Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters and Journals
Samuel F. B. Morse

Part 2 out of 9

At this late day, when the mists which enveloped the questions have
rolled away, it seems but simple justice to admit that the wonderful
discoveries of Henry were essential to the successful working over long
distances of Morse's discoveries and inventions; just as the discoveries
and inventions of earlier and contemporary scientists were essential to
Henry's improvements. But it is also just to place emphasis on the fact
that Henry's experiments were purely scientific. He never attempted to
put them in concrete form for the use of mankind in general; they led up
to the telegraph; they were not a practical telegraph in themselves. It
was Morse who added the final link in the long chain, and, by combining
the discoveries of others with those which he had himself made, gave to
the world this wonderful new agent.

A recent writer in the "Scientific American" gave utterance to the
following sentiment, which, it seems to me, most aptly describes this
difference: "We need physical discoveries and revere those who seek truth
for its own sake. But mankind with keen instinct saves its warmest
acclaim for those who also make discoveries of some avail in adding to
the length of life, its joys, its possibilities, its conveniences."

We must also remember that, while the baby telegraph had, in 1837, been
recognized as a promising infant by a very few scientists and personal
friends of the inventor, it was still regarded with suspicion, if not
with scorn, by the general public and even by many men of scholarly
attainments, and a long and heart-breaking struggle for existence was
ahead of it before it should reach maturity and develop into the lusty
giant of the present day. Here again Morse proved that he was the one man
of his generation most eminently fitted to fight for the child of his
brain, to endure and to persevere until the victor's crown was grasped.

It is always idle to speculate on what might have happened if certain
events had not taken place; if certain men had not met certain other men.
A telegraph would undoubtedly have been invented if Morse had never been
born; or he might have perfected his invention without the aid and advice
of others, or with the assistance of different men from those who
appeared at the psychological moment. But we are dealing with facts and
not with suppositions, and the facts are that through Professor Gale he
was made acquainted with the discoveries of Joseph Henry, which had been
published to the world several years before, and could have been used by
others if they had had the wit or genius to grasp their significance and
hit upon the right means to make them of practical utility.

Morse was ever ready cheerfully to acknowledge the assistance which had
been given to him by others, but, at the same time, he always took the
firm stand that this did not give them a claim to an equal share with
himself in the honor of the invention. In a long letter to Professor
Charles T. Jackson, written on September 18, 1837, he vigorously but
courteously repudiates the claim of the latter to have been a co-inventor
on board the Sully, and he proves his point, for Jackson not only knew
nothing of the plan adopted by Morse, and carried by him to a successful
issue, but had never suggested anything of a practical nature. At the
same time Morse freely acknowledges that the conversation between them on
the ship suggested to him the train of thought which culminated in the
invention, for he adds:--

"You say, 'I trust you will take care that the proper share of credit
shall be given to me when you make public your doings.' This I always
have done and with pleasure. I have always given you credit for great
genius and acquirements, and have always said, in giving any account of
my Telegraph, that it was during a scientific conversation with you on
board the ship that I first conceived the thought of an electric
Telegraph. Is there really any more that you will claim or that I could
in truth and justice give?

"I have acknowledgments of a similar kind to make to Professor Silliman
and to Professor Gale; to the former of whom I am under precisely similar
obligations with yourself for several useful hints; and to the latter I
am most of all indebted for substantial and effective aid in many of my
experiments. If any one has a claim to be considered as a mutual inventor
on the score of aid by hints, it is Professor Gale, but he prefers no
claim of the kind."

And he never did prefer such a claim (although it was made for him by
others), but remained always loyal to Morse. Jackson, on the other hand,
insisted on pressing his demand, although it was an absurd one, and he
was a thorn in the flesh to Morse for many years. It will not be
necessary to go into the matter in detail, as Jackson was, through his
wild claims to other inventions and discoveries, thoroughly discredited,
and his views have now no weight in the scientific world.

The third person who came to the assistance of Morse at this critical
period was Alfred Vail, son of Judge Stephen Vail, of Morristown, New
Jersey. In 1837 he was a young man of thirty and had graduated from the
University of the City of New York in 1836. He was present at the
exhibition of Morse's invention on the 2d of September, 1837, and he at
once grasped its great possibilities. After becoming satisfied that
Morse's device of the relay would permit of operation over great
distances, he expressed a desire to become associated with the inventor
in the perfecting and exploitation of the invention. His father was the
proprietor of the Speedwell Iron Works in Morristown, and young Vail had
had some experience in the manufacture of mechanical appliances in the
factory, although he had taken the theological course at the University
with the intention of entering the Presbyterian ministry. He had
abandoned the idea of becoming a clergyman, however, on account of
ill-health, and was, for a time, uncertain as to his future career, when
the interest aroused by the sight of Morse's machine settled the matter,
and, after consulting with his father and brother, he entered into an
agreement with Morse on the 23d day of September, 1837.

In the contract drawn up between them Vail bound himself to construct, at
his own expense, a complete set of instruments; to defray the costs of
securing patents in this country and abroad; and to devote his time to
both these purposes. It was also agreed that each should at once
communicate to the other any improvement or new invention bearing on the
simplification or perfecting of the telegraph, and that such improvements
or inventions should be held to be the property of each in the proportion
in which they were to share in any pecuniary benefits which might accrue.

As the only way in which Morse could, at that time, pay Vail for his
services and for money advanced, he gave him a one-fourth interest in the
invention in this country, and one half in what might be obtained from
Europe. This was, in the following March, changed to three sixteenths in
the United States and one fourth in Europe.

Morse had now secured two essentials most necessary to the rapid
perfection of his invention, the means to purchase materials and an
assistant more skilled than he in mechanical construction, and who was
imbued with faith in the ultimate success of the enterprise. Now began
the serious work of putting the invention into such a form that it could
demonstrate to the skeptical its capability of performing what was then
considered a miracle. It is hard for us at the present time, when new
marvels of science and invention are of everyday occurrence, to realize
the hidebound incredulousness which prevailed during the first half of
the nineteenth century. Men tapped their foreheads and shook their heads
in speaking of Morse and his visionary schemes, and deeply regretted that
here was the case of a brilliant man and excellent artist evidently gone
wrong. But he was not to be turned from his great purpose by the jeers of
the ignorant and the anxious solicitations of his friends, and he was
greatly heartened by the encouragement of such men as Gale and Vail. They
all three worked over the problems yet to be solved, Morse going
backwards and forwards between New York and Morristown. That both Gale
and Vail suggested improvements which were adopted by Morse, can be taken
for granted, but, as I have said before, to modify or elaborate something
originated by another is a comparatively easy matter, and the basic idea,
first conceived by Morse on the Sully, was retained throughout.

All the details of these experiments have not been recorded, but I
believe that at first an attempt was made to put into a more finished
form the principle of the machine made by Morse, with its swinging
pendulum tracing a waving line, but this was soon abandoned in favor of
an instrument using the up-and-down motion of a lever, as drawn in the
1832 sketch-book. In other words, it was a return to first principles as
thought out by Morse, and not, as some would have us believe, something
entirely new suggested and invented independently by Vail.

It was rather unfortunate and curious, in view of Morse's love of
simplicity, that he at first insisted on using the dots and dashes to
indicate numbers only, the numbers to correspond to words in a specially
prepared dictionary. His arguments in favor of this plan were specious,
but the event has proved that his reasoning was faulty. His first idea
was that the telegraph should belong to the Government; that intelligence
sent should be secret by means of a kind of cipher; that it would take
less time to send a number than each letter of each word, especially in
the case of the longer words; and, finally, that although the labor in
preparing a dictionary of all the most important words in the language
and giving to each its number would be great, once done it would be done
for all time.

I say that this was unfortunate because the fact that the telegraphic
alphabet of dots and dashes was not used until after his association with
Vail has lent strength to the claims on the part of Vail's family and
friends that he was the inventor of it and not Morse. This claim has been
so insistently, and even bitterly, made, especially after Morse's death,
that it gained wide credence and has even been incorporated in some
encyclopedias and histories. Fortunately it can be easily disproved, and
I am desirous of finally settling this vexed question because I consider
the conception of this simplest of all conventional alphabets one of the
grandest of Morse's inventions, and one which has conferred great good
upon mankind. It is used to convey intelligence not only by electricity,
but in many other ways. Its cabalistic characters can be read by the eye,
the ear, and the touch.

Just as the names of Ampere, Volta, and Watt have been used to designate
certain properties or things discovered by them, so the name of Morse is
immortalized in the alphabet invented by him. The telegraph operators all
over the world send "Morse" when they tick off the dots and dashes of the
alphabet, and happily I can prove that this is not an honor filched from

It is a matter of record that Vail himself never claimed in any of his
letters or diaries (and these are voluminous) that he had anything to do
with the devising of this conventional alphabet, even with the
modification of the first form. On the other hand, in several letters to
Morse he refers to it as being Morse's. For instance, in a letter of
April 20, 1848, he uses the words "your system of marking, _lines_ and
_dots_, which you have patented." All the evidence brought forward by the
advocates of Vail is purely hearsay; he is said to have said that he
invented the alphabet.

Morse, however, always, in every one of his many written references to
the matter, speaks of it as "my conventional alphabet." In an article
which I contributed to the "Century Magazine" of March, 1912, I treated
this question at length and proved by documentary evidence that Morse
alone devised the dot-and-dash alphabet. It will not be necessary for me
to repeat all this evidence here; I shall simply give enough to prove
conclusively that the Morse Alphabet has not been misnamed.

The following is a fugitive note which was reproduced photographically in
the "Century" article:--

"Mr. Vail, in his work on the Telegraph, at p. 32, intimates that the
saw-teeth type for letters, as he has described them in the diagram (9),
were devised by me as early as the year 1832. Two of the elements of
these letters, indeed, were then devised, the dot and space, and used in
constructing the type for numerals, but, so far as my recollection now
serves me, it was not until I experimented with the first instrument in
1835 that I added the -- dash, which supplied me with the three elements
for combinations for letters. It was on noticing the fact that, when the
circuit was closed a longer time than was necessary to make a dot, there
was produced a line or dash, that, if I rightly remember, the broken
parts of a continuous line as the means of imprinting at a distance were
suggested to me; since the inequalities of long and short lines,
separated by long and short spaces, gave me all the variations or
combinations of long and short lines necessary to form the alphabet. The
date of the code complete must, therefore, be put at 1835, and not 1832,
although at the date of 1832 the principle of the code was _evolved_."

In addition to this being a definite claim in writing on the part of
Morse that he had devised an alphabetic code in 1836, two years before
Vail had ever heard of the telegraph, it is well to note his scrupulous
insistence on historical accuracy.

In a letter to Professor Gale, referring to reading by sound as well as
by sight, occur the following sentences. (Let me remark, by the way, that
it is interesting to note that Morse thus early recognized the
possibility of reading by sound, an honor which has been claimed for many

"Exactly at what time I recognized the adaptation of the difference in
the intervals in reading the _letters_ as well as the numerals, I have
now no means of fixing except in a general manner. It was, however,
almost immediately on the construction of the letters by dots and lines,
and this was some little time previous to your seeing the instrument.

"Soon after the first operation of the instrument in 1835, in which the
type for writing numbers were used, I not only conceived the letter type,
but made them from some leads used in the printing-office. I have still
quite a quantity of these type. They were used in Washington as well as
the type for numerals in the winter of 1837-38.

"In the earlier period of the invention it was a matter which experience
alone could determine whether the _numerical_ system, by means of a
numbered dictionary, or the alphabetic mode, by spelling of the words,
was the better. While I perceived some advantages in the alphabetic
system, especially in the writing of proper names, I at that time leaned
rather towards the _numerical_ mode under the impression that it would,
on the whole, be the more rapid. A very short experience, however, showed
the superiority of the alphabetic mode, and the big leaves of the
numbered dictionary, which cost me a world of labor, and which you,
perhaps, remember, were discarded and the alphabetic installed in its
stead." Perhaps the most conclusive evidence that Vail did not invent
this alphabet is contained in his own book on the "American
Electro-Magnetic Telegraph," published in 1845, in which he lays claim to
certain improvements. After describing the dot-and-dash alphabet, he

"This conventional alphabet was originated on board the packet Sully by
Professor Morse, the very first elements of the invention, and arose from
the necessity of the case; the motion produced by the magnet being
limited to a single action. During the period of the thirteen years _many
plans have been devised by the inventor_ to bring the telegraphic
alphabet to its simplest form."

The italics are mine, for the advocates of Vail have always quoted the
first sentence only, and have said that the word "originated" implies
that, while Vail admitted that the embryo of the alphabet--the dots and
dashes to represent numbers only--was conceived on the Sully, he did not
admit that the alphabetical code was Morse's. But when we read the second
sentence with the words "devised by the inventor," the meaning is so
plain that it is astonishing that any one at all familiar with the facts
could have been misled.

The first form of the alphabet which was attached to Morse's caveat of
October 3, 1837, is shown in the drawing of the type in the accompanying

Showing the first form of the alphabet and the changes to the present

It has been stated by some historians that the system of signs for
letters was not attached to the caveat, but a careful reading of the
text, in which reference is made to the drawing, will prove conclusively
that it was. Moreover, in this caveat under section 5, "The Dictionary or
Vocabulary," the very first sentence reads: "The dictionary is a complete
vocabulary of words alphabetically arranged and regularly numbered,
_beginning with the letters of the alphabet_." The italics are mine. The
mistake arose because the drawing was detached from the caveat and
affixed to the various patents which were issued, even after the first
form of the alphabet had been superseded by a better one, the principle,
however, remaining the same, so that it was not necessary to patent the
new form.

As soon as it was proved that it would be simpler to use the letters of
the alphabet in sending intelligence, the first form of the alphabet was
changed in the manner shown in the preceding figure. Exactly when this
was done has not been recorded, but it was after Vail's association with
Morse, and it is quite possible that they worked over the problem
together, but there is no written proof of this, whereas the accompanying
reproduction of calculations in Morse's handwriting will prove that he
gave himself seriously to its consideration.

The large numbers represent the quantities of type found in the
type-cases of a printing-office; for, after puzzling over the question of
the relative frequency of the occurrence of the different letters in the
written language, a visit to the printing-office easily settled the

This dispute, concerning the paternity of the alphabet, lasting for many
years after the death of both principals, and regrettably creating much
bad feeling, is typical of many which arose in the case of the telegraph,
as well as in that of every other great invention, and it may not be
amiss at this point to introduce the following fugitive note of Morse's,
which, though evidently written many years later, is applicable to this
as well as to other cases:--

"It is quite common to misapprehend the nature and extent of an
improvement without a thorough knowledge of an original invention. A
casual observer is apt to confound the new and the old, and, in noting a
new arrangement, is often led to consider the whole as new. It is,
therefore, necessary to exercise a proper discrimination lest injustice
be done to the various laborers in the same field of invention. I trust
it will not be deemed egotistical on my part if, while conscious of the
unfeigned desire to concede to all who are attempting improvements in the
art of telegraphy that which belongs to them, I should now and then
recognize the familiar features of my own offspring and claim their

Calculation made by Morse to aid him in simplifying alphabet]


OCTOBER 3, 1837--MAY 16, 1838

The Caveat.--Work at Morristown.--Judge Vail.--First success.--Resolution
in Congress regarding telegraphs.--Morse's reply.--Illness.--Heaviness of
first instruments.--Successful exhibition in Morristown.--Exhibition in
New York University.--First use of Morse alphabet.--Change from first
form of alphabet to present form.--Trials of an inventor.--Dr. Jackson.--
Slight friction between Morse and Vail.--Exhibition at Franklin
Institute, Philadelphia.--Exhibitions in Washington.--Skepticism of
public.--F.O.J. Smith,--F.L. Pope's estimate of Smith.--Proposal for
government telegraph.--Smith's report.--Departure for Europe.

I have incidentally mentioned the caveat in the preceding chapter, but a
more detailed account of this important step in bringing the invention
into the light of day should, perhaps, be given. The reports in the
newspapers of the activities of others, especially of scientists in
Europe, led Morse to decide that he must at once take steps legally to
protect himself if he did not wish to be distanced in the race. He
accordingly wrote to the Commissioner of Patents, Henry L. Ellsworth, who
had been a classmate of his at Yale, for information as to the form to be
used in applying for a caveat, and, after receiving a cordial reply
enclosing the required form, he immediately set to work to prepare his
caveat. This was in the early part of September, 1887, before he had met
Vail. The rough draft, which is still among his papers, was completed on
September 28, and the finished copy was sent to Washington on October 3,
and the receipt acknowledged by Commissioner Ellsworth on October 6. The
drawing containing the signs for both numbers and letters was attached to
this caveat. Having now safeguarded himself, he was able to give his
whole mind to the perfecting of the mechanical parts of his invention,
and in this he was ably assisted by his new partner, Alfred Vail, and by
Professor Gale.

The next few months were trying ones to both Morse and Vail. It must not
be supposed that the work went along smoothly without a hitch. Many were
the discouragements, and many experiments were tried and then discarded.
To add to the difficulties, Judge Vail, who, of course, was supplying the
cash, piqued by the sneers of his neighbors and noting the feverish
anxiety of his son and of Morse, lost faith, and would have willingly
abandoned the whole enterprise. The two enthusiasts worked steadily on,
however, avoiding the Judge as much as possible, and finally, on the 6th
of January, 1838, they proudly invited him to come to the workshop and
witness the telegraph in operation.

His hopes renewed by their confident demeanor, he hastened down from his
house. After a few words of explanation he handed a slip of paper to his
son on which he had written the words--"A patient waiter is no loser." He
knew that Morse could not possibly know what he had written, and he said:
"If you can send this and Mr. Morse can read it at the other end, I shall
be convinced."

Slowly the message was ticked off, and when Morse handed him the
duplicate of his message, his enthusiasm knew no bounds, and he proposed
to go at once to Washington and urge upon Congress the establishment of a
government line. But the instrument was not yet in a shape to be seen of
all men, and many years were yet to elapse before the legislators of the
country awoke to their opportunity.

Morse and Vail were, of course, greatly encouraged by this first triumph,
and worked on with increased enthusiasm.

Many years after their early struggles, when the telegraph was an
established success and Morse had been honored both at home and abroad,
he thus spoke of his friend:--

"Alfred Vail, then a student in the university, and a young man of great
ingenuity, having heard of my invention, came to my rooms and I explained
it to him, and from that moment he has taken the deepest interest in the
Telegraph. Finding that I was unable to command the means to bring my
invention properly before the public, and believing that he could command
those means through his father and brother, he expressed the belief to
me, and I at once made such an arrangement with him as to procure the
pecuniary means and the skill of these gentlemen. It is to their joint
liberality, but especially to the attention, and skill, and faith in the
final success of the enterprise maintained by Alfred Vail, that is due
the success of my endeavors to bring the Telegraph at that time
creditably before the public."

The idea of telegraphs seems to have been in the air in the year 1837,
for the House of Representatives had passed a resolution on the 3d of
February, 1887, requesting the Secretary of the Treasury, Hon. Levi
Woodbury, to report to the House upon the propriety of establishing a
system of telegraphs for the United States. The term "telegraph" in those
days included semaphores and other visual appliances, and, in fact,
anything by which intelligence could be transmitted to a distance.

The Secretary issued a circular to "Collectors of Customs, Commanders of
Revenue Cutters, and other Persons," requesting information. Morse
received one of these circulars, and in reply sent a long account of his
invention. But so hard to convince were the good people of that day, and
so skeptical and even flippant were most of the members of Congress that
six long years were to elapse, years filled with struggles,
discouragements, and heart-breaking disappointments, before the victory
was won.

Morse had still to contend with occasional fits of illness, for he writes
to his brother Sidney from Morristown on November 8, 1837:--

"You will perhaps be surprised to learn that I came out here to be sick.
I caught a severe cold the day I left New York from the sudden change of
temperature, and was taken down the next morning with one of my bilious
attacks, which, under other treatment and circumstances, might have
resulted seriously. But, through a kind Providence, I have been thrown
among most attentive, and kind, and skilful friends, who have treated me
more like one of their own children than like a stranger. Mrs. Vail has
been a perfect mother to me; our good Nancy Shepard can alone compare
with her. Through her nursing and constant attention I am now able to
leave my room and have been downstairs to-day, and hope to be out in a
few days. This sickness will, of course, detain me a while longer than I
intended, for I must finish the portraits before I return."

This refers to portraits of various members of the Vail family which he
had undertaken to execute while he was in Morristown. Farther on in the
letter he says:--

"The machinery for the Telegraph goes forward daily; slowly but well and
thorough. You will be surprised at the strength and quantity of
machinery, greater, doubtless, than will eventually be necessary, yet it
gives the main points, certainty and accuracy."

It may be well to note here that Morse evidently foresaw that the
machinery constructed by Alfred Vail was too heavy and cumbersome; that
more delicate workmanship would later be called for, and this proved to
be the case. The iron works at Morristown were only adapted to the
manufacture of heavy machinery for ships, etc., and Alfred Vail had had
experience in that class of work only, so that he naturally made the
telegraphic instruments much heavier and more unwieldy than was
necessary. While these answered the purpose for the time being, they were
soon superseded by instruments of greater delicacy and infinitely smaller
bulk made by more skilful hands.

The future looked bright to the sanguine inventor in the early days of
the year 1838, as we learn from the following letter to his brother
Sidney, written on the 13th of January:--

"Mr. Alfred Vail is just going in to New York and will return on Monday
morning. The machinery is at length completed and we have shown it to the
Morristown people with great _eclat_. It is the talk of all the people
round, and the principal inhabitants of Newark made a special excursion
on Friday to see it. The success is complete. We have tried the
experiment of sending a pretty full letter, which I set up from the
numbers given me, transmitting through two miles of wire and deciphered
with but a single unimportant error.

"I am staying out to perfect a modification of my portrule and hope to
see you on Tuesday, or, at the farthest, on Wednesday, when I shall tell
you all about it. The matter looks well now, and I desire to feel
grateful to Him who gives success, and be always prepared for any
disappointment which He in infinite wisdom may have in store."

We see from this letter, and from an account which appeared in the
Morristown "Journal," that in these exhibitions the messages were sent by
numbers with the aid of the cumbersome dictionary which Morse had been at
such pains to compile. Very soon after this, however, as will appear from
what follows, the dictionary was discarded forever, and the Morse
alphabet came into practical use.

The following invitation was sent from the New York University on January
22, 1838:--

"Professor Morse requests the honor of Thomas S. Cummings, Esq., and
family's company in the Geological Cabinet of the University, Washington
Square, to witness the operation of the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph at a
private exhibition of it to a few friends, previous to its leaving the
city for Washington.

"The apparatus will be prepared at precisely twelve o'clock on Wednesday,
24th instant. The time being limited punctuality is specially requested."

Similar invitations were sent to other prominent persons and a very
select company gathered at the appointed hour. That the exhibition was a
success we learn from the following account in the "Journal of Commerce"
of January 29, 1838:--

"THE TELEGRAPH.--We did not witness the operation of Professor Morse's
Electro-Magnetic Telegraph on Wednesday last, but we learn that the
numerous company of scientific persons who were present pronounced it
entirely successful. Intelligence was instantaneously transmitted through
a circuit of TEN MILES, and legibly written on a cylinder at the
extremity of the circuit. The great advantages which must result to the
public from this invention will warrant an outlay on the part of the
Government sufficient to test its practicability as a general means of
transmitting intelligence.

"Professor Morse has recently improved on his mode of marking by which he
can dispense altogether with the telegraphic dictionary, using letters
instead of numbers, and he can transmit ten words per minute, which is
more than double the number which can be transmitted by means of the

A charming and rather dramatic incident occurred at this exhibition which
was never forgotten by those who witnessed it. General Cummings had just
been appointed to a military command, and one of his friends, with this
fact evidently in mind, wrote a message on a piece of paper and, without
showing it to any one else, handed it to Morse. The assembled company was
silent and only the monotonous clicking of the strange instrument was
heard as the message was ticked off in the dots and dashes, and then from
the other end of the ten miles of wire was read out this sentence
pregnant with meaning:--

"Attention, the Universe, by kingdoms right wheel." The name of the man
who indited that message seems not to have been preserved, but, whoever
he was, he must have been gifted with prophetic vision, and he must have
realized that he was assisting at an occasion which was destined to mark
the beginning of a new era in civilization. The attention of the universe
was, indeed, before long attracted to this child of Morse's brain, and
kingdom after kingdom wheeled into line, vying with each other in
admiration and acceptance.

The message was recorded fourfold by means of a newly invented fountain
pen, and was given to General Cummings and preserved by him. It is here

Facsimile of the First Morse Alphabet Message, now In the National
Museum, Washington]

It will be noticed that the signs for the letters are those, not of the
first form of the alphabet as embodied in the drawing attached to the
caveat, but of the finally adopted code. This has led some historians,
notably Mr. Franklin Leonard Pope, to infer that some mistake has been
made in giving out this as a facsimile of this early message; that the
letters should have been those of the earlier alphabet. I think, however,
that this is but an added proof that Morse devised the first form of the
code long before he met Vail, and that the changes to the final form, a
description of which I have given, were made by Morse in 1837, or early
in 1838, as soon as he became convinced of the superiority of the
alphabetic mode, in plenty of time to have been used in this exhibition.

The month of January, 1838, was a busy one at Morristown, for Morse and
Vail were bending all their energies toward the perfecting and completion
of the instruments, so that a demonstration of the telegraph could be
given in Washington at as early a date as possible. Morse refers
feelingly to the trials and anxieties of an inventor in a letter to a
friend, dated January 22, 1838:--

"I have just returned from nearly six weeks' absence at Morristown, New
Jersey, where I have been engaged in the superintendence of the making of
my Telegraph for Washington.

"Be thankful, C----, that you are not an inventor. Invention may seem an
easy way to _fame_, or, what is the same thing to many, _notoriety_,
different as are in reality the two objects. But it is far otherwise. I,
indeed, desire the first, for true fame implies well-deserving, but I
have no wish for the latter, which yet seems inseparable from it.

"The condition of an inventor is, indeed, not enviable. I know of but one
condition that renders it in any degree tolerable, and that is the
reflection that his fellow-men may be benefited by his discoveries. In
the outset, if he has really made a _discovery_, which very word implies
that it was before unknown to the world, he encounters the incredulity,
the opposition, and even the sneers of many, who look upon him with a
kind of pity, as a little beside himself if not quite mad. And, while
maturing his invention, he has the comfort of reflection, in all the
various discouragements he meets with from petty failures, that, should
he by any means fail in the grand result, he subjects himself rather to
the ridicule than the sympathy of his acquaintances, who will not be slow
in attributing his failure to a want of that common sense in which, by
implication, they so much abound, and which preserves them from the
consequences of any such delusions.

"But you will, perhaps, think that there is an offset in the honors and
emoluments that await the successful inventor, one who has really
demonstrated that he has made an important discovery. This is not so.
Trials of another kind are ready for him after the appropriate
difficulties of his task are over. Many stand ready to snatch the prize,
or at least to claim a share, so soon as the success of an invention
seems certain, and honor and profit alone remain to be obtained.

"This long prelude, C----, brings me at the same time to the point of my
argument and to my excuse for my long silence. My argument goes to prove
that, unless there is a benevolent consideration in our discoveries, one
which enables us to rejoice that others are benefited even though we
should suffer loss, our happiness from any honor awarded to a successful
invention is exposed to constant danger from the designs of the
unprincipled. My excuse is that, ever since the receipt of your most
welcome letter, I have been engaged in preparing to repel a threatened
invasion of my rights to the invention of the Telegraph by a
fellow-passenger from France, one from whom I least expected any such
insidious design. The attempt startled me and put me on my guard, and set
me to the preparation for any attack. I have been compelled for some
weeks to use my pen only for this purpose, and have written much in the
hope of preventing the public exposure of my antagonist; but I fear my
labor will be vain on this point, from what I hear and the tone in which
he writes. I have no fear for myself, being now amply prepared with
evidence to repel any attempt which may be made to sustain any claim he
may prefer to a share with me in the invention of the Telegraph."

I have already shown that this claim of Dr. Jackson's was proved to be
but the hallucination of a disordered brain, and it will not be necessary
to go into the details of the controversy.

These were anxious and nerve-racking days for both Morse and Vail, and it
is small wonder that there should have been some slight friction. Vail in
his private correspondence makes some mention of this. For instance, in a
letter to his brother George, of January 22, 1838, he says:--

"We received the machine on Thursday morning, and in an hour we made the
first trial, which did not succeed, nor did it with perfect success until
Saturday--all which time Professor M. was rather _unwell_. To-morrow we
shall make our first exhibition, and continue it until Wednesday, when we
must again box up. Professor M. has received a letter from Mr. Patterson
inviting us to exhibit at Philadelphia, and has answered it, but has said
nothing to me about his intentions. He is altogether inclined to operate
in his own name, so much so that he has had printed five hundred blank
invitations in his own name at your expense."

On the other hand, this same George Vail, writing to Morse on January 26,
1838, asks him to "bear with A., which I have no doubt you will. He is
easily vexed. Trusting to your universal coolness, however, there is
nothing to fear. Keep him from running ahead too fast."

Again writing to his brother George from Washington, on February 20,
1838, Alfred says: "In regard to Professor M. calling me his
'_assistant_,' this is also settled, and he has said as much as to
apologize for using the term."

Why Vail should have objected to being called Morse's assistant, I cannot
quite understand, for he was so designated in the contract later made
with the Government; but Morse was evidently willing to humor him in

I have thought it best to refer to these little incidents partly in the
interest of absolute candor, partly to emphasize the nervous tension
under which both were working at that time. That there was no lasting
resentment in the mind of Vail is amply proved by the following extract
from a long letter written by him on March 19, 1838:--

"The great expectations I had on my return home of going into partnership
with George, founded, or semi-founded, on the promises made by my father,
have burst. I am again on vague promises for three months, and they
resting upon the success of the printing machine.

"I feel, Professor Morse, that, if I am ever worth anything, it will be
wholly attributable to your kindness. I now should have no _earthly_
prospect of happiness and domestic bliss had it not been for what you
have done. For which I shall ever remember [you] with the liveliest
emotions of gratitude, whether it is eventually successful or not."

Aside from the slight friction to which I have referred, and which was
most excusable under the circumstances, the joint work on the telegraph
proceeded harmoniously. The invitation from Mr. Patterson, to exhibit the
instrument before the Committee of Science and Arts of the Franklin
Institute of Philadelphia, was accepted. The exhibition took place on
February 8, and was a pronounced success, and the committee, in
expressing their gratification, voiced the hope that the Government would
provide the funds for an experiment on an adequate scale.

From Philadelphia Morse proceeded to Washington accompanied by Vail,
confidently believing that it would only be necessary to demonstrate the
practicability of his invention to the country's legislators assembled in
Congress, in order to obtain a generous appropriation to enable him
properly to test it. But he had not taken into account that trait of
human nature which I shall dignify by calling it "conservatism," in order
not to give it a harder name.

The room of the Committee on Commerce was placed at his disposal, and
there he hopefully strung his ten miles of wire and connected them with
his instruments. Outwardly calm but inwardly nervous and excited, as he
realized that he was facing a supreme moment in his career, he patiently
explained to all who came, Congressmen, men of science, representatives
of foreign governments, and hard-headed men of business, the workings of
the instrument and proved its feasibility. The majority saw and wondered,
but went away unconvinced. On February 21, President Martin Van Buren and
his entire Cabinet, at their own special request, visited the room and
saw the telegraph in operation. But no action was taken by Congress; the
time was not yet ripe for the general acceptance of such a revolutionary
departure from the slow-going methods of that early period. While
individuals here and there grasped the full significance of what the
mysterious ticking of that curious instrument foretold, they were vastly
in the minority. The world, through its representatives in the capital
city of the United States, remained incredulous.

Among those who at once recognized the possibilities of the invention was
Francis O.J. Smith, member of Congress from Portland, Maine, and chairman
of the Committee on Commerce. He was a lawyer of much shrewdness and a
man of great energy, and he very soon offered to become pecuniarily
interested in the invention. Morse was, unfortunately, not a keen judge
of men. Scrupulously honest and honorable himself, he had an almost
childlike faith in the integrity of others, and all through his life he
fell an easy victim to the schemes of self-seekers. In this case a man of
more acute intuition would have hesitated, and would have made some
enquiries before allying himself with one whose ideas of honor proved
eventually to be so at variance with his own. Smith did so much in later
years to injure Morse, and to besmirch his fame and good name, that I
think it only just to give the following estimate of his character, made
by the late Franklin Leonard Pope in an article contributed to the
"Electrical World" in 1895:--

"A sense of justice compels me to say that the uncorroborated statements
of F.O.J. Smith, in any matter affecting the credit or honor due to
Professor Morse, should be allowed but little weight.... For no better
reason than that Morse in 1843-1844 courteously but firmly refused to be
a party to a questionable scheme devised by Smith for the irregular
diversion into his own pocket of a portion of the governmental
appropriation of $30,000 for the construction of the experimental line,
he ever after cherished toward the inventor the bitterest animosity; a
feeling which he took no pains to conceal. Many of his letters to him at
that time, and for many years afterward, were couched in studiously
insulting language, which must have been in the highest degree irritating
to a sensitive artistic temperament like that of Morse.

"It probably by no means tended to mollify the disposition of such a man
as Smith to find that Morse, in reply to these covert sneers and open
insinuations, never once lost his self-control, nor permitted himself to
depart from the dignified tone of rejoinder which becomes a gentleman in
his dealings with one who, in his inmost nature, was essentially a

However, it is an old saying that we must "give the devil his due," and
the cloven foot did not appear at first. On the other hand, a man of
business acumen and legal knowledge was greatly needed at this stage of
the enterprise, and Smith possessed them both. Morse was so grateful to
find any one with faith enough to be willing to invest money in the
invention; and to devote his time and energy to its furtherance, that he
at once accepted Smith's offer, and he was made a partner and given a
one-fourth interest, Morse retaining nine sixteenths, Vail two
sixteenths, and Professor Gale, also admitted as a partner, being
allotted one sixteenth. It was characteristic of Morse that he insisted,
before signing the contract, that Smith should obtain leave of absence
from Congress for the remainder of the term, and should not stand for
reelection. It was agreed that Smith should accompany Morse to Europe as
soon as possible and endeavor to secure patents in foreign countries,
and, if successful, the profits were to be divided differently, Morse
receiving eight sixteenths, Smith five, Vail two, and Gale one.

In spite of the incredulity of the many, Morse could not help feeling
encouraged, and in a long letter to Smith, written on February 15, 1838,
proposing an experiment of one hundred miles, he thus forecasts the
future and proposes an intelligent plan of government control:--

"If no insurmountable obstacles present themselves in a distance of one
hundred miles, none may be expected in one thousand or in ten thousand
miles; and then will be presented for the consideration of the Government
the propriety of completely organizing this _new telegraphic system as a
part of the Government_, attaching it to some department already
existing, or creating a new one which may be called for by the
accumulating duties of the present departments.

"It is obvious, at the slightest glance, that this mode of instantaneous
communication must inevitably become an instrument of immense power, to
be wielded for good or for evil, as it shall be properly or improperly
directed. In the hands of a company of speculators, who should monopolize
it for themselves, it might be the means of enriching the corporation at
the expense of the bankruptcy of thousands; and even in the hands of
Government alone it might become the means of working vast mischief to
the Republic.

"In considering these prospective evils, I would respectfully suggest a
remedy which offers itself to my mind. Let the sole right of using the
Telegraph belong, in the first place, to the Government, who should
grant, for a specified sum or bonus, to any individual or company of
individuals who may apply for it, and under such restrictions and
regulations as the Government may think proper, the right to lay down a
communication between any two points for the purpose of transmitting
intelligence, and thus would be promoted a general competition. The
Government would have a Telegraph of its own, and have its modes of
communicating with its own officers and agents, independent of private
permission or interference with and interruption to the ordinary
transmissions on the private telegraphs. Thus there would be a system of
checks and preventives of abuse operating to restrain the action of this
otherwise dangerous power within those bounds which will permit only the
good and neutralize the evil. Should the Government thus take the
Telegraph solely under its own control, the revenue derived from the
bonuses alone, it must be plain, will be of vast amount.

"From the enterprising character of our countrymen, shown in the manner
in which they carry forward any new project which promises private or
public advantage, it is not visionary to suppose that it would not be
long ere the whole surface of this country would be channelled for those
_nerves_ which are to diffuse, with the speed of thought, a knowledge of
all that is occurring throughout the land, making, in fact, one
neighborhood of the whole country.

"If the Government is disposed to test this mode of telegraphic
communication by enabling me to give it a fair trial for one hundred
miles, I will engage to enter into no arrangement to dispose of my
rights, as the inventor and patentee for the United States, to any
individual or company of individuals, previous to offering it to the
Government for such a just and reasonable compensation as shall be
mutually agreed upon."

We have seen that Morse was said to be a hundred years ahead of his time
as an artist. From the sentences above quoted it would appear that he was
far in advance of his contemporaries in some questions of national
policy, for the plan outlined by him for the proper governmental control
of a great public utility, like the telegraph, it seems to me, should
appeal to those who, at the present time, are agitating for that very
thing. Had the legislators and the people of 1838 been as wise and
clear-headed as the poor artist-inventor, a great leap forward in
enlightened statecraft would have been undertaken at a cost inconceivably
less than would now be the case. Competent authorities estimate that to
purchase the present telegraph lines in this country at their market
valuation would cost the Government in the neighborhood of $500,000,000;
to parallel them would cost some $25,000,000. The enormous difference in
these two sums represents what was foretold by Morse would happen if the
telegraph should become a monopoly in the hands of speculators. The
history of the telegraph monopoly is too well known to be more than
alluded to here, but it is only fair to Morse to state that he had sold
all his telegraph stock, and had retired from active participation in the
management of the different companies, long before the system of
stock-watering began which has been carried on to the present day.

And for what sum could the Government have kept this great invention
under its own control? It is on record that Morse offered, in 1844, after
the experimental line between Washington and Baltimore had demonstrated
that the telegraph was a success, to sell all the rights in his invention
to the Government for $100,000, and would have considered himself amply

But the legislators and the people of 1838, and even those of 1844, were
not wise and far-sighted; they failed utterly to realize what a
magnificent opportunity had been offered to them for a mere song; and
this in spite of the fact that the few who did glimpse the great future
of the telegraph painted it in glowing terms.

It is true that the House of Representatives had passed the resolution
referred to earlier in this chapter, but that is as far as they went for
several years. On the 6th of April, 1838, Mr. F.O.J. Smith made a long
report on the petition of Morse asking for an appropriation sufficient to
enable him to test his invention adequately. In the course of this report
Mr. Smith indulged in the following eulogistic words:--

"It is obvious, however, that the influence of this invention over the
political, commercial, and social relations of the people of this widely
extended country, looking to nothing beyond, will, in the event of
success, of itself amount to a revolution unsurpassed in moral grandeur
by any discovery that has been made in the arts and sciences, from the
most distant period to which authentic history extends to the present
day. With the means of almost instantaneous communication of intelligence
between the most distant points of the country, and simultaneously
between any given number of intermediate points which this invention
contemplates, space will be, to all practical purposes of information,
completely annihilated between the States of the Union, as also between
the individual citizens thereof. The citizen will be invested with, and
reduce to daily and familiar use, an approach to the HIGH ATTRIBUTE OP
UBIQUITY in a degree that the human mind, until recently, has hardly
dared to contemplate seriously as belonging to human agency, from an
instinctive feeling of religious reverence and reserve on a power of such
awful grandeur."

In the face of these enthusiastic, if somewhat stilted, periods the
majority of his colleagues remained cold, and no appropriation was voted.
Morse, however, was prepared to meet with discouragements, for he wrote
to Vail on March 15:--

"Everything looks encouraging, but I need not say to you that in this
world a continued course of prosperity is not a rational expectation. We
shall, doubtless, find troubles and difficulties in store for us, and it
is the part of true wisdom to be prepared for whatever may await us. If
our hearts are right we shall not be taken by surprise. I see nothing now
but an unclouded prospect, for which let us pay to Him who shows it to us
the homage of grateful and obedient hearts, with most earnest prayers for
grace to use prosperity aright."

This was written while there was still hope that Congress might take some
action at that session, and Morse was optimistic. On March 31, he thus
reports progress to Vail:--

"I write you a hasty line to say, in the first place, that I have
overcome all difficulties in regard to a portrule, and have invented one
which will be perfect. It is very simple, and will not take much time or
expense to make it. Mr. S. has incorporated it into the specification for
the patent. Please, therefore, not to proceed with the type or portrule
as now constructed: I will see you on my return and explain it in season
for you to get one ready for us.

"I find it a most arduous and tedious process to adjust the
specification. I have been engaged steadily for three days with Mr. S.,
and have not yet got half through, but there is one consolation, when
done it will be well done. The drawings, I find on enquiry, would cost
you from forty to fifty dollars if procured from the draughtsman about
the Patent Office. I have, therefore, determined to do them myself and
save you that sum."

The portrule, referred to above, was a device for sending automatically
messages which were recorded permanently on the tape at the other end of
the line. It worked well enough, but it was soon superseded by the key
manipulated by hand, as this was much simpler and the dots and dashes
could be sent more rapidly. It is curious to note, however, that down to
the present day inventors have been busy in an effort to devise some
mechanism by which messages could be sent automatically, and consequently
more rapidly than by hand, which was Morse's original idea, but, to the
best of my knowledge, no satisfactory solution of the problem has yet
been found.

Morse was now preparing to go to Europe with Smith to endeavor to secure
patents abroad, and, while he had put in his application for a patent in
this country, he requested that the issuing of it should be held back
until his return, so that a publication on this side should not injure
his chances abroad.

All the partners were working under high pressure along their several
lines to get everything in readiness for a successful exhibition of the
telegraph in Europe. Vail sent a long letter to Morse on April 18,
detailing some of the difficulties which he was encountering, and Morse
answered on the 24th:--

"I write in greatest haste, just to say that the boxes have safely
arrived, and we shall proceed immediately to examine into the
difficulties which have troubled you, but about which we apprehend no
serious issue....

"If you can possibly get the circular portrule completed before we go it
will be a great convenience, not to say an indispensable matter, for I
have just learned so much of Wheatstone's Telegraph as to be pretty well
persuaded that my superiority over him will be made evident more by the
rapidity with which I can make the portrule work than in almost any other

At last every detail had been attended to, and in a postscript to a
letter of April 28 he says: "We sail on the 16th of May for Liverpool in
the ship Europe, so I think you will have time to complete circular
portrule. Try, won't you?"


JUNE, 1838--JANUARY 21, 1839

Arrival in England.--Application for letters patent.--Cooke and
Wheatstone's telegraph.--Patent refused.--Departure for Paris.--Patent
secured in France.--Earl of Elgin.--Earl of Lincoln.--Baron de
Meyendorff.--Russian contract.--Return to London.--Exhibition at the Earl
of Lincoln's.--Letter from secretary of Lord Campbell, Attorney-General.
--Coronation of Queen Victoria.--Letters to daughter.--Birth of the Count
of Paris.--Exhibition before the Institute of France.--Arago; Baron
Humboldt.--Negotiations with the Government and Saint-Germain Railway.--
Reminiscences of Dr. Kirk.--Letter of the Honorable H.L. Ellsworth.--
Letter to F.O.J. Smith.--Dilatoriness of the French.

It seems almost incredible to us, who have come to look upon marvel after
marvel of science and invention as a matter of course, that it should
have taken so many years to convince the world that the telegraph was a
possibility and not an iridescent dream. While men of science and a few
far-sighted laymen saw that the time was ripe for this much-needed
advance in the means of conveying intelligence, governments and
capitalists had held shyly aloof, and, even now, weighed carefully the
advantages of different systems before deciding which, if any, was the
best. For there were at this time several different systems in the field,
and Morse soon found that he would have to compete with the trained
scientists of the Old World, backed, at last, by their respective
governments, in his effort to prove that his invention was the simplest
and the best of them all. That he should have persisted in spite of
discouragement after discouragement, struggling to overcome obstacles
which to the faint-hearted would have seemed insuperable, constitutes one
of his greatest claims to undying fame. He left on record an account of
his experiences in Europe on this voyage, memorable in more ways than
one, and extracts from this, and from letters written to his daughter and
brothers, will best tell the story:--

"On May 16, 1838, I left the United States and arrived in London in June,
for the purpose of obtaining letters patent for my Electro-Magnetic
Telegraph System. I learned before I left the United States that
Professor Wheatstone and Mr. Cooke, of London, had obtained letters
patent in England for a '_Magnetic-Needle Telegraph_,' based, as the name
implies, on the _deflection of the magnetic needle_. Their telegraph, at
that time, required _six conductors_ between the two points of
intercommunication _for a single instrument_ at each of the two termini.
Their mode of indicating signs for communicating intelligence was by
deflecting _five magnetic needles_ in various directions, in such a way
as to point to the required letters upon a diamond-shaped dial-plate. It
was necessary that the signal should be _observed at the instant_, or it
was lost and vanished forever.

"I applied for letters patent for my system of communicating intelligence
at a distance by electricity, differing in all respects from Messrs.
Wheatstone and Cooke's system, invented five years before theirs, and
having nothing in common in the whole system but the use of _electricity_
on _metallic conductors_, for which use no one could obtain an exclusive
privilege, since this much had been used for nearly one hundred years. My
system is peculiar in the employment of _electro-magnetism_, or the
_motive_ power of electricity, _to imprint permanent signs at a

"I made no use of the deflections of the magnetic needle as _signs_. I
required but _one conductor_ between the two termini, or any number of
intermediate points of intercommunication. I used _paper moved by
clockwork_ upon which I caused a _lever_ moved by _magnetism_ to _imprint
the letters_ and _words_ of any required dispatch, having also invented
and adapted to telegraph writing a _new and peculiar alphabetic
character_ for that purpose, a _conventional alphabet_, easily acquired
and easily made and used by the operator. It is obvious at once, from a
simple statement of these facts, that the system of Messrs. Wheatstone
and Cooke and my system were wholly unlike each other. As I have just
observed, there was _nothing in common in the two systems_ but the use of
electricity upon metallic conductors, for which no one could obtain an
exclusive privilege.

"The various steps required by the English law were taken by me to
procure a patent for my mode, and the fees were paid at the Clerk's
office, June 22, and at the Home Department, June 25, 1838; also, June
26, caveats were entered at the Attorney and Solicitor-General's, and I
had reached that part of the process which required the sanction of the
Attorney-General. At this point I met the opposition of Messrs.
Wheatstone and Cooke, and also of Mr. Davy, and a hearing was ordered
before the Attorney-General, Sir John Campbell, on July 12, 1838. I
attended at the Attorney-General's residence on the morning of that day,
carrying with me my telegraphic apparatus for the purpose of explaining
to him the total dissimilarity between my system and those of my
opponents. But, contrary to my expectation, the similarity or
dissimilarity of my mode from that of my opponents was not considered by
the Attorney-General. He neither examined my instrument, which I had
brought for that purpose, nor did he ask any questions bearing upon its
resemblance to my opponents' system. I was met by the single declaration
that my '_invention had been published_,' and in proof a copy of the
London 'Mechanics' Magazine,' No. 757, for February 10, 1838, was
produced, and I was told that 'in consequence of said publication I could
not proceed.'

"At this summary decision I was certainly surprised, being conscious that
there had been no such publication of my method as the law required to
invalidate a patent; and, even if there had been, I ventured to hint to
the Attorney-General that, if I was rightly informed in regard to the
British law, it was the province of a court and jury, and not of the
Attorney-General, to try, and to decide that point."

The publication to which the Attorney-General referred had merely stated
results, with no description whatever of the means by which these results
were to be obtained and it was manifestly unfair to Morse on the part of
this official to have refused his sanction; but he remained obdurate.
Morse then wrote him a long letter, after consultation with Mr. Smith,
setting forth all these points and begging for another interview.

"In consequence of my request in this letter I was allowed a second
hearing. I attended accordingly, but, to my chagrin, the Attorney-General
remarked that he had not had time to examine the letter. He carelessly
took it up and turned over the leaves without reading it, and then asked
me if I had not taken measures for a patent in my own country. And, upon
my reply in the affirmative, he remarked that: 'America was a large
country and I ought to be satisfied with a patent there.' I replied that,
with all due deference, I did not consider that as a point submitted for
the Attorney-General's decision; that the question submitted was whether
there was any legal obstacle in the way of my obtaining letters patent
for my Telegraph in England. He observed that he considered my invention
as having been _published_, and that he must _therefore_ forbid me to

"Thus forbidden to proceed by an authority from which there was no
appeal, as I afterward learned, but to Parliament, and this at great cost
of time and money, I immediately left England for France, where I found
no difficulty in securing a patent. My invention there not only attracted
the regards of the distinguished savants of Paris, but, in a marked
degree, the admiration of many of the English nobility and gentry at that
time in the French capital. To several of these, while explaining the
operation of my telegraphic system, I related the history of my treatment
by the English Attorney-General. The celebrated Earl of Elgin took a deep
interest in the matter and was intent on my obtaining a special Act of
Parliament to secure to me my just rights as the inventor of the
Electro-Magnetic Telegraph. He repeatedly visited me, bringing with him
many of his distinguished friends, and on one occasion the noble Earl of
Lincoln, since one of Her Majesty's Privy Council. The Honorable Henry
Drummond also interested himself for me, and through his kindness and
Lord Elgin's I received letters of introduction to Lord Brougham and to
the Marquis of Northampton, the President of the Royal Society, and
several other distinguished persons in England. The Earl of Lincoln
showed me special kindness. In taking leave of me in Paris he gave me his
card, and, requesting me to bring my telegraphic instruments with me to
London, pressed me to give him the earliest notice of my arrival in

"I must here say that for weeks in Paris I had been engaged in
negotiation with the Russian Counselor of State, the Baron Alexander de
Meyendorff, arranging measures for putting the telegraph in operation in
Russia. The terms of a contract had been mutually agreed upon, and all
was concluded but the signature of the Emperor to legalize it. In order
to take advantage of the ensuing summer season for my operations in
Russia, I determined to proceed immediately to the United States to make
some necessary preparations for the enterprise, without waiting for the
formal completion of the contract papers, being led to believe that the
signature of the Emperor was sure, a matter of mere form.

"Under these circumstances I left Paris on the 13th of March, 1839, and
arrived in London on the 15th of the same month. The next day I sent my
card to the Earl of Lincoln and my letter and card to the Marquis of
Northampton, and in two or three days received a visit from both. By Earl
Lincoln I was at once invited to send my Telegraph to his house in Park
Lane, and on the 19th of March I exhibited its operation to members of
both Houses of Parliament, of the Royal Society, and the Lords of the
Admiralty, invited to meet me by the Earl of Lincoln. From the
circumstances mentioned my time in London was necessarily short, my
passage having been secured in the Great Western to sail on the 23d of
March. Although solicited to remain a while in London, both by the Earl
of Lincoln and the Honorable Henry Drummond, with a view to obtaining a
special Act of Parliament for a patent, I was compelled by the
circumstances of the case to defer till some more favorable opportunity,
on my expected return to England, any attempt of the kind. The Emperor of
Russia, however, refused to ratify the contract made with me by the
Counselor of State, and my design of returning to Europe was frustrated,
and I have not to this hour [April 2, 1847] had the means to prosecute
this enterprise to a result in England. All my exertions were needed to
establish my telegraphic system in my own country.

"Time has shown conclusively the essential difference of my telegraphic
system from those of my opponents; time has also shown that my system
_was not published_ in England, as alleged by the Attorney-General, for,
to this day, no work in England has published anything that does not show
that, as yet, it is perfectly misunderstood....

"The refusal to grant me a patent was, at that period, very disastrous.
It was especially discouraging to have made a long voyage across the
Atlantic in vain, incurring great expenditure and loss of time, which in
their consequences also produced years of delay in the prosecution of my
enterprise in the United States."

The long statement, from which I have taken the above extracts, was
written, as I have noted, on April 2, 1847, but the following interesting
addition was made to it on December 11, 1848:--

"At the time of preparing this statement I lacked one item of evidence,
which it was desirable to have aside from my own assertion, viz.,
evidence that the refusal of the Attorney-General was on the ground
'_that a publication of the invention had been made_.' I deemed it
advisable rather to suffer from the delay and endure the taunts, which my
unscrupulous opponents have not been slow to lavish upon me in
consequence, if I could but obtain this evidence in proper shape. I
accordingly wrote to my brother, then in London, to procure, if possible,
from Lord Campbell or his secretary an acknowledgment of the ground on
which he refused my application for a patent in 1838, since no public
report or record in such cases is made.

"My brother, in connection with Mr. Carpmael, one of the most
distinguished patent agents in England, addressed a note to Mr. H.
Cooper, the Attorney-General's secretary at the time, and the only
official person besides Lord Campbell connected with the matter. The
following is Mr. Cooper's reply:--

"'WILMINGTON SQUARE, May 23d, 1848.

"'GENTLEMEN,--In answer to yours of the 20th inst., I beg to state that I
have a distinct recollection of Professor Morse's application for a
patent, strengthened by the fact of his not having paid the fees for the
hearing, etc., and these being now owing. I understood at the time that
the patent was stopped on the ground that a publication of the invention
had been made, but I cannot procure Lord Campbell's certificate of that

"'I am, gentlemen
"'Your obedient servant

"I thus have obtained the evidence I desired in the most authentic form,
but accompanied with as gross an insult as could well be conceived. On
the receipt of this letter I immediately wrote to F.O.J. Smith, Esq., at
Portland, who accompanied me to England, and at whose sole expense,
according to agreement, all proceedings in taking out patents in Europe
were to be borne, to know if this charge of the Attorney-General's
secretary could possibly be true; not knowing but through some
inadvertence on his (Mr. Smith's) part, this bill might have been

"Mr. Smith writes me in answer, sending me a copy _verbatim_ of the
following receipt, which he holds and which speaks for itself:--

"'Mr. Morse to the Attorney-General, Dr.
L s. d.
Hearing on a patent . . . . 3 10 0
Giving notice on the same . 1 1 0
4 11 0
Settled the 13th of August, 1838.
"'(Signed) H. COOPER.'

"This receipt is signed, as will be perceived, by the same individual, H.
Cooper, who, nearly ten years after his acknowledgment of the money, has
the impudence to charge me with leaving my fees unpaid. I now leave the
public to make their own comments both on the character of the whole
transaction in England, and on the character and motives of those in this
country who have espoused Lord Campbell's course, making it an occasion
to charge me with having _invented nothing_.


I have, in these extracts from an account of his European experiences,
written by Morse at a later date, given but a brief summary of certain
events; it will now be necessary to record more in detail some of the
happenings on that memorable trip.

Attention has been called before to the fact that it was Morse's good
fortune to have been an eye-witness of many events of historic interest.
Still another was now to be added to the list, for, while he was in
London striving unsuccessfully to secure a patent for his invention, he
was privileged to witness the coronation of Queen Victoria; our Minister,
the Honorable Andrew Stevenson, having procured for him a ticket of
admission to Westminster Abbey.

Writing to his daughter Susan on June 19, 1838, before he had met with
his rebuff from the Attorney-General, he comments briefly on the
festivities incident to the occasion:--

"London is filling fast with crowds of all characters, from ambassadors
and princes to pickpockets and beggars, all brought together by the
coronation of the queen, which takes place in a few days (the 28th of
June). Everything in London now is colored by the coming pageant. In the
shop windows are the robes of the nobility, the crimson and ermine
dresses, coronets, etc. Preparations for illuminations are making all
over the city.

"I have scarcely entered upon the business of the Telegraph, but have
examined (tell Dr. Gale) the specification of Wheatstone at the Patent
Office, and except the alarum part, he has nothing which interferes with
mine. His invention is ingenious and beautiful, but very complicated, and
he must use twelve wires where I use but four. I have also seen a
telegraph exhibiting at Exeter Hall invented by Davy, something like
Wheatstone's but still complicated. I find mine is yet the simplest and
hope to accomplish something, but always keep myself prepared for

At a later date he recounted the following pretty incident, showing the
kindly character of the young queen, which may not be generally known:--

"I was in London in 1838, and was present with my excellent friend, the
late Charles R. Leslie, R.A., at the imposing ceremonies of the
coronation of the queen in Westminster Abbey. He then related to me the
following incident which, I think, may truly be said to have been the
first act of Her Majesty's reign.

"When her predecessor, William IV, died, a messenger was immediately
dispatched by his queen (then become by his death queen dowager) to
Victoria, apprising her of the event. She immediately called for paper
and indited a letter of condolence to the widow. Folding it, she directed
it 'To the Queen of England.' Her maid of honor in attendance, noting the
inscription, said: 'Your Majesty, you are Queen of England.' 'Yes,' she
replied, 'but the widowed queen is not to be reminded of that fact first
by me.'"

Writing to his daughter from Havre, on July 26, 1838, while on his way to
Paris, after telling her of the unjust decision of the Attorney-General,
he adds:--

"Professor Wheatstone and Mr. Davy were my opponents. They have each very
ingenious inventions of their own, particularly the former, who is a man
of genius and one with whom I was personally much pleased. He has
invented his, I believe, without knowing that I was engaged in an
invention to produce a similar result; for, although he dates back into
1832, yet, as no publication of our thoughts was made by either, we are
evidently independent of each other. My time has not been lost, however,
for I have ascertained with certainty that the _Telegraph of a single
circuit_ and a _recording apparatus_ is mine....

"I found also that both Mr. Wheatstone and Mr. Davy were endeavoring to
simplify theirs by adding a recording apparatus and reducing theirs to a
single circuit. The latter showed to the Attorney-General a drawing,
which I obtained sight of, of a method by which he proposed a bungling
imitation of my first characters, those that were printed in our
journals, and one, however plausible on paper, and sufficiently so to
deceive the Attorney-General, was perfectly impracticable. Partiality,
from national or other motives, aside from the justice of the case, I am
persuaded, influenced the decision against me.

"We are now on our way to Paris to try what we can do with the French
Government. I confess I am not sanguine as to any favorable pecuniary
result in Europe, but we shall try, and, at any rate, we have seen enough
to know that the matter is viewed with great interest here, and the plan
of such telegraphs will be adopted, and, of course, the United States is
secured to us, and I do hope something from that.

"Be economical, my dear child, and keep your wants within bounds, for I
am preparing myself for an unsuccessful result here, yet every proper
effort will be made. I am in excellent health and spirits and leave
to-morrow morning for Paris."

"_Paris, August 29, 1838._ I have obtained a patent here and it is
exciting some attention. The prospects of future benefit from the
invention are good, but I shall not probably realize much, or even
anything, immediately.

"I saw by the papers, before I got your letter, that Congress had not
passed the appropriation bill for the Telegraph. On some accounts I
regret it, but it is only delayed, and it will probably be passed early
in the winter."

Little did he think, in his cheerful optimism, that nearly five long
years must elapse before Congress should awaken to its great opportunity.

"You will be glad to learn, my dear daughter, that your father's health
was never so good, and probably before this reaches you he will be on the
ocean on his return. I think of leaving Paris in a very few days. I am
only waiting to show the Telegraph to the King, from whom I expect a
message hourly. The birth of a prince occupies the whole attention just
how of the royal family and the court. He was born on the 24th inst., the
son of the Duke and Duchess of Orleans. My rooms are as delightfully
situated, perhaps, as any in Paris; they are close to the palace of the
Tuileries and overlook the gardens, and are within half a stone's throw
of the rooms of the Duke and Duchess of Orleans. From my balcony I look
directly into their rooms. I saw the company that was there assembled on
the birthday of the little prince, and saw him in his nurse's arms at the
window the next day after his birth. He looked very much like any other
baby, and not half so handsome as little Hugh Peters.

"I received from the Minister of War, General Bernard, who has been very
polite to me, a ticket to be present at the _Te Deum_ performed yesterday
in the great cathedral of Paris, Notre Dame, on account of the birth of
the prince. The king and all the royal family and the court, with all the
officers of state, were present. The cathedral was crowded with all the
fashion of Paris. Along the ways and around the church were soldiers
without number, almost; a proof that some danger was apprehended to the
king, and yet he ought to be popular for he is the best ruler they have
had for years. The ceremonies were imposing, appealing to the senses and
the imagination, and not at all to the reason or the heart."

The king was Louis Philippe; the little prince, his grandson, was the
Count of Paris.

"_Paris, September 29, 1838._ Since my last matters have assumed a
totally different aspect. At the request of Monsieur Arago, the most
distinguished astronomer of the day, I submitted the Telegraph to the
Institute at one of their meetings, at which some of the most celebrated
philosophers of France and of Germany and of other countries were
present. Its reception was in the highest degree flattering, and the
interest which they manifested, by the questions they asked and the
exclamations they used, showed to me then that the invention had obtained
their favorable regard. The papers of Paris immediately announced the
Telegraph in the most favorable terms, and it has literally been the
topic of the day ever since. The Baron Humboldt, the celebrated
traveller, a member of the Institute and who saw its operation before
that body, told Mr. Wheaton, our Minister to Prussia, that my Telegraph
was the best of all the plans that had been devised.

"I received a call from the administrator-in-chief of all the telegraphs
of France, Monsieur Alphonse Foy. I explained it to him; he was highly
delighted with it, and told me that the Government was about to try an
experiment with the view of testing the practicability of the Electric
Telegraph, and that he had been requested to see mine and report upon it;
that he should report that '_mine was the best that had been submitted to
him_'; and he added that I had better forthwith get an introduction to
the Minister of the Interior, Mons. the Count Montalivet. I procured a
letter from our Minister, and am now waiting the decision of the

"Everything looks promising thus far, as much so as I could expect, but
it involves the possibility, not to say the probability, of my remaining
in Paris during the winter.

"If I should be delayed till December it would be prudent to remain until
April. If it be possible, without detriment to my affairs, to make such
arrangements that I may return this autumn, I shall certainly do it; but,
if I should not, you must console yourselves that it is in consequence of
meeting with success that I am detained, and that I shall be more likely
to return with advantage to you all on account of the delay.

"I ought to say that the directors of the Saint-Germain Railroad have
seen my Telegraph, and that there is some talk (as yet vague) of
establishing a line of my Telegraph upon that road. I mention these, my
dear child, to show you that I cannot at this moment leave Paris without
detriment to my principal object."

"_Paris, October 10, 1838._ You are at an age when a parent's care, and
particularly a mother's care, is most needed. You cannot know the depth
of the wound that was inflicted when I was deprived of your dear mother,
nor in how many ways that wound was kept open. Yet I know it is all well;
I look to God to take care of you; it is his will that you should be
almost truly an orphan, for, with all my efforts to have a home for you
and to be near you, I have met hitherto only with disappointment. But
there are now indications of a change, and, while I prepare for
disappointment and wish you to prepare for disappointment, we ought to
acknowledge the kind hand of our Heavenly Father in so far prospering me
as to put me in the honorable light before the world which is now my lot.
With the eminence is connected the prospect of pecuniary prosperity, yet
this is not consummated, but only in prospect; it may be a long time
before anything is realized. Study, therefore, prudence and economy in
all things; make your wants as few as possible, for the habit thus
acquired will be of advantage to you whether you have much or little."

Thus did hope alternate with despondency as the days and weeks wore away
and nothing tangible was accomplished. All who saw the working of the
telegraph were loud in their expressions of wonder and admiration, but,
for reasons which shall presently be explained, nothing else was gained
by the inventor at that time.

An old friend of Morse's, the Reverend Dr. Kirk, was then living in
Paris, and the two friends not only roomed together but Dr. Kirk,
speaking French fluently, which Morse did not, acted as interpreter in
the many exhibitions given. Writing of this in later years, Dr. Kirk

"I remember rallying my friend frequently about the experience of great
inventors, who are generally permitted to starve while living and are
canonized after death.

"When the model telegraph had been set up in our rooms, Mr. Morse desired
to exhibit it to the savants of Paris, but, as he had less of the talking
propensity than myself, I was made the grand exhibitor.

"Our levee-day was Tuesday, and for weeks we received the visits of
distinguished citizens and strangers, to whom I explained the principles
and operation of the Telegraph. The visitors would agree upon a word
among themselves which I was not to hear; then the Professor would
receive it at the writing end of the wires, while it devolved upon me to
interpret the characters which recorded it at the other end. As I
explained the hieroglyphics the announcement of the word, which they saw
could have come to me only through the wire, would often create a deep
sensation of delighted wonder; and much do I now regret that I did not
take notes of these interviews, for it would be an interesting record of
distinguished names and of valuable remarks."

On the 10th of September, 1838, Morse enjoyed the greatest triumph of
all, for it was on that day that, by invitation of M. Arago, the
exhibition of his invention before the Institute of France, casually
mentioned in one of his letters to his daughter, took place. Writing of
the occasion to Alfred Vail, he says:--

"I exhibited the Telegraph to the Institute and the sensation produced
was as striking as at Washington. It was evident that hitherto the
assembled science of Europe had considered the plan of an Electric
Telegraph as ingenious but visionary, and, like aeronautic navigation,
practicable in little more than theory and destined to be useless.

"I cannot describe to you the scene at the Institute when your box with
the registering-machine, just as it left Speedwell, was placed upon the
table and surrounded by the most distinguished men of all Europe,
celebrated in the various arts and sciences--Arago, Baron Humboldt,
Gay-Lussac, and a host of others whose names are stars that shine in both
hemispheres. Arago described it to them, and I showed its action. A buzz
of admiration and approbation filled the whole hall and the exclamations
'_Extraordinaire!' 'Tres bien!' 'Tres admirable!_' I heard on all sides.
The sentiment was universal."

Another American at that time in Paris, the Honorable H.L. Ellsworth,
also wrote home about the impression which was produced by the exhibition
of this new wonder:--

"I am sure you will be glad to learn that our American friend, Professor
Morse, is producing a very great sensation among the learned men of this
kingdom by his ingenious and wonderful Magnetic Telegraph. He submitted
it to the examination of the Academy of Sciences of the Royal Institute
of France, at their sitting on Monday last, and the deepest interest was
excited among the members of that learned body on the subject. Its
novelty, beauty, simplicity, and power were highly commended....

"Other projects for the establishment of a magnetic telegraph have been
broached here, especially from Professor Wheatstone, of London, and
Professor Steinheil, of Munich. It is said, however, to be very manifest
that our Yankee Professor is ahead of them all in the essential
requisitions of such an invention, and that he is in the way to bear off
the palm. In simplicity of design, cheapness of construction and
efficiency, Professor Morse's Telegraph transcends all yet made known. In
each of these qualities it is admitted, by those who have inspected it
closely, there seems to be little else to desire. It is certain,
moreover, that in priority of discovery he antedates all others."

Encouraged by the universal praise which was showered upon him, the
hopeful inventor redoubled his efforts to secure in some way, either
through the Government or through private parties, the means to make a
practical test of his invention.

Mr. F.O.J. Smith had, in the mean time, returned to America, and Morse
kept him informed by letter of the progress of affairs in Paris.
Avoiding, as far as possible, repetitions and irrelevant details, I shall
let extracts from these letters tell the story:--

"_September 29, 1838._ On Monday I received a very flattering letter from
our excellent Minister, Governor Cass, introducing me to the Count
Montalivet, and I accordingly called the next day. I did not see him, but
had an interview with his secretary, who told me that the Administrator
of the Telegraphs had not yet reported to the Minister, but that he would
see him the next day, and that, if I would call on Friday, he would
inform me of the result. I called on Friday. The secretary informed me
that he had seen M. Foy, and that he had more than confirmed the
flattering accounts in the American Minister's letter respecting the
Telegraph, but was not yet prepared with his report to the Minister--he
wished to make a detailed account of the _differences in favor of mine
over all others that had been presented to him_, or words to that effect;
and the secretary assured me that the report would be all I could wish.
This is certainly flattering and I am to call on Monday to learn

"_October 24._ I can only add, in a few words, that everything here is as
encouraging as could be expected. The report of the Administrator of
Telegraphs has been made to the Minister of the Interior, and I have been
told that I should be notified of the intentions of the Government in a
few days. I have also shown the railroad telegraph to the Saint-Germain
directors, who are delighted with it, and from them I expect a
proposition within a few days."

"_November 22._ I intend sending this letter by the packet of the 24th
inst., and am in hopes of sending with it some intelligence from those
from whom I have been so long expecting something. Everything moves at a
snail's pace here. I find delay in all things; at least, so it appears to
me, who have too strong a development of the American organ of
'go-ahead-ativeness' to feel easy under its tantalizing effects. A
Frenchman ought to have as many lives as a cat to bring to pass, on his
dilatory plan of procedure, the same results that a Yankee would
accomplish in his single life."

"_Afternoon, November 22._ Called on the Ministre de l'Interieur; no one
at home; left card and will call again to-morrow, and hope to be in time
yet for the packet."

"_November 23._ I have again called, but do not find at home the chief
secretary, M. Merlin.... I shall miss the packet of the 24th, but I am
told she is a slow ship and that I shall probably find the letters reach
home quite as soon by the next. I will leave this open to add if anything
occurs between this and next packet day."

"_November 30._ I have been called off from this letter until the last
moment by stirring about and endeavoring to expedite matters with the
Government. I have been to see General Cass since my last date. I talked
over matters with him. He complains much of their dilatoriness, but sees
no way of quickening them.... I called again this morning at the
Minister's and, as usual, the secretary was absent; at the palace they
said. If I could once get them to look at it I should be sure of them,
for I have never shown it to any one who did not seem in raptures. I
showed it a few days ago to M. Fremel, the Director of Light-Houses, who
came with Mr. Vail and Captain Perry. He was cautious at first, but
afterwards became as enthusiastic as any.

"The railroad directors are as dilatory as the Government, but I know
they are discussing the matter seriously at their meetings, and I was
told that the most influential man among them said they 'must have it.'
There is nothing in the least discouraging that has occurred, but, on the
contrary, everything to confirm the practicability of the plan, both on
the score of science and expense."

"_January 21, 1839._ I learn that the Telegraph is much talked of in all
society, and I learn that the _Theatre des Varietes_, which is a sort of
mirror of the popular topics, has a piece in which persons are made to
converse by means of this Telegraph some hundreds of miles off.

"This is a straw which shows the way of the wind, and although matters
move too slow for my impatient spirit, yet the Telegraph is evidently
gaining on the popular notice, and in time will demand the attention of

"I have the promise of a visit from the Count Boudy, Chief of the
Household of the King, and who, I understand, has great influence with
the king and can induce him to adopt the Telegraph between some of his

"Hopes, you perceive, continue bright, but they are somewhat
unsubstantial to an empty purse. I look for the first fruits in America.
My confidence increases every day in the certainty of the eventual
adoption of this means of communication throughout the civilized world.
Its practicability, hitherto doubted by savants here, is completely
established, and they do not hesitate to give me the credit of having
established it. I rejoice quite as much for my country's sake as for my
own that both priority and superiority are awarded to my invention."


JANUARY 6, 1839--MARCH 9, 1839

Despondent letter to his brother Sidney.--Longing for a home.--Letter to
Smith.--More delays.--Change of ministry.--Proposal to form private
company.--Impossible under the laws of France.--Telegraphs a government
monopoly.--Refusal of Czar to sign Russian contract.--Dr. Jackson.--M.
Amyot.--Failure to gain audience of king.--Lord Elgin.--Earl of Lincoln.
--Robert Walsh prophesies success.--Meeting with Earl of Lincoln in later
years.--Daguerre.--Letter to Mrs. Cass on lotteries.--Railway and
military telegraphs.--Skepticism of a Marshal of France.

Thus hopefully the inventor kept writing home, always maintaining that
soon all obstacles would be overcome, and that he would then have a
chance to demonstrate in a really practical way the great usefulness of
his invention. But, instead of melting away, new obstacles kept arising
at every turn. The dilatoriness of the French Government seems past all
belief, and yet, in spite of his faith in the more expeditious methods of
his own country, he was fated to encounter the same exasperating slowness
at home. It was, therefore, only natural that in spite of the courageous
optimism of his nature, he should at times have given way to fits of
depression, as is instanced by the following extracts from a letter
written to his brother Sidney on January 6, 1839:--

"I know not that I feel right to indulge in the despondency which, in
spite of all reason to the contrary, creeps over me when I think of
returning. I know the feelings of Tantalus perfectly. All my prospects in
regard to the Telegraph are bright and encouraging, and so they have been
for months, and they still continue to be so; but the sober _now_ is that
I am expending and not acquiring; it has, as yet, been all _outgo_ and no
income. At the rate business is done here, the slow, dilatory manner in
which the most favorable projects are carried forward, I have no reason
to believe that anything will be realized before I must leave France,
which will probably be in about six weeks. If so, then I return
penniless, and, worse than penniless, I return to find debts and no home;
to find homeless children with all hope extinguished of ever seeing them
again in a family. Indeed, I may say that, in this latter respect, the
last ray is departed; I think no more of it.

"I now feel anxious to see my children educated with the means they have
of their own, and in a way of usefulness, and for myself I desire to live
secluded, without being burdensome to my friends. I should be glad to
exchange my rooms in the university for one or two in your new building.
I shall probably resign both Professorship and Presidency on my return.
The first has become merely nominal, and the latter is connected with
duties which properly confine to the city, and, as I wish to be free to
go to other places, I think it will be best to resign.

"If our Government should take the Telegraph, or companies should be
formed for that purpose, so that a sum is realized from it when I get
home, this will, of course, change the face of things; but I dare not
expect it and ought not to build any plans on such a contingency. So far
as praise goes I have every reason to be satisfied at the state of things
here in regard to the Telegraph. All the savants, committees of learned
societies, members of the Chamber of Deputies, and officers of Government
have, without exception, been as enthusiastic in its reception as any in
the United States. Both the priority and superiority of my invention are
established, and thus the credit, be it more or less, is secured to our
country. The Prefect of the Seine expressed a desire to see it and called
by appointment yesterday. He was perfectly satisfied, and said of his own
accord that he should see the king last evening and should mention the
Telegraph to him. I shall probably soon be requested, therefore, to show
the Telegraph to the king.

"All these are most encouraging prospects; there is, indeed, nothing that
has arisen to throw any insurmountable obstacle in the way of its
adoption with complete success; and for all this I ought to feel
gratitude, and I wish to acknowledge it before Him to whom gratitude is
due. Is it right or is it wrong, in view of all this, to feel

"In spite of all I do feel sad. I am no longer young; I have children,
but they are orphans, and orphans they are likely to be. I have a
country, but _no home_. It is this _no home_ that perpetually haunts me.
I feel as if it were duty, duty most urgent, for me to settle in a family
state at all hazards on account of these children. I know they suffer in
this forming period of their lives for the want of a home, of the care of
a father and a mother, and that no care and attention from friends, be
they ever so kind, can supply the place of parents. But all efforts,
direct and indirect, to bring this about have been frustrated.

"My dear brother, may you never feel, as I have felt, _the loss of a
wife_. That wound bleeds afresh daily, as if it were inflicted but
yesterday. There is a meaning in all these acute mental trials, and they
are at times so severe as almost to deprive me of reason, though few
around me would suspect the state of my mind."

These last few lines are eminently characteristic of the man. While
called upon to endure much, both mentally and physically, he possessed
such remarkable self-control that few, if any, of those around him were
aware of his suffering. Only to his intimates did he ever reveal the pain
which sometimes gnawed at his heart, and then only occasionally and under
great stress. It was this self-control, united to a lofty purpose and a
natural repugnance to wearing his heart on his sleeve, which enabled him
to accomplish what he did. Endowed also with a saving sense of humor, he
made light of his trials to others and was a welcome guest in every
social gathering.

The want of a place which he could really call home was an ever-present
grief. It is the dominant note in almost all the letters to his brothers
and his children, and it is rather quaintly expressed in a letter, of
November 14, 1838, to his daughter:--

"Tell Uncle Sidney to take good care of you, and to have a little snug
room in the upper corner of his new building, where a bed can be placed,
a chair, and a table, and let me have it as my own, that there may be one
little particular spot which I can call _home_. I will there make three
wooden stools, one for you, one for Charles, and one for Finley, and
invite you to your father's house."

In spite of the enthusiasm which the exhibition of his invention aroused
among the learned men and others in Paris, he met with obstructions of
the most vexatious kind at every turn, in his effort to bring it into
practical use. Just as the way seemed clear for its adoption by the
French Government, something happened which is thus described in a letter
to Mr. Smith, of January 28, 1889:

"I wrote by the Great Western a few days ago. The event then anticipated
in regard to the Ministry has occurred. The Ministers have resigned, and
it is expected that the new Cabinet will be formed this day with Marshal
Soult at its head. Thus you perceive new causes of delay in obtaining any
answer from the Government. As soon as I can learn the name of the new
Minister of the Interior I will address a note to him, or see him, as I
may be advised, and see if I can possibly obtain an answer, or at least a
report of the administration of the Telegraphs. Nothing has occurred in
other respects but what is agreeable....

"All my leisure (if that may be called leisure which employs nearly all
my time) is devoted to perfecting the whole matter. The invention of the
correspondent, I think you will say, is a more essential improvement. It
has been my winter's labor, and, to avoid expense, I have been compelled
to make it entirely with my own hands. I can now give you its exact
dimensions--twelve and a half inches long, six and a half wide, and six
and a half deep. It dispenses entirely with boxes of type (one set alone
being necessary) and dispenses also with the rules, and with all
machinery for moving the rules. There is no winding up and it is ready at
all times. You touch the letter and the letter is written immediately at
the other extremity.... In my next I hope to send you reports of my
further progress. One thing seems certain, my Telegraph has driven out of
the field all the other plans on the magnetic principle. I hear nothing
of them in public or private. No society notices them."

"_February 2._ I can compare the state of things here to an April day, at
one moment sunshine, at the next cloudy. The Telegraph is evidently
growing in favor; testimonials of approbation and compliments multiply,
and yesterday I was advised by the secretary of the _Academie
Industrielle_ to interest moneyed men in the matter if I intended to
profit by it; and he observed that now was the precise time to do it in
the interval of the Chambers.

"I am at a loss how to act. I am not a business man and fear every
movement which suggests itself to me. I am thinking of proposing a
company on the same plan you last proposed in your letter from Liverpool,
and which you intend to create in case the Government shall choose to do
nothing; that is to say, a company taking the right at one thousand
francs per mile, paying the proprietors fifty per cent in stocks and
fifty per cent in cash, raising about fifty thousand francs for a trial
some distance. I shall take advice and let you know the result.

"I wish you were here; I am sure something could be done by an energetic
business man like yourself. As for poor me I feel that I am a child in
business matters. I can invent and perfect the invention, and demonstrate
its uses and practicability, but 'further the deponent saith not.'
Perhaps I underrate myself in this case, but that is not a usual fault in
human nature."

It was natural that a keen business man like F.O.J. Smith should have
leaned rather toward a private corporation, with its possibilities of
great pecuniary gain, than toward government ownership. Morse, on the
contrary, would have preferred, both at home and abroad, to place the
great power which he knew his invention was destined to wield in the
hands of a responsible government. However, so eager was he to make a
practical test of the telegraph that, governments apparently not
appreciating their great opportunity, he was willing to entrust the
enterprise to capitalists. Here again he was balked, however, for,
writing of his trials later, he says:--

"An unforeseen obstacle was interposed which has rendered my patent in
France of no avail to me. By the French patent law at the time one who
obtained a patent was obliged to put into operation his invention within
two years from the issue of his patent, under the penalty of forfeiture
if he does not comply with the law. In pursuance of this requisition of
the law I negotiated with the president (Turneysen) of the Saint-Germain
Railroad Company to construct a line of my Telegraph on their road from
Paris to Saint-Germain, a distance of about seven English miles. The
company was favorably disposed toward the project, but, upon application
(as was necessary) to the Government for permission to have the Telegraph
on their road, they received for answer that telegraphs were a government
monopoly, and could not, therefore, be used for private purposes. I thus
found myself crushed between the conflicting forces of two opposing

This was, indeed, a crushing blow, and ended all hope of accomplishing
anything in France, unless the Government should, in the short time still
left to him, decide to take it up. The letters home, during the remainder
of his stay in Europe, are voluminous, but as they are, in the main, a
repetition of experiences similar to those already recorded, it will not
be necessary to give them in full. He tells of the enthusiastic reception
accorded to his invention by the savants, the high officials of the
Government and the Englishmen of note then stopping in Paris. He tells
also of the exasperating delays to which he was subjected, and which
finally compelled him to return home without having accomplished anything
tangible. He goes at length into his negotiations with the representative
of the Czar, Baron Meyendorf, from which he entertained so many hopes,
hopes which were destined in the end to be blasted, because the Czar
refused to put his signature to the contract, his objection being that
"Malevolence can easily interrupt the communication." This was a terrible
disappointment to the inventor, for he had made all his plans to return
to Europe in the spring of 1839 to carry out the Russian contract, which
he was led to believe was perfectly certain, and the Czar's signature
simply a matter of form. While at the time, and probably for all his
life, Morse considered his failure in Europe as a cruel stroke of Fate,
we cannot but conclude, in the light of future developments, that here
again Fate was cruel in order to be kind. The invention, while it had
been pronounced a scientific success, and had been awarded the palm over
all other systems by the foremost scientists of the world, had yet to
undergo the baptism of fire on the field of battle. It had never been
tried over long distances in the open air, and many practical
modifications had yet to be made, the necessity for which could only be
ascertained during the actual construction of a commercial line. Morse's
first idea, adhered to by him until found by experience, in the building
of the first line between Washington and Baltimore, to be impracticable,
had been to bury the wires in a trench in the ground. I say it was found
to be impracticable, but that is true only of the conditions at that
early date. The inventor was here again ahead of his time, for the
underground system is now used in many cities, and may in time become
universal. However, we shall see, when the story of the building of that
first historic line is told, that in this respect, and in many others,
great difficulties were encountered and failure was averted only by the
ingenuity, the resourcefulness, and the quick-wittedness of the inventor
himself and his able assistants. Is it too much to suppose that, had the
Russian, or even the French, contract gone through, and had Morse been
compelled to recruit his assistants from the people of an alien land,
whose language he could neither speak nor thoroughly understand, the
result would have been a dismal failure, calling down only ridicule on
the head of the luckless inventor, and perhaps causing him to abandon the
whole enterprise, discouraged and disheartened?

Be this as it may, the European trip was considered a failure in a
practical sense, while having resulted in a personal triumph in so far as
the scientific elements of the invention were concerned. I shall,
therefore, give only occasional extracts from the letters, some of them
dealing with matters not in any way related to the telegraph.

He writes to Mr. Smith on February 18, 1839:--

"I have been wholly occupied for the last week in copying out the
correspondence and other documents to defend myself against the infamous
attack of Dr. Jackson, notice of which my brother sent me.... I have sent
a letter to Dr. Jackson calling on him to save his character by a total
disclaimer of his presumptuous claim within one week from the receipt of
the letter, and giving him the plea of a 'mistake' and 'misconception of
my invention' by which he may retreat. If he fails to do this, I have
requested my brother to publish immediately my defense, in which I give a
history of the invention, the correspondence between Dr. Jackson and
myself, and close with the letters of Hon. Mr. Rives, Mr. Fisher, of
Philadelphia, and Captain Pell.

"I cannot conceive of such infatuation as has possessed this man. He can
scarcely be deceived. It must be his consummate self-conceit that
deceives him, if he is deceived. But this cannot be; he knows he has no
title whatever to a single hint of any kind in the matter."

I have already alluded to the claim of Dr. Jackson, and have shown that
it was proved to be utterly without foundation, and have only introduced
this reference to it as an instance of the attacks which were made upon
Morse, attacks which compelled him to consume much valuable time, in the
midst of his other labors, in order to repel them, which he always
succeeded in doing.

In writing of his negotiations with the Russian Government he mentions M.
Amyot, "who has proposed also an Electric Telegraph, but upon seeing mine
he could not restrain his gratification, and with his whole soul he is at
work to forward it with all who have influence. He is the right-hand man
of the Baron Meyendorf, and he is exerting all his power to have the
Russian Government adopt my Telegraph.... He is really a noble-minded
man. The baron told me he had a _large soul_, and I find he has. I have
no claim on him and yet he seems to take as much interest in my invention
as if it were his own. How different a conduct from Jackson's!... Every
day is clearing away all the difficulties that prevent its adoption; the
only difficulty that remains, it is universally said, is the protection
of the wires from malevolent attack, and this can be prevented by proper
police and secret and deep interment. I have no doubt of its universal
adoption; it may take time but it is certain."

"_Paris, March 2, 1839._ By my last letter I informed you of the more
favorable prospects of the telegraphic enterprise. These prospects still
continue, and I shall return with the gratifying reflection that, after
all my anxieties, and labors, and privations, and your and my other
associates' expenditures and risks, we are all in a fair way of reaping
the fruits of our toil. The political troubles of France have been a
hindrance hitherto to the attention of the Government to the Telegraph,
but in the mean time I have gradually pushed forward the invention into
the notice of the most influential individuals of France. I had Colonel
Lasalle, aide-de-camp to the king, and his lady to see the Telegraph a
few days ago. He promised that, without fail, it should be mentioned to
the king. You will be surprised to learn, after all the promises hitherto
made by the Prefect of the Seine, Count Remberteau, and by various other
officers of the Government, and after General Cass's letter to the aide
on service, four or five months since, requesting it might be brought to
the notice of the king, that the king has not yet heard of it. But so
things go here.

"Such dereliction would destroy a man with us in a moment, but here there
is a different standard (this, of course, _entre nous_).... Among the
numerous visitors that have thronged to see the Telegraph, there have
been a great many of the principal English nobility. Among them the Lord
and Lady Aylmer, former Governor of Canada, Lord Elgin and son, the
Celebrated preserver, not depredator (as he has been most slanderously
called) of the Phidian Marbles. Lord Elgin has been twice and expressed a
great interest in the invention. He brought with him yesterday the Earl
of Lincoln, a young man of unassuming manners; he was delighted and gave
me his card with a pressing invitation to call on him when I came to

"I have not failed to let the English know how I was treated in regard to
my application for a patent in England, and contrasted the conduct of the
French in this respect to theirs. I believe they felt it, and I think it
was Lord Aylmer, but am not quite sure, who advised that the subject be
brought up in Parliament by some member and made the object of special
legislation, which he said might be done, the Attorney-General to the
contrary notwithstanding. I really believe, if matters were rightly
managed in England, something yet might be done there, if not by patent,
yet by a parliamentary grant of a proper compensation. It is remarkable
that they have not yet made anything like mine in England. It is evident
that neither Wheatstone nor Davy comprehended my mode, after all their
assertions that mine had been published.

"If matters move slower here than with us, yet they gain surely. I am
told every hour that the two great wonders of Paris just now, about which
everybody is conversing, are Daguerre's wonderful results in fixing
permanently the image of the _camera obscura_, and Morse's
Electro-Magnetic Telegraph, and they do not hesitate to add that,
beautiful as are the results of Daguerre's experiments, the invention of
the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph is that which will surpass, in the
greatness of the revolution to be effected, all other inventions. Robert
Walsh, Esq., who has just left me, is beyond measure delighted. I was
writing a word from one room to another; he came to me and said:--'The
next word you may write is IMMORTALITY, for the sublimity of this
invention is of surpassing grandeur. _I see now that all physical
obstacles, which may for a while hinder, will inevitably be overcome; the

This prophecy of the celebrated American author, who was afterwards
Consul-General to France for six years, is noteworthy considering the
date at which it was made. There were indeed many "physical obstacles
which for a while hindered" the practical adoption of the invention, but
they were eventually overcome, and the problem was solved. Five years of
heart-breaking struggle, discouragement and actual poverty had still to
be endured by the brave inventor before the tide should turn in his
favor, but Robert Walsh shared with Morse the clear conviction that the
victory would finally be won.

Reference having been made to Lord Elgin, the following letter from him
will be found interesting:--

Paris, 12th March, 1839.

Dear Sir,--I cannot help expressing a very strong desire that, instead of
delaying till your return from America your wish to take out a patent in
England for your highly scientific and simple mode of communicating
intelligence by an Electric Telegraph, you would take measures to that
effect at this moment, and for that purpose take your model now with you
to London. Your discovery is now much known as well as appreciated, and
the ingenuity now afloat is too extensive for one not to apprehend that
individuals, even in good faith, may make some addition to qualify them
to take out a _first patent_ for the principle; whereas, if you brought
it at once, now, before the competent authorities, especially under the
advantage of an introduction such as Mr. Drummond can give you to Lord
Brougham, a short delay in your proceeding to America may secure you this
desirable object immediately.

With every sincere good wish for your success and the credit you so
richly deserve, I am, dear sir,

Yours faithfully

While it is futile to speculate on what might have been, it does seem as
if Morse made a serious mistake in not taking Lord Elgin's advice, for
there is no doubt that, with the influential backing which he had now
secured, he could have overcome the churlish objections of the
Attorney-General, and have secured a patent in England much to his
financial benefit. But with the glamour of the Russian contract in his
eyes, he decided to return home at once, and the opportunity was lost.

We must also marvel at the strange fact that the fear expressed by Lord
Elgin, that another might easily appropriate to himself the glory which
was rightly due to Morse, was not realized. Is it to be wondered at that
Morse should have always held that he, and he alone, was the humble
instrument chosen by an All-Wise Providence to carry to a successful
issue this great enterprise?

Regarding one of his other visitors, the Earl of Lincoln, it is
interesting to learn that there was another meeting between the two men
under rather dramatic circumstances, in later years. This was on the
occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales, afterward Edward VII, to
America, accompanied by a suite which included, among others, the Duke of
Newcastle. Morse was invited to address the Prince at a meeting given in
his honor at the University of the City of New York, and in the course of
his address he said:--

"An allusion in most flattering terms to me, rendered doubly so in such
presence, has been made by our respected Chancellor, which seems to call
for at least the expression of my thanks. At the same time it suggests
the relation of an incident in the early history of the Telegraph which
may not be inappropriate to this occasion. The infant Telegraph, born and
nursed within these walls, had scarcely attained a feeble existence ere
it essayed to make its voice heard on the other side of the Atlantic. I
carried it to Paris in 1838. It attracted the warm interest, not only of
the continental philosophers, but also of the intelligent and
appreciative among the eminent nobles of Britain then on a visit to the
French capital. Foremost among these was the late Marquis of Northampton,
then President of the Royal Society, the late distinguished Earl of
Elgin, and, in a marked degree, the noble Earl of Lincoln. The last-named
nobleman in a special manner gave it his favor. He comprehended its
important future, and, in the midst of the skepticism that clouded its
cradle, he risked his character for sound judgment in venturing to stand
godfather to the friendless child. He took it under his roof in London,
invited the statesmen and the philosophers of Britain to see it, and


Back to Full Books