Part 3 out of 7
guard you against any acquaintance with that description of people, as it
will, sooner or later, have a most corrupting effect on the morals, and,
as a man is known by the company he keeps, I should be very sorry to have
you enrolled with such society, however pure you may believe his morals
"Your father and myself were eleven days in company with him in coming
from Charleston, South Carolina. His behavior was quite unexceptionable
then, but he is in a situation to ruin the best morals. I hope you do not
attend the theatre, as I have ever considered it a most bewitching
amusement, and ruinous both to soul and body. I would therefore guard you
His brother Richard joined the rest of the family in urging the young and
impulsive artist to leave politics alone, as we learn from the following
words which begin a letter of November 27, 1813:--
MY DEAR BROTHER,--Your letters by the Neptune, and also the medal, gave
us great pleasure. The politics, however, were very disagreeable and
occupied no inconsiderable part of your letters. Your kind wishes for
_our_ reformation we must beg leave to retort by hoping for _your_ speedy
There are gaps in the correspondence of this period. Many of the letters
from both sides of the Atlantic seem never to have reached their
destination, owing to the disturbed state of affairs arising from the war
between the two countries.
The young artist had gone in October, 1813, to Bristol, at the earnest
solicitation of friends in that city, and seems to have spent a pleasant
and profitable five months there, painting a number of portraits. He
refers to letters written from Bristol, but they were either never
received or not preserved. Of other letters I have only fragments, and
some that are quoted by Mr. Prime in his biography have vanished utterly.
Still, from what remains, we can glean a fairly good idea of the life of
the young man at that period. His parents continually begged him to leave
politics alone and to tell them more of his artistic life, of his visits
to interesting places, and of his intercourse with the literary and
artistic celebrities of the day.
We, too, must regret that he did not write more fully on these subjects,
for there must have been a mine of interesting material at his disposal.
We also learn that there seems to have been a strange fatality attached
to the little statuette of the "Dying Hercules," for, although he packed
it carefully and sent it to Liverpool on June 18, 1813, to be forwarded
to his parents, it never reached them until over two years later. The
superstitious will say that the date of sending may have had something to
do with this.
Up to this time everything, except the attitude of England towards
America, had been _couleur de rose_ to the enthusiastic young artist. He
was making rapid progress in his studies and was receiving the encomiums
of his fellow artists and of the critics. His parents were denying
themselves in order to provide the means for his support, and, while he
was duly appreciative of their goodness, he could not help taking it more
or less as a matter of course. He was optimistic with regard to the
future, falling into the common error of gifted young artists that,
because of their artistic success, financial success must of necessity
follow. He had yet to be proved in the school of adversity, and he had
not long to wait. But I shall let the letters tell the story better than
I can. The last letter from him to his parents from which I have quoted
was written on August 12 and 26, 1813.
On March 12, 1814, he writes from London after his return from Bristol:--
"There is a great drawback to my writing long letters to you; I mean the
uncertainty of their reaching you.
"Mama's long letter gave me particular pleasure. Some of her
observations, however, made me smile, especially the reasons she assigns
for the contempt and hatred of England for America. First, I am inclined
to doubt the fact of there being so many _infidel_ Americans in the
country; second, if there were, there are not so many _religious_ people
here who would take the pains to enquire whether they had religion or
not; and third, it is not by seeing the individual Americans that an
opinion unfavorable to us is prevalent in England....
"With respect to my religious sentiments, they are unshaken; their
influence, I hope, will always guide me through life. I hear various
preachings on Sundays, sometimes Mr. Burder, but most commonly the Church
of England clergy, as a church is in my neighborhood and Mr. B.'s three
miles distant. I most commonly heard Dr. Biddulph, of St. James's Church,
a most excellent, orthodox, evangelical man. I was on the point many
times of going to hear Mr. Lowell, who is one of the dissenting clergymen
of Bristol, but, as the weather proved very unfavorable, uncommonly so
every Sunday I was there, and I was at a great distance from his church,
I was disappointed. I shall endeavor to hear him preach when I go back to
This was in reply to many long exhortations in his parents' letters, and
especially in his mother's, couched in the extravagant language of the
very pious of those days, to seek first the welfare of his "never-dying
"I have returned from Bristol to attend the exhibitions and to endeavor
to get a picture into Somerset House. My stay in Bristol was very
pleasant, indeed, as well as profitable. I was there five months and, in
May, shall probably go again and stay all summer. I was getting into good
business in the portrait way there, and, if I return, shall be enabled,
probably, to support myself as long as I stay in England.
"The attention shown me by Mr. Harman Visger and family, whom I have
mentioned in a former letter, I shall never forget. He is a rich
merchant, an American (cousin to Captain Visscher, my fellow passenger,
by whom I was introduced to him). He has a family of seven children. I
lived within a few doors of him, and was in and out of his house ever
Four pages of this letter are, unfortunately, missing. It begins again
"... prevented by illness from writing you before.
"I shall endeavor to support myself, if not, necessity will compel me to
return home an unfinished painter; it depends altogether on
circumstances. I may get a good run of portraits or I may not; it depends
so much on the whim of the public; if they should happen to fancy my
pictures, I shall succeed; if not, why, I shall not succeed. I am,
however, encouraged to hope....
"If I am prohibited from writing or thinking of politics, I hope my
brothers will not be so ungenerous as to give me any....
"Mr. Allston's large picture is now exhibiting in the British Gallery. It
has excited a great deal of curiosity and he has obtained a wonderful
share of praise for it.... The picture is very deservedly ranked among
the highest productions of art, either in ancient or modern times. It is
really a pleasant consideration that the palm of painting still rests
with America, and is, in all probability, destined to remain with us. All
we wish is a taste in the country and a little more wealth.... In order
to create a taste, however, pictures, first-rate pictures, must be
introduced into the country, for taste is only acquired by a close study
of the merits of the old masters. In Philadelphia I am happy to find they
have successfully begun. I wish Americans would unite in the thing, throw
aside local prejudices and give their support to _one_ institution. Let
it be in Philadelphia, since it is so happily begun there, and let every
American feel a pride in supporting that institution; let it be a
national not a city institution. Then might the arts be so encouraged
that Americans might remain at home and not, as at present, be under the
painful necessity of exiling themselves from their country and their
"This will come to pass in the course of time, but not in my day, I fear,
unless there is more exertion made to forward the arts than at
In this he proved a true prophet, and, as we shall see later, his
exertions were a potent factor in establishing the fine arts on a firm
basis in New York.
"I am in very good health and I hope I feel grateful for it. I have not
been ill for two days together since I have been in England. I am,
however, of the _walking-stick_ order, and think I am thinner than I was
at home. They all tell me so. I'm not so good-looking either, I am told;
I have lost my color, grown more sallow, and have a face approaching to
the hatchet class; but none of these things concern me; if I can paint
good-looking, plump ladies and gentlemen, I shall feel satisfied....
"We have had a dreadfully severe winter here in England, such as has not
been known for twenty-two years. When I came from Bristol the snow was up
on each side of the road as high as the top of the coach in many places,
especially on Marlborough Down and Hounslow Heath."
His friend Mr. Visger thus writes to him from Bristol on April 1, 1814:--
"It gave me pleasure to learn that Mr. Leslie sold his picture of Saul,
etc., at so good a price. I hope it will stimulate a friend of his to use
his best exertions and time to endeavor even to excel the 'Witch of
Endor.' I think I perceive a few symptoms of amendment in him, and the
request of his father that he must support himself is, in the opinion of
his friends here, the best thing that could have befallen him. He will
now have the pleasure to taste the sweets of his own labor, and I hope
will, in reality, know what true independence is. Let him not despair and
he will certainly succeed.
"Excuse my having taken up so much of your time in reading what I have
written about Mr. Leslie's friend; I hope it will not make the pencil
work less smoothly.
"It gave us all great pleasure to hear that Mr. Allston's 'Dead and Alive
Man' got the prize. It would be a great addition to our pleasure to hear
that those encouragers of the fine arts have offered him fifteen hundred
or two thousand guineas for it....
"There is an old lady waiting your return to have her portrait painted.
Bangley says one or two more are enquiring for Mr. Morse.
"You seem to have forgotten your friend in Stapleton prison. Did you not
succeed in obtaining his release?"
This refers to a certain Mr. Benjamin Burritt, an American prisoner of
war. Morse used every effort, through his friend Henry Thornton, to
secure the release of Mr. Burritt. On December 30, 1813, he wrote to Mr.
Thornton from Bristol:--
RESPECTED SIR,--I take the liberty of addressing you in behalf of an
American prisoner of war now in the Stapleton depot, and I address you,
sir, under the conviction that a petition in the cause of humanity will
not be considered by you as obtrusive.
The prisoner I allude to is a gentleman of the name of Burritt, a native
of New Haven, in the State of Connecticut; his connections are of the
highest respectability in that city, which is notorious for its adherence
to Federal principles. His friends and relatives are among my father's
friends, and, although I was not, until now, personally acquainted with
him, yet his face is familiar to me, and many of his relatives were my
particular friends while I was receiving my education at Yale College in
New Haven. From that college he was graduated in the year ----. A
classmate of his was the Reverend Mr. Stuart, who is one of the
professors of the Andover Theological Institution, and of whom, I think,
my father has spoken in some of his letters to Mr. Wilberforce.
Mr. Burritt, after he left college, applied himself to study, so much so
as to injure his health, and, by the advice of his physicians, he took to
the sea as the only remedy left for him. This had the desired effect, and
he was restored to health in a considerable degree.
Upon the breaking out of the war with this country, all the American
coasting trade being destroyed, he took a situation as second mate in the
schooner Revenge, bound to France, and was captured on the 10th of May,
Since that time he has been a prisoner, and, from the enclosed
certificates, you will ascertain what has been his conduct. He is a man
of excellent religious principles, and, I firmly believe, of the
strictest integrity. So well assured am I of this that, in case it should
be required, _I will hold myself bound to answer for him in my own
His health is suffering by his confinement, and the unprincipled society,
which he is obliged to endure, is peculiarly disagreeable to a man of his
My object in stating these particulars to you, sir, is (if possible and
consistent with the laws of the country), to obtain for him, through your
influence, his liberty on his parole of honor. By so doing you will
probably be the means of preserving the life of a good man, and will lay
his friends, my father, and myself under the greatest obligations.
Trusting to your goodness to pardon this intrusion upon your time, I am,
sir, with the highest consideration,
Your most humble, obedient servant,
SAMUEL F.B. MORSE.
To this Mr. Thornton replied:--
DEAR SIR,--You will perceive by the enclosed that there is, unhappily, no
prospect of our effecting our wishes in respect to your poor friend at
Bristol. I shall be glad to know whether you have had any success in
obtaining a passport for Dr. Cushing.
I am, dear sir, yours, etc.
The enclosure referred to by Mr. Thornton was the following letter
addressed to him by Lord Melville:--
SIR,--Mr. Hay having communicated to me a letter which he received from
you on the subject of Benjamin Burritt, an American prisoner of war in
the depot at Stapleton, I regret much that, after consulting on this case
with Sir Rupert George, and ascertaining the usual course of procedure in
similar instances, I cannot discover any circumstances that would justify
a departure from the rules observed toward other prisoners of the same
There can be no question that his case is a hard one, but I am afraid
that it is inseparable from a state of war. It is not only not a solitary
instance among the French and American prisoners, but, unless we were
prepared to adopt the system of releasing all others of the same
description, we should find that the number who might justly complain of
undue partiality to this man would be very considerable.
I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient and very humble servant,
This was a great disappointment to Morse, who had set his heart on being
the means of securing the liberty of this unfortunate man. He was
compelled to bow to the inevitable, however, and after this he did what
he could to make the unhappy situation of the prisoner more bearable by
extending to him financial assistance, although he had but little to
spare at that time himself, and could but ill afford the luxury of
Great events were occurring on the Continent at this time, and it is
interesting to note how the intelligence of them was received in England
by an enthusiastic student, not only of the fine arts, but of the
humanities, who felt that, in this case, his sympathies and those of his
family were in accord:--
April 6, 1814.
MY DEAR PARENTS,--I write in much haste, but it is to inform you of a
most glorious event, no less than the capture of Paris, by the Allies.
They entered it last Thursday, and you may conceive the sensations of the
people of England on the occasion. As the cartel is the first vessel
which will arrive in America to carry the news, I hope I shall have the
great satisfaction of hearing that I am the first who shall inform you of
this great event; the particulars you will see nearly as soon as this.
I congratulate you and the rest of the good people of the world on the
occasion. _Despotism_ and _Usurpation_ are fallen, never, I hope, to rise
again. But what gives me the greatest pleasure in the contemplation of
this occurrence is the spirit of religion and, consequently, of humanity
which has constantly marked the conduct of the Allies. Their moderation
through all their unparallelled successes cannot be too much extolled;
they merit the grateful remembrance of posterity, who will bless them as
the restorers of a blessing but little enjoyed by the greater part of
mankind for centuries. I mean the inestimable blessing of _Peace_.
But I must cut short my feelings on the subject; were I to give them
scope they would fill quires; they are as ardent as yours possibly can
be. Suffice it to say that I see the hand of Providence so strongly in it
that I think an infidel must be converted by it, and I hope I feel as a
Christian should on such an occasion.
I am well, in excellent spirits and shall use my utmost endeavors to
support myself, for now more than ever is it necessary for me to stay in
Europe. Peace is inevitable, and the easy access to the Continent and the
fine works of art there render it doubly important that I should improve
them to my utmost.
I cannot ask more of my parents than they have done for me, but the
struggle will be hard for me to get along and improve myself at the same
time. Portraits are the only things which can support me at present, but
it is insipid, indeed, for one who wishes to be at the head of the first
branch of the art, to be stopped halfway, and be obliged to struggle with
the difficulty of maintaining himself, in addition to the other
difficulties attendant on the profession.
But it is impossible to place this in a clear light in a letter. I wish I
could talk with you on the subject, and I could in a short time make it
clear to you. I cannot ask it of you and I do not till I try what I can
do. You have already done more than I deserved and it would be
ingratitude in me to request more of you, and I do not; only I say these
things that you may not expect so much from me in the way of improvement
as you may have been led to suppose.
Morse seems to have made an excursion into dramatic literature at about
this time, as the following draft of a letter, without date, but
evidently written to the celebrated actor Charles Mathews, will
Not having the honor of a personal acquaintance with you, I have taken
the liberty of enclosing to you a farce which, if, on perusal, you should
think worthy of the stage, I beg you to accept, to be performed, if
consistent with your plans, on the night appointed for your benefit.
If I should be so much favored as to obtain your good opinion of it, the
approbation alone of Mr. Mathews will be a sufficient reward for the task
of writing it.
The pleasure which I have so often received from you in the exercise of
your comic powers would alone prompt me to make some return which might
show you, at least, that I can be grateful to those who have at any time
afforded me pleasure.
With respect to your accepting or not accepting it, I wish you to act
your pleasure entirely. If you think it will be of benefit to you by
drawing a full house, or in any other way, it is perfectly at your
service. If you think it will not succeed, will you have the goodness to
enclose it under cover and direct to Mr. T.G.S., artist, 82 Great
Titchfield Street; and I assure you beforehand that you need be under no
apprehension of giving me mortification by refusing it. It would only
convince me that I had not dramatic talents, and would serve, perhaps, to
increase my ardor in the pursuit of my professional studies. If, however,
it should meet with your approbation and you should wish to see me on the
subject, a line directed as above enclosing your address shall receive
I am as yet undecided what shall be its name. The character of Oxyd I had
designed for you. The farce is a first attempt and has received the
approbation, not only of my theatrical friends generally, but of some
confessed critics by whom it has been commended.
With sentiments of respect and esteem I remain, Your most obedient humble
As no further mention of this play is made I fear that the great Charles
Mathews did not find it available. There is also no trace of the play
itself among the papers, which is rather to be regretted. We can only
surmise that Morse came to the conclusion (very wisely) that he had no
"dramatic talents," and that he turned to the pursuit of his professional
studies with increased ardor.
MAY 2, 1814--OCTOBER 11, 1814
Allston writes encouragingly to the parents.--Morse unwilling to be mere
portrait-painter.--Ambitious to stand at the head of his profession.--
Desires patronage from wealthy friends.--Delay in the mails.--Account of
_entree_ of Louis XVIII into London.--The Prince Regent.--Indignation at
acts of English.--His parents relieved at hearing from him after seven
months' silence.--No hope of patronage from America.--His brothers.--
Account of fetes.--Emperor Alexander, King of Prussia, Bluecher, Platoff.
--Wishes to go to Paris.--Letter from M. Van Schaick about battle of Lake
Erie.--Disgusted with England.
Morse had now spent nearly three years in England. He was maturing
rapidly in every way, and what his master thought of him is shown in this
extract from a letter of Washington Allston to the anxious parent at
"With regard to the progress which your son has made, I have the pleasure
to say that it is unusually great for the time he has been studying, and
indeed such as to make me proud of him as a pupil and to give every
promise of future eminence....
"Should he be obliged to return _now_ to America, I much fear that all
which he has acquired would be rendered abortive. It is true he could
there paint very good portraits, but I should grieve to hear at any
future period that, on the foundation now laid, he shall have been able
to raise no higher superstructure than the fame of a portrait-painter. I
do not intend here any disrespect to portrait-painting; I know it
requires no common talent to excel in it....
"In addition to this _professional report_ I have the sincere
satisfaction to give my testimony to his conduct as a man, which is such
as to render him still worthy of being affectionately remembered by his
moral and religious friends in America. This is saying a great deal for a
young man of two-and-twenty in London, but is not more than justice
requires me to say of him."
On May 2, 1814, Morse writes home:--
"You ask if you are to expect me the next summer. This leads me to a
little enlargement on the peculiar circumstances in which I am now
placed. Mr. Allston's letter by the same cartel will convince you that
industry and application have not been wanting on my part, that I have
made greater progress than young men generally, etc., etc., and of how
great importance it is to me to remain in Europe for some time yet to
come. Indeed I feel it so much so myself that I shall endeavor to stay at
all risks. If I find that I cannot support myself, that I am contracting
debts which I have no prospect of paying, I shall then return home and
settle down into a mere portrait-painter for some time, till I can obtain
sufficient to return to Europe again; for I cannot be happy unless I am
pursuing the intellectual branch of the art. Portraits have none of it;
landscape has some of it, but history has it wholly. I am certain you
would not be satisfied to see me sit down quietly, spending my time in
painting portraits, throwing away the talents which Heaven has given me
for the higher branches of art, and devoting my time only to the
"I need not tell you what a difficult profession I have undertaken. It
has difficulties in itself which are sufficient to deter any man who has
not firmness enough to go through with it at all hazards, without meeting
with any obstacles aside from it. The more I study it, the more I am
enchanted with it; and the greater my progress, the more am I struck with
its beauties, and the perseverance of those who have dared to pursue it
through the thousands of natural hindrances with which the art abounds.
"I never can feel too grateful to my parents for having assisted me thus
far in my profession. They have done more than I had any right to expect;
they have conducted themselves with a liberality towards me, both in
respect to money and to countenancing me in the pursuit of one of the
noblest of professions, which has not many equals in this country. I
cannot ask of them more; it would be ingratitude.
"I am now in the midst of my studies when the great works of ancient art
are of the utmost service to me. Political events have just thrown open
the whole Continent; the whole world will now leave war and bend their
attention to the cultivation of the arts of peace. A golden age is in
prospect, and art is probably destined to again revive as in the
"The Americans at present stand unrivalled, and it is my great ambition
(and it is certainly a commendable one) to stand among the first. My
country has the most prominent place in my thoughts. How shall I raise
her name, how can I be of service in refuting the calumny, so
industriously spread against her, that she has produced no men of genius?
It is this more than anything (aside from painting) that inspires me with
a desire to excel in my art. It arouses my indignation and gives me
tenfold energy in the pursuit of my studies. I should like to be the
greatest painter _purely out of revenge_.
"But what a damper is thrown upon my enthusiasm when I find that, the
moment when all the treasures of art are before me, just within my reach;
that advantages to the artist were never greater than now; Paris with all
its splendid depository of the greatest works but a day or two's journey
from me, and open to my free inspection,--what a damper, I say, is it to
find that my three years' allowance is just expired; that while all my
contemporary students and companions are revelling in these enjoyments,
and rapidly advancing in their noble studies, they are leaving me behind,
either to return to my country, or, by painting portraits in Bristol,
just to be able to live through the year. The thought makes me
melancholy, and, for the first time since I left home, have I had one of
my desponding fits. I have got over it now, for I would not write to you
in that mood for the world. My object in stating this is to request
patronage from some rich individual or individuals for a year or two
longer at the rate of L250 per year. This to be advanced to me, and, if
required, to be returned in money as soon as I shall be able, or by
pictures to the amount when I have completed my studies.... If Uncle
Salisbury or Miss Russell could do it, it would be much more grateful to
me than from any others....
"The box containing my plaster cast I found, on enquiry, is still at
Liverpool where it has been, to my great disappointment, now nearly a
year. I have given orders to have it sent by the first opportunity. Mr.
Wilder will tell you that he came near taking out my great picture of the
Hercules to you. It seems as though it is destined that nothing of mine
shall reach you. I packed it up at a moment's warning and sent it to
Liverpool to go by the cartel, and I found it arrived the day after she
had sailed. I hope it will not be long before both the boxes will have an
opportunity of reaching you.
"I am exceedingly sorry you have forgotten a passage in one of my letters
where I wished you not to feel anxious if you did not hear from me as
often as you had done. I stated the reason, that opportunities were less
frequent, more circuitous, and attended with greater interruptions. I
told you that I should write at least once in three weeks, and that you
must attribute it to anything but neglect on my part.
"Your last letter has hurt me considerably, for, owing to some accident
or other, my letters have miscarried, and you upbraid me with neglect,
and fear that I am not as industrious or correct as formerly. I know you
don't wish to hurt me, but I cannot help feeling hurt when I think that
my parents have not the confidence which I thought they had in me; that
some interruptions, which all complain of and which are natural to a
state of warfare, having prevented letters, which I have written, from
being received; instead of making allowances for these things, to have
them attribute it to a falling-off in industry and attention wounds me a
great deal. Mrs. Allston, to her great surprise, received just such a
letter from her friends, and it hurt her so that she was ill in
"I dine at Mr. Macaulay's at five o'clock to-day, and shall attend the
House of Commons to-morrow evening, where I expect to hear Mr.
Wilberforce speak on the Slave Trade, with reference to the propriety of
making the universal abolition of it an article in the pending
negotiations. If I have time in this letter I will give you some account
of it. In the mean time I will give you a slight account of some scenes
of which I have been a happy witness in the great drama now acting in the
Theatre of Europe.
"You will probably, before this reaches you, hear of the splendid
_entree_ of Louis XVIII into London. I was a spectator of this scene. On
the morning of the day, about ten o'clock, I went into Piccadilly through
which the procession was to pass. I did not find any great concourse of
people at that hour except before the Pultney Hotel, where the sister of
Emperor Alexander resides on a visit to this country, the Grand Duchess
of Oldenburg. I thought it probable that, as the procession would pass
this place, there would be some uncommon occurrence taking place before
it, so I took my situation directly opposite, determined, at any rate, to
secure a good view of what happened.
"I waited four or five hours, during which time the people began to
collect from all quarters; the carriages began to thicken, the windows
and fronts of the houses began to be decorated with the white flag, white
ribbons, and laurel. Temporary seats were fitted up on all sides, which
began to be filled, and all seemed to be in preparation. About this time
the King's splendid band of music made its appearance, consisting, I
suppose, of more than fifty musicians, and, to my great gratification,
placed themselves directly before the hotel. They began to play, and soon
after the grand duchess, attended by several Russian noblemen, made her
appearance on the balcony, followed by the Queen of England, the Princess
Charlotte of Wales, the Princess Mary, Princess Elizabeth, and all the
female part of the royal family. From this fortunate circumstance you
will see that I had an excellent opportunity of observing their persons
"The Duchess of Oldenburg is a common-sized woman of about four or five
and twenty; she has rather a pleasant countenance, blue eyes, pale
complexion, regular features, her cheek-bones high, but not disagreeably
so. She resembles very much her brother the Emperor, judging from his
portrait. She had with her her little nephew, Prince Alexander, a boy of
about three or four years old. He was a lively little fellow, playing
about, and was the principal object of the attention of the royal family.
"The Queen, if I was truly directed to her, is an old woman of very
sallow complexion, and nothing agreeable either in her countenance or
deportment; and, if she was not called a queen, she might as well be any
ugly old woman. The Princess Charlotte of Wales I thought pretty; she has
small features, regular, pale complexion, great amiability of expression
and condescension of manners; the Princess Elizabeth is extremely
corpulent, and, from what I could see of her face, was agreeable though
"One of the others, I think it was the Princess Mary, appeared to have
considerable vivacity in her manners; she was without any covering to her
head, her hair was sandy, which she wore cropped; her complexion was
probably fair originally, but was rather red now; her features were
"It now began to grow late, the people were beginning to be tired,
wanting their dinners, and the crowd to thicken, when a universal
commotion and murmur through the crowd and from the housetops indicated
that the procession was at hand. This was followed by the thunder of
artillery and the huzzas of the people toward the head of the street,
where the houses seemed to be alive with the twirling of hats and shaking
of handkerchiefs. This seemed to mark the progress of the King; for, as
he came opposite each house, these actions became most violent, with
cries of _'Vivent les Bourbons!' 'Vive le Roi!' 'Vive Louis!'_ etc.
"I now grew several inches taller; I stretched my neck and opened my
eyes. One carriage appeared, drawn by six horses, decorated with ribbons,
and containing some of the French _noblesse;_ another, of the same
description, with some of the French royal family. At length came a
carriage drawn by eight beautiful Arabian cream-colored horses. In this
were seated Louis XVIII, King of France, the Prince Regent of England,
the Duchesse d'Angouleme, daughter of Louis XVI, and the Prince of Conde.
They passed rather quickly, so that I had but a glance at them, though a
distinct one. The Prince Regent I had often seen before; the King of
France I had a better sight of afterwards, as I will presently relate.
The Duchesse d'Angouleme had a fine expression of countenance, owing
probably to the occasion, but a melancholy cast was also visible through
it; she was pale. The Prince of Conde I have no recollection of.
"After this part of the procession had passed, the crowd became
exceedingly oppressive, rushing down the street to keep pace with the
King's carriage. As the King passed the royal family he bowed, which they
returned by kissing their hands to him and shaking their handkerchiefs
with great enthusiasm. After they had gone by, the royal family left the
balcony, where they had been between two and three hours.
"My only object now was to get clear of the crowd. I waited nearly three
quarters of an hour, and at length, by main strength, worked myself
edgewise across the street, where I pushed down through stables and
houses and by-lanes to get thoroughly clear, not caring where I went, as
I knew I could easily find my way when I got into a street. This I at
last gained, and, to my no small astonishment, found myself by mere
chance directly opposite the hotel where Louis and his suite were.
"The Prince Regent had just left the place, and with his carriage went a
great part of the mob, which left the space before the house
comparatively clear. It soon filled again; I took advantage, however, and
got directly before the windows of the hotel, as I expected the King
would show himself, for the people were calling for him very clamorously.
"I was not disappointed, for, in less than half a minute he came to the
window, which was open, before which I was. I was so near him I could
have touched him. He stayed nearly ten minutes, during which time I
observed him carefully. He is very corpulent, a round face, dark eyes,
prominent features; the character of countenance much like the portraits
of the other Louises; a pleasant face, but, above all, such an expression
of the moment as, I shall never forget, and in vain attempt to describe.
"His eyes were suffused with tears, his mouth slightly open with an
unaffected smile full of gratitude, and seemed to say to every one,
'Bless you.' His hands were a little extended sometimes as if in
adoration to heaven, at others as if blessing the people. I entered into
his feelings. I saw a monarch who, for five-and-twenty years, had been an
exile from his country, deprived of his throne, and, until within a few
months, not a shadow of a hope remaining of ever returning to it again. I
saw him raised, as if by magic, from a private station in an instant to
his throne, to reign over a nation which has made itself the most
conspicuous of any nation on the globe. I tried to think as he did, and,
in the heat of my enthusiasm, I joined with heart and soul in the cries
of _'Vive le roi!' 'Vive Louis!'_ which rent the air from the mouths of
thousands. As soon as he left the window, I returned home much fatigued,
but well satisfied that my labor had not been for naught....
"Mr. Wilberforce is an excellent man; his whole soul is bent on doing
good to his fellow men. Not a moment of his time is lost. He is always
planning some benevolent scheme or other, and not only planning but
executing; he is made up altogether of affectionate feeling. What I saw
of him in private gave me the most exalted opinion of him as a Christian.
Oh, that such men as Mr. Wilberforce were more common in this world. So
much human blood would not then be shed to gratify the malice and revenge
of a few wicked, interested men.
"I hope Cousin Samuel Breese will distinguish himself under so gallant a
commander as Captain Perry. I shall look with anxiety for the sailing of
the Guerriere. There will be plenty of opportunity for him, for peace
with us is deprecated by the people here, and it only remains for us to
fight it out gallantly, as we are able to do, or submit slavishly to any
terms which they please to offer us. A number of _humane_ schemes are
under contemplation, such as burning New London for the sake of the
frigates there; arming the blacks in the Southern States; burning all of
our principal cities, and such like plans, which, from the supineness of
the New England people, may be easily carried into effect. But no, the
_humane, generous_ English cannot do such base things--I hope not; let
the event show it. It is perhaps well I am here, for, with my present
opinions, if I were at home, I should most certainly be in the army or
navy. My mite is small, but, when my country's honor demands it, it might
help to sustain it.
"There can now be no French party. I wish very much to know what effect
this series of good news will have at home. I congratulate you as well as
all other good people on the providential events which have lately
happened; they must produce great changes with us; I hope it will be for
"I am in excellent health, and am painting away; I am making studies for
the large picture I contemplate for next year. It will be as large, I
think, as Mr. Allston's famous one, which was ten feet by fourteen."
It can hardly be wondered at that the parents should have been somewhat
anxious, when we learn from letters of June, 1814, that they had not
heard from their son for _seven months_. They were greatly relieved when
letters did finally arrive, and they rejoiced in his success and in the
hope of a universal peace, which should enable their sons "to act their
part on the stage of life in a calmer period of the world."
His mother keeps urging him to send some of his paintings home, as they
wish to judge of his improvement, having, as yet, received nothing but
the small pen-and-ink portrait of himself, which they do not think a very
good likeness. She also emphatically discourages any idea of patronage
from America, owing to the hard times brought on by the war, and the
father tells his son that he will endeavor to send him one thousand
dollars more, which must suffice for the additional year's study and the
expenses of the journey home.
It is small wonder that the three sons always manifested the deepest
veneration and affection for their parents, for seldom has there been
seen as great devotion and self-sacrifice, and seldom were three sons
more worthy of it. Sidney was at this time studying law at Litchfield,
Connecticut, and Richard was attending the Theological Seminary at
Andover, Massachusetts. Both became eminent in after life, though,
curiously enough, neither in the law nor in the ministry. But we shall
have occasion to treat more specifically of this later on. The three
brothers were devotedly attached to each other to the very end of their
long lives, and were mutually helpful as their lives now diverged and now
came together again.
The next letter from Morse to his parents, written on June 15, 1814,
gives a further account of the great people who were at that time in
"I expected at this time to have been in Bristol with Mr. and Mrs.
Allston, who are now there, but the great fetes in honor of the peace,
and the visit of the allied sovereigns, have kept me in London till all
is over. There are now in London upward of twenty foreign princes; also
the great Emperor Alexander and the King of Prussia. A week ago yesterday
they arrived in town, and, contrary to expectation, came in a very
private manner. I went to see their _entree_, but was disappointed with
the rest of the people, for the Emperor Alexander, disliking all show and
parade, came in a private carriage and took an indirect route here.
"The next and following day I spent in endeavoring to get a sight of
them. I have been very fortunate, having seen the Emperor Alexander no
less than fourteen times, so that I am quite familiar with his face; the
King of Prussia I have seen once; Marshal Bluecher, five or six times;
Count Platoff, three or four times; besides Generals de Yorck, Buelow,
etc., all whose names must be perfectly familiar to you, and the
distinguished parts they have all acted in the great scenes just past.
"The Emperor Alexander I am quite in love with; he has every mark of a
great mind. His countenance is an uncommonly fine one; he has a fair
complexion, hair rather light, and a stout, well-made figure; he has a
very cheerful, benevolent expression, and his conduct has everywhere
evinced that his face is the index of his mind. When I first saw him he
was dressed in a green uniform with two epaulets and stars of different
orders; he was conversing at the window of his hotel with his sister, the
Duchess of Oldenburg. I saw him again soon after in the superb coach of
the Prince Regent, with the Duchess, his sister, going to the court of
the Queen. In a few hours after I saw him again on the balcony of the
Pultney Hotel; he came forward and bowed to the people. He was then
dressed in a red uniform, with a broad blue sash over the right shoulder;
he appeared to great advantage; he stayed about five minutes. I saw him
again five or six times through the day, but got only indifferent views
of him. The following day, however, I was determined to get a better and
nearer view of him than before. I went down to his hotel about ten
o'clock, the time when I supposed he would leave it; I saw one of the
Prince's carriages drawn up, which opened at the top and was thrown back
before and behind. In a few minutes the Emperor with his sister made
their appearance and got into it. As the carriage started, I pressed
forward and got hold of the ring of the coach door and kept pace with it
for about a quarter of a mile. I was so near that I could have touched
him; he was in a plain dress, a brown coat, and altogether like any other
gentleman. His sister, the Duchess, also was dressed in a very plain,
unattractive manner, and, if it had not been for the crowd which
followed, they would have been taken for any lady and gentleman taking an
"In this unostentatious manner does he conduct himself, despising all
pomp, and seems rather more intent upon inspecting the charitable,
useful, and ornamental establishments of this country, with a view,
probably, of benefiting his own dominions by his observations, than of
displaying his rank by the splendor of dress and equipage.
"His condescension also is no less remarkable. An instance or two will
exemplify it. On the morning after his arrival he was up at six o'clock,
and, while the lazy inhabitants of this great city were fast asleep in
their beds, he was walking with his sister, the Duchess, in Kensington
Gardens. As he came across Hyde Park he observed a corporal drilling some
recruits, upon which he went up to him and entered into familiar
conversation with him, asking him a variety of questions, and, when he
had seen the end of the exercise, shook him heartily by the hand and left
him. When he was riding on horseback, he shook hands with all who came
"A few days ago, as he was coming out of the gate of the London Docks on
foot, after having inspected them, a great crowd was waiting to see him,
among whom was an old woman of about seventy years of age, who seemed
very anxious to get near him, but, the crowd pressing very much, she
exclaimed, 'Oh, if I could but touch his clothes!' The Emperor overheard
her, and, turning round, advanced to her, and, pulling off his glove,
gave her his hand, and, at the same time dropping a guinea into hers,
said to her, 'Perhaps this will do as well.' The old woman was quite
overcome, and cried, 'God bless Your Majesty,' till he was out of sight.
"An old woman in her ninetieth year sent a pair of warm woolen stockings
to the Emperor, and with them a letter stating that she had knit them
with her own hands expressly for him, and, as she could not afford to
send him silk, she thought that woolen would be much more acceptable, and
would also be more useful in his climate. The Emperor was very much
pleased, and determined on giving her his miniature set in gold and
diamonds, but, upon learning that her situation in life was such that
money would be more acceptable, he wrote her an answer, and, thanking her
heartily for her present, enclosed her one hundred pounds.
"These anecdotes speak more than volumes in praise of the Emperor
Alexander. He is truly a great man. He is a great conqueror, for he has
subdued the greatest country in the world, and overthrown the most
alarming despotism that ever threatened mankind. He is great also because
he is good; his whole time seems spent in distributing good to all around
him; and where-ever he goes he makes every heart rejoice. He is very
active and is all the time on the alert in viewing everything that is
worth seeing. The Emperor is also extremely partial to the United States;
everything American pleases him, and he seems uncommonly interested in
the welfare of our country.
"I was introduced to-day to Mr. Harris, our _charge d'affaires_ to the
court of Russia. He is a very intelligent, fine man, and is a great
favorite with Alexander. From a conversation with him I have a scheme in
view which, when I have matured, I will submit to you for your
"The King of Prussia I have seen but once, and then had but an imperfect
view of him. He came to the window with the Prince Regent and bowed to
the people (at St. James's Palace). He is tall and thin, has an agreeable
countenance, but rather dejected in consequence of the late loss of his
queen, to whom he was very much attached.
"General Bluecher, now Prince Bluecher, I have seen five or six times. I
saw him on his entrance into London, all covered with dust, and in a very
ordinary kind of vehicle. On the day after I saw him several times in his
carriage, drawn about wherever he wished by the _mob_. He is John's
greatest favorite, and they have almost pulled the brave general and his
companion, Count Platoff, to pieces out of pure affection. Platoff had
his coat actually torn off him and divided into a thousand pieces as
_relics_ by the good people--their kindness knows no bounds, and, I
think, in all the battles which they have fought, they never have run so
much risk of losing their limbs as in encountering their friends in
"Bluecher is a veteran-looking soldier, a very fine head, monstrous
mustaches. His head is bald, like papa's, his hair gray, and he wears
powder. Understanding that he was to be at Covent Garden Theatre, I went,
as the best place to see him, and I was not disappointed. He was in the
Prince's box, and I had a good view of him during the whole
entertainment, being directly before him for three or four hours. A few
nights since I also went to the theatre to see Platoff, the _hetman_
(chief) of the Cossacks. He has also a very fine countenance, a high and
broad forehead, dark complexion, and dark hair. He is tall and well-made,
as I think the Cossacks are generally. He was very much applauded by a
crowded house, the most part collected to see him."
The following letter is from Washington Allston written in Bristol, on
July 5, 1814:--
MY DEAR SIR,--I received your last on Saturday and should have answered
your first letter but for two reasons.
First, that I had nothing to say; which, I think, metaphysicians allow to
be the most natural as well as the most powerful cause of silence.
Second, that, if I had had anything to say, the daily expectation which I
entertained of seeing you allowed no confidence in the hope that you
would hear what I had to say should I have said it.
I thank you for your solicitude, and can assure you that both Mrs.
Allston and myself are in every respect better than when we left London.
Mr. King received me, as I wished, with undiminished kindness, and was
greatly pleased with the pictures. He has not, however, seen the large
one, which, to my agreeable surprise, I have been solicited from various
quarters to exhibit, and that, too, without my having given the least
intimation of such a design. I have taken Merchant Tailors' Hall (a very
large room) for this purpose, and shall probably open it in the course of
Perhaps you will be surprised to hear that I have been retouching it. I
have just concluded a fortnight's hard work upon it, and have the
satisfaction to add that I have been seldom better satisfied than with my
present labor. I have repainted the greater part of the draperies--
indeed, those of all the principal figures, excepting the Dead Man--with
powerful and positive colors, and added double strength to the shadows of
every figure, so that for force and distinctness you would hardly know it
for the same picture. The "Morning Chronicle" would have no reason now to
complain of its "wan red."...
I am sorry that Parliament has been so impolite to you in procrastinating
the fireworks. But they are an unpolished set and will still be in the
dark age of incivility notwithstanding their late illuminations. However
I am in great hopes that the good people of England will derive no small
degree of moral embellishment from their pure admiration of the
illustrious General B----, who, it is said, for drinking and gaming has
BRISTOL, September 9, 1814.
MY DEAR PARENTS,--Your kind letters of June last I have received, and
return you a thousand thanks for them. They have relieved me from a
painful state of anxiety with respect to my future prospects. I cannot
feel too thankful for such kind parents who have universally shown so
much indulgence to me. Accept my gratitude and love; they are all I can
You allow me to stay in Europe another year. Your letters are not in
answer to some I have subsequently sent requesting leave to reside in
Paris. Mr. Allston, as well as all my friends, think it by all means
necessary I should lose no time in getting to France to improve myself
for a year in drawing (a branch of art in which I am very deficient).
I shall therefore set out for Paris in about two weeks, unless your
letters in answer to those sent by Drs. Heyward and Gushing should arrive
and say otherwise. Since coming to Bristol I have not found my prospects
so good as I before had reason to expect (owing in a great degree to
political irritation). I have, however, contrived to make sufficient to
pay off _all_ my _debts_, which have given me some considerable
I can live much more reasonably in Paris (indeed, some say for half what
I can in London); I can improve myself more; and, therefore, all things
taken into consideration, I believe it would be agreeable to my parents.
As to the political state of Paris, there is nothing to fear from that.
It appears perfectly tranquil, and should at any time any difficulties
arise, it is but three days' journey back to England again. Besides this,
I hope my parents will not feel any solicitude for me lest I should fall
into any bad way, when they consider that I am now between twenty-three
and twenty-four years of age, and that this is an age when the habits are
As for expense, I must also request your confidence. Feeling as I do the
great obligations I am under to my parents, they must think me destitute
of gratitude if they thought me capable, after all that has been said to
me, of being prodigal. The past I trust you will find to be an example
for the future.
In a letter from a friend, M. Van Schaick, written from Dartmouth,
October 13, 1814, after speaking in detail of the fortifications of New
York Harbor, which he considers "impregnable," we find the following
"But what satisfies my mind more than anything else is that all the
heights of Brooklyn on Long Island are occupied by strong chains of
forts; the Captain calls it an iron-work; and that the steamboat frigate,
carrying forty-four 32-pounders, must by this time be finished. Her sides
are eight feet thick of solid timber. No ball can penetrate her.... The
steamboat frigate is 160 feet long, 40 wide, carries her wheels in the
centre like the ferry-boats, and will move six miles an hour against a
common wind and tide. She is the wonder and admiration of all beholders."
From this same gentleman is the following letter, dated October 21,
MY DEAR FRIEND,--My heart is so full that I do not know how to utter its
emotions. Thanks, all thanks to Heaven and our glorious heroes! My
satisfaction is full; it is perfect. It partakes of the character of the
victory and wants nothing to make it complete.
I return your felicitations upon this happy and heart-cheering occasion,
and hope it may serve to suppress every sigh and to enliven every hope
that animates the bosoms of my friends at Bristol. Give Mr. Allston a
hearty squeeze of the hand for me in token of my gratification at this
event and my remembrance of him.
I enter into your feelings; I enjoy your triumph as much as if I was with
you. May it do you good and lengthen your lives. Really I think it is
much more worth my regard to live now than ever it was before. This gives
a tone to one's nerves, a zest to one's appetite, and a reality to
existence that pervades all nature and exhibits its effects in every word
Among the heroes whose names shall be inscribed upon the broad base of
American Independence and Glory, the names of the heroes of Lake Erie and
Lake Champlain will be recognized as brilliant and every way worthy; and
it will hereafter be said that the example and exertions of New York have
saved the nation.... What becomes of Massachusetts now and its sage
politicians? Oh! shut the picture; I cannot bear the contrast. Like a
dead carcass she hangs upon the living spirit which animates the heart,
and she impedes its motions. Her consequence is gone, and I am sorry for
it, because I have been accustomed to admire the noble spirit she once
displayed, and the virtues which adorned her brighter days....
We sail on Sunday or Monday. I have received the box. Everything is
right. Heaven bless you.
Going back a few days in point of time, the following letter was written
to his parents:--
BRISTOL, October 11, 1814.
Your letters to the 31st of August have been received, and I have again
to express to you my thanks for the sacrifices you are making for me. One
day I hope it will be in my power to repay you for the many acts of
indulgence to me....
Your last letters mention nothing about my going to France. I perceive
you have got my letters requesting leave, but you are altogether silent
on the subject. Everything is in favor of my going, my improvement, my
expenses, and, last though not least, _the state of my feelings_. I shall
be ruined in my feelings if I stay longer in England. I cannot endure the
continued and daily insults to my feelings as an American. But on this
head I promised not to write anything more; still allow me to say but a
few words--On second thoughts, however, I will refer you entirely to Dr.
Romeyn. If it is possible, as you value my comfort, see him as speedily
as possible. He will give you my sentiments exactly, and I fully trust
that, after you have heard him converse for a short time, you will
completely liberate me from the imputation of error....
Mr. Bromfield [the merchant through whom he received his allowance]
thinks I had better wait until I receive positive leave from you to go to
France. Do write me soon and do give me leave. I long to bury myself in
the Louvre in a country at least not hostile to mine, and where guns are
not firing and bells ringing for victory over my countrymen.... Where is
American patriotism,--how long shall England, already too proud, glory in
the blood of my countrymen? Oh! for the genius of Washington! Had I but
his talents with what alacrity would I return to the relief of that
country which (without affectation, my dear parents) is dearer to me than
my life. Willingly (I speak with truth and deliberation), willingly would
I sacrifice my life for her honor.
Do not think ill of me for speaking thus strongly. You cannot judge
impartially of my feelings until you are placed in my situation. Do not
say I suffer myself to be carried away by my feelings; your feelings
could never have been tried as mine have; you cannot see with the eyes I
do; you cannot have the means of ascertaining facts on this side of the
water that I have. But I will leave this subject and only say see _Dr.
I find no encouragement whatever in Bristol in the way of my art.
National feeling is mingled with everything here; it is sufficient that I
am an American, a title I would not change with the greatest king in
I find it more reasonable, living in Bristol, or I should go to London
immediately. Mr. and Mrs. Allston are well and send you their respects.
They set out for London in a few days after some months' _unsuccessful_
(between ourselves) residence here. All public feeling is absorbed in one
object, the _conquest of the United States;_ no time to encourage an
artist, especially an American artist.
I am well, extremely well, but not in good spirits, as you may imagine
from this letter. I am painting a little landscape and am studying in my
mind a great historical picture, to be painted, by your leave, in Paris.
NOVEMBER 9, 1814--APRIL 23. 1815
Does not go to Paris.--Letter of admonition from his mother.--His
parents' early economies.--Letter from Leslie.--Letter from Rev. S.F.
Jarvis on politics.--The mother tells of the economies of another young
American, Dr. Parkman.--The son resents constant exhortations to
economize, and tells of meanness of Dr. Parkman.--Writes of his own
economies and industry.--Disgusted with Bristol.--Prophesies peace
between England and America.--Estimates of Morse's character by Dr.
Romeyn and Mr. Van Schaick.--The father regrets reproof of son for
political views.--Death of Mrs. Allston.--Disagreeable experience in
Bristol.--More economies.--Napoleon I.--Peace.
Morse did not go to Paris at this time. The permission from his parents
was so long delayed, owing to their not having received certain letters
of his, and his mentor, Mr. Bromfield, advising against it, he gave up
the plan, with what philosophy he could bring to bear on the situation.
His mother continued to give him careful advice, covering many pages, in
every letter. On November 9, 1814, she says:--
"We wish to know what the plan was that you said you were maturing in
regard to the Emperor of Russia. You must not be a schemer, but determine
on a steady, uniform course. It is an old adage that 'a rolling stone
never gathers any moss'; so a person that is driving about from pillar to
post very seldom lays up anything against a rainy day. You must be wise,
my son, and endeavor to get into such steady business as will, with the
divine blessing, give you a support. Secure that first, and then you will
be authorized to indulge your taste and exercise your genius in other
ways that may not be immediately connected with a living.
"You mention patronage from this country, but such a thing is not known
here unless you were on the spot, and not then, indeed, but for value
received. You must therefore make up your mind to labor for yourself
without leaning on any one, and look up to God for his blessing upon your
endeavors. This is the way your parents set out in life about twenty-five
years ago. They had nothing to look to for a support but their salary,
which was a house, twenty cords of wood, and $570 a year. The reception
and circulation of the Geography was an experiment not then made. With
the blessing of Heaven on these resources we have maintained an expensive
family, kept open doors for almost all who chose to come and partake of
our hospitality. Enemies, as well as friends, have been welcomed. We have
given you and your brothers a liberal education, have allowed you $4000,
are allowing your brothers about $300 a year apiece, and are supporting
our remaining family at the rate of $2000 a year. This is a pretty
correct statement, and I make it to show you what can be done by industry
and economy, with the blessing of Heaven."
While Morse was in Bristol, his friend C. R. Leslie thus writes to him in
lead pencil from London, on November 29, 1814:--
MOST POTENT, GRAVE AND REVEREND DOCTOR,--I take up my pencil to make ten
thousand apologies for addressing you in humble black lead. Deeply
impressed as I am with the full conviction that you deserve the very best
Japan ink, the only excuse I can make to you is the following. It is,
perhaps, needless to remind you that the tools with which ink is applied
to paper, in order to produce writing, are made from goose quills, which
quills I am goose enough not to keep a supply of; and not having so much
money at present in my breeches pocket as will purchase one, I am forced
to betake myself to my pencil; an instrument which, without paying myself
any compliment, I am sure I can wield better than a pen.
I am glad to hear that you are so industrious, and that Mr. Allston is
succeeding so well with portraits. I hope he will bring all he has
painted to London. I am looking out for you every day. I think we form a
kind of family here, and I feel in an absence from Mr. and Mrs. Allston
and yourself as I used to do when away from my mother and sisters.
By the bye, I have not had any letters from home for more than a month.
It seems the Americans are all united and we shall now have war in
earnest. I am glad of it for many reasons; I think it will not only get
us a more speedy and permanent peace, but may tend to crush the demon of
party spirit and strengthen our government.
I am done painting the gallery, and have finished my drawings for the
frieze. Thank you for your good wishes.
I thought Mr. Allston knew how proud I am of being considered his
student. Tell him, if he thinks it worth while to mention me at all in
his letter to Delaplaine, I shall consider it a great honor to be called
The father, in a letter of December 6, 1814, after again urging him to
leave politics alone, adds this postscript:
"P.S. If you can make up your mind to remain in London and finish your
great picture for the exhibition; to suppress your political feelings,
and resolutely turn a deaf ear to everything which does not concern your
professional studies; not to talk on politics and preserve a conciliating
course of conduct and conversation; make as many friends as you can, and
behave as a good man ought to in your situation, and put off going to
France till after your exhibition,--this plan would suit us best. But
with the observations and advice now before you, we leave you to judge
for yourself. Let us early know your determination and intended plans.
You must rely on your own resources after this year."
The following letter is from his warm friend, the Reverend Samuel F.
Jarvis, written in New York, December 14, 1814:--
"I am not surprised at the feelings you express with regard to England or
America. The English in general have so contemptuous an opinion of us and
one so exalted of themselves, that every American must feel a virtuous
indignation when he hears his country traduced and belied. But, my dear
sir, it is natural, on the other hand, for an exile from his native land
to turn with fond remembrance to its excellences and forget its defects.
You will be able some years hence to speak with more impartiality on this
subject than you do at present.
"The men who have involved the country in this war are wicked and
corrupt. A systematic exclusion of all Federalists from any office of
trust is the leading feature of this Administration, yet the Federalists
comprehend the majority of the wealth, virtue, and intelligence of the
community. It is the power of the ignorant multitude by which they are
supported, and I conceive that America will never be a respectable nation
in the eyes of the world, till the extreme democracy of our Constitution
is done away with, and there is a representation of the property rather
than of the population of the country. You feel nothing of the
oppressive, despotic sway of the _soi-disant_ Republicans, but we feel it
in all its bitterness, and know that it is far worse than that of the
most despotic sovereigns in Europe. With such men there can be no union.
"The repulsion of British invasion is the duty, and will be the pride, of
every American; but, while prepared to bare his arm in defence of his
much-wronged country against a proud and arrogant, and, in some
instances, a cruel, foe, he cannot be blind to the unprincipled conduct
of her internal enemies, and such he must conceive the present ruling
party to be."
On December 19, 1814, his mother writes:--
"I was not a little astonished to hear you say, in one of your letters
from Bristol, that you had earned money enough there to pay off your
debts. I cannot help asking what debts you could have to discharge with
your own earnings after receiving one thousand dollars a year from us,
which we are very sure must have afforded you, even by your own account
of your expenses, ample means for the payment of all just, fair, and
honorable debts, and I hope you contract no others. We are informed by
others that they made six hundred dollars a year not only pay all their
expenses of clothing, board, travelling, learning the French language,
etc., etc., but they were able out of it to purchase books to send home,
and actually sent a large trunk full of elegant books. Now the person who
told us that he did this has a father who is said to be worth a hundred
and fifty thousand dollars; therefore the young man was not pinched for
means, but was thus economical out of consideration to his parents, and
to show his gratitude to them, as I suppose. Now think, my dear son, how
much more your poor parents are doing for you, how good your dear
brothers are to be satisfied with so little done for them in comparison
with what we are doing for you, and let the thought stimulate you to more
economy and industry. I greatly fear you have been falling off in both
these since the eclat you received for your first performances. It has
always been a failing of yours, as soon as you found you could excel in
what you undertook, to be tired of it and not trouble yourself any
further about it. I was in hopes that you had got over this fickleness
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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,
"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,
"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
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
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
"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
"--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
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
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
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
"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,
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
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
The young man still took a deep interest in affairs political, and
speculated rather keenly on the outcome of the tremendous happenings on
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
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
"_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.