How Elizur Wright supported his family during this long period of philanthropy will always be a mystery, but support them he did. He had no regular salary like Garrison, but, in an emergency, he could turn his hand to almost anything, and earn money by odd jobs. Fortunately, he had a wife who was not afraid of any kind of house-work. He purchased his clothes of a tailor named Curtis, who kept a sailors' clothing store on North Street, and his mode of living otherwise was not less economical.
That his children suffered by their father's philanthropy must be admitted, but it is a general rule that the families of public benefactors also contribute largely to the general good. His eldest daughters inherited their father's intellect, and as they grew up cheerfully assisted him in various ways.
When the Mexican war began there was great indignation over it in New England, and Lowell wrote his most spirited verses in opposition to it. Elizur Wright took advantage of the storm to establish a newspaper, the Chronotype, in opposition to the Government policy. He began this enterprise almost without help, but soon obtained assistance from leading Free-soilers like John A. Andrew, Dr. S. G. Howe, and especially Frank W. Bird, the most disinterested of politicians, who gave several thousand dollars in support of the Chronotype. The object of the paper, stated in Mr. Wright's own words, was "To examine everything that is new and some things that are old, without fear or favor; to promote good nature, good neighborhood, and good government; to advocate a just distribution of the proper reward, whether material or immaterial, both of honest labor and rascally violence, cunning and idleness; last, but not least, to get an honest living." In 1848 he had a list of six thousand subscribers; and his incisive pen was greatly feared. The Post, which was the Government organ in Boston, attacked him once, but met with such a crushing rejoinder that its editor concluded not to try that game again. His capacity for brain labor was wonderful. He could work fourteen hours a day, and did not seem to need recreation at all.
In the campaign of 1844 Elizur Wright made a number of speeches for the Free-soil candidate in various New England cities. One morning he was returning from a celebration at Nashua, when at the Lowell station Daniel Webster entered the train with two or three friends, and turned over the seat next to Mr. Wright. A newsboy followed Webster, and they all purchased papers. Elizur Wright purchased a Whig paper, and seeing a statement in it concerning the Free-soil candidate which he believed from internal evidence to be untrue, he said quite loud: "Well! this is the finest roorback I have met with." Webster inquired what it was, and, after looking at the statement, pronounced it genuine. A short argument ensued, which closed with Webster's proposing to bet forty pounds that the allegation was true. "I am not a betting man," replied Wright, "but since the honor of my candidate is at stake, I accept your wager." Webster then gave him his card, and Wright returned it by writing his name on a piece of the newspaper.
Elizur Wright no sooner reached his office than he found letters and documents there disproving the Whig statement in toto, and later in the day he carried them over to Mr. Webster, who had an office in what was then Niles's Block. Mr. Webster looked carefully through them, congratulated Mr. Wright on his good fortune, and handed him two hundred- dollar bills. Peter Harvey, who was in Webster's office at the time, afterwards stopped Elizur Wright on the sidewalk and said to him: "Mr. Wright, you could have afforded to lose that wager much better than Webster could."
It is remarkable how all the different interests in this man's life— mathematics, philanthropy, journalism, and the translation of La Fontaine—united together like so many different currents to further the grand achievement of his life. While in England he had taken notice of the life-insurance companies there, which were in a more advanced stage than those in America. They interested him as a mathematical study, and also from the humanitarian point of view. He purchased "David Jones on Annuities," and the best works on life insurance. These he read with the same ardor with which young ladies devour an exciting novel, and without the least expectation that they might ever bring dollars and cents to him; until one day in the spring of 1852 an insurance solicitor placed an advertising booklet in his hand as he was entering the office of the Chronotype.
Elizur Wright looked it over and perceived quickly enough that no company could undertake to do what this one pretended to and remain solvent. The booklet served him for an editorial, and before one o'clock the next day agents from every life company in Boston were collected in his office. They supposed at first that it was an attempt at blackmail, but soon discovered that Elizur Wright knew more about the subject than any of them. Neither threats nor persuasions had any effect on this uncompromising backwoodsman. Only on one condition would Mr. Wright retract his statements,—that the companies should reform their circulars and place their affairs in a more sound condition. The consequence of this was an invitation from the presidents of several of the companies for Mr. Wright to call at their offices and discuss the subject with them.
The situation was this, and Mr. Wright saw it clearly: the presidents of the companies were excellent men,—as honorable and trustworthy as the presidents of our best national banks,—and they knew how to organize and conduct their companies in all business matters, but of life insurance as a science they knew as little as they knew of Greek. In those days there was a prejudice against college graduates which prevented their obtaining the highest mercantile positions, and it is doubtful if there was any person connected with the life-insurance companies who could solve a problem in the higher mathematics. The consequence of this was that it placed the presidents quite at the mercy of their own accountants. Recent events have proved with what facility the teller of a bank can abstract twenty or thirty thousand dollars without its appearing in the accounts. Temptations and opportunities of this sort must have been much greater in life-insurance companies, as they were formerly conducted, than it is now in banks. Money may have been stolen without its having been discovered.
Besides this, the temptations of the companies to continually over-bid one another for public favor was another evil which, sooner or later, would lead some of them into bankruptcy. This danger could only be averted by placing their rates of insurance on a scientific basis, which should be the same and unalterable for all companies.
The charters of the companies had been drafted in the interest of the management, without much consideration for the rights or advantages of those who were insured. There were no laws on the statute book which would practically prevent directors of life-insurance companies from doing as they pleased with the immense trust properties in their possession. After two or three interviews with Elizur Wright the presidents of the companies came to the conclusion that he was exactly the man that they wanted, and they commissioned him to draw up a revised set of tables and rates which could serve them for a uniform standard. This work occupied him and two of his daughters for a full year, for which he was compensated with the paltry sum of two thousand dollars. The time was fast approaching, however, when Elizur Wright would be in a position to dictate his own terms to the insurance companies.
It was now that the Bird Club, the most distinguished political club of its time, became gradually formed out of the leading elements of the Free-soil party. At one time this club counted among its members two Senators, three Governors, and a number of Congressmen, and it was a power in the land. Elizur Wright's services as editor of the Chronotype gave him an early entrance to it; and having life insurance on the brain, as it were, other members of the club soon became interested in the subject as a political question. In this way Mr. Wright was soon able to effect legislation. Sumner, Wilson, Andrew, and Bird gave him an almost unqualified support. In 1858 he was appointed Insurance Commissioner for Massachusetts, a position which he held until 1866. As Commissioner he formulated the principal legislation on life insurance; and his reports, which have been published in a volume, are the best treatise in English on the practical application of life- insurance principles.
In 1852 he resigned the editorship of the Chronotype, and from that time till 1858 he was occupied with life-insurance work, the editing of a paper called the Railroad Times, and making a number of mechanical inventions, most important of which was a calculating machine, enough in itself to give a man distinction.
This machine was simply a Gunther rule thirty feet in length wrapped on a cylinder and turned by a crank. Gunther's rule is a measure on which logarithms are represented by spaces, so that by adding and subtracting spaces on this cylinder Mr. Wright could perform the longest sums in multiplication and division in two or three minutes of time.
Not only did the Massachusetts insurance companies come under Mr. Wright's surveillance, but the New York Life, the Connecticut Mutual, and the Mutual Benefit of New Jersey, all large and powerful companies, were obliged to conform to his regulations, for their Boston offices were too lucrative to be surrendered. About this time Gladstone caused an overhauling of the English life-insurance companies, and a number which proved to be unsound were obliged to surrender their charters. Among these latter were two companies which held offices in Boston, and whose character had already been exposed by Elizur Wright.
In 1850, when he became Commissioner, Mr. Wright sent to their agents for a statement of their financial standing, and not receiving a reply requested them to leave the State. Finding that the matter could not be evaded, they at length forwarded two reports signed by two actuaries, both Fellows of the Royal Society, which were not of a satisfactory character, so that Mr. Wright insisted on his previous order. The agents then applied for support to Prof. Benjamin Pierce, the distinguished mathematician of Harvard University, and one of the most aggressively pro-slavery men about Boston. He probably looked upon Elizur Wright as a vulgar fanatic, and supposing that a Fellow of the Royal Society must necessarily be an honorable man, came forward in support of Messrs. Neisen and Woolhouse without sufficiently investigating the question at issue; and the result was a controversy between Elizur Wright and himself in which he was finally beaten off the field.
The statements of both Neisen and Woolhouse was proved to be fraudulent, and the two English companies were expelled from the State.
Mr. Wright's insurance reports brought him such celebrity that all the companies wished to have his name connected with them. His son, Walter C. Wright, became actuary of the New England Life, and his daughter, Miss Jane Wright, was made actuary of the Mutual Union Company. Mr. Wright and his eldest son, John, set up a business for calculating the value of insurance policies, in which the logarithm machine helped them to obtain a large income. With his first ten thousand dollars Mr. Wright purchased a large house and a tract of land in Middlesex Fells, where his family still resides.
In 1865 the office of Life Insurance Commissioner was filched from him by a trade politician who knew as much of the subject as fresh college graduates do of the practical affairs of life. Mr. Wright always regretted this, for he felt that his work was not yet complete; and it is a fact that American life insurance, with its good and bad features, still remains almost exactly as he left it.
It was only after Elizur Wright had ceased to be Commissioner that he discovered a serious error in the calculation of the companies, which may be explained in the following manner:
In the beginning, nearly all the insurance policies were made payable at death, with annual premiums; but the introduction of endowment policies, payable at a certain age, effected a peculiar change in their affairs, of which the managers of the companies were not sensible. Elizur Wright perceived that there were two distinct elements in the endowment policies which placed them at a disadvantage with ordinary life policies, and he called this combination "savings-bank life insurance." An endowment policy, being payable at a fixed date, required a larger premium than one which ran on indefinitely and by customary usage, and the agent who negotiated the policy received the same percentage for commission that he would on an ordinary-life policy; that is, he received a much larger commission in proportion. This evil was increased in cases where endowment policies were paid for, as often happened, in five or ten instalments; and where they were paid for in a single instalment the agent received four or five times what he was properly entitled to.
The same principle was observed by the companies in the distribution of their surplus, so that the holders of endowment policies were practically mulcted at both ends of the line.
In his reports as Insurance Commissioner Elizur Wright had recommended this class of policies as a salutary provision against poverty in old age, and he felt under obligations to the public to correct this injustice, [Footnote: On a policy of ten thousand dollars, it would amount to an appreciable sum.] but the insurance agents had also advocated them for evident reasons and were naturally opposed to any project of reform. The managers of the companies also treated the subject coldly, for the discrimination against endowments enabled them to accumulate a larger reserve which made them appear to better advantage before the general public. The numerous agents and solicitors formed a solid body of opposition and raised a chorus against Elizur Wright like that which the robins make when you pick your own cherries. This class of persons when they are actuated by a common impulse make a formidable impression.
Mr. Wright, after arguing his case with the insurance companies for nearly a year without effect, appealed to the public through the newspapers. This, however, had unexpected consequences. Mr. Wright's letters produced the impression, which he did not intend at all, that the insurance companies were unsound, and policy-holders rushed to the offices to make inquiries. Many surrendered their policies.
In this emergency the officers of the companies went to the editors and explained to them that their business would be ruined if Mr. Wright was permitted to continue his attacks on them. They then made Mr. Wright what may have been intended for a magnanimous offer, though he did not look on it in that light,—namely, an offer of ten thousand dollars a year, if he would retire from the actuary business and not molest them any longer. [Footnote: These events took place thirty years ago and have no relation to the present condition and practice of American insurance companies.] Elizur Wright refused this, as he might have declined the offer of a cigar, and appealed to the Legislature. The companies then withdrew their business from Mr. Wright and thus reduced his income from twelve thousand dollars a year to about three thousand; but this troubled him no more than it would have Diogenes.
In the summer of 1872 a portly gentleman called at Elizur Wright's office on State Street and introduced himself as the president of a well-known Western insurance company. As it was a pleasant day Mr. Wright invited his visitor to Pine Hill, where they could converse to better advantage than in a Boston office; but being much absorbed in his subject, while passing through Medford Centre, he neglected to order a dinner; and the consequence of this was that his portly friend was obliged to make a lunch on cold meat and potato salad. That same evening Mr. Wright's daughter twitted him on his lack of forethought, and hoped such a thing would not happen again, to which he only replied: "The kindest thing you can do for such a man is to starve him." Such was his philosophy on all occasions.
He devised a plan for combining life insurance with a savings bank, by which the laboring man could obtain a certain amount of insurance for his family (or old age) instead of interest upon his deposits. This was an admirable idea, and if he had undertaken to carry it out in the prime of life he might have succeeded in realizing it; but he was now upwards of seventy, and his friends concluded that the experiment would be a risky one, as a favorable result would depend entirely on Mr. Wright's longevity. At the same time he had another enterprise in hand, namely, to convert the Middlesex Fells, in which Pine Hill is situated, into a public park. This was greatly needed for the crowded population on the northern side of Boston, and though the plan was not carried out until after his death, he was the originator and earliest promoter of it.
Elizur Wright's most conspicuous trait was generosity. He lived for the world and not for himself. He was a man of broad views and great designs; a daring, original thinker. He respected Emerson, but preferred the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, from the study of which he became an advocate of free trade and woman suffrage.
He died November 21, 1885, in the midst of a rain-storm which lasted six days and nights. He lies interred at Mt. Hope Cemetery.
DR. W. T. G. MORTON
A distinguished American called upon Charles Darwin, and in the course of conversation asked him what he considered the most important discovery of the nineteenth century. To which Mr. Darwin replied, after a slight hesitation: "Painless surgery." He thought this more beneficial in its effects on human affairs than either the steam-engine or the telegraph. Let it also be noted that he spoke of it as an invention, rather than as a discovery.
The person to whom all scientific men now attribute the honor of this discovery, or invention, is Dr. William T. G. Morton; and, although in that matter he was not without slight assistance from others, as well as predecessors in the way of tentative experiments, yet it was Doctor Morton who first proved the possibility of applying anaesthesia to surgical operations of a capital order; and it was he who pushed his theory to a practical success. It may also be admitted that Columbus could not have discovered the Western Hemisphere without the assistance of Ferdinand and Isabella; but it was Columbus who divined the existence of the American continent, and afterwards proved his theory to be true. There is an underlying similarity between the labors and lives of Columbus and Morton, in spite of large superficial differences.
William Thomas Greene Morton was born August 19, 1819, in Charlton, Massachusetts, a small town in the Connecticut Valley. His father was a flourishing farmer and lived in an old-fashioned but commodious country house, with a large square chimney in the centre of it. William was not only a bright but a very dexterous boy, and was sent to school in the academy at Northfield, and afterwards at Leicester. It is a family tradition that he early showed an experimental tendency by brewing concoctions of various kinds for the benefit of his young companions, and that he once made his sister deathly sick in this manner. His father, finding him a more energetic boy than the average of farmers' sons, advised him to go to Boston, to seek whatever fortune he could find there.
This resulted in his obtaining employment, probably through the Charlton clergyman, in the office of a religious periodical, the Christian Witness; but the situation, though a comfortable one, was not adapted to his tastes, and from some unexplained attraction to the profession, he decided to study dentistry. This he accordingly did, graduating at the Baltimore Dental College in 1842. He then engaged an office in Boston, and soon acquired a lucrative practice. He was an uncommonly handsome man, with a determined look in his eye, but also a kindly expression and pleasing manners, which may have brought him more practice than his skill in dentistry,—although that was also good.
The following year he was married to Miss Elizabeth Whitman, of Farmington, Connecticut, whose uncle, at least, had been a member of Congress,—a highly genteel family in that region. In fact, her parents objected to Doctor Morton on account of his profession, and it was only after his promise to study medicine and become a regular practitioner that they consented to the match. Accordingly, Doctor Morton in the autumn of 1844 commenced a course at the Harvard Medical-School.
Mrs. Morton was a handsome young woman, with a fair face and elegant figure. It would have been difficult to find a better looking couple anywhere in the suburbs, and with good health and strength it seemed as if fortune would certainly smile on them. Doctor Morton built a summer cottage at Wellesley, where the public library now stands, and planted a grove of trees about it; but a mere earthly paradise could not satisfy him. He was not an ambitious man, or he would not have chosen the dental profession; but the food he lived on was not of this world. He had the daring spirit, the speculative temperament, and restless energy of the born discoverer. Already he had made improvements in the manufacture of artificial teeth. He was the first, or one of the first, to recognize the importance of chemistry in connection with the practice of medicine. He had no sooner returned to Boston than he commenced the study of chemistry with Dr. Charles T. Jackson, spending from six to ten hours a week in his laboratory; and he thus became acquainted with the properties and peculiarities of most of the chemical ingredients known at that time.
Mrs. Morton soon discovered with awe and trepidation that she had married no ordinary man. That he had a real skeleton in his closet was to have been expected; but, besides this, there were rows of mysterious-looking bottles, with substances in them quite different from the medicines which were prescribed by the doctors in Farmington. He tried experiments on their black water-spaniel and nearly killed him; and even descended to fishes and insects. He would muse for hours by himself, and if she asked him what he was thinking of he gave her no explanation that she could understand. Although he was so attractive and pleasing, he did not care much for human society. [Footnote: McClure's Magazine, September, 1896.] He was kind and good to her, and with that she was content. A more devoted wife, or faithful mother, has not been portrayed in poetry or romance.
These phenomena in Doctor Morton's early life remind one of certain processes in the budding of a flower. They indicate a tendency to some object which perhaps was not at the time wholly clear to the man himself. Impelled by the humanitarian spirit of the age, he moved forward with a clear eye and firm hand to grasp the opportunity when it arrived,—nor was it long delayed.
In considering the discovery of etherization we ought to eliminate all evidence of an ex parte character, unless it is supported circumstantially; but there is no reason why we should disbelieve Mrs. Morton's statement that her husband made experiments with sulphuric ether; that his clothes smelt of it; and that he tried to persuade laboring-men to allow him to experiment upon them with it. As Dr. J. Collins Warren says: "Anaesthesia had been the dream of many surgeons and scientists, but it had been classed with aerial navigation and other improbable inventions." [Footnote: Anaesthesia in Surgery, 15.] As long ago as 1818 Faraday had discovered the chief properties of ether, with the exception of its effect in deadening sensibility. In 1836 Dr. Morrill Wyman and Dr. Samuel Parkman had experimented with it on themselves at the Massachusetts Hospital, but without taking a sufficient quantity to produce unconsciousness. It was actually employed in 1842 by Dr. Crawford W. Long, at the University of Pennsylvania, in some minor cases of surgery, but he would seem to have lost confidence in his method and afterwards abandoned it.
In December, 1844, Horace Wells, a dentist of Hartford, had a tooth extracted by his own request while under the influence of nitrous oxide; and the following month he came to Boston, and having made his discovery known, an operation at the hospital was undertaken with his assistance, but the patient screamed, and it proved a failure so far as anaesthesia was concerned.
From these facts we readily draw the following conclusions: That the discovery of painless surgery was essentially a practical affair for which only a slight knowledge of chemistry was required; that it was not a discovery made at hap-hazard, but one that necessitated a skilful hand and a clear understanding of the subject; and that the supposition which has sometimes been advanced that Doctor Morton was necessarily indebted to Doctor Jackson for a knowledge of the hypnotic effect of ether is wholly gratuitous.
We will now quote directly from Doctor Warren's lecture on "The Influence of Anaesthesia on the Surgery of the Nineteenth Century," delivered before the American Surgical Association in 1897:
"Morton having acquainted himself by conversation with Mr. Metcalf and Mr. Burnett, both leading druggists, as to purity and qualities of ether, and having also conversed with Mr. Wightman, a philosophical instrument- maker, and with Doctor Jackson as to inhaling apparatus, proceeded to experiment upon himself. After inhaling the purer quality of ether from a handkerchief he awoke to find that he had been insensible for seven or eight minutes.
"The same day a stout, healthy man came to his office suffering from great pain and desiring to have a tooth extracted. Dreading the pain, ho accepted willingly Morton's proposal to use ether, and the tooth was extracted without suffering. Morton reported his success the next day to Jackson, and conversed with him as to the best methods of bringing his discovery to the attention of the medical profession and the public. Jackson pointed out that tooth-pulling was not a sufficient test, as many people claimed to have teeth pulled without pain. It was finally decided that the crucial test lay in a public demonstration in the operating theatre of a hospital in a surgical case."
There is one statement in the above to which, according to our rules of literary procedure, we feel obliged to take exception,—that is, the statement concerning the interview between Morton and Jackson after the successful administration of ether to Morton's patient. It is substantially Doctor Jackson's own statement. Doctor Morton gave a wholly different account before the Congressional Committee of 1852. He said:
"I went to Doctor Jackson, told him what I had done, and asked him to give me a certificate that ether was harmless in its effects. This he positively refused to do. I then told him I should go to the principal surgeons and have the question thoroughly tried. I then called on Doctor Warren, who promised me an early opportunity to try the experiment, and soon after I received the invitation...."
Now as these are both ex parte statements, and as there are no witnesses on either side, according to the rule we have already established, they will both have to be eliminated. [Footnote: The Congressional Committee of 1852 did not find Doctor Jackson's report of this interview trustworthy.] Doctor Morton, however, says previously that it was Doctor Hayward with whom he consulted as to the best method of bringing his discovery before the world.
In the consideration of this subject we come upon a man of rare character—rare even, in his profession. Dr. John C. Warren was the perfect type of an Anglo-Saxon surgeon. His courage and dexterity were fully equalled by his kindness and sympathy for the patient. Cool and collected in the most trying emergencies, it has been said of him that he never performed a capital operation without feeling a pain in his heart; and the evidence of this was marked upon his face, so that it is even visible in the photographs of him. He deserved to have his portrait painted by Rubens. In 1847 Dr. Mason Warren published a review of etherization, in which he makes this important statement:
"In the autumn of 1846 Dr. W. T. G. Morton, a dentist in Boston, a person of great ingenuity, patience, and pertinacity of purpose, called on me several times to show some of his inventions. At that time I introduced him to Dr. John C. Warren. Shortly after, in October, I learned from Doctor Warren that Doctor Morton had visited him and informed him that he was in possession of or had discovered a means of preventing pain, which he had proved in dental operations, and wished Doctor Warren to give him an opportunity in a surgical operation. After some questions on the subject in regard to its action and the safety of it, Doctor Warren promised that he would do so.... The operation was therefore deferred until Friday, October 16, when the ether was administered by Doctor Morton, and the operation performed by Doctor Warren."
It was eminently fitting that Dr. John C. Warren should be the one to introduce painless surgery to the medical profession. Next to Morton he deserves the highest credit for the revolution which it effected: a glorious revolution, fully equal to that of 1688. His quick recognition of Morton's character, and the confidence he placed in him as the man of the hour, deserve the highest commendation. Doctor Warren had invited Doctor Jackson to attend this critical experiment with sulphuric ether at the Massachusetts Hospital; but he declined with the trite excuse that he was obliged to go out of town. This has been generally interpreted by the medical profession as a lack of courage on Jackson's part to face the music, but it may also have been owing to his jealousy of Morton.
This happened October 16th, and on November 13th, Dr. C. T. Jackson wrote to M. Elie de Beaumont, a member of the French Academy, this remarkable letter:
"I request permission to communicate through your medium to the Academy of Sciences a discovery which I have made, and which I believe important for the relief of suffering humanity, as well as of great value to the surgical profession. Five or six years ago I noticed the peculiar state of insensibility into which the nervous system is thrown by the inhalation of the vapor of pure sulphuric ether, which I respired abundantly,—first by way of experiments, and afterwards when I had a severe catarrh, caused by the inhalation of chlorine gas. I have latterly made a useful application of this fact by persuading a dentist of this city to administer the vapor of ether to his patients, when about to undergo the operation of extraction of teeth. It was observed that persons suffered no pain in the operation, and that no inconvenience resulted from the administration of the vapor."
It was the opinion of Robert Rantoul and other members of the Congressional Committee that Doctor Jackson suffered from a "heated and disordered imagination," and that is the most charitable view that one can take of such a letter as this. Whatever may have been the result of Doctor Jackson's investigations with sulphuric ether, it is certain that he added nothing to the scientific knowledge of his time in that respect; [Footnote: Edinburgh Medical Journal, April 1, 1857.] and if he persuaded Doctor Morton to make use of it, why was he not present to oversee his subordinate? also, why did he make a charge on his books a few days later against Doctor Morton of five hundred dollars for advice and information concerning the application of ether? It is not customary to charge subordinates for their service but to reward them. The two horns of this dilemma are sharp and penetrating.
In a later memorial of the same general tenor, which Doctor Jackson forwarded to Baron Humboldt, he stated that he had applied to other dentists in Boston to make the experiment of etherization, but found them unwilling to take the risk; but the names of the dentists have never been made public, nor did any such appear afterwards to testify in Doctor Jackson's behalf.
Still more remarkable was the action of the French Academy of Arts and Sciences in these premises. The French Academy was founded by Richelieu, but abolished in the first French Revolution, with so many other enchanted phantasms. Napoleon re-established it, and gave it new life and vigor by a discriminating choice of membership; but it is a close corporation which renews itself by its own votes, and such a body of men is always in danger of becoming a mutual admiration society, and if this happens its public utility is at an end. In the present instance the action of the French Academy was illogical, unscientific, and mischievous.
Doctor Jackson's letter was brought before that august body on January 18, 1847, but previous to that time Doctor Warren had written to Doctor Velpeau, an eminent French surgeon, concerning the success of etherization at the Massachusetts Hospital, and suggesting the use of it in the hospitals at Paris; and Doctor Velpeau referred to this fact at the meeting of January 18th. The contents of this letter have never been made public; but it is incredible that Doctor Jackson's claim should have received any support from it. Nevertheless, the members of the French Academy decided to divide one of the Mouthyon prizes (of five thousand francs for great scientific discoveries) between Dr. W. T. G. Morton and Elie de Beaumont's American friend, Dr. C. T. Jackson; and they conferred this particular favor on Dr. Jackson at his own representation, without one witness in his favor, and without making an inquiry into the circumstances of the discovery. Could the Northfield Academy of boys and girls have acted in a more heedless or unscientific manner?
After the justice of this decision had been questioned, the French Academy promulgated a defence of their previous action, of which the essence was that the scientific theory of Doctor Jackson was as essential to the discovery of etherization as the practical skill of Doctor Morton; that is, they attempted to decide a matter of fact by an a priori dogmatism. Was not the instruction that Doctor Morton received from the dental college in Baltimore also essential to the discovery,—and to go behind that,—what he learned at the primary school at Churiton? When learning is divorced from reason it becomes mere pedantry or sublimated ignorance, and is more dangerous to the community than unlettered ignorance can be.
This blunder of the French Academy had evil consequences for both Morton and Jackson; for it placed the latter in a false position towards the world, and brought about a collision between them which not only lasted during their lives, but was also carried on by their friends and relatives long afterwards. It is doubtful if Jackson would have contested Morton's claim without European support.
With true dignity of character Doctor Morton declined to divide the Mouthyon prize with Doctor Jackson, and the French Academy accordingly had a large gold medal stamped in his honor, and as this did not exhaust the original donation, the remainder of the sum was expended on a highly ornamental case. The trustees of the Massachusetts Hospital partly subscribed and partly collected a thousand dollars which they presented to Doctor Morton in a handsome silver casket. The King of Sweden sent him the Cross of the Order of Wasa; and he also received the Cross of the Order of St. Vladimir from the Tsar of Russia. He was only twenty-seven years of age at this time.
The ensuing eight years of Morton's life were spent in a desperate effort for recognition—recognition of the importance of his discovery and of his own merits as the discoverer. No one can blame him for this. As events proved, it would have been far better for him if he had finished his course at the medical-school and set up his sign in the vicinity of Beacon Street; but the wisest man can but dimly foresee the future. Doctor Morton had every reason to believe that there was a fortune to be made in etherization. He consulted Rufus Choate, who advised him to obtain a patent or proprietary right in his discovery. Hon. Caleb Eddy undertook to do this for him, and being supported by a sound opinion from Daniel Webster, easily obtained it. Now, however, Morton's troubles began.
He exempted the Massachusetts Hospital from the application of his royalty, and it was only right that he should do so; but, unfortunately, it was the only large hospital where etherization was regularly practised. In order to extend its application Doctor Morton secured the services of three young physicians, practised them in the use of the gas, and paid them a thousand dollars each to go forth into the world as proselytes of his discovery; but they met everywhere with a cold reception, and were several times informed that if the Massachusetts Hospital enjoyed the use of etherization, other hospitals ought to have the same privilege; so that his enterprise proved of no immediate advantage.
The Mexican War was now at its height, and Doctor Morton offered the use of etherization to the government for a very small royalty, but his offer was declined by the Secretary of War. He soon discovered, however, that surgeons in the army and navy were making free use of it,—contrary to law and the rights of men. Individuals all over the country—dentists and surgeons—were doing the same thing; and it was more difficult to prevent this than to execute the game-laws. For such an order of affairs the decision of the French Academy was largely responsible, for if men only find a shadow of right on the side of self-interest, they are likely enough to take advantage of it.
Meanwhile Doctor Jackson, with a few friends and a large body of Homoeopaths who acted in opposition to the regulars of the Massachusetts Hospital, kept up a continual fusillade against Doctor Morton; but this did him little harm, for early in 1847 the trustees of the hospital decided, by a unanimous vote, that the honor of discovering etherization properly belonged to him.
Doctor Jackson questioned the justice of this decision, and applied for a reconsideration of the subject. Whereupon the subject was reconsidered the following year, and the same verdict rendered as before. Doctor Jackson then carried his case to the Boston Academy of Arts and Sciences, when Professor Agassiz asked him the pertinent question: "But, Doctor Jackson, did you make one little experiment?" adding drily, after receiving a negative reply: "It would have been better if you had."
It is to be regretted that Doctor Jackson should have attacked Doctor Morton's private life (which appears to have been fully as commendable as his own), and also that R. W. Emerson should have entered the lists in favor of his brother-in-law. In one of his later books Emerson designates Doctor Jackson as the discoverer of etherization. This was setting his own judgment above that of the legal and medical professions, and even above the French Academy; but Emerson had lived so long in intuitions and poetical concepts that he was not a fairly competent person to judge of a matter of fact. It is doubtful if he made use of the inductive method of reasoning during his life.
Doctor Morton sought legal advice in regard to the infringement of his patent rights; but he found that legal proceedings in such cases were very expensive, and was counselled to apply to Congress for redress and assistance. This seemed to him a good plan, for if he could exchange his rights in etherization for a hundred thousand dollars, he would be satisfied; but in the end it proved a Nessus shirt to strangle the life out of him. He soon found that Congress could not be moved by a sense of justice, but only by personal influence. He gave up his business in Boston and went to Washington with his family, but this soon exhausted his slender resources. Knowing devils informed him that if he wished to obtain a hundred thousand dollars from the government he would have to expend fifteen or twenty thousand in lobbying, but the idea of this was hateful to him, and he declined to make the requisite pledges.
The winter of 1850 and of 1851 passed without result, until finally in December of the latter year, Bissel, of Illinois, made a speech in Doctor Morton's favor, calling attention to the fact that the government had been pirating his patent, and proposing that the subject be referred to a committee. Robert Rantoul seconded the motion, and the step was taken. It was considered better for the chances of success that the proposition should come from a Western man.
This committee continued its meeting throughout the winter and made a thorough-going examination of the question before it. The frankness and plain character of Doctor Morton's testimony is much in his favor, and the description he gave of his own proceedings previous to the first operation in the Massachusetts Hospital show how hard he wrestled with his discovery,—wrestled like Jacob of old,—working half the night with an instrument-maker to devise a suitable apparatus for inhalation. Doctor Jackson and Horace Wells also presented their claims to the committee and were respectfully considered.
The report of this committee is a valuable document,—a study for young lawyers in the sifting of evidence,—and of itself a severe criticism on the judgment of the French Academy, which it considered at too great a distance to judge fairly of the circumstances attending the advent of painless surgery. The committee decided unanimously that Doctor Wells did not carry his experiments far enough to reach a decided result; that Doctor Jackson's testimony was contradictory and not much to be depended on; and that the credit of discovering painless surgery properly appertained to Dr. W. T. G. Morton. They recommended an appropriation of a hundred thousand dollars to be given to Doctor Morton in return for the free use of etherization by the surgeons of the army and navy.
A hundred thousand dollars was little enough. The British Government paid thirty thousand pounds as a gratuity for the discovery of vaccination; and more recently a poor German student made a much larger sum by the invention of a drug which has since fallen into disuse. Half a million would not have been more than Morton deserved, and a hundred thousand might have been bestowed on Wells.
Doctor Morton must have thought now that the clouds were lifting for him at last; but they soon settled down darker than ever. The committee's report was only printed towards the close of the session, and Congress, gone rabid over the Presidential election, neglected to consider it. Neither did it take further action the following winter. A year later a bill was introduced in the Senate for Doctor Morton's relief, and was ably supported by Douglas, of Illinois, and Hale, of New Hampshire. It passed the Senate by a small majority, but was defeated by the "mud-gods" of the House—defeated by men who were pilfering the national treasury in sinecures for their relatives and supporters. In the history of our government I know of nothing more disgraceful than this,—except the exculpation of Brooks for his assault on Sumner.
Doctor Morton was a ruined man. His slender means had long since been exhausted, and he had been running in debt for the past two or three years, as Hawthorne did at the old manse. Even his house at Wellesley was mortgaged. His business was gone, and his health was shattered. He felt as a man does in an earthquake. The government could not have treated him more cruelly unless it had put him to death.
It was now, as a final resort, that he went to see President Pierce, always a kindly man, except where Kansas affairs were concerned; and Pierce advised him to bring a suit for infringement of his rights against a surgeon in the navy. Doctor Morton found a lawyer who was willing to take the risk for a large share of the profits, and gained his case. His house was saved, but he returned to Wellesley poorer than when he came to Boston to seek his fortune, a youth of eighteen.
There was great indignation at the Massachusetts Hospital when the result of Doctor Morton's case before Congress was known there, and soon after his return an effort was made to raise a substantial testimonial for him. That noble-hearted physician, Dr. Henry I. Bowditch, interested himself so conspicuously in this that Doctor Morton named his youngest son for him.
A similar effort was made by the medical profession in New York city, and a sufficient sum obtained to render Doctor Morton moderately comfortable during the remainder of his earthly existence, and to educate his eldest son.
Doctor Morton's health was too much shattered for professional work now, and he resigned himself to his fate. He raised cattle at Wellesley, and imported fine cattle as a healthful out-of-door occupation. In the autumn of 1862 he joined the Army of the Potomac as a volunteer surgeon, and applied ether to more than two thousand wounded soldiers during the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness. At the same time Senator Wil- [*printer's error—double line and missing text] revive the gratuity for Morton in Congress, but the decision of the French Academy was in men's minds, and a vicious precedent proved stronger than reason.
I saw Doctor Morton for the last time about nine months before his death; and the impression his appearance made on me was indelible. He was walking in the path before his house with his eldest daughter, and he seemed like the victim of an old Greek tragedy—a noble Oedipus who had solved the Sphynx's riddle, attended by his faithful Antigone.
In July, 1868, a torrid wave swept over the Northern States which carried off many frail and delicate persons in the large cities, and Doctor Morton was one of those who suffered from it. He happened to be in New York City at the time, and went to Central Park to escape the feeling of suffocation which oppressed him, but never returned alive. He now lies in Mount Auburn Cemetery, with a modest monument over his grave erected by his Boston friends, with this epitaph composed by Dr. Jacob Bigelow:
WILLIAM T. G. MORTON
INVENTOR AND REVEALER OF ANAESTHETIC INHALATION BY WHOM, PAIN IN SURGERY WAS ARRESTED AND ANNULLED BEFORE WHOM, IN ALL TIME, SURGERY WAS AGONY SINCE WHOM, SCIENCE HAS CONTROL OF PAIN
Doctor Morton was a self-made man, but not a rough diamond,—rather one of Nature's gentlemen. The pleasant urbanity of his manner was so conspicuous that no person of sensibility could approach him without being impressed by it. His was a character such as those who live by academic rules would be more likely to misjudge than to comprehend.
The semi-centennial of painless surgery was celebrated, in 1896, in Boston, New York, London, and other cities, and the credit of its discovery was universally awarded to William T. G. Morton. About the same time it happened that the Massachusetts State House was reconstructed, and William Endicott, as Commissioner, and a near relative of Robert Rantoul, had Morton's name emblazoned in the Hall of Fame with those of Franklin, Morse, and Bell. This may be said to have decided the controversy; but, like many another benefactor of mankind, Doctor Morton's reward on earth was a crown of thorns.
LEAVES FROM A ROMAN DIARY
(Rewritten in 1897)
As I look out of P——'s windows on the Via Frattina every morning at the plaster bust of Pius IX., I like his face more and more, and feel that he is not an unworthy companion to George Washington and the young Augustus. [Footnote: Three busts in a row.] I think there may be something of the fox, or rather of the crow, in his composition, but his face has the wholeness of expression which shows a sound and healthy mind,—not a patchwork character. I was pleased to hear that he was originally a liberal; and the first, after the long conservative reaction of Metternich, to introduce reforms in the states of the Church. The Revolution of 1848 followed too quickly, and the extravagant proceedings of Mazzini and Garibaldi drove him into the ranks of the conservatives, where he has remained ever since. Carlyle compared him to a man who had an old tin-kettle which he thought he would mend, but as soon as he began to tinker it the thing went to pieces in his hands. The Revolution of 1848 proved an unpractical experiment, but it opened the way for Victor Emanuel and a more sound liberalism in 1859.
We attended service at the Sistine Chapel yesterday in company with two young ladies from Philadelphia, who wore long black veils so that Pius IX. might not catch the least glimpse of their pretty faces. I was disappointed in my hope of obtaining a view of the Pope's face. Cardinal Bonaparte sat just in front of us, a man well worth observing. He looks to be the ablest living member of that family, and bears a decided resemblance to the old Napoleon. His features are strong, his eyes keen, and he wears his red cap in a jaunty manner on the side of his head. When the blessing was passed around the conclave of Cardinals, Bonaparte transferred it to his next neighbor as if he meant to put it through him. It is supposed that he will be the successor of Pius IX.; but, as Rev. Samuel Longfellow says, that will depend very much upon whether Louis Napoleon is alive at the time of the election.
The singing in the Sistine Chapel is not worth listening to, besides having unpleasant associations; so during the service we had an excellent opportunity to study Michael Angelo's Last Judgment—for there was nothing else to be done.
Kugler considers the picture an inharmonious composition, and that nothing could be more disagreeable than the stout figure of St. Bartholomew holding a flaying knife in one hand and his own mortal hide in the other. This is not a pleasant spectacle; but Michael Angelo did not paint for other people's pleasure, but rather to satisfy his own conscience. It was customary to introduce St. Bartholomew in this manner, for there was no other way in which he could be identified. We found the towering form of St. Christopher on the left side of the Saviour rather more of an eyesore than St. Bartholomew, whose expression of awe partially redeems his appearance.
The Saviour has a herculean frame, but his face and head are magnificent. He has no beard, and his hair is arranged in festoons which gives the impression of a wreath of grape leaves. The expression of his face is the noblest I have seen in any work of art in Rome; the face that has risen through suffering; calm, compassionate, immutable. The Madonna seems like a girl beside this stalwart form, and she draws close to her son with naive timidity at the vast concourse which crowds about them. Her face is expressive of resignation and compassion rather than any joyful feeling.
The left side of this vast painting, in which the bodies of men and women are rising from their graves, is less interesting than the right side, where the saints and blessed are gathered together above and the sinners are hurled down below. Michael Angelo's saints and apostles look like vigorous men of affairs, and are all rather stout and muscular. The attitudes of some of them are by no means conventional, but they are natural and unconstrained. St. Peter, holding forth the keys, is a magnificent figure. The group of the saved who are congregated above the saints is the pleasantest portion of the picture. Here Damion and Pythias embrace each other; a young husband springs to greet the wife whom he lost too early; a poor unfortunate to whom life was a curse is timidly raising his eyes, scarcely believing that he is in paradise; men with fine philosophic heads converse together; and a number of honest serving- women express their astonishment with such gestures as are customary among that class of persons.
In the lunettes above, wingless angels are hovering with the cross, the column, and other instruments of Christ's agony, which they clasp with a loving devotion. In the lower right-hand corner, Charon appears (taken from pagan mythology) with a boat-load of sinners, whom he smites with his oar according to Dante's description. He is truly a terrible demon, and his fiery eyes gleam across the length of the chapel. Minos, who receives the boat-load in the likeness of Biagio da Cesena, the pope's master of ceremonies, is another to match him. A modern fop with banged hair is stepping from the boat to the shore of hell. This is said to be the best painted portion of the picture,—most life-like and free from mannerism. It is a mighty work, and too little appreciated, like many other works of art, chiefly owing to the critics, who do not understand it, and write a lingo of their own which is not easy to make out and does not come to much after all. [Footnote: All this shows what a heart there was in Michael Angelo, and dissipates the assertion of a recent English biographer that Michael Angelo painted masks instead of faces, with little or no expression.]
After the service we went into St. Peter's with the ladies, and walked the whole circuit of the church. Our ladies talked meanwhile exactly as they might at an American watering-place, without apparently observing anything about them. When we came to the statue of St. Peter, P—— said, pointing to the big toe: "You see there the mischief that can be done by too much kissing." Nearly a third of the toe has been worn away by the oscular applications of the faithful.
Feb. 4.—Dr. B. B. Appleton, an American resident of Florence, is here on a flying visit. We have heard from many sources of the kindness of this man to American travellers, especially to young students. In fact, he took P—— into his house while at Florence, and entertained him in the most generous manner. He has done the same for Mrs. Julia Ward Howe and many others. He lives with an Italian family who were formerly in the service of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and who were ruined by the recent change of rulers. Dr. Appleton boards with them, and helps to support them in other ways. In spite of his goodness he does not seem to be happy.
One of his chief friends in Florence is Fraulein Assig, who was banished from Prussia together with her publisher for editing Von Humboldt's memoirs, which were perhaps too severely critical of the late king of Prussia. The book, however, had an excellent sale, and she now lives contentedly in Florence, where she is well acquainted both with prominent liberals and leading members of the government. Dr. Appleton reports that a cabinet officer lately said to her, "We may move to Rome at any time."
Louis Napoleon is the main-stay of the papacy, and the only one it has. The retrocession of Venetia to Italy has separated Austria effectually from the states of the Church, and the Spaniards are too much taken up with their internal affairs to interfere at present in the pope's behalf. Napoleon's health is known to be delicate, and prayers for his preservation are offered up daily in Roman churches. If he should die before his son comes of age great political changes may be looked for.
Meanwhile murmurs of discontent are heard on all sides. The city is unclean and badly cared for. The civil offices are said to be filled mainly with nephews of cardinals and other prelates. Even Italians of the lower classes know enough of political economy to foresee that if Rome was the capital of Italy it would be more prosperous than it is at present. The value of land would rise, and all the small trades would flourish. This is what is really undermining the power of Pius IX. A most curious sign of the times is the general belief among the Roman populace that the Pope has an evil eye. How long since this originated I have not been able to learn; but it is not uncommon for those who chance to see the pope in his carriage, especially women, to go immediately into the nearest church for purification. A few days since the train from Rome to Florence ran into a buffalo, and the locomotive was thrown off the track. Even this was attributed to the fact that the engineer had encountered the pope near the Quirinal the previous Sunday.
Dr. Appleton told us a story at dinner about the youth of Louis Napoleon. His Florentine housekeeper, Gori, remembers Hortense and her two sons very distinctly; for Louis once met him in the Boboli Gardens and insisted on his smoking a cigar, in order to laugh at him when it had made him sick,—as it was Gori's first experience with tobacco. He also says that on one occasion when the young princes had some sort of a feast together, the others all gave the caterer from five to ten francs as a pour-boir, but Louis Napoleon gave him a twenty-franc piece. When his companions expressed their surprise at this Louis said: "It is only right that I should do so, for some day I shall be Emperor."
As a rule few Italian men attend church. The women go; but the men, if not heretical, are at least rather indifferent, on the subject of religion. Macaulay refers to this fact in his essay on Macchiavelli, and Dr. Appleton, who has lived among them, knows it to be true. To make amends for it, English and American ladies are returning to the fold of St. Peter in large numbers; and many of them bring their male relatives eventually with them. I believe this to be largely a matter of fashion. They have always accepted the Protestant creed as a matter of course, and coming here, where they are separated from all previous associations, they find themselves out of tune with their surroundings. They feel lonely, as all travellers do at times, and being in need of sympathy are easily impressed by those about them. Most of them have Catholic maids, who often serve as stepping-stones to the acquaintance of the priest. Conversion gives them a kind of importance, which Catholic ladies of rank know how to make the most of. The external grandeur of Catholicism as we see it here has also its due influence.
Feb. 9.—I was greatly disgusted last evening while calling on two New England ladies, who were formerly my schoolmates, to have a pompous priest walk in and take possession of the parlor, spoiling my pleasant tete-a-tete. He sat in the middle of the room like a pail of water, and stared about in the most ill-mannered way. My friends remarked that he was the abbate of the Pantheon, and he inquired if I had been to see it; to which I replied that I had, and that I considered it the noblest building in Rome. This seemed to be a new idea to him, and one which he did not altogether like. Not long since I came upon a priest drinking wine with some young artists, and laughing at jokes for which a stage-driver might be ashamed. There are fine exceptions among them, but as a class they appear to me coarse and even vicious,—by no means spiritually attractive. Monks are not attractive either, but in their way they are much more interesting. Religion seems to be meat and drink to them.
P—— and I were invited to dine by an American Catholic lady who was formerly a friend of Margaret Fuller, and who having been incautiously left in Rome by her husband, embraced Catholicism before he was fairly across the Atlantic,—to his lasting sorrow and vexation. Being in an influential position she has made many converts, and it is said that she has come to Rome on the present occasion to be sainted by the pope. She has already loaned P—— a biography of Father Lacordaire, which he has not had leisure to read. He referred to it, as soon as politeness permitted, with a shrewd inquiry as to whether the book did not give rather a rose-colored view of practical Catholicism. Mrs. X—— turned to her daughters and said with all imaginable sweetness: "Just hear him,— the poor child!" Then she went off into a long, eloquent, and really interesting discourse on the true, sole, and original Christian Church. She admitted, however, that during the sixteenth century the Christian faith had much fallen into decay, and that Martin Luther was not to be blamed for his exhortations against the evil practices of popes and cardinals. Now that the Church had been reformed it was altogether different. She told us how she became converted. It came to her like a vision on a gloomy winter day, while she was looking into the embers of a wood-fire.
Then she talked about Margaret Fuller, whom she called the most brilliant woman she had ever known. She had never loved another woman so much; but it was a dangerous love. If she wrote a rather gushing letter to Margaret, she would receive in reply, "How could you have written so beautifully! You must have been inspired." This, she said, had all the effect of flattery without being intended for it, and was so much the more mischievous. "Emerson and Margaret Fuller," said Mrs. X——, "put inspiration in the place of religion. They believed that some people had direct communication with the Almighty." P—— and I thought this might be true of Miss Fuller, but doubted it in Emerson's case.
Miss X—— told me that she had lately ascended to the rotunda of the Capitol, from which the pope's flag flies all day, and that she had asked the Swiss guard what he would do if she hoisted the tricolor there. He replied: "I should shoot you." Nothing could be more kind or truly courteous than the manner in which these ladies treated us.
Another distinguished convert here is Mrs. Margaret Eveleth, a rare, spirituelle woman, who was born within a mile of my father's house. She was formerly a Unitarian, but soon became a Catholic on coming to Rome. While she was in process of transition from one church to the other she wrote a number of letters to her former pastor in New York, requesting information on points of faith. Not one of these letters was ever answered, and it is incredible to suppose that they would not have been if he had received them. It is highly probable that they never left Rome. I have myself been warned to attach my stamps to letters firmly, so that they may not be stolen in passing through the Post-office. Postage here is also double what it is in Florence.
Feb. 12.—I have been looking for some time to find a good picture of Marcus Aurelius, and have generally become known among Roman photographers as the man who wants the Marc Aureli. This morning I had just left my room when I discovered Rev. Samuel Longfellow in a photograph shop in the Via Frattina. "I was just coming to see you," he said; "and I stopped here to look for a photograph of Marcus Aurelius." He laughed when I told him that I had been on the same quest, and suggested that we should walk to the Capitol together and look at the statue and bust of our favorite emperor. "I think he was the greatest of the Romans," said Mr. Longfellow, "if not the noblest of all the ancients."
So we walked together—as we never shall again—through the long Corso with its array of palaces, past the column of Aurelius and the fragments of Trajan's forum, until we reached the ancient Capitol of Rome, rearranged by Michael Angelo. Here we stood before the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, and considered how it might be photographed to advantage. "I do not think," said Rev. Mr. Longfellow, "that we can obtain a satisfactory picture of it. The face is too dark to be expressive, and it is the man's face that I want; and I suppose you do also."
I asked him how he could explain the creation of such a noble statue in the last decline of Greek art; he said he would not attempt to explain it except on the ground that things do not always turn out as critics and historians would have them. It was natural that the arts should revive somewhat under the patronage of Hadrian and the Antonines.
We went into the museum of the Capitol to look for the bust of the young Aurelius, which shone like a star (to use Homer's expression) among its fellows, but we discovered from the earth-stains on portions of it why the photographers had not succeeded better with it. We decided that our best resource would be to have Mr. Appleton's copy of it photographed, and Rev. Mr. Longfellow agreed to undertake the business with me in the forenoon of the next day.
The busts of the Roman emperors were interesting because their characters are so strongly marked in history. The position would seem to have made either brutes or heroes of them. Tiberius, who was no doubt the natural son of Augustus, resembles him as a donkey does a horse. Caligula, Nero, and Domitian had small, feminine features; Nero a bullet-head and sensual lips, but the others quite refined. During the first six years of Nero's reign he was not so bad as he afterwards became; and I saw an older bust of him in Paris which is too horrible to be looked at more than once. Vespasian has a coarse face, but wonderfully good-humored; and Titus, called "the delight of mankind," looks like an improvement on Augustus. The youthful Commodus bears a decided resemblance to his father, and there is no indication in his face to suggest the monster which he finally became.
Early in the next forenoon I reached the Hotel Costanzi in good season and inquired for the Rev. Mr. Longfellow. He soon appeared, together with Mr. T. G. Appleton, who was evidently pleased at my interest in the young Aurelius, and remarked that it was a more interesting work than the young Augustus. The bust had been sent to William Story's studio to be cleaned, and thither we all proceeded in the best possible spirits.
We found a photographer named Giovanni Braccia on the floor a piano above Mr. Story; and after a lengthy discussion with him, in which Mr. Longfellow was the leading figure, he agreed to take the photographs at two napoleons a dozen. [Footnote: These pictures proved to be fine reproductions, and are still to be met with in Boston and Cambridge parlors.] When the bust was brought in Mr. Longfellow called my attention to the incisions representing pupils in the eyes, which he said were a late introduction in sculpture, and not generally considered an improvement. After this Mr. Appleton called to us to come with him to the studio of an English painter in the same building, whose name I cannot now recollect. He was the type of a graceful, animated young artist, and had just finished a painting representing ancient youths and maidens in a procession with the light coming from the further side, so that their faces were mostly in shadow, with bright line along the profile,—an effect which it requires skill to render.
On returning to the street we looked into Mr. Story's outer room again, where the casts of all his statues were seated in a double row like persons at a theatre. Mr. Appleton was rather severe in his criticism of them, though he admitted that the Cleopatra (which I believe was a replica) had a finely modulated face.
Feb. 15.—Warrington Wood invited P—— and myself to lunch with him in his studio, and at the appointed time a waiter appeared from the Lapre with a great tin box on his shoulder filled with spaghetti, roast goat, and other Italian dishes. We had just spread these on a table in front of the clay model of Michael and Satan, when Wood's marble- cutter rushed in to announce the King and Queen of Naples. Wood hastily threw a green curtain over the dishes, while P—— and I retreated to the further end of the room.
The Queen of Naples is a fine-looking and spirited person, still quite young, and talks English well. She conversed with Wood and asked him a number of questions about his group, and also about the stag-hound, Eric, that was standing sentinel. The King said almost nothing, and moving about as if he know not what to do with himself, finally backed up against the table where our lunch was covered by the green cloth. I think he had an idea of sitting down on it, but the dishes set up such a clatter that he beat a hasty retreat. The King did not move a muscle of his countenance, but the Queen looked around and said something to him in Italian, laughing pleasantly. She is said to be friendly to Americans and is quite intimate with Miss Harriet Hosmer. She is at least a woman of noble courage, and when Garibaldi besieged Naples she went on to the ramparts and rallied the soldiers with the shells bursting about her.
They subscribed themselves in Wood's register under the name of Bourbon, and after their departure we found our lunch cold, but perhaps we relished it better for this visitation of royalty. Then we all went to the carnival, where an Italian lazzaroni attempted to pick Wood's pocket, but was caught in the act and soundly kicked by Wood.
This was the most entertaining event of the afternoon. The best part of the carnival was the quantity of fresh flowers that were brought in from the country and sold at very moderate prices. P—— distinguished himself throwing bouquets to ladies in the balconies. It is said that he has an admirer among them. For the first hour or so I found it entertaining enough, but after that I became weary of its endless repetition. Eighty years since Goethe, seated in one of these balconies, was obliged to ask for paper and pencil to drive away ennui, as he afterwards confessed. The carnival now is almost entirely given up to the English and Americans; while many of the lower class of Italians mix in it disguised in masks and fancy dresses. Four masked young women greeted us with confetti and danced about me on the sidewalk. One tipped up my hat behind and another whispered a name in my ear which I did not suppose was known in Europe. I have not yet discovered who they were.
Feb. 19.—I have had the pleasure of dining with that remarkable woman and once distinguished actress, Miss Charlotte Cushman. Her nephew was consul at Rome, appointed by William II. Seward, who was one of her warmest American friends. She is still queen of the stage, and of her own household, and unconsciously gives orders to the servants in a dramatic manner which is sometimes very amusing. So it was to hear her sing, "Mary, call the cattle home," as if she were sending for the heavy artillery. She impresses me, however, as one of the most genuine of womankind; and her conversation is delightful,—so sympathetic, appreciative, full of strong good sense, and fresh original views. She has small mercy on newly-converted Catholics. "The faults of men," she said, "are chiefly those of strength, but the faults of my own sex arise from weakness." I happened to refer to Mr. Appleton's bust of Aurelius, and she said she was surprised he had purchased it, for it did not seem to her a satisfactory copy; a conclusion that I had been slowly coming to myself. She has a bronze replica of Story's "Beethoven" which, like most of his statues, is seated in a chair, and a rather realistic work, as Miss Cushman admitted. I judged from the conversation at table that she is not treated with full respect by the English and American society here, although looked upon as a distinguished person. The reason for this may be more owing to the social position of her relatives than her former profession. Mrs. Trelawney, the wife of Byron's eccentric friend, spoke of her to me a few days ago in terms of the highest esteem. She is a great-hearted woman, and her presence would be a moral power anywhere.
There is snobbishness enough in Rome—English, American, and Italian. Doolittle, who is the son of a highly respectable New York lawyer, went to the hunt last week, as he openly confessed, to give himself distinction. A young lady was thrown from her horse, and he was the first person to come to her assistance. She thanked him for it at the time, but two days afterwards declined to recognize his acquaintance. This was probably because he was an artist, or rather sets up for one, for he is more like a gentleman of leisure.
MY LAST VISIT TO THE LONGFELLOWS.
The Longfellow party will soon depart for Naples, and I went to the Costanzi to make my final call. Mr. Henry W. Longfellow was alone in his parlor cutting the leaves of a large book. He said that his brother had gone to the Pincion with the ladies, but would probably return soon. Everything this man says and does has the same grace and elevated tone as his poetry. I took a chair and pretty soon he said to me, "How do you like your books, Mr. S——? For my part, I prefer to cut the leaves of a book, for then I feel as if I had earned the right to read it." I replied that I liked books with rough edges if they were printed on good paper; and then he said, "See this remarkable picture."
I drew my chair closer to him, and he showed me a large colored chart of Hell and Purgatory, according to the theory that prevailed in Dante's time. Satan with his three faces was represented in the centre, and on the other side rose the Mount of Purgatory.
"It is an Italian commentary," he said, "on the Divina Commedia," which had been sent to him that day; and he added that some of the information in it was of a very curious sort.
I asked him if he could read Italian as easily as English. "Very nearly," he replied; "but the fine points of Italian are as difficult as those of German."
He inquired how I and my friends spent our evenings in Rome, and I said, "In all kinds of study and reading, but just now P—— was at work on Browning's 'Ring and the Book.'"
Mr. Longfellow laughed. "I do not wonder you call it work," he said. "It seems to me a story told in so many different ways may be something of a curiosity—not much of a poem." [Footnote: I have since observed that poets as a class are not fair critics of poetry; for they are sure to prefer poetry which is like their own. This is true at least of Lowell, Emerson, or Matthew Arnold; but when I came to read "The Ring and the Book" I found that Longfellow's objection was a valid one.]
I remarked that Rev. Mr. Longfellow had a decided partiality for Browning. "Yes," he said; "Sam likes him, and my friend John Weiss prefers him to Tennyson. My objection is to his diction. I have always found the English language sufficient for my purpose, and have never tried to improve on it. Browning's 'Saul' and 'The Ride from Ghent to Aix' are noble poems."
"Carlyle also," I said, "has a peculiar diction." "That is true," he replied, "but one can forgive anything to a writer who has so much to tell us as Carlyle. Besides, he writes prose, and not poetry."
He took up a photograph which was lying on the table and showed it to me, saying, "How do you like Miss Stebbins's 'Satan'?" I told him I hardly knew how to judge of such a subject. Then we both laughed, and Mr. Longfellow said: "I wonder what our artists want to make Satans for. I doubt if there is one of them that believes in the devil's existence."
I noticed on closer examination that the features resembled those of Miss Stebbins herself. Mr. Longfellow looked at it closely, and said, "So it does,—somewhat." Then I told him that I asked Warrington Wood how he obtained the expression for his head of Satan, and that he said he did it by looking in the glass and making up faces. Mr. Longfellow laughed heartily at this, saying, "I suppose Miss Stebbins did the same, and that is how it came about. Our sculptors should be careful how they put themselves in the devil's place. Wood has modelled a fine angel, and his group (Michael and Satan) is altogether an effective one."
Rev. Mr. Longfellow and the ladies now came in, and as it was late I shook hands with them all.
It is reported that when Mr. Longfellow met Cardinal Antonelli he remarked that Rome had changed less in the last fifteen years than other large cities, and that Antonelli replied, "Yes; God be praised for it!"
Feb. 25.—The elder Herbert [Footnote: The elder of two brothers, sons of an English artist.] has painted a fine picture, and we all went to look at it this afternoon, as it will be packed up to-morrow for the Royal Exhibition at London. He has chosen for his subject the verse of a Greek poet, otherwise unknown:
"Unyoke your oxen, you fellow, And take the coulter out of your plough; For you are ploughing amid the graves of men, And the dust you turn up is the dust of your ancestors."
Herbert has substituted buffalos for oxen as being more picturesque, though they were not imported into Italy until some time in the Middle Ages. It is generally predicted that Herbert will become an R. A. like his father; but the subject is even more to his credit than his treatment of it. It is discussed at the Lapre whether this verse has been equalled by Tennyson or Longfellow, and the conclusion was: "Not proven."
March 1.—The Longfellows are gone, and Rome is filling up with a different class of people who have come here to witness the fatiguing spectacles of Easter. One look at Michael Angelo's "Last Judgment" would be worth the whole of it to me.
P—— is said to have captured his young lady, and it seems probable, for I see very little of him now. He disappears after breakfast, rushes through his dinner, and returns late in the evenings. So all the world changes.
THE ALCOTT CENTENNIAL
Read at the Second Church, Copley Square, Boston, Wednesday, November 29, 1899
A hundred years ago A. Bronson Alcott was born, and thirty-three years later his daughter Louisa was born, happily on the same day of the year, as if for this very purpose,—that you might testify your appreciation of the good work they did in this world, at one and the same moment. It was a fortunate coincidence, which we like to think of to-day, as it undoubtedly gave pleasure to Bronson Alcott and his wife sixty-seven years ago.
How genuine were Mr. Alcott and his daughter, Louisa! "All else," says the sage, "is superficial and perishable, save love and truth only." It is through the love and truth that was in these two that we still feel their influence as if they were living to-day. How well I recollect Mr. Alcott's first visit to my father's house at Medford, when I was a boy! I had the same impression of him then that the consideration of his life makes on me now,—as an exceptional person, but one greatly to be trusted. I could see that he was a man who wished well to me, and to all mankind; who had no intention of encroaching on my rights as an individual in any way whatever; and who, furthermore, had no suspicion of me as a person alien to himself. The criticism made of him by my young brother held good of him then and always,—that "he looked like one of Christ's disciples." His aspect was intelligently mild and gentle, unmixed with the slightest taint of worldly self-interest.
He heard that Goethe had said, "We begin to sin as soon as we act;" but he did not agree to this, and was determined that one man at least should live in this world without sinning. He carried this plan out so consistently that, as he once confessed to me, it brought him to the verge of starvation. Then he realized that in order to play our part in the general order of things,—in order to obviate the perpetual tendency in human affairs to chaos,—we are continually obliged to compromise. However, to the last he would never touch animal food. Others might murder sheep and oxen, but he, Bronson Alcott, would not be a partaker in what he considered a serious transgression of moral law. This brought him into antagonism with the current of modern opinion, which considers man the natural ruler of this earth, and that it is both his right and his duty to remodel it according to his ideas of usefulness and beauty.
It brought him into a life-long conflict with society, but how gallantly, how amiably he carried this on you all know. It cannot be said that he was defeated, for his spirit was unconquerable. His purity of intention always received its true recognition; and wherever Bronson Alcott went he collected the most earnest, high-minded people about him, and made them more earnest, more high-minded by his conversation.
How different was his daughter, Louisa,—the keen observer of life and manners; the witty story-teller with the pictorial mind; always sympathetic, practical, helpful—the mainstay of her family, a pillar of support to her friends; forgetting the care of her own soul in her interest for the general welfare; heedless of her own advantage, and thereby obtaining for herself as a gift from heaven, the highest of all advantages, and the greatest of all rewards!
And yet, with so wide a difference in the practical application of their lives, the well-spring of Louisa's thought and the main-spring of her action were identical with those of her father, and may be considered an inheritance from him. For the well-spring of her thought was truth, and the main-spring of her action was love. There can be no fine art, no great art, no art which is of service to mankind, which does not originate on this twofold basis. We are told that when she was a young girl, on a voyage from Philadelphia to Boston, her face suddenly lighted up with the true brightness of genius, as she said, "I love everybody in this whole world!" If, afterwards, a vein of satire came to be mingled with this genial flow of human kindness, it was not Louisa's fault.
In like manner, Bronson Alcott rested his argument for immortality on the ground of the family affections. "Such strong ties," he reasoned, "could not have been made merely to be broken." Let us share his faith, and believe that they have not been broken.
THE EMERSON CENTENNIAL
EMERSON AND THE GREAT POETS
Read in the Town Hall, Concord, Mass., July 23, 1903
On his first visit to England, Emerson was so continually besieged with invitations that, as he wrote to Carlyle, answering the notes he received "ate up his day like a cherry;" and yet I have never met but one Englishman, Dr. John Tyndall, the chemist, who seemed to appreciate Emerson's poetry, and few others who might be said to appreciate the man himself. Tyndall may have recognized Emerson's keen insight for the poetry of science in such verses as:
"What time the gods kept carnival; Tricked out in gem and flower; And in cramp elf and saurian form They swathed their too much power."
A person who lacks some knowledge of geology would not be likely to understand this. Matthew Arnold and Edwin Arnold had no very high opinion of Emerson's poetry; and even Carlyle, who was Emerson's best friend in Europe, spoke of it in rather a disparaging manner. The "Mountain and the Squirrel" and several others have been translated into German, but not those which we here consider the best of them.
On the other hand, Dr. William H. Furness considered Emerson "heaven-high above our other poets;" C. P. Cranch preferred him to Longfellow; Dr. F. H. Hedge looked upon him as the first poet of his time; Rev. Samuel Longfellow and Rev. Samuel Johnson held a very similar opinion, and David A. Wasson considered Emerson's "Problem" one of the great poems of the century.
These men were all poets themselves, though they did not make a profession of it, and in that character were quite equal to Matthew Arnold, whose lecture on Emerson was evidently written under unfavorable influences. They were men who had passed through similar experiences to those which developed Emerson's mind and character, and could therefore comprehend him better than others. We all feel that Emerson's poetry is sometimes too abstruse, especially in his earlier verses, and that its meaning is often too recondite for ready apprehension; but there are passages in it so luminous and so far-reaching in their application that only the supreme poets of all time have equalled them.
Homer's strength consists in his pictorial descriptions, but also sometimes in pithy reflections on life and human nature; and it is in these latter that Emerson often comes close to him. Most widely known of Homer's epigrams is that reply of Telemachus to Antiochus in the Odyssey, which Pope has rendered:
"True hospitality is in these terms expressed, Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest."
To which the following couplet from "Woodnotes" seems almost like a continuation:
"Go where he will, the wise man is at home, His hearth the earth,—his hall the azure dome;"
The wise man carries rest and contentment in his own mental life, and is equally himself at the Corona d'Italia and on a western ranch; while the weakling runs back to earlier associations like a colt to its stable. But Homer is also Emersonian at times. What could be more so than Achilles's memorable saying, which is repeated by Ulysses in the Odyssey: "More hateful to me than the gates of death is he who thinks one thing and speaks another;" or this exclamation of old Laertes in the last book of the Odyssey: "What a day is this when I see my son and grandson contending in excellence!"
It seems a long way from Dante to Emerson, and yet there are Dantean passages in "Woodnotes" and "Voluntaries." They are not in Dante's matchless measure, but they have much of his grace, and more of his inflexible will. This warning against mercenary marriages might be compared to Dante's answer to the embezzling Pope Nicholas III. in Canto XIX. of the Inferno:
"He shall be happy in his love, Like to like shall joyful prove; He shall be happy whilst he woos, Muse-born, a daughter of the Muse. But if with gold she bind her hair, And deck her breast with diamond, Take off thine eyes, thy heart forbear, Though thou lie alone on the ground. The robe of silk in which she shines, It was woven of many sins; And the shreds Which she sheds In the wearing of the same, Shall be grief on grief, And shame on shame."
There is a Spartan-like severity in this, but so was Dante very severe. It was his mission to purify the moral sense of his countrymen in an age when the Church no longer encouraged virtue; and Emerson no less vigorously opposed the rank materialism of America in a period of exceptional prosperity.
The next succeeding lines are not exactly Dantean, but they are among Emerson's finest, and worthy of any great poet. The "Pine Tree" says:
"Heed the old oracles, Ponder my spells; Song wakes in my pinnacles When the wind swells. Soundeth the prophetic wind, The shadows shake on the rock behind, And the countless leaves of the pine are strings Tuned to the lay the wood-god sings."
Again we are reminded of Dante in the opening passages of "Voluntaries":
"Low and mournful be the strain, Haughty thought be far from me; Where a captive lies in pain Moaning by the tropic sea. Sole estate his sire bequeathed— Hapless sire to hapless son— Was the wailing song he breathed, And his chain when life was done."
It is still more difficult to compare Emerson with Shakespeare, for the one was Puritan with a strong classic tendency, and the other anti- Puritan with a strong romantic tendency; but allowing for this and for Shakespeare's universality, it may be affirmed that there are few passages in King Henry IV. and Henry V. which take a higher rank than Emerson's description of Cromwell:
"He works, plots, fights 'mid rude affairs, With squires, knights, kings his strength compares; Till late he learned through doubt and fear, Broad England harbored not his peer: Unwilling still the last to own, The genius on his cloudy throne."
Emerson learned a large proportion of his wisdom from Goethe, as he frequently confessed, but where in Goethe's poetry will you find a quatrain of more penetrating beauty or wider significance than this from "Woodnotes":
"Thou canst not wave thy staff in air Nor dip thy paddle in the lake, But it carves the bow of beauty there, And ripples in rhyme the oar forsake."
Or this one from the "Building of the House"—considered metaphorically as the life structure of man:
"She lays her beams in music, In music every one, To the cadence of the whirling world Which dances round the sun."
There is a flash as of heaven's own lightning in some of his verses, and his name has become a spell to conjure with.
THE HAWTHORNE CENTENNIAL
HAWTHORNE AS ART CRITIC
When the "Marble Faun" was first published the art criticism in it, especially of sculptors and painters who were then living, created a deal of discussion, which has been revived again by the recent centennial celebration. Hawthorne himself was the most perfect artist of his time as a man of letters, and the judgment of such a person ought to have its value, even when it relates to subjects which are beyond the customary sphere of his investigations, and for which he has not made a serious preparation. In spite of the adage, "every man to his own trade," it may be fairly asserted that much of Hawthorne's art criticism takes rank among the finest that has been written in any language. On the other hand, there are instances, as might be expected, in which he has failed to hit the mark.
These latter may be placed in two classes: Firstly, those in which he indicates a partiality for personal acquaintances; and secondly, those in which he has followed popular opinion at the time, or the opinion of others, without sufficient consideration.
American society in Rome is always split up into various cliques,—which is not surprising in view of the adventitious manner in which it comes together there,—and in Hawthorne's time the two leading parties were the Story and the Crawford factions. The latter was a man of true genius, and not only the best of American sculptors, but perhaps the greatest sculptor of the nineteenth century. His statue of Beethoven is in the grand manner, and instinct with harmony, not only in attitude and expression, but even to the arrangement of the drapery. Crawford's genius was only too well appreciated, and he was constantly carrying off the prizes of his art from all competitors. Consequently it was inevitable that other sculptors should be jealous of him, and should unite together for mutual protection. Story was a man of talent, and not a little of an amateur, but he was the gentlemanly entertainer of those Americans who came to the city with good letters of introduction. Hawthorne evidently fell into Story's hands. He speaks slightingly of Crawford, and praises Story's statue of Cleopatra in unqualified terms; and yet there seems to have been an undercurrent of suspicion in his mind, for he says more than once in the "Marble Faun" that it would appear to be a failing with sculptors to speak unfavorably of the work of other sculptors, and this, of course, refers to those with whom he was acquainted, and whom he sometimes rated above their value.
Warrington Wood, the best English sculptor of thirty years ago, praised Story's "Cleopatra" to me, and I believe that Crawford also would have praised it. Neither has Hawthorne valued its expression too highly—the expression of worldly splendor incarnated in a beautiful woman on the tragical verge of an abyss. If she only were beautiful! Here the limitations of the statue commence. Hawthorne says: "The sculptor had not shunned to give the full, Nubian lips, and other characteristics of the Egyptian physiognomy." Here he follows the sculptor himself, and it is remarkable that a college graduate like William Story should have made so transparent a mistake. Cleopatra was not an Egyptian at all. The Ptolemies were Greeks, and it is simply impossible to believe that they would have allied themselves with a subject and alien race. This kind of small pedantry has often led artists astray, and was peculiarly virulent during the middle of the last century. The whole figure of Story's "Cleopatra" suffers from it. He says again: "She was draped from head to foot in a costume minutely and scrupulously studied from that of ancient Egypt." In fact, the body and limbs of the statue are so closely shrouded as to deprive the work of that sense of freedom of action and royal abandon which greets us in Shakespeare's and Plutarch's "Cleopatra." Story might have taken a lesson from Titian's matchless "Cleopatra" in the Cassel Gallery, or from Marc Antonio's small woodcut of Raphael's "Cleopatra."
Hawthorne was an idealist, and he idealized the materials in Story's studio, for literary purposes, just as Shakespeare idealized Henry V., who was not a magnanimous monarch at all, but a brutal, narrow-minded fighter. The discourse on art, which he develops in this manner, forms one of the most valuable chapters in the "Marble Faun." It assists us in reading it to remember that Story was not the model for Hawthorne's "Kenyon," but a very different character. The passage in which he criticises the methods of modern sculptors has often been quoted in later writings on that subject; and I suppose the whole brotherhood of artists would rise up against me if I were to support Hawthorne's condemnation of nude Venuses and "the guilty glimpses stolen at hired models."
They are not necessarily guilty glimpses. To an experienced artist the customary study from a naked figure, male or female, is little more than what a low-necked dress would be to others. Yet the instinct of the age shrinks from this exposure. We can make pretty good Venuses, but we cannot look at them through the same mental and moral atmosphere as the cotemporaries of Scopas, or even with the same eyes that Michael Angelo did. We feel the difference between a modern Venus and an ancient one. There is a statue in the Vatican of a Roman emperor, of which every one says that it ought to wear clothes; and the reason is because the face has such a modern look. A raving Bacchante may be a good acquisition to an art museum, but it is out of place in a public library. A female statue requires more or less drapery to set off the outlines of the figure and to give it dignity. We feel this even in the finest Greek work—like the Venus of Cnidos.
In this matter Hawthorne certainly exposes his Puritanic education, and he also places too high a value on the carving of buttonholes and shoestrings by Italian workmen. Such things are the fag-ends of statuary.