Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters and Journals
Samuel F. B. Morse
Part 6 out of 7
playing songs, while two or three persons with long cards filled with
specimens of natural history--lobsters, crabs, and shells of various
kinds--were busy in displaying their handiwork to us, and each concluded
his part of the ceremony by presenting a little cup for a contribution."
The letter ends here, and, as I have found but few more of that year, we
must depend on his hurriedly written notebooks for a further record of
Leaving Dijon on January 18, Morse and his companions continued their
journey through Chalons-sur-Saone, to Macon and Lyons, which they reached
late at night. The next two days were spent in viewing the sights of
Lyons, which are described at length in his journal. Most of these notes
I shall omit. Descriptions of places and of scenery are generally
tiresome, except to the authors of them, and I shall transcribe only such
portions as have a more than ordinary personal or historic interest. For
instance the following entry is characteristic of Morse's simple
"From the Musee we went to the Hotel Dieu, a hospital on a magnificent
and liberal scale. The apartments for the sick were commodiously and
neatly arranged. In one of them were two hundred and twelve cots, all of
which showed a pale or fevered face upon the pillow. The attendants were
women called 'Sisters of Charity,' who have a peculiar costume. These are
benevolent women who (some of them of rank and wealth) devote themselves
to ministering to the comfort and necessities of the wretched.
"Benevolence is a trait peculiarly feminine. It is seen among women in
all countries and all religions, and although true religion sets out this
jewel in the greatest beauty, yet superstition and false religions cannot
entirely destroy its lustre. It seems to be one of those virtues
permitted in a special manner by the Father of all good to survive the
ruins of sin on earth, and to withstand the attacks of Satan in his
attempts on the happiness of man; and to woman in a marked manner He has
confided the keeping of this virtue. She was first in the transgression
but last at the cross."
Leaving Lyons at four o'clock on the morning of the 22d, they journeyed
slowly towards Avignon, delayed by the condition of the roads covered by
an unusual fall of snow which was now melting under the breath of a warm
breeze from the south. On the way they pass "between the two hills a
telegraph making signals." This was, of course, a semaphore by means of
which visual signals were made.
Reaching Avignon on the night of the 23d, they went the next day, which
was Sunday, in search of a Protestant church, but none was to be found in
this ancient city of the Popes, so they followed a fine military band to
the church of St. Agricola and attended the services there, the band
participating and making most glorious music.
Morse, with his Puritan background and training, was not much edified by
the ritual of the Catholic Church, and, after describing it, he adds:--
"I looked around the church to ascertain what was the effect upon the
multitude assembled. The females, kneeling in their chairs, many with
their prayer-books reading during the whole ceremony, seemed part of the
time engaged in devotional exercises. Far be it from me to say there were
not some who were actually devout, hard as it is to conceive of such a
thing; but this I will say, that everything around them, instead of
aiding devotion, was calculated entirely to destroy it. The imagination
was addressed by every avenue; music and painting pressed into the
service of--not religion but the contrary--led the mind away from the
contemplation of all that is practical in religion to the charms of mere
sense. No instruction was imparted; none seems ever to be intended. What
but ignorance can be expected when such a system prevails?...
"Last evening we were delighted with some exquisite sacred music, sung
apparently by men's voices only, and slowly passing under our windows.
The whole effect was enchanting; the various parts were so harmoniously
adapted and the taste with which these unknown minstrels strengthened and
softened their tones gave us, with the recollection of the music at the
church, which we had heard in the morning, a high idea of the musical
talent of this part of the world. We have observed more beautiful faces
among the women in a single day in Avignon than during the two weeks we
were in Paris."
After a three days' rest in Avignon, visiting the palace of the Popes and
other objects of interest, and being quite charmed with the city as a
whole and with the Hotel de l'Europe in particular, the little party left
for Marseilles by way of Aix. The air grows balmier as they near the
Mediterranean, and they are delighted with the vineyards and the olive
groves. The first sight of the blue sea and of the beautiful harbor of
Marseilles rouses the enthusiasm of the artist, and some days are spent
in exploring the city.
The journal continues:--
"_Thursday, January 28._ Took our seats in the Malle Poste for Toulon and
experienced one of those vexations in delay which travellers must expect
sometimes to find. We had been told by the officer that we must be ready
to go at one o'clock. We were, of course, ready at that time, but not
only were we not called at one, but we waited in suspense until six
o'clock in the evening before we were called, and before we left the city
it was seven o'clock; thus consuming a half-day of daylight which we had
promised ourselves to see the scenery, and bringing all our travelling in
the night, which we wished specially to avoid. Besides this, we found
ourselves in a little, miserable, jolting vehicle that did not, like the
diligence, suffer us to sleep.
"Thus we left Marseilles, pursuing our way through what seemed to us a
wild country, with many a dark ravine on our roadside and impending
cliffs above us; a safe resort for bandits to annoy the traveller if they
At Toulon they visited the arsenal and navy yard.
"We saw many ships of all classes in various states of equipment, and
every indication, from the activity which pervaded every department, that
great attention is paying by the French to their marine. Their ships have
not the neatness of ours; there seems to be a great deal of ornament, and
such as I should suppose was worse than useless in a ship of war.
"We noticed the galley slaves at work; they had a peculiar dress to mark
them. They were dressed in red frocks with the letters 'G a l' stamped on
each side of the back, as they were also on their pantaloons. The worst
sort, those who had committed murder, had been shipped lately to Brest.
Those who had been convicted twice had on a green cap; those who were
ordinary criminals had on a red cap; and those who were least criminal, a
"A great mortality was prevailing among them. There are about five
hundred at this place, and I was told by the sentinel that twenty-two had
been buried yesterday. Three bodies were carried out whilst we were in
the yard. We, of course, did not linger in the vicinity of the
"On Saturday, January 30, we left Toulon in a _voiture_ or private
carriage, the public conveyances towards Italy being now uncertain,
inconvenient, and expensive. There were five of us and we made an
agreement in writing with a _vetturino_ to carry us to Nice, the first
city in Italy, for twenty-seven francs each, the same as the fare in the
diligence, to which place he agreed to take us in two days and a half. Of
course necessity obliges us in this instance to travel on the Sabbath,
which we tried every means in our power to avoid.
"At twelve we stopped at the village of Cuers, an obscure, dirty place,
and stopped at an inn called 'La Croix d'Or' for breakfast. We here met
with the first gross imposition in charges that occurred to us in France.
Our _dejeuner_ for five consisted of three cups of miserable coffee,
without milk or butter; a piece of beef stewed with olives for two;
mutton chops for five; eggs for five; some cheese, and a meagre dessert
of raisins, hazel nuts, and olives, with a bottle of sour _vin
ordinaire;_ and for this we were charged fifteen francs, or three francs
each, while at the best hotels in Paris, and in all the cities through
which we passed, we had double the quantity of fare, and of the best
kind, for two francs and sometimes for one and one half francs. All
parleying with the extortionate landlord had only the effect of making
him more positive and even insolent; and when we at last threw him the
money to avoid further detention, he told us to mark his house, and, with
the face of a demon, told us we should never enter his house again. We
can easily bear our punishment. As we resumed our journey we were saluted
with a shower of stones."
The journal continues and tells of the slow progress along the Riviera,
through Cannes, which was then but an unimportant village; Nice, at that
time belonging to Italy, and where they saw in the cathedral Charles
Felix, King of Sardinia. It took them many days to climb up and down the
rugged road over the mountains, while now the traveller is whisked under
and around the same mountains in a few hours.
"At eleven we had attained a height of at least two thousand feet and the
precipices became frightful, sweeping down into long ravines to the very
edge of the sea; and then the road would wind at the edge of the
precipice two or three thousand feet deep. Such scenes pass so rapidly it
is impossible to make note of them.
"From the heights on which La Turbia stands, with its dilapidated walls,
we see the beautiful city of Monaco, on a tongue of land extending into
The great gambling establishment of Monte Carlo did not invade this
beautiful spot until many years later, in 1856.
The travellers stopped for a few hours at Mentone,--"a beautiful place
for an artist,"--passed the night at San Remo, and, sauntering thus
leisurely along the beautiful Riviera, arrived in Genoa on the 6th of
[Illustration: JEREMIAH EVARTS
From a portrait painted by Morse owned by Sherman Evarts, Esq.]
FEBRUARY 6, 1880--JUNE 15, 1830
Serra Palace in Genoa.--Starts for Rome.--Rain in the mountains.--A
brigand.--Carrara.--First mention of a railroad.--Pisa.--The leaning
tower.--Rome at last.--Begins copying at once.--Notebooks.--Ceremonies at
the Vatican.--Pope Pius VIII.--Academy of St. Luke's.--St Peter's.--
Chiesa Nuova.--Painting at the Vatican.--Beggar monks.--Fata of the
Annunciation.--Soiree at Palazzo Simbaldi.--Passion Sunday.--Horace
Vernet.--Lying in state of a cardinal.--_Miserere_ at Sistine Chapel.--
Holy Thursday at St Peter's.--Third cardinal dies.--Meets Thorwaldsen at
Signor Persianis's.--Manners of English, French, and Americans.--Landi's
pictures.--Funeral of a young girl.--Trip to Tivoli, Subiaco.--Procession
of the _Corpus Domini._--Disagreeable experience.
The enthusiastic artist was now in Italy, the land of his dreams, and his
notebooks are filled with short comments or longer descriptions of
churches, palaces, and pictures in Genoa and in the other towns through
which he passed on his way to Rome, or with pen-pictures of the wild
country through which he and his fellow travellers journeyed.
In Genoa, where he stopped several days, he was delighted with the
palaces and churches, and yet he found material for criticism:--
"The next place of interest was the Serra Palace, now inhabited by one of
that family, who, we understood, was insane. After stopping a moment in
the anteroom, the ceiling of which is painted in fresco by Somnio, we
were ushered into the room called the most splendid in Europe, and, if
carving and gilding and mirrors and chandeliers and costly colors can
make a splendid room, this is certainly that room. The chandeliers and
mirrored sides are so arranged as to create the illusion that the room is
of indefinite extent. To me it appeared, on the whole, tawdry, seeing it
in broad daylight. In the evening, when the chandeliers are lighted, I
have no doubt of its being a most gorgeous exhibition, but, like some
showy belle dressed and painted for evening effect, the daylight turns
her gold into tinsel and her bloom into rouge.
"After having stayed nearly four days in Genoa, and after having made
arrangements with our honest _vetturino_, Dominique, to take us to Rome,
stopping at various places on the way long enough to see them, we retired
late to bed to prepare for our journey in the morning.
"On Wednesday morning, February 10, we rose at five o'clock, and, after
breakfast of coffee, etc., we set out at six on our journey towards
I shall not follow them every step of the way, but shall select only the
more personal entries in the diary.
"A little after eleven o'clock we stopped at a single house upon a high
hill overlooking the sea, to breakfast. It has the imposing title of
'Locanda della Gran Bretagna.' We expected little and got less, and had a
specimen of the bad faith of these people. We enquired the price of our
_dejeuner_ before we ordered it, which is always necessary. We were told
one franc each, but after our breakfast, we were told one and a half
each, and no talking with the landlord would alter his determination to
demand his price. There is no remedy for travellers; they must pay or be
"At one o'clock we left this hole of a place, where we were more beset
with beggars and spongers than at any place since we had been in Italy."
Stopping overnight at Sestri, they set out again on the 11th at five
o'clock in the morning:--
"It was as dark as the moon, obscured by thick clouds, would allow it to
be, and, as we left the courtyard of the inn, it began to rain violently.
Our road lay over precipitous mountains away from the shore, and the
scenery became wild and grand. As the day dawned we found ourselves in
the midst of stupendous mountains rising in cones from the valleys below.
Deep basins were formed at the bottom by the meeting of the long slopes;
clouds were seen far below us, some wasting away as they sailed over the
steeps, and some gathering denseness as they were detained by the cold,
snowy peaks which shot up beyond. Now and then a winding stream glittered
at the bottom of some deep ravine amidst the darkness around it, and
occasionally a light from the cottage of some peasant glimmered like a
star through the clouds.
"As we labored up the steep ascent little brawling cascades without
number, from the heights far above us, in milky streams, gathering power
from innumerable rills, dashed at our feet, and, passing down through the
artificial passages beneath the road, swept down into the valleys in
torrents, and swelling the rivers, whose broad beds were seen through the
openings, rushed with irresistible power to the sea.
"We found, from the violence of the storm, that the road was heavy and
much injured in some parts by the washing down of rocks from the heights.
Some of great size lay at the sides recently thrown down, and now and
then one of some hundred pounds' weight was found in the middle of the
"We continued to ascend about four hours until we came again from a
region of summer into the region of snow, and the height from the sea was
greater than we had at any time previously attained. The scenery around
us, too, was wilder and more sterile. The Apennines here are very grand,
assuming every variety of shape and color. Long slopes of clay color were
interlocked with dark browns sprinkled with golden yellow; slate blue and
grey, mixed with greens and purples, and the pure, deep ultramarine blue
of distant peaks finished the background."
After breakfasting at Borghetto at a miserable inn, where they were much
annoyed by beggars of all descriptions, they continued their journey
through much the same character of country for the rest of the day, and
towards dark they met with a slight adventure:--
"Our road was down a steep declivity winding much in the same way as at
Finale. Precipices were at the side without a protecting barrier, and we
felt some uneasiness at our situation, which was not decreased by
suddenly finding our coach stopped and a man on horseback (or rather
muleback) stopping by the side of the coach. It was but for a moment; our
_vetturino_ authoritatively ordered him to pass on, which he did with a
_'buona sera_,' and we never parted with a companion more gladly. From
all the circumstances attending it we were inclined to believe that he
had some design upon us, but, finding us so numerous, thought it best not
to run the risk."
Spezia was their resting-place for that night, and, after an early start
the next morning, they reached the banks of the Vara at nine o'clock.
"We had a singular time in passing the river in a boat. Many women of the
lower orders crossed at the same time. The boat being unable to approach
the shore, we were obliged to ride papoose-back upon the shoulders of the
brawny watermen for some little distance; but what amused us much was the
perfect _sang-froid_ with which the women, with their bare legs, held up
their clothes above the knees and waded to the boat before us....
"At half-past twelve we came in sight of Carrara. This place we went out
of our course to see, and at one o'clock entered the celebrated village,
prettily situated in a valley at the base of stupendous mountains. A deep
ravine above the village contains the principal quarries of most
exquisite marbles for which this place has for so many ages been famous.
The clouds obscuring the highest peaks, and ascending from the valleys
like smoke from the craters of many volcanoes, gave additional grandeur
to a scene by nature so grand in itself.
"After stopping at the Hotel de Nouvelle Paros, which we found a
miserable inn with bad wine, scanty fare and high charges, we took a
hasty breakfast, and procuring a guide we walked out to see the
curiosities of the place. It rained hard and the road was excessively
bad, sometimes almost ankle-deep in mud. Notwithstanding the forbidding
weather and bad road, we labored up the deep ravine on the sides of which
the excavations are made. Dark peaks frowned above us capped with clouds
and snow; white patches midway the sides showed the veins of the marble,
and immense heaps of detritus, the accumulation of ages, mountains
themselves, sloped down on each side like masses of piled ice to the very
edge of the road. The road itself, white with the material of which it is
made, was composed of loose pieces of the white marble of every size....
Continuing the ascent by the side of a milky stream, which rushed down
its rocky bed, and which here and there was diverted off into aqueducts
to the various mills, we were pointed to the top of a high hill by the
roadside where was the entrance to a celebrated grotto, and at the base
close by, a cavern protected a beautiful, clear, crystal fountain, which
gushed from up the bottom forming a liquid, transparent floor, and then
glided to mingle its pure, unsullied waters with the cloudy stream that
rushed by it.
"Climbing over piles of rock like refined sugar and passing several
wagons carrying heavy blocks down the road, we arrived at the mouth of
the principal quarry where the purest statuary marble is obtained. I
could not but think how many exquisite statues here lay entombed for
ages, till genius, at various times, called them from their slumbers and
bid them live....
"On our return we again passed the wagons laden with blocks, and mules
with slabs on each side sometimes like the roof of a house over the
mule.... The wagons and oxen deserve notice. The former are very badly
constructed; they are strong, but the wheels are small, in diameter about
two feet and but about three inches wide, so sharp that the roads must
suffer from them. The oxen are small and, without exception,
mouse-colored. The driver, and there is usually one to each pair, sits on
the yoke between them, and, like the oarsman of a boat, with his back
towards the point towards which he is going. Two huge blocks were chained
upon one of these wagons, and behind, dragging upon the ground by a chain,
was another. Three yoke of these small oxen, apparently without fatigue,
drew the load thus constructed over this wretched road. An enterprising
company of Americans or English, by the construction of a railroad, which
is more practicable than a canal, but which latter might be constructed,
would, I should think, give great activity to the operations here and
make it very profitable to themselves."
It is rather curious to note that this is the first mention of a railroad
made by Morse in his notes or letters, although he was evidently aware of
the experiments which were being made at that time both in Europe and
America, and these must have been of great interest to him. It is also
well to bear in mind that the great development of transportation by rail
could not occur until the invention of the telegraph had made it possible
to send signals ahead, and, in other ways, to control the movement of
traffic. At the present day the railroad at Carrara, which Morse saw in
his visions of the future, has been built, but the ox teams are also
still used, and linger as a reminder of more primitive days.
Continuing their journey, the travellers spent the night at Lucca, and in
the morning explored the town, which they found most interesting as well
as neat and clean. Leaving Lucca, "with much reluctance," on the 18th,
the journal continues:--
"At half-past five, at sunset, Pisa with its leaning tower (the _duomo_
of the cathedral and that of the baptistery being the principal objects
in the view), was seen across the plain before us. Towards the west was a
long line of horizon, unbroken, except here and there by a low-roofed
tower or the little pyramidal spire of a village church. To the southeast
the plain stretched away to the base of distant blue mountains, and to
the east and the north the rude peaks through which we had travelled,
their cold tops tinged with a warmer glow, glittered beyond the deep
brown slopes, which were more advanced and confining the plain to
They found the Hotel Royal de l'Hussar an excellent inn, and, the next
day being Sunday, they attended an English service and heard an excellent
sermon by the Reverend Mr. Ford, an Englishman.
"In the evening we walked to the famous leaning tower, the cathedral, the
baptistery, and Campo Santo, which are clustered together in the northern
part of the city. In going there we went some distance along the quay,
which was filled with carriages and pedestrians, among whom were many
masques and fancy dresses of the most grotesque kind. It is the season of
Carnival, and all these fooleries are permitted at this time. We merely
glanced at the exterior of the celebrated buildings, leaving till
to-morrow a more thorough examination."
"_Monday, February 16._ We rose early and went again to the leaning tower
and its associated buildings. The tower, which is the _campanile_ of the
cathedral and is about one hundred and ninety feet high, leans from its
perpendicular thirteen feet. We ascended to the top by a winding
staircase. One ascending feels the inclination every step he takes, and,
when he reaches the top and perceives that that which should be
horizontal is an inclined plane, the sensation is truly startling. It is
difficult to persuade one's self that the tower is not actually falling,
and I could not but imagine at intervals that it moved, reasoning myself
momentarily into security from the fact that it had thus stood for ages.
I could not but recur also to the fact that once it stood upright; that,
although ages had been passed in assuming its present inclination to the
earth, the time would probably come when it would actually fall, and the
idea would suggest itself with appalling force that that time might be
now. The reflection suggested by one of our company that it would be a
glorious death, for one thus perishing would be sure of an imperishable
name, however pleasing in romantic speculation, had no great power to
dispel the shrinking fear produced by the vivid thought of the
possibility when on the top of the tower.... The _campanile_ is not the
only leaning tower in Pisa. We observed that several varied from the
perpendicular, and the sides of many of the buildings, even parts of the
cathedral and the baptistery, inclined at a considerable angle. The soil
is evidently unfavorable to the erection of high, heavy buildings."
After a side trip to Leghorn and further loitering along the way,
stopping but a short time in Florence, which he purposed to visit and
study at his leisure later on, he saw, at nine o'clock on the morning of
February 20, the dome of St. Peter's in the distance, and, at two o'clock
he and his companions entered Rome through the Porta del Popolo.
Taking lodgings at No. 17 Via de Prefetti, he spent the first few days in
a cursory examination of the treasures by which he was surrounded, but he
was eager to begin at once the work for which he had received
commissions, and on March 7 he writes home:--
"I have begun to copy the 'School of Athens' from Raphael for Mr. R.
Donaldson. The original is on the walls of one of the celebrated Camera
of Raphael in the Vatican. It is in fresco and occupies one entire side
of the room. It is a difficult picture to copy and will occupy five or
six weeks certainly. Every moment of my time, from early in the morning
until late at night, when not in the Vatican, is occupied in seeing the
exhaustless stores of curiosities in art and antiquities with which this
wonderful city abounds.
"I find I can endure great fatigue, and my spirits are good, and I feel
strong for the pleasant duties of my profession. I feel particularly
anxious that every gentleman who has given me a commission shall be more
than satisfied that he has received an equivalent for the sum generously
advanced to me. But I find that, to accomplish this, I shall need all my
strength and time for more than a year to come, and that will be little
enough to do myself and them justice. I am delighted with my situation
and more than ever convinced of the wisdom of my course in coming to
Morse's little notebooks and sketch-books are filled with short, abrupt
notes on the paintings, religious ceremonies, and other objects of
interest by which he is surrounded, but sometimes he goes more into
detail. I shall select from these voluminous notes only those which seem
to me to be of the greatest interest.
"_March 17._ Mr. Fenimore Cooper and family are here. I have passed many
pleasant hours with them, particularly one beautiful moonlight evening
visiting the Coliseum. After the Holy Week I shall visit Naples, probably
with Mr. Theodore Woolsey, who is now in Rome.
"_March 18._ Ceremonies at the Consistory; delivery of the cardinals'
hats. At nine o'clock went to the Vatican; two large fantails with
ostrich feathers; ladies penned up; Pope; cardinals kiss his hand in
rotation; address in Latin, tinkling, like water gurgling from a bottle.
The English cardinal first appeared, went up and was embraced and kissed
on each cheek by the Pope; then followed the others in the same manner;
then each new cardinal embraced in succession all the other cardinals;
after this, beginning with the English cardinal, each went to the Pope,
and he, putting on their heads the cardinal's hat, blessed them in the
name of the Trinity. They then kissed the ring on his hand and his toe
and retired from the throne. The Pope then rose, blessed the assembly by
making the sign of the cross three times in the air with his two fingers,
and left the room. His dress was a plain mitre of gold tissue, a rich,
garment of gold and crimson, embroidered, a splendid clasp of gold, about
six inches long by four wide, set with precious stones, upon his breast.
He is very decrepit, limping or tottering along, has a defect in one eye,
and his countenance has an expression of pain, especially as the new
cardinals approached his toe.
[Footnote 1: This was Pope Pius VIII.]
"The cardinals followed the Pope two and two with their train-bearers.
After a few minutes the doors opened again and a procession, headed by
singers, entered chanting as they went. The cardinals followed them with
their train-bearers; they passed through the Consistory, and thus closed
the ceremony of presenting the cardinals' hats.
"A multitude of attendants, in various costumes, surrounded the pontiff's
throne during the ceremony, among whom was Bishop Dubois of New York....
"Academy of St. Luke's: Raphael's skull; Harlow's picture of the making
of a cardinal; said to have been painted in twelve days; I don't believe
it. 'The Angels appearing to the Shepherds,' by Bassan--good for color;
much trash in the way of portraits. Lower rooms contain the pictures for
the premiums; some good; all badly colored. Third Room: Bas-reliefs for
the premiums. Fourth Room: Smaller premium pictures; bad. Fifth Room:
Drawings; the oldest best, modern bad.
"_Friday, March 19._ We went to St. Peter's to see the procession of
cardinals singing in the Capella. Cardinals walked two and two through
St. Peter's, knelt on purple velvet cushions before the Capella in
prayer, then successively kissed the toe of the bronze image of St. Peter
as they walked past it.
"This statue of St. Peter, as a work of art, is as execrable as possible.
Part of the toe and foot is worn away and polished, not by the kisses,
but by the wiping of the foot after the kisses by the next comer
preparatory to kissing it; sometimes with the coat-sleeve by a beggar;
with the corner of the cloak by the gentlemen; the shawl by the females;
and with a nice cambric handkerchief by the attendant at the ceremony,
who wiped the toe after each cardinal's performance. This ceremony is
variously performed. Some give it a single kiss and go away; others kiss
the toe and then touch the forehead to it and kiss the toe again,
repeating the operation three times."
The ceremonies and ritual of the Roman Catholic Church, while appealing
to the eye of the artist, were repugnant to his Puritan upbringing, and
we find many scornful remarks among his notes. In fact he was, all his
life, bitterly opposed to the doctrines of Rome, and in later years, as
we shall see, he entered into a heated controversy with a prominent
ecclesiastic of that faith in America.
"_March 21._ Chiesa Nuova at seven o'clock in the evening; a sacred opera
called 'The Death of Aaron.' Church dark; women not admitted; bell rings
and a priest before the altar chants a prayer, after which a boy, about
twelve years old apparently, addresses the assembly from the pulpit. I
know not the drift of his discourse, but his utterance was like the same
gurgling process which I noticed in the orator who addressed the Pope. It
was precisely like the fitful tone of the Oneida interpreter.
"_Tuesday, March 23._ At the Vatican all the morning. While preparing my
palette a monk, decently habited for a monk, who seemed to have come to
the Vatican for the purpose of viewing the pictures, after a little time
approached me and, with a very polite bow, offered me a pinch of snuff,
which, of course, I took, bowing in return, when he instantly asked me
alms. I gave him a _bajocco_ for which he seemed very grateful. Truly
this is a nation of beggars.
"_Wednesday, March 24._ Vatican all the morning. Saw in returning a great
number of priests with a white bag over the left shoulder and begging of
the persons they met. This is another instance of begging and robbing
confined to one class.
"_Thursday, March 25._ _Festa_ of the Annunciation; Vatican shut. Doors
open at eight of the Chiesa di Minerva; obtained a good place for seeing
the ceremony. At half-past nine the cardinals began to assemble; Cardinal
Barberini officiated in robes, white embroidered with gold; singing;
taking off and putting on mitres, etc.; jumping up and bowing; kissing
the ring on the finger of the cardinal; putting incense into censers;
monotonous reading, or rather whining, of a few lines of prayer in Latin;
flirting censers at each cardinal in succession; cardinals bowing to one
another; many attendants at the altar; cardinals embrace one another;
after mass a contribution among the cardinals in rich silver plate. Enter
the virgins in white, with crowns, two and two, and candles; they kiss
the hem of the garment of one of the cardinals; they are accompanied by
three officers and exit. Cardinals' dresses exquisitely plaited;
sixty-two cardinals in attendance....
"Palazzo Simbaldi: At half-past eight the company began to assemble in
the splendid saloon of this palace, to which I was invited. The singers,
about forty in number, were upon a stage erected at the end of the room;
white drapery hung behind festoons with laurel wreaths (the walls were
painted in fresco). Four female statues standing on globes upheld seven
long wax-lights; the instrumental musicians, about forty, were arranged
at the foot of these statues; _sala_ was lighted principally by six glass
chandeliers; much female beauty in the room; dresses very various.
"Signora Luigia Tardi sang with much judgment and was received with great
applause. A little girl, apparently about twelve years old, played upon
the harp in a most exquisite manner, and called forth _bravas_ of the
Italians and of the foreigners bountifully.
"The manners of the audience were the same as those of fashionable
society in our own country, and indeed in any other country; the display
in dress, however, less tasteful than I have seen in New York. But, in
truth, I have not seen more beauty and taste in any country, combined
with cultivation of mind and delicacy of manner, than in our own. At one
o'clock in the morning, or half-past six Italian time, the concert was
"_Saturday, March 27._ On returning to dinner I found at the post-office,
to my great joy, the first letter from America since I left it.
"_Sunday, March 28._ Passion Sunday. Kept awake nearly all last night by
a severe toothache; sent for a dentist and had the tooth extracted, for
which he had the conscience to ask me three dollars--he took two. Was
prevented by this circumstance from going to church this morning; went in
the afternoon, and, after church, to St. Peter's; found all the crosses
covered with black and all the pictures veiled. There were a great many
in the church to hear the music which is considered very fine; some of it
I was well pleased with, but it is by no means so impressive as the
singing of the nuns at the Trinita di Monti, to which church we repaired
"In St. Peter's we found a procession of about forty nuns; some of them
were very pretty and their neat white headdresses, and kerchiefs, and
hair dressed plain, gave a pleasing simplicity to their countenances.
Some, looked arch enough and far from serious.
"_Monday, March 29._ Early this morning was introduced to the Chevalier
Horace Vernet, principal of the French Academy; found him in the
beautiful gardens of the Academy. He came in a _neglige_ dress, a cap, or
rather turban, of various colors, a parti-colored belt, and a cloak. He
received me kindly, walked through the antique gallery of casts, a long
room and a splendid collection selected with great judgment.
"_Wednesday, March 31._ Early this morning was waked by the roar of a
cannon; learned that it was the anniversary of the present Pope's
election. Went to the Vatican; the colonnade was filled with the
carriages of the cardinals; that of the new English cardinal, Weld, was
the most showy.
"_Thursday, April 1._ Went in the evening to the soiree of the Chevalier
Vernet, director of the French Academy. He is a gentleman of elegant
manners and sees at his soirees the first society in Rome. His wife is
highly accomplished and his daughter is a beautiful girl, full of
vivacity, and speaks English fluently.... During the evening there was
music; his daughter played on the piano and others sang. There was chess,
and, at a sideboard, a few played cards. The style was simple, every one
at ease like our soirees in America. Several noblemen and dignitaries of
the Church were present."
On April 4, Palm Sunday, he attended the services at the Sistine Chapel,
which he found rather tedious, with much mummery. Going from there to the
cancellerie he describes the following scene:--
"Cardinal Giulio Maria della Somaglia in state on an elevated bed of
cloth-of-gold and black embroidered with gold, his head on a black velvet
cushion embroidered with gold, dressed in his robes as when alive. He
officiated, I was told, on Ash Wednesday. Four wax-lights, two on each
side of the bed; great throng of people of all grades through the suite
of apartments--the cancellerie--in which he lived; they were very
splendid, chiefly of crimson and gold. The cardinal has died unpopular,
for he has left nothing to his servants by his will; he directed,
however, that no expense should be spared in his funeral, wishing that it
might be splendid, but, unfortunately for him, he has died precisely at
that season of the year (the Holy Week) when alone it is impossible,
according to the church customs, to give him a splendid burial."
"_Wednesday, April 7._ Went to the Piazza Navone, being market-day, in
search of prints. The scene here is very amusing; the variety of wares
exposed, and the confusion of noises and tongues, and now and then a
jackass swelling the chorus with his most exquisite tones.
"At three o'clock went to St. Peter's to see ceremonies at the Sistine
Chapel. Cardinals asleep; monotonous bawling, long and tedious; candles
put out one by one, fifteen in number; no ceremonies at the altar;
cardinals present nineteen in number; seven yawns from the cardinals;
tiresome and monotonous beyond description.
"After three hours of this most tiresome chant, all the candles having
been extinguished, the celebrated _Miserere_ commenced. It is, indeed,
sublime, but I think loses much of its effect from the fatigue of body,
and mind, too, in which it is heard by the auditors. The _Miserere_ is
the composition of the celebrated Allegri, and for giving the effect of
wailing and lamentation, without injury to harmony, it is one of the most
perfect of compositions. The manner of sustaining a strain of concord by
new voices, now swelling high, now gradually dying away, now sliding
imperceptibly into discord and suddenly breaking into harmony, is
admirable. The imagination is alive and fancies thousands of people in
the deepest contrition. It closed by the cardinals clapping their hands
for the earthquake."
On April 8 (Holy Thursday), Morse went early with Mr. Fenimore Cooper and
other Americans to St. Peter's. After describing some of the preliminary
ceremonies he continues:--
"Having examined the splendid chair in which he was to be borne, and
while he was robing in another apartment, we found that, although we
might have a complete view of the Pope and the ceremonies before and
after the benediction, yet the principal effect was to be seen below. We
therefore left our place at the balcony, where we could see nothing but
the crowd, and hastened below. On passing into the hall we were so
fortunate as to be just in season for the procession from the Sistine
Chapel to the Pauline. The cardinals walked in procession, two and two,
and one bore the host, while eight bearers held over him a rich canopy of
silver tissue embroidered with gold.
"Thence we hastened to the front of St. Peter's, where, in the centre
upon the highest step, we had an excellent view of the balcony, and,
turning round, could see the immense crowd which had assembled in the
piazza and the splendid square of troops which were drawn up before the
steps of the church. Here I had scarcely time to make a hasty sketch, in
the broiling sun, of the window and its decorations, before the
precursors of the Pope, the two large feather fans, made their appearance
on each side of the balcony, which was decorated with crimson and gold,
and immediately after the Pope, with his mitre of gold tissue and his
splendid robes of gold and jewels, was borne forward, relieving finely
from the deep crimson darkness behind him. He made the usual sign of
blessing, with his two fingers raised. A book was then held before him in
which he read, with much motion of his head, for a minute. He then rose,
extending both his arms--this was the benediction--while at the same
moment the soldiers and crowd all knelt; the cannon from the Castle of
St. Angelo was discharged, and the bells in all the churches rang a
"The effect was exceedingly grand, the most imposing of all the
ceremonies I have witnessed. The Pope was then borne back again. Two
papers were thrown from the balcony for which there was a great scramble
among the crowd."
On Friday, April 9 (Good Friday), many of the ceremonies so familiar to
visitors to Rome during Holy Week are described at length in the
notebooks, but I shall omit most of these. The following note, however,
seems worthy of being recorded:--
"On our way to St. Peter's I ought to have noticed our visit to a palace
in which another cardinal (the third who has died within a few days) was
lying in state--Cardinal Bertazzoli.
"It is a singular fact, of which I was informed, that about the same time
last year three cardinals died, and that it was a common remark that when
one died two more soon followed, and the Pope always created three
cardinals at a time."
"_Friday, April 16._ At the Vatican all day. I went to the soiree of the
Signor Persianis in the evening. Here I had the pleasure of meeting for
the first line with the Chevalier Thorwaldsen, the great Danish sculptor,
the first now living. He is an old man in appearance having a profusion
of grey hair, wildly hanging over his forehead and ears. His face has a
strong Northern character, his eyes are light grey, and his complexion
sandy; he is a large man of perfectly unassuming manners and of most
amiable deportment. Daily receiving homage from all the potentates of
Europe, he is still without the least appearance of ostentation. He
readily assented to a request to sit for his portrait which I hope soon
"_Tuesday, April 27._ My birthday. How time flies and to how little
purpose have I lived!!
"_Wednesday, April 28._ I have noticed a difference in manners between
the English, French, and Americans. If you are at the house of a friend
and should happen to meet Englishmen who are strangers to you, no
introduction takes place unless specially requested. The most perfect
indifference is shown towards you by these strangers, quite as much as
towards a chair or table. Should you venture a word in the general
conversation, they might or might not, as the case may be, take notice of
it casually, but coldly and distantly, and even if they should so far
relax as to hold a conversation with you through the evening, the moment
they rise to go all recognition ceases; they will take leave of every one
else, but as soon think of bowing to the chair they had left as to you.
"A Frenchman, on the contrary, respectfully salutes all in the room,
friends and strangers alike. He seems to take it for granted that the
friends of his friend are at least entitled to respect if not to
confidence, and without reserve he freely enters into conversation with
you, and, when he goes, he salutes all alike, but no acquaintance ensues.
"An American carries his civility one step further; if he meets you
afterwards, in other company, the fact that he has seen you at this
friend's and had an agreeable chit-chat is introduction enough, and,
unless there is something _peculiar_ in your case, he will ever after
know you and be your friend. This is not the case with the two former.
"The American is in this, perhaps, too unsuspicious and the others may
have good reasons for their mode, but that of the Americans has more of
generous sincerity and frankness and kindness in it.
"_Friday, April 30._ Painting all day except two hours at the Colonna
Palace--Landi's pictures--horrible!! How I was disappointed. I had heard
Landi, the Chevalier Landi, lauded to the skies by the Italians as the
greatest modern colorist. He was made a chevalier, elected a member of
the Academy at Florence and of the Academy of St. Luke in Rome, and there
were his pictures which I was told I must by all means see. They are not
merely bad, they are execrable. There is not a redeeming point in a
single picture that I saw, not one that would have placed him on a level
with the commonest sign-painter in America. His largest work in his rooms
at present is the 'Departure of Mary Queen of Scots from Paris.' The
story is not told; the figures are not grouped but huddled together; they
are not well-drawn individually; the character is vulgar and tame; there
is no taste in the disposal of the drapery and ornaments, no effect of
_chiaroscuro._ It is flimsy and misty, and, as to color, the quality to
which I was specially directed, if total disregard of arrangement, if the
scattering of tawdry reds and blues and yellows over the picture, all
quarrelling for the precedence; if leather complexions varied by those of
chalk, without truth or depth or tone, constitute good color, then are
they finely colored. But, if Landi is a colorist, then are Titian and
Veronese never more to be admired. In short, I have never met with the
works of an artist who had a name like Landi's so utterly destitute of
even the shadow of merit. There is but one word which can express their
character, they are _execrable!_
"It is astonishing that with such works of the old masters before them as
the Italians have, they should not perceive the defects of their own
painters in this particular. Cammuccini is the only one among them who
possesses genius in the higher departments, and he only in drawing; his
color is very bad.
"A funeral procession passed the house to-day. On the bier, exposed as is
customary here, was a beautiful young girl, apparently of fifteen,
dressed in rich laces and satins embroidered with gold and silver and
flowers tastefully arranged, and sprinkled also with real flowers, and at
her head was placed a coronet of flowers. She had more the appearance of
sleep than of death. No relative appeared near her; the whole seemed to
be conducted by the priests and monks and those hideous objects in white
hoods, with faces covered except two holes for the eyes."
In early May, Morse, in company with other artists, went on a sketching
trip to Tivoli, Subiaco, Vico, and Vara. This must have been one of the
happiest periods of his life. He was in Italy, the cradle of the art he
loved; he was surrounded by beauty, both natural and that wrought by the
hand of man; he had daily intercourse with congenial souls, and home,
with its cares and struggles, seemed far away. His notebooks are largely
filled with simple descriptions of the places visited, but now and then
he indulges in rhapsody. At Subiaco he comes upon this scene:--
"Upon a solitary seat (a fit place for meditation and study), by a gate
which shut the part of the terrace near the convent from that which goes
round the hill, sat a monk with his book. He seemed no further disturbed
by my passing than to give me the usual salutation.
"I stopped at a little distance from him to look around and down into the
chasm below. It was enchanting in spite of the atmosphere of the sirocco.
The hills covered with woods, at a distance, reminded me of my own
country, fresh and variegated; the high peaks beyond were grey from
distance, and the sides of the nearer mountains were marked with many a
winding track, down one of which a shepherd and his sheep were
descending, looking like a moving pathway. No noise disturbed the silence
but the distant barking of the shepherd's dog (as he, like a busy
marshal, kept the order of his procession unbroken) mixing with the faint
murmuring of the waterfall and the song of the birds that inhabited the
ilex grove. It was altogether a place suited to meditation, and, were it
consistent with those duties which man owes his fellow man, here would be
the spot to which one, fond of study and averse to the noise and bustle
of the world, would love to retire."
Returning to Rome on June 3, after enjoying to the full this excursion,
from which he brought back many sketches, he found the city given over to
ceremony after ceremony connected with the Church. Saint's day followed
saint's day, each with its appropriate (or, from the point of view of the
New Englander, inappropriate) pageant; or some new church was dedicated
and the nights made brilliant with wonderful pyrotechnical displays. He
went often with pleasure to the Trinita di Monti, where the beautiful
singing of the nuns gave him special pleasure.
Commenting sarcastically on a display of fireworks in honor of St.
Francesco Caracciolo, he says:--
"As far as whizzing serpents, wheels, port-fires, rockets, and other
varieties of pyrotechnic art could set forth the humility of the saint,
it was this night brilliantly displayed."
And again, in describing the procession of the _Corpus Domini_, "the most
splendid of all the church ceremonies," it is this which particularly
"Next came monks of the Franciscan and Capuchin orders, with their brown
dresses and heads shaved and such a set of human faces I never beheld.
They seemed, many of them, like disinterred corpses, for a moment
reanimated to go through this ceremony, and then to sink back again into
their profound sleep. Pale and haggard and unearthly, the wild eye of the
visionary and the stupid stare of the idiot were seen among them, and it
needed no stretch of the imagination to find in most the expression of
the worst passions of our nature. They chanted as they went, their
sepulchral voices echoing through the vaulted piazza, while the bell of
St. Peter's, tolling a deep bass drone, seemed a fitting accompaniment
for their hymns."
Later, on this same day, while watching a part of the ceremonies on the
Gorso, he has this rather disagreeable experience:--
"I was standing close to the side of the house when, in an instant,
without the slightest notice, my hat was struck off to the distance of
several yards by a soldier, or rather a poltroon in a soldier's costume,
and this courteous manoeuvre was performed with his gun and bayonet,
accompanied with curses and taunts and the expression of a demon in his
"In cases like this there is no redress. The soldier receives his orders
to see that all hats are off in this religion of force, and the manner is
left to his discretion. If he is a brute, as was the case in this
instance, he may strike it off; or, as in some other instances, if the
soldier be a gentleman, he may ask to have it taken off. There was no
excuse for this outrage on all decency, to which every foreigner is
liable and which is not of infrequent occurrence. The blame lies after
all, not so much with the pitiful wretch who perpetrates this outrage, as
it does with those who gave him such base and indiscriminate orders."
JUNE 17, 1830--FEBRUARY 2, 1831
Working hard.--Trip to Genzano.--Lake of Nemi.--Beggars.--Curious
festival of flowers at Genzano.--Night on the Campagna.--Heat in Rome.--
Illumination of St. Peter's.--St. Peter's Day.--Vaults of the Church.--
Feebleness of Pope.--Morse and companions visit Naples, Capri, and
Amalfi.--Charms of Amalfi.--Terrible accident.--Flippancy at funerals.--
Campo Santo at Naples.--Gruesome conditions.--Ubiquity of beggars.--
Convent of St. Martino.--Masterpiece of Spagnoletto.--Returns to Rome.--
Faints portrait of Thorwaldsen.--Presented to him in after years by John
Taylor Johnston.--Given to King of Denmark.--Reflections on the social
evil and the theatre.--Death of the Pope.--An assassination.--The
Honorable Mr. Spencer and Catholicism.--Election of Pope Gregory XVI.
During all these months Morse was diligently at work in the various
galleries, making the copies for which he had received commissions, and
the day's record almost invariably begins with "At the Colonna Palace all
day"; or, "At the Vatican all day"; or wherever else he may have been
working at the time.
The heat of the Roman summer seems not yet to have inconvenienced him,
for he does not complain, but simply remarks: "Sun almost vertical,...
houses and shops shut at noon." He has this to say of an Italian
institution: "Lotteries in Rome make for the Government eight thousand
scudi per week; common people venture in them; are superstitious and
consult _cabaliste_ or lucky numbers; these tolerated as they help sell
While working hard, he occasionally indulged himself in a holiday, and on
June 16 he, in company with three other artists, engaged a carriage for
an excursion to Albano, Aricia, and Genzano, "to witness at the latter
place the celebrated _festa infiorata_, which occurs every year on the
17th of June."
After spending the night at Albano, which they found crowded with artists
of various nationalities and with other sight-seers, "We set out for
Genzano, a pleasant walk of a little more than a mile through a winding
carriage-road, thickly shaded with fine trees of elm and chestnut and
ilex. A little fountain by the wayside delayed us for a moment to sketch
it, and we then continued our way through a straight, level, paved road,
shaded on each side with trees, into the pretty village of Genzano."
Finding that the principal display was not until the afternoon, they
strolled to the Lake of Nemi, "situated in a deep basin, the crater of a
volcano." Those Italian lakes which he had so far seen, while lovely and
especially interesting from their historical or legendary associations
and the picturesque buildings on their shores, seemed to the artist (ever
faithful to his native land) less naturally attractive than the lakes
with which he was familiar at home--Lake George, Otsego Lake, etc. He had
not yet seen Como or Maggiore. Then he touches upon the great drawback to
all travelling in Italy:--
"Throughout the day, wherever we went, beggars in every shape annoyed us,
nor could we scarcely hear ourselves talk when on the borders of the lake
for the swarms which importuned us. A foolish Italian, in the hope
probably of getting rid of them, commenced giving a _mezzo biochi_ to
each, and such a clamor, such devouring eyes, such pushing and bawling,
such teasing importunity for more, and from some who had received and
concealed their gift, I could not have conceived, nor do I ever wish
again to see so disgusting a sight. The foolish fellow who invented this
plan of satisfying an Italian beggar's appetite found to his sorrow that,
instead of thanks, he obtained curses and an increase of importunity....
"After dinner we again walked to Genzano, whither we found were going
great multitudes of every class; elegant equipages and _vetture_ racing
with each other; donkeys and horses and foot travellers; and not among
the least striking were the numbers of women, some of whom were
splendidly dressed, all riding on horseback, a foot in each stirrup, and
riding with as much ease and fine horsemanship as the men.
"When we arrived at Genzano the decoration of the streets had commenced.
Two of the principal and wide streets ascend a little, diverging from
each other, from the left side of the common street which goes through
the village. The middle of these streets was the principal scene of
decoration. On each side of the centre of the street, leaving a
good-sized sidewalk, were pillars at a distance of eight or nine feet
from each other composed of the evergreen box and tufted at the top with
every variety of flowers. They were in many places also connected by
festoons of box. The pavement of the street between the pillars in both
streets, and for a distance of at least one half a mile, was most
exquisitely figured with flowers of various colors, looking like an
immense and gorgeously figured carpet.
"The devices were in the following order which I took note of on the
spot: first, a temple with four columns of yellow flowers (the flower of
the broom) containing an altar on which was the Holy Sacrament. In the
pediment of the temple a column surmounted by a halfmoon, which is the
arms of the Colonna family. Second was a large crown. Third, the Holy
Sacrament again with various rich ornaments. Fourth, stars and circles.
Fifth, a splendid coat-of-arms as accurate and rich as if emblazoned in
permanent colors, with a cardinal's hat and a shield with the words
_'prudens'_ and _'fidelis'_ upon it."
There were twenty of these wonderful floral decorations on the pavement
of one street and fourteen on that of the other and all are described in
the notes, but I have particularized enough to show their character. The
"All these figures were as elegantly executed as if made for permanency,
some with a minuteness truly astonishing. Among other decorations of the
day was the free-will offering of one of the people who had it displayed
at the side of his shop on a rude pedestal. It was called the 'Flight
into Egypt,' and represented Joseph and Mary and the infant on an ass,
and all composed of shrubs and flowers. It was, indeed, a most
ludicrous-looking affair; Joseph with a face (if such it might be called)
of purple flowers and a flaxen wig, dressed in a coarse pilgrim's cape
studded over with yellow flowers, was leading by a hay band a green
donkey, made of a kind of heath grass, with a tail of lavender and hoofs
of cabbage leaves. Of this latter composition were also the sandals of
Mary, whose face, as well as that of the _bambino_, was also of purple
flowers and shapeless. The frock of the infant was of the gaudiest red
poppy. It excited the laughter of almost all who saw it, except now and
then some of the ignorant lower classes would touch their hats, cross
themselves, and mumble a prayer."
After describing some of the picturesque costumes of the _contadini_, he
"It was nearly dark before the procession, to which all these
preparations had reference, began to move. At length the band of music
was heard at the lower end of one of the streets, and a man, in ample
robes of scarlet and blue, with a staff, was seen leading the procession,
which need be no further described than to say it consisted of the usual
quantity of monks chanting, with wax-tapers in their hands, crosses, and
heavy, unwieldy banners which endanger the heads of the multitude as they
pass; of a fine band of music playing beautiful waltzes and other
compositions, and a _quantum suff._ of men dressed in the garb of
soldiers to keep the good people uncovered and on their knees.
"The head of the procession had arrived at the top of the street when--
crack! pop!--went forty or fifty crackers, which had been placed against
the walls of a house near us, and which added wonderfully to the
solemnity of the scene, and, accordingly, were repeated every few
seconds, forming a fine accompaniment to the waltzes and the chanting of
the monks. In a few minutes all the beauty of the flower-carpeted street
was trodden out, and the last of the procession had hardly passed before
all the flowers disappeared from the pillars, and all was ruin and
"The procession halted at a temporary altar at the top of the street, and
we set out on our return at the same moment down the street, facing the
immense multitude which filled the whole street. We had scarcely
proceeded a third of the distance down when we suddenly saw all before us
uncovered and upon their knees. We alone formed an exception, and we
continued our course with various hints from those around us to stop and
kneel, which we answered by talking English to each other in a louder
tone, and so passed for unchristian _forestieri_, and escaped unmolested,
especially as the soldiers were all at the head of the street.
"The effect, however, was exceedingly grand of such a multitude upon
their knees, and, could I have divested myself of the thought of the
compulsory measures which produced it and the object to which they knelt,
the picture of the Virgin, I should have felt the solemnity of a scene
which seemed in the outward act to indicate such a universal reverence
for Him who alone rightfully claims the homage and devotion of the
Whether this curious custom still persists in Genzano I know not;
Baedeker is silent on the subject.
It was nearly dark before they started on the drive back to Rome, and
quite dark after they had gone a short distance.
"We passed the tombs of the Horatii and Curiatii, which looked much
grander in the light of the torches than in the day, and, driving hastily
through Albano, came upon the Campagna once more. It was still more like
a desert in the night than in the day, for it was an interminable ocean,
and the masses of ruins, coming darker than the rest, seemed like
deserted wrecks upon its bosom.
"It is considered dangerous in the summer to sleep while crossing the
Campagna; indeed, in certain parts of it, over the Pontine Marshes in
July and August, it is said to be certain, death, but, if the traveller
can keep awake, there is no danger. In spite of the fears which we
naturally entertained lest it might be already dangerous, most of us
could not avoid sleeping, nor could I, with every effort made for that
The days following his return to Rome were employed chiefly in copying at
the Colonna Palace. The heat was now beginning to grow more oppressive,
and we find this note on June 21:--
"In the cool of the morning you see the doors of the cafes thronged with
people taking their coffee and sitting on chairs in the streets for some
distance round. At _mezzo giorno_ the streets are deserted, the
shop-doors are closed, and all is still; they have all gone to their
_siesta_, their midday sleep. At four o'clock all is bustle again; it
seems a fresh morning; the streets and cafes are thronged and the Corso
is filled with the equipages of the wealthy, enjoying till quite dark
the cool of the evening air.
"The sun is now oppressively warm; the heat is unlike anything I have
felt in America. There is a scorching character about it which is
indescribable, and the glare of the light is exceedingly painful to the
eyes. The evenings are delightful, cool and clear, showing the lustre of
the stars gloriously.
"_June 28._ In the evening went to the piazza of St. Peter's to witness
the illumination of its magnificent dome and the piazza. The change from
the smaller to the larger illumination is one of the grandest spectacles
I ever beheld.
"The lanterns which are profusely scattered over it, showing its whole
form in lines of fire, glow brighter and brighter as the evening advances
from twilight to dark, till it seems impossible for its brilliance to
increase. The crowds below, on foot and in carriages, are in breathless
expectation. The great bell of St. Peter's at length strikes the hour of
nine, and, at the first stroke, a great ball of light is seen ascending
the cross to its pinnacle. This is the signal for thousands of
assistants, who are concealed over its vast extent, to light the great
lamps, and in an instant all is motion, the whole mass is like a living
thing, fire whirling and flashing over it in all directions, till the
vast pile blazes as if lighted with a thousand suns. The effect is truly
magical, for the agents by whom this change is wrought are invisible."
After the illumination of St. Peter's he went to the Castle of St. Angelo
where he witnessed what he describes as the grandest display of fireworks
he had ever seen.
"_Tuesday, June 29._ This day is St. Peter's day, the grandest _festa_ of
the Romish Church. I went with Mr. B. early to St. Peter's to see the
ceremonies. The streets were filled with equipages, among which the
splendid scarlet-and-gold equipages of the cardinals made the most
conspicuous figure. Cardinal Weld's carriage was the richest, and next in
magnificence was that of Cardinal Barberini.
"On entering St. Peter's we found it hung throughout with crimson damask
and gold and filled with people, except a wide space in the centre with
soldiers on each side to keep it open for the procession. We passed up
near the statue of St. Peter, who was to-day dressed out in his papal
robes, his black face (for it is of bronze) looking rather frightful from
beneath the splendid tiara which crowned his head, and the
scarlet-and-gold tissue of his robes.
"Having a little time to spare, we followed a portion of the crowd down
the steps beside the pedestal of the statue of St. Veronica into the
vaults beneath the church, which are illuminated on this festival. Mass
was performing in several of the splendid chapels, whose rich decorations
of paintings and sculpture are but once a year revealed to the light,
save from the obscure glimmering of the wax-taper, which is carried by
the guide, to occasional visitors. It is astonishing what a vast amount
of expense is here literally buried.
"The ornamented parts are beneath the dome; the other parts are plain,
heavy arches and low, almost numberless, and containing the sarcophagi of
the Popes and other distinguished characters. The illumination here was
confined to a single lamp over each arch, which rather made darkness
visible and gave an awful effect to some of the gloomier passages.
"In one part we saw, through a long avenue of arches, an iron-grated
door; within was a dim light which just sent its feeble rays upon some
objects in its neighborhood, not strong enough to show what they were. It
required no great effort of the imagination to fancy an emaciated,
spectral figure of a monk poring over a large book which lay before him.
It might have been as we imagined; we had not time to examine, for the
sound of music far above us summoned us into the regions of day again,
and we arrived in the body of the church just as the trumpets were
sounding from the balcony within the church over the great door of
entrance. The effect of the sound was very grand, reverberating through
the lofty arches and aisles of the church.
"We got sight of the head of the procession coming in at the great door,
and soon after the Pope, borne in his crimson chair of state, and with
the triple crown upon his head and a crimson, gold-embroidered mantilla
over his shoulders, was seen entering accompanied by his fan-bearers and
other usual attendants, and after him the cardinals and bishops. The
Pope, as usual, made the sign of the cross as he went.
"The procession passing up the great aisle went round to the back of the
great altar, where was the canopy for the Pope and seats for the
cardinals and bishops. The Pope is too feeble to go through the ceremony
of high mass; it was, therefore, performed before him by one of the
cardinals. There was nothing in this ceremony that was novel or
interesting; it was the same monotonous chant from the choir, the same
numberless bowings, and genuflections, and puffings of incense, and
change of garments, and fussing about the altar. All that was new was the
constant bustle about the Pope, kissing of his toe and his hand, helping
him to rise and to sit again, bringing and taking away of cushions and
robes and tiaras and mitres, and a thousand other little matters that
would have enraged any man of weak nerves, if it did not kill him. After
two hours of this tedious work (the people in the mean time perfectly
inattentive), the ceremony ended, and the Pope was again borne through
the church and the crowd returned."
On July 7, Morse, with four friends, left Rome at four o'clock in the
morning for Naples, where they arrived on the 11th after the usual
experiences; beggars continually marring the peaceful beauty of every
scene by their importunities; good inns, with courteous landlords and
servants, alternating with wretched taverns and insolent attendants. The
little notebook detailing the first ten days' experiences in Naples is
missing, and the next one takes up the narrative on July 24, when he and
his friends are in Sorrento. I shall not transcribe his impressions of
that beautiful town or those of the island of Capri. These places are too
familiar to the visitor to Italy and have changed but little in the last
Prom Capri they were rowed over to Amalfi, and narrowly escaped being
dashed on the rocks by the sudden rising of a violent gale. At Amalfi
they found lodgings in the Franciscan monastery, which is still used as
an inn, and here I shall again quote from the journal:--
"The place is in decay and is an excellent specimen of their monastic
buildings. It is now in as romantic a state as the most poetic
imagination could desire. Here are gloomy halls and dark and decayed
rooms; long corridors of chambers, uninhabited except by the lizard and
the bat; terraces upon the brow of stupendous precipices; gloomy cells
with grated windows, and subterranean apartments and caverns. Remains of
rude frescoes stain the crumbling ceiling, and ivy and various wild
plants hang down from the opening crevices and cover the tops of the
"A rude sundial, without a gnomon, is almost obliterated from the wall of
the cloisters, but its motto, '_Dies nostri quasi umbra super terram et
nulli est mora_', still resists the effects of decay, as if to serve the
appropriate purpose of the convent's epitaph. At the foot of the long
stairs in the great hall is the ruined chapel, its altar broken up and
despoiled of its pictures and ornaments.
"We were called to dinner by our host, who was accompanied by his wife, a
very pretty woman, two children, the elder carried by the mother, the
younger by the old grandparent, an old man of upwards of eighty, who
seemed quite pleased with his burden and delighted to show us his charge.
The whole family quite prepossessed us in their favor; there seemed to be
an unusual degree of affection displayed by the members towards each
other which we could not but remark at the time. Our dining apartment was
the old _domus refectionis_ of the convent, as its name, written over the
door which led into the choir, manifested. After an excellent dinner we
retired to our chambers for the night.
"_Tuesday, July 27._ We all rested but badly last night. The heat was
excessive, the insects, especially mosquitoes, exceedingly troublesome,
and the sound of the waves, as they beat against the rocks and chafed the
beach in the gusty night, and the howling of the wind, which for a time
moaned through the deserted chambers of the convent, all made us
restless. I rose several times in the night and, opening my window,
looked out on the dark waters of the bay, till the dawn over the
mountains warned me that the time for sleep was passing away, and I again
threw myself on the bed to rest. But scarcely had I lost myself in sleep
before the sound of loud voices below and wailings again waked me. I
looked out of my window on the balcony below; it was filled with armed
men; soldiers and others like brigands with muskets were in hurried
commotion, calling to each other from the balcony and from the terraced
"While perplexed in conjecturing the meaning of what I saw, Mr. C. called
at my door requesting me to rise, as the whole house was in agitation at
a terrible accident which had occurred in the night. Dressing in great
haste, I went into the contiguous room and, looking out of the window
down upon a terrace some thirty feet below, saw the lifeless body of a
man, with spots of blood upon his clothes, lying across the font of
water. A police officer with a band of men appeared, taking down in
writing the particulars for a report. On enquiry I found that the body
was that of the old man, the father of our host, whom we had seen the
evening before in perfect health. He had the dangerous habit of walking
in his sleep and had jumped, it is supposed, in that state out of his
chamber window which was directly beneath us; at what time in the night
was uncertain. His body must have been beneath me while I was looking
from my window in the night.
"Our host, but particularly his brother, seemed for a time almost
inconsolable. The lamentations of the latter over the bloody body (as
they were laying it out in the room where we had the evening before
dined), calling upon his father and mingling his cries with a chant to
the Virgin and to the saints, were peculiarly plaintive, and, sounding
through the vacant halls of the convent, made a melancholy impression
upon us all.... Soon after breakfast we went downstairs; several priests
and funeral attendants had arrived; the poor old man was laid upon a bed,
the room darkened, and four wax-lights burned, two each side of the bed. A
short time was taken in preparation, and then upon a bier borne by four
bearers, a few preceding it with wax-lights, the body, with the face
exposed, as is usual in Italy, was taken down the steep pathway to its
"I could not help remarking the total want of that decent deportment in
all those officiating which marks the conduct of those that attend the
interment of the dead in our own country. Even the priests 'seemed to be
in high glee, talking and heartily laughing with each other; at what it
perplexed me to conjecture.
"I went into the room in which the old man had slept; all was as he had
left it. Over the head of the bed were the rude prints of the Virgin and
saints, which are so common in all the houses of Italy, and which are
supposed to act as charms by these superstitious people. The lamp was on
the window ledge where he had placed it, and his scanty wardrobe upon a
chair by the bedside. Over the door was a sprig of laurel, placed there
since his death.
"The accident of the morning threw a gloom over the whole day; we,
however, commenced our sketches from different parts of the convent, and
I commenced a picture, a view of Amalfi from the interior of the grotto."
Several of the notebooks are here missing, and from the next in order we
find that the travellers must have lingered in or near Sorrento until
August 30, when they returned to Naples.
The next entry of interest, while rather gruesome, seems to be worth
"_Wednesday, September 1._ Morning painting. In the afternoon took a ride
round the suburbs and visited the Campo Santo. The Campo Santo is the
public burial-place. It is a large square enclosure having high walls at
the sides and open at the top. It contains three hundred and sixty
vaults, one of which is opened every day to receive the dead of that day,
and is not again opened until all the others in rotation have been
"As we entered the desolate enclosure the only living beings were three
miserable-looking old women gathered together upon the stone of one of
the vaults. They sat as if performing some incantation, mumbling their
prayers and counting their beads; and one other of the same fraternity,
who had been kneeling before a picture, left her position as we entered
and knelt upon another of the vaults, where she remained all the time we
were present, telling her beads.
"At the farther end of the enclosure was a large portable lever to raise
the stones which covered the vaults. Upon the promise of a few _grains_
the stone of the vault for the day was raised, and, with the precaution
of holding our kerchiefs to our noses, we looked down into the dark
vault. Death is sufficiently terrible in itself, and the grave in its
best form has enough of horror to make the stoutest heart quail at the
thought, but nothing I have seen or read of can equal the Campo Santo for
the most loathsome and disgusting mode of burial. The human, carcasses of
all ages and sexes are here thrown in together to a depth of, perhaps,
twenty feet, without coffins, in heaps, most of them perfectly naked, and
left to corrupt in a mass, like the offal from a slaughter house. So
disgusting a spectacle I never witnessed. There were in sight about
twenty bodies, men, women, and children. A child of about six years, with
beautiful fair hair, had fallen across the body of a man and lay in the
attitude of sleeping.
"But I cannot describe the positions of all without offence, so I
forbear. We were glad to turn away and retrace our steps to our carriage.
Never, I believe, in any country, Christian or pagan, is there an
instance of such total want of respect for the remains of the dead."
[Illustration: DE WITT CLINTON
Painted by Morse. Property of the Metropolitan Museum of Art]
On September 5, he again reverts to the universal plague of beggars in
"In passing through the country you may not take notice of a pretty child
or seem pleased with it; so soon as you do the mother will instantly
importune you for '_qualche cosa_' for the child. Neither can you ask for
a cup of cold water at a cottage door, nor ask the way to the next
village, nor even make the slightest inquiry of a peasant on any subject,
but the result will be '_qualche cosa, signore_.' The first act which a
child is taught in Italy is to hold out its hand to beg. Children too
young to speak I have seen holding out their little hands for that
purpose, and so mechanical is this action that I have seen, in one
instance, a boy of nine years nodding in his sleep and yet at regular
intervals extending his hand to beg. Begging is here no disgrace; on the
contrary, it is made respectable by the customs of the Church."
On September 6, after visiting the catacombs, he goes to the Convent of
St. Martino, and indulges in this rhapsody:--
"From a terrace and balcony two views of the beautiful scenery of the
city and bay are obtained. From the latter place especially you look down
upon the city which is spread like a model far beneath you. There is a
great deal of the sublime in thus looking down upon a populous city; one
feels for the time separated from the concerns of the world.
"We forget, while we consider the insignificance of that individual man,
moving in yonder street and who is scarcely visible to us, that we
ourselves are equally insignificant. It is in such a situation that the
superiority of the mind over the body is felt. Paradoxical as it may at
first seem, its greatness is evinced in the feeling of its own
littleness.... After gazing here for a while we were shown into the
chapel through the choir.... In the sacristy is a picture of a dead
Christ with the three Marys and Joseph, by Spagnoletto, not only the
finest picture by that master, but I am quite inclined to say that it is
the finest picture I have yet seen. There is in it a more perfect union
of the great qualities of art,--fine conception, just design, admirable
disposition of _chiaroscuro_, exquisite color,--whether truth is
considered or choice of tone in congruity with the subject's most
masterly execution and just character and expression. If any objection
were to be made it would, perhaps, be in the particular of character,
which, in elevation, in ideality, falls far short of Raphael. In other
points it has not its superior."
Returning to Rome on September 14, the only entries I find in the journal
for the first few days are, "Painting all day at home," and a short
account of a soiree at the Persianis'.
"_Monday, September 20._ Began the portrait of the celebrated sculptor
Thorwaldsen. He is a most amiable man and is universally respected. He
was never married. In early life he had two children by a mistress; one,
a daughter, is now in a convent. It was said that a noble lady of
England, of great fortune, became attached to him, and he no less to her,
but that the circumstance of his having two illegitimate children
prevented a marriage. He is the greatest sculptor of the age. I have
studied his works; they are distinguished for simple dignity, just
expression, and truth in character and design. The composition is also
characterized by simplicity. These qualities combined endow them with
that beauty which we so much admire in the works of Greece, whether in
literature or art. Thorwaldsen cannot be said to imitate the antique; he
rather seems to be one born in the best age of Grecian art; imbued with
the spirit of that age, and producing from his own resources kindred
The following letter was written by Morse before he left Rome for Naples,
but can be more appropriately introduced at this point:--
TO THE CAVALIER THORWALDSEN,
MY DEAR SIR,--I had hoped to have the pleasure of painting your portrait,
for which you were so good as to promise to sit, before I left Rome for
Naples; but the weather is becoming so oppressive, and there being a
party of friends about to travel the same road, I have consented to join
them. I shall return to Rome in September or October, and I therefore beg
you will allow me then to claim the fulfilment of your kind promise.
What a barrier, my dear sir, is difference of language to social
intercourse! I never felt the curse that befell the architects of Babel
so sensibly as now, since, as one of the effects of their folly, I am
debarred from the gratification and profit which I had promised myself in
being known to you.
With highest respect, etc.
Curiously enough, Morse never learned to speak a foreign language
fluently, although he could read quite easily French and, I believe,
German and Italian, and from certain passages in his journal we infer
that he could make himself understood by the Italians.
The portrait of Thorwaldsen was completed and became the property of
Philip Hone, Esq., who had given Morse a commission to paint a picture
for one hundred dollars, the subject to be left to the discretion of the
artist. Mr. Hone valued the portrait highly, and it remained in his
gallery until his death. It was then sold and Morse lost track of it for
many years. In 1868, being particularly desirous of gaining possession of
it again, for a purpose which is explained in a letter quoted a little
farther on, he instituted a search for it, and finally learned that it
had been purchased by Mr. John Taylor Johnston for four hundred dollars.
Before he could enter into negotiations for its purchase, Mr. Johnston
heard of his desire to possess it, and of his reasons for this wish, and
he generously insisted on presenting it to Morse.
I shall now quote the following extracts from a letter written in
Dresden, on January 23, 1868, to Mr. Johnston:--
MY DEAR SIR,--Your letter of the 6th inst. is this moment received, in
which I have been startled by your most generous offer presenting me with
my portrait of the renowned Thorwaldsen, for which he sat to me in Rome
I know not in what terms, my dear sir, to express to you my thanks for
this most acceptable gift. I made an excursion to Copenhagen in the
summer of 1856, as a sort of devout pilgrimage to the tombs of two
renowned Danes, whose labors in their respective departments--the one,
Oersted, of science, the other, Thorwaldsen, of art--have so greatly
enriched the world.
The personal kindness of the late King Frederick VII, who courteously
received me at his castle of Fredericksborg, through the special
presentation of Colonel Raslof (more recently the Danish Minister at
Washington); the hospitalities of many of the principal citizens of
Copenhagen; the visits to the tomb and museum of the works of
Thorwaldsen, and to the room in which the immortal Oersted made his
brilliant electro-magnetic discovery; the casual and accidental
introduction and interview with a daughter of Oersted,--all created a
train of reflection which prompted me to devise some suitable mode of
showing to these hospitable people my appreciation of their friendly
attentions, and I proposed to myself the presentation to His Majesty the
King of Denmark of this portrait of Thorwaldsen, for which he sat to me
in Rome, and with which I knew he was specially pleased.
My desire to accomplish this purpose was further strengthened by the
additional attention of the King at a later period in sending me the
decoration of his order of the Danebrog. From the moment this purpose was
formed, twelve years ago, I have been desirous of obtaining this
portrait, and watching for the opportunity of possessing it again.
Here follows a detailed account of the circumstances of the painting of
the portrait and of its disappearance, with which we are familiar, and he
closes by saying:--
"This brief history will show you, my dear sir, what a boon you have
conferred upon me. Indeed, it seems like a dream, and if my most cordial
thanks, not merely for the _gift_, but for the graceful and generous
manner in which it has been offered, is any compensation, you may be sure
they are yours.
"These are no conventional words, but they come from a heart that can
gratefully appreciate the noble sentiments which have prompted your
Returning from this little excursion into later years, I shall take up
the narrative again as revealed in the notebooks. While occasionally
visiting the opera and the theatre, Morse does not altogether approve of
them, and, on September 21, he indulges in the following reflections on
them and on the social evil:--
"No females of openly dissolute character were seen, such as occupy
particular parts of the theatre in England and America. Indeed, they
never appear on the streets of Rome in that unblushing manner as in
London, and even in New York and Philadelphia. It must not from hence be
inferred that vice is less frequent here than elsewhere; there is enough
of it, but it is carried on in secret; it is deeper and preys more on the
vitals of society than with us. This vice with us, like a humor on the
skin, deforms the surface, but here it infects the very heart; the whole
system is affected; it is rotten to the core.
"Theatres here and with us are different institutions. Here, where
thousands for want of thought, or rather matter for thought, would die of
ennui, where it is an object to escape from home and even from one's
self, the theatre serves the purpose of a momentary excitement. A new
piece, a new performer, furnishes matter for conversation and turns off
the mind from the discussion of points of theology or politics. The
theatre is therefore encouraged by the Government and is guarded against
the abuses of popular assemblage by strong military guards.
"But what have we to do with theatres in America? Have we not the whole
world of topics for discussion or conversation open to us? Is not truth
in religion, politics, and science suffered to be assailed by enemies
freely, and does it not, therefore, require the time of all intelligent
men to study, and understand, and defend, and fortify themselves in
truth? Have we time to throw away?
"More than this, have we not homes where domestic endearments charm us,
where domestic duties require our attention, where the relations of wife,
of husband, of children have the ties of mutual affection and mutual
confidence to attach us to our firesides? Need we go abroad for
amusement? Can the theatre, with all its tinsel finery, attract away from
home the man who has once tasted the bliss of a happy family circle? Is
there no pleasure in seeing that romping group of children, in the heyday
of youth, amuse themselves ere they go to rest; is there no pleasure in
studying the characters of your little family as they thus undisguisedly
display themselves, and so give you the opportunity of directing their
minds to the best advantage? Is there no amusement in watching the
development of the infant mind and in assisting its feeble efforts?
"He must be of most unsocial mould who can leave the thousand charms of
home to pass those precious hours in the noxious atmosphere of a theatre,
there to be excited, to return at midnight, to rise from a late bed, to
pass the best hours of the day in a feverish reverie succeeded by the
natural depression which is sure to follow, and to crave a renewed
indulgence. Repeated renewal causes indifference and ennui to succeed,
till excitement is no longer produced, but gives place to a habit of
listless indifference, or a spirit of captious criticism.
"_Monday, November 8, 1830._ A year to-day since I left home.
"_Tuesday, November 9._ Ignorance at post-office. Sent letters for United
States to England, because the United States belong to England!
"_Wednesday, December 1._ Many reports for some days past prepared us for
the announcement of the death of the Pope, Pius VIII, who died last
evening at nine o'clock at the Quirinal Palace."
The ceremonies connected with the funeral of the dead Pope and with the
choice of his successor are described at great length, and the eye of the
artist was fascinated by the wealth of color and the pomp, while his
Protestant soul was wearied and disgusted by the tediousness and mummery
of the ceremonials.
"_December 14._ Much excitement has been created by fear of revolution,
but from what cause I cannot learn. Many arrests and banishments have
occurred, among whom are some of the Bonaparte family. Artists are
suspected of being Liberals.
"An assassination occurred at one of the altars in St. John Lateran a few
weeks ago. A young man, jealous of a girl, whom he thought to be more
partial to another, stabbed her to the heart while at mass.
"_Saturday, January 1, 1831._ At the beginning of the year, as with us,
you hear the salutation of '_felicissimo capo d'anno_,' and the custom of
calling and felicitating friends is nearly the same as in New York, with
this difference, indeed, that there is no cheer in Rome as with our good
people at home.
"_Friday, January 14._ In the afternoon Count Grice and the Honorable Mr.
Spencer, son of Earl Spencer, who has within a few years been converted
to the Catholic faith, called. Had an interesting conversation with him
on religious topics, in which the differences of the Protestant and
Catholic faiths were discussed; found him a candid, fair-minded man, but
evidently led away by a too easy assent to the sophistry and fable which
have been dealt out to him. He gave me a slight history of his change; I
shall see him again.
"_Tuesday, January 18._ Called with Count Grice on the Honorable Mr.
Spencer at the English College and was introduced to the rector, Dr.
Wiseman. After a few moments went into the library with Mr. Spencer and
commenced the argument, in which being interrupted we retired to his
room, where for three hours we discussed various points of difference in
our faith. Many things I urged were not answered, such as the fruits of
the Catholic religion in the various countries where it prevails; the
objection concerning forbidding to marry; idolatry of the Virgin Mary,
etc., etc.; yet there is a gentleness, an amiability in the man which
makes me think him sincere but deceived.
"_Wednesday, February 2._ Went this morning at ten o'clock to hear a
sermon by Mr. Spencer in the chapel of the English College. It was on the
occasion of the _festa_ of the purification of the Virgin. Many parts
were good, and I could agree with him in the general scope of his
"While we were in the chapel the cannon of St. Angelo announced the
election of the new Pope. I hurried to the Quirinal Palace to see the
ceremony of announcing him to the people, but was too late. The ceremony
was over, the walled window was broken down and the cardinals had
presented the new Pope on the balcony. He is Cardinal Cappellari who has
taken the title of Gregorio XVI. To-morrow he will go to St. Peter's."
FEBRUARY 10, 1831--SEPTEMBER 12, 1831.
Historic events witnessed by Morse.--Rumors of revolution.--Danger to
foreigners.--Coronation of the new Pope.--Pleasant experience.--Cause of
the revolution a mystery.--Bloody plot foiled.--Plans to leave for
Florence.--Sends casts, etc., to National Academy of Design.--Leaves
Rome.--Dangers of the journey.--Florence.--Description of meeting with
Prince Radziwill in Coliseum at Rome.--Copies portraits of Rubens and
Titian in Florence.--Leaves Florence for Venice.--Disagreeable voyage on
the Po.--Venice, beautiful but smelly.--Copies Tintoret's "Miracle of the
Slave."--Thunderstorms.--Reflections on the Fourth of July.--Leaves
Venice.--Recoaro.--Milan.--Reflections on Catholicism and art.--Como and
Maggiore.--The Rigi.--Schaffhausen and Heidelberg.--Evades the quarantine
on French border.--Thrilling experience.--Paris.
It was Morse's good fortune to have been a spectator, at various times
and in different places, of events of more or less historical moment. We
have seen that he was in England during the War of 1812; that he
witnessed the execution of the assassin of a Prime Minister; that he was
a keen and interested observer of the festivities in honor of a Czar of
Russia, a King of France, and a famous general (Bluecher); and although
not mentioned in his correspondence, he was fond of telling how he had
seen the ship sailing away to distant St. Helena bearing the conquered
Napoleon Bonaparte into captivity. Now, while he was diligently pursuing
his art in Rome, he was privileged to witness the funeral obsequies of
one Pope and the ceremonies attendant upon the installation of his
successor. In future years the same good fortune followed him.
His presence on these occasions was not always unattended by danger to
himself. His discretion during the years of war between England and
America saved him from possible annoyance or worse, and now again in Rome
he was called upon to exercise the same virtue, for the Church had
entered upon troublous times, and soon the lives of foreigners were in
danger, and many of them left the city.
On Thursday, February 10, there is this entry in the journal: "The
revolutions in the Papal States to the north at Bologna and Ancona, and
in the Duchy of Modena, have been made known at Rome. Great consternation
prevails." We learn further that, on February 12, "Rumors of conspiracy
are numerous. The time, the places of rendezvous, and even the numbers
are openly talked of. The streets are filled with the people who gaze at
each other inquisitively, and apprehension seems marked on every face.
The shops are shutting, troops are stationed in the piazzas, and
everything wears a gloomy aspect. At half-past seven a discharge of
musketry is heard. Among the reports of the day is one that the
Trasteverini have plotted to massacre the _forestieri_ in case of a
While the festivities of the Carnival were, on account of these
disturbances, ordered by the Pope to be discontinued, the religious
ceremonies were still observed, and, going to St. Peter's one day--"to
witness the ceremonies of consecration as a bishop and coronation as a
king of the Pope"--Morse had this pleasant experience:--
"The immense area seemed already filled; a double line of soldiers
enclosed a wide space, from the great door through the middle of the
church, on each side of the altar, and around the richly enclosed space
where were erected the two papal thrones and the seats for the cardinals.
Into this soldier-invested space none but the privileged were permitted
to enter; ambassadors, princes, dukes, and nobles of every degree were
seen, in all their splendor of costume, promenading.
"I was with the crowd without, making up my mind to see nothing of the
ceremonies, but, being in full dress, and remembering that, on former
occasions, I had been admitted as a stranger within the space, I
determined to make the effort again. I therefore edged myself through the
mass of people until I reached the line of soldiers, and, catching the
eye of the commanding officer as he passed by, I beckoned to him, and, as
he came to me, I said, '_Sono un Americano, un forestiero, signore_,'
which I had no sooner said than, taking me by the hand, he drew me in,
and, politely bowing, gave me leave to go where I pleased."
From this point of vantage he had an excellent view of all the
ceremonies, which were much like the others he had witnessed and do not
need to be described.
He wanted very much to go to Florence at this time to fulfil some of the
commissions he had received for copies of famous paintings in that city,
but his departure was delayed, for, as he notes on February 13:--
"There are many alarming rumors, one in particular that the Trasteverini
and Galleotti, or galley slaves, have been secretly armed by the
Government, and that the former are particularly incensed against the
_forestieri_ as the supposed instigators of the revolution.... These
facts have thrown us all into alarm, for we know not what excesses such
men may be guilty of when excited by religious enthusiasm to revenge
themselves on those they call heretics. We are compelled, too, to remain
in Rome from the state of the country, it being not safe to travel on
account of brigands who now infest the roads.
"_February 15._ I have never been in a place where it was so difficult to
ascertain the truth as in this city. I have enquired the reason of this
movement hostile to the Government, but cannot ascertain precisely its
object. Some say it is to deprive the Pope of his temporal power,--and
some Catholics seem to think that their religion would flourish the
better for it; others that it is a plan, long digested, for bringing all
Italy under one government, having it divided into so many federative
states, like the United States....
"The Trasteverini seem to be a peculiar class, proud, as believing
themselves to be the only true descendants from the ancient Romans, and,
therefore, hating the other Romans. Poor from that very pride; ignorant
and attached to their faith, they are the class of all others to be
dreaded in a season of anarchy. It is easy by flattery, by a little
distribution of money, and by a cry of danger to their religion, to rouse
them to any degree of enthusiasm, and no one can set bounds to the
excesses of such a set of fiends when let loose upon society.
"The Government at present have them in their interest, and, while that
is the case, no danger is to be dreaded. It is in that state of anarchy
which, for a longer or shorter period, intervenes in the changes of
government, between the established rule of the one and of the other,
that such a class of men is to be feared.
"_February 17._ The plan said to have been determined on by the
conspirators was this: The last night of the Carnival was fixed for the
execution of the plan. This was Tuesday night when it is customary to
have the _moccoletti_, or small wax-candles, lighted by the crowd. The
conspirators were each to be placed, as it were by accident, by the side
of a soldier (which in so great a crowd could be done without suspicion),
and, when the cannon fired which gave the signal for closing the course,
it was also to serve as a signal for each one to turn upon the soldier
and, by killing him, to seize his arms. This would, indeed, have been a
bloody scene, and for humanity's sake it is well that it was discovered
"_February 20._ I learn that the Pope is desirous of yielding to the
spirit of the times, and is disposed to grant a constitution to the
people, but that the cardinals oppose it. He is said also to be prepared
to fly from Rome, and even has declared his intention of resigning the
dignity of Pope and retiring again to the solitude of the convent.
"_February 24._ It seems to be no longer doubtful that a revolutionary
army is approaching Rome from the revolted provinces, and that they
advance rapidly.... The city is tranquil enough; no troops are seen,
except at night a sentinel at some corner cries as you pass, '_Chi
viva?_' and you are obliged to cry, '_Il Papa_'; which one may surely do
with a good conscience, for he is entitled to great respect for his
"_February 25._ Went to-day to get my passport viseed for Florence,
whither I intended to go on Tuesday next, but am advised by the consul
and others not to risk the journey at present, as it is unsafe."
I break the continuity of the narrative for a moment to note that while
Morse was making copies of famous paintings in Rome, and studying
intelligently the works of the old masters, he was not forgetful of the
young academy at home, which he had helped to found and of which he was
still president. On March 1 he writes jubilantly to the secretary, J.L.
Morton, that he has succeeded in obtaining by gift a number of casts of
ancient and modern sculpture which he will send home by the first
opportunity. Among the generous donors he mentions Thorwaldsen, Daniel
Coit, Esq., Richard Wyatt, Esq., Signor Trentanove, and George Washington
Lee, Esq. He adds at the end of the letter:--
"I leave Rome immediately and know not when I shall be allowed to rest,
the revolution here having turned everything into confusion, rendering
the movements of travellers uncertain and unsafe, and embarrassing my
studies and those of other artists exceedingly. I shall try to go to
Florence, but must pass through the two hostile armies and through a
country which, in a season of confusion like the present, is sure to be
infested with brigands. If I reach Florence in safety and am allowed to
remain, which is somewhat doubtful, you shall hear of me again, either
directly or through my brothers."
Mr. Morton, answering this letter on May 22, informs Morse of his
reelection as president of the National Academy of Design, and adds: "By
the by, talking of coming back, do try and make your arrangements as soon
as possible. We want you very much, if it is only to set us all right
again. We begin to feel the want of our _Head Man_."
Reverting to the journal again, we find this note: "March 3. For some
days past I have been engaged in packing up and taking leave, and
yesterday was introduced by the Count le Grice to Cardinal Weld, who
received me very politely, presented me with a book, and sent me two
letters of introduction to London."
On March 4, Morse, with four companions, started from Rome on the
seemingly perilous journey to Florence. They passed through the lines of
both armies, but, contrary to their expectations, they were most
courteously treated by the officers on both sides. It is true that they
learned afterwards that they came near being arrested at Civita
Castellana, where the Papal army was assembled in force, for--"When we
took leave of the Marquis at Terni he told us that it was well we left
Civita Castellana as we did, for an order for our arrest was making out,
and in a few minutes more we should not have been allowed to leave the
place. Indeed, when I think of the case, it was a surprising thing that
we were allowed to go into all parts of the place, to see their position,
to count their men and know their strength, and then to immediately pass
over to their enemy and to give him, if we chose, all the information
that any spy could have given."
It is not within the province of this work to deal at length with the
political movements of the times. As we have seen, Morse was fortunate in
avoiding danger, and we learn from history that this revolt, which
threatened at one time to become very serious, was eventually suppressed
by the Papal arms aided by the Austrians.
Having passed safely through the zone of danger, they travelled on, and,
on March 9:--
"At half-past three the _beautiful city_ was seen to our left reposing in
sunshine in the wide vale of the Arno. The Duomo and the Campanile were
the most conspicuous objects. At half-past four we entered Florence and
obtained rooms at the Leone Bianco in the Via Vigna Nuova.
"_March 10._ We found to-day, to our great discomfiture, that we are
allowed by the police to stay but three days in the city. No entreaties
through our consul, nor offers of guaranty on his part, availed to soften
towards us the rigor of the decree, which they say applies to all
foreigners. I have written to our consul at Leghorn to petition the
Government for our stay, as Mr. Ombrosi, the United States Consul here,
is not accredited by the Government."
He must have succeeded in obtaining permission to remain, although the
fact is not noted in the journal, for the next entry is on April 11, and
finds him still in Florence. It begins: "Various engagements preventing
my entering regularly in my journal every day's events as they occurred,
I have been compelled to make a gap, which I fill up from recollection."
Before following him further, however, I shall quote from a letter
written to his brothers on April 15, but referring to events which
happened some time before:--
"We have recently heard of the disasters of the Poles. What noble people;
how deserving of their freedom. I must tell you of an interesting
circumstance that occurred to me in relation to Poland. It was in the
latter part of June of last year, just as I was completing my
arrangements for my journey to Naples, that I was tempted by one of those
splendid moonlight evenings, so common in Italy, to visit once more the
ruins of the Coliseum. I had frequently been to the Coliseum in company,
but now I had the curiosity to go alone--I wished to enjoy, if possible,
its solitude and its solemn grandeur unannoyed by the presence of any
"It was eleven o'clock when I left my lodgings and no one was walking at
that hour in the solitary streets of Rome. From the Corso to the Forum
all was as still as in a deserted city. The ruins of the Forum, the
temples and pillars, the Arch of Titus and the gigantic arcade of the
Temple of Peace, seemed to sleep in the gravelike stillness of the air.
The only sound that reached my ears was that of my own footsteps. I
slowly proceeded, stopping occasionally, and listening and enjoying the
profound repose and the solemn, pure light, so suited to the ruined
magnificence around me. As I approached the Coliseum the shriek of an owl
and the answering echo broke the stillness for a moment, and all was
"I reached the entrance, before which paced a lonely sentinel, his arms
flashing in the moonbeams. He abruptly stopped me and told me I could not
enter. I asked him why. He replied that his orders were to let no one
pass. I told him I knew better, that he had no such orders, that he was
placed there to protect visitors, and not to prevent their entrance, and
that I should pass. Finding me resolute (for I knew by experience his
motive was merely to extort money), he softened in his tone, and wished
me to wait until he could speak to the sergeant of the guard. To this I
assented, and, while he was gone, a party of gentlemen approached also to
the entrance. One of them, having heard the discourse between the
sentinel and myself, addressed me. Perceiving that he was a foreigner, I
asked him if he spoke English. He replied with a slight accent, 'Yes, a
little. You are an Englishman, sir?' 'No,' I replied, 'I am an American
from the United States.' 'Indeed,' said he, 'that is much better'; and,
extending his hand, he shook me cordially by the hand, adding, 'I have a
great respect for your country and I know many of your countrymen.' He
then mentioned Dr. Jarvis and Mr. Cooper, the novelist, the latter of
whom he said was held in the greatest estimation in Europe, and nowhere
more so than in his country, Poland, where his works were more sought
after than those of Scott, and his mind was esteemed of an equal if not
of a superior cast.
"This casual introduction of literary topics furnished us with ample
matter for conversation while we were not engaged in contemplating the
sublime ruins over which, when the sentinel returned, we climbed. I asked
him respecting the literature of Poland, and particularly if there were
now any living poets of eminence. He observed: 'Yes, sir, I am happily
travelling in company with the most celebrated of our poets,
Meinenvitch'; and who, as I understood him, was one of the party walking
in another part of the ruins.
"Engaged in conversation we left the Coliseum together and slowly
proceeded into the city. I told him of the deep interest with which
Poland was regarded in the United States, and that her heroes were spoken
of with the same veneration as our own. As some evidence of this
estimation I informed him of the monument erected by the cadets of West
Point to the memory of Kosciusko. With this intelligence he was evidently
much affected; he took my hand and exclaimed with great enthusiasm and
emphatically: 'We, too, sir, shall be free; the time is coming; we too
shall be free; my unhappy country will be free.' (This was before the
revolution in France.)
"As I came to the street where we were to part he took out his notebook,
and, going under the lamp of a Madonna, near the Piazza Colonna, he
wished me to write my name for him among the other names of Americans
which he had treasured in his book. I complied with his request. In
bidding me adieu he said: 'It will be one of my happiest recollections of
Rome that the last night which I passed in this city was passed in the
Coliseum, and with an American, a citizen of a free country. If you
should ever visit Warsaw, pray enquire for Prince----; I shall be
exceedingly glad to see you.'
"Thus I parted with this interesting Pole. That I should have forgotten a
Polish name, pronounced but once, you will not think extraordinary. The
sequel remains to be told. When the Polish revolution broke out, what was
my surprise to find the poet Meinenvitch and a prince, whose name seemed
like that which he pronounced to me, and to which was added--'just
returned from Italy'--among the first members of the provisional
Morse assured himself afterwards, and so noted it in his journal, that
this chance acquaintance was Prince Michael Jerome Radziwill, who had
served as lieutenant in the war of independence under Kosciusko; fought
under Napoleon in Russia (by whom he was made a brigadier-general); and,
shortly after the meeting in the Coliseum, was made general-in-chief of
the Polish army. After the defeat of this army he was banished to central
Russia until 1836, when he retired to Dresden.
Reverting again to the notebooks, we find that Florence, with her wealth
of beauty in architecture, sculpture, and painting, appealed strongly to
the artist, and the notes are chiefly descriptions of what he sees, and
which it will not be necessary to transcribe. He had, during all the time
he was in Italy, been completing, one after another, the copies for which
he had received commissions, and had been sending them home. He thus
describes to his friend, Mr. Van Schaick, the paintings made for him:--
"_Florence, May 12, 1831._ I have at length completed the two pictures
which you were so kind as to commission me to execute for you, and they
are packed in a case, ready to send to you from Leghorn by the first
opportunity, through Messrs. Bell, de Yongh & Co. of that city.
"As your request was that these pictures should be heads, I have chosen
two of the most celebrated in the gallery of portraits in the Florence
Gallery. These are the heads of Rubens and Titian from the portraits by
themselves. As the portraits of the two great masters of color they will
alone be interesting, but they are more so from giving a fair specimen of
their two opposite styles of color. That of Rubens, from its gaiety, will
doubtless be more popular, but that of Titian, from its sobriety and
dignity, pleases me better. In hanging the pictures they should be placed
apart. The styles are so opposed that, were they placed near to each
other, they would mutually affect each other unfavorably. Rubens may be
placed in more obscurity, but Titian demands to be more in the light.
"I have no time to add, as I am preparing to leave Florence on Monday for
Bologna and Venice."
Travelling in Italy in those days was fraught with many annoyances, for,
in addition to the slow progress made in the _vetture_, there seems to
have been (judging from the journal) a _dogana_, or custom-house, every
few miles, where the luggage and clothing of travellers were examined,
sometimes hastily and courteously, sometimes with more rigor. And yet
this leisurely rate of progress, the travellers walking up most of the
hills, must have had a charm unknown to the present-day tourist, who is
whisked unseeing through the most characteristic parts of a foreign
country. The beautiful scenery of the Apennines was in this way enjoyed
to the full by the artist, but I shall not linger over the journey nor
shall I include any notes concerning Bologna. He found the city most
interesting--"A piece of porphyry set in verd antique"--and those to whom
he had letters of introduction more hospitable than in any other city in
From Bologna the route lay through Ferrara and then to Pontelagoscuro on
the river Po, where he was to take the courier boat for Venice, down the
Po and through a canal. To add to the discomforts of this part of the
trip it rained steadily for several days, and, on May 22, Morse paints
this dreary picture:--
"When we waked this morning we found it still raining and, apparently, so
to continue all day. The rainy day at a country inn, so exquisitely
described by Irving in all its disagreeable features, is now before us. A
solitary inn with nothing indoors to attract; cold and damp and dark. The
prospect from the windows is a low muddy foreground, the north bank of
the muddy Po; a pile of brushwood, a heap of offal, a melancholy group of
cattle, who show no other signs of life than the occasional sly attack by
one of them upon a poor, dripping, half-starved dog, who, with tail
between his legs, now and then ventures near them to search for his
miserable meal. Beyond, on the river, a few barks silently lying upon the
stream, and on the opposite bank some buildings with a church and a
campanile dimly seen through the mist. After coffee we were obliged to go
to the _dogana_ to see to the searching of all our trunks and luggage.
The principals were present and we were not severely searched. A
Frenchman, however, who had come on a little before us, was stripped to
his skin, some papers were found upon him, and I understand he has made
his escape and they are now searching for him....
"At 2.30, after having dined, we waded through the mud in a pelting rain
to the _dogana_ for our luggage, and, after getting completely wet, we
embarked on board the courier boat, with a cabin seven feet long, six
feet wide, and six high, into which six of us, having a gentleman from
Trieste and his mother added to our number, were crowded, with no
beds.... Rain, rain, rain!!! in torrents, cold and dreary through a
perfectly flat country.... At ten o 'clock we arrived at a place called
Cavanella, where is a _locanda_ upon the canal which should have been
open to receive us, but they were all asleep and no calling would rouse
them. So we were obliged to go supperless to bed, and such abed! There
being no room to spread mattresses for six in the cabin, three dirty
mattresses, without sheets or blankets, were laid on the floor of the
forward cabin (if it might so be called). This cabin was a hole down into
which two or three steps led. We could not stand upright,--indeed,
kneeling, our heads touched the top,--and when stretched at full length
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