Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters and Journals Volume 1 by Samuel F. B. Morse

Produced by Carlo Traverso, Richard Prairie and PG Distributed Proofreaders. This file was produced from images generously made available by the Bibliotheque nationale de France (BnF/Gallica) at SAMUEL F.B. MORSE HIS LETTERS AND JOURNALS IN TWO VOLUMES VOLUME I SAMUEL F.B. MORSE HIS LETTERS AND JOURNALS EDITED AND SUPPLEMENTED BY HIS SON EDWARD LIND
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1914
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

Produced by Carlo Traverso, Richard Prairie and PG Distributed Proofreaders. This file was produced from images generously made available by the Bibliotheque nationale de France (BnF/Gallica) at





[Illustration: Samuel F.B. Morse]










“It is the hour of fate,
And those who follow me reach every state Mortals desire, and conquer every foe
Save death. But they who doubt or hesitate– Condemned to failure, penury and woe–
Seek me in vain and uselessly implore. I hear them not, and I return no more.”

Ingalls, _Opportunity_.


Arthur Christopher Benson, in the introduction to his studies in biography entitled “The Leaves of the Tree,” says:–

“But when it comes to dealing with men who have played upon the whole a noble part in life, whose vision has been clear and whose heart has been wide, who have not merely followed their own personal ambitions, but have really desired to leave the world better and happier than they found it,–in such cases, indiscriminate praise is not only foolish and untruthful, it is positively harmful and noxious. What one desires to see in the lives of others is some sort of transformation, some evidence of patient struggling with faults, some hint of failings triumphed over, some gain of generosity and endurance and courage. To slur over the faults and failings of the great is not only inartistic: it is also faint-hearted and unjust. It alienates sympathy. It substitutes unreal adoration for wholesome admiration; it afflicts the reader, conscious of frailty and struggle, with a sense of hopeless despair in the presence of anything so supremely high-minded and flawless.”

The judgment of a son may, perhaps, be biased in favor of a beloved father; he may unconsciously “slur over the faults and failings,” and lay emphasis only on the virtues. In selecting and putting together the letters, diaries, etc., of my father, Samuel F.B. Morse, I have tried to avoid that fault; my desire has been to present a true portrait of the man, with both lights and shadows duly emphasized; but I can say with perfect truth that I have found but little to deplore. He was human, he had his faults, and he made mistakes. While honestly differing from him on certain questions, I am yet convinced that, in all his beliefs, he was absolutely sincere, and the deeper I have delved into his correspondence, the more I have been impressed by the true nobility and greatness of the man.

His fame is now secure, but, like all great men, he made enemies who pursued him with their calumnies even after his death; and others, perfectly honest and sincere, have questioned his right to be called the inventor of the telegraph. I have tried to give credit where credit is due with regard to certain points in the invention, but I have also given the documentary evidence, which I am confident will prove that he never claimed more than was his right. For many years after his invention was a proved success, almost to the day of his death, he was compelled to fight for his rights; but he was a good fighter, a skilled controversialist, and he has won out in the end.

He was born and brought up in a deeply religious atmosphere, in a faith which seems to us of the present day as narrow; but, as will appear from his correspondence, he was perfectly sincere in his beliefs, and unfalteringly held himself to be an instrument divinely appointed to bestow a great blessing upon humanity.

It seems not to be generally known that he was an artist of great ability, that for more than half his life he devoted himself to painting, and that he is ranked with the best of our earlier painters.

In my selection of letters to be published I have tried to place much emphasis on this phase of his career, a most interesting one. I have found so many letters, diaries, and sketch-books of those earlier years, never before published, that seemed to me of great human interest, that I have ventured to let a large number of these documents chronicle the history of Morse the artist.

Many of the letters here published have already appeared in Mr. S. Irenaeus Prime’s biography of Morse, but others are now printed for the first time, and I have omitted many which Mr. Prime included. I must acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. Prime for the possibility of filling in certain gaps in the correspondence; and for much interesting material not now otherwise obtainable.

Before the telegraph had demonstrated its practical utility, its inventor was subjected to ridicule most galling to a sensitive nature, and after it was a proved success he was vilified by the enemies he was obliged to make on account of his own probity, and by the unscrupulous men who tried to rob him of the fruits of his genius; but in this he was only paying the penalty of greatness, and, as the perspective of time enables us to render a more impartial verdict, his character will be found to emerge triumphant.

His versatility and abounding vitality were astounding. He would have been an eminent man in his day had he never invented the telegraph; but it is of absorbing interest, in following his career, to note how he was forced to give up one ambition after another, to suffer blow after blow which would have overwhelmed a man of less indomitable perseverance, until all his great energies were impelled into the one channel which ultimately led to undying fame.

In every great achievement in the history of progress one man must stand preeminent, one name must symbolize to future generations the thing accomplished, whether it be the founding of an empire, the discovery of a new world, or the invention of a new and useful art; and this one man must be so endowed by nature as to be capable of carrying to a successful issue the great enterprise, be it what it may. He must, in short, be a man of destiny. That he should call to his assistance other men, that he should legitimately make use of the labors of others, in no wise detracts from his claims to greatness. It is futile to say that without this one or that one the enterprise would have been a failure; that without his officers and his men the general could not have waged a successful campaign. We must, in every great accomplishment which has influenced the history of the world, search out the master mind to whom, under Heaven, the epoch-making result is due, and him must we crown with the laurel wreath.

Of nothing is this more true than of invention, for I venture to assert that no great invention has ever sprung Minerva-like from the brain of one man. It has been the culmination of the discoveries, the researches, yes, and the failures, of others, until the time was ripe and the destined man appeared. While due credit and all honor must be given to the other laborers in the field, the niche in the temple of fame must be reserved for the one man whose genius has combined all the known elements and added the connecting link to produce the great result.

As an invention the telegraph was truly epoch-making. It came at a time when steam navigation on land and water was yet in its infancy, and it is idle to speculate on the slow progress which this would have made had it not been for the assistance of the electric spark.

The science of electricity itself was but an academic curiosity, and it was not until the telegraph had demonstrated that this mysterious force could be harnessed to the use of man, that other men of genius arose to extend its usefulness in other directions; and this, in turn, stimulated invention in many other fields, and the end is not yet.

It has been necessary, in selecting letters, to omit many fully as interesting as those which have been included; barely to touch on subjects of research, or of political and religious discussion, which are worthy of being pursued further, and to omit some subjects entirely. Very probably another more experienced hand would have made a better selection, but my aim has been to give, through characteristic letters and contemporary opinions, an accurate portrait of the man, and a succinct history of his life and labors. If I have succeeded in throwing a new light on some points which are still the subject of discussion, if I have been able to call attention to any facts which until now have been overlooked or unknown, I shall be satisfied. If I have been compelled to use very plain language with regard to some of those who were his open or secret enemies, or who have been posthumously glorified by others, I have done so with regret.

Such as it is I send the book forth in the hope that it may add to the knowledge and appreciation of the character of one of the world’s great men, and that it may, perhaps, be an inspiration to others who are striving, against great odds, to benefit their fellow men, or to those who are championing the cause of justice and truth.




APRIL 27. 1791–SEPTEMBER 8, 1810

Birth of S.F.B. Morse.–His parents.–Letters of Dr. Belknap and Rev. Mr. Wells.–Phillips, Andover.–First letter.–Letter from his father.– Religious letter from Morse to his brothers.–Letters from the mother to her sons.–Morse enters Yale.–His journey there.–Difficulty in keeping up with his class.–Letter of warning from his mother.–Letters of Jedediah Morse to Bishop of London and Lindley Murray.–Morse becomes more studious.–Bill of expenses.–Longing to travel and interest in electricity.–Philadelphia and New York.–Graduates from college.–Wishes to accompany Allston to England, but submits to parents’ desires


OCTOBER 31, 1810–AUGUST 17, 1811

Enters bookshop as clerk.–Devotes leisure to painting.–Leaves shop.– Letter to his brothers on appointments at Yale.–Letters from Joseph P. Rossiter.–Morse’s first love affair.–Paints “Landing of the Pilgrims.” –Prepares to sail with Allstons for England.–Letters of introduction from his father.–Disagreeable stage-ride to New York.–Sails on the Lydia.–Prosperous voyage.–Liverpool.–Trip to London.–Observations on people and customs.–Frequently cheated.–Critical time in England.–Dr. Lettsom.–Sheridan’s verse.–Longing for a telegraph.–A ghost


AUGUST 24, 1811–DECEMBER 1, 1811

Benjamin West.–George III.–Morse begins his studies.–Introduced to West.–Enthusiasms.–Smuggling and lotteries.–English appreciation of art.–Copley.–Friendliness of West.–Elgin marbles.–Cries of London.– Custom in knocking.–Witnesses balloon ascension.–Crowds.–Vauxhall Gardens.–St. Bartholomew’s Fair.–Efforts to be economical.–Signs of war.–Mails delayed.–Admitted to Royal Academy.–Disturbances, riots, and murders


JANUARY 18, 1812–AUGUST 6, 1812

Political opinions.–Charles R. Leslie’s reminiscences of Morse, Allston, King, and Coleridge.–C.B. King’s letter.–Sidney E. Morse’s letter.– Benjamin West’s kindness.–Sir William Beechy.–Murders, robberies, etc. –Morse and Leslie paint each other’s portraits.–The elder Morse’s financial difficulties.–He deprecates the war talk.–The son differs from his father.–The Prince Regent.–Orders in Council.–Estimate of West.–Alarming state of affairs in England.–Assassination of Perceval, Prime Minister.–Execution of assassin.–Morse’s love for his art.– Stephen Van Rensselaer.–Leslie the friend and Allston the master.– Afternoon tea.–The elder Morse well known in Europe.–Lord Castlereagh. –The Queen’s drawing-room.–Kemble and Mrs. Siddons.–Zachary Macaulay. –Warning letter from his parents.–War declared.–Morse approves.– Gratitude to his parents, and to Allston


SEPTEMBER 20, 1812–JUNE 13, 1813

Models the “Dying Hercules.”–Dreams of greatness.–Again expresses gratitude to his parents.–Begins painting of “Dying Hercules.”–Letter from Jeremiah Evarts.–Morse upholds righteousness of the war.–Henry Thornton.–Political discussions.–Gilbert Stuart.–William Wilberforce. –James Wynne’s reminiscences of Morse, Coleridge, Leslie, Allston, and Dr. Abernethy.–Letters from his mother and brother.–Letters from friends on the state of the fine arts in America.–“The Dying Hercules” exhibited at the Royal Academy.–Expenses of painting.–Receives Adelphi Gold Medal for statuette of Hercules.–Mr. Dunlap’s reminiscences.– Critics praise “Dying Hercules”


JULY 10, 1813–APRIL 6, 1814

Letter from the father on economies and political views.–Morse deprecates lack of spirit in New England and rejoices at Wellington’s victories.–Allston’s poems.–Morse coat-of-arms.–Letter of Joseph Hillhouse.–Letter of exhortation from his mother.–Morse wishes to stay longer in Europe.–Amused at mother’s political views.–The father sends more money for a longer stay.–Sidney exalts poetry above painting.–His mother warns him against infidels and actors.–Bristol.–Optimism.– Letter on infidels and his own religious observances.–Future of American art.–He is in good health, but thin.–Letter from Mr. Visger.–Benjamin Burritt, American prisoner.–Efforts in his behalf unsuccessful.–Capture of Paris by the Allies.–Again expresses gratitude to parents.–Writes a play for Charles Mathews.–Not produced


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


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


MAY 8, 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


APRIL 10, 1816–OCTOBER 5, 1818

Very little success at home.–Portrait of ex-President John Adams.– Letter to Allston on sale of his “Dead Man restored to Life.”–Also apologizes for hasty temper.–Reassured by Allston.–Humorous letter from Leslie.–Goes to New Hampshire to paint portraits.–Concord.–Meets Miss Lucretia Walker.–Letters to his parents concerning her.–His parents reply.–Engaged to Miss Walker.–His parents approve.–Many portraits painted.–Miss Walker’s parents consent.–Success in Portsmouth.–Morse and his brother invent a pump.–Highly endorsed by President Day and Eli Whitney.–Miss Walker visits Charlestown.–Morse’s religious convictions.–More success in New Hampshire.–Winter in Charleston, South Carolina.–John A. Alston.–Success.–Returns north.–Letter from his uncle Dr. Finley.–Marriage


NOVEMBER 19, 1818–MARCH 31, 1821

Morse and his wife go to Charleston, South Carolina.–Hospitably entertained and many portraits painted.–Congratulates Allston on his election to the Royal Academy.–Receives commission to paint President Monroe.–Trouble in the parish at Charlestown.–Morse urges his parents to leave and come to Charleston.–Letters of John A. Alston.–Return to the North.–Birth of his first child.–Dr. Morse and his family decide to move to New Haven.–Morse goes to Washington.–Paints the President under difficulties.–Hospitalities.–Death of his grandfather.–Dr. Morse appointed Indian Commissioner.–Marriage of Morse’s future mother-in-law. –Charleston again.–Continued success.–Letters to Mrs. Ball.– Liberality of Mr. Alston.–Spends the summer in New Haven.–Returns to Charleston, but meets with poor success.–Assists in founding Academy of Arts, which has but a short life.–Goes North again


MAY 23, 1821–DECEMBER 17, 1824

Accompanies Mr. Silliman to the Berkshires.–Takes his wife and daughter to Concord, New Hampshire.–Writes to his wife from Boston about a bonnet.–Goes to Washington, D.C.–Paints large picture of House of Representatives.–Artistic but not financial success.–Donates five hundred dollars to Yale.–Letter from Mr. De Forest.–New York “Observer.”–Discouragements.–First son born.–Invents marble-carving machine.–Goes to Albany.–Stephen Van Rensselaer.–Slight encouragement in Albany.–Longing for a home.–Goes to New York.–Portrait of Chancellor Kent.–Appointed attache to Legation to Mexico.–High hopes.– Takes affecting leave of his family.–Rough journey to Washington.– Expedition to Mexico indefinitely postponed.–Returns North.–Settles in New York.–Fairly prosperous


JANUARY 4, 1825–NOVEMBER 18, 1825

Success in New York.–Chosen to paint portrait of Lafayette.–Hope of a permanent home with his family.–Meets Lafayette in Washington.–Mutually attracted.–Attends President’s levee.–Begins portrait of Lafayette.– Death of his wife.–Crushed by the news.–His attachment to her.–Epitaph composed by Benjamin Silliman.–Bravely takes up his work again.– Finishes portrait of Lafayette.–Describes it in letter of a later date. –Sonnet on death of Lafayette’s dog.–Rents a house in Canal Street, New York.–One of the founders of National Academy of Design.–Tactful resolutions on organization.–First thirty members.–Morse elected first president.–Reelected every year until 1845.–Again made president in 1861.–Lectures on Art.–Popularity


JANUARY 1, 1826–DECEMBER 5, 1829

Success of his lectures, the first of the kind in the United States.– Difficulties of his position as leader.–Still longing for a home.–Very busy but in good health.–Death of his father.–Estimates of Dr. Morse.– Letters to his mother.–Wishes to go to Europe again.–Delivers address at first anniversary of National Academy of Design.–Professor Dana lectures on electricity.–Morse’s study of the subject.–Moves to No. 13 Murray Street.–Too busy to visit his family.–Death of his mother.–A remarkable woman.–Goes to central New York.–A serious accident.–Moral reflections.–Prepares to go to Europe.–Letter of John A. Dix.–Sails for Liverpool.–Rough voyage.–Liverpool


DECEMBER 6. 1829–FEBRUARY 6, 1830

Journey from Liverpool to London by coach.–Neatness of the cottages.– Trentham Hall.–Stratford-on-Avon.–Oxford.–London.–Charles R. Leslie. –Samuel Rogers.–Seated with Academicians at Royal Academy lecture.– Washington Irving.–Turner.–Leaves London for Dover.–Canterbury Cathedral.–Detained at Dover by bad weather.–Incident of a former visit.–Channel steamer.–Boulogne-sur-Mer.–First impressions of France.–Paris.–The Louvre.–Lafayette.–Cold in Paris.–Continental Sunday.–Leaves Paris for Marseilles in diligence.–Intense cold.– Dijon.–French funeral.–Lyons.–The Hotel Dieu.–Avignon.–Catholic church services.–Marseilles.–Toulon.–The navy yard and the galley slaves.–Disagreeable experience at an inn.–The Riviera.–Genoa


FEBRUARY 6, 1830–JUNE 15, 1830

Serra Palace in Genoa.–Starts for Rome.–Rain in the mountains.–A brigand.–Carrara.–First mention of a railroad.–Pisa.–The leaning tower.–Rome at last.–Begins copying at once.–Notebooks.–Ceremonies at the Vatican.–Pope Pius VIII.–Academy of St. Luke’s.–St. Peter’s.– Chiesa Nuova.–Painting at the Vatican.–Beggar monks.–_Festa_ of the Annunciation.–Soiree at Palazzo Sunbaldi.–Passion Sunday.–Horace Vernet.–Lying in state of a cardinal.–_Miserere_ at Sistine Chapel.– Holy Thursday at St. Peter’s.–Third cardinal dies.–Meets Thorwaldsen at Signor Persianis’s.–Manners of English, French, and Americans.–Landi’s pictures.–Funeral of a young girl.–Trip to Tivoli, Subiaco.–Procession of the _Corpus Domini_.–Disagreeable experience


JUNE 17, 1830–FEBRUARY 2, 1831

Working hard.–Trip to Genzano.–Lake of Nemi.–Beggars.–Curious festival of flowers at Genzano.–Night on the Campagna.–Heat in Rome.– Illumination of St. Peter’s.–St. Peter’s Day.–Vaults of the Church.– Feebleness of Pope.–Morse and companions visit Naples, Capri, and Amalfi.–Charms of Amalfi.–Terrible accident.–Flippancy at funerals.– Campo Santo at Naples.–Gruesome conditions.–Ubiquity of beggars.– Convent of St. Martino.–Masterpiece of Spagnoletto.–Returns to Rome.– Paints portrait of Thorwaldsen.–Presented to him in after years by John Taylor Johnston.–Given to King of Denmark.–Reflections on the social evil and the theatre.–Death of the Pope.–An assassination.–The Honorable Mr. Spencer and Catholicism.–Election of Pope Gregory XVI


FEBRUARY 10, 1831–SEPTEMBER 12, 1831

Historic events witnessed by Morse.–Rumors of revolution.–Danger to foreigners.–Coronation of the new Pope.–Pleasant experience.–Cause of the revolution a mystery.–Bloody plot foiled.–Plans to leave for Florence.–Sends casts, etc., to National Academy of Design.–Leaves Rome.–Dangers of the journey.–Florence.–Description of meeting Prince Radziwill in Coliseum at Rome.–Copies portraits of Rubens and Titian in Florence.–Leaves Florence for Venice.–Disagreeable voyage on the Po.– Venice, beautiful but smelly.–Copies Tintoret’s “Miracle of the Slave.” –Thunderstorms.–Reflections on the Fourth of July.–Leaves Venice.– Recoaro.–Milan.–Reflections on Catholicism and art.–Como and Maggiore.–The Rigi.–Schaffhausen and Heidelberg.–Evades the quarantine on French border.–Thrilling experience.–Paris


SEPTEMBER 18, 1831–SEPTEMBER 21, 1832

Takes rooms with Horatio Greenough.–Political talk with Lafayette.– Riots in Paris.–Letters from Greenough.–Bunker Hill Monument.–Letters from Fenimore Cooper.–Cooper’s portrait by Verboeckhoven.–European criticisms.–Reminiscences of R.W. Habersham.–Hints of an electric telegraph.–Not remembered by Morse.–Early experiments in photography.– Painting of the Louvre.–Cholera in Paris.–Baron von Humboldt.–Morse presides at Fourth of July dinner.–Proposes toast to Lafayette.–Letter to New York “Observer” on Fenimore Cooper.–Also on pride in American citizenship.–Works with Lafayette in behalf of Poles.–Letter from Lafayette.–Morse visits London before sailing for home.–Sits to Leslie for head of Sterne


Morse’s life almost equally divided into two periods, artistic and scientific.–Estimate of his artistic ability by Daniel Huntington.–Also by Samuel Isham.–His character as revealed by his letters, notes, etc.– End of Volume I


MORSE THE ARTIST (Photogravure)
Painted by himself in London about 1814.


From portraits by a Mr. Sargent, who also painted portraits of the Washington family.

Painted by Morse in 1813.


MR. D. C. DE FOREST–MRS. D. C. DE FOREST From paintings by Morse now in the gallery of the Yale School of the Fine Arts.


Now in New York Public Library.

Painted by Morse.

From a portrait painted by Morse and owned by Sherman Evarts, Esq.

Painted by Morse. Owned by the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Painted by Morse. Owned by the Metropolitan Museum, New York.





APRIL 27. 1791–SEPTEMBER 8, 1810

Birth of S.F.B. Morse.–His parents.–Letters of Dr. Belknap and Rev. Mr. Wells.–Phillips, Andover.–First letter.–Letter from his father.– Religious letter from Morse to his brothers.–Letters from the mother to her sons.–Morse enters Yale.–His journey there.–Difficulty in keeping up with his class.–Letter of warning from his mother.–Letters of Jedediah Morse to Bishop of London and Lindley Murray.–Morse becomes more studious.–Bill of expenses.–Longing to travel and interest in electricity.–Philadelphia and New York.–Graduates from college.–Wishes to accompany Allston to England, but submits to parents’ desires.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, on the 27th day of April, A.D. 1791. He came of good Puritan stock, his father, Jedediah Morse, being a militant clergyman of the Congregational Church, a fighter for orthodoxy at a time when Unitarianism was beginning to undermine the foundations of the old, austere, childlike faith.

These battles of the churches seem far away to us of the twentieth century, but they were very real to the warriors of those days, and, while many of the tenets of their faith may seem narrow to us, they were gospel to the godly of that tune, and reverence, obedience, filial piety, and courtesy were the rule and not the exception that they are to-day.

Jedediah Morse was a man of note in his day, known and respected at home and abroad; the friend of General Washington and other founders of the Republic; the author of the first American Geography and Gazetteer. His wife, Elizabeth Ann Breese, granddaughter of Samuel Finley, president of Princeton College, was a woman of great strength and yet sweetness of character; adored by her family and friends, a veritable mother in Israel.

Into this serene home atmosphere came young Finley Morse, the eldest of eleven children, only three of whom survived their infancy. The other two were Sidney Edwards and Richard Carey, both eminent men in their day.

Dr. Belknap, of Boston, in a letter to a friend in New York says:–

“Congratulate the Monmouth Judge [Mr. Breese] on the birth of a grandson…. As to the child, I saw him asleep, so can say nothing of his eye or his genius peeing through it. He may have the sagacity of a Jewish rabbi, or the profundity of a Calvin, or the sublimity of a Homer for aught I know. But time will show forth all things.”

This sounds almost prophetic in the light of future days.


The following letter from the Reverend Mr. Wells is quaint and characteristic of the times:–

MY DEAR LITTLE BOY,–As a small testimony of my respect and obligation to your excellent Parents and of my love to you, I send you with this six (6) English Guineas. They are pretty playthings enough, and in the Country I came from many people are fond of them. Your Papa will let you look at them and shew them to Edward, and then he will take care of them, and, by the time you grow up to be a Man, they will under Papa’s wise management increase to double their present number. With wishing you may never be in want of such playthings and yet never too fond of them, I remain your affectionate friend,

MEDFORD, July 2, 1793.

Young Morse was sent away early to boarding-school, as was the custom at that time. He was taken by his father to Phillips Academy at Andover, and I believe he ran away once, being overcome by homesickness before he made up his mind to remain and study hard.

The following letter is the first one written by him of which I have any knowledge:–

ANDOVER, 2d August, 1799.

DEAR PAPA,–I hope you are well I will thank you if you will Send me up Some quils Give my love to mama and NANCY and my little brothers pleas to kis them for me and send me up Some very good paper to write to you

I have as many blackberries as I want I go and pick them myself.


This from his father is characteristic of many written to him and to his brothers while they were at school and college:–

CHARLESTOWN, February 21, 1801.

MY DEAR SON,–You do not write me as often as you ought. In your next you must assign some reason for this neglect. Possibly I have not received all your letters. Nothing will improve you so much in epistolary writing as practice. Take great pains with your letters. Avoid vulgar phrases. Study to have your ideas pertinent and correct and clothe them in an easy and grammatical dress. Pay attention to your spelling, pointing, the use of capitals, and to your handwriting. After a little practice these things will become natural and you will thus acquire a habit of writing correctly and well.

General Washington was a remarkable instance of what I have now recommended to you. His letters are a perfect model for epistolary writers. They are written with great uniformity in respect to the handwriting and disposition of the several parts of the letter. I will show you some of his letters when I have the pleasure of seeing you next vacation, and when I shall expect to find you much improved.

Your natural disposition, my dear son, renders it proper for me earnestly to recommend to you to _attend to one thing at a time_. It is impossible that you can do two things well at the same time, and I would, therefore, never have you attempt it. Never undertake to do what ought not to be done, and then, whatever you undertake, endeavor to do it in the best manner.

It is said of De Witt, a celebrated statesman in Holland, who was torn to pieces in the year 1672, that he did the whole business of the republic and yet had time left to go to assemblies in the evening and sup in company. Being asked how he could possibly find time to go through so much business and yet amuse himself in the evenings as he did, he answered there was nothing so easy, for that it was only doing one thing at a time, and never putting off anything till to-morrow that could be done to-day. This steady and undissipated attention to one object is a sure mark of a superior genius, as hurry, bustle, and agitation are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind.

I expect you will read this letter over several times that you may retain its contents in your memory, and give me your own opinion on the advice I have given you. If you improve this well, I shall be encouraged to give you more as you may need it.

Your affectionate parent,

This was written to a boy ten years old. I wonder if he was really able to assimilate it.

I shall pass rapidly over the next few years, for, while there are many letters which make interesting reading, there are so many more of the later years of greater historical value that I must not yield to the temptation to linger.

The three brothers were all sent to Phillips Academy to prepare for Yale, from which college their father was also graduated.

The following letter from Finley to his brothers was written while he was temporarily at home, and shows the deep religious bent of his mind which he kept through life:–

CHARLESTOWN, March 15, 1805.

MY DEAR BROTHERS,–I now write you again to inform you that mama had a baby, but it was born dead and has just been buried. Now you have three brothers and three sisters in heaven and I hope you and I will meet them there at our death. It is uncertain when we shall die, but we ought to be prepared for it, and I hope you and I shall.

I read a question in Davie’s “Sermons” the last Sunday which was this:– Suppose a bird should take one dust of this earth and carry it away once in a thousand years, and you was to take your choice either to be miserable in that time and happy hereafter, or happy in that time and miserable hereafter, which would you choose? Write me an answer to this in your next letter….

I enclose you a little book called the “Christian Pilgrim.” It is for both of you.

We are all tolerable well except mama, though she is more comfortable now than she was. We all send a great deal of love to you. I must now bid you adieu.

I remain your affectionate brother,


I am tempted to include the following extracts from letters of the good mother of the three boys as characteristic of the times and people:–

CHARLESTOWN, June 28, 1805.

MY DEAR SON,–We have the pleasure of a letter from you which has gratified us very much. It is the only intelligence we have had from you since Mr. Brown left you. I began to think that something was the matter with respect to your health that occasioned your long silence…. We are very desirous, my son, that you should excel in everything that will make you truly happy and useful to your fellow men. In particular by no means neglect your duty to your Heavenly Father. Remember, what has been said with great truth, that he can never be faithful to others who is not so to his God and his conscience. I wish you constantly to keep in mind the first question and answer in that excellent form of sound words, the Assembly Catechism, viz:–“What is the chief end of Man?” The answer you will readily recollect is “To Glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

Let it be evident, my dear son, that this be your chief aim in all that you do, and may you be so happy as to enjoy Him forever is the sincere prayer of your affectionate parent….

The Fourth of July is to be celebrated here with a good deal of parade both by Federalists and Jacobins. The former are to meet in our meeting-house, there to hear an oration which is to be delivered by Mr. Aaron Putnam, a prayer by your papa also. And on the hill close by the monument [Bunker Hill] a standard is to be presented to a new company called the Warren Phalanx, all Federalists, by Dr. Putnam who is the president of the day, and all the gentlemen are to dine at Seton’s Hall, otherwise called Massachusetts Hall, and the ladies are to take tea at the same place. The Jacobins are to have an oration at the Baptist meeting-house from Mr. Gleson. I know nothing more about them. The boys are forming themselves into companies also; they have two or three companies and drums which at some times are enough to craze one. I can’t help thinking when I see them how glad I am that my sons are better employed at Andover than beating the streets or drums; that they are laying in a good store of useful knowledge against the time to come, while these poor boys, many of them, at least, are learning what they will be glad by and by to unlearn.

July 30, 1805.

MY DEAR SONS,–Have you heard of the death of young Willard at Cambridge, the late President Willard’s son? He died of a violent fever occasioned by going into water when he was very hot in the middle of the day. He also pumped a great deal of cold water on his head. Let this be a warning to you all not to be guilty of the like indiscretion which may cost you your life. Dreadful, indeed, would this be to all of us. I wish you would not go into water oftener than once a week, and then either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and not go in when hot nor stay long in the water. Remember these cautions of your mama and obey them strictly.

A young lady twenty years old died in Boston yesterday very suddenly. She eat her dinner perfectly well and was dead in five minutes after. Her name was Ann Hinkley. You see, my dear boys, the great uncertainty of life and, of course, the importance of being always prepared for _death_, even a _sudden death_, as we know not what an hour may bring forth. This we are sensible of, we cannot be _too soon or too well_ prepared for that all-important moment, as this is what we are sent into this world for. The main business of life is to prepare for death. Let us not, then, put off these most important concerns to an uncertain to-morrow, but let us in earnest attend to the concerns of our precious, never-dying souls while we feel ourselves alive.

In October, 1805, Finley Morse went to New Haven to enter college, and the next letter describes the journey from Charlestown, and it was, indeed, a journey in those days.

NEW HAVEN, October 22, 1805.

MY DEAR PARENTS,–I arrived here yesterday safe and well. The first day I rode as far as Williams’ Tavern, and put up there for the night. The next day I rode as far as Dwight’s Tavern in Western, and in the morning, it being rainy, Mr. Backus did not set out to ride till late, and, the stage coming to the door, Mr. B. thought it a good opportunity to send me to Hartford, which he did, and I arrived at Hartford that night and lodged at Ripley’s inn opposite the State House. He treated me very kindly, indeed, wholly on account of my being your son. I was treated more like his own son than a stranger, for which I shall and ought to be very much obliged to him. The next morning I hired a horse and chaise of him to carry me to Weathersfield and arrived at Mr. Marsh’s, who was very glad to see me and begged me to stay till S. Barrell went, which was the next Monday, for his mother would not let him go so soon, she was so glad to see him. I was sorry to trouble them so much, but, as they desired it, and, as Samuel B. was not to go till then, I agreed to stay and hope you will not disapprove it, and am sorry I could not write you sooner to relieve your minds from your anxiety on my account, and am sorry for giving my good parents so much trouble and expense. You expend and have expended a great deal more money upon me than I deserve, and granted me a great many of my requests, and I am sure I can certainly grant you one, that of being _economical_, which I shall certainly be and not get money to buy trifling things. I begin to think _money_ of some importance and too great value to be thrown away.

Yesterday morning about ten o’clock I set out for New Haven with S. Barrell and arrived well a little before dark. I went directly to Dr. Dwight’s, which I easily found, and delivered the letter to him, drank tea at his house, and then Mr. Sereno Dwight carried me to Mr. Davis’s who had agreed to take me. While I was at Dr. Dwight’s there was a woman there whom the Dr. recommended to Sam. B. and me to have our mending done, and Mrs. Davis or a washerwoman across the way will do my washing, so I am very agreeably situated. I also gave the letter to Mr. Beers and he has agreed to let me have what you desired. I have got Homer’s Iliad in two volumes, with Latin translation of him, for $3.25. I need no other books at present.

S. Barrell has a room in the north college and, as he says, a very agreeable chum.

Next spring I hope you will come on and fix matters. I long to get into the college, for it appears to me now as though I was not a member of college but fitting for college. I hope next spring will soon come.

My whole journey from Charlestown here cost me L2 16_s._, and 4_d._, a great deal more than either you or I had calculated on. I am sorry to be of so much trouble to you and the cause of so much anxiety in you and especially in mama. I wish you to give my very affectionate love to my dear brothers, and tell them they must write me and not be homesick, but consider that I am farther from home than they are, 136 miles from home. I remain

Your ever affectionate son,

It would seem, from other letters which follow, that he had difficulty in keeping up with his class, and that he eventually dropped a class, for he did not graduate until 1810. He also seems to have been rooming outside of college and to have been eager to go in.

It is curious, in the light of future events, to note that young Morse’s parents were fearful lest his volatile nature and lack of steadfastness of purpose should mar his future career. His dominating characteristic in later life was a bulldog tenacity, which led him to stick to one idea through discouragements and disappointments which would have overwhelmed a weaker nature.

The following extracts are from a long letter from his mother dated November 23, 1805:–

“I am fearful, my son, that you think a great deal more of your amusements than your studies, and there lies the difficulty, and the same difficulty would exist were you in college.

“You have filled your letter with requests to go into college and an account of a gunning party, both of which have given us pain. I am truly sorry that you appear so unsteady as by _your own account_ you are….

“You mention in the letter you wrote first that, if you went into college, you and your chum would want brandy and wine and segars in your room. Pray is that the custom among the students? We think it a very improper one, indeed, and hope the government of college will not permit it. There is no propriety at all in such young boys as you having anything to do with anything of the kind, and your papa and myself positively prohibit you the use of these things till we think them more necessary than we do at present….

“You will remember that you have promised in your first letter to be an economist. In your last letter you seem to have forgotten all about it. Pray, what do your gunning parties cost you for powder and shot? I beg you to consider and not go driving on from one foolish whim to another till you provoke us to withdraw from you the means of gratifying you in anything that may be even less objectionable than gunning.”

These exhortations seem to have had, temporarily, at least, the desired effect, for in a letter to his parents dated December 18, 1805, young Morse says: “I shall not go out to gun any more, for I know it makes you anxious about me.”

The letters of the parents to the son are full of pious exhortations, and good advice, and reproaches to the boy for not writing oftener and more at length, and for not answering every question asked by the parents. It is comforting to the present-day parent to learn that human nature was much the same in those pious days of old, differing only in degree, and that there is hope for the most wayward son and careless correspondent.

The following letters from the elder Morse I shall include as being of rather more than ordinary interest, and as showing the breadth of his activity.

CHARLESTOWN, December 23, 1806.

REV’D AND RESPECTED SIR,–I presume that it might be agreeable to you to know the precise state of the property which originally belonged to the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia.

I have with some pains obtained the law of that State respecting this singular business.

I find that it destroys _the establishment_ and asserts that “all property belonging to the said (Protestant Episcopal) Church devolved on the good people of this Commonwealth (i.e., Virginia) on the dissolution of the British Government here, in the same degree in which the right and interest of the said Church was therein derived from them,” and authorizes the overseers of the poor of any county “in which any glebe land is vacant, or shall become so by the death or removal of any incumbent, to sell all such land and appurtenances and every other species of property incident thereto to the highest bidder”–“Provided that nothing herein contained shall authorize an appropriation to _any religious purpose whatever_.”

I make no comments on the above. I believe no other State in the Union has, in this respect, imitated the example of Virginia.

I take the liberty to send you a few small tracts for your acceptance in token of my high respect for your character and services.

Believe me, sir, unfeignedly,

Your obedient servant,

December 26, 1806.

DEAR SIR,–Your polite note and the valuable books accompanying it, forwarded by our friend Perkins, of New York, have been duly and gratefully received.

You will perceive, by the number of the “Panoplist” enclosed, that we are strangers neither to your works nor your character. It has given me much pleasure as an American to make both more extensively known among my countrymen.

I have purchased several hundred of your spelling books for a charitable society to which I belong, and they have been dispersed in the new settlements in our country, where I hope they will do immediate good, besides creating a desire and demand for more. It will ever give me pleasure to hear from you when convenient. Letters left at Mr. Taylor’s will find me.

I herewith send you two or three pamphlets and a copy of the last edition of my “American Gazetteer” which I pray you to accept as a small token of the high respect and esteem with which I am

Your friend,

Young Morse now settled down to serious work as the following extracts will show, which I set down without further comment, passing rapidly over the next few years. He was, however, not entirely absorbed in his books but still longed for the pleasures of the chase:–

“May 13, 1807. Just now I asked Mr. Twining to let me go a-gunning for this afternoon. He told me you had expressly forbidden it and he therefore could not. Now I should wish to go once in a while, for I always intend to be careful. I have no amusement now in the vacation, and it would gratify me very much if you would consent to let me go once in a while. I suppose you would tell me that my books ought to be my amusement. I cannot study all the time and I need some exercise. If I walk, that is no amusement, and if I wish to play ball or anything else, I have no one to play with. Please to write me an answer as soon as” possible.

June 7, 1807.

MY DEAR PARENTS,–I hope you will excuse my not writing you sooner when I inform you that my time is entirely taken up with my studies.

In the morning I must rise at five o’clock to attend prayers and, immediately after, recitation; then I must breakfast and begin to study from eight o’clock till eleven; then recite my forenoon’s lesson which takes me an hour.

At twelve I must study French till one, which is dinner-time. Directly after dinner I must recite French to Monsieur Value till two o’clock, then begin to study my afternoon lesson and recite it at five. Immediately after recitation I must study another French lesson to recite at seven in the evening; come home at nine o’clock and study my morning’s lesson until ten, eleven, and sometimes twelve o’clock, and by that tine I am prepared to sleep…. You see now I have enough to do, my hands as full as can be, not five minutes’ time to take recreation. I am determined to study and, thus far, have not missed a single word. The students call me by the nickname of “Geography.”

“_June 18, 1807._ Last week I went to Mr. Beers and saw a set of Montaigne’s ‘Essays’ in French in eight volumes, duodecimo, handsomely bound in calf and gilt, for two dollars. The reason they are so cheap is because they are wicked and bad books for me or anybody else to read. I got them because they were cheap, and have exchanged them for a handsome English edition of ‘Gil Blas’; price, $4.50.”

In the fall of 1807 Finley Morse returned to college accompanied by his next younger brother, Sidney Edwards. In a letter of March 6, 1808, he says: “Edwards and myself are very well and I believe we are doing well, but you will learn more of that from our instructors.”

In this same letter he says:–

“I find it impossible to live in college without spending money. At one time a letter is to be paid for, then comes up a great tax from the class or society, which keeps me constantly running after money. When I have money in my hand I feel as though I had stolen it, and it is with the greatest pain that I part with it. I think every minute I shall receive a letter from home blaming me for not being more economical, and thus I am kept in distress all the time.

“The amount of my expenses for the last term was fifteen dollars, expended in the following manner:–

Dols. Cts.
“Postage $2.05
Oil .50
Taxes, fines, etc. 3.00
Oysters .50
Washbowl .37-1/2
Skillet .33
Axe $1.33 Catalogues .12 1.45
Powder and shot 1.12-1/2
Cakes, etc. etc. etc. 1.75
Wine, Thanks. day .20
Toll on bridge .15
Grinding axe .08
Museum .25
Poor man .14
Carriage for trunk 1.00
Pitcher .41 14.75-1/2 Sharpening skates .37-1/2 Paid for Circ. Library .25 cutting wood .25 Post papers .57
Lent never to be returned .25

$14.75-1/2 15.00-1/2

“In my expenses I do not include my wood, tuition bills, board or washing bills.”

How characteristic of all boys of all times the “etc., etc., etc.,” tacked on to the “cakes” item, and how many boys of the present day would bewail the extravagance of fifteen dollars spent in one term on extras? In a postscript in this same letter he says: “The students are very fond of raising balloons at present. I will (with your leave) when I return home make one. They are pleasant sights.”

College terms were very different in those days from what they are at present, for September 5 finds the boys still in New Haven, and Finley says, “There is but three and a half weeks to Commencement.”

In this same letter he gives utterance to these filial sentiments: “I now make those only my companions who are the most religious and moral, and I hope sincerely that it will have a good effect in changing that thoughtless disposition which has ever been a striking trait in my character. As I grow older, I begin to think better of what you have always told me when I was small. I begin to know by experience that man is born to trouble, and that temptations to do evil are as countless as the stars, but I hope I shall be enabled to shun them.”

This is from a letter of January 9, 1809:–

“I have been reading the first volume of Professor Silliman’s ‘Journal’ which he kept during his passage to and residence in Europe. I am very much pleased with it. I long for the time when I shall be able to travel with improvement to myself and society, and hope it will be in your power to assist me.

“I have a very ardent desire of travelling, but I consider that an education is indispensable to me and I mean to apply myself with all diligence for that purpose. _Diligentia vinrit omnia_ is my maxim and I shall endeavor to follow it…. I shall be employed in the vacation in the Philosophical Chamber with Mr. Dwight, who is going to perform a number of experiments in _Electricity_.”

It is, of course, only a curious coincidence that these two sentences should have occurred in the same letter, but it was when travelling, many years afterwards, that the first idea of the electric telegraph found lodgment in his brain, and this certainly resulted in improvement to himself and society.

In February, 1809, he writes: “My studies are at present Optics in Philosophy, Dialling, Homer, beside disputing, composing, attending lectures etc. etc., all which I find very interesting and especially Mr. Day’s lectures who is now lecturing on _Electricity_.”

Young Morse’s thoughts seem to have been gradually focusing on the two subjects to which he afterwards devoted his life, for in a letter of March 8, 1809, he says: “Mr. Day’s lectures are very interesting. They are upon Electricity. He has given us some very fine experiments. The whole class taking hold of hands formed the circuit of communication and we all received the shock apparently at the same moment. I never took an electric shock before. It felt as if some person had struck me a slight blow across the arms…. I think with pleasure that two thirds of this term only remain. As soon as that is passed away, I hope I shall again see home. I really long to see Charlestown again; I have almost forgotten how it looks. I have some thoughts of taking a view of Boston from Bunker’s Hill when I go home again. It will be some pleasure to me to have some picture of my native place to look upon when I am from home.”

And in August, 1809, he writes to his parents: “I employ all my leisure time in painting. I have a great number of persons engaged already to be drawn on ivory, no less than seven. They obtain the ivories for themselves. I have taken Professor Kingsley’s profile for him. It is a good likeness of him and he is pleased with it. I think I shall take his likeness on ivory and present it to him as my present at the end of the year…. I have finished Miss Leffingwell’s miniature. It is a good likeness and she is very much pleased with it.”

NEW HAVEN, May 29, 1810.

MY DEAR PARENTS,–I arrived in this place on Sabbath evening by packet from New York. I left Philadelphia on Thursday morning at eight o’clock and arrived in New York on Friday at ten….

I stayed in New York but one night. I found it quite insipid after seeing Philadelphia. [The character of the two cities seems to have changed a trifle in a hundred years, for, with all her faults, no one could nowadays accuse New York of being insipid.] I went on board the packet on Saturday at twelve o’clock and arrived, as I before stated, on Sabbath evening. We had, on the whole, a very good set of passengers from New York to this place. On Sunday we had two sermons read to us by one of them, Dr. Hawley, of this place, and in the evening we sang five psalms, and during the whole of the exercises the passengers conducted themselves with perfect decorum, although one of the sermons was one hour in length….

June 25, 1810.

MY DEAR PARENTS,–I received yours of the 23d this day and receive with humility your reproof. I am extremely sorry it should have occasioned so many disagreeable feelings. I felt it my duty to tell you of my debts, and, indeed, I could not feel easy without. The amount of my buttery bill is forty-two or forty-three dollars.

Mr. Nettleton is butler and is willing I should take his likeness as part pay. I shall take it on ivory, and he has engaged to allow me seven dollars for it. My price is five dollars for a miniature on ivory, and. I have engaged three or four at that price. My price for profiles is one dollar, and everybody is ready to engage me at that price…. Though I have been much to blame in the present case, yet I think it but just that Mr. Twining should bear his part.

I had begun with a determination to pay for everything as I got it, but was stopped in this in the very beginning, for, in going to Mr. T. to get money, I have five times out of six found him absent, sometimes for the whole day, sometimes for a week or two weeks, and once he was absent six weeks and made no sort of provision for us. Mrs. T. is never trusted with money for us. Now in such case I am obliged by necessity to get a thing charged, and I have found by sad experience that a bill increases faster than I had in the least imagined….

“_July 22, 1810._ I am now released from college and am attending to painting. All my class were accepted as candidates for degrees. Edwards is admitted a member of [Greek: Phi][Greek: Beta][Greek: Kappa] Society, and is appointed as monitor to the next Freshman Class. Richard is chosen as one of the speakers the evening before Commencement.

“Edwards and Richard are both of them very steady and good scholars, and are much esteemed by the authority of college as well as their fellow students.

“As to my choice of a profession, I still think that I was made for a painter, and I would be obliged to you to make such arrangement with Mr. Allston for my studying with him as you shall think expedient. I should desire to study with him during the winter, and, as he expects to return to England in the spring, I should admire to be able to go with him.”

In answer to this letter his father wrote:–

CHARLESTOWN, July 26, 1810.

DEAR Finley,–I received your letter of the 22d to-day by mail.

On the subject of your future pursuits we will converse when I see you and when you get home. It will be best for you to form no plans. Your mama and I have been thinking and planning for you. I shall disclose to you our plan when I see you. Till then suspend your mind.

It gives us great pleasure to have you speak so well of your brothers. Others do the same and we hear well of you also. It is a great comfort to us that our sons are all likely to do so well and are in good reputation among their acquaintances. Could we have reason to believe you were all pious and had chosen the “good part,” our joy concerning you all would be full. I hope the Lord in due time will grant us this pleasure.

“Seek the Lord,” my dear son, “while he may be found.”

Your affectionate father,

[ILLUSTRATION: ELIZABETH ANN MORSE AND SIDNEY E. MORSE ILLUSTRATION: REV. JEDEDIAH MORSE AND S.F.B. MORSE From portraits by a Mr. Sargent, who also painted portraits of the Washington family]

September 8, 1810.

DEAR MAMA,–Papa arrived here safely this evening and I need not tell you we were glad to see him. He has mentioned to me the plan which he proposed for my future business in life, and I am pleased with it, for I was determined beforehand to conform to his and your will in everything, and, when I come home, I shall endeavor to make amends for the trouble and anxiety which you have been at on my account, by assisting papa in his labors and pursuing with ardor my own business….

I have been extremely low-spirited for some days past, and it still continues. I hope it will wear off by Commencement Day….

I am so low in spirits that I could almost cry.

It was no wonder that he was down-hearted, for he was ambitious and longed to carve out a great career for himself, while his good parents were conservative and wished him to become independent as soon as possible. Their plan was to apprentice him to a bookseller, and he dutifully conformed to their wishes for a time, but his ambition could not be curbed, and it was not long before he broke away.


OCTOBER 31, 1810–AUGUST 17. 1811

Enters bookshop as clerk.–Devotes leisure to painting.–Leaves shop.– Letter to his brothers on appointments at Yale.–Letters from Joseph P. Rossiter.–Morse’s first love affair.–Paints “Landing of the Pilgrims.” –Prepares to sail with Allstons for England.–Letters of introduction from his father.–Disagreeable stage-ride to New York.–Sails on the Lydia.–Prosperous voyage.–Liverpool.–Trip to London.–Observations on people and customs.–Frequently cheated.–Critical time in England.–Dr. Lettsom.–Sheridan’s verse.–Longing for a telegraph.–A ghost

After his graduation from Yale College in the fall of 1810, Finley Morse returned to his home in Charlestown, Mass., and cheerfully submitted himself to his parents’ wishes by entering the bookshop of a certain Mr. Mallory.

He writes under date of October 31, 1810, to his brothers who are still at college: “I am in an excellent situation and on excellent terms. I have four hundred dollars per year, but this you must not mention out. I have the choice of my hours; they are from nine till one-half past twelve, and from three till sunset.”

But he still clings to the idea of becoming a painter, for he adds: “My evenings I employ in painting. I have every convenience; the room over the kitchen is fitted up for me; I have a fire there every evening, and can spend it alone or otherwise as I please. I have bought me one of the new patent lamps, those with glass chimneys, which gives an excellent light. It cost me about six dollars. Send on as soon as possible anything and everything which pertains to my painting apparatus.”

The following letter was written at some time in 1810 or 1811. It was addressed to Mr. Sereno E. Dwight:–

“Mr. Mallory a few days since handed me a letter from you requesting me, if possible, to sketch a likeness of young Mr. Daggett. Accordingly I have made the attempt and take the present opportunity of forwarding you the results. The task was hard but pleasurable. It is one of the most difficult undertakings to endeavor to take a portrait from recollection of one whose countenance has not been examined particularly for the purpose. When I made the first attempt, not a single feature could I recall distinctly to my memory and I almost despaired of a likeness, but the thought of lessening the affliction of such a distressed family determined me to attempt it a second time. The result is on the ivory. I then showed it to my brothers, to Mr. Evarts, to Mr. Hillhouse, to Mr. Mallory, and to Mr. Read, all of whom had not the least suspicion of anything of the kind, and they have severally and separately pronounced it a likeness of young Mr. Daggett. This encouraged me, and I made the two other sketches which are thought likewise to be resemblances of him.

“If these or any one of them can be recognized by the afflicted family as a resemblance of him they have lost, it will be an ample compensation to me to think that I have in any degree been the means of alleviating their suffering….”

On December 8, 1810, he writes to his brother: “I have almost completed my landscape. It is ‘proper handsome,’ so they say, and they want to make me believe it is so, but I shan’t yet awhile.”

This shows the right frame of mind for an artist, and yet, like most youthful painters, he attempted more than his proficiency warranted, for in this same letter he adds: “I am going to begin, as soon as I have finished it [the landscape], a piece, the subject of which will be ‘Marius on the Ruins of Carthage.'”

On December 28, 1810, he writes: “I shall leave Mr. Mallory’s next week and study painting exclusively till summer.”

He had at last burst his bonds, and his wise parents, seeing that his heart was only in his painting, decided to throw no further obstacles in his way, but, at the cost of much self-sacrifice on their part, to further in every way his ambition.

January 15, 1811.

MY DEAR BROTHERS,–We have just received Richard’s letter of the 8th inst., and I can have a pretty correct idea of your feelings at the beginning of a vacation. You must not be melancholy and hang yourself. If you do you will have a terrible scolding when you get home again. As for Richard’s getting an appointment so low, if I was in his situation, I should not trouble myself one fig concerning _appointments_. They cost more than they are worth. I shall not esteem him the less for not getting a higher, and not more than one millionth part of the world knows what an appointment is. You will both of you have a different opinion of appointments after you have been out of college a short time. I had rather be Richard with a dialogue than Sanford with a dispute. If appointments at college decided your fate forever, you might possibly groan and wail. But then consider where poor I should come. [He got no appointment whatever.] Think of this, Richard, and _don’t_ hang _yourself_. [It may, perhaps, be well to explain that “appointments” were given at Yale to those who excelled in scholarship. “Philosophical Oration” was the highest, then came “High Oration,” “Oration,” etc., etc.] I have left Mr. Mallory’s store and am helping papa in the Geography. Shall remain at home till the latter part of next summer and then shall go to London with Mr. Allston.

The following extracts from two letters of a college friend I have introduced as throwing some light on Morse’s character at that time and also as curious examples of the epistolary style of those days:–

NEW HAVEN, February 5, 1811.

Dear Finley,–Yours of the 6th ult. I received, together with the books enclosed, which I delivered personally according to your request.

Did I not know the nature of your disorder and the state of your _gizzard_, I should really be surprised at the commencement, and, indeed, the whole tenor of your letter, but as it is I can excuse and feel for you.

Had I commenced a letter with the French _Helas! helas!_ it would have been no more than might reasonably have been expected considering the desolate situation of New Haven and the gloomy prospects before me. But for you, who are in the very vortex of fashionable life and surrounded by the amusements and bustle of the metropolis of New England, for you to exclaim, “How lonely I am!” is unpardonable, or at most admits of but one excuse, to wit, that you can plead the feelings of the youth who exclaimed, “Gods annihilate both time and space and make two lovers happy!”

You suppose I am so much taken up with the ladies and other good things in New Haven that I have not time to think of one of my old friends. Alas! Morse, there are no ladies or anything else to occupy my attention. They are all gone and we have no amusements. Even old Value has deserted us, whose music, though an assemblage of “unharmonious sounds,” is infinitely preferable to the harsh grating thunder of his brother. New Haven is, indeed, this winter a dreary place. I wrote you about a month since and did then what you wish me now to do,–I mentioned all that is worth mentioning, which, by the way, is very little, about New Haven and its inhabitants.

Since then I have been to New York and saw the Miss Radcliffs, and, in passing through Stamford, the Miss Davenports. The mention of the name of Davenport would at one time have excited in your breast emotions unutterable, but now, though Ann is as lovely as ever, your heart requires the influence of another Hart to quicken its pulsations…. Last but not least comes the all-conquering, the angelic queen of Harts. I have not seen her since she left New Haven, but have heard from her sister Eliza that she is in good health and is going in April to New York with Mrs. Jarvis (her sister) to spend the summer and perhaps a longer time, where she will probably break many a proud heart and bend many a stubborn knee. I fear, Morse, unless you have her firmly in your toils, I fear she may not be able to withstand every attack, for New York abounds with elegant and accomplished young men.

You mention that you have again changed your mind as to the business which you intend to pursue. I really thought that the plan of becoming a bookseller would be permanent because sanctioned by parental authority, but I am now convinced that your mind is so much bent upon painting that you will do nothing else effectually. It is indeed a noble art and if pursued effectually leads to the highest eminence, for painters rank with poets, and to be placed in the scale with Milton and Homer is an honor that few of mortal mould attain unto…. I wish, Finley, that you would paint me a handsome piece for a keepsake as you are going to Europe and may not be back in a hurry. Present my respects to Mr. Hillhouse. His father’s family are well. Adieu.

Your affectionate friend,

From this letter and from others we learn that young Morse’s youthful affections were fixed on a certain charming Miss Jannette Hart, but, alas! he proved a faithless lover, for his friend Rossiter thus reproves him in a letter of May 8, 1811:–

“Oh! most amazing change! Can it be possible? Oh! Love, and all ye cordial powers of passion, forbid it! Still, still the dreadful words glare on my sight. Alas! alas! and is it, then, a fact? If so ‘t is pitiful, ‘t is wondrous pitiful. Cupid, tear off your bandage, new string your bow and tip your arrows with harder adamant. Oh! shame upon you, only hear the words of your exultant votarist–‘Even Love, which according to the proverb conquers all things, when put in competition with painting, must yield the palm and be a willing captive.’ Oh! fie, fie, good master Cupid, you shoot but poorly if a victim so often wounded can talk in terms like these.

“Poor luckless Jannette! the epithets ‘divine’ and ‘heavenly’ which have so often been applied to thee are now transferred to miserable daubings with oil and clay. Dame Nature, your triumph has been short. Poor foolish beldam, you thought, indeed, when you had formed your masterpiece and named her Jannette, that unqualified admiration would be extorted from the lips of prejudice itself, and that, at least, till age had worn off the first dazzling lustre from your favorite, your sway would have been unlimited and your exultation immeasurable. My good old Dame, hear for your comfort what a foolish, fickle youth has dared to say of your darling Jannette, and that while she is yet in the first blush and bloom of virgin loveliness–‘_next_ to painting I love Jannette the best.’ Insufferable blasphemy! Hear, O Heavens, and be amazed! Tremble, O Earth, and be horribly afraid!”

In spite of this impassioned arraignment, Morse devoted himself exclusively to his art for the next few years, and we have only occasional references in the letters that follow to his first serious love affair.

We also hear nothing further of “Marius on the Ruins of Carthage”; but in February, 1811, he writes to his brothers: “I am painting my large piece, the landing of our forefathers at Plymouth. Perhaps I shall have it finished by the time you come home in the spring. My landscape I finished sometime since, and it is framed and hung up in the front parlor.”

At last in July, 1811, the great ambition of the young man was about to be realized and he prepared to set sail for England with his friend and master, Washington Allston. His father, having once made up his mind to allow his son to follow his bent, did everything possible to further his ambition and assist him in his student years. He gave him many letters of introduction to well-known persons in England and France, one of which, to His Excellency C.M. Talleyrand, I shall quote in full.

SIR,–I had the honor to introduce to you, some years since, a young friend of mine, Mr. Wilder, who has since resided in your country. Your civility to him induces me to take the liberty to introduce to you my eldest son, who visits Europe for the purpose of perfecting himself in the art of painting under the auspices of some of your eminent artists. Should he visit France, as he intends, I shall direct him to pay his respects to you, sir, assured that he will receive your protection and patronage so far as you can with convenience afford them.

In thus doing you will much oblige,

Sir, with high consideration
Your most ob’d’t. Serv’t,

In another letter of introduction, to whom I cannot say, as the address on the copy is lacking, the father says:–

“His parents had designed him for a different profession, but his inclination for the one he has chosen was so strong, and his talents for it, in the opinion of some good judges, so promising, that we thought it not proper to attempt to control his choice.

“In this country, young in the arts, there are few means of improvement. These are to be found in their perfection only in older countries, and in none, perhaps, greater than in yours. In compliance, therefore, with his earnest wishes and those of his friend and patron, Mr. Allston (with whom he goes to London), we have consented to make the sacrifice of feeling (not a small one), and a pecuniary exertion to the utmost of our ability, for the purpose of placing him under the best advantage of becoming eminent in his profession, in hope that he will consecrate his acquisitions to the glory of God and the best good of his fellow men.”

Morse arrived in New York on July 6, 1811, after a several days’ journey from Charlestown which he describes as very terrible on account of the heat and dust. People were dying from the heat in New York where the thermometer reached 98 deg. in the shade. He says:–

“My ride to New Haven was beyond everything disagreeable; the sun beating down upon the stage (the sides of which we were obliged to shut up on account of the sun) which was like an oven, and the wind, instead of being in our faces as papa supposed, was at our back and brought into our faces such columns of dust as to hinder us from seeing the other side of the stage.

“I never was so completely covered with dust in my life before. Mama, perhaps, will think that I experienced some inconvenience from such a fatiguing journey, but I never felt better in my life than now.”

The optimism of youth when it is doing what it wants to do.

He had taken passage on the good ship Lydia with Mr. and Mrs. Allston and some eleven other passengers, and the sailing of the ship was delayed for several days on account of contrary winds, but at last, on July 13, the voyage was begun.

OFF SANDY HOOK, July 15, 1811.

MY DEAR PARENTS,–After waiting a great length of time I have got under way. We left New York Harbor on Saturday, 13th, about twelve o’clock and went as far as the quarantine ground on Staten Island, where, on account of the wind, we waited over Sunday.

We are now under sail with the pilot on board. We have a fair wind from S.S.W. and shall soon be out of sight of land. We have fourteen very agreeable passengers, an experienced and remarkably pleasant captain, and a strong, large, fast-sailing ship. We expect from twenty-five to thirty days’ passage…. We have a piano-forte on board and two gentlemen who play elegantly, so we shall have fine times. I am in good spirits, though I feel rather singularly to see my native shores disappearing so fast and for so long a time.

I am not yet seasick, but expect to be a little so in a few days. We shall probably be boarded by a British vessel of war soon; there are a number off the coast, but they treat American vessels very civilly.

He kept a careful diary of the voyage to England and again resumed it when he returned to America in 1815. The voyage out was most propitious and lasted but twenty-two days in all: a very short one for that time. As the diary contains nothing of importance relating to the eastern voyage, being simply a record of good weather, fair winds, and pleasant companions, I shall not quote from it at present.

It was all pleasure to the young man, who had never before been away from home, and he sees no reason why people should dread a sea voyage.

The journal of the return trip tells a different story, as we shall see later on, for the passage lasted fifty-seven days, and head winds, gales, and even hurricanes were encountered all the way across, and he wonders why any one should go to sea who can remain safely on land.

LIVERPOOL, August 7, 1811.

MY DEAR PARENTS,–You see from the date that I have at length arrived in England. I have had a most delightful passage of twenty days from land to land and two in coming up the channel.

As this is a letter merely to inform you of my safe arrival I shall not enter into the particulars of our voyage until I get to London, to which place I shall proceed as soon as possible.

Suffice it to say that I have not been sick a moment of the passage, but, on the contrary, have never enjoyed my health better. I have not as yet got my trunks from the custom-house, but presume I shall meet with no difficulty.

I am now at the Liverpool Arms Inn. It is the same inn that Mr. Silliman put up at; it is, however, very expensive; they charge the enormous sum, I believe, of a guinea or a guinea and a half a day.

If I should be detained a day or two in this place I shall endeavor to find out other lodgings; at present, however, it is unavoidable, as all the other passengers are at the same place with me. You may rest assured I shall do everything in my power to be economical, but to avoid imposition of some kind or other cannot be expected, since every one who has been in England and spoken of the subject to me has been imposed upon in some way or other.

You cannot think how many times I have expressed a wish that you knew exactly how I was situated. My passage has been so perfectly agreeable, I know not of a single circumstance that has interfered to render it otherwise, through the whole passage. There has been but one day in which we have not had fair winds. Mr. and Mrs. Allston are perfectly well. She has been seasick, but has been greatly benefited by it. She is growing quite healthy. I have grown about three shades darker in consequence of my voyage. I have a great deal to tell you which I must defer till I arrive in London…. Oh! how I wish you knew at this moment that I am safe and well in England.

Good-bye. Do write soon and often as I shall.

Your very affectionate son,

Everything was new and interesting to the young artist, and his critical observations on people and places, on manners and customs, are naive and often very keen. The following are extracts from his diary:–

“As to the manners of the people it cannot be expected that I should form a correct opinion of them since my intercourse with them has been so short, but, from what little I have seen, I am induced to entertain a very favorable opinion of their hospitality. The appearance of the women as I met them in the streets struck me on account of the beauty of their complexions. Their faces may be said to be handsome, but their figures are very indifferent and their gait, in walking, is very bad.

“On Friday, the 9th of August, I went to the Mayor to get leave to go to London. He gave me ten days to get there, and told me, if he found me in Liverpool after that time, he should put me in prison, at which I could not help smiling. His name is Drinkwater, but from the appearance of his face I should judge it might be Drinkbrandy.

“On account of his limiting us to ten days we prepared to set out for London immediately as we should be obliged to travel slowly…. Mr. and Mrs. Allston and myself ordered a post-chaise, and at twelve o’clock we set out for Manchester, intending to stay there the first night…. The people, great numbers of whom we passed, had cheerful, healthy countenances; they were neat in their dress and appeared perfectly happy….

“Much has been said concerning the miserable state in which the lower class of people live in England but especially in large manufacturing cities. That they are so unhappy as some would think I conceive to be erroneous. We are apt to suppose people are unhappy for the reason that, were we taken from our present situation of independence and placed in their situation of dependence, we should be unhappy; not considering that contentment is the foundation of happiness. As far as my own observation extends, and from what I can learn on inquiry, the lower class of people generally are contented. N.B. I have altered my opinion since writing this….

“Thus far on our journey we have had a very pleasant time. There is great difference I find in the treatment of travellers. They are treated according to the style in which they travel. If a man arrives at the door of an inn in a stage-coach, he is suffered to alight without notice, and it is taken for granted that common fare will answer for him. But if he comes in a post-chaise, the whole inn is in an uproar; the whole house come to the door, from the landlord down to boots. One holds his hand to help you to alight, another is very officious in showing you to the parlor, and another gets in the baggage, whilst the landlord and landlady are quite in a bustle to know what the gentleman will please to have. This attention, however, is very pleasant, you are sure to be waited upon well and can have everything you will call for, and that of the nicest kind. It is the custom in this country to hire no servants at inns. They, on the contrary, pay for their places and the only wages they get is from the generosity of travellers.

“This circumstance at first would strike a person unacquainted with the customs of England as a very great imposition. I thought so, but, since I have considered the subject better, I believe that there could not be a wiser plan formed. It makes servants civil and obliging and always ready to do anything; for, knowing that they depend altogether on the bounty of travellers, they would fear to do anything which would in the least offend them; and, as there is a customary price for each grade of servants, a person who is travelling can as well calculate the expense of his journey as though they were nothing of the kind.”

“_London, August 15, 1811._ You see from the date that I have at length arrived at the place of my destination. I have been in the city about three hours, so you see what is my first object…. Mr. and Mrs. Allston with myself took a post-chaise which, indeed, is much more expensive than a stage-coach, but, on account of Mrs. Allston’s health, which you know was not very good when in Boston (although she is much benefited by her voyage), we were obliged to travel slowly, and in this manner it has cost us perhaps double the sum which it would have done had we come in a stage-coach. But necessity obliged me to act as I have done. I found myself in a land of strangers, liable to be cheated out of my teeth almost, and, if I had gone to London without Mr. Allston, by waiting at a boarding-house, totally unacquainted with any living creature, I should probably have expended the difference by the time he had arrived…. I trust you will not think it extravagant in me for doing as I have done, for I assure you I shall endeavor to be as economical as possible.

“I also mentioned in my letter that I could scarcely expect to steer free from imposition since none of my predecessors have been able to do it. Since writing that letter I have found (in spite of all my care to the contrary) my observation true. In going from the Liverpool Arms to Mr. Woolsey’s, which is over a mile, I was under the necessity of getting into a hackney-coach. Upon asking what was to pay he told me a shilling. I offered him half a guinea to change, which I knew to be good, having taken it at the hank in New York.

“He tossed it into the air and caught it in his mouth very dexterously, and, handing it to me back again, told me it was a bad one. I looked at it and told him I was sure it was good, but, appealing to a gentleman who was passing, I found it was bad. Of course I was obliged to give him other money. When I got to my lodgings I related the circumstance to some of my friends and they told me he had cheated me in this way: that it was common for them to carry bad money about them in their mouths, and, when this fellow had caught the good half-guinea in his mouth, he changed it for a bad one. This is one of the thousand tricks they play every day. I have likewise received eleven bad shillings on the road between Liverpool and this place, and it is hardly to be wondered at, for the shilling pieces here are just like old buttons without eyes, without the sign of an impression on them, and one who is not accustomed to this sort of money will never know the difference.

“I find, as mama used to tell me, that I must watch my very teeth or they will cheat me out of them.”

“_Friday, 16th, 1811._ This morning I called on Mr. Bromfield and delivered my letters. He received me very cordially, enquired after you particularly, and invited me to dine with him at 5 o’clock, which invitation I accepted…. I find I have arrived in England at a very critical state of affairs. If such a state continues much longer, England must fall. American measures affect this country more than you can have any idea of. The embargo, if it had continued six weeks longer, it is said would have forced this country into any measures.”

“_Saturday, 17th._ I have been unwell to-day in some degree, so that I have not been able to go out all day. It was a return of the colic. I sent my letter of introduction to Dr. Lettsom with a request that he would call on me, which he did and prescribed a medicine which cured me in an hour or two, and this evening I feel well enough to resume my letter.

“Dr. Lettsom is a very singular man. He looks considerably like the print you have of him. He is a moderate Quaker, but not precise and stiff like the Quakers of Philadelphia. He is a very pleasant and sociable man and withal very blunt in his address. He is a man of excellent information and is considered among the greatest literary characters here. There is one peculiarity, however, which he has in conversation, that of using the verb in the third person singular with the pronoun in the first person singular and plural, as instead of ‘I show’ or ‘we show,’ he says ‘I shows,’ ‘we shows,’ etc., upon which peculiarity the famous Mr. Sheridan made the following lines in ridicule of him:–

“If patients call, both one and all
I bleeds ’em and I sweats ’em,
And if they die, why what care I–


“This is a liberty I suppose great men take with each other….

“Perhaps you may have been struck at the lateness of the hour set by Mr. Bromfield for dinner [5 o’clock!], but that is considered quite early in London. I will tell you the fashionable hours. A person to be genteel must rise at twelve o’clock, breakfast at two, dine at six, and sup at the same time, and go to bed about three o’clock the next morning. This may appear extravagant, but it is actually practised by the greatest of the fashionables of London….

“I think you will not complain of the shortness of this letter. I only wish you now had it to relieve your minds from anxiety, for, while I am writing, I can imagine mama wishing that she could hear of my arrival, and thinking of thousands of accidents that may have befallen me, and _I wish that in an instant I could communicate the information;_ but three thousand miles are not passed over in an instant and we must wait four long weeks before we can hear from each other.”

(The italics are mine, for on the outside of this letter written by Morse in pencil are the words:–

“A longing for the telegraph even in this letter.”)

“There has a ghost made its appearance a few streets only from me which has alarmed the whole city. It appears every night in the form of shriekings and groanings. There are crowds at the house every night, and, although they all hear the noises, none can discover from whence they come. The family have quitted the house. I suppose ’tis only a hoax by some rogue which will be brought out in time.”


AUGUST 24, 1811–DECEMBER 1. 1811

Benjamin West.–George III.–Morse begins his studies.–Introduced to West.–Enthusiasms.–Smuggling and lotteries.–English appreciation of art.–Copley.–Friendliness of West.–Elgin marbles.–Cries of London.– Custom in knocking.–Witnesses balloon ascension.–Crowds.–Vauxhall Gardens.–St. Bartholomew’s Fair.–Efforts to be economical.–Signs of war.–Mails delayed.–Admitted to Royal Academy.–Disturbances, riots, and murders.

At this time Benjamin West the American was President of the Royal Academy and at the zenith of his power and fame. Young Morse, admitted at once into the great man’s intimacy through his connection with Washington Allston and by letters of introduction, was dazzled and filled with enthusiasm for the works of the master. He considered him one of the greatest of painters, if not the greatest, of all times. The verdict of posterity does not grant him quite so exalted a niche in the temple of Fame, but his paintings have many solid merits and his friendship and favor were a source of great inspiration to the young artist.

Mr. Prime in his biography of Morse relates this interesting anecdote:–

“During the war of American Independence, West, remaining true to his native country, enjoyed the continued confidence of the King, and was actually engaged upon his portrait when the Declaration of Independence was handed to him. Mr. Morse received the facts from the lips of West himself, and communicated them to me in these words:–

“‘I called upon Mr. West at his house in Newman Street one morning, and in conformity with the order given to his servant, Robert, always to admit Mr. Leslie and myself, even if he was engaged in his private studies, I was shown into his studio.

“‘As I entered, a half-length portrait of George III stood before me upon an easel, and Mr. West was sitting with back toward me copying from it upon canvas. My name having been mentioned to him, he did not turn, but, pointing with the pencil he had in his hand to the portrait from which he was copying, he said:–

“‘”Do you see that picture, Mr. Morse?”

“‘”Yes sir!” I said; “I perceive it is the portrait of the King.”

“‘”Well,” said Mr. West, “the King was sitting to me for that portrait when the box containing the American Declaration of Independence was handed to him.”

“‘”Indeed,” I answered; “what appeared to be the emotions of the King? what did he say?”

“‘”Well, sir,” said Mr. West, “he made a reply characteristic of the goodness of his heart,” or words to that effect. “‘Well, if they can be happier under the government they have chosen than under mine, I shall be happy.'”‘”

On August 24, 1811, Morse writes to his parents:–

“I have begun my studies, the first part of which is drawing. I am drawing from the head of Demosthenes at present, to get accustomed to handling black and white chalk. I shall then commence a drawing for the purpose of trying to enter the Royal Academy. It is a much harder task to enter now than when Mr. Allston was here, as they now require a pretty accurate knowledge of anatomy before they suffer them to enter, and I shall find the advantage of my anatomical lectures. I feel rather encouraged from this circumstance, since the harder it is to gain admittance, the greater honor it will be should I enter. I have likewise begun a large landscape which, at a bold push, I intend for the Exhibition, though I run the risk of being refused….

“I was introduced to Mr. West by Mr. Allston and likewise gave him your letter. He was very glad to see me, and said he would render me every assistance in his power.”

“At the British Institution I saw his famous piece of Christ healing the sick. He said to me: ‘This is the piece I intended for America, but the British would have it themselves; but I shall give America the better one.’ He has begun a copy, which I likewise saw, and there are several alterations for the better, if it is possible to be better. A sight of that piece is worth a voyage to England of itself. When it goes to America, if you don’t go to see it, I shall think you have not the least taste for paintings.”

“The encomiums which Mr. West has received on account of that piece have given him new life, and some say he is at least ten years younger. He is now likewise about another piece which will probably be superior to the other. He favored me with a sight of the sketch, which he said he granted to me because I was an American. He had not shown it to anybody else. Mr. Allston was with me and told me afterwards that, however superior his last piece was, this would far exceed it. The subject is Christ before Pilate. It will contain about fifty or sixty figures the size of life.”

“Mr. West is in his seventy-sixth year (I think), but, to see him, you would suppose him only about five-and-forty. He is very active; a flight of steps at the British Gallery he ran up as nimbly as I could…. I walked through his gallery of paintings of his own productions; there were upward of two hundred, consisting principally of the original sketches of his large pieces. He has painted in all upwards of six hundred pictures, which is more than any artist ever did with the exception of Rubens the celebrated Dutch painter….

“I was surprised on entering the gallery of paintings in the British Institution, at seeing eight or ten _ladies_ as well as gentlemen, with their easels and palettes and oil colors, employed in copying some of the pictures. You can see from this circumstance in what estimation the art is held here, since ladies of distinction, without hesitation or reserve, are willing to draw in public….

“By the way, I digress a little to inform you how I got my segars on shore. When we first went ashore I filled my pockets and hat as full as I could and left the rest in the top of my trunk intending to come and get them immediately. I came back and took another pocket load and left about eight or nine dozen on the top of my clothes. I went up into the city again and forgot the remainder until it was too late either to take them out or hide them under the clothes. So I waited trembling (for contraband goods subject the whole trunk to seizure), but the custom-house officer, being very good-natured and clever, saw them and took them up. I told him they were only for my own smoking and there were so few that they were not worth seizing. ‘Oh,’ says he, ‘I shan’t touch them; I won’t know they are here,’ and then shut down the trunk again. As he smoked, I gave him a couple of dozen for his kindness.”

What a curious commentary on human nature it is that even the most pious, up to our own time, can see no harm in smuggling and bribery. And, as another instance of how the standards of right and wrong change with the changing years, further on in this same letter to his strict and pious parents young Morse says:–

“I have just received letters and papers from you by the Galen which has arrived. I was glad to see American papers again. I see by them that the lottery is done drawing. How has my ticket turned out? If the weight will not be too great for one shipload, I wish you would send the money by the next vessel.”

The lottery was for the benefit of Harvard College.

“_September 3, 1811._ I have finished a drawing which I intended to offer at the Academy for admission. Mr. Allston told me it would undoubtedly admit me, as it was better than two thirds of those generally offered, but advised me to draw another and remedy some defects in handling the chalks (to which I am not at all accustomed), and he says I shall enter with some eclat. I showed it to Mr. West and he told me it was an extraordinary production, that I had talent, and only wanted knowledge of the art to make a great painter.”

In a letter to his friends, Mr. and Mrs. Jarvis, dated September 17, 1811, he says:–

“I was astonished to find such a difference in the encouragement of art between this country and America. In America it seemed to lie neglected, and only thought to be an employment suited to a lower class of people; but here it is the constant subject of conversation, and the exhibitions of the several painters are fashionable resorts. No person is esteemed accomplished or well educated unless he possesses almost an enthusiastic love for paintings. To possess a gallery of pictures is the pride of every nobleman, and they seem to vie with each other in possessing the most choice and most numerous collection…. I visited Mr. Copley a few days since. He is very old and infirm. I think his age is upward of seventy, nearly the age of Mr. West. His powers of mind have almost entirely left him; his late paintings are miserable; it is really a lamentable thing that a man should outlive his faculties. He has been a first-rate painter, as you well know. I saw at his room some exquisite pieces which he painted twenty or thirty years ago, but his paintings of the last four or five years are very bad. He was very pleasant, however, and agreeable in his manners.

“Mr. West I visit now and then. He is very liberal to me and gives me every encouragement. He is a very friendly man; he talked with me like a father and wished me to call and see him often and be intimate with him. Age, instead of impairing his faculties, seems rather to have strengthened them, as his last great piece testifies. He is soon coming out with another which Mr. Allston thinks will far surpass even this last. The subject is Christ before Pilate.

“I went last week to Burlington House in Piccadilly, about forty-five minutes’ walk, the residence of Lord Elgin, to see some of the ruins of Athens. Lord Elgin has been at an immense expense in transporting the great collection of splendid ruins, among them some of the original statues of Phidias, the celebrated ancient sculptor. They are very much mutilated, however, and impaired by time; still there was enough remaining to show the inferiority of all subsequent sculpture. Even those celebrated works, the Apollo Belvedere, Venus di Medicis, and the rest of those noble statues, must yield to them….

“The cries of London, of which you have doubtless heard, are very annoying to me, as indeed they are to all strangers. The noise of them is constantly in one’s ears from morning till midnight, and, with the exception of one or two, they all appear to be the cries of distress. I don’t know how many times I have run to the window expecting to see some poor creature in the agonies of death, but found, to my surprise, that it was only an old woman crying ‘Fardin’ apples,’ or something of the kind. Hogarth’s picture of the enraged musician will give you an excellent idea of the noise I hear every day under my windows….

“There is a singular custom with respect to knocking at the doors of houses here which is strictly adhered to. A servant belonging to the house rings the bell only; a strange servant knocks once; a market man or woman knocks once and rings; the penny post knocks twice; and a gentleman or lady half a dozen quick knocks, or any number over two. A nobleman generally knocks eight or ten tunes very loud.

“The accounts lately received from America look rather gloomy. They are thought here to wear a more threatening aspect than they have heretofore done. From my own observation and opportunity of hearing the opinion of the people generally, they are extremely desirous of an amicable adjustment of differences, and seem as much opposed to the idea of war as the better part of the American people….

“In this letter you will perceive all the variety of feeling which I have had for a fortnight past; sometimes in very low, sometimes in very high spirits, and sometimes a balance of each; which latter, though very desirable, I seldom have, but generally am at one extreme or the other. I wrote this in the evenings of the last two weeks, and this will account, and I hope apologize, for its great want of connection.”