit Europe again.... I can,
perhaps, leave my dear little ones at their age better than if they were
more advanced, and, as my views are ultimately to benefit them, I think
no one will accuse me of neglecting them. If they do, they know but
little of my feelings towards them."
The mother's answer to this letter has not been preserved, but whether
she dissuaded him from going at that time, or whether other reasons
prevented him, the fact is that he did not start on the voyage to Europe
(the return trip proving so momentous to himself and to the world) until
exactly three years later.
I shall pass rapidly over these intervening three years. They were years
of hard work, but of work rewarded by material success and increasing
honor in the community.
On May 8, 1827, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the National
Academy of Design, Morse, its president, delivered an address before a
brilliant audience in the chapel of Columbia College. This address was
considered so remarkable that, at the request of the Academy, it was
published in pamphlet form. It called forth a sharp review in the "North
American," which voiced the opinions of those who were hostile to the new
Academy, and who considered the term "National" little short of arrogant.
Morse replied to this attack in a masterly manner in the "Journal of
Commerce," and this also was published in pamphlet form and ended the
In the year 1827, Professor James Freeman Dana, of Columbia College,
delivered a series of lectures on the subject of electricity at the New
York Athenaeum. Professor Dana was an enthusiast in the study of that
science, which, at that time, was but in its infancy, and he foresaw
great and beneficial results to mankind from this mysterious force when
it should become more fully understood.
Morse, already familiar with the subject from his experiments with
Professor Silliman in New Haven, took a deep interest in these lectures,
and he and Professor Dana became warm friends. The latter, on his side a
great admirer of the fine arts, spent many hours in the studio of the
artist, discussing with him the two subjects which were of absorbing
interest to them both, art and electricity. In this way Morse became
perfectly familiar with the latest discoveries in electrical science, so
that when, a few years later, his grand conception of a simple and
practicable means of harnessing this mystic agent to the uses of mankind
took form in his brain, it found a field already prepared to receive it.
I wish to lay particular emphasis on this point because, in later years,
when his claims as an inventor were bitterly assailed in the courts and
in scientific circles, it was asserted that he knew nothing whatever of
the science of electricity at the time of his invention, and that all its
essential features were suggested to him by others.
In the year 1828, Morse again changed his quarters, moving to a suite of
rooms at No. 13 Murray Street, close to Broadway, for which he paid a
"great rent," $500, and on May 6 of that year he writes to his mother:
"Ever since I left you at New Haven I have been over head and ears in
arrangements of every kind. It is the busiest time of the whole year as
it regards the National Academy. We have got through the arrangement of
our exhibition and yesterday opened it to the guests of the Academy. We
had the first people in the city, ladies and gentlemen, thronging the
room all day, and the voice of all seemed to be--'It is the best
exhibition of the kind that has been seen in the city.'
"I am now arranging my rooms; they are very fine ones. I shall be through
in a few days, and then I hope to be able to come up and see you, for I
feel very anxious about you, my dear mother. I do most sincerely
sympathize with you in your troubles and long to come up and take some of
the care and burden from you, and will do it as soon as my affairs here
can be arranged so that I can leave them without serious detriment to
them.... What a siege you must have had with your _help_, as it is most
strangely called in New Haven. I am too aristocratic for such doings as
_help_ would make those who live in New Haven endure. Ardently as I am
attached to New Haven the plague of _help_ will probably always prevent
my living there again, for I would not put up with 'the world turned
upside down,' and therefore should give offense to their _helpinesses_,
and so lead a very uncomfortable life."
From this our suspicion is strengthened that the servant question belongs
to no time or country, but is and always has been a perennial and
"_May 11, 1888._ I feel very anxious about you, dear mother. I heard
through Mr. Van Rensselaer that you were better, and I hope that you will
yet see many good days on earth and be happy in the affection of your
children and friends here, before you go, a little before them, to join
those in heaven."
While expressing anxiety about his mother's health, he could not have
considered her condition critical, for on the 18th of May he writes
"I did hope so to make my arrangements as to have been with you in New
Haven yesterday and to-day, but I am so situated as to be unable to leave
the city without great detriment to my business.... Unless, therefore,
there is something of pressing necessity, prudence would dictate to me to
take advantage of this season, which has generally been the most
profitable to others in the profession, and see if I cannot get my share
of something to do. It is a great struggle with me to know what I ought
to do. Your situation and that of the family draw me to New Haven; the
state of my finances keeps me here. I will come, however, if, on the
whole, you think it best."
Again are the records silent as to whether the visit was paid or not, but
his anxiety was well founded, for his mother's appointed time had come,
and just ten days later, on the 28th of May, 1828, she died at the age of
Thus within the space of three years the hand of death had removed the
three beings whom Morse loved best. His mother, while, as we have seen,
stern and uncompromising in her Puritan principles, yet possessed the
faculty of winning the love as well as the respect of her family and
friends. Dr. Todd said of her home: "An orphan myself and never having a
home, I have gone away from Dr. Morse's house in tears, feeling that such
a home must be more like heaven than anything of which I could conceive."
Mr. Prime, in his biography of Morse, thus pays tribute to her:--
"Two persons more unlike in temperament, it is said, could not have been
united in love and marriage than the parents of Morse. The husband was
sanguine, impulsive, resolute, regardless of difficulties and danger. She
was calm, judicious, cautious, and reflecting. And she, too, had a will
of her own. One day she was expressing to one of the parish her intense
displeasure with the treatment her husband had received, when Dr. Morse
gently laid his hand upon her shoulder and said, 'My dear, you know we
must throw the mantle of charity over the imperfections of others.' And
she replied with becoming spirit, 'Mr. Morse, charity is not a fool.'"
In the summer of 1828, Morse spent some time in central New York,
visiting relatives and painting portraits when the occasion offered. He
thus describes a narrow escape from serious injury, or even death, in a
letter to his brother Sidney, dated Utica, August 17, 1828:--
"In coming from Whitesboro on Friday I met with an accident and a most
narrow escape with my life. The horse, which had been tackled into the
wagon, was a vicious horse and had several times run away, to the danger
of Mr. Dexter's life and others of the family. I was not aware of this or
I should not have consented to go with him, much less to drive him
"I was alone in the wagon with my baggage, and the horse went very well
for about a mile, when he gradually quickened his pace and then set out,
in spite of all check, on the full run. I kept him in the road,
determined to let him run himself tired as the only safe alternative; but
just as I came in sight of a piece of the road which had been concealed
by an angle, there was a heavy wagon which I must meet so soon that, in
order to avoid it, I must give it the whole road.
"This being very narrow, and the ditches and banks on each side very
rough, I instantly made up my mind to a serious accident. As well as the
velocity of the horse would allow me, however, I kept him on the side,
rough as it was, for about a quarter of a mile pretty steadily,
expecting, however, to upset every minute; when all at once I saw before
me an abrupt, narrow, deep gully into which the wheels on one side were
just upon the point of going down. It flashed across me in an instant
that, if I could throw the horse down into the ditch, the wheels of the
wagon might, perhaps, rest equipoised on each side, and, perhaps, break
the horse loose from the wagon.
"I pulled the rein and accomplished the object in part. The sudden plunge
of the horse into the gully broke him loose from the wagon, but it at the
same time turned one of the fore wheels into the gully, which upset the
wagon and threw me forwards at the moment when the horse threw up his
heels, just taking off my hat and leaving me in the bottom of the gully.
I fell on my left shoulder, and, although muddied from head to foot, I
escaped without any injury whatever; I was not even jarred painfully. I
found my shoulder a little bruised, my wrist very slightly scratched, and
yesterday was a little, and but very little, stiffened in my limbs, and
to-day have not the slightest feeling of bruise about me, but think I
feel better than I have for a long time. Indeed, my health is entirely
restored; the riding and country air have been the means of restoring me.
I have great cause of thankfulness for so much mercy and for such special
[Illustration: ELIZABETH A. MORSE
Painted by Morse]
The historian or the biographer who is earnestly desirous of presenting
an absolutely truthful picture of men and of events is aided in his task
by taking into account the character of the men who have made history. He
must ask the question: "Is it conceivable that this man could have acted
thus and so under such and such circumstances when his character, as
ultimately revealed through the perspective of time, has been
established? Could Washington and Lincoln, for example, have been
actuated by the motives attributed to them by their enemies?"
Like all men who have become shining marks in the annals of history,
Morse could not hope to escape calumny, and in later years he was accused
of actions, and motives were imputed to him, which it becomes the duty of
his biographer to disprove on the broad ground of moral impossibility.
Among his letters and papers are many rough drafts of thoughts and
observations on many subjects, interlined and annotated. Some were
afterwards elaborated into letters, articles, or lectures; others seem to
have been the thought of the moment, which he yet deemed worth writing
down, and which, perhaps better than anything else, reveal the true
character of the man.
The following was written by him in pencil on Sunday, September 6, 1829,
at Cooperstown, New York:--
"That temptations surround us at every moment is too evident to require
proof. If they cease from without they still act upon us from within
ourselves, and our most secret thoughts may as surely be drawn from the
path of duty by secret temptation, by the admission of evil suggestions,
and they will affect our characters as injuriously as those more palpable
and tangible temptations that attack our sense.
"This life is a state of discipline; a school in which to form character.
There is not an event that comes to our knowledge, not a sentence that we
read, not a person with whom we converse, not an act of our lives, in
short, not a thought which we conceive, but is acting upon and moulding
that character into a shape of good or evil; and, however unconscious we
may be of the fact, a thought, casually conceived in the solitariness and
silence and darkness of midnight, may so modify and change the current of
our future conduct that a blessing or a curse to millions may flow from
"All our thoughts are mysteriously connected with good or evil. Their
very habits, too, like the habits of our actions, are strengthened by
indulgence, and, according as we indulge the evil or the good, our
characters will partake of the moral character of each. But actions
proceed from thoughts; we act as we think. Why should we, then, so
cautiously guard our actions from impropriety while we give a loose rein
to our thoughts, which so certainly, sooner or later, produce their
fruits in our actions?
"God in his wisdom has separated at various distances sin and the
consequence of sin. In some instances we see a sin instantly followed by
its fruits, as of revenge by murder. In others we see weeks and months
and years, aye, and ages, too, elapse before the fruits of a single act,
the result, perhaps, of a single thought, are seen in all their varieties
"How long ere the fruits of one sin in Paradise will cease to be visible
in the moral universe?
"If this reasoning is correct, I shall but cheat myself in preserving a
good moral outward appearance to others if every thought of the heart, in
the most secret retirement, is not carefully watched and checked and
guarded from evil; since the casual indulgence of a single evil thought
in secret may be followed, long after that thought is forgotten by me,
and when, perhaps, least expected, by overt acts of evil.
"Who, then, shall say that in those pleasures in which we indulge, and
which by many are called, and apparently are, innocent, there are not
laid the seeds of many a corrupt affection? Who shall say that my
innocent indulgence at the card table or at the theatre, were I inclined
to visit them, may not produce, if not in me a passion for gaming or for
low indulgence, yet in others may encourage these views to their ruin?
"Besides, 'Evil communications corrupt good manners,' and even places
less objectionable are studiously to be avoided. The soul is too precious
to be thus exposed.
"Where then is our remedy? In Christ alone. 'Cleanse thou me from secret
faults. Search me, O God, and know my thoughts; try me and know my ways
and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way which is
This is but one of many expressions of a similar character which are to
be found in the letters and notes, and which are illuminating.
Morse was now making ready for another trip to Europe. He had hoped, when
he returned home in 1815, to stay but a year or two on this side and then
to go back and continue his artistic education, which he by no means
considered complete, in France and Italy. We have seen how one
circumstance after another interfered to prevent the realization of this
plan, until now, after the lapse of fourteen years, he found it possible.
His wife and his parents were dead; his children were being carefully
cared for by relatives, the daughter Susan by her mother's sister, Mrs.
Pickering, in Concord, New Hampshire, and the boys by their uncle,
Richard C. Morse, who was then happily married and living in the family
home in New Haven.
The National Academy of Design was now established on a firm footing and
could spare his guiding hand for a few years. He had saved enough money
to defray his expenses on a strictly economical basis, but, to make
assurance doubly sure, he sought and received commissions from his
friends and patrons in America for copies of famous paintings, or for
original works of his own, so that he could sail with a clear conscience
as regarded his finances.
His friends were uniformly encouraging in furthering his plan, and he
received many letters of cordial good wishes and of introduction to
prominent men abroad. I shall include the following from John A. Dix, at
that time a captain in the army, but afterwards a general, and Governor
of New York, who, although he had been an unsuccessful suitor for the
hand of Miss Walker, Morse's wife, bore no ill-will towards his rival,
but remained his firm friend to the end:--
COOPERSTOWN, 27th October, 1829.
MY DEAR SIR,--I have only time to say that I have been absent in an
adjacent county and fear there is not time to procure a letter for you to
Mr. Rives before the 1st. I have written to Mr. Van Buren and he will
doubtless send you a letter before the 8th. Therefore make arrangements
to have it sent after you if you sail on the 1st.
I need not say I shall be very happy to hear from you during your
sojournment abroad. Especially tell me what your impressions are when you
turn from David's picture with Romulus and Tatius in the foreground, and
Paul Veronese's Marriage at Cana directly opposite, at the entrance of
the picture gallery in the Louvre.
We are all well and all desire to be remembered. I have only time to add
my best wishes for your happiness and prosperity.
Yours truly and constantly,
JOHN A. DIX.
The Mr. Rives mentioned in the letter was at that time our Minister to
France, and the Mr. Van Buren was Martin Van Buren, then Secretary of
State in President Jackson's Cabinet, and afterwards himself President of
the United States.
The following is from the pencilled draft of a letter or the beginning of
a diary which was not finished, but ends abruptly:--
"On the 8th November, 1829, I embarked from New York in the ship
Napoleon, Captain Smith, for Liverpool. The Napoleon is one of those
splendid packets, which have been provided by the enterprise of our
merchants, for the accommodation of persons whose business or pleasure
requires a visit to Europe or America.
"Precisely at the appointed hour, ten o'clock, the steamboat with the
passengers and their baggage left the Whitehall dock for our gallant
ship, which was lying to above the city, heading up the North River,
careening to the brisk northwest gale, and waiting with apparent
impatience for us, like a spirited horse curvetting under the rein of his
master, and waiting but his signal to bound away. A few moments brought
us to her side, and a few more saw the steamboat leave us, and the sad
farewells to relatives and friends, who had thus far accompanied us, were
mutually exchanged by the waving of hands and of handkerchiefs. The
'Ready about,' and soon after the 'Mainsail haul' of the pilot were
answered by the cheering 'Ho, heave, ho' of the sailors, and, with the
fairest wind that ever blew, we fast left the spires and shores of the
great city behind us. In two hours we discharged our pilot to the south
of Sandy Hook, with his pocket full of farewell letters to our friends,
and then stood on our course for England.
"Four days brought us to the Banks of Newfoundland, one third of our
passage. Many of our passengers were sanguine in their anticipations of
our making the shortest passage ever known, and, had our subsequent
progress been as great as at first, we should doubtless have accomplished
the voyage in thirteen days, but calms and head winds for three days on
the Banks have frustrated our expectations.
"There is little that is interesting in the incidents of a voyage. The
indescribable listlessness of seasickness, the varied state of feeling
which changes with the wind and weather, have often been described. These
I experienced in all their force. From the time we left the Banks of
Newfoundland we had a continued succession of head winds, and when within
one fair day's sail of land, we were kept off by severe gales directly
ahead for five successive days and nights, during which time the uneasy
motion of the ship deprived us all of sleep, except in broken intervals
of an half-hour at a time. We neither saw nor spoke any vessel until the
evening of the ----, when we descried through the darkness a large vessel
on an opposite course from ourselves; we first saw her cabin lights. It
was blowing a gale of wind before which we were going on our own course
at the rate of eleven miles an hour. It was, of course, impossible to
speak her, but, to let her know that she had company on the wide ocean,
we threw up a rocket which for splendor of effect surpassed any that I
had ever seen on shore. It was thrown from behind the mizzenmast, over
which it shot arching its way over the main and foremasts, illuminating
every sail and rope, and then diving into the water, piercing the wave,
it again shot upwards and vanished in a loud report. To our companion
ship the effect must have been very fine.
"The sea is often complained of for its monotony, and yet there is great
variety in the appearance of the sea."
Here it ends, but we learn a little more of the voyage and the landing in
England from a letter to a cousin in America, written in Liverpool, on
December 5, 1829:--
"I arrived safely in England yesterday after a long, but, on the whole,
pleasant, passage of twenty-six days. I write you from the inn (the
King's Arms Hotel) at which I put up eighteen years ago. This inn is the
one at which Professor Silliman stayed when he travelled in England, and
which he mentions in his travels. The old Frenchman whom he mentions I
well remember when I was here before. I enquired for him and am told he
is still living, but I have not seen him.
"There is a large black man, a waiter in the house, who is quite a
polished man in his manners, and an elderly white man, with white hair,
who looks so respectable and dignified that one feels a little awkward at
first in ordering him to do this or that service; and the chambermaids
look so venerable and matronly that to ask them for a pitcher of water
seems almost rude to them. But I am in a land where domestic servants are
the best in the world. No servant aspires to a higher station, but feels
a pride in making himself the first in that station. I notice this, for
our own country presents a melancholy contrast in this particular."
Here follows a description of the voyage, and he continues:--
"Yesterday we anchored off the Floating Light, sixteen miles from the
city, unable to reach the dock on account of the wind, but the
post-office steamboat (or steamer, as they call them here) came to us
from Liverpool to take the letter-bags, and I with other passengers got
on board, and at twelve o'clock I once more placed my foot on English
"The weather is true English weather, thick, smoky, and damp. I can see
nothing of the general appearance of the city. The splendid docks, which
were building when I was here before, are now completed and extend along
the river. They are really splendid; everything about them is solid and
substantial, of stone and iron, and on so large a scale.
"I have passed my baggage through the custom-house, and on Monday I
proceed on my journey to London through Birmingham and Oxford. Miss
Leslie, a sister of my friend Leslie of London, is my _compagnon de
voyage_. She is a woman of fine talents and makes my journey less tedious
and irksome than it would otherwise be.... I have a long journey before
me yet ere I reach Rome, where I intended to be by Christmas Day, but my
long voyage will probably defeat my intention."
DECEMBER 6, 1829--FEBRUARY 6, 1830
Journey from Liverpool to London by coach.--Neatness of the cottages.--
Trentham Hall.--Stratford-on-Avon.--Oxford.--London.--Charles R. Leslie.
--Samuel Rogers.--Seated with Academicians at Royal Academy lecture.--
Washington Irving.--Turner.--Leaves London for Dover.--Canterbury
Cathedral.--Detained at Dover by bad weather.--Incident of a former
visit.--Channel steamer.--Boulogne-sur-Mer.--First impressions of
France.--Paris.--The Louvre.--Lafayette.--Cold in Paris.--Continental
Sunday.--Leaves Paris for Marseilles in diligence.--Intense cold.--
Dijon.--French funeral.--Lyons.--The Hotel Dieu.--Avignon.--Catholic
church services.--Marseilles.--Toulon.--The navy yard and the galley
slaves.--Disagreeable experience at an inn.--The Riviera.--Genoa.
Morse was now thirty-eight years old, in the full vigor of manhood, of a
spare but well-knit frame and of a strong constitution. While all his
life, and especially in his younger years, he was a sufferer from
occasional severe headaches, he never let these interfere with the work
on hand, and, by leading a sane and rational life, he escaped all serious
illnesses. He was not a total abstainer as regards either wine or
tobacco, but was moderate in the use of both; a temperance advocate in
the true sense of the word.
His character had now been moulded both by prosperity and adversity. He
had known the love of wife and children, and of father and mother, and
the cup of domestic happiness had been dashed from his lips. He had
experienced the joy of the artist in successful creation, and the
bitterness of the sensitive soul irritated by the ignorant, and all but
overwhelmed by the struggle for existence. He had felt the supreme joy of
swaying an audience by his eloquence, and he had endured with fortitude
the carping criticism of the envious. Through it all, through prosperity
and through adversity, his hopeful, buoyant nature had triumphed.
Prosperity had not spoiled him, and adversity had but served to refine.
He felt that he had been given talents which he must utilize to the
utmost, that he must be true to himself, and that, above all, he must
strive in every way to benefit his fellow men.
This motive we find recurring again and again in his correspondence and
in his ultimate notes. Not, "What can I do for myself?" but "What can I
do for mankind?" Never falsely humble, but, on the contrary, properly
proud of his achievements, jealous of his own good name and fame and
eager _honestly_ to acquire wealth, he yet ever put the public good above
his private gain.
He was now again in Europe, the goal of his desires for many years, and
he was about to visit the Continent, where he had never been. Paris, with
her treasures of art, Italy, the promised land of every artist, lay
We shall miss the many intimate letters to his wife and to his parents,
but we shall find others to his brothers and to his friends, perhaps a
shade less unreserved, but still giving a clear account of his
wanderings, and, from a mass of little notebooks and sketch-books, we can
follow him on his pilgrimage and glean some keen observations on the
peoples and places visited by him. It must be remembered that this was
still the era of the stage-coach and the diligence, and that it took many
days to accomplish a journey which is now made in almost the same number
On Christmas Day, 1829, he begins a letter from Dover to a favorite
cousin, Mrs. Margaret Roby, of Utica, New York:--
"When I left Liverpool I took my seat upon the outside of the coach, in
order to see as much as possible of the country through which I was to
pass. Unfortunately the fog and smoke were so dense that I could see
objects but a few yards from the road. Occasionally, indeed, the fog
would become less dense, and we could see the fine lawns of the seats of
the nobility and gentry, which were scattered on our route, and which
still retained their verdure. Now and then the spire and towers of some
ancient village church rose out of the leafless trees, beautifully simple
in their forms, and sometimes clothed to the very tops with the evergreen
ivy. It was severely cold; my eyebrows, hair, cap, and the fur of my
cloak were soon coated with frost, but I determined to keep my seat
though I suffered some from the cold.
"Their fine natural health, or the frosty weather, gave to the
complexions of the peasantry, particularly the females and children, a
beautiful rosy bloom. Through all the villages there was the appearance
of great comfort and neatness,--a neatness, however, very different from
ours. Their nicely thatched cottages bore all the marks of great
antiquity, covered with brilliant green moss like velvet, and round the
doors and windows were trained some of the many kinds of evergreen vines
which abound here. Most of them also had a trim courtyard before their
doors, planted with laurel and holly and box, and sometimes a yew cut
into some fantastic shape. The whole appearance of the villages was neat
and venerable; like some aged matron who, with all her wrinkles, her
stooping form, and grey locks, preserves the dignity of cleanliness in
her ancient but becoming costume.
"At Trentham we passed one of the seats of the Marquis of Stafford,
Trentham Hall. Here the Marquis has a fine gallery of pictures, and among
them Allston's famous picture of 'Uriel in the Sun.'
"I slept the first night in Birmingham, which I had no time to see on
account of darkness, smoke, and fog: three most inveterate enemies to the
seekers of the picturesque and of antiquities. In the morning, before
daylight, I resumed my journey towards London. At Stratford-on-Avon I
breakfasted, but in such haste as not to be able to visit again the house
of Shakespeare's birth, or his tomb. This house, however, I visited when
in England before. At Oxford, the city of so many classical
recollections, I stopped but a few moments to dine. I was here also when
before in England. It is a most splendid city; its spires and domes and
towers and pinnacles, rising from amid the trees, give it a magnificent
appearance as you approach it.
"Before we reached Oxford we passed through Woodstock and Blenheim, the
seat of the Duke of Marlborough, whose splendid estates are at present
suffering from the embarrassment of the present Duke, who has ruined his
fortunes by his fondness for play.
"Darkness came on after leaving Oxford; I saw nothing until arriving in
the vicinity of the great metropolis, which has, for many miles before
you enter it, the appearance of a continuous village. We saw the
brilliant gas-lights of its streets, and our coach soon joined the throng
of vehicles that rattled over its pavements. I could scarcely realize
that I was once more in London after fourteen years' absence.
"My first visit was to my old friend and fellow pupil, Leslie, who seemed
overjoyed to see me and has been unremitting in his attentions during my
stay in London. Leslie I found, as I expected, in high favor with the
highest classes of England's noblemen and literary characters. His
reputation is well deserved and will not be ephemeral.
"I received an invitation to breakfast from Samuel Rogers, Esq., the
celebrated poet, which I accepted with my friend Leslie. Mr. Rogers is
the author of 'Pleasures of Memory,' of 'Italy,' and other poems. He has
not the proverbial lot of the poet,--that of being poor,--for he is one
of the wealthiest bankers and lives in splendid style. His collection of
pictures is very select, chosen by himself with great taste.
"I attended, a few evenings since, the lecture on anatomy at the Royal
Academy, where I was introduced to some of the most distinguished
artists; to Mr. Shee, the poet and author as well as painter; to Mr.
Howard, the secretary of the Academy; to Mr. Hilton, the keeper; to Mr.
Stothard, the librarian; and several others. I expected to have met and
been introduced to Sir Thomas Lawrence, the president, but he was absent,
and I have not had the pleasure of seeing him. I was invited to a seat
with the Academicians, as was also Mr. Cole, a member of our Academy in
New York. I was gratified in seeing America so well represented in the
painters Leslie and Newton. The lecturer also paid, in his lecture, a
high compliment to Allston by a deserved panegyric, and by several
quotations from his poems, illustrative of principles which he advanced.
"After the lecture I went home to tea with Newton, accompanied by Leslie,
where I found our distinguished countryman, Washington Irving, our
Secretary of Legation, and W.E. West, another American painter, whose
portrait of Lord Byron gave him much celebrity. I passed a very pleasant
evening, of course.
"The next day I visited the National Gallery of pictures, as yet but
small, but containing some of the finest pictures in England. Among them
is the celebrated 'Raising of Lazarus' by Sebastian del Piombo, for which
a nobleman of this country offered to the late proprietor sixteen
thousand pounds sterling, which sum was refused. I visited also Mr.
Turner, the best landscape painter living, and was introduced to him....
"I did not see so much of London or its curiosities as I should have done
at another season of the year. The greater part of the time was night--
literally night; for, besides being the shortest days of the year (it not
being light until eight o'clock and dark again at four), the smoke and
fog have been most of the time so dense that darkness has for many days
occupied the hours of daylight....
"On the 22d inst., Tuesday, I left London, after having obtained in due
form my passports, for the Continent, in company with J. Town, Esq., and
N. Jocelyn, Esq., American friends, intending to pass the night at
Canterbury, thirty-six miles from London. The day was very unpleasant,
very cold, and snowing most of the time. At Blackheath we saw the palace
in which the late unfortunate queen of George IV resided. On the heath
among the bushes is a low furze with which it is in part covered. There
were encamped in their miserable blanket huts a gang of gypsies. No
wigwams of the Oneidas ever looked so comfortless. On the road we
overtook a gypsy girl with a child in her arms, both having the stamp of
that singular race strongly marked upon their features; black hair and
sparkling black eyes, with a nut-brown complexion and cheeks of russet
red, and not without a shrewd intelligence in their expression.
"At about nine o'clock we arrived at the Guildhall Tavern in the
celebrated and ancient city of Canterbury. Early in the morning, as soon
as we had breakfasted, we visited the superb cathedral. This stupendous
pile is one of the most distinguished Gothic structures in the world. It
is not only interesting from its imposing style of architecture, but from
its numerous historical associations. The first glimpse we caught of it
was through and over a rich, decayed gateway to the enclosure of the
cathedral grounds. After passing the gate the vast pile--with its three
great towers and innumerable turrets, and pinnacles, and buttresses, and
arches, and painted windows--rose in majesty before us. The grand centre
tower, covered with a grey moss, seemed like an immense mass of the
Palisades, struck out with all its regular irregularity, and placed above
the surrounding masses of the same grey rocks. The bell of the great
tower was tolling for morning service, and yet so distant, from its
height, that it was scarcely heard upon the pavement below.
"We entered the door of one of the towers and came immediately into the
nave of the church. The effect of the long aisles and towering, clustered
pillars and richly carved screens of a Gothic church upon the imagination
can scarcely be described--the emotion is that of awe.
"A short procession was quickly passing up the steps of the choir,
consisting of the beadle, or some such officer, with his wand of office,
followed by ten boys in white surplices. Behind these were the
prebendaries and other officers of the church; one thin and pale, another
portly and round, with powdered hair and sleepy, dull, heavy expression
of face, much like the face that Hogarth has chosen for the 'Preacher to
his Sleepy Congregation.' This personage we afterward heard was Lord
Nelson, the brother of the celebrated Nelson and the heir to his title.
"The service was read in a hurried and commonplace manner to about thirty
individuals, most of whom seemed to be the necessary assistants at the
ceremonies. The effect of the voices in the responses and the chanting of
the boys, reverberating through the aisles and arches and recesses of the
church, was peculiarly imposing, but, when the great organ struck in, the
emotion of grandeur was carried to its height,--I say nothing of
devotion. I did not pretend on this occasion to join in it; I own that my
thoughts as well as my eyes were roaming to other objects, and gathering
around me the thousand recollections of scenic splendor, of terror, of
bigotry, and superstition which were acted in sight of the very walls by
which I was surrounded. Here the murder of Thomas a Becket was
perpetrated; there was his miracle-working shrine, visited by pilgrims
from all parts of Christendom, and enriched with the most costly jewels
that the wealth of princes could purchase and lavish upon it; the very
steps, worn into deep cavities by the knees of the devotees as they
approached the shrine, were ascended by us. There stood the tomb of Henry
IV and his queen; and here was the tomb of Edward, the Black Prince, with
a bronze figure of the prince, richly embossed and enamelled, reclining
upon the top, and over the canopy were suspended the surcoat and casque,
the gloves of mail and shield, with which he was accoutred when he fought
the famous battle of Crecy. There also stood the marble chair in which
the Saxon kings were crowned, and in which, with the natural desire that
all seemed to have in such cases, I could not avoid seating myself. From
this chair, placed at one end of the nave, is seen to best advantage the
length of the church, five hundred feet in extent.
"After the service I visited more at leisure the tombs and other
curiosities of the church. The precise spot on which Archbishop Becket
was murdered is shown, but the spot on which his head fell on the
pavement was cut out as a relic and sent to Rome, and the place filled in
with a fresh piece of stone, about five inches square....
"In the afternoon we left Canterbury and proceeded to Dover, intending to
embark the next morning (Thursday, December 24) for Calais or Boulogne in
the steamer. The weather, however, was very unpromising in the morning,
being thick and foggy and apparently preparing for a storm. We therefore
made up our minds to stay, hoping the next day would be more favorable;
but Friday, Christmas Day, came with a most violent northeast gale and
snowstorm. Saturday the 26th, Sunday the 27th, and, at this moment,
Monday the 28th, the storm is more violent than ever, the streets are
clogged with snow, and we are thus embargoed completely for we know not
how long a time to come.
"Notwithstanding the severity of the weather on Thursday, we all ventured
out through the wind and snow to visit Dover Castle, situated upon the
bleak cliffs to the north of the town....
"The castle, with its various towers and walls and outworks, has been the
constant care of the Government for ages. Here are the remains of every
age from the time of the Romans to the present. About the centre of the
enclosure stand two ancient ruins, the one a tower built by the Romans,
thirty-six years after Christ, and the other a rude church built by the
Saxons in the sixth century. Other remains of towers and walls indicate
the various kinds of defensive and offensive war in different ages, from
the time when the round or square tower, with its loopholes for the
archers and crossbowmen, and gates secured by heavy portcullis, were a
substantial defence, down to the present time, when the bastion of
regular sides advances from the glacis, mounted with modern ordnance,
keeping at a greater distance the hostile besiegers.
"Through the glacis in various parts are sally-ports, from one of which,
opening towards the road to Ramsgate, I well remember seeing a corporal's
guard issue, about fifteen years ago, to take possession of me and my
sketch-book, as I sat under a hedge at some distance to sketch the
picturesque towers of this castle. Somewhat suspicious of their
intentions, I left my retreat, and, by a circuitous route into the town,
made my escape; not, however, without ascertaining from behind a distant
hedge that I was actually the object of their expedition. They went to
the spot where I had been sitting, made a short search, and then returned
to the castle through the same sally-port.
"At that time (a time of war not only with France but America also) the
strictest watch was kept, and to have been caught making the slightest
sketch of a fortification would have subjected me to much trouble. Times
are now changed, and had Jack Frost (the only commander of rigor now at
the castle) permitted, I might have sketched any part of the interior or
"_Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, December 29, 1829._ This morning at ten
o'clock, after our tedious detention, we embarked from Dover in a steamer
for this place instead of Calais. I mentioned the steamer, but, cousin,
if you have formed any idea of elegance, or comfort, or speed in
connection with the name of steamer from seeing our fine steamboats, and
have imagined that English or French boats are superior to ours, you may
as well be undeceived. I know of no description of packet-boats in our
waters bad enough to convey the idea. They are small, black, dirty,
confined things, which would be suffered to rot at the wharves for want
of the least custom from the lowest in our country. You may judge of the
extent of the accommodations when I tell you that there is in them but
one cabin, six feet six inches high, fourteen feet long, eleven feet
wide, containing eight berths.
"Our passage was, fortunately, short, and we arrived in the dominions of
'His Most Christian Majesty' Charles X at five o'clock. The transition
from a country where one's own language is spoken to one where the
accents are strange; from a country where the manners and habits are
somewhat allied to our own to one where everything is different, even to
the most trifling article of dress, is very striking on landing after so
short an interval from England to France.
"The pier-head at our landing was filled with human beings in strange
costume, from the grey _surtout_ and belt of the _gendarmes_ to the broad
twilled and curiously plaited caps of the masculine women; which latter
beings, by the way, are the licensed porters of baggage to the
"_Paris, January 7, 1830._ Here have I been in this great capital of the
Continent since the first day of the year. I shall remember my first
visit to Paris from the circumstance that, at the dawn of the day of the
new year, we passed the Porte Saint-Denis into the narrow and dirty
streets of the great metropolis.
"The Louvre was the first object we visited. Our passports obtained us
ready admittance, and, although our fingers and feet were almost frozen,
we yet lingered three hours in the grand gallery of pictures. Indeed, it
is a long walk simply to pass up and down the long hall, the end of which
from the opposite end is scarcely visible, but is lost in the mist of
distance. On the walls are twelve hundred and fifty of some of the _chefs
d'oeuvre_ of painting. Here I have marked out several which I shall copy
on my return from Italy.
"I have my residence at present at the Hotel de Lille, which is situated
very conveniently in the midst of all the most interesting objects of
curiosity to a stranger in Paris,--the palace of the Tuileries, the
Palais Royal, the Bibliotheque Royale, or Royal Library, and numerous
other places, all within a few paces of us. On New Year's Day the
equipages of the nobility and foreign ambassadors, etc., who paid their
respects to the King and the Duke of Orleans, made considerable display
in the Place du Carrousel and in the court of the Tuileries.
"At an exhibition of manufactures of porcelain, tapestry, etc., in the
Louvre, where were some of the most superb specimens of art in the world
in these articles, we also saw the Duchesse de Berri. She is the mother
of the little Duc de Bordeaux, who, you know, is the heir apparent to the
crown of France. She was simply habited in a blue pelisse and blue
bonnet, and would not be distinguished in her appearance from the crowd
except by her attendants in livery.
"I cannot close, however, without telling you what a delightful evening I
passed evening before last at General Lafayette's. He had a soiree on
that night at which there were a number of Americans. When I went in he
instantly recognized me; took me by both hands; said he was expecting to
see me in France, having read in the American papers that I had embarked.
He met me apparently with great cordiality, then introduced me to each of
his family, to his daughters, to Madame Lasterie and her two daughters
(very pretty girls) and to Madame Remusat, and two daughters of his
son, G.W. Lafayette, also very accomplished and beautiful girls. The
General inquired how long I intended to stay in France, and pressed me to
come and pass some time at La Grange when I returned from Italy. General
Lafayette looks very well and seems to have the respect of all the best
men in France. At his soiree I saw the celebrated Benjamin Constant, one
of the most distinguished of the Liberal party in France. He is tall and
thin with a very fair, white complexion, and long white, silken hair,
moving with all the vigor of a young man."
[Footnote 1: This was not, of course, the famous Madame de Remusat;
probably her daughter-in-law.]
In a letter to his brothers written on the same day, January 7th, he
"If I went no farther and should now return, what I have already seen and
studied would be worth to me all the trouble and expense thus far
incurred. I am more and more satisfied that my expedition was wisely
"You cannot conceive how the cold is felt in Paris, and, indeed, in all
France. Not that their climate is so intensely cold as ours, but their
provision against the cold is so bad. Fuel is excessively high; their
fireplaces constructed on the worst possible plan, looking like great
ovens dug four or five feet into the wall, wasting a vast deal of heat;
and then the doors and windows are far from tight; so that, altogether,
Paris in winter is not the most comfortable place in the world.
"Mr. Town and I, and probably Mr. Jocelyn, set out for Italy on Monday by
the way of Chalons-sur-Saone, Lyons, Avignon, and Nice. I long to get to
Rome and Naples that I may commence to paint in a warm climate, and so
keep warm weather with me to France again....
"I don't know what to do about writing letters for the 'Journal of
Commerce.' I fear it will consume more of my time than the thing is
worth, and will be such a hindrance to my professional studies that I
must, on the whole, give up the thought of it. My time here is worth a
guinea a minute in the way of my profession. I could undoubtedly write
some interesting letters for them, but I do not feel the same ease in
writing for the public that I do in writing to a friend, and, in
correcting my language for the press, I feel that it is going to consume
more of my time than I can spare. I will write if I can, but they must
not expect it, for I find my pen and pencil are enemies to each other. I
must write less and paint more. My advantages for study never appeared so
great, and I never felt so ardent a desire to improve them."
Morse spent about two weeks in Paris visiting churches, picture
galleries, palaces, and other show places. He finds the giraffe or
camelopard the most interesting animal at the Jardin des Plantes, and he
dislikes a ceiling painted by Gros: "It is allegorical, which is a class
of painting I detest." He deplores the Continental Sunday: "Oh! that we
appreciated in America the value of our Sabbath; a Sabbath of rest from
labor; a Sabbath of moral and religious instruction; a Sabbath the
greatest barrier to those floods of immorality which have in times past
deluged this devoted country in blood, and will again do it unless the
Sabbath gains its ascendancy once more."
From an undated and unfinished draft of a letter to his cousin, Mrs.
Roby, we learn something of his journey from Paris to Rome, or rather of
the first part of it:--
"I wrote you from Paris giving you an account of my travels to that city,
and I now improve the first moments of leisure since to continue my
journal. After getting our passports signed by at least half a dozen
ambassadors preparatory to our long journey, we left Paris on Wednesday,
January 13, at eight o'clock, for Dijon, in the diligence. The weather
was very cold, and we travelled through a very uninteresting country. It
seemed like a frozen ocean, the road being over an immense plain unbroken
by trees or fences.
"We stopped a few moments at Melun, at Joigny and Tonnerre, which latter
place was quite pretty with a fine-looking Gothic church. We found the
villages from Paris thus far much neater and in better style than those
on the road from Boulogne.
"Our company consisted of Mr. Town, of New York, Mr. Jocelyn, of New
Haven, a very pretty Frenchwoman, and myself. The Frenchwoman was quite a
character; she could not talk English nor could we talk French, and yet
we were talking all the time, and were able to understand and be
"At four o'clock the next morning we _dined!!_ at Montbar, which place we
entered after much detention by the snow. It was so deep that we were
repeatedly stopped for some time. At a picturesque little village, called
Val de Luzon, where we changed horses, the country began to assume a
different character. It now became mountainous, and, had the season been
propitious, many beautiful scenes for the pencil would have presented
themselves. As it was, the forms of the mountains and the deep valleys,
with villages snugly situated at the bottom, were grateful to the eye
amidst the white shroud which everywhere covered the landscape. We could
but now and then catch a glimpse of the scenery through our coach window
by thawing a place in the thickly covered glass, which was so plated with
the arborescent frost as not to yield to the warmth of the sun at midday.
"We arrived at Dijon at nine o'clock on Saturday evening, after three
days and two nights of fatiguing riding. The diligence is, on the whole,
a comfortable carriage for travelling. I can scarcely give you any idea
of its construction; it is so unlike in many respects to our stage-coach.
It is three carriage-bodies together upon one set of wheels. The forward
part is called the _coupe_, which holds but three persons, and, from
having windows in front so that the country is seen as you travel, is the
most expensive. The middle carriage is the largest, capable of holding
six persons, and is called the _interieur_. The other, called the
_derriere_, is the cheapest, but is generally filled with low people. The
_interieur_ is so large and so well cushioned that it is easy to sleep in
it ordinarily, and, had it not been for the sudden stops occasioned by
the clogging of the wheels in the snow, we should have had very good
rest; but the discordant music made by the wheels as they ground the
frozen snow, sounding like innumerable instruments, mostly discordant,
but now and then concordant, prevented our sound sleep.
"The cold we found as severe as any I have usually experienced in
America. The snow is as deep upon the hills, being piled up on each side
of the road five or six feet high. The water in our pitchers froze by the
fireside, and the glass on the windows, even in rooms comfortably warmed,
was encrusted with arborescent frost. The floors, too, of all the rooms
are paved with bricks or tiles, and, although comfortable in summer, are
far from desirable in such a winter.
"At Dijon we stopped over the Sabbath, for the double purpose of avoiding
travelling on that day and from really needing a day of rest. On Sunday
morning we enquired of our landlord, Mons. Ripart, of the Hotel du Parc,
for a Protestant church, and were informed that there was not any in the
place. We learned, however, afterwards that there was one, but too late
to profit by the information. We walked out in the cold to find some
church, and, entering a large, irregular Gothic structure, much out of
repair, we pressed towards the altar where the funeral service of the
Catholic Church was performing over a corpse which lay before it. The
priests, seven or eight in number, were in the midst of their ceremonies.
They had their hair shorn close in front, but left long behind and at the
sides, and powdered, and, while walking, covered partially with a small,
black, pyramidal velvet cap with a tuft at the top. While singing the
service they held long, lighted wax tapers in their hands. There was much
ceremony, but scarcely anything that was imposing; its heartlessness was
so apparent, especially in the conduct of some of the assistants, that it
seemed a solemn mockery. One in particular, who seemed to pride himself
on the manner in which he vociferated 'Amen,' was casting his eyes among
the crowd, winking and laughing at various persons, and, from the
extravagance of his manners, bawling out most irreverently and closing by
laughing, I wondered that he was not perceived and rebuked by the
"As the procession left the church it was headed by an officer bearing a
pontoon; then one bearing the silver crucifix; then eight or ten boys
with lighted wax tapers by the side of the corpse; then followed the
priests, six or eight in number, and then the relatives and friends of
the deceased. At the grave the priests and assistants chanted a moment,
the coffin was lowered, the earth thrown upon it, and then an elder
priest muttered something over the grave, and, with an instrument
consisting of a silver ball with a small handle, made the sign of the
cross over the body, which ceremony was repeated by each one in the
procession, to whom in succession the instrument was handed.
[Footnote 1: This must be a mistake.]
"There were, indeed, two or three real mourners. One young man in
particular, to whom the female might have been related as wife or sister,
showed all the signs of heartfelt grief. It did not break out into
extravagant gesture or loud cries, but the tears, as they flowed down his
manly face, seemed to be forced out by the agony within, which he in vain
endeavored to suppress. The struggle to restrain them was manifest, and,
as he made the sign of the cross at the grave in his turn, the feebleness
with which he performed the ceremony showed that the anguish of his heart
had almost overcome his physical strength. I longed to speak to him and
to sympathize with him, but my ignorance of the language of his country
locked me out from any such purpose....
"Accustomed to the proper and orderly manner of keeping the Sabbath so
universal in our country, there are many things that will strike an
American not only as singular but disgusting. While in Paris we found it
to be customary, not only on week days but also on the Sabbath, to have
musicians introduced towards the close of dinner, who play and sing all
kinds of songs. We supposed that this custom was a peculiarity of the
capital, but this day after dinner a hand-organ played waltzes and songs,
and, as if this were not enough, a performer on the guitar succeeded,
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