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

Part 3 out of 9

urged forward with kindly words and generous attentions those who had the
infant in charge. It is with no ordinary feelings, therefore, that, after
the lapse of twenty years, I have the singular honor this morning of
greeting with hearty welcome, in such presence, before such an
assemblage, and in the cradle of the Telegraph, this noble Earl of
Lincoln in the person of the present Duke of Newcastle."

Reference was made by Morse, in the letter to Mr. Smith of March 2, to
Daguerre and his wonderful discovery. Having himself experimented along
the same lines many years before, he was, naturally, much interested and
sought the acquaintance of Daguerre, which was easily brought about. The
two inventors became warm friends, and each disclosed to the other the
minutiae of his discoveries. Daguerre invited Morse to his workshop,
selecting a Sunday as a day convenient to him, and Morse replied in the
following characteristic note:--

"Professor Morse asks the indulgence of M. Daguerre. The _time_ M.
Daguerre, in his great kindness, has fixed to show his most interesting
experiments is, unfortunately, one that will deprive Mr. M. of the
pleasure he anticipated, as Mr. M. has an engagement for the entire
Sunday of a nature that cannot be broken. Will Monday, or any other day,
be agreeable to M. Daguerre?

"Mr. M. again asks pardon for giving M. Daguerre so much trouble."

Having thus satisfied his Puritan conscience, another day was cheerfully
appointed by Daguerre, who generously imparted the secret of this new art
to the American, by whom it was carried across the ocean and successfully
introduced into the United States, as will be shown further on.

Writing of this experience to his brothers on March 9, 1839, he says:--

"You have, perhaps, heard of the Daguerreotype, so called from the
discoverer, M. Daguerre. It is one of the most beautiful discoveries of
the age. I don't know if you recollect some experiments of mine in New
Haven, many years ago, when I had my painting-room next to Professor
Silliman's,--experiments to ascertain if it were possible to fix the
image of the _camera obscura_. I was able to produce different degrees of
shade on paper, dipped into a solution of nitrate of silver, by means of
different degrees of light, but finding that light produced dark, and
dark light, I presumed the production of a true image to be
impracticable, and gave up the attempt. M. Daguerre has realized in the
most exquisite manner this idea."

Here follows the account of his visit to Daguerre and an enthusiastic
description of the wonders seen in his workshop, and he closes by

"But I am near the end of my paper, and I have, unhappily, to give a
melancholy close to my account of this ingenious discovery. M. Daguerre
appointed yesterday at noon to see my Telegraph. He came and passed more
than an hour with me, expressing himself highly gratified at its
operation. But, while he was thus employed, the great building of the
Diorama, with his own house, all his beautiful works, his valuable notes
and papers, the labor of years of experiment, were, unknown to him, at
that moment the prey of the flames. His secret, indeed, is still safe
with him, but the steps of his progress in the discovery and his valuable
researches in science, are lost to the scientific world. I learn that his
Diorama was insured, but to what extent I know not.

"I am sure all friends of science and improvement will unite in
expressing the deepest sympathy in M. Daguerre's loss, and the sincere
hope that such a liberal sum will be awarded him by his Government as
shall enable him, in some degree at least, to recover from his loss."

It is pleasant to record that the French Government did act most
generously toward Daguerre.

The reader may remember that, when Morse was a young man in London,
lotteries were considered such legitimate ways of raising money, that not
only did he openly purchase tickets in the hope of winning a money prize,
but his pious father advised him to dispose of his surplus paintings and
sketches in that way. As he grew older, however, his views on this
question changed, as will be seen by the following letter addressed to
Mrs. Cass, wife of the American Minister, who was trying to raise money
to help a worthy couple, suddenly reduced from wealth to poverty:--

January 31, 1889.

I am sure I need make no apology to you, my dear madam, for returning the
three lottery tickets enclosed in the interesting note I have just had
the honor to receive from you, because I know you can fully appreciate
the motive which prompts me. In the measures taken some years since for
opposing the lottery system in the State of New York, and which issued in
its entire suppression, I took a very prominent part under the conviction
that the principle on which the lottery system was founded was wrong. But
while, on this account, I cannot, my dear madam, consistently take the
tickets, I must beg of you to put the price of them, which I enclose,
into such a channel as shall, in your judgment, best promote the
benevolent object in which you have interested yourself.

Poverty is a bitter lot, even when the habit of long endurance has
reconciled the mind and body to its severities, but how much more bitter
must it be when it comes in sudden contrast to a life of affluence and

I thank you for giving me the opportunity of contributing my mite to the
relief of such affliction, hoping sincerely that all their earthly wants
may lead the sufferers to the inexhaustible fountain of true riches.

With sincere respect and Christian regard I remain, my dear madam

Your most obedient servant

Before closing the record of this European trip, so disappointing in many
ways and yet so encouraging in others, it may be well to note that, while
he was in Paris, Morse in 1838 not only took out a patent on his
recording telegraph, but also on a system to be used on railways to
report automatically the presence of a train at any point on the line. A
reproduction of his own drawing of the apparatus to be used is here
given, and the mechanism is so simple that an explanation is hardly
necessary. From it can be seen not only that he did, at this early date,
realize the possibilities of his invention along various lines, but that
it embodies the principle of the police and fire-alarm systems now in
general use.

It is not recorded that he ever realized anything financially from this
ingenious modification of his main invention. Commenting on it, and on
his plans for a military telegraph, he gives this amusing sketch:--

"On September 10, 1838, a telegraph instrument constructed in the United
States on the same principles, but slightly modified to make it portable,
was exhibited to the Academy of Sciences in Paris, and explained by M.
Arago at the session of that date. An account of this exhibition is
recorded in the _Comptes Rendus_.

"A week or two after I exhibited at my lodgings, in connection with this
instrument, my railroad telegraph, an application of signals by sound,
for which I took out letters patent in Paris, and at the same time I
communicated to the Minister of War, General Bernard, my plans for a
military telegraph with which he was much pleased.

Patented by him in France in 1838, and embodying principles of Police and
Fire Alarm Telegraph]

"I dined with him by invitation, and in the evening, repairing with him
to his billiard-room, while the rest of the guests were amusing
themselves with the game, I gave him a general description of my plan. He
listened with deep attention while I advocated its use on the
battle-field, and gave him my reasons for believing that the army first
using the facilities of the electric telegraph for military purposes
would be sure of victory. He replied to me, after my answering many of
his questions:--

"'Be reticent,' said he, 'on this subject for the present. I will send an
officer of high rank to see and converse with you on the matter

"The next day I was visited by an old Marshal of France, whose name has
escaped my memory. Conversing by an interpreter, the Reverend E.N. Kirk,
of Boston, I found it difficult to make the Marshal understand its
practicability or its importance. The dominant idea in the Marshal's
mind, which he opposed to the project, was that it involved an increase
of the material of the army, for I proposed the addition of two or more
light wagons, each containing in a small box the telegraph instruments
and a reel of fine insulated wire to be kept in readiness at the
headquarters on the field. I proposed that, when required, the wagons
with the corps of operators, two or three persons, at a rapid rate should
reel off the wire to the right, the centre and the left of the army, as
near to these parts of the army as practicable or convenient, and thus
instantaneous notice of the condition of the whole army, and of the
enemy's movements, would be given at headquarters.

"To all this explanation of my plan was opposed the constant objection
that it increased the material of the army. The Hon. Marshal seemed to
consider that the great object to be gained by an improvement was a
decrease of this material; an example of this economy which he
illustrated by the case of the substitution of the leather drinking cup
for the tin cup hung to the soldier's knapsack, an improvement which
enabled the soldier to put his cup in his vest pocket. For this
improvement, if I remember right, he said the inventor, who was a common
soldier, received at the hands of the Emperor Napoleon I the cross of the
Legion of Honor.

"So set was the good Marshal in his repugnance to any increase to the
material of the army that, after a few moments' thought, I rebutted his
position by putting to him the following case:--

"'M. Marshal,' I said, 'you are investing a fortress on the capture of
which depends the success of your campaign; you have 10,000 men; on
making your calculations of the chances of taking it by assault, you find
that with the addition of 5000 more troops you could accomplish its
capture. You have it in your power, by a simple order, to obtain from the
Government these 5000 men. In this case what would you do?'

"He replied without hesitation: 'I should order the 5000, of course.'

"'But,' I rejoined, 'the material of the army would be greatly increased
by such an order.'

"He comprehended the case, and, laughing heartily, abandoned the
objection, but took refuge in the general skepticism of that day on the
practicability of an electric telegraph. He did not believe it could ever
be put in practise. This was an argument I could not then repel. Time
alone could vindicate my opinion, and time has shown both its
practicability and its utility."


APRIL 15, 1839--SEPTEMBER 30, 1840

Arrival in New York.--Disappointment at finding nothing done by Congress
or his associates.--Letter to Professor Henry.--Henry's reply.--
Correspondence with Daguerre.--Experiments with Daguerreotypes.-Professor
Draper.--First group photograph of a college class.--Failure of Russian
contract.--Mr. Chamberlain.--Discouragement through lack of funds.--No
help from his associates.--Improvements in telegraph made by Morse.--
Humorous letter.

Morse sailed from Europe on the Great Western on the 23d of March, 1889,
and reached New York, after a Stormy passage, on the 15th of April.
Discouraged by his lack of success in establishing a line of telegraph in
Europe on a paying basis, and yet encouraged by the enthusiasm shown by
the scientists of the Old World, he hoped much from what he considered
the superior enterprise of his own countrymen. However, on this point he
was doomed to bitter disappointment, and the next few years were destined
to be the darkest through which he was to pass.

On the day after his arrival in New York he wrote to Mr. F.O.J. Smith:--

"I take the first moment of rest from the fatigues of my boisterous
voyage to apprise you of my arrival yesterday in the Great Western.... I
am quite disappointed in finding nothing done by Congress, and nothing
accomplished in the way of company. I had hoped to find on my return some
funds ready for prosecuting with vigor the enterprise, which I fear will
suffer for the want.

"Think a moment of my situation. I left New York for Europe to be gone
three months, but have been gone eleven months. My only means of support
are in my profession, which I have been compelled to abandon entirely for
the present, giving my undivided time and efforts to this enterprise. I
return with not a farthing in my pocket, and have to borrow even for my
meals, and even worse than this, I have incurred a debt of rent by my
absence which I should have avoided if I had been at home, or rather if I
had been aware that I should have been obliged to stay so long abroad. I
do not mention this in the way of complaint, but merely to show that I
also have been compelled to make great sacrifices for the common good,
and am willing to make more yet if necessary. If the enterprise is to be
pursued, we must all in our various ways put the shoulder to the wheel.

"I wish much to see you and talk over all matters, for it seems to me
that the present state of the enterprise in regard to Russia affects
vitally the whole concern."

Thus gently did he chide one of his partners, who should have been
exerting himself to forward their joint interests in America while he
himself was doing what he could in Europe. The other partners, Alfred
Vail and Dr. Leonard Gale, were equally lax and seem to have lost
interest in the enterprise, as we learn from the following letter to Mr.
Smith, of May 24, 1839:--

"You will think it strange, perhaps, that I have not answered yours of
the 28th ult. sooner, but various causes have prevented an earlier
attention to it. My affairs, in consequence of my protracted absence and
the stagnant state of the Telegraph here at home, have caused me great
embarrassment, and my whole energies have been called upon to extricate
myself from the confusion in which I have been unhappily placed. You may
judge a little of this when I tell you that my absence has deprived me of
my usual source of income by my profession; that the state of the
University is such that I shall probably leave, and shall have to move
into new quarters; that my family is dispersed, requiring my care and
anxieties under every disadvantage; that my engagements were such with
Russia that every moment of my time was necessary to complete my
arrangements to fulfill the contract in season; and, instead of finding
my associates ready to sustain me with counsel and means, I find them all
dispersed, leaving me without either the opportunity to consult or a cent
of means, and consequently bringing everything in relation to the
Telegraph to a dead stand.

"In the midst of this I am called on by the state of public opinion to
defend myself against the outrageous attempt of Dr. Jackson to pirate
from me my invention. The words would be harsh that are properly
applicable to this man's conduct....

"You see, therefore, in what a condition I found myself when I returned.
I was delayed several days beyond the computed time of my arrival by the
long passage of the steamer. Instead of finding any funds by a vote of
Congress, or by a company, and my associates ready to back me, I find not
a cent for the purpose, and my associates scattered to the four winds.

"You can easily conceive that I gave up all as it regarded Russia, and
considered the whole enterprise as seriously injured if not completely
destroyed. In this state of things I was hourly dreading to hear from the
Russian Minister, and devising how I should save myself and the
enterprise without implicating my associates in a charge of neglect; and
as it has most fortunately happened for us all, the 10th of May has
passed without the receipt of the promised advices, and I took advantage
of this, and by the Liverpool steamer of the 18th wrote to the Baron
Meyendorff, and to M. Amyot, that it was impossible to fulfill the
engagement this season, since I had not received the promised advices in
time to prepare."

This was, of course, before he had heard of the Czar's refusal to sign
the contract, and he goes on to make plans for carrying out the Russian
enterprise the next year, and concludes by saying:--

"Do think of this matter and see if means cannot be raised to keep ahead
with the American Telegraph. I sometimes am astonished when I reflect how
I have been able to take the stand with my Telegraph in competition with
my European rivals, backed as they are with the purses of the kings and
wealthy of their countries, while our own Government leaves me to fight
their battles for the honor of this invention fettered hand and foot.
Thanks will be due to you, not to them, if I am able to maintain the
ground occupied by the American Telegraph."

Shortly after his return from abroad, on April 24, Morse wrote the
following letter to Professor Henry at Princeton:--

My Dear Sir,--On my return a few days since from Europe, I found directed
to me, through your politeness, a copy of your valuable "Contributions,"
for which I beg you to accept my warmest thanks. The various cares
consequent upon so long an absence from home, and which have demanded my
more immediate attention, have prevented me from more than a cursory
perusal of its interesting contents, yet I perceive many things of great
interest to me in my telegraphic enterprise.

I was glad to learn, by a letter received in Paris from Dr. Gale, that a
spool of five miles of my wire was loaned to you, and I perceive that you
have already made some interesting experiments with it.

In the absence of Dr. Gale, who has gone South, I feel a great desire to
consult some scientific gentleman on points of importance bearing upon my
Telegraph, which I am about to establish in Russia, being under an
engagement with the Russian Government agent in Paris to return to Europe
for that purpose in a few weeks. I should be exceedingly happy to see you
and am tempted to break away from my absorbing engagements here to find
you at Princeton. In case I should be able to visit Princeton for a few
days a week or two hence, how should I find you engaged? I should come as
a learner and could bring no "contributions" to your stock of experiments
of any value, nor any means of furthering your experiments except,
perhaps, the loan of an additional five miles of wire which it may be
desirable for you to have.

I have many questions to ask, but should be happy, in your reply to this
letter, of an answer to this general one: Have you met with any facts in
your experiments thus far that would lead you to think that my mode of
telegraphic communication will prove impracticable? So far as I have
consulted the savants of Paris, they have suggested no insurmountable
difficulties; I have, however, quite as much confidence in your judgment,
from your valuable experience, as in that of any one I have met abroad. I
think that you have pursued an original course of experiments, and
discovered facts of more value to me than any that have been published

Morse was too modest in saying that he could bring nothing of value to
Henry in his experiments, for, as we shall see from Henry's reply, the
latter had no knowledge at that time of the "relay," for bringing into
use a secondary battery when the line was to stretch over long distances.
This important discovery Morse had made several years before.

PRINCETON; May 6, 1889.

DEAR SIR,--Your favor of the 24th ult. came to Princeton during my
absence, which will account for the long delay of my answer. I am pleased
to learn that you fully sanction the loan which I obtained from Dr. Gale
of your wire, and I shall be happy if any of the results are found to
have a practical bearing on the electrical telegraph.

It will give me much pleasure to see you in Princeton after this week. My
engagements will not then interfere with our communications on the
subject of electricity. During this week I shall be almost constantly
engaged with a friend in some scientific labors which we are prosecuting

I am acquainted with no fact which would lead me to suppose that the
project of the electro-magnetic telegraph is unpractical; on the
contrary, I believe that science is now ripe for the application, and
that there are no difficulties in the way but such as ingenuity and
enterprise may obviate. But what form of the apparatus, or what
application of the power will prove best, can, I believe, be only
determined by careful experiment. I can say, however, that, so far as I
am acquainted with the minutiae of your plan, I see no practical
difficulty in the way of its application for comparatively short
distances; but, if the length of the wire between the stations is great,
I think that some other modification will be found necessary in order to
develop a sufficient power at the farther end of the line.

I shall, however, be happy to converse freely with you on these points
when we meet. In the meantime I remain, with much respect

Yours, etc.,

I consider this letter alone a sufficient answer to those who claim that
Henry was the real inventor of the telegraph. He makes no such claim

In spite of the cares of various kinds which overwhelmed him during the
whole of his eventful life, Morse always found time to stretch out a
helping hand to others, or to do a courteous act. So now we find him
writing to Daguerre on May 20, 1839:--

My dear sir,--I have the honor to enclose you the note of the Secretary
of our Academy informing you of your election, at our last annual
meeting, into the board of Honorary Members of our National Academy of
Design. When I proposed your name it was received with enthusiasm, and
the vote was _unanimous_. I hope, my dear sir, you will receive this as a
testimonial, not merely of my personal esteem and deep sympathy in your
late losses, but also as a proof that your genius is, in some degree,
estimated on this side of the water.

Notwithstanding the efforts made in England to give to another the credit
which is your due, I think I may with confidence assure you that
throughout the United States your name alone will be associated with the
brilliant discovery which justly bears your name. The letter I wrote from
Paris, the day after your sad loss, has been published throughout this
whole country in hundreds of journals, and has excited great interest.
Should any attempts be made here to give to any other than yourself the
honor of this discovery, my pen is ever ready for your defense.

I hope, before this reaches you, that the French Government, long and
deservedly celebrated for its generosity to men of genius, will have
amply supplied all your losses by a liberal sum. If, when the proper
remuneration shall be secured to you in France, you should think it may
be for your advantage to make an arrangement with the government to hold
back the secret for six months or a year, and would consent to an
exhibition of your _results_ in this country for a short time, the
exhibition might be managed, I think, to your pecuniary advantage. If you
should think favorably of the plan, I offer you my services

To this letter Daguerre replied on July 26:--

MY DEAR SIR,--I have received with great pleasure your kind letter by
which you announce to me my election as an honorary member of the
National Academy of Design. I beg you will be so good as to express my
thanks to the Academy, and to say that I am very proud of the honor which
has been conferred upon me. I shall seize all opportunities of proving my
gratitude for it. I am particularly indebted to you in this circumstance,
and I feel very thankful for this and all other marks of interest you
bestowed upon me.

The transaction with the French Government being nearly at an end, my
discovery shall soon be made public. This cause, added to the immense
distance between us, hinders me from taking the advantage of your good
offer to get up at New York an exhibition of my results.

Believe me, my dear sir, your very devoted servant,

A prophecy, shrewd in some particulars but rather faulty in others, of
the influence of this new art upon painting, is contained in the
following extracts from a letter of Morse's to his friend and master
Washington Allston:--

"I had hoped to have seen you long ere this, but my many avocations have
kept me constantly employed from morning till night. When I say morning I
mean _half past four_ in the morning! I am afraid you will think me a
Goth, but really the hours from that time till twelve at noon are the
richest I ever enjoy.

"You have heard of the Daguerreotype. I have the instruments on the point
of completion, and if it be possible I will yet bring them with me to
Boston, and show you the beautiful results of this brilliant discovery.
Art is to be wonderfully enriched by this discovery. How narrow and
foolish the idea which some express that it will be the ruin of art, or
rather artists, for every one will be his own painter. One effect, I
think, will undoubtedly be to banish the sketchy, slovenly daubs that
pass for spirited and learned; those works which possess mere general
effect without detail, because, forsooth, detail destroys general effect.
Nature, in the results of Daguerre's process, has taken the pencil into
her own hands, and she shows that the minutest detail disturbs not the
general repose. Artists will learn how to paint, and amateurs, or rather
connoisseurs, how to criticise, how to look at Nature, and, therefore,
how to estimate the value of true art. Our studies will now be enriched
with sketches from nature which we can store up during the summer, as the
bee gathers her sweets for winter, and we shall thus have rich materials
for composition and an exhaustless store for the imagination to feed

An interesting account of his experiences with this wonderful new
discovery is contained in a letter written many years later, on the 10th
of February, 1855:--

"As soon as the necessary apparatus was made I commenced experimenting
with it. The greatest obstacle I had to encounter was in the quality of
the plates. I obtained the common, plated copper in coils at the hardware
shops, which, of course, was very thinly coated with silver, and that
impure. Still I was able to verify the truth of Daguerre's revelations.
The first experiment crowned with any success was a view of the Unitarian
Church from the window on the staircase from the third story of the New
York City University. This, of course, was before the building of the New
York Hotel. It was in September, 1839. The time, if I recollect, in which
the plate was exposed to the action of light in the camera was about
fifteen minutes. The instruments, chemicals, etc., were strictly in
accordance with the directions in Daguerre's first book.

"An English gentleman, whose name at present escapes me, obtained a copy
of Daguerre's book about the same time with myself. He commenced
experimenting also. But an American of the name of Walcott was very
successful with a modification of Daguerre's apparatus, substituting a
metallic reflector for the lens. Previous, however, to Walcott's
experiments, or rather results, my friend and colleague, Professor John
W. Draper, of the New York City University, was very successful in his
investigations, and with him I was engaged for a time in attempting

"In my intercourse with Daguerre I specially conversed with him in regard
to the practicability of taking portraits of living persons. He expressed
himself somewhat skeptical as to its practicability, only in consequence
of the time necessary for the person to remain immovable. The time for
taking an outdoor view was from fifteen to twenty minutes, and this he
considered too long a time for any one to remain sufficiently still for a
successful result. No sooner, however, had I mastered the process of
Daguerre than I commenced to experiment with a view to accomplish this
desirable result. I have now the results of these experiments taken in
September, or beginning of October, 1889. They are full-length portraits
of my daughter, single, and also in group with some of her young friends.
They were taken out of doors, on the roof of a building, in the full
sunlight and with the eyes closed. The time was from ten to twenty

"About the same time Professor Draper was successful in taking portraits,
though whether he or myself took the first portrait successfully, I
cannot say."

It was afterwards established that to Professor Draper must be accorded
this honor, but I understand that it was a question of hours only between
the two enthusiasts.

"Soon after we commenced together to take portraits, causing a glass
building to be constructed for that purpose on the roof of the
University. As our experiments had caused us considerable expense, we
made a charge to those who sat for us to defray this expense. Professor
Draper's other duties calling him away from the experiments, except as to
their bearing on some philosophical investigations which he pursued with
great ingenuity and success, I was left to pursue the artistic results of
the process, as more in accordance with my profession. My expenses had
been great, and for some time, five or six months, I pursued the taking
of portraits by the Daguerreotype as a means of reimbursing these
expenses. After this object had been attained, I abandoned the practice
to give my exclusive attention to the Telegraph, which required all my

Before leaving the subject of the Daguerreotype, in which, as I have
shown, Morse was a pioneer in this country, it will be interesting to
note that he took the first group photograph of a college class. This was
of the surviving members of his own class of 1810, who returned to New
Haven for their thirtieth reunion in 1840.

It was not until August of the year 1839 that definite news of the
failure of the Russian agreement was received, and Morse, in a letter to
Smith, of August 12, comments on this and on another serious blow to his

"I received yours of the 2d inst., and the paper accompanying it
containing the notice of Mr. Chamberlain. I had previously been apprised
that my forebodings were true in regard to his fate.... Our enterprise
abroad is destined to give us anxiety, if not to end in disappointment.

"I have just received a letter from M. Amyot, who was to have been my
companion to Russia, and learn from him the unwelcome news that the
Emperor has decided against the Telegraph.... The Emperor's objections
are, it seems, that 'malevolence can easily interrupt the communication.'
M. Amyot scouts the idea, and writes that he refuted the objection to the
satisfaction of the Baron, who, indeed, did not need the refutation for
himself, for the whole matter was fully discussed between us when in
Paris. The Baron, I should judge from the tone of M. Amyot's letter, was
much disappointed, yet, as a faithful and obedient subject of one whose
nay is nay, he will be cautious in so expressing himself as to be

"Thus, my dear sir, prospects abroad look dark. I turn with some faint
hope to my own country again. Will Congress do anything, or is my time
and your generous zeal and pecuniary sacrifice to end only in
disappointment? If so, I can bear it for myself, but I feel it most
keenly for those who have been engaged with me; for you, for the Messrs.
Vail and Dr. Gale. But I will yet hope. I don't know that our enterprise
looks darker than Fulton's once appeared. There is no intrinsic
difficulty; the depressing causes are extrinsic. I hope to see you soon
and talk over all our affairs."

Mr. Smith, in sending a copy of the above letter to Mr. Prime, thus
explains the reference to Mr. Chamberlain:--

"The allusion made in the letter just given to the fate of Mr.
Chamberlain, was another depressing disappointment which occurred to the
Professor contemporaneously with those of the Russian contract. Before I
left Paris we had closed a contract with Mr. Chamberlain to carry the
telegraph to Austria, Prussia, the principal cities of Greece and of
Egypt, and put it upon exhibition with a view to its utilization there.
He was an American gentleman (from Vermont, I think) of large wealth, of
eminent business capacities, of pleasing personal address and sustaining
a character for strict integrity. He parted with Professor Morse in Paris
to enter upon his expedition, with high expectations of both pleasure and
profit, shortly after my own departure from Paris in October, 1838. He
had subsequently apprised Professor Morse of very interesting exhibitions
of the telegraph which he had made, and under date of Athens, January 5,
1839, wrote as follows: 'We exhibited your telegraph to the learned of
Florence, much to their gratification. Yesterday evening the King and
Queen of Greece were highly delighted with its performance. We have shown
it also to the principal inhabitants of Athens, by all of whom it was
much admired. Fame is all you will get for it in these poor countries. We
think of starting in a few days for Alexandria, and hope to get something
worth having from Mehemet Ali. It is, however, doubtful. Nations appear
as poor as individuals, and as unwilling to risk their money upon such
matters. I hope the French will avail themselves of the benefits you
offer them. It is truly strange that it is not grasped at with more
avidity. If I can do anything in Egypt, I will try Turkey and St.

Morse himself writes: "In another letter from Mr. Chamberlain to Mr.
Levering, dated Syra, January 9, he says: 'The pretty little Queen of
Greece was delighted with Morse's telegraph. The string which carried the
cannon-ball used for a weight broke, and came near falling on Her
Majesty's toes, but happily missed, and we, perhaps, escaped a prison. My
best respects to Mr. Morse, and say I shall ask Mehemet Ali for a purse,
a beauty from his seraglio, and something else.'" And Morse concludes: "I
will add that, if he will bring me the purse just now, I can dispense
with the beauty and the something else."

Tragedy too often treads on the heels of comedy, and it is sad to have to
relate that Mr. Chamberlain and six other gentlemen were drowned while on
an excursion of pleasure on the Danube in July of 1839.

That all these disappointments, added to the necessity for making money
in some way for his bare subsistence, should have weighed on the
inventor's spirits, is hardly to be wondered at; the wonder is rather
that he did not sink under his manifold trials. Far from this, however,
he only touches on his needs in the following letter to Alfred Vail,
written on November 14, 1839:--

"As to the Telegraph, I have been compelled from necessity to apply
myself to those duties which yield immediate pecuniary relief. I feel the
pressure as well as others, and, having several pupils at the University,
I must attend to them. Nevertheless, I shall hold myself ready in case of
need to go to Washington during the next session with it. The one I was
constructing is completed except the rotary batteries and the pen-and-ink
apparatus, which I shall soon find time to add if required.

"Mr. Smith expects me in Portland, but I have not the means to visit him.
The telegraph of Wheatstone is going ahead in England, even with all its
complications; so, I presume, is the one of Steinheil in Bavaria. Whether
ours is to be adopted depends on the Government or on a company, and the
times are not favorable for the formation of a company. Perhaps it is the
part of wisdom to let the matter rest and watch for an opportunity when
times look better, and which I hope will be soon."

He gives freer vent to his disappointment in a letter to Mr. Smith, of
November 20, 1839:--

"I feel the want of that sum which Congress ought to have appropriated
two years ago to enable me to compete with my European rivals. Wheatstone
and Steinheil have money for their projects; the former by a company, and
the latter by the King of Bavaria. Is there any national feeling with us
on the subject? I will not say there is not until after the next session
of Congress. But, if there is any cause for national exultation in being
not merely _first_ in the invention as to time, but _best_ too, as
decided by a foreign tribunal, ought the inventor to be suffered to work
with his hands tied? Is it honorable to the nation to boast of its
inventors, to contend for the credit of their inventions as national
property, and not lift a finger to assist them to perfect that of which
they boast?

"But I will not complain for myself. I can bear it, because I made up my
mind from the very first for this issue, the common fate of all
inventors. But I do not feel so agreeable in seeing those who have
interested themselves in it, especially yourself, suffer also. Perhaps I
look too much on the unfavorable side. I often thus look, not to
discourage others or myself, but to check those too sanguine expectations
which, with me, would rise to an inordinate height unless thus reined in
and disciplined.

"Shall you not be in New York soon? I wish much to see you and to concoct
plans for future operations. I am at present much straitened in means, or
I should yet endeavor to see you in Portland; but I must yield to
necessity and hope another season to be in different and more prosperous

Thus the inventor, who had hoped so much from the energy and business
acumen of his own countrymen, found that the conditions at home differed
not much from those which he had found so exasperating abroad. Praise in
plenty for the beauty and simplicity of his invention, but no money,
either public or private, to enable him to put it to a practical test.
His associates had left him to battle alone for his interests and theirs.
F.O.J. Smith was in Portland, Maine, attending to his own affairs;
Professor Gale was in the South filling a professorship; and Alfred Vail
was in Philadelphia. No one of them, as far as I can ascertain, was doing
anything to help in this critical period of the enterprise which was to
benefit them all.

When credit is to be awarded to those who have accomplished something
great, many factors must be taken into consideration. Not only must the
aspirant for undying fame in the field of invention, for instance, have
discovered something new, which, when properly applied, will benefit
mankind, but he must prove its practical value to a world
constitutionally skeptical, and he must persevere through trials and
discouragements of every kind, with a sublime faith in the ultimate
success of his efforts, until the fight be won. Otherwise, if he retires
beaten from the field of battle, another will snatch up his sword and hew
his way to victory.

It must never be forgotten that Morse won his place in the Hall of Fame,
not only because of his invention of the simplest and best method of
conveying intelligence by electricity, but because he, alone and unaided,
carried forward the enterprise when, but for him, it would have been
allowed to fail. With no thought of disparaging the others, who can
hardly be blamed for their loss of faith, and who were of great
assistance to him later on when the battle was nearly won, I feel that it
is only just to lay emphasis on this factor in the claim of Morse to

It will not be necessary to record in detail the events of the year 1840.
The inventor, always confident that success would eventually crown his
efforts, lived a life of privation and constant labor in the two fields
of art and science. He was still President of the National Academy of
Design, and in September he was elected an honorary member of the
Mercantile Library Association. He strove to keep the wolf from the door
by giving lessons in painting and by practising the new art of
daguerreotypy, and, in the mean time, he employed every spare moment in
improving and still further simplifying his invention.

He heard occasionally from his associates. The following sentences are
from a letter of Alfred Vail's, dated Philadelphia, January 13, 1840:--

Friend S.F.B. Morse,

Dear Sir, It is many a day since I last had the pleasure of seeing and
conversing with you, and, if I am not mistaken, it is as long since any
communications have been exchanged. However I trust it will not long be
so. When I last had the pleasure of seeing you it was when on my way to
Philadelphia, at which time you had the kindness to show me specimens of
the greatest discovery ever made, with the exception of the
Electro-Magnetic Telegraph. By the by, I have been thinking that it is
time money in some way was made out of the Telegraph, and I am almost
ready to order an instrument made, and to make the proposition to you to
exhibit it here. What do you think of the plan? If Mr. Prosch will make
me a first-rate, most perfect machine, and as speedily as possible, and
will wait six or nine months for his pay, you may order one for me.

Morse's reply to this letter has not been preserved, but he probably
agreed to Vail's proposition,--anything honorable to keep the telegraph
in the public eye,--for, as we shall see, in a later letter he refers to
the machines which Prosch was to make. Before quoting from that letter,
however, I shall give the following sentences from one to Baron
Meyendorff, of March 18, 1840:

"I have, since I returned to the United States, made several important
improvements, which I regret my limited time will not permit me to
describe or send you.... I have so changed the _form_ of the apparatus,
and condensed it into so small a compass, that you would scarcely know it
for the same instrument which you saw in Paris."

This and many other allusions, in the correspondence of those years, to
Morse's work in simplifying and perfecting his invention, some of which I
have already noted, answer conclusively the claims of those who have said
that all improvements were the work of other brains and hands.

On September 7, 1840, he writes again to Vail:--

"Your letter of 28th ult. was received several days ago, but I have not
had a moment's time to give you a word in return. I am tied hand and foot
during the day endeavoring to realize something from the Daguerreotype
portraits.... As to the Telegraph, I know not what to say. The delay in
finishing the apparatus on the part of Prosch is exceedingly tantalizing
and vexatious. He was to have finished them more than six months ago, and
I have borne with his procrastination until I utterly despair of their
being completed.... I suppose something might be done in Washington next
session if I, or some of you, could go on, but I have expended so much
time in vain, there and in Europe, that I feel almost discouraged from
pressing it any further; only, however, from want of funds. I have none
myself, and I dislike to ask it of the rest of you. You are all so
scattered that there is no consultation, and I am under the necessity of
attending to duties which will give me the means of living.

"The reason of its not being in operation is not _the fault of the
invention_, nor is it _my neglect_. My faith is not only unshaken in its
_eventual adoption throughout the world_, but it is confirmed by every
new discovery in the science of electricity."

While the future looked dark and the present was darker still, Morse
maintained a cheerful exterior, and was still able to write to his
friends in a light and airy vein. The following letter, dated September
30, 1840, was to a Mr. Levering in Paris:--

"Some time since (I believe nearly a year ago) I wrote you to procure for
me two lenses and some plates for the Daguerreotype process, but have
never heard from you nor had any intimation that my letter was ever
received. After waiting some months, I procured both lenses and plates
here. Now, if I knew how to scold at you, wouldn't I scold.

"Well, I recollect a story of a captain who was overloaded by a great
many ladies of his acquaintance with orders to procure them various
articles in India, just as he was about to sail thither, all which he
promised to fulfill. But, on his return, when they flocked round him for
their various articles, to their surprise he had only answered the order
of one of them. Upon their expressing their disappointment he addressed
them thus: 'Ladies,' said he, 'I have to inform you of a most unlucky
accident that occurred to your orders. I was not unmindful of them, I
assure you; so one fine day I took your orders all out of my pocketbook
and arranged them on the top of the companionway, but, just as they were
all arranged, a sudden gust of wind took them all overboard.' 'Aye, a
very good excuse,' they exclaimed. 'How happens it that Mrs. ----'s did
not go overboard, too?' 'Oh!' said the captain, 'Mrs. ---- had
fortunately enclosed in her order some dozen doubloons which kept the
wind from blowing hers away with the rest.'

"Now, friend Lovering, I have no idea of having my new order blown
overboard, so I herewith send by the hands of my young friend and pupil,
Mr. R. Hubbard, whom I also commend to your kind notice, ten golden
half-eagles to keep my order down."


JUNE 20, 1840--AUGUST 12, 1842

First patent issued.--Proposal of Cooke and Wheatstone to join forces
rejected.--Letter to Rev. E.S. Salisbury.--Money advanced by brother
artists repaid.--Poverty.--Reminiscences of General Strother, "Porte
Crayon."--Other reminiscences.--Inaction in Congress.--Flattering letter
of F.O.J. Smith.--Letter to Smith urging action.--Gonon and Wheatstone.--
Temptation to abandon enterprise.--Partners all financially crippled.--
Morse alone doing any work.--Encouraging letter from Professor Henry.--
Renewed enthusiasm.--Letter to Hon. W.W. Boardman urging appropriation of
$3500 by Congress.--Not even considered.--Despair of inventor.

It is only necessary to remember that the year 1840, and the years
immediately preceding and following it, were seasons of great financial
depression, and that in 1840 the political unrest, which always precedes
a presidential election, was greatly intensified, to realize why but
little encouragement was given to an enterprise so fantastic as that of
an electric telegraph. Capitalists were disinclined to embark on new and
untried ventures, and the members of Congress were too much absorbed in
the political game to give heed to the pleadings of a mad inventor. The
election of Harrison, followed by his untimely death only a month after
his inauguration and the elevation of Tyler to the Presidency, prolonged
the period of political uncertainty, so that Morse and his telegraph
received but scant attention on Capitol Hill.

However, the year 1840 marked some progress, for on the 20th of June the
first patent was issued to Morse. It may be remembered that, while his
caveat and petition were filed in 1837, he had requested that action on
them be deferred until after his return from Europe. He had also during
the year been gradually perfecting his invention as time and means

It was during the year 1840, too, that Messrs. Wheatstone and Cooke
proposed to join forces with the Morse patentees in America, but this
proposition was rejected, although Morse seems to have been almost
tempted, for in a letter to Smith he says:--

"I send you copies of two letters just received from England. What shall
I say in answer? Can we make any arrangements with them? Need we do it?
Does not our patent secure us against foreign interference, or are we to
be defeated, not only in England but in our own country, by the
subsequent inventions of Wheatstone?

"I feel my hands tied; I know not what to say. Do advise immediately so
that I can send by the British Queen, which sails on the first prox."

Fortunately Smith advised against a combination, and the matter was

It will not be necessary to dwell at length on the events of the year
1841. The situation and aims of the inventor are best summed up in a
beautiful and characteristic letter, written on February 14 of that year,
to his cousin, the Reverend Edward S. Salisbury:--

"Your letter containing a draft for three hundred dollars I have
received, for which accept my sincere thanks. I have hesitated about
receiving it because I had begun to despair of ever being able to touch
the pencil again. The blow I received from Congress, when the decision
was made concerning the pictures for the Rotunda, has seriously and
vitally affected my enthusiasm in my art. When that event was announced
to me I was tempted to yield up all in despair, but I roused myself to
resist the temptation, and, determining still to fix my mind upon the
work, cast about for the means of accomplishing it in such ways as my
Heavenly Father should make plain. My telegraphic enterprise was one of
those means. Induced to prosecute it by the Secretary of the Treasury,
and encouraged by success in every part of its progress, urged forward to
complete it by the advice of the most judicious friends, I have carried
the invention on my part to perfection. That is to say, so far as the
invention itself is concerned. I _have done my part_. It is approved in
the highest quarters--in England, France, and at home--by scientific
societies and by governments, and waits only the action of the latter, or
of capitalists, to carry it into operation.

"Thus after several years' expenditure of time and money in the
expectation (of my friends, _never of my own_ except as I yielded my own
judgment to theirs) of so much at least as to leave me free to pursue my
art again, I am left, humanly speaking, farther from my object than ever.
I am reminded, too, that my prime is past; the snows are on my temples,
the half-century of years will this year be marked against me; my eyes
begin to fail, and what can I now expect to do with declining powers and
habits in my art broken up by repeated disappointments?

"That prize which, through the best part of my life, animated me to
sacrifice all that most men consider precious--prospects of wealth,
domestic enjoyments, and, not least, the enjoyment of country--was
snatched from me at the moment when it appeared to be mine beyond a

"I do not state these things to you, my dear cousin, in the spirit of
complaint of the dealings of God's Providence, for I am perfectly
satisfied that, mysterious as it may seem to me, it has all been ordered
in its minutest particulars in infinite wisdom, so satisfied that I can
truly say I rejoice in the midst of all these trials, and in view of my
Heavenly Father's hand guiding all, I have a joy of spirit which I can
only express by the word 'singing.' It is not in man to direct his steps.
I know I am so short-sighted that I dare not trust myself in the very
next step; how then could I presume to plan for my whole life, and expect
that my own wisdom had guided me into that way best for me and the
universe of God's creatures?

"I have not painted a picture since that decision in Congress, and I
presume that the mechanical skill I once possessed in the art has
suffered by the unavoidable neglect. I may possibly recover this skill,
and if anything will tend to this end, if anything can tune again an
instrument so long unstrung, it is the kindness and liberality of my
Cousin Edward. I would wish, therefore, the matter put on this ground
that my mind may be at ease. I am at present engaged in taking portraits
by the Daguerreotype. I have been at considerable expense in perfecting
apparatus and the necessary fixtures, and am just reaping a little profit
from it. My ultimate aim is the application of the Daguerreotype to
accumulate for my studio models for my canvas. Its first application will
be to the study of your picture. Yet if any accident, any unforeseen
circumstances should prevent, I have made arrangements with my brother
Sidney to hold the sum you have advanced subject to your order. On these
conditions I accept it, and will yet indulge the hope of giving you a
picture acceptable to you."

The picture was never painted, for the discouraged artist found neither
time nor inclination ever to pick up his brush again; but we may be sure
that the money, so generously advanced by his cousin, was repaid.

It was in the year 1841 also that, in spite of the difficulty he found in
earning enough to keep him from actual starvation, he began to pay back
the sums which had been advanced to him by his friends for the painting
of a historical picture, which should, in a measure, atone to him for the
undeserved slight of Congress. In a circular addressed to each of the
subscribers he gives the history of the matter and explains why he had
hoped that the telegraph would supply him with the means to paint the
picture, and then he adds:--

"I have, as yet, not realized one cent, and thus I find myself farther
from my object than ever. Upon deliberately considering the matter the
last winter and spring, I came to the determination, in the first place,
to free myself from the pecuniary obligation under which I had so long
lain to my friends of the Association, and I commenced a system of
economy and retrenchment by which I hoped gradually to amass the
necessary sum for that purpose, which sum, it will be seen, amounts in
the aggregate to $510. Three hundred dollars of this sum I had already
laid aside, when an article in the New York 'Mirror,' of the 16th
October, determined me at once to commence the refunding of the sums

What the substance of the article in the "Mirror" was, I do not know, but
it was probably one of those scurrilous and defamatory attacks, from many
of which he suffered in common with other persons of prominence, and
which was called forth, perhaps, by his activity in the politics of the

That I have not exaggerated in saying that he was almost on the verge of
starvation during these dark years is evidenced by the following word
picture from the pen of General Strother, of Virginia, known in the world
of literature under the pen name of "Porte Crayon":--

"I engaged to become Morse's pupil, and subsequently went to New York and
found him in a room in University Place. He had three other pupils, and I
soon found that our professor had very little patronage. I paid my fifty
dollars that settled for one quarter's instruction. Morse was a faithful
teacher, and took as much interest in our progress--more indeed than--we
did ourselves. But he was very poor. I remember that when my second
quarter's pay was due my remittance from home did not come as expected,
and one day the professor came in and said, courteously:--

"'Well, Strother my boy, how are we off for money?'

"'Why, Professor,' I answered, 'I am sorry to say I have been
disappointed; but I expect a remittance next week.'

"'Next week!' he repeated sadly. 'I shall be dead by that time.'

"'Dead, Sir?'

"'Yes, dead by starvation.'

"I was distressed and astonished. I said hurriedly:--

"'Would ten dollars be of any service?'

"'Ten dollars would save my life; that is all it would do.'

"I paid the money, all that I had, and we dined together. It was a modest
meal but good, and, after he had finished, he said:--

"'This is my first meal for twenty-four hours. Strother, don't be an
artist. It means beggary. Your life depends upon people who know nothing
of your art and care nothing for you. A house-dog lives better, and the
very sensitiveness that stimulates an artist to work keeps him alive to

Another artist describes the conditions in 1841 in the following words:--

"In the spring of 18411 was searching for a studio in which to set up my
easel. My 'house-hunting' ended at the New York University, where I found
what I wanted in one of the turrets of that stately edifice. When I had
fixed my choice, the janitor, who accompanied me in my examination of the
rooms, threw open a door on the opposite side of the hall and invited me
to enter. I found myself in what was evidently an artist's studio, but
every object in it bore indubitable signs of unthrift and neglect. The
statuettes, busts, and models of various kinds were covered with dust and
cobwebs; dusty canvases were faced to the wall, and stumps of brushes and
scraps of paper littered the floor. The only signs of industry consisted
of a few masterly crayon drawings, and little luscious studies of color
pinned to the wall.

"'You will have an artist for a neighbor,' said the janitor, 'though he
is not here much of late; he seems to be getting rather shiftless; he is
wasting his time over some silly invention, a machine by which he expects
to send messages from one place to another. He is a very good painter,
and might do well if he would only stick to his business; but, Lord!' he
added with a sneer of contempt, 'the idea of telling by a little streak
of lightning what a body is saying at the other end of it.'

"Judge of my astonishment when he informed me that the 'shiftless
individual' whose foolish waste of time so much excited his
commiseration, was none other than the President of the National Academy
of Design--the most exalted position, in my youthful artistic fancy, it
was possible for mortal to attain--S.F.B. Morse, since better known as
the inventor of the Electric Telegraph. But a little while after this his
fame was flashing through the world, and the unbelievers who voted him
insane were forced to confess that there was, at least, 'method in his

The spring and summer of 1841 wore away and nothing was accomplished. On
August 16 Morse writes to Smith:--

"Our Telegraph matters are in a situation to do none of us any good,
unless some understanding can be entered into among the proprietors. I
have recently received a letter from Mr. Isaac N. Coffin, from
Washington, with a commendatory letter from Hon. R. McClellan, of the
House. Mr. Coffin proposes to take upon himself the labor of urging
through the two houses the bill relating to my Telegraph, which you know
has long been before Congress. He will press it and let his compensation
depend on his success."

This Mr. Coffin wrote many long letters telling, in vivid language, of
the great difficulties which beset the passage of a bill through both
houses of Congress, and of how skilled he was in all the diplomatic moves
necessary to success, and finally, after a long delay, occasioned by the
difficulty of getting powers of attorney from all the proprietors, he was
authorized to go ahead. The sanguine inventor hoped much from this
unsolicited offer of assistance, but he was again doomed to
disappointment, for Mr. Coffin's glowing promises amounted to nothing at
all, and the session of 1841-42 ended with no action taken on the bill.

In view of the fact, alluded to in a former chapter, that Francis O.J.
Smith later became a bitter enemy of Morse's, and was responsible for
many of the virulent attacks upon him, going so far as to say that most,
if not all, of the essentials of the telegraph had been invented by
others, it may be well to quote the following sentences from a letter of
August 21, 1841, in reply to Morse's of August 16:--

"I shall be in Washington more next winter, and will lend all aid in my
power, of course, to any agent we may have there. My expenditures in the
affair, as you know, have been large and liberal, and have somewhat
embarrassed me. Hence I cannot incur more outlay. I am, however,
extremely solicitous for the double purpose of having you witness with
your own eyes and in your own lifetime the consummation in actual,
practical, national utility [of] this beautiful and wonderful offspring
of your mechanical and philosophical genius, and know that you have not
overestimated the service you have been ambitious of rendering to your
country and the world."

On December 8, 1841, Morse again urges Smith to action:--

"Indeed, my dear sir, something ought to be done to carry forward this
enterprise that we may all receive what I think we all deserve. The whole
labor and expense of moving at all devolve on me, and I have nothing in
the world. Completely crippled in means I have scarcely (indeed, I have
not at all) the means even to pay the postage of letters on the subject.
I feel it most tantalizing to find that there is a movement in Washington
on the subject; to know that telegraphs will be before Congress this
session, and from the means possessed by Gonon and Wheatstone!! (yes,
Wheatstone who successfully headed us off in England), one or the other
of their two plans will probably be adopted. Wheatstone, I suppose you
know, has a patent here, and has expended $1000 to get everything
prepared for a campaign to carry his project into operation, and more
than that, his patent is dated _before mine!_

"My dear sir, to speak as I feel, I am sick at heart to perceive how
easily others, _foreigners_, can manage our Congress, and can contrive to
cheat our country out of the honor of a discovery of which the country
boasts, and our countrymen out of the profits which are our due; to
perceive how easily they can find men and means to help them in their
plans, and how difficult, nay, impossible, for us to find either. Is it
really so, or am I deceived? What can be done? Do write immediately and
propose something. Will you not be in Washington this winter? Will you
not call on me as you pass through New York, if you do go?

"Gonon has his telegraph on the Capitol, and a committee of the Senate
reported in favor of trying his for a short distance, and will pass a
bill this session if we are not doing something. Some means, somehow,
must be raised. I have been compelled to stop my machine just at the
moment of completion. I cannot move a step without running in debt, and
that I cannot do.

"As to the company that was thought of to carry the Telegraph into
operation here, it is another of those _ignes fatui_ that have just led
me on to waste a little more time, money, and patience, and then
vanished. The gentleman who proposed the matter was, doubtless, friendly
disposed, but he lacks judgment and perseverance in a matter of this

"If Congress would but pass the bill of $30,000 before them, there would
be no difficulty. There is no difficulty in the scientific or mechanical
part of the matter; that is a problem solved. The only difficulty that
remains is obtaining funds, which Congress can furnish, to carry it into
execution. I have a great deal to say, but must stop for want of time to
write more."

But he does not stop. He is so full of his subject that he continues at
some length:--

"Everything done by me in regard to the Telegraph is at arm's length. I
can do nothing without consultation, and when I wish to consult on the
most trivial thing I have three letters to write, and a week or ten days
to wait before I can receive an answer.

"I feel at times almost ready to cast the whole matter to the winds, and
turn my attention forever from the subject. Indeed, I feel almost
inclined, at tunes, to destroy the evidences of priority of invention in
my possession and let Wheatstone and England take the credit of it. For
it is tantalizing in the highest degree to find the papers and the
lecturers boasting of the invention as one of the greatest of the age,
and as an honor to America, and yet to have the nation by its
representatives leave the inventor without the means either to put his
invention fairly before his countrymen, or to defend himself against
foreign attack.

"If I had the means in any way of support in Washington this winter, I
would go on in the middle of January and push the matter, but I cannot
run the risk. I would write a detailed history of the invention, which
would be an interesting document to have printed in the Congressional
documents, and establish beyond contradiction both priority and
superiority of my invention. Has not the Postmaster-General, or Secretary
of War or Treasury, the power to pay a few hundred dollars from a
contingent fund for such purposes?

"Whatever becomes of the invention through the neglect of those who could
but would not lend a helping hand, _you_, my dear sir, will have the
reflection that you did all in your power to aid me, and I am deterred
from giving up the matter as desperate most of all for the consideration
that those who kindly lent their aid when the invention was in its
infancy would suffer, and that, therefore, I should not be dealing right
by them. If this is a little _blue_, forgive it."

It appears from this letter that Morse bore no ill-will towards his
partners for not coming to his assistance at this critical stage of the
enterprise, so that it behooves us not to be too harsh in our judgment.
Perhaps I have not sufficiently emphasized the fact that, owing to the
great financial depression which prevailed at that time, Mr. Smith and
the Vails were seriously crippled in their means, and were not able to
advance any more money, and Professor Gale had never been called upon to
contribute money. This does not alter my main contention, however, for it
still remains true that, if it had not been for Morse's dogged
persistence during these dark years, the enterprise would, in all
probability, have failed. With the others it was merely an incident, with
him it had become his whole life.

The same refrain runs through all the letters of 1841 and 1842;
discouragement at the slow progress which is being made, and yet a
sincere conviction that eventually the cause will triumph. On December
13, 1841, he says in a letter to Vail:--

"We are all somewhat crippled, and I most of all, being obliged to
superintend the getting up of a set of machinery complete, and to make
the greater part myself, and without a cent of money.... All the burden
now rests on my shoulders after years of time devoted to the enterprise,
and I am willing, as far as I am able, to bear my share if the other
proprietors will lend a helping hand, and give me facilities to act and a
reasonable recompense for my services in case of success."

Vail, replying to this letter on December 15, says: "I have recently
given considerable thought to the subject of the Telegraph, and was
intending to get permission of you, if there is anything to the contrary
in our articles of agreement, to build for myself and my private use a
Telegraph upon your plan."

In answering this letter, on December 18, Morse again urges Vail to give
him a power of attorney, and adds:--

"You can see in a moment that, if I have to write to all the scattered
proprietors of the Telegraph every time any movement is made, what a
burden falls upon me both of expense of time and money which I cannot
afford. In acting for my own interest in this matter I, of course, act
for the interest of all. If we can get that thirty thousand dollars bill
through Congress, the experiment (if it can any longer be called such)
can then be tried on such a scale as to insure its success.

"You ask permission to make a Telegraph for your own use. I have no
objection, but, before you commence one, you had better see me and the
improvements which I have made, and I can suggest a few more, rather of
an ornamental character, and some economical arrangements which may be of
use to you.

"I thank you for your kind invitation, and, when I come to Philadelphia,
shall _A. Vail_ myself of your politeness. I suppose by this time you
have a brood of chickens around you. Well, go on and prosper. As for me,
I am not well; am much depressed at times, and have many cares,
anxieties, and disappointments, in which I am aware I am not alone. But
all will work for the best if we only look through the cloud and see a
kind Parent directing all. This reflection alone cheers me and gives me
renewed strength."

Conditions remained practically unchanged during the early part of the
year 1842. If it had not been for occasional bits of encouragement from
different quarters the inventor would probably have yielded to the
temptation to abandon all and depend on his brush again for a living.
Perhaps the ray of greatest encouragement which lightened the gloom of
this depressing period was the following letter from Professor Henry,
dated February 24, 1842:--

MY DEAR SIR--I am pleased to learn that you have again petitioned
Congress in reference to your telegraph, and I most sincerely hope you
will succeed in convincing our representatives of the importance of the
invention. In this you may, perhaps, find some difficulty, since, in the
minds of many, the electro-magnetic telegraph is associated with the
various chimerical projects constantly presented to the public, and
particularly with the schemes so popular a year or two ago for the
application of electricity as a moving power in the arts. I have
asserted, from the first, that all attempts of this kind are premature
and made without a proper knowledge of scientific principles. The case
is, however, entirely different in regard to the electro-magnetic
telegraph. Science is now fully ripe for this application, and I have not
the least doubt, if proper means be afforded, of the perfect success of
the invention.

The idea of transmitting intelligence to a distance by means of
electrical action, has been suggested by various persons, from the time
of Franklin to the present; but, until the last few years, or since the
principal discoveries in electro-magnetism, all attempts to reduce it to
practice were, necessarily, unsuccessful. The mere suggestion however, of
a scheme of this kind is a matter for which little credit can be claimed,
since it is one which would naturally arise in the mind of almost any
person familiar with the phenomena of electricity; but the bringing it
forward at the proper moment, when the developments of science are able
to furnish the means of certain success, and the devising a plan for
carrying it into practical operation, are the grounds of a just claim to
scientific reputation, as well as to public patronage.

About the same time with yourself Professor Wheatstone, of London, and
Dr. Steinheil, of Germany, proposed plans of the electro-magnetic
telegraph, but these differ as much from yours as the nature of the
common principle would well permit; and, unless some essential
improvements have lately been made in these European plans, _I should
'prefer the one invented by yourself_.

With my best wishes for your success I remain, with much esteem

Yours truly

I consider this one of the most important bits of contemporary evidence
that has come down to us. Professor Henry, perfectly conversant with, all
the minutiae of science and invention, practically gives to Morse all the
credit which the inventor himself at any time claimed. He dismisses the
claims of those who merely suggested a telegraph, or even made
unsuccessful attempts to reduce one to practice, unsuccessful because the
time was not yet ripe; and he awards Morse scientific as well as popular
reputation. Furthermore Professor Henry, with the clear vision of a
trained mind, points out that advances in discovery and invention are
necessarily slow and dependent upon the labors of many in the same field.
His cordial endorsement of the invention, in this letter and later, so
pleased and encouraged Morse that he refers to it several times in his
correspondence. To Mr. Smith, on July 16, 1842, he writes:--

"Professor Henry visited me a day or two ago; he knew the principles of
the Telegraph, but had never before seen it. He told a gentleman, who
mentioned it again to me, that without exception it was the most
beautiful and ingenious instrument he had ever seen. He says mine is the
only truly practicable plan. He has been experimenting and making
discoveries on celestial electricity, and he says that Wheatstone's and
Steinheil's telegraphs must be so influenced in a highly electrical state
of the atmosphere as at times to be useless, they using the deflection of
the needle, while mine, from the use of the magnet, is not subject to
this disturbing influence. I believe, if the truth were known, some such
cause is operating to prevent our hearing more of these telegraphs."

In this same letter he tells of the application of a certain Mr. John P.
Manrow for permission to form a company, but, as nothing came of it, it
will not be necessary to particularize. Mr. Manrow, however, was a
successful contractor on the New York and Erie Railroad, and it was a
most encouraging sign to have practical business men begin to take notice
of the invention.

So cheered was the ever-hopeful inventor by the praise of Professor
Henry, that he redoubled his efforts to get the matter properly before
Congress; and in this he worked alone, for, in the letter to Smith just
quoted from, he says: "I have not heard a word from Mr. Coffin at
Washington since I saw you. I presume he has abandoned the idea of doing
anything on the terms we proposed, and so has given it up. Well, so be
it; I am content."

Taking advantage of the fact that he was personally acquainted with many
members of Congress, he wrote to several of them on the subject. In some
of the letters he treats exhaustively of the history and scientific
principles of his telegraph, but I have selected the following, addressed
to the Honorable W.W. Boardman, as containing the most essential facts in
the most concise form:--

August 10, 1842.

My Dear Sir,--I enclose you a copy of the "Tribune" in which you will see
a notice of my Telegraph. I have showed its operation to a few friends
occasionally within a few weeks, among others to Professor Henry, of
Princeton (a copy of whose letter to me on this subject I sent you some
time since). He had never seen it in operation, but had only learned from
description the principle on which it is founded. He is not of an
enthusiastic temperament, but exceedingly cautious in giving an opinion
on scientific inventions, yet in this case he expressed himself in the
warmest terms, and told my friend Dr. Chilton (who informed me of it)
that he had just been witnessing "the operation of the most beautiful and
ingenious instrument he had ever seen."

Indeed, since I last wrote you, I have been wholly occupied in perfecting
its details and making myself familiar with the whole system. There is
not a shadow of a doubt as to its performing all that I have promised in
regard to it, and, indeed, all that has been conceived of it. Few can
understand the obstacles arising from want of pecuniary means that I have
had to encounter the past winter. To avoid debt (which I will never
incur) I have been compelled to make with my own hands a great part of my
machinery, but at an expense of time of very serious consideration to me.
I have executed in six months what a good machinist, if I had the means
to employ him, would have performed in as many weeks, and performed much

I had hoped to be able to show my perfected instrument in Washington long
before this, and was (until this morning) contemplating its
transportation thither next week. The news, just arrived, of the proposed
adjournment of Congress has stopped my preparations, and interposes, I
fear, another year of anxious suspense.

Now, my dear sir, as your time is precious, I will state in few words
what I desire. The Government will eventually, without doubt, become
possessed of this invention, for it will be necessary from many
considerations; not merely as a direct advantage to the Government and
public at large if regulated by the Government, but as a preventive of
the evil effects which must result if it be a monopoly of a company. To
this latter mode of remunerating myself I shall be compelled to resort if
the Government should not eventually act upon it.

You were so good as to call the attention of the House to the subject by
a resolution of inquiry early in the session. I wrote you some time after
requesting a stay of action on the part of the committee, in the hope
that, long before this, I could show them the Telegraph in Washington;
but, just as I am ready, I find that Congress will adjourn before I can
reach Washington and put the instrument in order for their inspection.

Will it be possible, before Congress rises, to appropriate a small sum,
say $3500, under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, to put
my Telegraph in operation for the inspection of Congress the next
session? If Congress will grant this sum, I will engage to have a
complete Telegraph on my Electro-Magnetic plan between the President's
house, or one of the Departments, and the Capitol and the Navy Yard, so
that instantaneous communication can be held between these three points
at pleasure, at any time of day or night, at any season, in clear or
rainy weather, and ready for their examination during the next session of
Congress, so that the whole subject may be fairly understood.

I believe that, did the great majority of Congress but consider seriously
the results of this invention of the Electric Telegraph on all the
interests of society; did they suffer themselves to dwell but for a
moment on the vast consequences of the instantaneous communication of
intelligence from one part to the other of the land in a commercial point
of view, and as facilitating the defenses of the country, which my
invention renders certain; they would not hesitate to pass all the acts
necessary to secure its control to the Government. I ask not this until
they have thoroughly examined its merits, but will they not assist me in
placing the matter fairly before them? Surely so small a sum to the
Government for so great an object cannot reasonably be denied.

I hardly know in what form this request of mine should be made. Should it
be by petition to Congress, or will this letter handed in to the
committee be sufficient? If a petition is required, for form's sake, to
be referred to the committee to report, shall I ask the favor of you to
make such petition in proper form?

You know, my dear sir, just what I wish, and I know, from the kind and
friendly feeling you have shown toward my invention, I may count on your
aid. If, on your return, you stop a day or two in New York, I shall be
glad to show you the operation of the Telegraph as it is.

This modest request of the inventor was doomed, like so many of his
hopes, to be shattered, as we learn from the courteous reply of Mr.
Boardman, dated August 12:--

DEAR SIR,--Yours of the 10th is received. I had already seen the notice
of your Telegraph in the "Tribune," and was prepared for such a report.
This is not the time to commence any new project before Congress. We are,
I trust, within ten days of adjournment. There is no prospect of a tariff
at this session, and, as that matter appears settled, the sooner Congress
adjourns the better. The subject of your Telegraph was some months ago,
as you know, referred to the Committee on Commerce, and by that committee
it was referred to Mr. Ferris, one of the members of that committee, from
the city of New York, and who, by-the-way, is now at home in the city and
will be glad to see you on the subject. I cannot give you his address,
but you can easily find him.

The Treasury and the Government are both bankrupt, and that foolish Tyler
has vetoed the tariff bill; the House is in bad humor and nothing of the
kind you propose could be done. The only chance would be for the
Committee on Commerce to report such a plan, but there would be little or
no chance of getting such an appropriation through this session. I have
much faith in your plan, and hope you will continue to push it toward

This was almost the last straw, and it is not strange that the
long-suffering inventor should have been on the point of giving up in
despair, nor that he should have given vent to his despondency in the
following letter to Smith:--

"While, so far as the invention itself is concerned, everything is
favorable, I find myself without sympathy or help from any who are
associated with me, whose interest, one would think, would impel them at
least to inquire if they could render some assistance. For two years past
I have devoted all my time and scanty means, living on a mere pittance,
denying myself all pleasures and even necessary food, that I might have a
sum to put my Telegraph into such a position before Congress as to insure
success to the common enterprise.

"I am, crushed for want of means, and means of so trivial a character,
too, that they who know how to ask (which I do not) could obtain in a few
hours. One more year has gone for want of these means. I have now
ascertained that, however unpromising were the times last session, if I
could but have gone to Washington, I could have got some aid to enable me
to insure success at the next session."

The other projects for telegraphs must have been abandoned, for he goes
on to say:--

"As it is, although everything is favorable, although I have no
competition and no opposition--on the contrary, although every member of
Congress, as far as I can learn, is favorable--yet I fear all will fail
because I am too poor to risk the trifling expense which my journey and
residence in Washington will occasion me. I will not run in debt if I
lose the whole matter. So, unless I have the means from some source, I
shall be compelled, however reluctantly, to leave it, and, if I get once
engaged in my proper profession again, the Telegraph and its proprietors
will urge me from it in vain.

"No one can tell the days and months of anxiety and labor I have had in
perfecting my telegraphic apparatus. For want of means I have been
compelled to make with my own hands (and to labor for weeks) a piece of
mechanism which could be made much better, and in a tenth part of the
time, by a good mechanician, thus wasting _time_--time which I cannot
recall and which seems double-winged to me.

"'Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.' It is true and I have known the
full meaning of it. Nothing but the consciousness that I have an
invention which is to mark an era in human civilization, and which is to
contribute to the happiness of millions, would have sustained me through
so many and such lengthened trials of patience in perfecting it."


JULY 16. 1842--MARCH 26, 1843

Continued discouragements.--Working on improvements.--First submarine
cable from Battery to Governor's Island.--The Vails refuse to give
financial assistance.--Goes to Washington.--Experiments conducted at the
Capitol.--First to discover duplex and wireless telegraphy.--Dr. Fisher.
--Friends in Congress.--Finds his statuette of Dying Hercules in basement
of Capitol.--Alternately hopes and despairs of bill passing Congress.--
Bill favorably reported from committee.--Clouds breaking.--Ridicule in
Congress.--Bill passes House by narrow majority.--Long delay in Senate.--
Last day of session.--Despair.--Bill passes.--Victory at last.

Slowly the mills of the gods had been grinding, so slowly that one
marvels at their leaden pace, and wonders why the dream of the man so
eager to benefit his fellowmen could not have been realized sooner. We
are forced to echo the words of the inventor himself in a previously
quoted letter: "I am perfectly satisfied that, mysterious as it may seem
to me, it has all been ordered in its minutest particulars in infinite
wisdom." He enlarges on this point in the letter to Smith of July 16,
1842. Referring to the difficulties he has encountered through lack of
means, he says:--

"I have oftentimes risen in the morning not knowing where the means were
to come from for the common expenses of the day. Reflect one moment on my
situation in regard to the invention. Compelled from the first, from my
want of the means to carry out the invention to a practical result, to
ask assistance from those who had means, I associated with me the Messrs.
Vail and Dr. Gale, by making over to them, on certain conditions, a
portion of the patent right. These means enabled me to carry it
successfully forward to a certain point. At this point you were also
admitted into a share of the patent on certain conditions, which carried
the enterprise forward successfully still further. Since then
disappointments have occurred and disasters to the property of every one
concerned in the enterprise, but of a character not touching the
intrinsic merits of the invention in the least, yet bearing on its
progress so fatally as for several years to paralyze all attempts to

"The depressed situation of all my associates in the invention has thrown
the whole burden of again attempting a movement entirely on me. With the
trifling sum of five hundred dollars I could have had my instruments
perfected and before Congress six months ago, but I was unable to run the
risk, and I therefore chose to go forward more slowly, but at a great
waste of time.

"In all these remarks understand me as not throwing the least blame on
any individual. I believe that the situation in which you all are thrown
is altogether providential--that human foresight could not avert it, and
I firmly believe, too, that the delays, tantalizing and trying as they
have been, will, in the end, turn out to be beneficial."

I have hazarded the opinion that it was a kindly fate which frustrated
the consummation of the Russian contract, and here again I venture to say
that the Fates were kind, that Morse was right in saying that the
"delays" would "turn out to be beneficial." And why? Because it needed
all these years of careful thought and experiment on the part of the
inventor to bring his instruments to the perfection necessary to complete
success, and because the period of financial depression, through which
the country was then passing, was unfavorable to an enterprise of this
character. The history of all inventions proves that, no matter how clear
a vision of the future some enthusiasts may have had, the dream was never
actually realized until all the conditions were favorable and the
psychological moment had arrived. Professor Henry showed, in his letter
of February 24, that he realized that some day electricity would be used
as a motive power, but that much remained yet to be discovered and
invented before this could be actually and practically accomplished. So,
too, the conquest of the air remained a dream for centuries until, to use
Professor Henry's words, "science" was "ripe for its application."
Therefore I think we can conclude that, however confident Morse may have
been that his invention could have stood the test of actual commercial
use during those years of discouragement, it heeded the perfection which
he himself gave it during those same years to enable it to prove its
superiority over other methods.

Among the other improvements made by Morse at this time, the following is
mentioned in the letter to Smith of July 16, 1842, just quoted from: "I
have invented a battery which will delight you; it is the most powerful
of its size ever invented, and this part of my telegraphic apparatus the
results of experiments have enabled me to simplify and truly to perfect."

Another most important development of the invention was made in the year
1842. The problem of crossing wide bodies of water had, naturally,
presented itself to the mind of the inventor at an early date, and during
the most of this year he had devoted himself seriously to its solution.
He laboriously insulated about two miles of copper wire with pitch, tar,
and rubber, and, on the evening of October 18, 1842, he carried it, wound
on a reel, to the Battery in New York and hired a row-boat with a man to
row him while he paid out his "cable." Tradition says that it was a
beautiful moonlight night and that the strollers on the Battery were
mystified, and wondered what kind of fish were being trolled for. The
next day the following editorial notice appeared in the New York


This important invention is to be exhibited in operation at Castle Garden
between the hours of twelve and one o'clock to-day. One telegraph will be
erected on Governor's Island, and one at the Castle, and messages will be
interchanged and orders transmitted during the day.

Many have been incredulous as to the powers of this wonderful triumph of
science and art. All such may now have an opportunity of fairly testing
it. _It is destined to work a complete revolution in the mode of
transmitting intelligence throughout the civilized world._

Before the appointed hour on the morning of the 19th, Morse hastened to
the Battery, and found a curious crowd already assembled to witness this
new marvel. With confidence he seated himself at the instrument and had
succeeded in exchanging a few signals between himself and Professor Gale
at the other end on Governor's Island, when suddenly the receiving
instrument was dumb. Looking out across the waters of the bay, he soon
saw the cause of the interruption. Six or seven vessels were anchored
along the line of his cable, and one of them, in raising her anchor, had
fouled the cable and pulled it up. Not knowing what it was, the sailors
hauled in about two hundred feet of it; then, finding no end, they cut
the cable and sailed away, ignorant of the blow they had inflicted on the
mortified inventor. The crowd, thinking they had been hoaxed, turned away
with jeers, and Morse was left alone to bear his disappointment as
philosophically as he could.

Later, in December, the experiment was repeated across the canal at
Washington, and this time with perfect success.

Still cramped for means, chafing under the delay which this necessitated,
he turned to his good friends the Vails, hoping that they might be able
to help him. While he shrank from borrowing money he considered that, as
they were financially interested in the success of the invention, he
could with propriety ask for an advance to enable him to go to

To his request he received the following answer from the Honorable George

December 31, 1842.
S.F.B. MORSE, Esq.,

DEAR SIR,--Your favor is at hand. I had expected that my father would
visit you, but he could not go out in the snow-storm of Wednesday, and,
if he had, I do not think anything could induce him to raise the needful
for the prosecution of our object. He says: "Tell Mr. Morse that there is
no one I would sooner assist than him if I could, but, in the present
posture of my affairs, I am not warranted in undertaking anything more
than to make my payments as they become due, of which there are not a

He thinks that Mr. S---- might soon learn how to manage it, and, as he is
there, it would save a great expense. I do not myself know that he could
learn; but, as my means are nothing at the present time, I can only wish
you success, if you go on.

Of course Mr. Vail meant "if you go on to Washington," but to the
sensitive mind of the inventor the words must have seemed to imply a
doubt of the advisability of going on with the enterprise. However, he
was not daunted, but in some way he procured the means to defray his
expenses, perhaps from his good brother Sidney, for the next letter to
Mr. Vail is from Washington, on December 18, 1842:--

"I have not written you since my arrival as I had nothing special to say,
nor have I now anything very decided to communicate in relation to my
enterprise, except that it is in a very favorable train. The Telegraph,
as you will see by Thursday or Friday's 'Intelligencer,' is established
between two of the committee rooms in the Capitol, and excites universal
admiration. I am told from all quarters that there is but one sentiment
in Congress respecting it, and that the appropriation will unquestionably

"The discovery I made with Dr. Fisher, just before leaving New York, of
the fact that two or more currents will pass, without interference, at
the same time, on the same wire, excites the wonder of all the scientific
in and out of Congress here, and when I show them the certainty of it, in
the practical application of it to simplify my Telegraph, their
admiration is loudly expressed, and it has created a feeling highly
advantageous to me.

"I believe I drew for you a method by which I thought I could pass
rivers, _without any wires_, through the water. I tried the experiment
across the canal here on Friday afternoon _with perfect success_. This
also has added a fresh interest in my favor, and I begin to hope that I
am on the eve of realizing something in the shape of compensation for my
time and means expended in bringing my invention to its present state. I
dare not be sanguine, however, for I have had too much experience of
delusive hopes to indulge in any premature exultation. Now there is no
opposition, but it may spring up unexpectedly and defeat all....

"I find Dr. Fisher a great help. He is acquainted with a great many of
the members, and he is round among them and creating an interest for the
Telegraph. Mr. Smith has not yet made his appearance, and, if he does not
come soon, everything will be accomplished without him. My associate
proprietors, indeed, are at present broken reeds, yet I am aware they are
disabled in various ways from helping me, and I ought to remember that
their help in the commencement of the enterprise was essential in putting
the Telegraph into the position it now is [in]; therefore, although they
give me now no aid, it is not from unwillingness but from inability, and
I shall not grudge them their proportion of its profits, nor do I believe
they will be unwilling to reimburse me my expenses, should the Telegraph
eventually be purchased by the Government.

"Mr. Ferris, our representative, is very much interested in understanding
the scientific principles on which my Telegraph is based, and has exerted
himself very strongly in my behalf; so has Mr. Boardman, and, in a
special manner, Dr. Aycrigg, of New Jersey, the latter of whom is
determined the bill shall pass by acclamation. Mr. Huntington, of the
Senate, Mr. Woodbury and Mr. Wright are also very strongly friendly to
the Telegraph."

This letter, to the best of my knowledge, has never before been
published, and yet it contains statements of the utmost interest. The
discovery of duplex telegraphy, or the possibility of sending two or more
messages over the same wire at the same time has been credited by various
authorities to different persons; by some to Moses G. Farmer in 1852, by
others to Gintl, of Vienna, in 1853, or to Frischen or Siemens and Halske
in 1854. Yet we see from this letter that Morse and his assistant Dr.
Fisher not only made the discovery ten years earlier, in 1842, but
demonstrated its practicability to the scientists and others in
Washington at that date. Why this fact should have been lost sight of I
cannot tell, but I am glad to be able to bring forward the proof of the
paternity of this brilliant discovery even at this late day.

Still another scientific principle was established by Morse at this early
period, as we learn from this letter, and that is the possibility of
wireless telegraphy; but, as he has been generally credited with the
first suggestion of what has now become one of the greatest boons to
humanity, it will not be necessary to enlarge on it.

A brighter day seemed at last to be dawning, and a most curious
happening, just at this time, came to the inventor as an auspicious omen.
In stringing his wires between the two committee rooms he had to descend
into a vault beneath them which had been long unused. A workman, who was
helping him, went ahead and carried a lamp, and, as he glanced around the
chamber, Morse noticed something white on a shelf at one side. Curious to
see what this could be, he went up to it, when what was his amazement to
find that it was a plaster cast of that little statuette of the Dying
Hercules which had won for him the Adelphi Gold Medal so many years
before in London. There was the token of his first artistic success
appearing to him out of the gloom as the harbinger of another success
which he hoped would also soon emerge from behind the lowering clouds.

The apparently mysterious presence of the little demigod in such an
out-of-the-way place was easily explained. Six casts of the clay model
had been made before the original was broken up. One of these Morse had
kept for himself, four had been given to various institutions, and one to
his friend Charles Bulfinch, who succeeded Latrobe as the architect of
the Capitol. A sinister fate seemed to pursue these little effigies, for
his own, and the four he had presented to different institutions, were
all destroyed in one way and another. After tracing each one of these
five to its untimely end, he came to the conclusion that this evidence of
his youthful genius had perished from the earth; but here, at last, the
only remaining copy was providentially revealed to the eyes of its
creator, having undoubtedly been placed in the vault for safe-keeping and
overlooked. It was cheerfully returned to him. By him it was given to his
friend, the Reverend E. Goodrich Smith, and by the latter presented to
Yale University, where it now rests in the Fine Arts Building.

So ended the year 1842, a decade since the first conception of the
telegraph on board the Sully, and it found the inventor making his last
stand for recognition from that Government to which he had been so loyal,
and upon which he wished to bestow a priceless gift. With the dawn of the
new year, a year destined to mark an epoch in the history of
civilization, his flagging spirits were revived, and he entered with zest
on what proved to be his final and successful struggle.

It passes belief that with so many ocular demonstrations of the
practicability of the Morse telegraph, and with the reports of the
success of other telegraphs abroad, the popular mind, as reflected in its
representatives in Congress, should have remained so incredulous. Morse
had been led to hope that his bill was going to pass by acclamation, but
in this he was rudely disappointed. Still he had many warm friends who
believed in him and his invention. First and foremost should be mentioned
his classmate, Henry L. Ellsworth, the Commissioner of Patents, at whose
hospitable home the inventor stayed during some of these anxious days,
and who, with his family, cheered him with encouraging words and help.
Among the members of Congress who were energetic in support of the bill
especially worthy of mention are--Kennedy, of Maryland; Mason, of Ohio;
Wallace, of Indiana; Ferris and Boardman, of New York; Holmes, of South
Carolina; and Aycrigg, of New Jersey.

The alternating moods of hope and despair, through which the inventor
passed during the next few weeks, are best pictured forth by himself in
brief extracts from letters to his brother Sidney:--

"_January 6, 1843._ I sent you a copy of the Report on the Telegraph a
day or two since. I was in hopes of having it called up to-day, but the
House refused to go into Committee of the Whole on the State of the
Union, so it is deferred. The first time they go into Committee of the
Whole on the State of the Union it will probably be called up and be
decided upon.

"Everything looks favorable, but I do not suffer myself to be sanguine,
for I do not know what may be doing secretly against it. I shall believe
it passed when the signature of the President is affixed to it, and not

"_January 16._ I snatch the moments of waiting for company in the
Committee Room of Commerce to write a few lines. Patience is a virtue
much needed and much tried here. So far as opinion goes everything is
favorable to my bill. I hear of no opposition, but should not be
surprised if it met with some. The great difficulty is to get it up
before the House; there are so many who must '_define their position_,'
as the term is, so many who must say something to 'Bunkum,' that a great
deal of the people's time is wasted in mere idle, unprofitable
speechifying. I hope something may be done this week that shall be
decisive, so that I may know what to do.... This waiting at so much risk
makes me question myself: am I in the path of duty? When I think that the
little money I brought with me is nearly gone, that, if nothing should be
done by Congress, I shall be in a destitute state; that perhaps I shall
have again to be a burden to friends until I know to what to turn my
hands, I feel low-spirited. I am only relieved by naked trust in God, and
it is right that this should be so."

"_January 20._ My patience is still tried in waiting for the action of
Congress on my bill. With so much at stake you may easily conceive how
tantalizing is this state of suspense. I wish to feel right on this
subject; not to be impatient, nor distrustful, nor fretful, and yet to be
prepared for the worst. I find my funds exhausting, my clothing wearing
out, my time, especially, rapidly waning, and my affairs at home
requiring some little looking after; and then, if I should after all be
disappointed, the alternative looks dark, and to human eyes disastrous in
the extreme.

"I hardly dare contemplate this side of the matter, and yet I ought so
far to consider it as to provide, if possible, against being struck down
by such a blow. At times, after waiting all day and day after day, in the
hope that my bill may be called up, and in vain, I feel heart-sick, and
finding nothing accomplished, that no progress is made, that _precious
time_ flies, I am depressed and begin to question whether I am in the way
of duty. But when I feel that I have done all in my power, and that this
delay may be designed by the wise disposer of all events for a trial of
patience, I find relief and a disposition quietly to wait such issue as
he shall direct, knowing that, if I sincerely have put my trust in him,
he will not lead me astray, and my way will, in any event, be made

"_January 25._ I am still _waiting, waiting_. I know not what the issue
will be and wish to be prepared, and have you all prepared, for the worst
in regard to the bill. Although I learn of no opposition yet I have seen
enough of the modes of business in the House to know that everything
there is more than in ordinary matters uncertain. It will be the end of
the session, probably, before I return. I will not have to reproach
myself, or be reproached by others, for any neglect, but under all
circumstances I am exceedingly tried. I am too foreboding probably, and
ought not so to look ahead as to be distrustful. I fear that I have no
right feelings in this state of suspense. It is easier to say 'Thy will
be done' than at all tunes to feel it, yet I can pray that God's will may
be done whatever becomes of me and mine."

"_January 30._ I am still kept in suspense which is becoming more and
more tantalizing and painful. But I endeavor to exercise patience."

"_February 21._ I think the clouds begin to break away and a little
sunlight begins to cheer me. The House in Committee of the Whole on the
State of the Union have just passed my bill through committee to report
to the House. There was an attempt made to cast ridicule upon it by a
very few headed by Mr. Cave Johnson, who proposed an amendment that half
the sum should be appropriated to mesmeric experiments. Only 26 supported
him and it was laid aside to be reported to the House without amendment
and without division.

"I was immediately surrounded by my friends in the House, congratulating
me and telling me that the crisis is passed, and that the bill will pass
the House by a large majority. Mr. Kennedy, chairman of the Committee on
Commerce, has put the bill on the Speaker's calendar for Thursday
morning, when the final vote in the House will be taken. It then has to
go to the Senate, where I have reason to believe it will meet with a
favorable reception. Then to the President, and, if signed by him, I
shall return with renovated spirits, for I assure you I have for some
time been at the lowest ebb, and can now scarcely realize that a turn has
occurred in my favor. I don't know when I have been so much tried as in
the tedious delays of the last two months, but I see a reason for it in
the Providence of God. He has been pleased to try my patience, and not
until my impatience had yielded unreservedly to submission has He
relieved me by granting light upon my path. Praised be His name, for to
Him alone belongs all the glory.

"I write with a dreadful headache caused by over excitement in the House,
but hope to be better after a night's rest, I have written in haste just
to inform you of the first symptoms of success."

On the same date as that of the preceding letter, February 21, the
following appeared in the "Congressional Globe," and its very curtness
and flippancy is indicative of the indifference of the public in general
to this great invention, and the proceedings which are summarized cast
discredit on the intelligence of our national lawmakers:--


On motion of Mr. Kennedy of Maryland, the committee took up the bill to
authorize a series of experiments to be made in order to test the merits
of Morse's electro-magnetic telegraph. The bill appropriates $30,000, to
be expended under the direction of the Postmaster-General.

On motion of Mr. Kennedy, the words "Postmaster-General" were stricken
out and "Secretary of the Treasury" inserted.

Mr. Cave Johnson wished to have a word to say upon the bill. As the
present Congress had done much to encourage science, he did not wish to
see the science of mesmerism neglected and overlooked. He therefore
proposed that one half of the appropriation be given to Mr. Fisk, to
enable him to carry on experiments, as well as Professor Morse.

Mr. Houston thought that Millerism should also be included in the
benefits of the appropriation.

Mr. Stanly said he should have no objection to the appropriation for
mesmeric experiments, provided the gentleman from Tennessee [Mr. Cave
Johnson] was the subject. [A laugh.]

Mr. Cave Johnson said he should have no objection provided the gentleman
from North Carolina [Mr. Stanly] was the operator. [Great laughter.]

Several gentlemen called for the reading of the amendment, and it was
read by the Clerk, as follows:--

"_Provided_, That one half of the said sum shall be appropriated for
trying mesmeric experiments under the direction of the Secretary of the

Mr. S. Mason rose to a question of order. He maintained that the
amendment was not _bona fide_, and that such amendments were calculated
to injure the character of the House. He appealed to the chair to rule
the amendment out of order.

The Chairman said it was not for him to judge of the motives of members
in offering amendments, and he could not, therefore, undertake to
pronounce the amendment not _bona fide_. Objections might be raised to it
on the ground that it was not sufficiently analogous in character to the
bill under consideration, but, in the opinion of the Chair, it would
require a scientific analysis to determine how far the magnetism of
mesmerism was analogous to that to be employed in telegraphs. [Laughter.]
He therefore ruled the amendment in order.

On taking the vote, the amendment was rejected--ayes 22, noes not

The bill was then laid aside to be reported.

On February 23, the once more hopeful inventor sent off the following
hurriedly written letter to his brother:--

"You will perceive by the proceedings of the House to-day that _my bill
has passed the House by a vote of 89 to 80_. A close vote after the
expectations raised by some of my friends in the early part of the
session, but enough is as good as a feast, and it is safe so far as the
House is concerned. I will advise you of the progress of it through the
Senate. All my anxieties are now centred there. I write in great haste."

A revised record of the voting showed that the margin of victory was even
slighter, for in a letter to Smith, Morse says:--

"The long agony (truly agony to me) is over, for you will perceive by the
papers of to-morrow that, so far as the House is concerned, the matter is
decided. _My bill has passed by a vote of eighty-nine to eighty-three._ A
close vote, you will say, but explained upon several grounds not
affecting the disposition of many individual members, who voted against
it, to the invention. In this matter six votes are as good as a thousand,
so far as the appropriation is concerned.

"The yeas and nays will tell you who were friendly and who adverse to the
bill. I shall now bend all my attention to the Senate. There is a good
disposition there and I am now strongly encouraged to think that my
invention will be placed before the country in such a position as to be
properly appreciated, and to yield to all its proprietors a proper

"I have no desire to vaunt my exertions, but I can truly say that I have
never passed so trying a period as the last two months. Professor Fisher
(who has been of the greatest service to me) and I have been busy from
morning till night every day since we have been here. I have brought him
on with me at my expense, and he will be one of the first assistants in
the first experimental line, if the bill passes.... My feelings at the
prospect of success are of a joyous character, as you may well believe,
and one of the principal elements of my joy is that I shall be enabled to
contribute to the happiness of all who formerly assisted me, some of whom
are, at present, specially depressed."

Writing to Alfred Vail on the same day, he says after telling of the
passage of the bill:--

"You can have but a faint idea of the sacrifices and trials I have had in
getting the Telegraph thus far before the country and the world. I cannot
detail them here; I can only say that, for two years, I have labored all
my time and at my own expense, without assistance from the other
proprietors (except in obtaining the iron of the magnets for the last
instruments obtained of you) to forward our enterprise. My means to
defray my expenses, to meet which every cent I owned in the world was
collected, are nearly all gone, and if, by any means, the bill should
fail in the Senate, I shall return to New York with the _fraction of a
dollar_ in my pocket."

And now the final struggle which meant success or failure was on. Only
eight days of the session remained and the calendar was, as usual,
crowded. The inventor, his nerves stretched to the breaking point, hoped
and yet feared. He had every reason to believe that the Senate would show
more broad-minded enlightenment than the House, and yet he had been told
that his bill would pass the House by acclamation, while the event proved
that it had barely squeezed through by a beggarly majority of six. He
heard disquieting rumors of a determination on the part of some of the
House members to procure the defeat of the bill in the Senate. Would they
succeed, would the victory, almost won, be snatched from him at the last
moment, or would his faith in an overruling Providence, and in his own
mission as an instrument of that Providence, be justified at last?

Every day of that fateful week saw him in his place in the gallery of the
Senate chamber, and all day long he sat there, listening, as we can well
imagine, with growing impatience to the senatorial oratory on the merits
or demerits of bills which to him were of such minor importance, however
heavily freighted with the destinies of the nation they may have been.
And every night he returned to his room with the sad reflection that one
more of the precious days had passed and his bill had not been reached.
And then came the last day, March 3, that day when the session of the
Senate is prolonged till midnight, when the President, leaving the White
House, sits in the room provided for him at the Capitol, ready to sign
the bills which are passed in these last few hurried hours, if they meet
with his approval, or to consign them to oblivion if they do not.

The now despairing inventor clung to his post in the gallery almost to
the end, but, being assured by his senatorial friends that there was no
possibility of the bill being reached, and unable to bear the final blow
of hearing the gavel fall which should signalize his defeat, shrinking
from the well-meant condolences of his friends, he returned almost
broken-hearted to his room.

The future must have looked black indeed. He had staked his all and lost,
and he was resolved to abandon all further efforts to press his invention
on an unfeeling and a thankless world. He must pick up his brush again;
he must again woo the fickle goddess of art, who had deserted him before,
and who would, in all probability, be chary of her favors now. In that
dark hour it would not have been strange if his trust in God had wavered,
if he had doubted the goodness of that Providence to whose mysterious
workings he had always submissively bowed. But his faith seems to have
risen triumphant even under this crushing stroke, for he thus describes
the events of that fateful night, and of the next morning, in a letter to


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