Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters and Journals
Samuel F. B. Morse
Part 7 out of 9
entertaining H.R.H. at his country place on the Hudson, but the Duke of
Newcastle, in a letter of October 8, 1860, regrets that this cannot be
I assure you I have not forgotten the circumstances which gave me the
pleasure of your acquaintance in 1839, and I am very desirous of seeing
you again during my short visit to this continent. I fear however that a
visit by the Prince of Wales to your home, however I might wish it, is
quite impracticable, although on our journey up the Hudson we shall pass
so near you. Every hour of our time is fully engaged.
Is there any chance of seeing you in New York, or, if not, is there any
better hope in Boston? If you should be in either during our stay, I hope
you will be kind enough to call upon me. Pray let me have a line on
Thursday at New York. I have lately been much interested in some
electro-telegraphic inventions of yours which are new to me.
Yours very truly,
Referring to another function in honor of the Prince, Morse says, in a
letter to Mr. Kendall: "I did not see you after the so-styled Ball in New
York, which was not a _ball_ but a _levee_ and a great jam. I hope you
and yours suffered no inconvenience from it."
The war clouds in his beloved country were now lowering most ominously,
and, true to his convictions, he exclaims in a letter to a friend of
January 12, 1861:--
"Our politicians are playing with edged tools. It is easy to raise a
storm by those who cannot control it. If I trusted at all in them I
should despair of the country, but an Almighty arm makes the wrath of man
to praise him, and he will restrain the rest. There is something so
unnatural and abhorrent in this outcry of _arms_ in one great family that
I cannot believe it will come to a decision by the sword. Such counsels
of force are in the court of passion, not of reason. Imagine such a
conflict, imagine a victory, no matter by which side. Can the victors
rejoice in the blood of brethren shed in a family brawl? Whose heart will
thrill with pride at such success? No, no. I should as soon think of
rejoicing that one of my sons had killed the other in a brawl.
"But I have not time to add. I hope for the best, and even can see beyond
the clouds of the hour a brighter day. God bless the whole family, North,
South, East and West. I will never divide them in my heart however they
may be politically or geographically divided."
His hopes of a peaceful solution of the questions at issue between the
North and the South were, of course, destined to be cruelly dashed, and
he suffered much during the next few years, both in his feelings and in
his purse, on account of the war. I have already shown that he, with many
other pious men, believed that slavery was a divine institution and that,
therefore, the abolitionists were entirely in the wrong; but that, at the
same time, he was unalterably opposed to secession. Holding these views,
he was misjudged in both sections of the country. Those at the North
accused him of being a secessionist because he was not an abolitionist,
and many at the South held that he must be an abolitionist because he
lived at the North and did not believe in the doctrine of secession. Many
pages of his letter-books are filled with vehement arguments upholding
his point of view, and he, together with many other eminent men at the
North, strove without success to avert the war. His former pastor at
Poughkeepsie, the Reverend H.G. Ludlow, in long letters, with many Bible
quotations, called upon him to repent him of his sins and join the cause
of righteousness. He, in still longer letters, indignantly repelled the
accusation of error, and quoted chapter and verse in support of his
views. He was made the president of The American Society for promoting
National Unity, and in one of his letters to Mr. Ludlow he uses forceful
"The tone of your letter calls for extraordinary drafts on Christian
charity. Your criticism upon and denunciation of a society planned in the
interests of peace and good will to all, inaugurated by such men as
Bishops McIlvaine and Hopkins, Drs. Krebs and Hutton, and Winslow, and
Bliss, and Van Dyke, and Hawks, and Seabury, and Lord and Adams of
Boston, and Wilson the missionary, and Styles and Boorman, and Professor
Owen, and President Woods, and Dr. Parker, and my brothers, and many
others as warm-hearted, praying, conscientious Christians as ever
assembled to devise means for promoting peace--denunciations of these and
such as these cannot but be painful in the highest degree.... I lay no
stress upon these names other than to show that conscience in this matter
has moved some Christians quite as strongly to view _Abolitionism_ as a
sin of the deepest dye, as it has other Christian minds to view Slavery
as a sin, and so to condemn slaveholders to excommunication, and simply
for being slaveholders.
"Who is to decide in a conflict of consciences? If the Bible be the
umpire, as I hold it to be, then it is the Abolitionist that is denounced
as worthy of excommunication; it is the Abolitionist from whom we are
commanded to withdraw ourselves, while not a syllable of reproof do I
find in the sacred volume administered to those who maintain, in the
spirit of the gospel, the relation of _Masters and Slaves_. If you have
been more successful, please point out chapter and verse.... I have no
justification to offer for Southern _secession_; I have always considered
it a remedy for nothing. It is, indeed, an expression of a sense of
wrong, but, in turn, is itself a wrong, and two wrongs do not make a
I have quoted thus at some length from one of his many polemics to show
the absolute and fearless sincerity of the man, mistaken though he may
have been in his major premise.
I shall quote from other letters on this subject as they appear in
chronological order, but as no person of any mental caliber thinks and
acts continuously along one line of endeavor, so will it be necessary in
a truthful biography to change from one subject of activity to another,
and then back again, in order to portray in their proper sequence the
thoughts and actions of a man which go to make up his personality. For
instance, while the outspoken views which Morse held on the subjects of
slavery and secession made him many enemies, he was still held in high
esteem, for it was in the year 1861 that the members of the National
Academy of Design urged him so strongly to become their president again
that he yielded, but on condition that it should be for one year only.
And the following letter to Matthew Vassar, of Poughkeepsie, dated
February 1, 1861, shows that he was actively interested in the foundation
of the first college for women in this country: "Your favor of the 24th
ulto. is received, and so far as I can further your magnificent and most
generous enterprise, I will do so. I will endeavor to attend the meeting
at the Gregory House on the 26th of the present month. May you long live
to see your noble design in successful operation."
In spite of his deep anxiety for the welfare of his country, and in spite
of the other cares which weighed him down, he could not resist the
temptation to indulge in humor when the occasion offered. This humor is
tinged with sarcasm in a letter of July 13, 1861, to Mr. A.B. Griswold,
his wife's brother, a prominent citizen of New Orleans. After assuring
him of his undiminished affection, he adds:--
"And now see what a risk I have run by saying thus much, for, according
to modern application of the definition of _treason_, it would not be
difficult to prove me a traitor, and therefore amenable to the halter.
"For instance--treason is giving aid and comfort to the enemy; everybody
south of a certain geographical line is an enemy; you live south of that
line, ergo you are an enemy; I send you my love, you being an enemy; this
gives you _comfort_; ergo, I have given comfort to the enemy; ergo, I am
a traitor; ergo, I must be hanged."
As the war progressed he continued to express himself in forcible
language against what he called the "twin heresies"--abolitionism and
secession. He had done his best to avert the war. He describes his
efforts in a letter of April 2, 1862, to Mr. George L. Douglas, of
Louisville, Kentucky, who at that time was prominently connected with the
Southern lines of the telegraph, and who had loyally done all in his
power to safeguard Morse's interests in those lines:--
"You are correct in saying, in your answer as garnishee, that I have been
an active and decided friend of Peace. In the early stages of the
troubles, when the Southern Commissioners were in Washington, I devoted
my time and influence and property, subscribing and paying in the outset
five hundred dollars, to set on foot measures for preserving peace
honorable to all parties. The attack on Fort Sumter struck down all these
efforts (so far as my associates were concerned), but I was not
personally discouraged, and I again addressed myself to the work of the
Peacemaker, determining to visit _personally_ both sections of the
country, the Government at Washington, and the Government of the
Confederates at Richmond, to ascertain if there were, by possibility, any
means of averting war. And when, from physical inability and age, I was
unable to undertake the duty personally, I defrayed from my own pocket
the expenses of a friend in his performance of the same duties for me,
who actually visited both Washington and Richmond and conferred with the
Presidents and chiefs of each section on the subject. True his efforts
were unsuccessful, and so nothing remained for me but to retire to the
quiet of my own study and watch the vicissitudes of the awful storm which
I was powerless to avert, and descry the first signs of any clearing up,
ready to take advantage of the earliest glimmerings of light through the
He had no doubts as to the ultimate issue of the conflict, for, in a
letter to his wife's sister, Mrs. Goodrich, of May 2, 1862, he reduces it
"Sober men could calculate, and did calculate, the _military_ issue, for
it was a problem of mathematics and not at all of individual or
comparative courage. A force of equal quality is to be divided and the
two parts to be set in opposition to each other. If equally divided, they
will be at rest; if one part equals 3 and the other 9, it does not
require much knowledge of mathematics to decide which part will overcome
the force of the other.
"Now this is the case here just now. Two thirds of the physical and
material force of the country are at the North, and on this account
_military_ success, other things being equal, must be on the side of the
North. Courage, justness of the cause, right, have nothing to do with it.
War in our days is a game of chess. Two players being equal, if one
begins the game with dispensing with a third of his best pieces, the
other wins as a matter of course."
He was firmly of the opinion that England and other European nations had
fomented, if they had not originated, the bad feeling between the North
and the South, and at times he gave way to the most gloomy forebodings,
as in a letter of July 23, 1862, to Mr. Kendall, who shared his views on
the main questions at issue:--
"I am much depressed. There is no light in the political skies. Rabid
abolitionism, with its intense, infernal hate, intensified by the same
hate from secession quarters, is fast gaining the ascendancy. Our country
is dead. God only can resuscitate it from its tomb. I see no hope of
union. We are two countries, and, what is most deplorable, two hostile
countries. Oh! how the nations, with England at their head, crow over us.
It is the hour of her triumph; she has conquered by her arts that which
she failed to do by her arms. If there was a corner of the world where I
could hide myself, and I could consult the welfare of my family, I would
sacrifice all my interests here and go at once. May God save us with his
salvation. I have no heart to write or to do anything. Without a country!
Without a country!"
He went even further, in one respect, in a letter to Mr. Walker, of
Utica, of October 27, but his ordinarily keen prophetic vision was at
fault: "Have you made up your mind to be under a future monarch, English
or French, or some scion of a European stock of kings? I shall not live
to see it, I hope, but you may and your children will. I leave you this
prophecy in black and white."
In spite of his occasional fits of pessimism he still strove with all his
might, by letters and published pamphlets, to rescue his beloved country
from what he believed were the machinations of foreign enemies. At the
same time he did not neglect his more immediate concerns, and his
letter-books are filled with loving admonitions to his children,
instructions to his farmer, answers to inventors seeking his advice, or
to those asking for money for various causes, etc.
He and his two brothers had united in causing a monument to be erected to
the memory of their father and mother in the cemetery at New Haven, and
he insisted on bearing the lion's share of the expense, as we learn from
a letter written to his nephew, Sidney E. Morse, Jr., on October 10,
"Above you have my check on Broadway Bank, New York, for five hundred
dollars towards Mr. Ritter's bill.
"Tell your dear father and Uncle Sidney that this is the portion of the
bill for the monument which I choose to assume. Tell them I have still a
good memory of past years, when I was poor and received from them the
kind attentions of affectionate brothers. I am now, through the loving
kindness and bounty of our Heavenly Father, in such circumstances that I
can afford this small testimonial to their former fraternal kindness, and
I know no better occasion to manifest the long pent-up feelings of my
heart towards them than by lightening, under the embarrassments of the
times, the pecuniary burden of our united testimonial to the best of
fathers and mothers."
This monument, a tall column surmounted by a terrestrial globe,
symbolical of the fact that the elder Morse was the first American
geographer, is still to be seen in the New Haven cemetery.
Another instance of the inventor's desire to show his gratitude towards
those who had befriended him in his days of poverty and struggle is shown
in a letter of November 17, 1862, to the widow of Alfred Vail:--
"You are aware that a sum of money was voted me by a special Congress,
convened at Paris for the purpose, as a personal, honorary gratuity as
the Inventor of the Telegraph.... Notwithstanding, however, that the
Congress had put the sum voted me on the ground of a personal, honorary
gratuity, I made up my mind in the very outset that I would divide to
your good husband just that proportion of what I might receive (after due
allowance and deduction of my heavy expenses in carrying through the
transaction) as would have been his if the money so voted by the Congress
had been the purchase money of patent rights. This design I early
intimated to Mr. Vail, and I am happy in having already fulfilled in part
my promise to him, when I had received the gratuity only in part. It was
only the last spring that the whole sum, promised in four annual
instalments (after the various deductions in Europe) has been remitted to
me.... I wrote to Mr. Cobb [one of Alfred Vail's executors] some months
ago, while he was in Washington, requesting an early interview to pay
over the balance for you, but have never received an answer.... Could you
not come to town this week, either with or without Mr. Cobb, as is most
agreeable to you, prepared to settle this matter in full? If so, please
drop me a line stating the day and hour you will come, and I will make it
a point to be at home at the time."
In this connection I shall quote from a letter to Mr. George Vail,
written much earlier in the year, on May 19:--
"It will give me much pleasure to aid you in your project of disposing of
the _'original wire'_ of the Telegraph, and if my certificate to its
genuineness will be of service, you shall cheerfully have it. I am not at
this moment aware that there is any quantity of this wire anywhere else,
except it may be in the helices of the big magnets which I have at
Poughkeepsie. These shall not interfere with your design.
"I make only one modification of your proposal, and that is, if any
profits are realized, please substitute for my name the name of your
brother Alfred's amiable widow."
Although the malign animosity of F.O.J. Smith followed him to his grave,
and even afterwards, he was, in this year of 1862, relieved from one
source of annoyance from him, as we learn from a letter of May 19 to Mr.
Kendall: "I have had a settlement with Smith in full on the award of the
Referees in regard to the 'Honorary Gratuity,' and with less difficulty
than I expected."
Morse had now passed the Scriptural age allotted to man; he was
seventy-one years old, and, in a letter of August 22, he remarks rather
sorrowfully: "I feel that I am no longer young, that my career, whether
for good or evil, is near its end, but I wish to give the energy and
influence that remain to me to my country, to save it, if possible, to
those who come after me."
All through the year 1863 he labored to this end, with alternations of
hope and despair. On February 9, 1863, he writes to his cousin, Judge
Sidney Breese: "A movement is commenced in the formation of a society
here which promises good. It is for the purpose of Diffusing Useful
Political Knowledge. It is backed up by millionaires, so far as funds go,
who have assured us that funds shall not be wanting for this object. They
have made me its president."
Through the agency of this society he worked to bring about "Peace with
Honor," but, as one of their cardinal principles was the abandonment of
abolitionism, he worked in vain. He bitterly denounced the Emancipation
Proclamation, and President Lincoln came in for many hard words from his
pen, being considered by him weak and vacillating. Mistaken though I
think his attitude was in this, his opinions were shared by many
prominent men of the day, and we must admit that for those who believed
in a literal interpretation of the Bible there was much excuse. For
instance, in a letter of September 21, 1863, to Martin Hauser, Esq., of
Newbern, Indiana, he goes rather deeply into the subject:--
"Your letter of the 23d of last month I have just received, and I was
gratified to see the evidences of an upright, honest dependence upon the
only standard of right to which man can appeal pervading your whole
letter. There is no other standard than the Bible, but our translation,
though so excellent, is defective sometimes in giving the true meaning of
the original languages in which the two Testaments are written; the Old
Testament in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. Therefore it is that in
words in the English translation about which there is a variety of
opinion, it is necessary to examine the original Hebrew or Greek to know
what was the meaning attached to these words by the writers of the
original Bible.... I make these observations to introduce a remark of
yours that the Bible does not contain anything like slavery in it because
the words 'slave' and 'slavery' are not used in it (except the former
twice) but that the word 'servant' is used.
"Now the words translated 'servant' in hundreds of instances are, in the
original, 'slave,' and the very passage you quote, Noah's words--'Cursed
be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren'--in the
original Hebrew means exactly this--'Cursed be Canaan, a _slave_ of
_slaves_ shall he be.' The Hebrew, word is _'ebed'_ which means a bond
slave, and the words _'ebed ebadim'_ translated 'slave of slaves,' means
strictly _the most abject of slaves_.
"In the New Testament too the word translated 'servant' from the Greek is
_'doulas,'_ which is the same as _'ebed'_ in the Hebrew, and always means
a bond slave. Our word 'servant' formerly meant the same, but time and
custom have changed its meaning with us, but the Bible word _'doulos'_
remains the same, 'a slave.'"
It seems strange that a man of such a gentle, kindly disposition should
have upheld the outworn institution of slavery, but he honestly believed,
not only that it was ordained of God, but that it was calculated to
benefit the enslaved race. To Professor Christy, of Cincinnati, he gives,
on September 12, his reasons for this belief:--
"You have exposed in a masterly manner the fallacies of Abolitionism.
There is a complete coincidence of views between us. My 'Argument,' which
is nearly ready for the press, supports the same view of the necessity of
slavery to the christianization and civilization of a barbarous race. My
argument for the benevolence of the relation of master and slave, drawn
from the four relations ordained of God for the organization of the
social system (the fourth being the servile relation, or the relation of
master and slave) leads conclusively to the recognition of some great
benevolent design in its establishment.
"But you have demonstrated in an unanswerable manner by your statistics
this benevolent design, bringing out clearly, from the workings of his
Providence, the absolute necessity of this relation in accomplishing his
gracious designs towards even the lowest type of humanity."
FEBRUARY 26, 1864--NOVEMBER 8, 1867
Sanitary Commission.--Letter to Dr. Bellows.--Letter on "loyalty."--His
brother Richard upholds Lincoln.--Letters of brotherly reproof.--
Introduces McClellan at preelection parade.--Lincoln reelected.--Anxiety
as to future of country.--Unsuccessful effort to take up art again.--
Letter to his sons.--Gratification at rapid progress of telegraph.--
Letter to George Wood on two great mysteries of life.--Presents portrait
of Allston to the National Academy of Design.--Endows lectureship in
Union Theological Seminary.--Refuses to attend fifty-fifth reunion of his
class.--Statue to him proposed.--Ezra Cornell's benefaction.--American
Asiatic Society.--Amalgamation of telegraph companies.--Protest against
stock manipulations.--Approves of President Andrew Johnson.--Sails with
family for Europe.--Paris Exposition of 1867.--Descriptions of
festivities.--Cyrus W. Field.--Incident in early life of Napoleon III--
Made Honorary Commissioner to Exposition.--Attempt on life of Czar.--Ball
at Hotel de Ville.--Isle of Wight.--England and Scotland.--The
"Sounder."--Returns to Paris.
All the differences of those terrible years of fratricidal strife, all
the heart-burnings, the bitter animosities, the family divisions, have
been smoothed over by the soothing hand of time. I have neither the wish
nor the ability to enter into a discussion of the rights and the wrongs
of the causes underlying that now historic conflict, nor is it germane to
such a work as this. While Morse took a prominent part in the political
movements of the time, while he was fearless and outspoken in his views,
his name is not now associated historically with those epoch-making
events. It has seemed necessary, however, to make some mention of his
convictions in order to make the portrait a true one. He continued to
oppose the measures of the Administration; he did all in his power to
hasten the coming of peace; he worked and voted for the election of
McClellan to the Presidency, and when he and the other eminent men who
believed as he did were outvoted, he bowed to the will of the majority
with many misgivings as to the future. Although he was opposed to the war
his heart bled for the wounded on both sides, and he took a prominent
part in the National Sanitary Commission. He expresses himself warmly in
a letter of February 26, 1864, to its president, Rev. Dr. Bellows:--
"There are some who are sufferers, great sufferers, whom we can reach and
relieve without endangering political or military plans, and in the
spirit of Him who ignored the petty political distinctions of Jew and
Samaritan, and regarded both as entitled to His sympathy and relief, I
cannot but think it is within the scope and interest of the great
Sanitary Commission to extend a portion of their Christian regard to the
unfortunate sufferers from this dreadful war, the prisoners in our
fortresses, and to those who dwell upon the borders of the contending
In a letter of March 23, to William L. Ransom, Esq., of Litchfield,
Connecticut, he, perhaps unconsciously, enunciates one of the fundamental
beliefs of that great president whom he so bitterly opposed:--
"I hardly know how to comply with your request to have a 'short, pithy,
Democratic sentiment.' In glancing at the thousand mystifications which
have befogged so many in our presumed intelligent community, I note one
in relation to the new-fangled application of a common foreign word
imported from the monarchies of Europe. I mean the word '_loyalty_,' upon
which the changes are daily and hourly sung _ad nauseam_.
"I have no objection, however, to the word if it be rightly applied. It
signifies 'fidelity to a prince or sovereign.' Now if _loyalty_ is
required of us, it should be to the _Sovereign_. Where is this Sovereign?
He is not the President, nor his Cabinet, nor Congress, nor the
Judiciary, nor any nor all of the Administration together. Our Sovereign
is on a throne above all these. He is the _People_, or _Peoples_ of the
States. He has issued his decree, not to private individuals only, but to
President and to all his subordinate servants, and this sovereign decree
his servant the is the Constitution. He who adheres faithfully to this
written will of the Sovereign is _loyal_. He who violates the
embodiment of the will of the Sovereign, is _disloyal_, whether he be a
Constitution, this President, a Secretary, a member of Congress or of the
Judiciary, or a simple citizen."
As a firm believer in the Democratic doctrine of States' Rights Morse,
with many others, held that Lincoln had overridden the Constitution in
his Emancipation Proclamation.
It was a source of grief to him just at this time that his brother
Richard had changed his political faith, and had announced his intention
of voting for the reelection of President Lincoln. In a long letter of
September 24, 1864, gently chiding him for thus going over to the
Abolitionists, the elder brother again states his reasons for remaining
firm in his faith:--
"I supposed, dear brother, that on that subject you were on the same
platform with Sidney and myself. Have there been any new lights, any new
aspects of it, which have rendered it less odious, less the 'child of
Satan' than when you and Sidney edited the New York Observer before
Lincoln was President? I have seen no reason to change my views
respecting abolition. You well know I have ever considered it the logical
progeny of Unitarianism and Infidelity. It is characterized by subtlety,
hypocrisy and pharisaism, and one of the most melancholy marks of its
speciousness is its influence in benumbing the gracious sensibilities of
many Christian hearts, and blinding their eyes to their sad defection
from the truths of the Bible.
"I know, indeed, the influences by which you are surrounded, but they are
neither stronger nor more artful than those which our brave father
manfully withstood in combating the monster in the cradle. I hope there
is enough of father's firmness and courage in battling with error,
however specious, to keep you, through God's grace, from falling into the
embrace of the body-and-soul-destroying heresy of Abolitionism."
In another long letter to his brother Richard, of November 5, he firmly
but gently upholds his view that the Constitution has been violated by
Lincoln's action, and that the manner of amending the Constitution was
provided for in that instrument itself, and that: "If that change is made
in accordance with its provisions, no one will complain"; and then he
"But it is too late to give you the reasons of the political faith that I
hold. When the excitement of the election is over, let it result as it
may, I may be able to show you that my opinions are formed from deep
study and observation. Now I can only announce them comparatively
unsustained by the reasons for forming them.
"I am interrupted by a call from the committee requesting me to conduct
General McClellan to the balcony of the Fifth Avenue Hotel this evening,
to review the McClellan Legion and the procession. After my return I will
continue my letter.
"_12 o'clock, midnight._ I have just returned, and never have I witnessed
in any gathering of the people, either in Europe or in this country, such
a magnificent and enthusiastic display. I conducted the General to the
front of the balcony and presented him to the assemblage (a dense mass of
heads as far as the eye could reach in every direction), and such a
shout, which continued for many minutes, I never heard before, except it
may have been at the reception in London of Bluecher and Platoff after the
battle of Waterloo. I leave the papers to give you the details. The
procession was passing from nine o'clock to a quarter to twelve midnight,
and such was the denseness of the crowd within the hotel, every entry and
passageway jammed with people, that we were near being crushed. Three
policemen before me could scarcely open a way for the General, who held
my arm, to pass only a few yards to our room.
"After taking my leave I succeeded with difficulty in pressing my way
through the crowd within and without the hotel, and have just got into my
quiet library and must now retire, for I am too fatigued to do anything
but sleep. Good-night."
A short time after this the election was held, and this enthusiastic
advocate of what he considered the right learned the bitter lesson that
crowds, and shouting, and surface enthusiasm do not carry an election.
The voice of that Sovereign to whom he had sworn loyalty spoke in no
uncertain tones, and Lincoln was overwhelmingly chosen by the votes of
Morse was outvoted but not convinced, and I shall make but one quotation
from a letter of November 9, to his brother Richard, who had also
remained firm in spite of his brother's pleading: "My consolation is in
looking up, and I pray you may be so enlightened that you may be
delivered from the delusions which have ensnared you, and from the
judgments which I cannot but feel are in store for this section of the
country. When I can believe that my Bible reads 'cursed' instead of
'blessed' are the 'peacemakers,' I also shall cease to be a peace man.
But while they remain, as they do, in the category of those that are
blessed, I cannot be frightened at the names of 'copperhead' and
'traitor' so lavishly bestowed, with threats of hanging etc., by those
whom you have assisted into power."
In a letter of Mr. George Wood's, of June 26, 1865, I find the following
sentences: "I have to acknowledge your very carefully written letter on
the divine origin of Slavery.... I hope you have kept a copy of this
letter, for the time will come when you will have a biography written,
and the defense you have made of your position, taken in your pamphlet,
is unquestionably far better than he (your biographer) will make for
The letter to which Mr. Wood refers was begun on March 5, 1865, but
finished some time afterwards. It is very long, too long to be included
here, but in justice to myself, that future biographer, I wish to state
that I have already given the main arguments brought forward in that
letter, in quotations from previous letters, and that I have attempted no
defense further than to emphasize the fact that, right or wrong, Morse
was intensely sincere, and that he had the courage of his opinions.
Returning to an earlier date, and turning from matters political to the
gentler arts of peace, we find that the one-time artist had always hoped
that some day he could resume his brush, which the labors incident to the
invention of the telegraph had compelled him to drop. But it seems that
his hand, through long disuse, had lost its cunning. He bewails the fact
in a letter of January 20, 1864, to N. Jocelyn, Esq.:--
"I have many yearnings towards painting and sculpture, but that rigid
faculty called reason, so opposed often to imagination, reads me a
lecture to which I am compelled to bow. To explain: I made the attempt to
draw a short time ago; everything in the drawing seemed properly
proportioned, but, upon putting it in another light, I perceived that
every perpendicular line was awry. In other words I found that I could
place no confidence in my eyes.
"No, I have made the sacrifice of my profession to establish an invention
which is doing mankind a great service. I pursued it long enough to found
an institution which, I trust, is to flourish long after I am gone, and
be the means of educating a noble class of men in Art, to be an honor and
praise to our beloved country when peace shall once more bless us
throughout all our borders in one grand brotherhood of States."
The many letters to his children are models of patient exhortation and
cheerful optimism, when sometimes the temptation to indulge in pessimism
was strong. I shall give, as an example, one written on May 9, 1864, to
two of his sons who had returned to school at Newport:--
"Now we hope to have good reports of your progress in your studies. In
spring, you know, the farmers sow their seed which is to give them their
harvest at the close of the summer. If they were not careful to put the
seed in the ground, thinking it would do just as well about August or
September, or if they put in very little seed, you can see that they
cannot expect to reap a good or abundant crop.
"Now it is just so in regard to your life. You are in the springtime of
life. It is seed time. You must sow now or you will reap nothing
by-and-by, or, if anything, only weeds. Your teachers are giving you the
seed in your various studies. You cannot at present understand the use of
them, but you must take them on trust; you must believe that your parents
and teachers have had experience, and they know what will be for your
good hereafter, what studies will be most useful to you in after life.
Therefore buckle down to your studies diligently and very soon you will
get to love your studies, and then it will be a pleasure and not a task
to learn your lessons.
"We miss your _noise_, but, although agreeable quiet has come in place of
it, we should be willing to have the noise if we could have our dear boys
near us. You are, indeed, troublesome pleasures, but, after all, pleasant
troubles. When you are settled in life and have a family around you, you
will better understand what I mean."
In spite of the disorganization of business caused by the war, the value
of telegraphic property was rapidly increasing, and new lines were being
constantly built or proposed. Morse refers to this in a letter of June
25, 1864, to his old friend George Wood:--
"To you, as well as to myself, the rapid progress of the Telegraph
throughout the world must seem wonderful, and with me you will,
doubtless, often recur to our friend Annie's inspired message--'What hath
God wrought.' It is, indeed, his marvellous work, and to Him be the
"Early in the history of the invention, in forecasting its future, I was
accustomed to predict with confidence, 'It is destined to go round the
world,' but I confess I did not expect to live to see the prediction
fulfilled. It is quite as wonderful to me also that, with the thousand
attempts to improve my system, with the mechanical skill of the world
concentrated upon improving the mechanism, the result has been beautiful
complications and great ingenuity, but no improvement. I have the
gratification of knowing that my system, everywhere known as the 'Morse
system,' is universally adopted throughout the world, because of its
simplicity and its adaptedness to universality."
This remains true to the present day, and is one of the remarkable
features of this great invention. The germ of the "Morse system," as
jotted down in the 1832 sketch-book, is the basic principle of the
universal telegraph of to-day.
In another letter to Mr. Wood, of September 11, 1864, referring to the
sad death of the son of a mutual friend, he touches on two of the great
enigmas of life which have puzzled many other minds:--
"It is one of those mysteries of Providence, one of those deep things of
God to be unfolded in eternity, with the perfect vindication of God's
wisdom and justice, that children of pious parents, children of daily
anxiety and prayer, dedicated to God from their birth and trained to all
human appearance 'in the way they should go,' should yet seem to falsify
the promise that 'they should not depart from it.' It is a subject too
deep to fathom.
"... It is my daily, I may say hourly, thought, certainly my constant
wakeful thought at night, how to resolve the question: 'Why has God seen
fit so abundantly to shower his earthly blessings upon me in my latter
days, to bless me with every desirable comfort, while so many so much
more deserving (in human eyes at least) are deprived of all comfort and
have heaped upon them sufferings and troubles in every shape?'"
The memory of his student days in London was always dear to him, and on
January 4, 1865, he writes to William Cullen Bryant:--
"I have this moment received a printed circular respecting the proposed
purchase of the portrait of Allston by Leslie to be presented to the
National Academy of Design.
"There are associations in my mind with those two eminent and beloved
names which appeal too strongly to me to be resisted. Now I have a favor
to ask which I hope will not be denied. It is that I may be allowed to
present to the Academy that portrait in my own name. You can appreciate
the arguments which have influenced my wishes in this respect. Allston
was more than any other person my master in art. Leslie was my life-long
cherished friend and fellow pupil, whom I loved as a brother. We all
lived together for years in the closest intimacy and in the same house.
Is there not then a fitness that the portrait of the master by one
distinguished pupil should be presented by the surviving pupil to the
Academy over which he presided in its infancy, as well as assisted in its
birth, and, although divorced from Art, cannot so easily be divorced from
the memories of an intercourse with these distinguished friends, an
intercourse which never for one moment suffered interruption, even from a
shadow of estrangement?"
It is needless to say that this generous offer was accepted, and Morse at
the same time presented to the Academy the brush which Allston was using
when stricken with his fatal illness.
As his means permitted he made generous donations to charities and to
educational institutions, and on May 20, 1865, he endowed by the gift of
$10,000 a lectureship in the Union Theological Seminary, making the
following request in the letter which accompanied it:--
"If it be thought advisable that the name of the lectureship, as was
suggested, should be the Morse Lectureship, I wish it to be distinctly
understood that it is so named in honor of my venerated and distinguished
father, whose zealous labors in the cause of theological education, and
in various benevolent enterprises, as well as of geographical science,
entitle his memory to preservation in connection with the efforts to
diffuse the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and his
gospel throughout the world."
Curiously enough I find no reference in the letters of the year 1865 to
the assassination of President Lincoln, but I well remember being taken,
a boy of eight, to our stable on the corner of Fifth Avenue and
Twenty-first Street, from the second-floor windows of which we watched
the imposing funeral cortege pass up the avenue.
The fifty-fifth reunion of his class of 1810 took place in this year, and
Morse reluctantly decided to absent himself. The reasons why he felt that
he could not go are given in a long letter of August 11 to his cousin,
Professor E.S. Salisbury, and it is such a clear statement of his
convictions that I am tempted to give it almost in its entirety:--
"I should have been most happy on many personal accounts to have been at
the periodical meeting of my surviving classmates of 1810, and also to
have renewed my social intercourse with many esteemed friends and
relations in New Haven. But as I could not conscientiously take part in
the proposed martial sectional glorification of those of the family who
fell in the late lamentable family strife, and could not in any brief way
or time explain the discriminations that were necessary between that
which I approve and that which I most unqualifiedly condemn, without the
risk of misapprehension, I preferred the only alternative left me, to
absent myself altogether.
"You well know I never approved of the late war. I have ever believed,
and still believe, if the warnings of far-seeing statesmen (Washington,
Clay, and Webster among them) had been heeded, if, during the last thirty
years of persistent stirring up of strife by angry words, the calm and
Christian counsels of intelligent patriots had been followed at the
North, and a strict observance of the letter and spirit of the
Constitution had been sustained as the supreme law, instead of the
insidious violations of its provisions, especially by New England, we
should have had no war.
"As I contributed nothing to the war, so now I see no reason specially to
exult in the display of brave qualities in an isolated portion of the
family, qualities which no true American ever doubted were possessed by
both sections of our country in an equal degree. Why then discriminate
between alumni from the North and alumni from the South at a gathering in
which alumni from both sections are expected to meet?... No, my dear
cousin, the whole era of the war is one I wish not to remember. I would
have no other memorial than a black cross, like those over the graves of
murdered travellers, to cause a shudder whenever it is seen. It would be
well if History could blot from its pages all record of the past four
years. There is no glory in them for victors or vanquished. The only
event in which I rejoice is the restoration of Peace, which never should
have been interrupted....
"I have no doubt that they who originated the recent demonstration
honestly believed it to be _patriotic_, for every movement nowadays must
take that shape to satisfy the morbid appetite of the popular mind. I
cannot think it either in good taste or in conformity with sound policy
for our collegiate institutions to foster this depraved appetite. Surely
there is enough of this in the political harangues of the day for those
who require such aids to patriotism without its being administered to by
our colleges. That patriotism is of rather a suspicious character which
needs such props. I love to see my children well clad and taking a proper
pride in their attire, but I should not think them well instructed if I
found them everywhere boasting of their fine clothes. A true nobleman is
not forever boasting of his nobility for fear that his rank may not be
recognized. The loudest boasts of patriotism do not come from the true
possessors of the genuine spirit. Patriotism is not sectional nor local,
it comprehends in its grasp the whole country....
"I have said the demonstration at Commencement was in bad taste. Why? you
will say. Because Commencement day brings together the alumni of the
college from all parts of the Union, from the South as well as the North.
They are to meet on some common ground, and that common ground is the
love that all are supposed to bear to the old Alma Mater, cherished by
memories of past friendships in their college associations. The late
Commencement was one of peculiar note. It was the first after the return
of peace. The country had been sundered; the ties of friendship and of
kindred had been broken; the bonds of college affection were weakened if
not destroyed. What an opportunity for inaugurating the healing process!
What an occasion for the display of magnanimity, of mollifying the pain
of humiliation, of throwing a veil of oblivion over the past, of watering
the perishing roots of fraternal affection and fostering the spirit of
genuine union! But no. The Southern alumnus may come, but he comes to be
humiliated still further. Can he join in the plaudits of those by whom he
has been humbled? You may applaud, but do not ask him to join in your
acclamations. He may be mourning the death of father, brother, yes, of
mother and sister, by the very hands of those you are glorifying. Do not
aggravate his sorrow by requiring him to join you in such a
"No, my dear cousin, it was in _bad taste_ to say the least of it, and it
was equally _impolitic_ to intercalate such a demonstration into the
usual and appropriate exercises of the week. You expect, I presume, to
have pupils from the South as heretofore; will such a sectional display
be likely to attract them or to repel them? If they can go elsewhere they
will not come to you. They will not be attracted by a perpetual memento
before their eyes of your triumph over them. It was not politic. It is no
improvement for Christian America to show less humanity than heathen
Rome. The Romans never made demonstrations of triumph over the defeat of
their countrymen in a civil war. It is no proof of superior civilization
that we refuse to follow Roman example in such cases.
"My dear cousin, I have written you very frankly, but I trust you will
not misunderstand me as having any personal reproaches to make for the
part you have taken in the matter. We undoubtedly view the field from
different standpoints. I concede to you conscientious motives in what you
do. You are sustained by those around you, men of intellect, men of
character. I respect them while I differ from them. I appeal, however, to
a higher law, and that, I think, sustains me."
His strong and outspoken stand for what he believed to be the right made
him many enemies, and he was called hard names by the majority of those
by whom he was surrounded at the North; and yet the very fearlessness
with which he advocated an unpopular point of view undoubtedly compelled
increased respect for him. A proof of this is given in a letter to his
daughter, Mrs. Lind, of December 28, 1865:--
"I also send you some clippings from the papers giving you an account of
some of the doings respecting a statue proposed to me by the Common
Council. The Mayor, who is a personal friend of mine, you see has vetoed
the resolutions, not from a disapproval of their character, but because
he did not like the locality proposed. He proposes the Central Park, and
in this opinion all my friends concur.
"I doubt if they will carry the project through while I am alive, and it
would really seem most proper to wait until I was gone before they put up
my monument. I have nothing, however, to say on the subject. I am
gratified, of course, to see the manifestation of kindly feeling, but, as
the tinder of vainglory is in every human heart, I rather shrink from
such a proposed demonstration lest a spark of flattery should kindle that
tinder to an unseemly and destructive flame. I am not blind to the
popularity, world-wide, of the Telegraph, and a sober forecast of the
future foreshadows such a statue in some place. If ever erected I hope
the prominent mottoes upon the pedestal will be: '_Not unto us, not unto
us, but to God be the glory_,' and the first message or telegram: '_What
hath GOD wrought._'"
He says very much the same thing in a letter to his friend George Wood,
of January 15, 1866, and he also says in this letter, referring to some
instance of benevolent generosity by Mr. Kendall:--
"Is it not a noticeable fact that the wealth acquired by the Telegraph
has in so many conspicuous instances been devoted to benevolent purposes?
Mr. Kendall is prominent in his expenditures for great Christian
enterprises, and think of Cornell, always esteemed by me as an ingenious
and shrewd man, when employed by me to set the posts and put up the wire
for the first line of Telegraphs between Washington and Baltimore, yet
thought to be rather close and narrow-minded by those around him. But
see, when his wealth had increased by his acquisition of Telegraph stock
to millions (it is said), what enlarged and noble plans of public benefit
were conceived and brought forth by him. I have viewed his course with
great gratification as the evidence of God's blessing on _what He hath
It has been made plain, I think, that Morse was essentially a leader in
every movement in which he took an interest, whether it was artistic,
scientific, religious, or political. This is emphasized by the number of
requests made to him to assume the presidency of all sorts of
organizations, and these requests multiplied as he advanced in years.
Most of them he felt compelled to decline, for, as he says in a letter of
March 13, 1866, declining the presidency of the Geographical and
Statistical Society: "I am at an age when I find it necessary rather to
be relieved from the cares and responsibilities already resting upon me,
than to take upon me additional ones."
In many other cases he allowed his name to be used as vice-president or
member, when he considered the object of the organization a worthy one,
and his benefactions were only limited by his means.
He did, however, accept the presidency of one association just at this
time, the American Asiatic Society, in which were interested such men as
Gorham Abbott, Dr. Forsyth, E.H. Champlin, Thomas Harrison, and Morse's
brother-in-law, William M. Goodrich. The aims of this society were rather
vast, including an International Congress to be called by the Emperor
Napoleon III, for the purpose of opening up and controlling the great
highways from the East to the West through the Isthmus of Suez and that
of Panama; also the colonization of Palestine by the Jews, and other
commercial and philanthropic schemes. I cannot find that anything of
lasting importance was accomplished by this society, so I shall make no
further mention of it, although there is much correspondence about it.
The following, from a letter to Mr. Kendall of March 19, 1866, explains
itself: "If I understand the position of our Telegraph interests, they
are now very much as you and I wished them to be in the outset, not cut
up in O'Reilly fashion into irresponsible parts, but making one grand
whole like the Post-Office system. It is becoming, doubtless, a
_monopoly_, but no more so than the Post-Office system, and its unity is
in reality a public advantage if properly and uprightly managed, and
this, of course, will depend on the character of the managers. Confidence
must be reposed somewhere, and why not in upright and responsible men who
are impelled as well by their own interest to have their matters
conducted with fairness and with liberality."
As a curious commentary on his misplaced faith in the integrity of
others, I shall quote from a letter of January 4, 1867, to E.S. Sanford,
Esq., which also shows his abhorrence of anything like crooked dealing in
"I wish when you again write me you would give me, _in confidence_, the
names of those in the Board of the Western Union who are acting in so
dishonorable and tricky a manner. I think I ought to know them in order
to avoid them, and resist them in the public interest. It is a shame that
an enterprise which, honestly conducted, is more than usually profitable,
should be conducted on the principles of sharpers and tricksters.
[Illustration: TELEGRAM SHOWING MORSE'S CHARACTERISTIC DEADHEAD, WHICH HE
ALWAYS USED TO FRANK HIS MESSAGES]
"So far as the Russian Extension is concerned, I should judge from your
representation that, as a stockholder in that enterprise to the amount of
$30,000, the plan would conduce to my immediate pecuniary benefit. But so
would the _robbery of the safe of a bank_. If wealth can be obtained only
by such swindles, I prefer poverty. You have my proxy and I have the
utmost confidence in your management. Do by me as you would do for
yourself, and I shall be satisfied.... In regard to any honorable
propositions made in the Board be conciliatory and compromising, but any
scheme to oppress the smaller stockholders for the benefit of the larger
resist to the death. I prefer to sacrifice all my stock rather than have
such a stigma on my character as such mean, and I will add villainous,
conduct would be sure to bring upon all who engaged in it."
In this connection I shall also quote from another letter to Mr. Sanford,
of February 15, 1867: "If Government thinks seriously of purchasing the
Telegraph, and at this late day adopting my early suggestion that it
ought to belong to the Post-Office Department, be it so if they will now
pay for it. They must now pay millions for that which I offered to them
for one hundred thousand dollars, and gave them a year for consideration
ere they adopted it."
There are but few references to politics in the letters of this period,
but I find the following in a letter of March 20, 1866, to a cousin: "You
ask my opinion of our President. I did not vote for him, but I am
agreeably surprised at his masterly statesmanship, and hope, by his
firmness in resisting the extreme radicals, he will preserve the Union
against now the greatest enemies we have to contend against. I mean those
who call themselves Abolitionists.... President Johnson deserves the
support of all true patriots, and he will have it against all the
'traitors' in the country, by whatever soft names of loyalty they
endeavor to shield themselves."
Appeals of all kinds kept pouring in on him, and, in courteously refusing
one, on April 17, he uses the following language: "I am unable to aid
you. I cannot, indeed, answer a fiftieth part of the hundreds of
applications made to me from every section of the country _daily_--I
might say _hourly_--for yours is the third this morning and it is not yet
After settling his affairs at home in his usual methodical manner, Morse
sailed with his wife and his four young children, and Colonel John R.
Leslie their tutor, for Europe on the 23d of June, 1866, prepared for an
extended stay. He wished to give his children the advantages of travel
and study in Europe, and he was very desirous of being in Paris during
the Universal Exposition of 1867.
There is a gap in the letter-books until October, 1866, but from the few
letters to members of the family which have been preserved, and from my
own recollections, we know that the summer of 1866 was most delightfully
spent in journeying through France, Germany, and Switzerland. The
children were now old enough not to be the nuisances they seem to have
been in 1858, for we find no note of complaint on that account.
In September he returned with his wife, his daughter, and his youngest
son to Paris, leaving his two older sons with their tutor in Geneva. As
he wished to make Paris his headquarters for nearly a year, he sought and
found a furnished apartment at No. 10 Avenue du Roi de Rome (now the
Avenue du Trocadero), and he writes to his mother-in-law on September 22:
"We are fortunate in having apartments in a new building, or rather one
newly and completely repaired throughout. All the apartments are newly
furnished with elegant furniture, we having the first use of it. We have
ample rooms, not large, but promising more comfort for winter residence
than if they were larger. The situation is on a wide avenue and central
for many purposes; close to the Champs Elysees, near also to the Bois de
Boulogne, and within a few minutes walk of the Champ de Mars, so that we
shall be most eligibly situated to visit the great Exposition when it
opens in April."
His wife's sister, Mrs. Goodrich, with her husband and daughters,
occupied an apartment in the same building; his grandson Charles Lind was
also in Paris studying painting, and before the summer of the next year
other members of his family came to Paris, so that at one time eighteen
of those related to him by blood or marriage were around him. To a man of
Morse's affectionate nature and loyalty to family this was a source of
peculiar joy, and those Parisian days were some of the happiest of his
life. The rest of the autumn and early winter were spent in sight-seeing
and in settling his children in their various studies.
The brilliance of the court of Napoleon III just before the _debacle_ of
1870 is a matter of history, and it reached its high-water mark during
the Exposition year of 1867, when emperors, kings, and princes journeyed
to Paris to do homage to the man of the hour. Court balls, receptions,
gala performances at opera and theatre, and military reviews followed
each other in bewildering but well-ordered confusion, and Morse, as a man
of worldwide celebrity, took part in all of them. He and his wife and his
young daughter, a girl of sixteen, were presented at court, and were
feted everywhere. In a letter to his mother-in-law he gives a description
of his court costume on the occasion of his first presentation, when he
was accompanied only by his brother-in-law, Mr. Goodrich:--
"We received our cards inviting us to the soiree and to pass the evening
with their majesties on the 16th of January (Wednesday evening). '_En
uniforme_' was stamped upon the card, so we had to procure court dresses.
Mr. Goodrich, as is the custom in most cases, hired his; I had a full
suit made for me. A _chapeau bras_, with gold lace loop, a blue coat,
with standing collar, single breasted, richly embroidered with gold lace,
the American eagle button, white silk lining, vest light cashmere with
gilt buttons, pantaloons with a broad stripe of gold lace on the outside
seams, a small sword, and patent-leather shoes or boots completed the
dress of ordinary mortals like Brother Goodrich, but for _extra_ordinary
mortals, like my humble republican self, I was bedizened with all my
orders, seven decorations, covering my left breast. If thus accoutred I
should be seen on Broadway, I should undoubtedly have a numerous escort
of a character not the most agreeable, but, as it was, I found myself in
very good and numerous company, none of whom could consistently laugh at
After describing the ceremony of presentation he continues:--
"Occasionally both the emperor and empress said a few words to particular
individuals. When my name was mentioned the emperor said to me, 'Your
name, sir, is well known here,' for which I thanked him; and the empress
afterwards said to me, when my name was mentioned, 'We are greatly
indebted to you, sir, for the Telegraph,' or to that effect. Afterwards
Mr. Bennett, the winner of the yacht race, engaged for a moment their
particular regards.... [I wonder if the modest inventor appreciated the
irony of this juxtaposition.] After the dancers were fully engaged, the
refreshment-room, the Salon of Diana, was opened, and, as in our less
aristocratic country, the tables attracted a great crowd, so that the
doors were guarded so as to admit the company by instalments. I had in
vain for some time endeavored to gain admittance, and was waiting
patiently quite at a distance from the door, which was thronged with
ladies and high dignitaries, when a gentleman who guarded the door, and
who had his breast covered with orders, addressed me by name, asking me
if I was not Professor Morse. Upon replying in the affirmative, quite to
my surprise, he made way for me to the door and, opening it, admitted me
before all the rest. I cannot yet divine why this special favor was shown
"The tables were richly furnished. I looked for bonbons to carry home to
the children, but when I saw some tempting looking almonds and candies
and mottoes, to my surprise I found they were all composed of fish put up
in this form, and the mottoes were of salad."
It is good to know that Morse, ever willing to forgive and forget, was
again on terms of friendly intercourse with Cyrus W. Field, who was then
in London, as the following letter to him, dated March 1, 1867, will
"Singular as it may seem, I was in the midst of your speech before the
Chamber of Commerce reception to you in New York, perusing it with deep
interest, when my valet handed me your letter of the 27th ulto.
"I regret exceedingly that I shall not have the great pleasure I had
anticipated, with other friends here, who were prepared to receive you in
Paris with the welcome you so richly deserve. You invite me to London. I
have the matter under consideration. March winds and that boisterous
channel have some weight in my decision, but I so long to take you by the
hand and to get posted upon Telegraph matters at home, that I feel
disposed to make the attempt. But without positively saying 'yes,' I will
see if in a few days I can so arrange my affairs as to have a few hours
with you before you sail on the 20th.
[Illustration: MORSE IN OLD AGE]
"I send you by book post the proceedings of the banquet given to our late
Minister, Bigelow, in which you will see my remarks on the great
enterprise with which your name will forever be so honorably associated
and justly immortalized."
It will be remembered, that the Atlantic cable was finally successfully
laid on July 27, 1866, and that to Cyrus Field, more than to any other
man, was this wonderful achievement due.
In a letter of March 4, 1867, to John S.C. Abbott, Esq., Morse gives the
following interesting incident in the life of Napoleon III:--
"In 1837, I was one of a club of gentlemen in New York who were
associated for social and informal intellectual converse, which held
weekly meetings at each other's houses in rotation. Most of these
distinguished men are now deceased. The club consisted of such men as
Chancellor Kent, Albert Gallatin, Peter Augustus Jay, Reporter Johnson,
Dr. (afterwards Bishop) Wainwright, the President and Professors of
Columbia College, the Chancellor and Professors of the New York City
University, Dr. Augustus Smith, Messrs. Goodhue and De Rham of the
mercantile class, and John C. Hamilton, Esq. and ex-Governor W.B.
Lawrence from the literary ranks.
"Among the rules of the club was one permitting any member to introduce
to the meetings distinguished strangers visiting the city. At one of the
reunions of the club the place of meeting was at Chancellor Kent's. On
assembling the chancellor introduced to us Louis Napoleon, a son of the
ex-King of Holland, a young man pale and contemplative, somewhat
reserved. This reserve we generally attributed to a supposed imperfect
acquaintance with our language. At supper he sat on the right of the
Chancellor at the head of the table. Mr. Gallatin was opposite the
Chancellor at the foot of the table, and I was on his right.
"In the course of the evening, while the conversation was general, I drew
the attention of Mr. Gallatin to the stranger, observing that I did not
trace any resemblance in his features to his world-renowned uncle, yet
that his forehead indicated great intellect. 'Yes,' replied Mr. Gallatin,
'there is a great deal in that head of his, but he has a strange fancy.
Can you believe it, he has the impression that he will one day be the
Emperor of the French; can you conceive of anything more ridiculous?'
"Certainly at that period, even to the sagacious eye of Mr. Gallatin,
such an idea would naturally seem too improbable to be entertained for a
moment, but, in the light of later events, and the actual state of things
at present, does not the fact show that, even in his darkest hours, there
was in this extraordinary man that unabated faith in his future which was
a harbinger of success; a faith which pierced the dark clouds which
surrounded him, and realized to him in marvellous prophetic vision that
which we see at this day and hour fully accomplished?"
Morse must have penned these words with peculiar satisfaction, for they
epitomized his own sublime faith in his future. In 1837 he also was
passing through some of his darkest hours, but he too had had faith, and
now, thirty years afterwards, his dreams of glory had been triumphantly
realized, he was an honored guest of that other man of destiny, and his
name was forever immortalized.
The spring and early summer of 1867 were enjoyed to the full by the now
venerable inventor and his family. The Exposition was a source of
never-ending joy to him, and he says of it in a letter to his son-in-law,
"You will hear all sorts of stories about the Exposition. The English
papers (some of them), in John Bull style, call it a humbug. Let me tell
you that, imperfect as it is in its present condition, going on rapidly
to completion, it may without exaggeration be pronounced the eighth
wonder of the world. It is the world in epitome. I came over with my
children to give them the advantage of thus studying the world in
anticipation of what I now see, and I can say that the two days only in
which I have been able to glance through parts of its vast extent, have
amply repaid me for my voyage here. I believe my children will learn more
of the condition of the arts, agriculture, customs, manufactures and
mineral and vegetable products of the world in five weeks than they could
by books at home in five years, and as many years' travel."
He was made an Honorary Commissioner of the United States to the
Exposition, and he prepared an elaborate and careful report on the
electrical department, for which he received a bronze medal from the
French Government. Writing of this report to his brother Sidney, he
says: "This keeps me so busy that I have no time to write, and I have so
many irons in the fire that I fear some must burn. But father's motto
was--'Better wear out than rust out,'--so I keep at work."
In a letter to his friend, the Honorable John Thompson, of Poughkeepsie,
he describes one of his dissipations:--
"Paris now is the great centre of the World. Such an assemblage of
sovereigns was never before gathered, and I and mine are in the midst of
the great scenes and fetes. We were honored, a few evenings ago, with
cards to a very select fete given by the emperor and empress at the
Tuilleries to the King and Queen of the Belgians, the Prince of Wales and
Prince Alfred, to the Queen of Portugal, the Grand Duchess Marie of
Russia, sister of the late Emperor Nicholas, a noble looking woman, the
Princess Metternich of Austria, and many others.
"The display was gorgeous, and as the number of guests was limited (only
one thousand!) there was more space for locomotion than at the former
gatherings at the Palace, where we were wedged in with some four
thousand. There was dancing and my daughter was solicited by one of the
gentlemen for a set in which Prince Alfred and the Turkish Ambassador
danced, the latter with an American belle, one of the Miss Beckwiths. I
allowed her to dance in this set once. The Empress is truly a beautiful
woman and of unaffected manners."
In a long letter to his brother Sidney, of June 8, he describes some of
their doings. At the Grand Review of sixty thousand troops he and his
wife and eldest son were given seats in the Imperial Tribune, a little
way behind the emperor and the King of Prussia, who were so soon to wage
a deadly war with each other. On the way back from the review the
following incident occurred:--
"After the review was over we took our carriage to return home. The
carriages and cortege of the imperial personages took the right of the
Cascade (which you know is in full view from the hippodrome of
Longchamps). We took the left side and were attracted by the report of
firearms on our left, which proceeded from persons shooting at pigeons
from a trap. Soon after we heard a loud report on our right from a
pistol, which attracted no further attention from us than the remark
which I made that I did not know that persons were allowed to use
firearms in the Bois. We passed on to our home, and in the evening were
informed of the atrocious attempt upon the Emperor of Russia's life. The
pistol report which I heard was that of the pistol of the assassin."
Farther on in this letter he describes the grand fete given by the City
of Paris to the visiting sovereigns at the Hotel de Ville. There were
thirty-five thousand applications for tickets, but only eight thousand
could be granted. Of these Morse was gratified to receive three:--
"Well, the great fete of Saturday the 8th is over. I despair of any
attempt properly to describe its magnificence. I send you the papers....
Such a blaze of splendor cannot be conceived or described but in the
descriptions of the Arabian Nights. We did not see half the display, for
the immense series of gorgeous halls, lighted by seventy thousand
candles, with fountains and flowers at every turn, made one giddy to see
even for a moment. We had a good opportunity to scan the features of the
emperors, the King of Prussia and the renowned Bismarck, with those of
the beautiful empress and the princesses and princes and other
distinguished persons of their suite.
"I must tell you (for family use only) that the Emperor Napoleon made to
me a marked recognition as he passed along. Sarah and I were standing
upon two chairs overlooking the front rank of those ranged on each side.
The emperor gave his usual bow on each side, but, as he came near us, he
gave an unusual and special bow to me, which I returned, and he then,
with a smile, gave me a second bow so marked as to draw the attention of
those around, who at once turned to see to whom this courtesy was shown.
I should not mention this but that Sarah and others observed it as an
unusual mark of courtesy."
Feeling the need of rest after all the gayety and excitement of Paris,
Morse and part of his family retired to Shanklin, on the Isle of Wight,
where in a neat little furnished cottage--Florence Villa--they spent part
of two happy months. Then with his wife and daughter and youngest son he
journeyed in leisurely fashion through England and Scotland, returning to
Paris in October. Here he spent some time in working on his report to
the. United States Government as Commissioner to the Exposition.
Among his notes I find the following, which seems to me worthy of
"_The Sounder._ Mr. Prescott, I perceive, is quoted as an authority. He
is not reliable on many points and his work should be used with caution.
His work was originally written in the interest of those opposing my
patents, and his statements are, many of them, grossly unjust and
strongly colored with prejudice. Were he now to reprint his work I am
convinced he would find it necessary, for the sake of his reputation, to
expunge a great deal, and to correct much that he has misstated and
"He manifests the most unpardonable ignorance or wilful prejudice in
regard to the _Sounder_, now so-called. The possibility of reading by
sound was among the earliest modes noticed in the first instrument of
1835, and it was in consequence of observing this fact that, in my first
patent specifications drawn up in 1837-1838, I distinctly specify these
_sounds_ of the signs, and they were secured in my letters patent. Yet
Mr. Prescott makes it an accidental discovery, and in 1860 (the date of
his publication) he wholly ignores my agency in this mode. The sounder is
but the pen-lever deprived of the pen. In everything else it is the same.
The sound of the letter is given with and without the pen."
On November 8, 1867, he writes from Paris to his friend, the Honorable
"I am still held in Paris for the completion of my labors, but hope in a
few days to be relieved so that we may leave for Dresden, where my boys
are pursuing their studies in the German language.... I am yet doubtful
how long a sojourn we may make in Dresden, and whether I shall winter
there or in Paris, but I am inclined to the latter. We wish to visit
Italy, but I am not satisfied that it will be pleasant or even safe to be
there just now. The Garibaldian inroad upon the Pontifical States is,
indeed, for the moment suppressed, but the end is not yet.
"Alas for poor Italy! How hard to rid herself of evils that have become
chronic. Why cannot statesmen of the Old World learn the great truth that
most of their perplexities in settling the questions of international
peace arise from the unnatural union of Church and State? He who said 'My
kingdom is not of this world' uttered a truth pregnant with consequences.
The attempt to rule the State by the Church or the Church by the State is
equally at war with his teachings, and until these are made the rule of
conduct, whether for political bodies or religious bodies, there will be
the sword and not peace.
"I see by the papers that the reaction I have long expected and hoped for
has commenced in our country. It is hailed here by intelligent and
cool-headed citizens as a good omen for the future. The Radicals have had
their way, and the people, disgusted, have at length given their command
--'Thus far and no farther.'"
NOVEMBER 28, 1867--JUNE 10, 1871
Goes to Dresden.--Trials financial and personal.--Humorous letter to E.S.
Sanford.--Berlin.--The telegraph in the war of 1866.--Paris.--Returns to
America.--Death of his brother Richard.--Banquet in New York.--Addresses
of Chief Justice Chase, Morse, and Daniel Huntington,--Report as
Commissioner finished.--Professor W.P. Blake's letter urging recognition
of Professor Henry.--Morse complies.--Henry refuses to be reconciled.--
Reading by sound.--Morse breaks his leg.--Deaths of Amos Kendall and
George Wood.--Statue in Central Park.--Addresses Of Governor Hoffman and
William Cullen Bryant.--Ceremonies at Academy of Music.--Morse bids
farewell to his children of the telegraph.
It will not be necessary to record in detail the happenings of the
remainder of this last visit to Europe. Three months were spent in
Dresden, with his children and his sister-in-law's family around him. The
same honors were paid to him here as elsewhere on the continent. He was
received in special audience by the King and Queen of Saxony, and men of
note in the scientific world eagerly sought his counsel and advice. But,
apart from so much that was gratifying to him, he was just then called
upon to bear many trials and afflictions of various kinds and degrees,
and it is marvellous, in reading his letters, to note with what great
serenity and Christian fortitude, yet withal, with what solicitude, he
endeavored to bear his cross and solve his problems. As he advanced in
years an increasing number of those near and dear to him were taken from
him by death, and his letters of Christian sympathy fill many pages of
the letter books. There were trials of a domestic nature, too intimate to
be revealed, which caused him deep sorrow, but which he bravely and
optimistically strove to meet. Clouds, too, obscured his financial
horizon; investments in certain mining ventures, entered into with high
hopes, turned out a dead loss; the repayment of loans, cheerfully made to
friends and relatives, was either delayed or entirely defaulted; and, to
cap the climax, the Western Union Telegraph Company, in which most of his
fortune was invested, passed one dividend and threatened to pass another.
He had provided for this contingency by a deposit of surplus funds before
his departure for Europe, but he was fearful of the future.
In spite of all this he could not refrain from treating the matter
lightly and humorously in a letter to Mr. E.S. Sanford of November 28,
1867, written from Dresden: "Your letter gave me both pleasure and pain.
I was glad to hear some particulars of the condition of my '_basket_,'
but was pained to learn that the _hens'_ eggs instead of swelling to
_goose_ eggs, and even to _ostrich_ eggs (as some that laid them so
enthusiastically anticipated when they were so closely packed), have
shrunk to _pigeons'_ eggs, if not to the diminutive _sparrows'_. To keep
up the figure, I am thankful there are any left not addled."
He was all the time absorbed in the preparation of his report as
Commissioner to the Paris Exposition, and it was, of course, a source of
great gratification to him to learn from the answers to his questions
sent to the telegraph officers of the whole world, that the Morse system
was practically the only one in general use. As one of his correspondents
put it--"The cry is, 'Give us the Morse.'"
The necessity for the completion of this work, and his desire to give his
children every advantage of study, kept him longer in Europe than he had
expected, and he writes to his brother Sidney on December 1, 1867: "I
long to return, for age creeps on apace, and I wish to put my house in
order for a longer and better journey to a better home."
In the early part of February, 1868, he and his wife and daughter and
youngest son left Dresden for Paris, stopping, however, a few days in
Berlin. Mr. George Bancroft was our minister at the Prussian court, and
he did all that courtesy could suggest to make the stay of his
distinguished countryman a pleasant one. He urged him to stay longer, so
that he might have the pleasure of presenting him at court, but this
honor Morse felt obliged to decline. The inventor did, however, find time
to visit the government telegraph office, of which Colonel (afterwards
General) von Chauvin was the head, and here he received an ovation from
all the operators, several hundred in number, who were seated at their
instruments in what was then the largest operating-room in the world.
Another incident of his visit to Berlin I shall give in the words of Mr.
"Not to recount the many tributes of esteem and respect paid him by Dr.
Siemens, and other gentlemen eminent in the specialty of telegraphy, one
other unexpected compliment may be mentioned. The Professor was presented
to the accomplished General Director of the Posts of the North German
Bund, Privy Councillor von Phillipsborn, in whose department the
telegraph had been comprised before Prussia became so great and the
centre of a powerful confederation.
"At the time of their visit the Director was so engaged, and that, too,
in another part of the Post-Amt, that the porter said it was useless to
trouble him with the cards. The names had not been long sent up, however,
before the Director himself came hurriedly down the corridor into the
antechamber, and, scarcely waiting for the hastiest of introductions,
enthusiastically grasped both the Professor's hands in his own, asking
whether he had 'the honor of speaking to Dr. Morse,' or, as he pronounced
"When, after a brief conversation, Mr. Morse rose to go, the Director
said that he had just left a conference over a new post and telegraph
treaty in negotiation between Belgium and the Bund, and that it would
afford him great pleasure to be permitted to present his guest to the
assembled gentlemen, including the Belgian Envoy and the Belgian
Postmaster-General. There followed, accordingly, a formal presentation
with an introductory address by the Director, who, in excellent English,
thanked Mr. Morse in the name of Prussia and of all Germany for his great
services, and speeches by the principal persons present--the Belgian
envoy, Baron de Nothomb, very felicitously complimenting the Professor in
"Succeeding the hand-shaking the Director spoke again, and, in reply, Mr.
Morse gratefully acknowledged the courtesy shown to him, adding: 'It is
very gratifying to me to hear you say that the Telegraph has been and is
a means of promoting peace among men. Believe me, gentlemen, my remaining
days shall be devoted to this great object.'...
"The Director then led his visitors into a small, cosily furnished room,
saying as they entered: 'Here I have so often thought of you, Mr. Morse,
but I never thought I should have the honor of receiving you in my own
"After they were seated the host, tapping upon a small table, continued:
'Over this passed the important telegrams of the war of 1866.' Then,
approaching a large telegraph map on the wall, he added: 'Upon this you
can see how invaluable was the telegraph in the war. Here,'--pointing
with the forefinger of his right hand,--'here the Crown Prince came down
through Silesia. This,' indicating with the other forefinger a passage
through Bohemia, 'was the line of march of Prince Friedrich Carl. From
this station the Crown Prince telegraphed Prince Friedrich Carl, always
over Berlin, "Where are you?" The answer from this station reached him,
also over Berlin. The Austrians were here,' placing the thumb on the map
below and between the two fingers. 'The next day Prince Friedrich Carl
comes here,'--the left forefinger joined the thumb,--' and telegraphs the
fact, always over Berlin, to the Crown Prince, who hurries forward here.'
The forefinger of the right hand slipped quickly under the thumb as if to
pinch something, and the narrator looked up significantly.
"Perhaps the patriotic Director thought of the July afternoon when,
eagerly listening at the little mahogany-topped table, over which passed
so many momentous messages, he learned that the royal cousins had
effected a junction at Koeniggraetz, a junction that decided the fate of
Germany and secured Prussia its present proud position, a junction which
but for his modest visitor's invention, the telegraph, 'always over
Berlin,' would have been impossible."
Returning to Paris with his family, he spent some months at the Hotel de
la Place du Palais Royal, principally in collecting all the data
necessary to the completion of his report, which had been much delayed
owing to the dilatoriness of those to whom he had applied for facts and
statistics. On April 14, 1868, he says in a letter to the Honorable John
Thompson: "Pleasant as has been our European visit, with its advantages
in certain branches of education, our hearts yearn for our American home.
We can appreciate, I hope, the good in European countries, be grateful
for European hospitality, and yet be thorough Americans, as we all
profess to be notwithstanding the display of so many defects which tend
to disgrace us in the eyes of the world."
On May 18 he writes to Senator Michel Chevalier: "And now, my dear sir,
farewell. I leave beautiful Paris the day after to-morrow for my home on
the other side of the Atlantic, more deeply impressed than ever with the
grandeur of France, and the liberality and hospitality of her courteous
people, so kindly manifested to me and mine. I leave Paris with many
regrets, for my age admonishes me that, in all probability, I shall never
again visit Europe."
Sailing from Havre on the St. Laurent, on May 22, he and his family
reached, without untoward incident, the home on the Hudson, and on June
21 he writes to his son Arthur, who had remained abroad with his tutor:--
"You see by the date where we all are. Once more I am seated at my table
in the half octagon study under the south verandah. Never did the Grove
look more charming. Its general features the same, but the growth of the
trees and shrubbery greatly increased. Faithful Thomas Devoy has proved
himself to be a truly honest and efficient overseer. The whole farm is in
"On Thursday last I was much gratified with Mr. Leslie's letter from
Copenhagen, with his account of your reception by the King of Denmark.
How gratifying to me that the portrait of Thorwaldsen has given such
pleasure to the king, and that he regards it as the best likeness of the
The story of Morse's presentation to the King of Denmark of the portrait,
painted in Rome in 1831, has already been told in the first volume of
this work. The King, as we learn from the above quotation, was greatly
pleased with it, and in token of his gratification raised Morse to the
rank of Knight Commander of the Dannebrog, the rank of Knight having been
already conferred on the inventor by the King's predecessor on the
In another letter to Colonel Leslie, of November 2, 1868, brief reference
is made to matters political:--
"To-morrow is the important day for deciding our next four years' rulers.
I am glad our Continental brethren cannot read our newspapers of the
present day, otherwise they must infer that our choice of rulers is made
from a class more fitted for the state's prison than the state thrones,
and elevation to a scaffold were more suited to the characters of the
individual candidates than elevation to office. But in a few days matters
will calm down, and the business of the nation will assume its wonted
"I have not engaged in this warfare. As a citizen I have my own views,
and give my vote on general principles, but am prepared to learn that my
vote is on the defeated side. I presume that Grant will be the president,
and I shall defer to the decision like a peaceable citizen. The day after
to-morrow you will know as well as we shall the probable result. The
Telegraph is telling upon the world, and its effect upon human affairs is
yet but faintly appreciated."
In this letter he also speaks of the death of his youngest brother,
Richard C. Morse, who died at Kissingen on September 22, 1868, and in a
letter to his son Arthur, of October 11, he again refers to it, and adds:
"It is a sad blow to all of us but particularly to the large circle of
his children. Your two uncles and your father were a three-fold cord,
strongly united in affection. It is now sundered. The youngest is taken
first, and we that remain must soon follow him in the natural course of
Farther on in this letter he says: "I attended the funeral of Mr. L---- a
few weeks ago. I am told that he died of a broken heart from the conduct
of his graceless son Frank, and I can easily understand that the course
he has pursued, and his drunken habits, may have killed his father with
as much certainty as if he had shot him. Children have little conception
of the effect of their conduct upon their parents. They never know fully
these anxieties until they are parents themselves."
But his skies were not all grey, for in addition to his satisfaction in
being once more at home in his own beloved country, and in his quiet
retreat on the Hudson, he was soon to be the recipient of a signal mark
of respect and esteem by his own countrymen, which proved that this
prophet was not without honor even in his own country.
NEW YORK, November 30th, 1868.
PROFESSOR S.F.B. MORSE, LL.D.
Sir,--Many of your countrymen and numerous personal friends desire to
give definite expression to the fact that this country is in full accord
with European nations in acknowledging your title to the position of
father of Modern Telegraphy, and at the same time in a fitting manner to
welcome you to your home.
They, therefore, request that you will name a day on which you will favor
them with your company at a public banquet.
With great respect we remain,
Very truly your friends.
Here follow the names of practically every man of prominence in New York
at that time.
Morse replied on December 4:--
To the Hon. Hamilton Fish, Hon. John T. Hoffman, Hon. Wm. Dennison, Hon.
A.G. Curtin, Hon. Wm. E. Dodge, Peter Cooper, Esq., Daniel Huntington,
Esq., Wm. Orton, Esq., A.A. Low, Esq., James Brown, Esq., Cyrus W. Field,
Esq., John J. Cisco, Esq., and others.
Gentlemen,--I have received your flattering request of the 30th November,
proposing the compliment of a public banquet to me, and asking me to
appoint a day on which it would be convenient for me to meet you.
Did your proposal intend simply a personal compliment I should feel no
hesitation in thanking you cordially for this evidence of your personal
regard, while I declined your proffered honor; but I cannot fail to
perceive that there is a paramount patriotic duty connected with your
proposal which forbids me to decline your invitation.
In accepting it, therefore, I would name (in view of some personal
arrangements) Wednesday the 30th inst. as the day which would be most
agreeable to me.
Accept, Gentlemen, the assurance of the respect of Your obedient servant,
Samuel F.B. Morse.
The banquet was given at Delmonico's, which was then on the corner of
Fifth Avenue and Fourteenth Street, and was presided over by Chief
Justice Salmon P. Chase, who had been the leading counsel _against_ Morse
in his first great lawsuit, but who now cheerfully acknowledged that to
Morse and America the great invention of the telegraph was due. About two
hundred men sat down at the tables, among them some of the most eminent
in the country. Morse sat at the right of Chief Justice Chase, and Sir
Edward Thornton, British Ambassador, on his left. When the time for
speechmaking came, Cyrus Field read letters from President Andrew
Johnson; from General Grant, President-elect; from Speaker Colfax,
Admiral Farragut, and many others. He also read a telegram from Governor
Alexander H. Bullock of Massachusetts: "Massachusetts honors her two
sons--Franklin and Morse. The one conducted the lightning safely from the
sky; the other conducts it beneath the ocean from continent to continent.
The one tamed the lightning; the other makes it minister to human wants
and human progress."
From London came another message:--
"CYRUS W. FIELD, New York. The members of the joint committee of the
Anglo-American and Atlantic Telegraph Companies hear with pleasure of the
banquet to be given this evening to Professor Morse, and desire to greet
that distinguished telegraphist, and wish him all the compliments of the
Mr. Field added: "This telegram was sent from London at four o'clock this
afternoon, and was delivered into the hands of your committee at 12.50."
This, naturally, elicited much applause and laughter.
Speeches then followed by other men prominent in various walks of life.
Sir Edward Thornton said that he "had great satisfaction in being able to
contribute his mite of that admiration and esteem for Professor Morse
which must be felt by all for so great a benefactor of his fellow
creatures and of posterity."
Chief Justice Chase introduced the guest of the evening in the following
"Many shining names will at once occur to any one at all familiar with
the history of the Telegraph. Among them I can pause to mention only
those of Volta, the Italian, to whose discoveries the battery is due;
Oersted, the Dane, who first discovered the magnetic properties of the
electric current; Ampere and Arago, the Frenchmen, who prosecuted still
further and most successfully similar researches; then Sturgeon, the
Englishman, who may be said to have made the first electro-magnet; next,
and not least illustrious among these illustrious men, our countryman
Henry, who first showed the practicability of producing electro-magnetic
effects by means of the galvanic current at distances infinitely great;
and finally Steinheil, the German, who, after the invention of the
Telegraph in all its material parts was complete, taught, in 1837, the
use of the ground as part of the circuit. These are some of those
searchers for truth whose names will be long held in grateful memory, and
not among the least of their titles to gratitude and remembrance will be
the discoveries which contributed to the possibility of the modern
"But these discoveries only made the Telegraph possible. They offered the
brilliant opportunity. There was needed a man to bring into being the new
art and the new interest to which they pointed, and it is the
providential distinction and splendid honor of the eminent American, who
is our guest to-night, that, happily prepared by previous acquirements
and pursuits, he was quick to seize the opportunity and give to the world
the first recording Telegraph.
"Fortunate man! thus to link his name forever with the greatest wonder
and the greatest benefit of the age! [great applause]... I give you 'Our
guest, Professor S.F.B. Morse, the man of science who explored the laws
of nature, wrested electricity from her embrace, and made it a missionary
in the cause of human progress.'"
As the venerable inventor rose from his chair, overcome with profound
emotion which was almost too great to be controlled, the whole assembly
rose with him, and cheer after cheer resounded through the hall for many
minutes. When at last quiet was restored, he addressed the company at
length, giving a resume of his struggles and paying tribute to those who
had befriended and assisted him in his time of need--to Amos Kendall, who
sat at the board with him and whose name called forth more cheers, to
Alfred Vail, to Leonard Gale, and, in the largeness of his heart, to
F.O.J. Smith. It will not be necessary to give his remarks in full, as
the history of the invention has already been given in detail in the
course of this work, but his concluding remarks are worthy of record:--
"In casting my eyes around I am most agreeably greeted by faces that
carry me back in memory to the days of my art struggles in this city, the
early days of the National Academy of Design.
"Brothers (for you are yet brothers), if I left your ranks you well know
it cost me a pang. I did not leave you until I saw you well established
and entering on that career of prosperity due to your own just
appreciation of the important duties belonging to your profession. You
have an institution which now holds and, if true to yourselves, will
continue to hold a high position in the estimation of this appreciative
community. If I have stepped aside from Art to tread what seems another
path, there is a good precedent for it in the lives of artists. Science
and Art are not opposed. Leonardo da Vinci could find congenial
relaxation in scientific researches and invention, and our own Fulton was
a painter whose scientific studies resulted in steam navigation. It may
not be generally known that the important invention of the _percussion
cap_ is due to the scientific recreations of the English painter Shaw.
"But I must not detain you from more instructive speech. One word only in
closing. I have claimed for America the origination of the modern
Telegraph System of the world. Impartial history, I think, will support
that claim. Do not misunderstand me as disparaging or disregarding the
labors and ingenious modifications of others in various countries
employed in the same field of invention. Gladly, did time permit, would I
descant upon their great and varied merits. Yet in tracing the birth and
pedigree of the modern Telegraph, 'American' is not the highest term of
the series that connects the past with the present; there is at least one
higher term, the highest of all, which cannot and must not be ignored. If
not a sparrow falls to the ground without a definite purpose in the plans
of infinite wisdom, can the creation of an instrumentality so vitally
affecting the interests of the whole human race have an origin less
humble than the Father of every good and perfect gift?
"I am sure I have the sympathy of such an assembly as is here gathered
if, in all humility and in the sincerity of a grateful heart, I use the
words of inspiration in ascribing honor and praise to Him to whom first
of all and most of all it is preeminently due. 'Not unto us, not unto us,
but to God be all the glory.' Not what hath man, but 'What hath God
More applause followed as Morse took his seat, and other speeches were
made by such men as Professor Goldwin Smith, the Honorable William M.
Evarts, A.A. Low, William Cullen Bryant, William Orton, David Dudley
Field, the Honorable William E. Dodge, Sir Hugh Allan, Daniel Huntington,
and Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania.
While many of these speeches were most eloquent and appropriate, I shall
quote from only one, giving as an excuse the words of James D. Reid in
his excellent work "The Telegraph in America": "As Mr. Huntington's
address contains some special thoughts showing the relationship of the
painter to invention, and is, besides, a most affectionate and
interesting tribute to his beloved master, Mr. Morse, it is deemed no
discourtesy to the other distinguished speakers to give it nearly
I shall, however, omit some portions which Mr. Reid included.
"In fact, however, every studio is more or less a laboratory. The painter
is a chemist delving into the secrets of pigments, varnishes, mixtures of
tints and mysterious preparations of grounds and overlaying of colors;
occult arts by which the inward light is made to gleam from the canvas,
and the warm flesh to glow and palpitate.
"The studio of my beloved master, in whose honor we have met to-night,
was indeed a laboratory. Vigorous, life-like portraits, poetic and
historic groups, occasionally grew upon his easel; but there were many
hours--yes, days--when absorbed in study among galvanic batteries and
mysterious lines of wires, he seemed to us like an alchemist of the
middle ages in search of the philosopher's stone.
"I can never forget the occasion when he called his pupils together to
witness one of the first, if not the first, successful experiment with
the electric telegraph. It was in the winter of 1835-36. I can see now
that rude instrument, constructed with an old stretching-frame, a wooden
clock, a home-made battery and the wire stretched many times around the
walls of the studio. With eager interest we gathered about it as our
master explained its operation while, with a click, click, the pencil, by
a succession of dots and lines, recorded the message in cypher. The idea
was born. The words circled that upper chamber as they do now the globe.
"But we had little faith. To us it seemed the dream of enthusiasm. We
grieved to see the sketch upon the canvas untouched. We longed to see him
again calling into life events in our country's history. But it was not
to be; God's purposes were being accomplished, and now the world is
witness to his triumph. Yet the love of art still lives in some inner
corner of his heart, and I know he can never enter the studio of a
painter and see the artist silently bringing from the canvas forms of
life and beauty, but he feels a tender twinge, as one who catches a
glimpse of the beautiful girl he loved in his youth whom another has
"Finally, my dear master and father in art, allow me in this moment of
your triumph in the field of discovery, to greet you in the name of your
brother artists with 'All hail.' As an artist you might have spent life
worthily in turning God's blessed daylight into sweet hues of rainbow
colors, and into breathing forms for the delight and consolation of men,
but it has been His will that you should train the lightnings, the sharp
arrows of his anger, into the swift yet gentle messengers of Peace and
Morse's wife and his daughter and other ladies had been present during
the speeches, but they began to take their leave after Mr. Huntington's
address, although the toastmaster arose to announce the last toast, which
was "The Ladies." So he said: "This is the most inspiring theme of all,
but the theme itself seems to be vanishing from us. Indeed [after a
pause], has already vanished. [After another pause and a glance around
the room.] And the gentleman who was to have responded seems also to have
vanished with his theme. I may assume, therefore, that the duties of the
evening are performed, and its enjoyments are at an end."
The unsought honor of this public banquet, in his own country, organized
by the most eminent men of the day, calling forth eulogies of him in the
public press of the whole world, was justly esteemed by Morse as one of
the crowning events of his long career; but an even greater honor was
still in store for him, which will be described in due season.
The early months of 1869 were almost entirely devoted to his report as
Commissioner, which was finally completed and sent to the Department of
State in the latter part of March. In this work he received great
assistance from Professor W.P. Blake, who was "In charge of publication,"
and who writes to him on March 29: "I have had only a short time to
glance at it as it was delivered towards the close of the day, but I am
most impressed by the amount of labor and care you have so evidently
bestowed upon it."
Professor Blake wrote another letter on August 21, which I am tempted to
give almost in its entirety:--
"I feel it to be my duty to write to you upon another point regarding
your report, upon which I know that you are sensitive, but, as I think
you will see that my motives are good, and that I sincerely express them,
I believe you will not be offended with me although my views and opinions
may not coincide exactly with yours. I allude to the mention which you
make of some of the eminent physicists who have contributed by their
discoveries and experiments to our knowledge of the phenomena of
"On page 9 of the manuscript you observe: 'The application of the
electro-magnet, the invention of Arago and Sturgeon (first combined and
employed by Morse in the construction of the generic telegraph) to the
purposes also of the semaphore, etc.'
"Frankly, I am pained not to see the name of Henry there associated with
those of Arago and Sturgeon, for it is known and generally conceded among
men of science that his researches and experiments and the results which
he reached were of radical importance and value, and that they deservedly
rank with those of Ampere, Arago and Sturgeon.
"I am aware that, by some unfortunate combination of circumstances, the
personal relations of yourself and Professor Henry are not pleasant. I
deplore this, and it would be an intense satisfaction to me if I could be
the humble means of bringing about a harmonious and honorable adjustment
of the differences which separate you. I write this without conference
with Professor Henry or his friends. I do it impartially, first, in the
line of my duty as editor (but not now officially); second, as a lover of
science; third, with a patriotic desire to secure as much as justly can
be for the scientific reputation of the country; and fourth, with a
desire to promote harmony between all who are concerned in increasing and
disseminating knowledge, and particularly between such sincere lovers of
truth and justice as I believe both yourself and Professor Henry to be.
"I do not find that Professor Henry anywhere makes a claim which trenches
upon your claim of first using the electro-magnet for writing or printing
at a distance--the telegraph as distinguished from the semaphore. This he
cannot claim, for he acknowledges it to be yours. You, on the other hand,
do not claim the semaphoric use of electricity. I therefore do not see
any obstacle to an honorable adjustment of the differences which separate
you, and which, perhaps, make you disinclined to freely associate
Professor Henry's name with those of other promoters of electrical
"Your report presents a fitting opportunity to effect this result. A
magnanimous recognition by you of Professor Henry's important
contributions to the science of electro-magnetism appears to me to be all
that is necessary. They can be most appropriately and gracefully
acknowledged in your report, and you will gain rather than lose by so
doing. Such action on your part would do more than anything else could to
secure for you the good will of all men of science, and to hasten a
universal and generous accord of all the credit for your great gift to
civilization that you can properly desire.
"Now, my dear sir, with this frank statement of my views on this point, I
accept your invitation, and will go to see you at your house to talk with
you upon this point and others, perhaps more agreeable, but if, after
this expression of my inclinations, you will not deem me a welcome guest,
telegraph me not to come--I will not take it unkindly."
To this Morse replied on August 23: "Your most acceptable letter, with
the tone and spirit of which I am most gratified, is just received, for
which accept my thanks. I shall be most happy to see you and freely to
communicate with you on the subject mentioned, and with the sincere
desire of a satisfactory result."
The visit was paid, but the details of the conversation have not been
preserved. However, we find in Morse's report, on page 10, the following:
"In 1825, Mr. Sturgeon, of England, made the first electro-magnet in the
horseshoe form by loosely winding a piece of iron wire with a spiral of
copper wire. In the United States, as early as 1831, the experimental
researches of Professor Joseph Henry were of great importance in
advancing the science of electro-magnetism. He may be said to have
carried the electro-magnet, in its lifting powers, to its greatest
perfection. Reflecting upon the principle of Professor Schweigger's
galvanometer, he constructed magnets in which great power could be
developed by a very small galvanic element. His published paper in 1831
shows that he experimented with wires of different lengths, and he noted
the amount of magnetism which could be induced through them at various
lengths by means of batteries composed of a single element, and also of
many elements. He states that the magnetic action of 'a current from a
trough composed of many pairs is at least not sensibly diminished by
passing through a long wire,' and he incidentally noted the bearing of
this fact upon the project of an electro-magnetic telegraph [semaphore?].
"In more recent papers, first published in 1857, it appears that
Professor Henry demonstrated before his pupils the practicability of
ringing a bell, by means of electro-magnetism, at a distance."
Whether Professor Blake was satisfied with this change from the original
manuscript is not recorded. Morse evidently thought that he had made the
_amende honorable_, but Henry, coldly proud man that he was, still held
aloof from a reconciliation, for I have been informed that he even
refused to be present at the memorial services held in Washington after
the death of Morse.
In a letter of May 10, 1869, to Dr. Leonard Gale, some interesting facts
concerning the reading by sound are given:--
"The fact that the lever action of the earliest instrument of 1835 by its
click gave the sound of the numerals, as embodied in the original type,
is well known, nor is there anything so remarkable in that result....
When you first saw the instrument in 1836 this was so obvious that it
scarcely excited more than a passing remark, but, after the adaptation of
the dot and space, with the addition of the line or dash, in forming the
alphabetic signs (which, as well as I can remember, was about the same
date, late in 1835 or early in 1836) then I noticed that the different
letters had each their own individual sounds, and could also be
distinguished from each other by the sound. The fact did not then appear
to me to be of any great importance, seeming to be more curious than
useful, yet, in reflecting upon it, it seemed desirable to secure this
result by specifying it in my letters patent, lest it might be used as an
_evasion_ in indicating my novel alphabet without recording it. Hence the
_sounds_ as well as the imprinted signs were specified in my letters
"As to the time when these sounds were _practically_ used, I am unable to
give a precise date. I have a distinct recollection of one case, and
proximately the date of it. The time of the incident was soon after the
line was extended from Philadelphia to Washington, having a way station
at Wilmington, Delaware. The Washington office was in the old
post-office, in the room above it. I was in the operating room. The
instruments were for a moment silent. I was standing at some distance
near the fireplace conversing with Mr. Washington, the operator, who was
by my side. Presently one of the instruments commenced writing and Mr.
Washington listened and smiled. I asked him why he smiled. 'Oh!' said he,
'that is Zantzinger of the Philadelphia office, but he is operating from
Wilmington.' 'How do you know that?' 'Oh! I know his touch, but I must
ask him why he is in Wilmington.' He then went to the instrument and
telegraphed to Zantzinger at Wilmington, and the reply was that he had
been sent from Philadelphia to regulate the relay magnet for the
Wilmington operator, who was inexperienced in operating....
"I give this instance, not because it was the _first_, but because it is
one which I had specially treasured in my memory and frequently related
as illustrative of the practicality of reading by _sound_ as well as by
the written record. This must have occurred about the year 1846."
A serious accident befell the aged inventor, now seventy-nine years old,
in July, 1869. He slipped on the stairs of his country house and fell
with all his weight on his left leg, which was broken in two places. This
mishap confined him to his bed for three months, and many feared that,
owing to his advanced age, it would be fatal. But, thanks to his vigorous
constitution and his temperate life, he recovered completely. He bore
this affliction with Christian fortitude. In a letter to his brother
Sidney, of August 14, he says: "The healing process in my leg is very
slow. The doctor, who has just left me, condemns me to a fortnight more
of close confinement. I have other troubles, for they come not singly,
but all is for the best."
Troubles, indeed, came not singly, for, in addition to sorrows of a
domestic nature, his friends one by one were taken from him by death, and
on November 12, 1869, he writes to William Stickney, Esq., son-in-law of
"Although prepared by recent notices in the papers to expect the sad
news, which a telegram this moment received announces to me, of the death
of my excellent, long-tried friend Mr. Kendall, I confess that the
intelligence has come with a shock which has quite unnerved me. I feel
the loss as of a _father_ rather than of a brother in age, for he was one
in whom I confided as a father, so sure was I of affectionate and sound
"I need not tell you how deeply I feel this sad bereavement. I am truly
and severely bereaved in the loss of such a friend, a friend, indeed,
upon whose faithfulness and unswerving integrity I have ever reposed with
perfect confidence, a confidence which has never been betrayed, and a
friend to whose energy and skill, in the conduct of the agency which I
had confided to him, I owe (under God) the comparative comfort which a
kind Providence has permitted me to enjoy in my advanced age."
In the following year he was called upon to mourn the death of still
another of his good friends, for, on August 24, 1870, George Wood died
very suddenly at Saratoga.
While much of sadness and sorrow clouded the evening of the life of this
truly great man, the sun, ere it sank to rest, tinged the clouds with a
glory seldom vouchsafed to a mortal, for he was to see a statue erected
to him while he was yet living. Of many men it has been said that--
"Wanting bread they receive only a stone, and not even that until long
after they have been starved to death." It was Morse's good fortune not
only to see the child of his brain grow to a sturdy manhood, but to be
honored during his lifetime to a truly remarkable degree.
The project of a memorial of some sort to the Inventor of the Telegraph
was first broached by Robert B. Hoover, manager of the Western Union
Telegraph office, Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. The idea once started
spread with the rapidity of the electric fluid itself, and, under the
able management of James D. Reid, a fund was raised, partly by dollar
subscriptions largely made by telegraph operators all over the country,
including Canada, and it was decided that the testimonial should take the
form of a bronze statue to be erected in Central Park, New York. Byron M.
Pickett was chosen as the sculptor, and the Park Commission readily
granted permission to place the statue in the park.
It was at first hoped that the unveiling might take place on the 27th of
April, 1871, Morse's eightieth birthday; but unavoidable delays arose,
and it was not until the 10th of June that everything was in readiness.
It was a perfect June day and the hundreds of telegraphers from all parts
of the country, with their families, spent the forenoon in a steamboat
excursion around the city. In the afternoon crowds flocked to the park
where, near what is now called the "Inventor's Gate," the statue stood in
the angle between two platforms for the invited guests. Morse himself
refused to attend the ceremonies of the unveiling of his counterfeit
presentment, as being too great a strain on his innate modesty. Some
persons and some papers said that he was present, but, as Mr. James D.
Reid says in his "Telegraph in America," "Mr. Morse was incapable of such
an indelicacy.... Men of refinement and modesty would justly have
marvelled had they seen him in such a place."
At about four o'clock the Governor of New York, John T. Hoffman,
delivered the opening address, saying, in the course of his speech: "In
our day a new era has dawned. Again, for the second time in the history
of the world, the power of language is increased by human agency. Thanks
to Samuel F.B. Morse men speak to one another now, though separated by
the width of the earth, with the lightning's speed and as if standing
face to face. If the inventor of the alphabet be deserving of the highest
honors, so is he whose great achievement marks this epoch in the history
of language--the inventor of the Electric Telegraph. We intend, so far as
in us lies, that the men who come after us shall be at no loss to
discover his name for want of recorded testimony."
Governor Claflin, of Massachusetts, and William Orton, president of the
Western Union Telegraph Company, then drew aside the drapery amidst the
cheers and applause of the multitude, while the Governor's Island band
played the "Star-Spangled Banner."
William Cullen Bryant, who was an early friend of the inventor, then
presented the statue to the city in an eloquent address, from which I
shall quote the following words:--
"It may be said, I know, that the civilized world is already full of
memorials which speak the merit of our friend and the grandeur and
utility of his invention. Every telegraphic station is such a memorial.
Every message sent from one of these stations to another may be counted
among the honors paid to his name. Every telegraphic wire strung from
post to post, as it hums in the wind, murmurs his eulogy. Every sheaf of
wires laid down in the deep sea, occupying the bottom of soundless
abysses to which human sight has never penetrated, and carrying the
electric pulse, charged with the burden of human thought, from continent
to continent, from the Old World to the New, is a testimonial to his
greatness.... The Latin inscription in the church of St. Paul's in
London, referring to Sir Christopher Wren, its architect,--'If you would
behold his monument, look around you,'--may be applied in a far more
comprehensive sense to our friend, since the great globe itself has
become his monument."
The Mayor of New York, A. Oakey Hall, accepted the statue in a short
speech, and, after a prayer by the Reverend Stephen H. Tyng, D.D., the
assembled multitude joined in singing the doxology, and the ceremonies at
the park were ended.
But other honors still awaited the venerable inventor, for, on the
evening of that day, the old Academy of Music on Fourteenth Street was
packed with a dense throng gathered together to listen to eulogies on
this benefactor of his race, and to hear him bid farewell to his children
of the Telegraph. A table was placed in the centre of the stage on which
was the original instrument used on the first line from Washington to
Baltimore. This was connected with all the lines of telegraph extending
to all parts of the world. The Honorable William Orton presided, and,
after the Reverend Howard Crosby had opened the ceremonies with prayer,
speeches were delivered by Mr. Orton, Dr. George B. Loring, of Salem, and
the Reverend Dr. George W. Samson.
At nine o'clock Mr. Orton announced that all lines were clear for the
farewell message of the inventor to his children; that this message would
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