"December 14. Much excitement has been created by fear of revolution, but from what cause I cannot learn. Many arrests and banishments have occurred, among whom are some of the Bonaparte family. Artists are suspected of being Liberals.
"An assassination occurred at one of the altars in St. John Lateran a few weeks ago. A young man, jealous of a girl, whom he thought to be more partial to another, stabbed her to the heart while at mass.
"Saturday, January 1, 1831. At the beginning of the year, as with us, you hear the salutation of 'felicissimo capo d'anno,' and the custom of calling and felicitating friends is nearly the same as in New York, with this difference, indeed, that there is no cheer in Rome as with our good people at home.
"Friday, January 14. In the afternoon Count Grice and the Honorable Mr. Spencer, son of Earl Spencer, who has within a few years been converted to the Catholic faith, called. Had an interesting conversation with him on religious topics, in which the differences of the Protestant and Catholic faiths were discussed; found him a candid, fair-minded man, but evidently led away by a too easy assent to the sophistry and fable which have been dealt out to him. He gave me a slight history of his change; I shall see him again.
"Tuesday, January 18. Called with Count Grice on the Honorable Mr. Spencer at the English College and was introduced to the rector, Dr. Wiseman. After a few moments went into the library with Mr. Spencer and commenced the argument, in which being interrupted we retired to his room, where for three hours we discussed various points of difference in our faith. Many things I urged were not answered, such as the fruits of the Catholic religion in the various countries where it prevails; the objection concerning forbidding to marry; idolatry of the Virgin Mary, etc., etc.; yet there is a gentleness, an amiability in the man which makes me think him sincere but deceived.
"Wednesday, February 2. Went this morning at ten o'clock to hear a sermon by Mr. Spencer in the chapel of the English College. It was on the occasion of the festa of the purification of the Virgin. Many parts were good, and I could agree with him in the general scope of his discourse.
"While we were in the chapel the cannon of St. Angelo announced the election of the new Pope. I hurried to the Quirinal Palace to see the ceremony of announcing him to the people, but was too late. The ceremony was over, the walled window was broken down and the cardinals had presented the new Pope on the balcony. He is Cardinal Cappellari who has taken the title of Gregorio XVI. To-morrow he will go to St. Peter's."
FEBRUARY 10, 1831—SEPTEMBER 12, 1831.
Historic events witnessed by Morse.—Rumors of revolution.—Danger to foreigners.—Coronation of the new Pope.—Pleasant experience.—Cause of the revolution a mystery.—Bloody plot foiled.—Plans to leave for Florence.—Sends casts, etc., to National Academy of Design.—Leaves Rome.—Dangers of the journey.—Florence.—Description of meeting with Prince Radziwill in Coliseum at Rome.—Copies portraits of Rubens and Titian in Florence.—Leaves Florence for Venice.—Disagreeable voyage on the Po.—Venice, beautiful but smelly.—Copies Tintoret's "Miracle of the Slave."—Thunderstorms.—Reflections on the Fourth of July.—Leaves Venice.—Recoaro.—Milan.—Reflections on Catholicism and art.—Como and Maggiore.—The Rigi.—Schaffhausen and Heidelberg.—Evades the quarantine on French border.—Thrilling experience.—Paris.
It was Morse's good fortune to have been a spectator, at various times and in different places, of events of more or less historical moment. We have seen that he was in England during the War of 1812; that he witnessed the execution of the assassin of a Prime Minister; that he was a keen and interested observer of the festivities in honor of a Czar of Russia, a King of France, and a famous general (Bluecher); and although not mentioned in his correspondence, he was fond of telling how he had seen the ship sailing away to distant St. Helena bearing the conquered Napoleon Bonaparte into captivity. Now, while he was diligently pursuing his art in Rome, he was privileged to witness the funeral obsequies of one Pope and the ceremonies attendant upon the installation of his successor. In future years the same good fortune followed him.
His presence on these occasions was not always unattended by danger to himself. His discretion during the years of war between England and America saved him from possible annoyance or worse, and now again in Rome he was called upon to exercise the same virtue, for the Church had entered upon troublous times, and soon the lives of foreigners were in danger, and many of them left the city.
On Thursday, February 10, there is this entry in the journal: "The revolutions in the Papal States to the north at Bologna and Ancona, and in the Duchy of Modena, have been made known at Rome. Great consternation prevails." We learn further that, on February 12, "Rumors of conspiracy are numerous. The time, the places of rendezvous, and even the numbers are openly talked of. The streets are filled with the people who gaze at each other inquisitively, and apprehension seems marked on every face. The shops are shutting, troops are stationed in the piazzas, and everything wears a gloomy aspect. At half-past seven a discharge of musketry is heard. Among the reports of the day is one that the Trasteverini have plotted to massacre the forestieri in case of a revolt."
While the festivities of the Carnival were, on account of these disturbances, ordered by the Pope to be discontinued, the religious ceremonies were still observed, and, going to St. Peter's one day—"to witness the ceremonies of consecration as a bishop and coronation as a king of the Pope"—Morse had this pleasant experience:—
"The immense area seemed already filled; a double line of soldiers enclosed a wide space, from the great door through the middle of the church, on each side of the altar, and around the richly enclosed space where were erected the two papal thrones and the seats for the cardinals. Into this soldier-invested space none but the privileged were permitted to enter; ambassadors, princes, dukes, and nobles of every degree were seen, in all their splendor of costume, promenading.
"I was with the crowd without, making up my mind to see nothing of the ceremonies, but, being in full dress, and remembering that, on former occasions, I had been admitted as a stranger within the space, I determined to make the effort again. I therefore edged myself through the mass of people until I reached the line of soldiers, and, catching the eye of the commanding officer as he passed by, I beckoned to him, and, as he came to me, I said, 'Sono un Americano, un forestiero, signore,' which I had no sooner said than, taking me by the hand, he drew me in, and, politely bowing, gave me leave to go where I pleased."
From this point of vantage he had an excellent view of all the ceremonies, which were much like the others he had witnessed and do not need to be described.
He wanted very much to go to Florence at this time to fulfil some of the commissions he had received for copies of famous paintings in that city, but his departure was delayed, for, as he notes on February 13:—
"There are many alarming rumors, one in particular that the Trasteverini and Galleotti, or galley slaves, have been secretly armed by the Government, and that the former are particularly incensed against the forestieri as the supposed instigators of the revolution.... These facts have thrown us all into alarm, for we know not what excesses such men may be guilty of when excited by religious enthusiasm to revenge themselves on those they call heretics. We are compelled, too, to remain in Rome from the state of the country, it being not safe to travel on account of brigands who now infest the roads.
"February 15. I have never been in a place where it was so difficult to ascertain the truth as in this city. I have enquired the reason of this movement hostile to the Government, but cannot ascertain precisely its object. Some say it is to deprive the Pope of his temporal power,—and some Catholics seem to think that their religion would flourish the better for it; others that it is a plan, long digested, for bringing all Italy under one government, having it divided into so many federative states, like the United States....
"The Trasteverini seem to be a peculiar class, proud, as believing themselves to be the only true descendants from the ancient Romans, and, therefore, hating the other Romans. Poor from that very pride; ignorant and attached to their faith, they are the class of all others to be dreaded in a season of anarchy. It is easy by flattery, by a little distribution of money, and by a cry of danger to their religion, to rouse them to any degree of enthusiasm, and no one can set bounds to the excesses of such a set of fiends when let loose upon society.
"The Government at present have them in their interest, and, while that is the case, no danger is to be dreaded. It is in that state of anarchy which, for a longer or shorter period, intervenes in the changes of government, between the established rule of the one and of the other, that such a class of men is to be feared.
"February 17. The plan said to have been determined on by the conspirators was this: The last night of the Carnival was fixed for the execution of the plan. This was Tuesday night when it is customary to have the moccoletti, or small wax-candles, lighted by the crowd. The conspirators were each to be placed, as it were by accident, by the side of a soldier (which in so great a crowd could be done without suspicion), and, when the cannon fired which gave the signal for closing the course, it was also to serve as a signal for each one to turn upon the soldier and, by killing him, to seize his arms. This would, indeed, have been a bloody scene, and for humanity's sake it is well that it was discovered and prevented.
"February 20. I learn that the Pope is desirous of yielding to the spirit of the times, and is disposed to grant a constitution to the people, but that the cardinals oppose it. He is said also to be prepared to fly from Rome, and even has declared his intention of resigning the dignity of Pope and retiring again to the solitude of the convent.
"February 24. It seems to be no longer doubtful that a revolutionary army is approaching Rome from the revolted provinces, and that they advance rapidly.... The city is tranquil enough; no troops are seen, except at night a sentinel at some corner cries as you pass, 'Chi viva?' and you are obliged to cry, 'Il Papa'; which one may surely do with a good conscience, for he is entitled to great respect for his personal character.
"February 25. Went to-day to get my passport viseed for Florence, whither I intended to go on Tuesday next, but am advised by the consul and others not to risk the journey at present, as it is unsafe."
I break the continuity of the narrative for a moment to note that while Morse was making copies of famous paintings in Rome, and studying intelligently the works of the old masters, he was not forgetful of the young academy at home, which he had helped to found and of which he was still president. On March 1 he writes jubilantly to the secretary, J.L. Morton, that he has succeeded in obtaining by gift a number of casts of ancient and modern sculpture which he will send home by the first opportunity. Among the generous donors he mentions Thorwaldsen, Daniel Coit, Esq., Richard Wyatt, Esq., Signor Trentanove, and George Washington Lee, Esq. He adds at the end of the letter:—
"I leave Rome immediately and know not when I shall be allowed to rest, the revolution here having turned everything into confusion, rendering the movements of travellers uncertain and unsafe, and embarrassing my studies and those of other artists exceedingly. I shall try to go to Florence, but must pass through the two hostile armies and through a country which, in a season of confusion like the present, is sure to be infested with brigands. If I reach Florence in safety and am allowed to remain, which is somewhat doubtful, you shall hear of me again, either directly or through my brothers."
Mr. Morton, answering this letter on May 22, informs Morse of his reelection as president of the National Academy of Design, and adds: "By the by, talking of coming back, do try and make your arrangements as soon as possible. We want you very much, if it is only to set us all right again. We begin to feel the want of our Head Man."
Reverting to the journal again, we find this note: "March 3. For some days past I have been engaged in packing up and taking leave, and yesterday was introduced by the Count le Grice to Cardinal Weld, who received me very politely, presented me with a book, and sent me two letters of introduction to London."
On March 4, Morse, with four companions, started from Rome on the seemingly perilous journey to Florence. They passed through the lines of both armies, but, contrary to their expectations, they were most courteously treated by the officers on both sides. It is true that they learned afterwards that they came near being arrested at Civita Castellana, where the Papal army was assembled in force, for—"When we took leave of the Marquis at Terni he told us that it was well we left Civita Castellana as we did, for an order for our arrest was making out, and in a few minutes more we should not have been allowed to leave the place. Indeed, when I think of the case, it was a surprising thing that we were allowed to go into all parts of the place, to see their position, to count their men and know their strength, and then to immediately pass over to their enemy and to give him, if we chose, all the information that any spy could have given."
It is not within the province of this work to deal at length with the political movements of the times. As we have seen, Morse was fortunate in avoiding danger, and we learn from history that this revolt, which threatened at one time to become very serious, was eventually suppressed by the Papal arms aided by the Austrians.
Having passed safely through the zone of danger, they travelled on, and, on March 9:—
"At half-past three the beautiful city was seen to our left reposing in sunshine in the wide vale of the Arno. The Duomo and the Campanile were the most conspicuous objects. At half-past four we entered Florence and obtained rooms at the Leone Bianco in the Via Vigna Nuova.
"March 10. We found to-day, to our great discomfiture, that we are allowed by the police to stay but three days in the city. No entreaties through our consul, nor offers of guaranty on his part, availed to soften towards us the rigor of the decree, which they say applies to all foreigners. I have written to our consul at Leghorn to petition the Government for our stay, as Mr. Ombrosi, the United States Consul here, is not accredited by the Government."
He must have succeeded in obtaining permission to remain, although the fact is not noted in the journal, for the next entry is on April 11, and finds him still in Florence. It begins: "Various engagements preventing my entering regularly in my journal every day's events as they occurred, I have been compelled to make a gap, which I fill up from recollection."
Before following him further, however, I shall quote from a letter written to his brothers on April 15, but referring to events which happened some time before:—
"We have recently heard of the disasters of the Poles. What noble people; how deserving of their freedom. I must tell you of an interesting circumstance that occurred to me in relation to Poland. It was in the latter part of June of last year, just as I was completing my arrangements for my journey to Naples, that I was tempted by one of those splendid moonlight evenings, so common in Italy, to visit once more the ruins of the Coliseum. I had frequently been to the Coliseum in company, but now I had the curiosity to go alone—I wished to enjoy, if possible, its solitude and its solemn grandeur unannoyed by the presence of any one.
"It was eleven o'clock when I left my lodgings and no one was walking at that hour in the solitary streets of Rome. From the Corso to the Forum all was as still as in a deserted city. The ruins of the Forum, the temples and pillars, the Arch of Titus and the gigantic arcade of the Temple of Peace, seemed to sleep in the gravelike stillness of the air. The only sound that reached my ears was that of my own footsteps. I slowly proceeded, stopping occasionally, and listening and enjoying the profound repose and the solemn, pure light, so suited to the ruined magnificence around me. As I approached the Coliseum the shriek of an owl and the answering echo broke the stillness for a moment, and all was still again.
"I reached the entrance, before which paced a lonely sentinel, his arms flashing in the moonbeams. He abruptly stopped me and told me I could not enter. I asked him why. He replied that his orders were to let no one pass. I told him I knew better, that he had no such orders, that he was placed there to protect visitors, and not to prevent their entrance, and that I should pass. Finding me resolute (for I knew by experience his motive was merely to extort money), he softened in his tone, and wished me to wait until he could speak to the sergeant of the guard. To this I assented, and, while he was gone, a party of gentlemen approached also to the entrance. One of them, having heard the discourse between the sentinel and myself, addressed me. Perceiving that he was a foreigner, I asked him if he spoke English. He replied with a slight accent, 'Yes, a little. You are an Englishman, sir?' 'No,' I replied, 'I am an American from the United States.' 'Indeed,' said he, 'that is much better'; and, extending his hand, he shook me cordially by the hand, adding, 'I have a great respect for your country and I know many of your countrymen.' He then mentioned Dr. Jarvis and Mr. Cooper, the novelist, the latter of whom he said was held in the greatest estimation in Europe, and nowhere more so than in his country, Poland, where his works were more sought after than those of Scott, and his mind was esteemed of an equal if not of a superior cast.
"This casual introduction of literary topics furnished us with ample matter for conversation while we were not engaged in contemplating the sublime ruins over which, when the sentinel returned, we climbed. I asked him respecting the literature of Poland, and particularly if there were now any living poets of eminence. He observed: 'Yes, sir, I am happily travelling in company with the most celebrated of our poets, Meinenvitch'; and who, as I understood him, was one of the party walking in another part of the ruins.
"Engaged in conversation we left the Coliseum together and slowly proceeded into the city. I told him of the deep interest with which Poland was regarded in the United States, and that her heroes were spoken of with the same veneration as our own. As some evidence of this estimation I informed him of the monument erected by the cadets of West Point to the memory of Kosciusko. With this intelligence he was evidently much affected; he took my hand and exclaimed with great enthusiasm and emphatically: 'We, too, sir, shall be free; the time is coming; we too shall be free; my unhappy country will be free.' (This was before the revolution in France.)
"As I came to the street where we were to part he took out his notebook, and, going under the lamp of a Madonna, near the Piazza Colonna, he wished me to write my name for him among the other names of Americans which he had treasured in his book. I complied with his request. In bidding me adieu he said: 'It will be one of my happiest recollections of Rome that the last night which I passed in this city was passed in the Coliseum, and with an American, a citizen of a free country. If you should ever visit Warsaw, pray enquire for Prince——; I shall be exceedingly glad to see you.'
"Thus I parted with this interesting Pole. That I should have forgotten a Polish name, pronounced but once, you will not think extraordinary. The sequel remains to be told. When the Polish revolution broke out, what was my surprise to find the poet Meinenvitch and a prince, whose name seemed like that which he pronounced to me, and to which was added—'just returned from Italy'—among the first members of the provisional government."
Morse assured himself afterwards, and so noted it in his journal, that this chance acquaintance was Prince Michael Jerome Radziwill, who had served as lieutenant in the war of independence under Kosciusko; fought under Napoleon in Russia (by whom he was made a brigadier-general); and, shortly after the meeting in the Coliseum, was made general-in-chief of the Polish army. After the defeat of this army he was banished to central Russia until 1836, when he retired to Dresden.
Reverting again to the notebooks, we find that Florence, with her wealth of beauty in architecture, sculpture, and painting, appealed strongly to the artist, and the notes are chiefly descriptions of what he sees, and which it will not be necessary to transcribe. He had, during all the time he was in Italy, been completing, one after another, the copies for which he had received commissions, and had been sending them home. He thus describes to his friend, Mr. Van Schaick, the paintings made for him:—
"Florence, May 12, 1831. I have at length completed the two pictures which you were so kind as to commission me to execute for you, and they are packed in a case, ready to send to you from Leghorn by the first opportunity, through Messrs. Bell, de Yongh & Co. of that city.
"As your request was that these pictures should be heads, I have chosen two of the most celebrated in the gallery of portraits in the Florence Gallery. These are the heads of Rubens and Titian from the portraits by themselves. As the portraits of the two great masters of color they will alone be interesting, but they are more so from giving a fair specimen of their two opposite styles of color. That of Rubens, from its gaiety, will doubtless be more popular, but that of Titian, from its sobriety and dignity, pleases me better. In hanging the pictures they should be placed apart. The styles are so opposed that, were they placed near to each other, they would mutually affect each other unfavorably. Rubens may be placed in more obscurity, but Titian demands to be more in the light.
"I have no time to add, as I am preparing to leave Florence on Monday for Bologna and Venice."
Travelling in Italy in those days was fraught with many annoyances, for, in addition to the slow progress made in the vetture, there seems to have been (judging from the journal) a dogana, or custom-house, every few miles, where the luggage and clothing of travellers were examined, sometimes hastily and courteously, sometimes with more rigor. And yet this leisurely rate of progress, the travellers walking up most of the hills, must have had a charm unknown to the present-day tourist, who is whisked unseeing through the most characteristic parts of a foreign country. The beautiful scenery of the Apennines was in this way enjoyed to the full by the artist, but I shall not linger over the journey nor shall I include any notes concerning Bologna. He found the city most interesting—"A piece of porphyry set in verd antique"—and those to whom he had letters of introduction more hospitable than in any other city in Italy.
From Bologna the route lay through Ferrara and then to Pontelagoscuro on the river Po, where he was to take the courier boat for Venice, down the Po and through a canal. To add to the discomforts of this part of the trip it rained steadily for several days, and, on May 22, Morse paints this dreary picture:—
"When we waked this morning we found it still raining and, apparently, so to continue all day. The rainy day at a country inn, so exquisitely described by Irving in all its disagreeable features, is now before us. A solitary inn with nothing indoors to attract; cold and damp and dark. The prospect from the windows is a low muddy foreground, the north bank of the muddy Po; a pile of brushwood, a heap of offal, a melancholy group of cattle, who show no other signs of life than the occasional sly attack by one of them upon a poor, dripping, half-starved dog, who, with tail between his legs, now and then ventures near them to search for his miserable meal. Beyond, on the river, a few barks silently lying upon the stream, and on the opposite bank some buildings with a church and a campanile dimly seen through the mist. After coffee we were obliged to go to the dogana to see to the searching of all our trunks and luggage. The principals were present and we were not severely searched. A Frenchman, however, who had come on a little before us, was stripped to his skin, some papers were found upon him, and I understand he has made his escape and they are now searching for him....
"At 2.30, after having dined, we waded through the mud in a pelting rain to the dogana for our luggage, and, after getting completely wet, we embarked on board the courier boat, with a cabin seven feet long, six feet wide, and six high, into which six of us, having a gentleman from Trieste and his mother added to our number, were crowded, with no beds.... Rain, rain, rain!!! in torrents, cold and dreary through a perfectly flat country.... At ten o 'clock we arrived at a place called Cavanella, where is a locanda upon the canal which should have been open to receive us, but they were all asleep and no calling would rouse them. So we were obliged to go supperless to bed, and such abed! There being no room to spread mattresses for six in the cabin, three dirty mattresses, without sheets or blankets, were laid on the floor of the forward cabin (if it might so be called). This cabin was a hole down into which two or three steps led. We could not stand upright,—indeed, kneeling, our heads touched the top,—and when stretched at full length the tallest of us could touch with his head and feet from side to side. But, it being dreary and damp without and we being sleepy, we considered not the place, nor its inconveniences, nor its little pests which annoyed us all night, nor its vicinity to a magazine of cheese, with which the boat was laden and the odors from which assailed us. We lay down in our clothes and slept; the rain pattering above our heads only causing us to sleep the sounder."
Continuing their leisurely journey in this primitive manner, the rain finally ceasing, but the sky remaining overcast and the weather cold and wintry, they reached Chioggia, and "At 11.30, the towers and spires of Venice were seen at a distance before us rising from the sea." Venice, of course, was a delight to Morse's eye, but his nose was affected quite differently, for he says: "Those that have resided in Venice a long time say it is not an unhealthy place. I cannot believe it, for the odors from the canals cannot but produce illness of some kind. That which is constantly offensive to any of our organs of sense must affect them injuriously."
Several severe thunderstorms broke over the city while he was there, and one was said to be the worst which had been known within the memory of the oldest inhabitant. After describing it he adds: "I was at the Academy. The rain penetrated through the ceiling at the corner of the picture I was copying—'The Miracle of the Slave,' by Tintoret—and threatened injury to it, but happily it escaped."
On June 19, he thus moralizes: "The Piazza of St. Mark is the great place of resort, and on every evening, but especially on Sundays or festas, the arcades and cafes are crowded with elegantly dressed females and their gallants. Chairs are placed in great numbers under the awnings before the cafes. A people that have no homes, who are deprived from policy of that domestic and social intercourse which we enjoy, must have recourse to this empty, heartless enjoyment; an indolent enjoyment, when all their intercourse, too, is in public, surrounded by police agents and soldiers to prevent excess. Hallam, in his 'Middle Ages,' has this just reflection on the condition of this same city when under the Council of Ten: 'But how much more honorable are the wildest excesses of faction than the stillness and moral degradation of servitude.' Quiet is, indeed, obtained here, but at what immense expense! Expense of wealth, although excessive, is nothing compared with the expense of morality and of all intellectual exercise."
On June 23, he witnessed another thunderstorm from the Piazza of St. Mark:—
"The lightning, flashing in the dark clouds that were gathering from the Tyrolese Alps, portended another storm which soon burst over us and hastened the conclusion of the music. The lightning was incessant. I stood at the corner of the piazza and watched the splendid effects of lights and darks, in a moment coming and in a moment gone, on the campanile and church of St. Mark's. It was most sublime. The gilt statue of the angel on the top of the campanile never looked so sublime, seeming to be enveloped in the glory of the vivid light, and, as the electric fluid flashed behind it from cloud to cloud incessantly, it seemed to go and come at the bidding of the angel."
This sounds almost like a prophetic vision, written by the pencil of the man who, in a few years from then, was to make the lightning go and come at his bidding.
"July 4. This anniversary of the day of our national birth found but two Americans in Venice. We met in the evening over a cup of coffee and thought and talked of the happiest of countries. We had no patriotic toasts, but the sentiments of our hearts were—'Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces.' Never on any anniversary of our Independence have I felt so strongly the great reason I have for gratitude in having been born in such a country. When I think of the innumerable blessings we enjoy over every other country in the world, I am constrained to praise God who hath made us to differ, for 'He hath not dealt so with any nation, and as for his judgments, we have not known them.' While pestilence and famine and war surround me here in these devoted countries, I fix my thoughts on one bright spot on earth; truly (if our too ungrateful countrymen would but see it), truly a terrestrial paradise."
This attack of nostalgia was probably largely due to atmospheric conditions, for at least one thunderstorm seems to have been a matter of daily occurrence. This, added to the noisome odors arising from the canals, affected his health, for he complains of feeling more unwell than at any time since he left home. It must, therefore, have been with no feelings of great regret that he packed his belongings and prepared to leave Venice with a companion, Mr. Ferguson, of Natchez, on the 18th of July. His objective point was Paris, but he planned to linger by the way and take a leisurely course through the Italian lake region, Switzerland, and Germany. The notebooks give a detailed but rather dry account of the daily happenings. It was, presumably, Morse's intention to elaborate these, at some future day, into a more entertaining record of his wanderings; but this was never done. I shall, therefore, pass on rapidly, touching but lightly on the incidents of the journey, which were, in the main, without special interest. The route lay through Padua, Vicenza, Verona, and Brescia to Milan. From Vicenza a side trip was made to the watering-place of Recoaro, where a few days were most delightfully spent in the company of the English consul at Venice, Mr. Money, and his family.
"Recoaro, like all watering-places, is beginning to be the resort of the fashionable world. The Grand Duchess of Tuscany is now here, and on Saturday the Vice-Queen of Italy is expected from Milan to visit her aunt, the Grand Duchess.... Towards evening parties of ladies and gentlemen are seen promenading or riding on donkeys along the brows of the mountains and among the trees, and many priests are seen disfiguring the landscape with their tasteless, uncouth dresses; most of them coming, I was informed on the best authority, for the purpose of gambling and dissipating that time of which, from the trifling nature of their duties and the almost countless increase of their numbers, they have so much to spare. Cards have the most fascination for them."
Another incident of the stay at Recoaro is worth recording. Referring to the family of Mr. Money, he says:—
"In the afternoon took an excursion on donkeys with the whole family among the wild and romantic scenery. In returning, while riding by the side of Mr. Money and in conversation with him, my donkey stumbled upon his knees and threw me over his head, without injury to me, but Mrs. Money, who was just before me, seeing the accident, was near fainting and, during the rest of the day, was invisible. I was somewhat surprised at the effect produced on her until I learned that the news of the loss of her son in India by a fall from his horse, which had recently reached her, had rendered her nerves peculiarly sensitive."
Two days later, however, he joined them in another excursion.
"On returning we stopped to take tea at Mrs. Ireland's lodgings, an English lady who is here with her two daughters, accomplished and highly agreeable people. I was told by them that after I left Rome a most diabolical attempt was made to poison the English artists who had made a party to Grotto Ferrata. They were mistaken by the persons who attempted the deed for Germans. They all became exceedingly ill immediately after dinner, and, as the wine was the only thing they had taken there, having brought their food with them, it was suspected and a strong solution of copper was proved to be in it. I was told that Messrs. Gibson and Desoulavy suffered a great deal, the latter being confined to his bed for three weeks. Had I been in Rome it is more than probable I should have been of their party, for I had never visited Grotto Ferrata, and the company of those with whom I had associated would have induced me to join them without a doubt."
Morse enjoyed his stay at Recoaro so much that he was persuaded by his hospitable friends to prolong his visit for a few days longer than he had planned, but, on July 27, he and his friend Mr. Ferguson bade adieu and proceeded on their journey. Verona and Brescia were visited and on July 29 they came to Milan. The cathedral he finds "a most gorgeous building, far exceeding my conception of it"; and of the beautiful street of the Corso Porta Orientale he says: "It is wider than Broadway and as superior as white marble palaces are to red brick houses. There is an opinion prevalent among some of our good citizens that Broadway is not only the longest and widest, but the most superbly built, street in the world. The sooner they are undeceived the better. Broadway is a beautiful street, a very beautiful street, but it is absurd to think that our brick houses of twenty-five feet front, with plain doors and windows, built by contract in two or three months, and holding together long enough to be let, can rival the spacious stone palaces of hundreds of feet in length, with lofty gates and balconied windows, and their foundations deeply laid and slowly constructed to last for ages." This was, of course, when Broadway even below Fourteenth Street, was a residence street.
Attending service in the cathedral on Sunday, and being, as usual, wearied by the monotony and apparent insincerity of it all, he again gives vent to his feelings:—
"How admirably contrived is every part of the structure of this system to take captive the imagination. It is a religion of the imagination; all the arts of the imagination are pressed into its service; architecture, painting, sculpture, music, have lent all their charm to enchant the senses and impose on the understanding by substituting for the solemn truths of God's Word, which are addressed to the understanding, the fictions of poetry and the delusions of feeling. The theatre is a daughter of this prolific mother of abominations, and a child worthy of its dam. The lessons of morality are pretended to be taught by both, and much in the same way, by scenic effect and pantomime, and the fruits are much the same.
"I am sometimes even constrained to doubt the lawfulness of my own art when I perceive its prostitution, were I not fully persuaded that the art itself, when used for its legitimate purposes, is one of the greatest correcters of grossness and promoters of refinement. I have been led, since I have been in Italy, to think much of the propriety of introducing pictures into churches in aid of devotion. I have certainly every inducement to decide in favor of the practice did I consult alone the seeming interest of art. That pictures may and do have the effect upon some rightly to raise the affections, I have no doubt, and, abstractly considered, the practice would not merely be harmless but useful; but, knowing that man is led astray by his imagination more than by any of his other faculties, I consider it so dangerous to his best interests that I had rather sacrifice the interests of the arts, if there is any collision, than run the risk of endangering those compared with which all others are not for a moment to be considered. But more of this another time."
I have introduced here and at other times Morse's strictures on the Roman Catholic religion, and on other subjects, without comment on my part, even when these strictures seem to verge on illiberality. My desire is to present a true portrait of the man, with the shadows as well as the lights duly emphasized, fully realizing that what may appear faults to some, to others will shine out as virtues, and vice versa.
From Milan, Morse and his companion planned to cross the mountains to Geneva, but, having a day or two to spare, they visited the Lake of Como, which, as was to be expected, satisfied the eye of the artist: "It is shut in by mountains on either side, reminding me of the scenery of Lake George, to which its shores are very similar. In the transparency of the water, however, Lake George is its superior, and in islands also, but in all things else the Lake of Como must claim the precedence. The palaces and villas and villages which skirt its shores, the mountains, vine-clad and cultivated to their summits, all give a charm for which we look in vain as yet in our country. The luxuries of art have combined with those of nature in a wonderful degree in this enchanting spot."
On August 4, they left Milan in the diligence for Lago Maggiore, and we learn that: "Our coach is accompanied by gendarmes. We enquired the reason of the conductor, who was in the coach with us. He told us that the road is an unsafe one; that every day there are instances of robbery perpetrated upon those who travel alone."
It would be pleasant to follow the travellers through beautiful Maggiore and up the rugged passes from Italy to Switzerland and thence to Germany and Paris, and to see through the unspoiled eyes of an enthusiast the beauties of that playground of the nations, but it would be but the repetition of an oft-told tale, and I must hasten on, making but a few extracts from the diary. No thrilling adventures were met with, except towards the end, but they enjoyed to the full the grand scenery, the picturesque costumes of the peasants and the curious customs of the different countries through which they passed. The weather was sometimes fine, but more often overcast or rainy, and we find this note on August 15: "How much do a traveller's impressions depend upon the weather, and even on the time of day in which he sees objects. He sees most of the country through which he travels but once, and it is the face which any point assumes at that one moment which is brought to his recollection. If it is under a gloomy atmosphere, it is not possible that he should remember it under other form or aspect."
On Sunday, August 28, he watched the sunrise from the summit of the Rigi under ideal conditions, and, after describing the scene and saying that the rest of the company had gone back to bed, he adds:—
"I had found too little comfort in the wretched thing that had been provided for me in the shape of a bed to desire to return thither, and I also felt too strongly the emotions which the scene I had just witnessed had excited, to wish for their dissipation in troubled dreams.
"If there is a feeling allied to devotion, it is that which such a scene of sublimity as this we have just witnessed inspires, and yet that feeling is not devotion. I am aware that it is but the emotion of taste. It may exist without a particle of true religious feeling, or it may coexist and add strength to it. There are thousands, probably, who have here had their emotion of taste excited without one thought of that Being by whom these wonders were created, one thought of their relation to Him, of their duty to Him, or of admiration at that unmerited goodness which allows them to be witnesses of his majesty and power as exhibited in these wonders of nature. Shut out as I am by circumstances from the privileges of this day in public worship, I have yet on the top of this mountain a place of private worship such as I have not had for some time past. I am alone on the mountain with such a scene spread before me that I must adore, and weak, indeed, must be that faith which, on this day, in such a scene, does not lift the heart from nature up to nature's God."
On August 30, on the road to Zurich, he makes this rather interesting observation: "We noticed in a great many instances that wires were attached to the electric rods and conducted to posts near the houses, when a chime of bells was so arranged as to ring in a highly charged state of the atmosphere (Franklin's experiment)."
Journeying on past Schaffhausen, where the beautiful falls of the Rhine filled him with admiration, he and his companion came to Heidelberg and explored the ruins of the stupendous castle. Here he parted with his travelling companion, Mr. Ferguson, who went on to Frankfort, which city Morse avoided because the French Government had established a strict quarantine against it on account of some epidemic, the nature of which is not disclosed in the notes. He was eager to get to Paris now and wished to avoid all delays.
"September 7. I engaged my passage in the diligence for Mannheim, and, for the first time since I have been in Europe, set out alone.... I learn from the gentleman in the coach that the cordon sanitaire in France is to be enforced with great rigor from the 11th of September; I hope, therefore, to get into France before that date.
"September 10, Saarbruck. We last night took our places for Metz, not knowing, however, or even thinking it probable that we should be able to get there. It was hinted by some that a small douceur would enable us to pass the cordon, but how to be applied I knew not.
"Among our passengers who joined me yesterday was a young German officer who was the only one who could speak French. With him I contrived to converse during the day. We had beds in the same room and, as we were about retiring, he told me, as I understood him, that by giving the keys of my luggage to the coachman in the morning, the business of passing at the douane on the frontier would be facilitated. I assented and told him, as he understood the language better than I, I left it to him to make any arrangements and I would share the expense with him.
"We were called sometime before day and I left my bed very reluctantly. The morning was cloudy and dark and so far favorable to the enterprise we were about to undertake, and of the nature and plan of which I had not the slightest suspicion. We were soon settled in the diligence and left Saarbruck for the frontier. I composed myself to sleep and had just got into a doze when suddenly the coach stopped, and, the door opening, a man touching me said in a low voice—'Descendez, monsieur, descendez.' I asked the reason but got no answer. My companion and I alighted. There was no house near; a bright streak in the east under the heavy black clouds showed that it was just daybreak, and ahead of us in the road a great light from the windows of a long building showed us the place of the hospital of the cordon.
"Our guide, for so he proved to be, taking the knapsack of my companion and a basket of mine, in which I carry my portfolio and maps, struck off to the left into a newly ploughed field, while our carriage proceeded at a quick pace onward again. I asked where we were going, but got no other reply than 'Doucement, monsieur.' It then for the first time flashed across my mind that we had undertaken an unlawful and very hazardous enterprise, that of running by the cordon. I had now, however, no alternative; I must follow, for I knew not what other course to take.
"After passing through ploughed fields and wet grass and grain for some time a small by-path crossed from the main road. Our guide beckoned us back, while he went forward each way to see that all was clear, and then we crossed and proceeded again over ploughed fields and through the clover. It now began to rain which, disagreeable as it was, I did not regret, all things considered. We soon came to another and wider cross-path; we stopped and our guide went forward again in the same cautious manner, stooping down and listening, like an Indian, near the ground. He beckoned us to cross over and again we traversed the fields, passing by the base of a small hill, when, as we softly crept up the side, we saw the form of a sentinel against the light of the sky. Our guide whispered, 'Doucement' again, and we gently retreated, my companion whispering to me, 'Tres dangereux, monsieur, tres desagreable.'
"We took a wider circuit behind some small buildings, and at length came into one of the smaller streets in the outskirts of Forbach. Here were what appeared to me barracks. The caution was given to walk softly and separately (we were all, fortunately, in dark clothes), our guide passing first round the corners, and, having passed the sentry-boxes, in which, with one exception, we saw no person, and in this instance the sentinel did not hail us (but this was in the city), we came to a house at the window of which our guide tapped. A man opened it, and, after some explanation, ascertaining who we were, opened the door and, striking a light, set some wine and bread before us.
"Here we remained for some time to recover breath after our perilous adventure, for, if one of the sentinels had seen us, we should in all probability have been instantly shot. I knew not that we were now entirely free from the danger of being arrested, until we heard our carriage in the street and had ascertained that all our luggage had passed the douane without suspicion. We paid our guide eight francs each, and, taking our seats again in the carriage, drove forward toward Metz."
There were no further adventures, although they trembled with anxiety every time their passports were called for. Morse regretted having been innocently led into this escapade, and would have made a clean breast of it to the police, as he had not been near Frankfort, but he feared to compromise his travelling companion who had come from that city.
On September 12 they finally arrived in Paris.
"How changed are the circumstances of this city since I was last here nearly two years ago. A traitor king has been driven into exile; blood has flowed in its streets, the price of its liberty; our friend, the nation's guest, whom I then saw at his house, with apparently little influence and out of favor with the court, the great Lafayette, is now second only to the king in honor and influence as the head of a powerful party. These and a thousand other kindred reflections, relating also to my own circumstances, crowd upon me at the moment of again entering this famous city."
SEPTEMBER 18, 1831—SEPTEMBER 21, 1832
Takes rooms with Horatio Greenough.—Political talk with Lafayette.— Riots in Paris.—Letters from Greenough.—Bunker Hill Monument.—Letters from Fenimore Cooper.—Cooper's portrait by Verboeckhoven.—European criticisms.—Reminiscences of R.W. Habersham.—Hints of an electric telegraph.—Not remembered by Morse.—Early experiments in photography.— Painting of the Louvre.—Cholera in Paris.—Baron von Humboldt.—Morse presides at 4th of July dinner.—Proposes toast to Lafayette.—Letter to New York "Observer" on Fenimore Cooper.—Also on pride in American citizenship.—Works with Lafayette in behalf of Poles.—Letter from Lafayette.—Morse visits London before sailing for home.—Sits to Leslie for head of Sterne.
The diary was not continued beyond this time and was never seriously resumed, so that we must now depend on letters to and from Morse, on fugitive notes, or on the reminiscences of others for a record of his life.
The first letter which I shall introduce was written from Paris to his brothers on September 18, 1831:—
"I arrived safely in this city on Monday noon in excellent health and spirits. My last letter to you was from Venice just as I was about to leave it, quite debilitated and unwell from application to my painting, but more, I believe, from the climate, from the perpetual sirocco which reigned uninterrupted for weeks. I have not time now to give you an account of my most interesting journey through Lombardy, Switzerland, part of Germany, and through the eastern part of France. I found, on my arrival here, my friend Mr. Greenough, the sculptor, who had come from Florence to model the bust of General Lafayette, and we are in excellent, convenient rooms together, within a few doors of the good General.
"I called yesterday on General Lafayette early in the morning. The servant told me that he was obliged to meet the Polish Committee at an early hour, and feared he could not see me. I sent in my card, however, and the servant returned immediately saying that the General wished to see me in his chamber. I followed him through several rooms and entered the chamber. The General was in dishabille, but, with his characteristic kindness, he ran forward, and, seizing both my hands, expressed with great warmth how glad he was to see me safely returned from Italy, and appearing in such good health. He then told me to be seated, and without any ceremony began familiarly to question me about my travels, etc. The conversation, however, soon turned upon the absorbing topic of the day, the fate of Poland, the news of the fall of Warsaw having just been received by telegraphic dispatch. I asked him if there was now any hope for Poland. He replied: 'Oh, yes! Their cause is not yet desperate; their army is safe; but the conduct of France, and more especially of England, has been most pusillanimous and culpable. Had the English Government shown the least disposition to coalesce in vigorous measures with France for the assistance of the Poles, they would have achieved their independence.'
"The General looks better and younger than ever. There is a healthy freshness of complexion, like that of a young man in full vigor, and his frame and step (allowing for his lameness) are as firm and strong as when he was our nation's guest. I sat with him ten or fifteen minutes and then took my leave, for I felt it a sin to consume any more of the time of a man engaged as he is in great plans of benevolence, and whose every moment is, therefore, invaluable.
"The news of the fall of Warsaw is now agitating Paris to a degree not known since the trial of the ex-ministers. About three o'clock our servant told us that there was fighting at the Palais Royal, and we determined to go as far as we prudently could to see the tumult. We proceeded down the Rue Saint-Honore. There was evident agitation in the multitudes that filled the sidewalks—an apprehension of something to be dreaded. There were groups at the corners; the windows were filled, persons looking out as if in expectation of a procession or of some fete. The shops began to be shut, and every now and then the drum was heard beating to arms. The troops were assembling and bodies of infantry and cavalry were moving through the various streets. During this time no noise was heard from the people—a mysterious silence was observed, but they were moved by the slightest breath. If one walked quicker than the rest, or suddenly stopped, thither the enquiring look and step were directed, and a group instantly assembled. At the Palais Royal a larger crowd had collected and a greater body of troops were marching and countermarching in the Place du Palais Royal. The Palais Royal itself had the interior cleared and all the courts. Everything in this place of perpetual gayety was now desolate; even the fountains had ceased to play, and the seared autumnal leaves of the trees, some already fallen, seemed congruous with the sentiment of the hour. Most of the shops were also shut and the stalls deserted. Still there was no outcry and no disturbance.
"Passing through the Rue Vivienne the same collections of crowds and of troops were seen. Some were reading a police notice just posted on the walls, designed to prevent the riotous assembling of the people, and advising them to retire when the riot act should be read. The notice was read with murmurs and groans, and I had scarcely ascertained its contents before it was torn from the walls with acclamations. As night approached we struck into the Boulevard de la Madeleine. At the corner of this boulevard and the Rue des Capucines is the hotel of General Sebastiani. We found before the gates a great and increasing crowd.
"We took a position on the opposite corner, in such a place as secured a safe retreat in case of need, but allowed us to observe all that passed. Here there was an evident intention in the crowd of doing some violence, nor was it at all doubtful what would be the object of their attack. They seemed to wait only for the darkness and for a leader.
"The sight of such a crowd is fearful, and its movements, as it was swayed by the incidents of the moment, were in the highest degree exciting. A body of troops of the line would pass; the crowd would silently open for their passage and close immediately behind them. A body of the National Guard would succeed, and these would be received with loud cheers and gratulations. A soldier on guard would exercise a little more severity than was, perhaps, necessary for the occasion; yells, and execrations, and hisses would be his reward.
"Night had now set in; heavy, dark clouds, with a misty rain, had made the heavens above more dark and gloomy. A man rushed forward toward the gate, hurling his hat in the air, and followed by the crowd, which suddenly formed into long lines behind him. I now looked for something serious. A body of troops was in line before the gate. At this moment two police officers, on horseback, in citizens' dress, but with a tricolored belt around their bodies, rode through the crowd and up to the gate, and in a moment after I perceived the multitude from one of the streets rushing in wild confusion into the boulevard, and the current of the people setting back in all directions.
"While wondering at the cause of this sudden movement, I heard the trampling of horses, and a large band of carabiniers, with their bright helmets glittering in the light of the lamps, dashed down the street and drew up before the gate. The police officers put themselves at their head and harangued the people. The address was received with groans. The carabiniers drew their swords, orders were given for the charge, and in an instant they dashed down the street, the people dispersing like the mist before the wind. The charge was made down the opposite sidewalk from that where we had placed ourselves, so I kept my station, and, when they returned up the middle of the street to charge on the other side, I crossed over behind them and avoided them."
I have given enough of this letter to show that Morse was still surrounded by dangers of various sorts, and it is also a good pen-picture of the irresponsible actions of a cowardly mob, especially of a Parisian mob.
The letters which passed between Morse and his friends, James Fenimore Cooper, the novelist, and Horatio Greenough, the sculptor, are most interesting, and would of themselves fill a volume. Both Cooper and Greenough wrote fluently and entertainingly, and I shall select a few characteristic sentences from the letters of each, resisting the strong temptation to include the whole correspondence.
Greenough returned to Florence after having roomed with Morse in Paris, and wrote as follows from there:—
As for the commission from Government, I don't speak of it yet. After about a fortnight I shall be calm, I think. Morse, I have made up my mind on one score, namely, that this order shall not be fruitless to the greater men who are now in our rear. They are sucking now and rocking in cradles, but I can hear the pung! pung! puffetty! of their hammers, and I am prophetic, too. We'll see if Yankee land can't muster some ten or a dozen of them in the course of as many years...
You were right, I had heard of the resolution submitted to Congress, etc. Mr. Cooper wrote me about it. I have not much faith in Congress, however. I will confess that, when the spectre Debt has leaned over my pillow of late, and, smiling ghastlily, has asked if she and I were not intended as companions through life, I snap my fingers at her and tell her that Brother Jonathan talks of adopting me, and that he won't have her of his household. "Go to London, you hag," says I, "where they say you're handsome and wholesome; don't grind your long teeth at me, or I'll read the Declaration of Independence to ye." So you see I make uncertain hopes fight certain fears, and borrow from the generous, good-natured Future the motives for content which are denied me by the stinted Present...
What shall I say in answer to your remarks on my opinions? Shall I go all over the ground again? It were useless. That my heart is wrong in a thousand ways I daily feel, but 't is my stubborn head which refuses to comprehend the creation as you comprehend it. That we should be grateful for all we have, I feel—for all we have is given us; nor do I think we have little. For my part I would be blest in mere existence were I not goaded by a wish to make my one talent two; and we have Scripture for the rectitude of such a wish. I don't think the stubborn resistance of the tide of ill-fortune can be called rebellion against Providence. "Help yourself and Heaven will help you," says the proverb....
There hangs before me a print of the Bunker Hill Monument. Pray be judge between me and the building committee of that monument. There you observe that my model was founded solidly, and on each of its square plinths were trophies, or groups, or cannon, as might be thought fit. (No. I.)
Well, they have taken away the foundation, made the shaft start sheer from the dirt like a spear of asparagus, and, instead of an acute angle, by which I hoped to show the work was done and lead off the eye, they have made an obtuse one, producing the broken-chimney-like effect which your eye will not fail to condemn in No. II. Then they have enclosed theirs with a light, elegant fence, a la Parigina, as though the austere forms of Egypt were compatible with the decorative flummery of the boulevards. Let 'em go for dunderheads as they are....
I congratulate you on your sound conscience with regard to the affair that you wot of. As for your remaining free, that's all very well to think during the interregnum, but a man without a true love is a ship without ballast, a one-tined fork, half a pair of scissors, an utter flash in the pan.... So you are going home, my dear Morse, and God knows if ever I shall see you again. Pardon, I pray you, anything of levity which you may have been offended at in me. Believe me it arose from my so rarely finding one to whom I could be natural and give loose without fear of good faith or good nature ever failing. Wherever I am your approbation will be dearer to me than the hurrah of a world. I shall write to glorious Fenimore in a few days. My love to Allston and Dana. God bless you,
These extracts are from different letters, but they show, I think, the charming character of the man and reflect his admiration for Morse. From the letters of James Fenimore Cooper, written while they were both in Europe, I select the two following as characteristic:
July 31, 1832.
My dear Morse,—Here we are at Spa—the famous hard-drinking, dissipated, gambling, intriguing Spa—where so much folly has been committed, so many fortunes squandered, and so many women ruined! How are the mighty fallen! We have just returned from a ramble in the environs, among deserted reception-houses and along silent roads. The country is not unlike Ballston, though less wooded, more cultivated, and perhaps a little more varied.... I have had a great compliment paid me, Master Samuel, and, as it is nearly the only compliment I have received in travelling over Europe, I am the more proud of it. Here are the facts.
You must know there is a great painter in Brussels of the name of Verboeckhoven (which, translated into the vernacular, means a bull and a book baked in an oven!), who is another Paul Potter. He outdoes all other men in drawing cattle, etc., with a suitable landscape. In his way he is truly admirable. Well, sir, this artist did me the favor to call at Brussels with the request that I would let him sketch my face. He came after the horses were ordered, and, knowing the difficulty of the task, I thanked him, but was compelled to refuse. On our arrival at Liege we were told that a messenger from the Governor had been to enquire for us, and I began to bethink me of my sins. There was no great cause for fear, however, for it proved that Mr. Bull-and-book-baked had placed himself in the diligence, come down to Liege (sixty-three miles), and got the Governor to give him notice, by means of my passport, when we came. Of course I sat.
I cannot say the likeness is good, but it has a vastly life-like look and is like all the other pictures you have seen of my chameleon face. Let that be as it will, the compliment is none the less, and, provided the artist does not mean to serve me up as a specimen of American wild beasts, I shall thank him for it. To be followed twelve posts by a first-rate artist, who is in favor with the King, is so unusual that I was curious to know how far our minds were in unison, and so I probed him a little. I found him well skilled in his art, of course, but ignorant on most subjects. As respects our general views of men and things there was scarcely a point in common, for he has few salient qualities, though he is liberal; but his gusto for natural subjects is strong, and his favorite among all my books is "The Prairie," which, you know, is filled with wild beasts. Here the secret was out. That picture of animal nature had so caught his fancy that he followed me sixty miles to paint a sketch.
While this letter of Cooper's was written in lighter vein, the following extracts from one written on August 19 show another side of his character:—
The criticisms of which you speak give me no concern.... The "Heidenmauer" is not equal to the "Bravo," but it is a good book and better than two thirds of Scott's. They may say it is like his if they please; they have said so of every book I have written, even the "Pilot." But the "Heidenmauer" is like and was intended to be like, in order to show how differently a democrat and an aristocrat saw the same thing. As for French criticisms they have never been able to exalt me in my own opinion nor to stir my bile, for they are written with such evident ignorance (I mean of English books) as to be beneath notice. What the deuce do I care whether my books are on their shelves or not? What did I ever get from France or Continental Europe? Neither personal favors nor money. But this they cannot understand, for so conceited is a Frenchman that many of them think that I came to Paris to be paid. Now I never got the difference in the boiling of the pot between New York and Paris in my life. The "Journal des Debats" was snappish with "Water Witch," merve [?] I believe with "Bravo," and let it bark at "Heidenmauer" and be hanged.
No, no more. The humiliation comes from home. It is biting to find that accident has given me a country which has not manliness and pride to maintain its own opinions, while it is overflowing with conceit. But never mind all this. See that you do not decamp before my departure and I'll promise not to throw myself into the Rhine....
I hope the Fourth of July is not breaking out in Habersham's noddle, for I can tell him that was the place most affected during the dinner. Adieu,
Yours as ever, J. FENIMORE COOPER.
The Mr. Habersham here jokingly referred to was R.W. Habersham, of Augusta, Georgia, who in the year 1831 was an art student in the atelier of Baron Gros, and between whom and Morse a friendship sprang up. They roomed together at a time when the cholera was raging in Paris, but, owing to Mr. Habersham's wise insistence that all the occupants of the house should take a teaspoonful of charcoal every morning, all escaped the disease.
Mr. Habersham in after years wrote and sent to Morse some of his reminiscences of that period, and from these I shall quote the following as being of more than ordinary interest:—
"The Louvre was always closed on Monday to clean up the gallery after the popular exhibition of the paintings on Sunday, so that Monday was our day for visits, excursions, etc. On one occasion I was left alone, and two or three times during the week he was absent. This was unusual, but I asked no questions and made no remarks. But on Saturday evening, sitting by our evening lamp, he seemed lost in thought, till suddenly he remarked: 'The mails in our country are too slow; this French telegraph is better, and would do even better in our clear atmosphere than here, where half the time fogs obscure the skies. But this will not be fast enough—the lightning would serve us better.'
"These may not be the exact words, but they convey the sense, and I, laughing, said: 'Aha! I see what you have been after, you have been examining the French system of telegraphing.' He admitted that he had taken advantage of the kind offer of one in authority to do so....
"There was, on one occasion, another reference made to the conveyance of sound under water, and to the length of time taken to communicate the letting in of the water into the Erie Canal by cannon shots to New York, and other means, during which the suggestion of using keys and wires, like the piano, was rejected as requiring too many wires, if other things were available. I recollect also that in our frequent visits to Mr. J. Fenimore Cooper's, in the Rue St. Dominique, these subjects, so interesting to Americans, were often introduced, and that Morse seemed to harp on them, constantly referring to Franklin and Lord Bacon. Now I, while recognizing the intellectual grandeur of both these men, had contracted a small opinion of their moral strength; but Morse would uphold and excuse, or rather deny, the faults attributed. Lord Bacon, especially, he held to have sacrificed himself to serve the queen in her aberrations; while of Franklin, 'the Great American,' recognized by the French, he was particularly proud."
Cooper also remembered some such hints of a telegraph made by Morse at that time, for in "The Sea Lions," on page 161, he says:—
[Footnote 1: The Riverside Press, 1870.]
"We pretend to no knowledge on the subject of the dates of discoveries in the arts and sciences, but well do we remember the earnestness, and single-minded devotion to a laudable purpose, with which our worthy friend first communicated to us his ideas on the subject of using the electric spark by way of a telegraph. It was in Paris and during the winter of 1831-82 and the succeeding spring, and we have a satisfaction in recording this date that others may prove better claims if they can."
Curiously enough, Morse himself could, in after years, never remember having suggested at that time the possibility of using electricity to convey intelligence. He always insisted that the idea first came to him a few months later on his return voyage to America, and in 1849 he wrote to Mr. Cooper saying that he must be mistaken, to which the latter replied, under date of May 18:—
"For the time I still stick to Paris, so does my wife, so does my eldest daughter. You did no more than to throw out the general idea, but I feel quite confident this occurred in Paris. I confess I thought the notion evidently chimerical, and as such spoke of it in my family. I always set you down as a sober-minded, common-sense sort of a fellow, and thought it a high flight for a painter to make to go off on the wings of the lightning. We may be mistaken, but you will remember that the priority of the invention was a question early started, and my impressions were the same much nearer to the time than it is to-day."
That the recollections of his friends were probably clearer than his own on this point is admitted by Morse in the following letter:—
IRVING HOUSE, NEW YORK, September 5, 1849.
My Dear Sir,—I was agreeably surprised this morning in conversing with Professor Renwick to find that he corroborates the fact you have mentioned in your "Sea Lions" respecting the earlier conception of my telegraph by me, than the date I had given, and which goes only so far back in my own recollection as 1832. Professor Renwick insists that immediately after Professor Dana's lectures at the New York Athenaeum, I consulted with him on the subject of the velocity of electricity and in such a way as to indicate to him that I was contriving an electric telegraph. The consultation I remember, but I did not recollect the time. He will depose that it was before I went to Europe, after those lectures; now I went in 1829; this makes it almost certain that the impression you and Mrs. Cooper and your daughter had that I conversed with you on the subject in 1831 after my return from Italy is correct.
If you are still persuaded that this is so, your deposition before the Commission in this city to that fact will render me an incalculable service. I will cheerfully defray your expenses to and from the city if you will meet me here this week or beginning of next.
In haste, but with best respects to Mrs. Cooper and family,
I am, dear sir, as ever your friend and servant, SAML. F. B. MORSE.
J. FENIMORE COOPER, ESQ.
All this is interesting, but, of course, has no direct bearing on the actual date of invention. It is more than probable that Morse did, while he was studying the French semaphores, and at an even earlier date, dream vaguely of the possibility of using electricity for conveying intelligence, and that he gave utterance among his intimates to these dreams; but the practical means of so utilizing this mysterious agent did not take shape in his mind until 1832. An inchoate vision of the possibility of using electricity is far different from an actual plan eventually elaborated into a commercial success.
Another extract from Mr. Habersham's reminiscences, on a totally different subject, will be found interesting: "I have forgot to mention that one day, while in the Rue Surenne, I was studying from my own face reflected in a glass, as is often done by young artists, when I remarked how grand it would be if we could invent a method of fixing the image on the mirror. Professor Morse replied that he had thought of it while a pupil at Yale, and that Professor Silliman (I think) and himself had tried it with a wash of nitrate of silver on a piece of paper, but that, unfortunately, it made the lights dark and the shadows light, but that if they could be reversed, we should have a facsimile like India-ink drawings. Had they thought of using glass, as is now done, the daguerreotype would have been perhaps anticipated—certainly the photograph."
This is particularly interesting because, as I shall note later on, Morse was one of the pioneers in experimenting with the daguerreotype in America.
Among the paintings which Morse executed while he was in Paris was a very ambitious one. This was an interior of one of the galleries in the Louvre with carefully executed miniature copies of some of the most celebrated canvases. Writing of it, and of the dreadful epidemic of cholera, to his brothers on May 6, 1832, he says:—
"My anxiety to finish my picture and to return drives me, I fear, to too great application and too little exercise, and my health has in consequence been so deranged that I have been prevented from the speedy completion of my picture. From nine o'clock until four daily I paint uninterruptedly at the Louvre, and, with the closest application, I shall not be able to finish it before the close of the gallery on the 10th of August. The time each morning before going to the gallery is wholly employed in preparation for the day, and, after the gallery closes at four, dinner and exercise are necessary, so that I have no time for anything else.
"The cholera is raging here, and I can compare the state of mind in each man of us only to that of soldiers in the heat of battle; all the usual securities of life seem to be gone. Apprehension and anxiety make the stoutest hearts quail. Any one feels, when he lays himself down at night, that he will in all probability be attacked before daybreak; for the disease is a pestilence that walketh in darkness, and seizes the greatest number of its victims at the most helpless hour of the night. Fifteen hundred were seized in a day, and fifteen thousand at least have already perished, although the official accounts will not give so many.
"May 14. My picture makes progress and I am sanguine of success if nothing interferes to prevent its completion. I shall take no more commissions here and shall only complete my large picture and a few unfinished works.
"General Lafayette told me a few weeks ago, when I was returning with him in his carriage, that the financial condition of the United States was a subject of great importance, and he wished that I would write you and others, who were known as statistical men, and get your views on the subject. There never was a better time for demonstrating the principles of our free institutions by showing a result favorable to our country."
Among the men of note whom Morse met while he was in Paris was Baron Alexander von Humboldt, the famous traveller and naturalist, who was much attracted towards the artist, and often went to the Louvre to watch him while he was at work, or to wander through the galleries with him, deep in conversation. He was afterwards one of the first to congratulate Morse on the successful exhibition of his telegraph before the French Academy of Science.
As we have already seen, Morse was intensely patriotic. He followed with keen interest the developments in our national progress as they unrolled themselves before his eyes, and when the occasion offered he took active part in furthering what he considered the right and in vigorously denouncing the wrong. He was never blind to our national or party failings, but held the mirror up before his countrymen's eyes with steady hand, and yet he was prouder of being an American than of anything else, and, as I have had occasion to remark before, his ruling passion was an intense desire to accomplish some great good for his beloved country, to raise her in the estimation of the rest of the world.
On the 4th of July, 1832, he was called on to preside at the banquet given by the Americans resident in Paris, with Mr. Cooper as vice-president. General Lafayette was the guest of honor, and the American Minister Hon. William C. Rives, G.W. Haven, and many others were present.
Morse, in proposing the toast to General Lafayette, spoke as follows:—
"I cannot propose the next toast, gentlemen, so intimately connected with the last, without adverting to the distinguished honor and pleasure we this day enjoy above the thousands, and I may say hundreds of thousands, of our countrymen who are at this moment celebrating this great national festival—the honor and pleasure of having at our board our venerable guest on my right hand, the hero whom two worlds claim as their own. Yes, gentlemen, he belongs to America as well as to Europe. He is our fellow citizen, and the universal voice of our country would cry out against us did we not manifest our nation's interest in his person and character.
"With the mazes of European politics we have nothing to do; to changing schemes of good or bad government we cannot make ourselves a party; with the success or defeat of this or that faction we can have no sympathy; but with the great principles of rational liberty, of civil and religious liberty, those principles for which our guest fought by the side of our fathers, and which he has steadily maintained for a long life, 'through good report and evil report,' we do sympathize. We should not be Americans if we did not sympathize with them, nor can we compromise one of these principles and preserve our self-respect as loyal American citizens. They are the principles of order and good government, of obedience to law; the principles which, under Providence, have made our country unparalleled in prosperity; principles which rest, not in visionary theory, but are made palpable by the sure test of experiment and time.
"But, gentlemen, we honor our guest as the stanch, undeviating defender of these principles, of our principles, of American principles. Has he ever deserted them? Has he ever been known to waver? Gentlemen, there are some men, some, too, who would wish to direct public opinion, who are like the buoys upon tide-water. They float up and down as the current sets this way or that. If you ask at an emergency where they are, we cannot tell you; we must first consult the almanac; we must know the quarter of the moon, the way of the wind, the time of the tide, and then we may guess where you will find them.
"But, gentlemen, our guest is not of this fickle class. He is a tower amid the waters, his foundation is upon a rock, he moves not with the ebb and flow of the stream. The storm may gather, the waters may rise and even dash above his head, or they may subside at his feet, still he stands unmoved. We know his site and his bearings, and with the fullest confidence we point to where he stood six-and-fifty years ago. He stands there now. The winds have swept by him, the waves have dashed around him, the snows of winter have lighted upon him, but still he is there.
"I ask you, therefore, gentlemen, to drink with me in honor of General Lafayette."
Portions of many of Morse's letters to his brothers were published in the New York "Observer," owned and edited by them. Part of the following letter was so published, I believe, but, at Mr. Cooper's request, the sentences referring to his personal sentiments were omitted. There can be no harm, however, in giving them publicity at this late day.
The letter was written on July 18, 1832, and begins by gently chiding his brothers for not having written to him for nearly four months, and he concludes this part by saying, "But what is past can't be helped. I am glad, exceedingly glad, to hear of your prosperity and hope it may be continued to you." And then he says:—
"I am diligently occupied every moment of my time at the Louvre finishing the great labor which I have there undertaken. I say 'finishing,' I mean that part of it which can only be completed there, namely, the copies of the pictures. All the rest I hope to do at home in New York, such as the frames of the pictures, the figures, etc. It is a great labor, but it will be a splendid and valuable work. It excites a great deal of attention from strangers and the French artists. I have many compliments upon it, and I am sure it is the most correct one of its kind ever painted, for every one says I have caught the style of each of the masters. Cooper is delighted with it and I think he will own it. He is with me two or three hours at the gallery (the hours of his relaxation) every day as regularly as the day comes. I spend almost every evening at his house in his fine family.
"Cooper is very little understood, I believe, by our good people. He has a bold, original, independent mind, thoroughly American. He loves his country and her principles most ardently; he knows the hollowness of all the despotic systems of Europe, and especially is he thoroughly conversant with the heartless, false, selfish system of Great Britain; the perfect antipodes of our own. He fearlessly supports American principles in the face of all Europe, and braves the obloquy and intrigues against him of all the European powers. I say all the European powers, for Cooper is more read, and, therefore, more feared, than any American,—yes, more than any European with the exception, possibly, of Scott. His works are translated into all the languages of the Continent; editions of every work he publishes are printed in, I think, more than thirty different cities, and all this without any pains on his part. He deals, I believe, with only one publisher in Paris and one in London. He never asks what effect any of his sentiments will have upon the sale of his works; the only question he asks is—'Are they just and true?'
"I know of no man, short of a true Christian, who is so truly guided by high principles as Cooper. He is not a religious man (I wish from my heart he was), yet he is theoretically orthodox, a great respecter of religion and religious men, a man of unblemished moral character. He is courted by the greatest and the most aristocratic, yet he never compromises the dignity of an American citizen, which he contends is the highest distinction a man can have in Europe, and there is not a doubt but he commands the respect of the exclusives here in a tenfold degree more than those who truckle and cringe to European opinions and customs. They love an independent man and know enough of their own heartless system to respect a real freeman. I admire exceedingly his proud assertion of the rank of an American (I speak from a political point of view), for I know no reason why an American should not take rank, and assert it, too, above any of the artificial distinctions that Europe has made. We have no aristocratic grades, no titles of nobility, no ribbons, and garters, and crosses, and other gewgaws that please the great babies of Europe; are we, therefore, to take rank below or above them? I say above them, and I hope that every American who comes abroad will feel that he is bound, for his country's sake, to take that stand. I don't mean ostentatiously, or offensively, or obtrusively, but he ought to have an American self-respect.
"There can be no condescension to an American. An American gentleman is equal to any title or rank in Europe, kings and emperors not excepted. Why is he not? By what law are we bound to consider ourselves inferior because we have stamped folly upon the artificial and unjust grades of European systems, upon these antiquated remnants of feudal barbarism?
"Cooper sees and feels the absurdity of these distinctions, and he asserts his American rank and maintains it, too, I believe, from a pure patriotism. Such a man deserves the support and respect of his countrymen, and I have no doubt he has them.... It is high time we should assume a more American tone while Europe is leaving no stone unturned to vilify and traduce us, because the rotten despotisms of Europe fear our example and hate us. You are not aware, perhaps, that the Trollope system is political altogether. You think that, because we know the grossness of her libels and despise her abuse, England and Europe do the same. You are mistaken; they wish to know no good of us. Mrs. Trollope's book is more popular in England (and that, too, among a class who you fain would think know better) than any book of travels ever published in America. It is also translating into French, and will be puffed and extolled by France, who is just entering upon the system of vilification of America and her institutions, that England has been pursuing ever since we as colonies resisted her oppressive measures. Tory England, aristocratic England, is the same now towards us as she was then, and Tory France, aristocratic France, follows in her steps. We may deceive ourselves on this point by knowing the kindly feeling manifested by religious and benevolent men towards each other in both countries, but we shall be wanting in our usual Yankee penetration if the good feeling of these excellent and pious men shall lead us to think that their governments, or even the mass of their population, are actuated by the same kindly regard. No, they hate us, cordially hate us. We should not disguise the truth, and I will venture to say that no genuine American, one who loves his country and her distinctive principles, can live abroad in any of the countries of Europe, and not be thoroughly convinced that Europe, as it is, and America, as it is, can have no feeling of cordiality for each other.
[Footnote 1: This refers to Mrs. Frances Trollope's book Domestic Manners of the Americans, which created quite a stir in its day.]
"America is the stronghold of the popular principle, Europe of the despotic. These cannot unite; there can be, at present, no sympathy.... We need not quarrel with Europe, but we must keep ourselves aloof and suspect all her manoeuvres. She has no good will towards us and we must not be duped by her soft speeches and fair words, on the one side, nor by her contemptible detraction on the other."
Morse found time, in spite of his absorption in his artistic work, to interest himself and others in behalf of the Poles who had unsuccessfully struggled to maintain their independence as a nation. He was an active member of a committee organized to extend help to them, and this committee was instrumental in obtaining the release from imprisonment in Berlin of Dr. S.G. Howe, who "had been entrusted with twenty thousand francs for the relief of the distressed Poles." In this work he was closely associated with General Lafayette, already his friend, and their high regard for each other was further strengthened and resulted in an interchange of many letters. Some of these were given away by Morse to friends desirous of possessing autographs of the illustrious Lafayette; others are still among his papers, and some of these I shall introduce in their proper chronological order. The following one was written on September 27, 1832, from La Grange:—
My Dear Sir,—I am sorry to see you will not take Paris and La Grange in your way to Havre, unless you were to wait for the packet of the 10th in company with General Cadwalader, Commodore Biddle, and those young, amiable Philadelphians who contemplate sailing on that day. But if you persist to go by the next packet, I beg you here to receive my best wishes and those of my family for your happy voyage.
Upon you, my dear sir, I much depend to give our friends in the United States a proper explanation of the state of things in Europe. You have been very attentive to what has passed since the Revolution of 1830. Much has been obtained here and in other parts of Europe in this whirlwind of a week. Further consequences here and in other countries—Great Britain and Ireland included—will be the certain result, though they have been mauled and betrayed where they ought to have received encouragement. But it will not be so short and so cheap as we had a right to anticipate it might be. I think it useful, on both sides of the water, to dispel the cloud which ignorance or design may throw over the real state of European and French politics.
In the mean while I believe it to be the duty of every American returned home to let his fellow citizens know what wretched handle is made of the violent collisions, threats of a separation, and reciprocal abuse, to injure the character and question the stability of republican institutions. I too much depend upon the patriotism and good sense of the several parties in the United States to be afraid that those dissensions may terminate in a final dissolution of the Union; and should such an event be destined in future to take place, deprecated as it has been by the best wishes of the departed founders of the Revolution,—Washington at their head,—it ought at least, in charity, not to take place before the not remote period when every one of those who have fought and bled in the cause shall have joined their contemporaries.
What is to be said of Poland and the situation of her heroic, unhappy sons, you well know, having been a constant and zealous member of our committee.
You know what sort of mental perturbation, among the ignorant part of every European nation, has accompanied the visit of the cholera in Russia, Germany, Hungary, and several parts of Great Britain and France— suspicions of poison, prejudices against the politicians, and so forth. I would tike to know whether the population of the United States has been quite free of these aberrations, as it would be an additional argument in behalf of republican institutions and superior civilization resulting from them.
Most truly and affectionately,
Your friend, LAFAYETTE
As we see from the beginning of this letter, Morse had now determined to return home. He had executed all the commissions for copies which had been given to him, and his ambitious painting of the interior of the Louvre was so far finished that he could complete it at home. He sailed from Havre on the 1st of October in the packetship Sully. The name of this ship has now become historic, and a chance conversation in mid-ocean was destined to mark an epoch in human evolution. Before sailing, however, he made a flying trip to England, and he writes to his brothers from London on September 21:—
"Here I am once more in England and on the wing home. I shall probably sail from Havre in the packet of October 1 (the Sully), and I shall leave London for Southampton and Havre on the 26th inst., to be prepared for sailing.
"I am visiting old friends and renewing old associations in London. Twenty years make a vast difference as well in the aspect of this great city as in the faces of old acquaintances. London may be said literally to have gone into the country. Where I once was accustomed to walk in the fields, so far out of town as even to shoot at a target against the trees with impunity, now there are spacious streets and splendid houses and gardens.
"I spend a good deal of my spare time with Leslie. He is the same amiable, intelligent, unassuming gentleman that I left in 1815. He is painting a little picture—'Sterne recovering his Manuscripts from the Curls of his Hostess at Lyons.' I have been sitting to him for the head of Sterne, whom he thinks I resemble very strongly. At any rate, he has made no alteration in the character of the face from the one he had drawn from Sterne's portrait, and has simply attended to the expression.