"You must not expect to paint anything in this country, for which you will receive any money to support you, but portraits; therefore do everything in your power to qualify you for painting and taking them in the best style. That is all your hope here, and to be very obliging and condescending to those who are disposed to employ you....
"I think young Leslie is a very estimable young man to be, as I am told he is, supporting himself and assisting his widowed mother by his industry."
I shall anticipate a little in order to give at once the son's answer to this reproof. He writes on April 28, 1815:—
"I wish I could persuade my parents that they might place some little confidence in my judgment at the age I now am (nearly twenty-four), an age when, in ordinary people, the judgment has reached a certain degree of maturity. It is a singular and, I think, an unfortunate fact that I have not, that I recollect, since I have been in England, had a turn of low spirits except when I have received letters from home. It is true I find a great deal of affectionate solicitude in them, but with it I also find so much complaint and distrust, so much fear that I am doing wrong, so much doubt as to my morals and principles, and fear lest I should be led away by bad company and the like, that, after I have read them, I am miserable for a week. I feel as though I had been guilty of every crime, and I have passed many sleepless nights after receiving letters from you. I shall not sleep to-night in consequence of passages in your letters just received."
Here he quotes from his mother's letter and answers:
"Now as to the young man's living for six hundred dollars, I know who it is of whom you speak. It is Dr. Parkman, who made it his boast that he would live for that sum, but you did not enquire how he lived. I can tell you. He never refused an invitation to dine, breakfast, or tea, which he used to obtain often by pushing himself into everybody's company. When he did not succeed in getting invitations, he invited himself to breakfast, dine, or sup with some of his friends. He has often walked up to breakfast with us, a distance of three or four miles. If he failed in getting a dinner or meal at any of these places, he either used to go without, or a bit of bread answered the purpose till next meal. In his dress he was so shabby and uncouth that any decent person would be ashamed to walk with him in the street. Above all, his notorious meanness in his money matters, his stickling with his poor washerwoman for a halfpenny and with others for a farthing, and his uniform stinginess on all occasions rendered him notoriously disgusting to all his acquaintances, and affords, I should imagine, but a poor example for imitation....
"The fact is I could live for fifty pounds a year if my only object was to live cheap, and, on the other hand, if I was allowed one thousand pounds a year, I could spend it all without the least extravagance in obtaining greater advantages in my art. But as your goodness has allowed me but two hundred pounds (and I wish you again to receive my sincere thanks for this allowance), should not my sole endeavor be to spend all this to the utmost advantage; to keep as closely within the bounds of that allowance as possible, and would not economy in this instance consist in rigidly keeping up to this rule? If this is a true statement of the case, then have I been perfectly economical, for I have not yet overrun my allowance, and I think I shall be able to return home without having exceeded it a single shilling. If I have done this, and still continue to do it, why, in every letter I receive from home, is the injunction repeated of being economical? It makes me exceedingly unhappy, especially when I am conscious of having used my utmost endeavors, ever since I have been in England, to be rigidly so.
"As to industry, in which mama fears I am falling off, I gave you an account in my last letter (by Mr. Ralston) of the method I use in parcelling out my time. Since writing that letter the spring and summer are approaching fast, and the days increasing. Of course I can employ more of the time than in the winter. Mr. Leslie and myself rise at five o'clock in the morning and walk about a mile and a half to Burlington, where are the famous Elgin Marbles, the works of Phidias and Praxiteles, brought by Lord Elgin from Athens. From these we draw three hours every morning, wet or dry, before breakfast, and return home just as the bustle begins in London, for they are late risers in London. When we go out of a morning we meet no one but the watchman, who goes his rounds for an hour and a half after we are up. Last summer Mr. Leslie and I used to paint in the open air in the fields three hours before breakfast, and often before sunrise, to study the morning effect on the landscape.
"Now, being conscious of employing my time in the most industrious manner possible, you can but faintly conceive the mortification and sorrow with which I read that part of mama's letter. I was so much hurt that I read it to Mr. Allston, and requested he would write to you and give you an account of my spending my time. He seemed very much astonished when I read it to him, and authorized me to tell you from him that it was impossible for any one to be more indefatigable in his studies than I am.
"Mama mentions in her letter that she hears that Mr. Leslie supports his mother and sisters by his labors. This is not the case. Leslie was supported by three or four individuals in Philadelphia till within a few months past. About a year ago he sold a large picture which he painted (whilst I was on my fruitless trip to Bristol for money) for a hundred guineas. Since that he has had a number of commissions in portraits and is barely able to support himself; indeed, he tells me this evening that he has but L20 left. He is a very economical and a most excellent young man. His expenses in a year are, on an average, from L230 to L250; Mr. Allston's (single) expenses not less than L300 per annum, and I know of no artist among all my acquaintance whose expenses in a year are less than L200."
Returning now to the former chronological order, I shall include the following vehement letter written from London on December 22, 1814:—
MY DEAR PARENTS,—I arrived yesterday from Bristol, where I have been for several months past endeavoring to make a little in the way of my profession, but have completely failed, owing to several causes.
First, the total want of anything like partiality for the fine arts in that place; the people there are but a remove from brutes. A "Bristol hog" is as proverbial in this country as a "Charlestown gentleman" is in Boston. Their whole minds are absorbed in trade; barter and gain and interest are all they understand. If I could have painted a picture for half a guinea by which they could have made twenty whilst I starved, I could have starved.
Secondly, the virulence of national prejudice which rages now with tenfold acrimony. They no longer despise, they hate, the Americans. The battle on Champlain and before Flattsburgh has decided the business; the moans and bewailings for this business are really, to an American, quite comforting after their arrogant boasting of reducing us to unconditional submission.
Is it strange that I should feel a little the effects of this universal hatred? I have felt it, and I have left Bristol after six months' perfect neglect. After having been invited there with promises of success, I have had the mortification to leave it without having, from Bristol, a single commission. More than that, and by far the worst, if I have not gone back in my art these six months, I have at least stood still, and to me this is the most trying reflection of all. I have been immured in the paralyzing atmosphere of trade till my mind was near partaking the infection. I have been listening to the grovelling, avaricious devotees of mammon, whose souls are narrowed to the studious contemplation of a hard-earned shilling, whose leaden imaginations never soared above the prospect of a good bargain, and whose summum bonum is the inspiring idea of counting a hundred thousand: I say I have been listening to these miserly beings till the idea did not seem so repugnant of lowering my noble art to a trade, of painting for money, of degrading myself and the soul-enlarging art which I possess, to the narrow idea of merely getting money.
Fie on myself! I am ashamed of myself; no, never will I degrade myself by making a trade of a profession. If I cannot live a gentleman, I will starve a gentleman. But I will dismiss this unpleasant subject, the particulars of which I can better relate to you than write. Suffice it to say that my ill-treatment does not prey upon my spirits; I am in excellent health and spirits and have great reason to be thankful to Heaven for thousands of blessings which one or two reverses shall not make me forget. Reverses do I call them? How trifling are my troubles to the millions of my fellow creatures who are afflicted with all the dreadful calamities incident to this life. Reverses do I call them? No, they are blessings compared with the miseries of thousands.
Indeed, I am too ungrateful. If a thing does not result just as I wish, I begin to repine; I forget the load of blessings which I enjoy: life, health, parents whose kindness exceeds the kindest; brothers, relatives, and friends; advantages which no one else enjoys for the pursuit of a favorite art, besides numerous others; all which are forgotten the moment an unpleasant disappointment occurs. I am very ungrateful.
With respect to peace, I can only say I should not be surprised if the preliminaries were signed before January. My reasons are that Great Britain cannot carry on the war any longer. She may talk of her inexhaustible resources, but she well knows that the great resource, the property tax, must fail next April. The people will not submit any longer; they are taking strong measures to prevent its continuance, and without it they cannot continue the war.
Another great reason why I think there will be peace is the absolute fear which they express of us. They fear the increase of our navy; they fear the increase of the army; they fear for Canada, and they are in dread of the further disgrace of their national character. Mr. Monroe's plan for raising 100,000 men went like a shock through the country. They saw the United States assume an attitude which they did not expect, and the same men who cried for "war, war," "thrash the Americans," now cry most lustily for peace.
The union of the parties also has convinced them that we are determined to resist their most arrogant pretensions.
Love to all, brothers, Miss Russell, etc. Yours very affectionately, SAML. F. B. MORSE.
He ends the letter thus abruptly, probably realizing that he was beginning to tread on forbidden ground, but being unable to resist the temptation.
While from this letter and others we can form a just estimate of the character and temperament of the man, it is also well to learn the opinion of his contemporaries; I shall, therefore, quote from a letter to the elder Morse of the Dr. Romeyn, whom the son was so anxious to have his father see, also from a letter of Mr. Van Schaick to Dr. Romeyn.
The former was written in New York, on December 27, 1814.
"The enclosed letter of my friend Mr. Van Schaick will give you the information concerning your son which you desire. He has been intimately acquainted with your son for a considerable time. You may rely on his account, as he is not only a gentleman of unquestionable integrity, but also a professor of the Lord Christ. What I saw and heard of your son pleased me, and I cannot but hope he will repay all your anxieties and realize your reasonable expectations by his conduct and the standing which he must and will acquire in society by that conduct."
Mr. Van Schaick's letter was written also in New York, on December 14, 1814:—
"To those passages of Dr. Morse's letter respecting his son, to which you have directed my attention, I hasten to reply without any form, because it will gratify me to relieve the anxiety of the parents of my friend. His religious and moral character is unexceptionally good. He feels strongly for his country and expresses those feelings among his American friends with great sensibility. I do not know that he ever indulges in any observations in the company of Englishmen which are calculated to injure his standing among them. But, my dear sir, you fully know that an American cannot escape the sting of illiberal and false charges against his country and even its moral character, unless he almost entirely withholds himself from society. It cannot be expected that any human being should be so unfeeling as to suffer indignity in total silence.
"But I do not think that any political collisions, which may incidentally and very infrequently arise, can injure him as an artist; for it is well known to you that the simple fact of his being an American is sufficient to prevent his rising rapidly into notice, since the possession of that character clogs the efforts, or, at least, somewhat clouds the fame of men of superior genius and established talent.... I advised Samuel to go to France and bury himself for six months in the Louvre; from thence to Italy, the seat of the arts. He inclined to the first part of the plan, and then to return home, but deferred putting it into execution till he heard from his father. Mr. Allston intended to winter in London. Morse has a fine taste and colors well. His drawing is capable of much improvement, but he is anxious to place himself at the head of his profession, and, with a little judicious encouragement, will probably succeed. That patient industry which has in all ages characterized the masters of the art, he will find it to his interest to apply to his studies the farther he advances in them. His success has been moderately good. If he could sell the pictures he has on hand, the avails would probably pay his way into France."
Referring to these letters the father, writing on January 25, 1815, says:—
"We have had letters from Dr. Romeyn and Mr. Van Schaick concerning you which have comforted us much. Since receiving them we don't know but we have expressed ourselves, in our letters in answer to your last, a little stronger than we ought in regard to your political feelings and conduct. I find others who have returned feel pretty much as you do. But it should be remembered that your situation as an artist is different from theirs. It is your wisdom to leave politics to politicians and be solely the artist. But if you are in France these cautions will probably not be necessary, as you will have no temptation to enter into any political discussions."
On the 3d of February, 1815, Morse, in writing to his parents, has a very sad piece of news to communicate to them:—
"I write in great haste and much agitation. Mrs. Allston, the wife of our beloved friend, died last evening, and the event overwhelmed us all in the utmost sorrow. As for Mr. Allston, for several hours after the death of his wife he was almost bereft of reason. Mr. Leslie and I are applying our whole attention to him, and we have so far succeeded as to see him more composed."
This was a terrible grief to all the little coterie of friends, for whom the Allston house had been a home. One of them, Mr. J.J. Morgan, in a long letter to Morse written from Wiltshire, thus expresses himself:—
"Gracious God! unsearchable, indeed, are thy ways! The insensible, the brutish, the wicked are powerful and everywhere, in everything successful; while Allston, who is everything that is amiable, kind, and good, has been bruised, blow after blow, and now, indeed, his cup is full. I am too unwell, too little recovered from the effect of your letter, to write much. Coleridge intends writing to-day; I hope he will. Allston may derive some little relief from knowing how much his friends partake of his grief."
This was a time of great discouragement to the young artist. Through the failure of some of his letters to reach his parents in time, he had not received their permission to go to France until it was too late for him to go. The death of Mrs. Allston cast a gloom over all the little circle, and, to cap the climax, he was receiving no encouragement in his profession. On March 10, 1815, he writes:—
"My jaunt to Bristol in quest of money completely failed. When I was first there I expected, from the little connection I got into, I should be able to support myself. I was obliged to come to town on account of the exhibitions, and stayed longer than I expected, intending to return to Bristol. During this time I received two pressing letters from. Mr. Visscher (which I will show you), inviting me to come down, saying that I should have plenty of business. I accordingly hurried off. A gentleman, for whom I had before painted two portraits, had promised, if I would let him have them for ten guineas apiece, twelve being my price, that he would procure me five sitters. This I acceded to. I received twenty guineas and have heard nothing from the man since, though I particularly requested Mr. Visscher to enquire and remind him of his promise. Yet he never did anything more on the subject. I was there three months, gaining nothing in my art and without a single commission. Mr. Breed, of Liverpool, then came to Bristol. He took two landscapes which I had been amusing myself with (for I can say nothing more of them) at ten guineas each. I painted two more landscapes which are unsold.
"Mr. Visscher, a man worth about a hundred thousand pounds, and whose annual expenses, with a large family of seven children, are not one thousand, had a little frame for which he repeatedly desired me to paint a picture. I told him I would as soon as I had finished one of my landscapes. I began it immediately, without his knowing it, and determined to surprise him with it. I also had two frames which fitted Mr. Breed's pictures, and which I was going to give to Mr. Breed with his pictures. But Mr. Visscher was particularly pleased with the frames, as they were a pair, and told me not to send them to Mr. Breed as he should like to have them himself, and wished I would paint him pictures to fit them (the two other landscapes before mentioned). I accordingly was employed three months longer in painting these three pictures. I finished them; he was very much pleased with them; all his family were very much pleased with them; all who saw them were pleased with them. But he declined taking them without even asking my price, and said that he had more pictures than he knew what to do with.
"Mr. and Mrs. Allston heard him say twenty times he wished I would paint him a picture for the frame. Mr. Allston, who knew what I was about, told him, no doubt, I would do it for him, and in a week after I had completed it. I had told Mr. Visscher also that I was considerably in debt, and that, when he had paid me for these pictures, I should be something in pocket; and, by his not objecting to what I said, I took it for granted (and from his requesting me to paint the picture) that the thing was certain. But thus it was, without giving any reason in the world, except that he had pictures enough, he declined taking them, making me spend three months longer in Bristol than I otherwise should have done; standing still in my art, if not actually going back; and forcing me to run in debt for some necessary expenses of clothing in Bristol, and my passage from and back to London. During all this time not a single commission for a portrait, many of which were promised me, nor a single call from any one to look at my pictures. Thus ended my jaunt in quest of money.
"Do not think that this disappointment is in consequence of any misconduct of mine. Mr. Allston, who was with me, experienced the same treatment, and had it not been for his uncle, the American Consul, he might have starved for the Bristol people. His uncle was the only one who purchased any of his pictures. Since I have been in London I have been endeavoring to regain what I lost in Bristol, and I hope I have so far succeeded as to say: 'I have not gone back in my art.'
"In order to retrench my expenses I have taken a painting-room out of the house, at about half of the expense of my former room. Though inconvenient in many respects, yet my circumstances require it and I willingly put up with it. As for economy, do not be at any more pains in introducing that personage to me. We have long been friends and necessary companions. If you could look in on me and see me through a day I think you would not tell me in every letter to economize more. It is impossible; I cannot economize more. I live on as plain food and as little as is for my health; less and plainer would make me ill, for I have given it a fair experiment. As for clothes, I have been decent and that is all. If I visited a great deal this would be a heavy expense, but, the less I go out, the less need I care for clothes, except for cleanliness. My only heavy expenses are colors, canvas, frames, etc., and these are heavy."
A number of pages of this letter are missing, much to my regret. He must have been telling of some of the great events which were happening on the Continent, probably of the Return from Elba, for it begins again abruptly.
"—when he might have avoided it by quietness; by undertaking so bold an attempt as he has done without being completely sure of success, and having laid his plans deeply; and, thirdly, I knew the feelings of the French people were decidedly in his favor, more especially the military. They feel as though Louis XVIII was forced upon them by their conquerors; they feel themselves a conquered nation, and they look to Bonaparte as the only man who can retrieve their character for them.
"All these reasons rushing into my mind at the time, I gave it as my opinion that Napoleon would again be Emperor of the French, and again set the world by the ears, unless he may have learned a lesson from his adversity. But this cannot be expected. I fear we are apt yet to see a darker and more dreadful storm than any we have yet seen. This is, indeed, an age of wonders.
"Let what will happen in Europe, let us have peace at home, among ourselves more particularly. But the character we have acquired among the nations of Europe in our late contest with England, has placed us on such high ground that none of them, England least of all, will wish to embroil themselves with us."
This was written just after peace had been established between England and America, and in a letter from his mother, written about the same time in March, 1815, she thus comments on the joyful news: "We have now the heartfelt pleasure of congratulating you on the return of peace between our country and Great Britain. May it never again be interrupted, but may both countries study the things that make for peace, and love as brethren."
It never has been interrupted up to the present day, for, as I am pursuing my pleasant task of bringing these letters together for publication, in the year of our Lord 1911, the newspapers are agitating the question of a fitting commemoration of a hundred years of peace between Great Britain and the United States.
Further on in this same letter the mother makes this request of her son: "When you return we wish you to bring some excellent black or corbeau cloth to make your good father and brothers each a suit of clothes. Your papa also wishes you to get made a handsome black cloth cloak for him; one that will fit you he thinks will fit him. Be sure and attend to this. Your mama would like some grave colored silk for a gown, if it can be had but for little. Don't forget that your mother is no dwarf, and that a large pattern suits her better than a small one."
The letter of April 28, from which I have already quoted, has this sentence at the beginning: "Your letters suppose me in Paris, but I am not there; you hope that I went in October last; I intended going and wished it at that time exceedingly, but I had not leave from you to go and Mr. Bromfield advised me by no means to go until I heard from you. You must perceive from this case how impossible it is for me to form plans, and transmit them across the Atlantic for approbation, thus letting an opportunity slip which is irrecoverable."
MAY 3. 1815—OCTOBER 18, 1816
Decides to return home in the fall.—Hopes to return to Europe in a year.—Ambitions.—Paints "Judgment of Jupiter."—Not allowed to compete for premium.—Mr. Russell's portrait.—Reproof of his parents.—Battle of Waterloo.—Wilberforce.—Painting of "Dying Hercules" received by parents.—Much admired.—Sails for home.—Dreadful voyage lasting fifty-eight days.—Extracts from his journal.—Home at last.
It was with great reluctance that Morse made his preparations to return home. He thought that, could he but remain a year or two longer in an atmosphere much more congenial to an artist than that which prevailed in America at that time, he would surely attain to greater eminence in his profession.
He, in common with many others, imagined that, with the return of peace, an era of great prosperity would at once set in. But in this he was mistaken, for history records that just the opposite occurred. The war had made demands on manufacturers, farmers, and provision dealers which were met by an increase in inventions and in production, and this meant wealth and prosperity to many. When the war ceased, this demand suddenly fell off; the soldiers returning to their country swelled the army of the unemployed, and there resulted increased misery among the lower classes, and a check to the prosperity of the middle and upper classes. It would seem, therefore, that Fate dealt more kindly with the young man than he, at that time, realized; for, had he remained, his discouragements would undoubtedly have increased; whereas, by his return to his native land, although meeting with many disappointments and suffering many hardships, he was gradually turned into a path which ultimately led to fame and fortune.
On May 3, 1815, he writes to his parents:—
"With respect to returning home, I shall make my arrangements to be with you (should my life be spared) by the end of September next, or the beginning of October; but it will be necessary that I should be in England again (provided always Providence permits) by September following, as arrangements which I have made will require my presence. This I will fully explain when I meet you.
"The moment I get home I wish to begin work, so that I should like to have some portraits bespoken in season. I shall charge forty dollars less than Stuart for my portraits, so that, if any of my good friends are ready, I will begin the moment I have said 'how do ye do' to them.
"I wish to do as much as possible in the year I am with you. If I could get a commission or two for some large pictures for a church or public hall, to the amount of two or three thousand dollars, I should feel much gratified. I do not despair of such an event, for, through your influence with the clergy and their influence with their people, I think some commission for a scripture subject for a church might be obtained; a crucifixion, for instance.
"It may, perhaps, be said that the country is not rich enough to purchase large pictures; yes, but two or three thousand dollars can be paid for an entertainment which is gone in a day, and whose effects are to demoralize and debilitate, whilst the same sum expended on a fine picture would be adding an ornament to the country which would be lasting. It would tend to elevate and refine the public feeling by turning their thoughts from sensuality and luxury to intellectual pleasures, and it would encourage and support a class of citizens who have always been reckoned among the brightest stars in the constellation of American worthies, and who are, to this day, compelled to exile themselves from their country and all that is dear to them, in order to obtain a bare subsistence.
"I do not speak of portrait-painters; had I no higher thoughts than being a first-rate portrait-painter, I would have chosen a far different profession. My ambition is to be among those who shall revive the splendor of the fifteenth century; to rival the genius of a Raphael, a Michael Angelo, or a Titian; my ambition is to be enlisted in the constellation of genius now rising in this country; I wish to shine, not by a light borrowed from them, but to strive to shine the brightest.
"If I could return home and stay a year visiting my friends in various parts of the Union, and, by painting portraits, make sufficient to bring me to England again at the end of the year, whilst I obtained commissions enough to employ me and support me while in England, I think, in the course of a year or two, I shall have obtained sufficient credit to enable me to return home, if not for the remainder of my life, at least to pay a good long visit.
"In all these plans I wish you to understand me as always taking into consideration the will of Providence; and, in every plan for future operation, I hope I am not forgetful of the uncertainty of human life, and I wish always to say should I live I will do this or that....
"I perceive by your late letters that you suppose I am painting a large picture. I did think of it some time ago and was only deterred on account of the expenses attending it. All this I will explain to your entire satisfaction when I see you, and why I do not think it expedient to make an exhibition when I return.
"I perceive also that you are a little too sanguine with respect to me and expect a little too much from me. You must recollect I am yet but a student and that a picture of any merit is not painted in a day. Experienced as Mr. West is (and he also paints quicker than any other artist), his last large picture cost him between three and four years' constant attention. Mr. Allston was nearly two years in painting his large picture. Young Haydon was three years painting his large picture, is now painting another on which he has been at work one year and expects to be two years more on it. Leslie was ten months painting his picture, and my 'Hercules' cost me nearly a year's study. So you see that large pictures are not the work of a moment.
"All these matters we will talk over one of these days, and all will be set right. I had better paint Miss Russell's, Aunt Salisbury's, and Dr. Bartlett's pictures at home for a very good reason I will give you."
He did, however, complete a large historical, or rather mythological, painting before leaving England. Whether it was begun before or after writing the foregoing letter, I do not know, but Mr. Dunlap (whom I have already quoted) has this to say about it:—
"Encouraged by the flattering reception of his first works in painting and in sculpture, the young artist redoubled his energies in his studies and determined to contend for the highest premium in historical composition offered by the Royal Academy at the beginning of the year 1814. The subject was 'The Judgment of Jupiter in the case of Apollo, Marpessa and Idas.' The premium offered was a gold medal and fifty guineas. The decision was to take place in December of 1815. The composition containing four figures required much study, but, by the exercise of great diligence, the picture was completed by the middle of July.
"Our young painter had now been in England four years, one year longer than the time allowed him by his parents, and he had to return immediately home; but he had finished his picture under the conviction, strengthened by the opinion of West, that it would be allowed to remain and compete with those of the other candidates. To his regret the petition to the council of the Royal Academy for this favor, handed in to them by West and advocated strongly by him and Fuseli, was not granted. He was told that it was necessary, according to the rules of the Academy, that the artist should be present to receive the premium; it could not be received by proxy. Fuseli expressed himself in very indignant terms at the narrowness of this decision.
"Thus disappointed, the artist had but one mode of consolation. He invited West to see his picture before he packed it up, at the same time requesting Mr. West to inform him through Mr. Leslie, after the premium should be adjudged in December, what chance he would have had if he had remained. Mr. West, after sitting before the picture for a long time, promised to comply with the request, but added: 'You had better remain, sir.'"
In a letter quoted, without a date, by Mr. Prime, which was written from Bristol, but which seems to have been lost, I find the following:—
"James Russell, Esq., has been extremely attentive to me. He has a very fine family consisting of four daughters and, I think, a son who is absent in the East Indies. The daughters are very beautiful, accomplished, and amiable, especially the youngest, Lucy. I came very near being at my old game of falling in love, but I find that love and painting are quarrelsome companions, and that the house of my heart is too small for both of them; so I have turned Mrs. Love out-of-doors. Time enough, thought I (with true old bachelor complacency), time enough for you these ten years to come. Mr. Russell's portrait I have painted as a present to Miss Russell, and will send it to her as soon as I can get an opportunity. It is an excellent likeness of him."
He must either have said more in this letter, or have written another after the family verdict (that terrible family verdict) had been pronounced, for in the letter of April 23, 1815, from which I have already quoted, he refers to this portrait as follows:—
"As to the portrait which I painted of Mr. Russell, I am sorry you mentioned it to Miss Russell, as I particularly requested that you would not, because, in case of failure, it would be a disappointment to her; but as you have told her, I must now explain. In the first place it is not a picture that will do me any credit. I was unfortunate in the light which I chose to paint him in; I wished to make it my best picture and so made it my worst, for I worked too timidly on it. It is a likeness, indeed, a very strong likeness, but the family are not pleased with it, and they say that I have not flattered him, that I have made him too old. So I determined I would not send it, indeed, I promised them I would not send it; but, notwithstanding, as I know Miss Russell will be good enough to comply with my conditions, I will send it directly; for, as it is a good likeness, every one except the family knowing it instantly, and Mr. Allston saying that it is a very strong likeness, it will on that account be a gratification to her. But I particularly and expressly request that it be kept in a private room to be shown only to friends and relations, and that I may never be mentioned as the painter; and, moreover, that no artist or miniature painter be allowed to see it. On these conditions I send it, taking for granted they will be complied with, and without waiting for an answer."
The parents of that generation were not frugal of counsel and advice, even when their children had reached years of discretion and had flown far away from the family nest.
The father, in a letter of May 20, 1815, thus gently reproves his son:—
"To-day we have received your letters to March 23.... You evidently misconceived our views in the letters to which you allude, and felt much too strongly our advice and remarks in respect to your writing us so much on politics. What we said was the affectionate advice of your parents, who loved you very tenderly, and who were not unwilling you should judge for yourself though you might differ from them. We have ever made a very candid allowance for you, and so have all your friends, and we have never for a moment believed we should differ a fortnight after you should come home and converse with us. You have, in the ardor of feeling, construed many observations in our letters as censuring you and designed to wound your feelings, which were not intended in the remotest degree by us for any such purpose....
"I am sorry to hear of the death of Mr. Thornton. He was a good man."
His mother was much less gentle in her reproof. I cull the following sentences from a long letter of June 1, 1815:—
"In perfect consistency with the feelings towards you all, above described, we may and ought to tell you, and that with the greatest plainness, of anything that we deem improper in any part of your conduct, either in a civil, social, or religious view. This we feel it our duty to do and shall continue to do as long as we live; and it will ever be your duty to receive from us the advice, counsel, and reproof, which we may, from time to time, favor you with, with the most perfect respect and dutiful observance; and, when you differ from us on any point whatever, let that difference be conveyed to us in the most delicate and gentlemanly manner. Let this be done not only while you are under age and dependent on your parents for your support, but when you are independent, and when you are head of a family, and even of a profession, if you ever should be either.... I have dwelt longer on this subject, as I think you have, in some of your last letters, been somewhat deficient in that respect which your own good sense will at once convince you was, on all accounts, due, and which I know you feel the propriety of without any further observations."
On June 2, 1815, the father writes:—
"We have just received a letter from your uncle, James E.B. Finley, of Carolina. He fears you will remain in Europe, but hopes you have so much amor patrice as to return and display your talents in raising the military and naval glory of the nation, by exhibiting on canvas some of her late naval and land actions, and also promote the fine arts among us. He is, you know, an enthusiastic Republican and patriot and a warm approver of the late war, but an amiable, excellent man. I am by no means certain that it would not be best for you to come home this fall and spend a year or two in this country in painting some portraits, but especially historical pieces and landscapes. You might, I think, in this way succeed in getting something to support you afterwards in Europe for a few years.
"I hope the time is not distant when artists in your profession, and of the first class, will be honorably patronized and supported in this country. In this case you can come and live with us, which would give us much satisfaction."
The young man still took a deep interest in affairs political, and speculated rather keenly on the outcome of the tremendous happenings on the Continent.
On June 26, 1815, he writes:—
"You will have heard of the dreadful battle in Flanders before this reaches you. The loss of the English is immense, indeed almost all their finest officers and the flower of their army; not less than 800 officers and upwards of 15,000 men, some say 20,000. But it has been decisive if the news of to-day be true, that Napoleon has abdicated. What the event of these unparalleled times will be no mortal can pretend to foresee. I have much to tell you when I see you. Perhaps you had better not write after the receipt of this, as it may be more than two months before an answer could be received.
"P.S. The papers of to-night confirm the news of this morning. Bonaparte is no longer a dangerous man; he has abdicated, and, in all probability, a republican form of government will be the future government of France, if they are capable of enjoying such a government. But no one can foresee events; there may be a long peace, or the world may be torn worse than it yet has been. Revolution seems to succeed revolution so rapidly that, in looking back on our lives, we seem to have lived a thousand years, and wonders of late seem to scorn to come alone; they come in clusters."
The battle in Flanders was the battle of Waterloo, which was fought on the 18th day of June, and on the 6th of July the allied armies again entered Paris. Referring to these events many years later, Morse said:—
"It was on one of my visits, in the year 1815, that an incident occurred which well illustrates the character of the great philanthropist [Mr. Wilberforce]. As I passed through Hyde Park on my way to Kensington Gore, I observed that great crowds had gathered, and rumors were rife that the allied armies had entered Paris, that Napoleon was a prisoner, and that the war was virtually at an end; and it was momentarily expected that the park guns would announce the good news to the people.
"On entering the drawing-room at Mr. Wilberforce's I found the company, consisting of Mr. Thornton [his memory must have played him false in this particular as Mr. Thornton died some time before], Mr. Macaulay, Mr. Grant, the father, and his two sons Robert and Charles, and Robert Owen of Lanark, in quite excited conversation respecting the rumors that prevailed. Mr. Wilberforce expatiated largely on the prospects of a universal peace in consequence of the probable overthrow of Napoleon, whom naturally he considered the great disturber of the nations. At every period, however, he exclaimed: 'It is too good to be true, it cannot be true.' He was altogether skeptical in regard to the rumors.
"The general subject, however, was the absorbing topic at the dinner-table. After dinner the company joined the ladies in the drawing-room. I sat near a window which looked put in the direction of the distant park. Presently a flash and a distant dull report of a gun attracted my attention, but was unnoticed by the rest of the company. Another flash and report assured me that the park guns were firing, and at once I called Mr. Wilberforce's attention to the fact. Running to the window he threw it up in time to see the next flash and hear the report. Clasping his hands in silence, with the tears rolling down his cheeks, he stood for a few moments perfectly absorbed in thought, and, before uttering a word, embraced his wife and daughters, and shook hands with every one in the room. The scene was one not to be forgotten."
We learn from a letter of his mother's dated June 27, 1815, that the painting of the "Dying Hercules" had at last been received, but that the plaster cast of the same subject was still mysteriously missing. The painting was much admired, and the mother says:—
"Your friend Mr. Tisdale says the picture of the Hercules ought to be in Boston as the beginning of a gallery of paintings, and that the Bostonians ought not to permit it to go from here. Whether they will or not, I know not. I place no confidence in them, but they may take a fit into their heads to patronize the fine arts, and, in that case, they have it in their power undoubtedly to do as much as any city in this country towards their support."
Morse had now made up his mind to return home, although his parents, in their letters of that time, had given him leave to stay longer if he thought it would be for his best interest, but his father had made it clear that he must, from this time forth, depend on his own exertions. He hoped that (Providence permitting) he need only spend a year at home in earning enough money to warrant his returning to Europe. Providence, however, willed otherwise, and he did not return to Europe until fourteen years later.
The next letter is dated from Liverpool, August 8, 1815, and is but a short one. I shall quote the first few sentences:—
"I have arrived thus far on my way home. I left London the 5th and arrived in this place yesterday the 7th, at which time, within an hour, four years ago, I landed in England. I have not yet determined by what vessel to return; I have a choice of a great many. The Ceres is the first that sails, but I do not like her accommodations. The Liverpool packet sails about the 25th, and, as she has always been a favorite ship with me, it is not improbable I may return in her."
He decided to sail in the Ceres, however, to his sorrow, for the voyage home was a long and dreadful one. The record of those terrible fifty-eight days, carefully set down in his journal, reads like an Odyssey of misfortune and almost of disaster.
To us of the present day, who cross the ocean in a floating hotel, in a few days, arriving almost on the hour, the detailed account of the dangers, discomforts, and privations suffered by the travellers of an earlier period seems almost incredible. Brave, indeed, were our fathers who went down to the sea in ships, for they never knew when, if ever, they would reach the other shore, and there could be no C.Q.D. or S.O.S. flashed by wireless in the Morse code to summon assistance in case of disaster. In this case storm succeeded storm; head winds were encountered almost all the way across; fine weather and fair winds were the exception, and provisions and fresh water were almost exhausted.
The following quotations from the journal will give some idea of the terrors experienced by the young man, whose appointed time had not yet arrived. He still had work to do in the world which could be done by no other.
"Monday, August 21, 1815. After waiting fourteen days in Liverpool for a fair wind, we set sail at three o'clock in the afternoon with the wind at southeast, in company with upwards of two hundred sail of vessels, which formed a delightful prospect. We gradually lost sight of different vessels as it approached night, and at sunset they were dispersed all over the horizon. In the night the wind sprung up strong and fair, and in the morning we were past Holyhead.
"Tuesday, 22d August. Wind directly ahead; beating all day; thick weather and gales of wind; passengers all sick and I not altogether well. Little progress to-day.
"Wednesday, 23d August. A very disagreeable day, boisterous, head winds and rainy. Beating across the channel from the Irish to the Welsh coast.
* * * * *
"Friday, 25th August. Dreadful still; blowing harder and harder; quite a storm and a lee shore; breakers in sight, tacked and stood over again to the Irish shore under close-reefed topsails. At night saw Waterford light again.
* * * * *
"Monday, 28th August. A fair wind springing up (ten o'clock). Going at the rate of seven knots on our true course. We have had just a week of the most disagreeable weather possible. I hope this is the beginning of better winds, and that, in reasonable time, we shall see our native shore.
"Tuesday, 29th August. Still disappointed in fair winds.... Since, then, I can find nothing consoling on deck, let us see what is in the cabin. All of us make six, four gentlemen and two ladies. Mrs. Phillips, Mrs. Drake, Captain Chamberlain, Mr. Bancroft, Mr. Lancaster, and myself. Our amusements are eating and drinking, sleeping and backgammon. Seasickness we have thrown overboard, and, all things considered, we try to enjoy ourselves and sometimes succeed.
* * * * *
"Thursday, 31st August. Wind as directly ahead as it can blow; squally all night and tremendous sea. What a contrast does this voyage make with my first. This day makes the tenth day out and we have advanced towards home about three hundred miles. In my last voyage, on the tenth day, we had accomplished one half our voyage, sixteen hundred miles.
"Friday, 1st September. Dreadful weather; wind still ahead; foggy, rainy, and heavy swell; patience almost exhausted, but the will of Heaven be done. If this weather is to continue I hope we shall have fortitude to bear it. All is for the best.
"Saturday, 9th September. Nineteenth day out and not yet more than one third of our way to Boston. Oh! when shall we end this tedious passage?
"Sunday, 10th September. Calm with dreadful sea. Early this morning discovered a large ship to the southward, dismasted, probably in the late gale. Discovered an unpleasant trait in our captain's character which I shall merely allude to. I am sorry to say he did not demonstrate that promptitude to assist a fellow creature in distress which I expected to find inherent in a seaman's breast, and especially in an American seaman's. It was not till after three or four hours' delay, and until the entreaties of his passengers and some threatening murmurs on my part of a public exposure in Boston of his conduct, that he ordered the ship to bear down upon the wreck, and then with slackened sail and much grumbling. A ship and a brig were astern of us, and, though farther by some miles from the distressed ship than we were, they instantly bore down for her, and rendered her this evening the assistance we might have done at noon. We are now standing on our way with a fair wind springing up at southeast, which I suppose will last a few hours. Spent the day in religious exercises, and was happy to observe on the part of the rest of the passengers a due regard for the solemnity of the day.
"Monday, 11th September. Wind still ahead and the sky threatening.—Ten o'clock. Beginning to blow hard; taking in sails one after another.— Three o'clock. A perfect storm; the gale a few days ago but a gentle breeze to it.... I never witnessed so tremendous a gale; the wind blowing so that it can scarcely be faced; the sea like ink excepting the whiteness of the surge, which is carried into the air like clouds of dust, or like the driving of snow. The wind piping through our bare rigging sounds most terrific; indeed, it is a most awful sight. The sea in mountains breaking over our bows, and a single wave dispersing in mist through the violence of the storm; ship rolling to such a degree that we are compelled to keep our berths; cabin dark with the deadlights in. Oh! who would go to sea when he can stay on shore! The wind in southwest driving us back again, so that we are losing all the advantages of our fair wind of yesterday, which lasted, as I supposed, two or three hours.
* * * * *
"Tuesday, 12th September. Gale abated, but head wind still....
"Wednesday, 13th September. All last night a tremendous storm from northwest.
"Thursday, 14th September. The storm increased to a tremendous height last night. The clouds at sunset were terrific in the extreme, and, in the evening, still more so with lightning. The sea has risen frightfully and everything wears a most alarming aspect. At 3 A.M. a squall struck us and laid us almost wholly under water; we came near losing our foremast.... None of us able to sleep from the dreadful noises; creakings and howlings and thousands of indescribable sounds. Lord! who can endure the terror of thy storm!... Yesterday's sea was as molehills to mountains compared with the sea to-day....
"Friday, 15th September. The storm somewhat abated this morning, but still blowing hard from southwest.... Twenty-four days out to-day.
"Saturday, 16th September. Blowing a gale of wind from southwest. Noon almost calm for half an hour, when, on a sudden, the wind shifted to the northeast, when it blew such a hurricane that every one on board declared they never saw its equal. For four hours it blew so hard that all the sea was in a perfect foam, and resembled a severe snowstorm more than a dry blow. If the wind roared before, it now shrilly whistled through our rigging."
After some days of calm with winds sometimes favorable but light, and, when fresh, ahead, the journal continues:—
"Monday, 25th September. Another gale of wind last night, ahead, dreadful sea; took in sail and lay to all night.... Beginning to think of our provisions; bread mouldy and little left; sugar, little left; fresh provisions, little left; beans, none left; salt pork, little left; salt beef, a plenty; water, plenty; stores of passengers, some gone and the rest drawing to a conclusion; patience drawing to a conclusion; in short all is falling short and drawing to a conclusion except our voyage and my journal....
"Tuesday, 26th September.... Find our captain to be a complete old woman; takes in sail at night and never knows when to set it again; the longer we know him, the more surly he grows; he is not even civil.... Several large turtles passed within a few feet of us yesterday and to-day, and, considering we are near the end of our provisions, one would have thought our captain would be anxious to take them; but no, it was too much trouble to lower the boat from the stern.
* * * * *
"Friday, 29th September. Last night another dreadful gale, as severe as any since we have been out.
* * * * *
"Monday, 2d October. Last night another gale of wind from northwest and is this morning still blowing hard and cold from the same quarter. What a dreadful passage is ours; we seem destined to have no fair wind, and to have a gale of wind every other day.
"Saturday, 7th October. Wind still ahead and blowing hard; very cold and dismal. Oh! when shall we see home!... I thought I could observe a kind of warfare between the different winds since we have been at sea. The west wind seems to be the tyrant at present, as it were the Bonaparte of the air. He has been blowing his gales very lavishly, and no other wind has been able to check him with any success.
"I recollect on one day, while it was calm, a thick bank of clouds began to rise in the northeast; no other clouds were in the sky. They rose gently in the calm as if fearful of rousing their deadly foe in the west. Now they had gained one third of the heavens when, behold, in the southwest another bank of thick black clouds came rolling up, and, reddening in the rays of the setting sun, marched on, teeming with fury. They soon gained the middle of the heavens where the frightened northeast had not yet reached. They met, they mixed, the routed northeast skulked back, while the thick column of the southwest, having driven back its enemy, slowly returned to its repose, proudly displaying a thousand various colors, as if for victory.
"At another time success seemed to be more in favor of the northeast; for, shortly after this great defeat, the southwest came forth and, like a petty tyrant intoxicated with success, began to oppress the subject ocean. It blew its gales and filled the air with clouds and rain and fog. Suddenly the northeast, as under cover of the darkness, and as one driven to desperation, burst forth on its too confident enemy with redoubled fury. Old ocean groans at the dreadful conflict; for, as in the warring of two hostile armies on the domains of a neutral, the neutral suffers most severely, so the neutral ocean seemed doomed to bear the weight of all their rancor. The southwest flies affrighted. And now the northeast, vaunting forth, stalks with the rage of an angry demon over the waters; the ocean foams beneath his breath, it steams and smokes and heaves in agony its troubled bosom.
"But, alas! how few can bear prosperity; how few, when victory crowns their efforts, can rule with moderation; how often, does it happen that we reenact the same scenes for which we punished our enemy. For now has the northeast become the tyrant and rules with tenfold rigor; he pours forth all his strength and, drunk with success as soldiers after a victory, at length sinks away into an inglorious calm.
"Now does the southwest collect his routed forces, checked but not conquered; he again advances on his recreant foe and seizes the vacant throne without a struggle. Ill-fated northeast! hadst thou but ruled with moderation when thou hadst gained, with masterly manoeuvre, the throne of the air; hadst thou reserved thy forces against surprise, and not, with prodigal profuseness, lavished them on thy harmless subjects, thou hadst still been monarch of the sea and air; all would have blessed thee as the restorer of peace, and as the deliverer of the ocean from western despotism. But alas! how art thou fallen an everlasting example of overreaching oppression.
"This evening there is a fine fair wind from northeast carrying us on at the rate of five or six knots. This is the cause of the foregoing rhapsody. Had it been otherwise than a fair wind I should never have been in spirits to have written so much stuff."
Still tantalized by baffling head winds and alternating calms and gales, they were, however, gradually approaching the coast. Omitting the entries of the next eleven days, I shall quote the final pages of the journal.
"Wednesday, 18th October. Last night was a sleepless night to us all. Everything wore the appearance of a hard storm; all was dull in the cabin; scarce a word was spoken; every one wore a serious aspect and, as any one came from the deck into the cabin, the rest put up an inquisitive and apprehensive look, with now and then a faint, 'Well, how does it look now?' Our captain, as well as the passenger captain, were both alarmed, and were poring over the chart in deep deliberation. A syllable was now and then caught from them, but all seemed despairing.
"At ten o'clock we lay to till twelve; at four again till five. Rainy, thick, and hazy, but not blowing very hard. All is dull and dismal; a dreadful state of suspense, between feelings of exquisite joy in the hope of soon seeing home, and feelings of gloomy apprehension that a few hours may doom us to destruction.
"Half-past seven.... Heaven be praised! The joyful tidings are just announced of Land!! Oh! who can conceive our feelings now? The wretch condemned to the scaffold, who receives, at the moment he expects to die, the joyful reprieve, he can best conceive the state of our minds.
"The land is Cape Cod, distant about ten miles. Joyful, joyful is the thought. To-night we shall, in all probability, be in Boston. We are going at the rate of seven knots.
"Half-past 9. Manomet land in sight.
"Ten o'clock. Cape Ann in sight.
"Eleven o'clock. Boston Light in sight.
"One o'clock. HOME!!!"
APRIL 10, 1816—OCTOBER 5, 1818
Very little success at home.—Portrait of ex-President John Adams.— Letter to Allston on sale of his "Dead Man restored to Life."—Also apologizes for hasty temper.—Reassured by Allston.—Humorous letter from Leslie.—Goes to New Hampshire to paint portraits.—Concord.—Meets Miss Lucretia Walker.—Letters to his parents concerning her.—His parents reply.—Engaged to Miss Walker.—His parents approve.—Many portraits painted.—Miss Walker's parents consent.—Success in Portsmouth.—Morse and his brother invent a pump.—Highly endorsed by President Day and Eli Whitney.—Miss Walker visits Charlestown.—Morse's religious convictions.—More success in New Hampshire.—Winter in Charleston, South Carolina.—John A. Alston.—Success.—Returns north.—Letter from his uncle Dr. Finley.—Marriage.
There is no record of the meeting of the parents and the long-absent son, but it is easy to picture the joy of that occasion, and to imagine the many heart-to-heart conversations when all differences, political and otherwise, were smoothed over.
He remained at home that winter, but seems to have met with but slight success in his profession. His "Judgment of Jupiter" was much admired, but found no purchaser, nor did he receive any commissions for such large historical paintings as it was his ambition to produce. He was asked by a certain Mr. Joseph Delaplaine, of Philadelphia, to paint a portrait of ex-President John Adams for half price, the portrait to be engraved and included in "Delaplaine's Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished American Characters," and, from letters of a later date, I believe that Morse consented to this.
It appears that he must also have received but few, if any, orders for portraits, for, in the following summer, he started on a painting tour through New Hampshire, which proved to be of great moment to him in more ways than one.
Before we follow him on that tour, however, I shall quote from a letter written by him to his friend Washington Allston:—
Boston, April 10, 1816.
MY DEAR SIR,—I have but one moment to write you by a vessel which sails to-morrow morning. I wrote Leslie by New Packet some months since and am hourly expecting an answer.
I congratulate you, my dear sir, on the sale of your picture of the "Dead Man." I suppose you will have received notice, before this reaches you, that the Philadelphia Academy of Arts have purchased it for the sum of thirty-five hundred dollars. Bravo for our country!
I am sincerely rejoiced for you and for the disposition which it shows of future encouragement. I really think the time is not far distant when we shall be able to settle in our native land with profit as well as pleasure. Boston seems struggling in labor to bring forth an institution for the arts, but it will miscarry; I find it is all forced. They can talk, and talk, and say what a fine thing it would be, but nothing is done. I find by experience that what you have often observed to me with respect to settling in Boston is well founded. I think it will be the last in the arts, though, without doubt, it is capable of being the first, if the fit would only take them. Oh! how I miss you, my dear sir. I long to spend my evenings again with you and Leslie. I shall certainly visit Italy (should I live and no unforeseen event take place) in the course of a year or eighteen months. Could there not be some arrangement made to meet you and Leslie there?
He lived, but the "unforeseen event" occurred to make him alter all his plans. Further on in this same letter he says:—
"My conscience accuses me, and hardly too, of many instances of pettishness and ill-humor towards you, which make me almost hate myself that I could offend a temper like yours. I need not ask you to forgive it; I know you cannot harbor anger a minute, and perhaps have forgotten the instances; but I cannot forget them. If you had failings of the same kind and I could recollect any instances where you had spoken pettishly or ill-natured to me, our accounts would then have been balanced, they would have called for mutual forgetfulness and forgiveness; but when, on reflection, I find nothing of the kind to charge you with, my conscience severely upbraids me with ingratitude to you, to whom (under Heaven) I owe all the little knowledge of my art which I possess. But I hope still I shall prove grateful to you; at any rate, I feel my errors and must mend them."
Mr. Allston thus answers this frank appeal for forgiveness:—
MY DEAR SIR,—I will not apologize for having so long delayed answering your kind letter, being, as you well know, privileged by my friends to be a lazy correspondent. I was sorry to find that you should have suffered the recollection of any hasty expressions you might have uttered to give you uneasiness. Be assured that they never were remembered by me a moment after, nor did they ever in the slightest degree diminish my regard or weaken my confidence in the sincerity of your friendship or the goodness of your heart. Besides, the consciousness of warmth in my own temper would have made me inexcusable had I suffered myself to dwell on an inadvertent word from another. I therefore beg you will no longer suffer any such unpleasant reflections to disturb your mind, but that you will rest assured of my unaltered and sincere esteem.
Your letter and one I had about the same time from my sister Mary brought the first intelligence of the sale of my picture, it being near three weeks later when I received the account from Philadelphia. When you recollect that I considered the "Dead Man" (from the untoward fate he had hitherto experienced) almost literally as a caput mortuum, you may easily believe that I was most agreeably surprised to hear of the sale. But, pleased as I was on account of the very seasonable pecuniary supply it would soon afford me, I must say that I was still more gratified at the encouragement it seemed to hold out for my return to America.
His friend Leslie, in a letter from London of May 7, 1816, writes: "Mr. West said your picture would have been more likely than any of them to obtain the prize had you remained."
In another letter from Leslie of September 6, 1816, occurs this amusing passage:—
"The Catalogue Raisonne appeared according to promise, but is not near so good as the one last year. At the conclusion the author says that Mr. Payne Knight told the directors it was the custom of the Greek nobility to strip and exhibit themselves naked to the artists in various attitudes, that they might have an opportunity of studying fine form. Accordingly those public-spirited men, the directors, have determined to adopt the plan, and are all practising like mad to prepare themselves for the ensuing exhibition, when they are to be placed on pedestals.
"It is supposed that Sir G. Beaumont, Mr. Long, Mr. Knight, etc., will occupy the principal lights. The Marquis of Stafford, unfortunately, could not recollect the attitude of any one antique figure, but was found practising having the head of the Dying Gladiator, the body of the Hercules, one leg of the Apollo, and the other of the Dancing Faun, turned the wrong way. Lord Mulgrave, having a small head, thought of representing the Torso, but he did not know what to do with his legs, and was afraid that, as Master of the Ordnance, he could not dispense with his arms."
In the beginning of August, 1816, the young man started out on his quest for money. This was frankly the object of his journey, but it was characteristic of his buoyant and yet conscientious nature that, having once made up his mind to give up, for the present, all thoughts of pursuing the higher branches of his art, he took up with zest the painting of portraits.
So far from degrading his art by pursuing a branch of it which he held to be inferior, he still, by conscientious work, by putting the best of himself into it, raised it to a very high plane; for many of his portraits are now held by competent critics to rank high in the annals of art, by some being placed on a level with those of Gilbert Stuart.
On August 8, 1816, he writes to his parents from Concord, New Hampshire:—
"I have been in this place since Monday evening. I arrived safely.... Massabesek Pond is very beautiful, though seen on a dull day. I think that one or two elegant views might be made from it, and I think I must sketch it at some future period.
"I have as yet met with no success in portraits, but hope, by perseverance, I shall be able to find some. My stay in this place depends on that circumstance. If none offer, I shall go for Hanover on Saturday morning.
"The scenery is very fine on the Merrimack; many fine pictures could be made here alone. I made a little sketch near Contoocook Falls yesterday. I go this morning with Dr. McFarland to see some views. Colonel Kent's family are very polite to me, and I never felt in better spirits; the weather is now fine and I feel as though I was growing fat."
CONCORD, August 16, 1816.
I am still here and am passing my time very agreeably. I have painted five portraits at fifteen dollars each and have two more engaged and many more talked of. I think I shall get along well. I believe I could make an independent fortune in a few years if I devoted myself exclusively to portraits, so great is the desire for good portraits in the different country towns.
He must have been a very rapid worker to have painted five portraits in eight days; but, perhaps, on account of the very modest price he received, these were more in the nature of quick sketches.
The next letter is rather startling when we recall his recent assertions concerning "Mrs. Love" and the joys of a bachelor existence.
CONCORD, August 20, 1816.
MY DEAR PARENTS,—I write you a few lines just to say I am well and very industrious. Next day after to-morrow I shall have received one hundred dollars, which I think is pretty well for three weeks. I shall probably stay here a fortnight from yesterday.
I have other attractions besides money in this place. Do you know the Walkers of this place? Charles Walker Esq., son of Judge Walker, has two daughters, the elder, very beautiful, amiable, and of an excellent disposition. This is her character in town. I have enquired particularly of Dr. McFarland respecting the family, and his answer is every way satisfactory, except that they are not professors of religion. He is a man of family and great wealth. This last, you know, I never made a principal object, but it is somewhat satisfactory to know that in my profession.
I may flatter myself, but I think I might be a successful suitor.
You will, perhaps, think me a terrible harum-scarum fellow to be continually falling in love in this way, but I have a dread of being an old bachelor, and I am now twenty-five years of age.
There is still no need of hurry; the young lady is but sixteen. But all this is thinking aloud to you; I make you my confidants; I wish your advice; nothing shall be done precipitately.
Of course all that I say is between you and me, for it all may come to nothing; I have some experience that way.
What I have done I have done prayerfully. I have prayed to the Giver of every good gift that He will direct me in this business; that, if it will not be to his glory and the good of his Kingdom, He will frustrate all; that, if He grants me prosperity, He will grant me a heart to use it aright; and, if adversity, that He will teach me submission to his will; and that, whatever may be my lot here, I may not fall short of eternal happiness hereafter.
I hope you will remember me in your prayers, and especially in reference to a connection in life.
I do not think that his parents took this matter very seriously at first. His was an intensely affectionate nature, and they had often heard these same raptures before. However, like wise parents, they did not scoff. His mother wrote on August 23, 1816, in answer: "With respect to the other confidential matter, I hope the Lord will direct you to a proper choice. We know nothing of the family, good or bad. We do not wish you to be an old bachelor, nor do we wish you to precipitate yourself and others into difficulties which you cannot get rid of."
In the same letter his father says: "In regard to the subject on which you ask our advice, we refer it, after the experience you have had, and with the advice you have often had from us, to your own judgment. Be not hasty in entering into any engagement; enquire with caution and delicacy; do everything that is honorable and gentlemanly respecting yourself and those concerned. 'Pause, ponder, sift.—Judge before friendship—then confide till death.' (Young.) Above all, commit the subject to God in prayer and ask his guidance and blessing. I am glad to find you are doing this."
How well he obeyed his father's injunctions may be gathered from the following letter, which speaks for itself:—
CONCORD, September 2, 1816.
MY DEAR PARENTS,—I have just received yours of August 29. I leave town to-morrow morning, probably for Hanover, as there is no conveyance direct to Walpole.
I have had no more portraits since I wrote you, so that I have received just one hundred dollars in Concord. The last I took for ten dollars, as the person I painted obtained four of my sitters for me....
With respect to the confidential affair, everything is successful beyond my most sanguine expectations. The more I know of her the more amiable she appears. She is very beautiful and yet no coquetry; she is modest, quite to diffidence, and yet frank and open-hearted. Wherever I have enquired concerning her I have invariably heard the same character of—"remarkably amiable, modest, and of a sweet disposition." When you learn that this is the case I think you will not accuse me of being hasty in bringing the affair to a crisis. I ventured to tell her my whole heart, and instead of obscure and ambiguous answers, which some would have given to tantalize and pain one, she frankly, but modestly and timidly, told me it was mutual. Suffice it to say we are engaged.
If I know my parents I know they will be pleased with this amiable girl. Unless I was confident of it, I should never have been so hasty. I have not yet mentioned it to her parents; she requested me to defer it till next summer, or till I see her again, lest she should be thought hasty. She is but sixteen and is willing to wait two or three years if it is for our mutual interest.
Never, never was a human being so blest as I am, and yet what an ungrateful wretch I have been. Pray for me that I may have a grateful heart, for I deserve nothing but adversity, and yet have the most unbounded prosperity.
The father replies to this characteristic letter on September 4, 1816:—
"I have just received yours of the 2d inst. Its contents were deeply interesting to us, as you will readily suppose. It accounts to us why you have made so long a stay at Concord.... So far as we can judge from your representations (which are all we have to judge from), we cannot refuse you our approbation, and we hope that the course, on which you have entered with your characteristic rapidity and decision, will be pursued and issue in a manner which will conduce to the happiness of all concerned....
"We think her parents should be made acquainted with the state of the business, as she is so young and the thing so important to them."
The son answers this letter, from Walpole, New Hampshire, on September 7, 1816, thus naively: "You think the parents of the young lady should be made acquainted with the state of the business. I feel some degree of awkwardness as it respects that part of the affair; I don't know the manner in which it ought to be done. I wish you would have the goodness to write me immediately (at Walpole, to care of Thomas Bellows, Esq.) and inform me what I should say. Might I communicate the information by writing?"
Here he gives a detailed account of the family, and, for the first time, mentions the young lady's name—Lucretia Pickering Walker—and continues:—
"You ask how the family have treated me. They are all aware of the attachment between us, for I have made my attention so open and so marked that they all must have perceived it. I know that Lucretia must have had some conversation with her mother on the subject, for she told me one day, when I asked her what her mother thought of my constant visits, that her mother said she 'didn't think I cared much about her,' in a pleasant way. All the family have been extremely polite and attentive to me; I received constant invitations to dinner and tea, indeed every encouragement was given me....
"I painted two hasty sketches of scenery in Concord. I meet with no success in Walpole. Quacks have been before me."
There is always a touch of quaint, dry humor in his mother's letters in spite of their great seriousness, as witness the following extracts from a letter of September 9, 1816:—
"We hope you will feel more than ever the absolute necessity laid upon you to procure for yourself and those you love a maintenance, as neither of you can subsist long upon air.... Remember it takes a great many hundred dollars to make and to keep the pot a-boiling.
"I wish to see the young lady who has captivated you so much. I hope she loves religion, and that, if you and she form a connection for life, some five or six years hence, you may go hand in hand to that better world where they neither marry nor are given in marriage....
"You have not given us any satisfaction in respect to many things about the young lady which you ought to suppose we should be anxious to know. All you have told us is that she is handsome and amiable. These are good as far as they go, but there are a great many etcs., etcs., that we want to know.
"Is she acquainted with domestic affairs? Does she respect and love religion? How many brothers and sisters has she? How old are they? Is she healthy? How old are her parents? What will they be likely to do for her some years hence, say when she is twenty years old?
"In your next answer at least some of these questions. You see your mother has not lived twenty-seven years in New England without learning to ask questions."
These questions he had already answered in a letter which must have crossed his mother's.
On September 23, 1816, he writes from Windsor, Vermont:—
"I am still here but shall probably leave in a week or two. I long to get home, or, at least, as far on my way as Concord. I think I shall be tempted to stay a week or two there.... I do not like Windsor very much. It is a very dissipated place, and dissipation, too, of the lowest sort. There is very little gentleman's society."
WINDSOR, VERMONT, September 28, 1816.
I am still in this place.... I have written Lucretia on the subject of acquainting her parents, and I have no doubt she will assent.... I hear her spoken of in this part of the country as very celebrated, both for her beauty and, particularly, for her disposition; and this I have heard without there being the slightest suspicion of any attachment, or even acquaintance, between us. This augurs well most certainly. I know she is considered in Concord as the first girl in the place. (You know I always aimed highest.) The more I think of this attachment the more I think I shall not regret the haste (if it may be so called) of this proposed connection....
I am doing pretty well in this place, better than I expected; I have one more portrait to do before I leave it.... I should have business, I presume, to last me some weeks if I could stay, but I long to get home through Concord....
Mama's scheme of painting a large landscape and selling it to General Bradley for two hundred dollars, must give place to another which has just come into my head: that of sending to you for my great canvas and painting the quarrel at Dartmouth College, as large as life, with all the portraits of the trustees, overseers, officers of college, and students; and, if I finish it next week, to ask five thousand dollars for it and then come home in a coach and six and put Ned to the blush with his nineteen subscribers a day. Only think, $5000 a week is $260,000 a year, and, if I live ten years, I shall be worth $2,600,000; a very pretty fortune for this time of day. Is it not a grand scheme?
The remark concerning his brother Sidney Edwards's subscribers refers to a religious newspaper, the "Boston Recorder," founded and edited by him. It was one of the first of the many religious journals which, since that time, have multiplied all over the country.
Continuing his modestly successful progress, he writes next from Hanover, on October 3, 1816:—
"I arrived in this place on Tuesday evening and am painting away with all my might. I am painting Judge Woodward and lady, and think I shall have many more engaged than I can do. I painted seven portraits at Windsor, one for my board and lodging at the inn, and one for ten dollars, very small, to be sent in a letter to a great distance; so that in all I received eighty-five dollars in money. I have five more engaged at Windsor for next summer. So you see I have not been idle.
"I must spend a fortnight at Concord, so that I shall not probably be at home till early in November.
"I think, with proper management, that I have but little to fear as to this world. I think I can, with industry, average from two to three thousand dollars a year, which is a tolerable income, though not equal to $2,600,000!"
CONCORD, October 14, 1816.
I arrived here on Friday evening in good health and spirits from Hanover. I painted four portraits altogether in Hanover, and have many engaged for next summer. I presume I shall paint some here, though I am uncertain.
I found Lucretia in good health, very glad to see me. She improves on acquaintance; she is, indeed, a most amiable, affectionate girl; I know you will love her. She has consented that I should inform her parents of our attachment. I have, accordingly, just sent a letter to her father (twelve o'clock), and am now in a state of suspense anxiously waiting his answer. Before I close this, I hope to give you the result.
Five o'clock. I have just called and had a conversation (by request) with Mr. Walker, and I have the satisfaction to say: "I have Lucretia's parents' entire approbation." Everything successful! Praise be to the giver of every good gift! What, indeed, shall I render to Him for all his unmerited and continually increasing mercies and blessings?
In a letter to Miss Walker from a girl friend we find the following:—
"You appear to think, dear Lucretia, that I am possessed of quite an insensible heart; pardon me if I say the same of you, for I have heard that several have become candidates for your affections, but that you remained unmoved until Mr. M., of Charlestown, made his appearance, when, I understand, you did hope that his sentiments in your favor were reciprocal.
"I rejoice to hear this, for, though I am unacquainted with that gentleman, yet, when I heard he was likely to become a successful suitor, I have made some enquiries concerning him, and find he is possessed of every excellent and amiable quality that I should wish the person to have who was to become the husband of so dear a friend as yourself."
Morse must have returned home about the end of October, for we find no more letters until the 14th of December, when he writes from Portsmouth, New Hampshire:—
"I should have written you sooner but I have been employed in settling myself. I thought it best not to be precipitate in fixing on a place to board and lodge, but first to sound the public as to my success. Every one thinks I shall meet with encouragement, and, on the strength of this, I have taken lodgings and a room at Mrs. Hinge's in Jaffrey Street; a very excellent and central situation.... I shall commence on Monday morning with Governor Langdon's portrait. He is very kind and attentive to me, as, indeed, are all here, and will do everything to aid me. I wish not to raise high expectations, but I think I shall succeed tolerably well."
About this time Finley Morse and his brother Edwards had jointly devised and patented a new "flexible piston-pump," from which they hoped great things. Edwards, always more or less of a wag, proposed to call it "Morse's Patent Metallic Double-headed Ocean-Drinker and Deluge-Spouter Valve Pump-Boxes."
It was to be used in connection with fire-engines, and seems really to have been an excellent invention, for President Jeremiah Day, of Yale College, gave the young inventors his written endorsement, and Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton-gin, thus recommends it: "Having examined the model of a fire-engine invented by Mr. Morse, with pistons of a new construction, I am of opinion that an engine may be made on that principle (being more simple and much less expensive), which would have a preference to those in common use."
In the letters of the year 1817 and of several following years, even in the letters of the young man to his fiancee, many long references are made to this pump and to the varying success in introducing it into general use. I shall not, however, refer to it again, and only mention it to show the bent of Morse's mind towards invention.
He spent some time in the early part of 1817 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, meeting with success in his profession. Miss Walker was also there visiting friends, so we may presume that his stay was pleasant as well as profitable.