Part 4 out of 7
* * * * *
"_Friday, 25th August._ Dreadful still; blowing harder and harder; quite
a storm and a lee shore; breakers in sight, tacked and stood over again
to the Irish shore under close-reefed topsails. At night saw Waterford
* * * * *
"_Monday, 28th August._ A fair wind springing up (ten o'clock). Going at
the rate of seven knots on our true course. We have had just a week of
the most disagreeable weather possible. I hope this is the beginning of
better winds, and that, in reasonable time, we shall see our native
"_Tuesday, 29th August._ Still disappointed in fair winds.... Since,
then, I can find nothing consoling on deck, let us see what is in the
cabin. All of us make six, four gentlemen and two ladies. Mrs. Phillips,
Mrs. Drake, Captain Chamberlain, Mr. Bancroft, Mr. Lancaster, and myself.
Our amusements are eating and drinking, sleeping and backgammon.
Seasickness we have thrown overboard, and, all things considered, we try
to enjoy ourselves and sometimes succeed.
* * * * *
"_Thursday, 31st August._ Wind as directly ahead as it can blow; squally
all night and tremendous sea. What a contrast does this voyage make with
my first. This day makes the tenth day out and we have advanced towards
home about three hundred miles. In my last voyage, on the tenth day, we
had accomplished one half our voyage, sixteen hundred miles.
"_Friday, 1st September._ Dreadful weather; wind still ahead; foggy,
rainy, and heavy swell; patience almost exhausted, but the will of Heaven
be done. If this weather is to continue I hope we shall have fortitude to
bear it. All is for the best.
"_Saturday, 9th September._ Nineteenth day out and not yet more than one
third of our way to Boston. Oh! when shall we end this tedious passage?
"_Sunday, 10th September._ Calm with dreadful sea. Early this morning
discovered a large ship to the southward, dismasted, probably in the late
gale. Discovered an unpleasant trait in our captain's character which I
shall merely allude to. I am sorry to say he did not demonstrate that
promptitude to assist a fellow creature in distress which I expected to
find inherent in a seaman's breast, and especially in an American
seaman's. It was not till after three or four hours' delay, and until the
entreaties of his passengers and some threatening murmurs on my part of a
public exposure in Boston of his conduct, that he ordered the ship to
bear down upon the wreck, and then with slackened sail and much
grumbling. A ship and a brig were astern of us, and, though farther by
some miles from the distressed ship than we were, they instantly bore
down for her, and rendered her this evening the assistance we might have
done at noon. We are now standing on our way with a fair wind springing
up at southeast, which I suppose will last a few hours. Spent the day in
religious exercises, and was happy to observe on the part of the rest of
the passengers a due regard for the solemnity of the day.
"_Monday, 11th September._ Wind still ahead and the sky threatening.--Ten
o'clock. Beginning to blow hard; taking in sails one after another.--
Three o'clock. A perfect storm; the gale a few days ago but a gentle
breeze to it.... I never witnessed so tremendous a gale; the wind blowing
so that it can scarcely be faced; the sea like ink excepting the
whiteness of the surge, which is carried into the air like clouds of
dust, or like the driving of snow. The wind piping through our bare
rigging sounds most terrific; indeed, it is a most awful sight. The sea
in mountains breaking over our bows, and a single wave dispersing in mist
through the violence of the storm; ship rolling to such a degree that we
are compelled to keep our berths; cabin dark with the deadlights in. Oh!
who would go to sea when he can stay on shore! The wind in southwest
driving us back again, so that we are losing all the advantages of our
fair wind of yesterday, which lasted, as I supposed, two or three hours.
* * * * *
"_Tuesday, 12th September._ Gale abated, but head wind still....
"_Wednesday, 13th September._ All last night a tremendous storm from
"_Thursday, 14th September._ The storm increased to a tremendous height
last night. The clouds at sunset were terrific in the extreme, and, in
the evening, still more so with lightning. The sea has risen frightfully
and everything wears a most alarming aspect. At 3 A.M. a squall struck us
and laid us almost wholly under water; we came near losing our
foremast.... None of us able to sleep from the dreadful noises; creakings
and howlings and thousands of indescribable sounds. Lord! who can endure
the terror of thy storm!... Yesterday's sea was as molehills to mountains
compared with the sea to-day....
"_Friday, 15th September._ The storm somewhat abated this morning, but
still blowing hard from southwest.... Twenty-four days out to-day.
"_Saturday, 16th September._ Blowing a gale of wind from southwest. Noon
almost calm for half an hour, when, on a sudden, the wind shifted to the
northeast, when it blew such a hurricane that every one on board declared
they never saw its equal. For four hours it blew so hard that all the sea
was in a perfect foam, and resembled a severe snowstorm more than a dry
blow. If the wind roared before, it now shrilly whistled through our
After some days of calm with winds sometimes favorable but light, and,
when fresh, ahead, the journal continues:--
"_Monday, 25th September._ Another gale of wind last night, ahead,
dreadful sea; took in sail and lay to all night.... Beginning to think of
our provisions; bread mouldy and little left; sugar, little left; fresh
provisions, little left; beans, none left; salt pork, little left; salt
beef, a plenty; water, plenty; stores of passengers, some gone and the
rest drawing to a conclusion; patience drawing to a conclusion; in short
all is falling short and drawing to a conclusion except _our voyage and
"_Tuesday, 26th September._... Find our captain to be a complete old
woman; takes in sail at night and never knows when to set it again; the
longer we know him, the more surly he grows; he is not even civil....
Several large turtles passed within a few feet of us yesterday and
to-day, and, considering we are near the end of our provisions, one would
have thought our captain would be anxious to take them; but no, it was
too much trouble to lower the boat from the stern.
* * * * *
"_Friday, 29th September._ Last night another dreadful gale, as severe as
any since we have been out.
* * * * *
"_Monday, 2d October._ Last night another gale of wind from northwest and
is this morning still blowing hard and cold from the same quarter. What a
dreadful passage is ours; we seem destined to have no fair wind, and to
have a gale of wind every other day.
"_Saturday, 7th October._ Wind still ahead and blowing hard; very cold
and dismal. Oh! when shall we see home!... I thought I could observe a
kind of warfare between the different winds since we have been at sea.
The west wind seems to be the tyrant at present, as it were the Bonaparte
of the air. He has been blowing his gales very lavishly, and no other
wind has been able to check him with any success.
"I recollect on one day, while it was calm, a thick bank of clouds began
to rise in the northeast; no other clouds were in the sky. They rose
gently in the calm as if fearful of rousing their deadly foe in the west.
Now they had gained one third of the heavens when, behold, in the
southwest another bank of thick black clouds came rolling up, and,
reddening in the rays of the setting sun, marched on, teeming with fury.
They soon gained the middle of the heavens where the frightened northeast
had not yet reached. They met, they mixed, the routed northeast skulked
back, while the thick column of the southwest, having driven back its
enemy, slowly returned to its repose, proudly displaying a thousand
various colors, as if for victory.
"At another time success seemed to be more in favor of the northeast;
for, shortly after this great defeat, the southwest came forth and, like
a petty tyrant intoxicated with success, began to oppress the subject
ocean. It blew its gales and filled the air with clouds and rain and fog.
Suddenly the northeast, as under cover of the darkness, and as one driven
to desperation, burst forth on its too confident enemy with redoubled
fury. Old ocean groans at the dreadful conflict; for, as in the warring
of two hostile armies on the domains of a neutral, the neutral suffers
most severely, so the neutral ocean seemed doomed to bear the weight of
all their rancor. The southwest flies affrighted. And now the northeast,
vaunting forth, stalks with the rage of an angry demon over the waters;
the ocean foams beneath his breath, it steams and smokes and heaves in
agony its troubled bosom.
"But, alas! how few can bear prosperity; how few, when victory crowns
their efforts, can rule with moderation; how often, does it happen that
we reenact the same scenes for which we punished our enemy. For now has
the northeast become the tyrant and rules with tenfold rigor; he pours
forth all his strength and, drunk with success as soldiers after a
victory, at length sinks away into an inglorious calm.
"Now does the southwest collect his routed forces, checked but not
conquered; he again advances on his recreant foe and seizes the vacant
throne without a struggle. Ill-fated northeast! hadst thou but ruled with
moderation when thou hadst gained, with masterly manoeuvre, the throne of
the air; hadst thou reserved thy forces against surprise, and not, with
prodigal profuseness, lavished them on thy harmless subjects, thou hadst
still been monarch of the sea and air; all would have blessed thee as the
restorer of peace, and as the deliverer of the ocean from western
despotism. But alas! how art thou fallen an everlasting example of
"This evening there is a fine fair wind from northeast carrying us on at
the rate of five or six knots. This is the cause of the foregoing
rhapsody. Had it been otherwise than a fair wind I should never have
been in spirits to have written so much stuff."
Still tantalized by baffling head winds and alternating calms and gales,
they were, however, gradually approaching the coast. Omitting the entries
of the next eleven days, I shall quote the final pages of the journal.
"_Wednesday, 18th October._ Last night was a sleepless night to us all.
Everything wore the appearance of a hard storm; all was dull in the
cabin; scarce a word was spoken; every one wore a serious aspect and, as
any one came from the deck into the cabin, the rest put up an inquisitive
and apprehensive look, with now and then a faint, 'Well, how does it look
now?' Our captain, as well as the passenger captain, were both alarmed,
and were poring over the chart in deep deliberation. A syllable was now
and then caught from them, but all seemed despairing.
"At ten o'clock we lay to till twelve; at four again till five. Rainy,
thick, and hazy, but not blowing very hard. All is dull and dismal; a
dreadful state of suspense, between feelings of exquisite joy in the hope
of soon seeing home, and feelings of gloomy apprehension that a few hours
may doom us to destruction.
"_Half-past seven._... Heaven be praised! The joyful tidings are just
announced of _Land!!_ Oh! who can conceive our feelings now? The wretch
condemned to the scaffold, who receives, at the moment he expects to die,
the joyful reprieve, he can best conceive the state of our minds.
"The land is Cape Cod, distant about ten miles. Joyful, joyful is the
thought. To-night we shall, in all probability, be in Boston. We are
going at the rate of seven knots.
"_Half-past 9._ Manomet land in sight.
"_Ten o'clock._ Cape Ann in sight.
"_Eleven o'clock._ Boston Light in sight.
"_One o'clock._ HOME!!!"
On board the Ship Ceres
My Dear Parents,
Thanks to a kind Providence who
has preserved me through all dangers, I have at
length arrived in my native land. I send this
just to prepare you, I shall be with you as
soon as I can possibly get on shore. We have
had 58 days passage long, boisterous, and dangerous,
but more when I see you. Pray tell me
by the bearer if I shall find all well.
Your very affectionate Son,
Samuel B. Morse
October 18, 1875]
APRIL 10, 1816--OCTOBER 5, 1818
Very little success at home.--Portrait of ex-President John Adams.--
Letter to Allston on sale of his "Dead Man restored to Life."--Also
apologizes for hasty temper.--Reassured by Allston.--Humorous letter from
Leslie.--Goes to New Hampshire to paint portraits.--Concord.--Meets Miss
Lucretia Walker.--Letters to his parents concerning her.--His parents
reply.--Engaged to Miss Walker.--His parents approve.--Many portraits
painted.--Miss Walker's parents consent.--Success in Portsmouth.--Morse
and his brother invent a pump.--Highly endorsed by President Day and Eli
Whitney.--Miss Walker visits Charlestown.--Morse's religious
convictions.--More success in New Hampshire.--Winter in Charleston, South
Carolina.--John A. Alston.--Success.--Returns north.--Letter from his
uncle Dr. Finley.--Marriage.
There is no record of the meeting of the parents and the long-absent son,
but it is easy to picture the joy of that occasion, and to imagine the
many heart-to-heart conversations when all differences, political and
otherwise, were smoothed over.
He remained at home that winter, but seems to have met with but slight
success in his profession. His "Judgment of Jupiter" was much admired,
but found no purchaser, nor did he receive any commissions for such large
historical paintings as it was his ambition to produce. He was asked by a
certain Mr. Joseph Delaplaine, of Philadelphia, to paint a portrait of
ex-President John Adams for _half_ price, the portrait to be engraved and
included in "Delaplaine's Repository of the Lives and Portraits of
Distinguished American Characters," and, from letters of a later date, I
believe that Morse consented to this.
It appears that he must also have received but few, if any, orders for
portraits, for, in the following summer, he started on a painting tour
through New Hampshire, which proved to be of great moment to him in more
ways than one.
Before we follow him on that tour, however, I shall quote from a letter
written by him to his friend Washington Allston:--
Boston, April 10, 1816.
MY DEAR SIR,--I have but one moment to write you by a vessel which sails
to-morrow morning. I wrote Leslie by New Packet some months since and am
hourly expecting an answer.
I congratulate you, my dear sir, on the sale of your picture of the "Dead
Man." I suppose you will have received notice, before this reaches you,
that the Philadelphia Academy of Arts have purchased it for the sum of
thirty-five hundred dollars. Bravo for our country!
I am sincerely rejoiced for you and for the disposition which it shows of
future encouragement. I really think the time is not far distant when we
shall be able to settle in our native land with profit as well as
pleasure. Boston seems struggling in labor to bring forth an institution
for the arts, but it will miscarry; I find it is all forced. They can
talk, and talk, and say what a fine thing it would be, but nothing is
done. I find by experience that what you have often observed to me with
respect to settling in Boston is well founded. I think it will be the
last in the arts, though, without doubt, it is capable of being the
first, if the fit would only take them. Oh! how I miss you, my dear sir.
I long to spend my evenings again with you and Leslie. I shall certainly
visit Italy (should I live and no unforeseen event take place) in the
course of a year or eighteen months. Could there not be some arrangement
made to meet you and Leslie there?
He lived, but the "unforeseen event" occurred to make him alter all his
plans. Further on in this same letter he says:--
"My conscience accuses me, and hardly too, of many instances of
pettishness and ill-humor towards you, which make me almost hate myself
that I could offend a temper like yours. I need not ask you to forgive
it; I know you cannot harbor anger a minute, and perhaps have forgotten
the instances; but I cannot forget them. If you had failings of the same
kind and I could recollect any instances where you had spoken pettishly
or ill-natured to me, our accounts would then have been balanced, they
would have called for mutual forgetfulness and forgiveness; but when, on
reflection, I find nothing of the kind to charge you with, my conscience
severely upbraids me with ingratitude to you, to whom (under Heaven) I
owe all the little knowledge of my art which I possess. But I hope still
I shall prove grateful to you; at any rate, I feel my errors and must
Mr. Allston thus answers this frank appeal for forgiveness:--
MY DEAR SIR,--I will not apologize for having so long delayed answering
your kind letter, being, as you well know, privileged by my friends to be
a lazy correspondent. I was sorry to find that you should have suffered
the recollection of any hasty expressions you might have uttered to give
you uneasiness. Be assured that they never were remembered by me a moment
after, nor did they ever in the slightest degree diminish my regard or
weaken my confidence in the sincerity of your friendship or the goodness
of your heart. Besides, the consciousness of warmth in my own temper
would have made me inexcusable had I suffered myself to dwell on an
inadvertent word from another. I therefore beg you will no longer suffer
any such unpleasant reflections to disturb your mind, but that you will
rest assured of my unaltered and sincere esteem.
Your letter and one I had about the same time from my sister Mary brought
the first intelligence of the sale of my picture, it being near three
weeks later when I received the account from Philadelphia. When you
recollect that I considered the "Dead Man" (from the untoward fate he had
hitherto experienced) almost literally as a _caput mortuum_, you may
easily believe that I was most agreeably surprised to hear of the sale.
But, pleased as I was on account of the very seasonable pecuniary supply
it would soon afford me, I must say that I was still more gratified at
the encouragement it seemed to hold out for my return to America.
His friend Leslie, in a letter from London of May 7, 1816, writes: "Mr.
West said your picture would have been more likely than any of them to
obtain the prize had you remained."
In another letter from Leslie of September 6, 1816, occurs this amusing
"The _Catalogue Raisonne_ appeared according to promise, but is not near
so good as the one last year. At the conclusion the author says that Mr.
Payne Knight told the directors it was the custom of the Greek nobility
to strip and exhibit themselves naked to the artists in various
attitudes, that they might have an opportunity of studying fine form.
Accordingly those public-spirited men, the directors, have determined to
adopt the plan, and are all practising like mad to prepare themselves for
the ensuing exhibition, when they are to be placed on pedestals.
"It is supposed that Sir G. Beaumont, Mr. Long, Mr. Knight, etc., will
occupy the principal lights. The Marquis of Stafford, unfortunately,
could not recollect the attitude of any one antique figure, but was found
practising having the head of the Dying Gladiator, the body of the
Hercules, one leg of the Apollo, and the other of the Dancing Faun,
turned the wrong way. Lord Mulgrave, having a small head, thought of
representing the Torso, but he did not know what to do with his legs, and
was afraid that, as Master of the Ordnance, he could not dispense with
In the beginning of August, 1816, the young man started out on his quest
for money. This was frankly the object of his journey, but it was
characteristic of his buoyant and yet conscientious nature that, having
once made up his mind to give up, for the present, all thoughts of
pursuing the higher branches of his art, he took up with zest the
painting of portraits.
So far from degrading his art by pursuing a branch of it which he held to
be inferior, he still, by conscientious work, by putting the best of
himself into it, raised it to a very high plane; for many of his
portraits are now held by competent critics to rank high in the annals of
art, by some being placed on a level with those of Gilbert Stuart.
On August 8, 1816, he writes to his parents from Concord, New
"I have been in this place since Monday evening. I arrived safely....
Massabesek Pond is very beautiful, though seen on a dull day. I think
that one or two elegant views might be made from it, and I think I must
sketch it at some future period.
"I have as yet met with no success in portraits, but hope, by
perseverance, I shall be able to find some. My stay in this place depends
on that circumstance. If none offer, I shall go for Hanover on Saturday
"The scenery is very fine on the Merrimack; many fine pictures could be
made here alone. I made a little sketch near Contoocook Falls yesterday.
I go this morning with Dr. McFarland to see some views. Colonel Kent's
family are very polite to me, and I never felt in better spirits; the
weather is now fine and I feel as though I was growing fat."
CONCORD, August 16, 1816.
I am still here and am passing my time very agreeably. I have painted
five portraits at fifteen dollars each and have two more engaged and many
more talked of. I think I shall get along well. I believe I could make an
independent fortune in a few years if I devoted myself exclusively to
portraits, so great is the desire for good portraits in the different
He must have been a very rapid worker to have painted five portraits in
eight days; but, perhaps, on account of the very modest price he
received, these were more in the nature of quick sketches.
The next letter is rather startling when we recall his recent assertions
concerning "Mrs. Love" and the joys of a bachelor existence.
CONCORD, August 20, 1816.
MY DEAR PARENTS,--I write you a few lines just to say I am well and very
industrious. Next day after to-morrow I shall have received one hundred
dollars, which I think is pretty well for three weeks. I shall probably
stay here a fortnight from yesterday.
I have other attractions besides money in this place. Do you know the
Walkers of this place? Charles Walker Esq., son of Judge Walker, has two
daughters, the elder, very beautiful, amiable, and of an excellent
disposition. This is her character in town. I have enquired particularly
of Dr. McFarland respecting the family, and his answer is every way
satisfactory, except that they are not professors of religion. He is a
man of family and great wealth. This last, you know, I never made a
principal object, but it is somewhat satisfactory to know that in my
I may flatter myself, but I think I might be a successful suitor.
You will, perhaps, think me a terrible harum-scarum fellow to be
continually falling in love in this way, but I have a dread of being an
old bachelor, and I am now twenty-five years of age.
There is still no need of hurry; the young lady is but sixteen. But all
this is thinking aloud to you; I make you my confidants; I wish your
advice; nothing shall be done precipitately.
Of course all that I say is between you and me, for it all may come to
nothing; I have _some experience_ that way.
What I have done I have done prayerfully. I have prayed to the Giver of
every good gift that He will direct me in this business; that, if it will
not be to his glory and the good of his Kingdom, He will frustrate all;
that, if He grants me prosperity, He will grant me a heart to use it
aright; and, if adversity, that He will teach me submission to his will;
and that, whatever may be my lot here, I may not fall short of eternal
I hope you will remember me in your prayers, and especially in reference
to a connection in life.
I do not think that his parents took this matter very seriously at first.
His was an intensely affectionate nature, and they had often heard these
same raptures before. However, like wise parents, they did not scoff. His
mother wrote on August 23, 1816, in answer: "With respect to the other
confidential matter, I hope the Lord will direct you to a proper choice.
We know nothing of the family, good or bad. We do not wish you to be an
old bachelor, nor do we wish you to precipitate yourself and others into
difficulties which you cannot get rid of."
In the same letter his father says: "In regard to the subject on which
you ask our advice, we refer it, after the experience you have had, and
with the advice you have often had from us, to your own judgment. Be not
hasty in entering into any engagement; enquire with caution and delicacy;
do everything that is honorable and gentlemanly respecting yourself and
those concerned. 'Pause, ponder, sift.--Judge before friendship--then
confide till death.' (Young.) Above all, commit the subject to God in
prayer and ask his guidance and blessing. I am glad to find you are doing
How well he obeyed his father's injunctions may be gathered from the
following letter, which speaks for itself:--
CONCORD, September 2, 1816.
MY DEAR PARENTS,--I have just received yours of August 29. I leave town
to-morrow morning, probably for Hanover, as there is no conveyance direct
I have had no more portraits since I wrote you, so that I have received
just one hundred dollars in Concord. The last I took for ten dollars, as
the person I painted obtained four of my sitters for me....
With respect to the confidential affair, everything is successful beyond
my most sanguine expectations. The more I know of her the more amiable
she appears. She is very beautiful and yet no coquetry; she is modest,
quite to diffidence, and yet frank and open-hearted. Wherever I have
enquired concerning her I have invariably heard the same character
of--"remarkably amiable, modest, and of a sweet disposition." When you
learn that this is the case I think you will not accuse me of being hasty
in bringing the affair to a crisis. I ventured to tell her my whole
heart, and instead of obscure and ambiguous answers, which some would
have given to tantalize and pain one, she frankly, but modestly and
timidly, told me it was mutual. Suffice it to say we are _engaged_.
If I know my parents I know they will be pleased with this amiable girl.
Unless I was confident of it, I should never have been so hasty. I have
not yet mentioned it to her parents; she requested me to defer it till
next summer, or till I see her again, lest she should be thought hasty.
She is but sixteen and is willing to wait two or three years if it is for
our mutual interest.
Never, never was a human being so blest as I am, and yet what an
ungrateful wretch I have been. Pray for me that I may have a grateful
heart, for I deserve nothing but adversity, and yet have the most
The father replies to this characteristic letter on September 4, 1816:--
"I have just received yours of the 2d inst. Its contents were deeply
interesting to us, as you will readily suppose. It accounts to us why you
have made so long a stay at Concord.... So far as we can judge from your
representations (which are all we have to judge from), we cannot refuse
you our approbation, and we hope that the course, on which you have
entered with your characteristic rapidity and decision, will be pursued
and issue in a manner which will conduce to the happiness of all
"We think _her_ parents should be made acquainted with the state of the
business, as she is so young and the thing so important to them."
The son answers this letter, from Walpole, New Hampshire, on September 7,
1816, thus naively: "You think the parents of the young lady should be
made acquainted with the state of the business. I feel some degree of
awkwardness as it respects that part of the affair; I don't know the
manner in which it ought to be done. I wish you would have the goodness
to write me immediately (at Walpole, to care of Thomas Bellows, Esq.) and
inform me what I should say. Might I communicate the information by
Here he gives a detailed account of the family, and, for the first time,
mentions the young lady's name--Lucretia Pickering Walker--and
"You ask how the family have treated me. They are all aware of the
attachment between us, for I have made my attention so open and so marked
that they all must have perceived it. I know that Lucretia must have had
some conversation with her mother on the subject, for she told me one
day, when I asked her what her mother thought of my constant visits, that
her mother said she 'didn't think I cared much about her,' in a pleasant
way. All the family have been extremely polite and attentive to me; I
received constant invitations to dinner and tea, indeed every
encouragement was given me....
"I painted two hasty sketches of scenery in Concord. I meet with no
success in Walpole. _Quacks_ have been before me."
There is always a touch of quaint, dry humor in his mother's letters in
spite of their great seriousness, as witness the following extracts from
a letter of September 9, 1816:--
"We hope you will feel more than ever the absolute necessity laid upon
you to procure for yourself and those you love a maintenance, as neither
of you can subsist long upon air.... Remember it takes a great many
hundred dollars to _make_ and to _keep_ the pot a-boiling.
"I wish to see the young lady who has captivated you so much. I hope she
loves religion, and that, if you and she form a connection for life, some
_five or six years hence_, you may go hand in hand to that better world
where they neither marry nor are given in marriage....
"You have not given us any satisfaction in respect to many things about
the young lady which you ought to suppose we should be anxious to know.
All you have told us is that she is handsome and amiable. These are good
as far as they go, but there are a great many etcs., etcs., that we want
"Is she acquainted with domestic affairs? Does she respect and love
religion? How many brothers and sisters has she? How old are they? Is she
healthy? How old are her parents? What will they be likely to do for her
some years hence, say when she is twenty years old?
"In your next answer at least some of these questions. You see your
mother has not lived twenty-seven years in New England without learning
to ask questions."
These questions he had already answered in a letter which must have
crossed his mother's.
On September 23, 1816, he writes from Windsor, Vermont:--
"I am still here but shall probably leave in a week or two. I long to get
home, or, at least, as far on my way as _Concord_. I think I shall be
tempted to stay a week or two there.... I do not like Windsor very much.
It is a very dissipated place, and dissipation, too, of the lowest sort.
There is very little gentleman's society."
WINDSOR, VERMONT, September 28, 1816.
I am still in this place.... I have written Lucretia on the subject of
acquainting her parents, and I have no doubt she will assent.... I hear
her spoken of in this part of the country as very celebrated, both for
her beauty and, particularly, for her disposition; and this I have heard
without there being the slightest suspicion of any attachment, or even
acquaintance, between us. This augurs well most certainly. I know she is
considered in Concord as the first girl in the place. (You know I always
aimed highest.) The more I think of this attachment the more I think I
shall not regret the _haste_ (if it may be so called) of this proposed
I am doing pretty well in this place, better than I expected; I have one
more portrait to do before I leave it.... I should have business, I
presume, to last me some weeks if I could stay, but I long to get home
Mama's scheme of painting a large landscape and selling it to General
Bradley for two hundred dollars, must give place to another which has
just come into my head: that of sending to you for my great canvas and
painting the quarrel at Dartmouth College, as large as life, with all the
portraits of the trustees, overseers, officers of college, and students;
and, if I finish it next week, to ask five thousand dollars for it and
then come home in a coach and six and put Ned to the blush with his
nineteen subscribers a day. Only think, $5000 a week is $260,000 a year,
and, if I live ten years, I shall be worth $2,600,000; a very pretty
fortune for this time of day. Is it not a grand scheme?
The remark concerning his brother Sidney Edwards's subscribers refers to
a religious newspaper, the "Boston Recorder," founded and edited by him.
It was one of the first of the many religious journals which, since that
time, have multiplied all over the country.
Continuing his modestly successful progress, he writes next from Hanover,
on October 3, 1816:--
"I arrived in this place on Tuesday evening and am painting away with all
my might. I am painting Judge Woodward and lady, and think I shall have
many more engaged than I can do. I painted seven portraits at Windsor,
one for my board and lodging at the inn, and one for ten dollars, very
small, to be sent in a letter to a great distance; so that in all I
received eighty-five dollars in money. I have five more engaged at
Windsor for next summer. So you see I have not been idle.
"I _must_ spend a fortnight at Concord, so that I shall not probably be
at home till early in November.
"I think, with proper management, that I have but little to fear as to
this world. I think I can, with industry, average from two to three
thousand dollars a year, which is a tolerable income, though _not equal
CONCORD, October 14, 1816.
I arrived here on Friday evening in good health and spirits from Hanover.
I painted four portraits altogether in Hanover, and have many engaged for
next summer. I presume I shall paint some here, though I am uncertain.
I found Lucretia in good health, very glad to see me. She improves on
acquaintance; she is, indeed, a most amiable, affectionate girl; I know
you will love her. She has consented that I should inform her parents of
our attachment. I have, accordingly, just sent a letter to her father
(twelve o'clock), and am now in a state of suspense anxiously waiting his
answer. Before I close this, I hope to give you the result.
_Five o'clock._ I have just called and had a conversation (by request)
with Mr. Walker, and I have the satisfaction to say: "I have Lucretia's
parents' entire approbation." Everything successful! Praise be to the
giver of every good gift! What, indeed, shall I render to Him for all his
unmerited and continually increasing mercies and blessings?
In a letter to Miss Walker from a girl friend we find the following:--
"You appear to think, dear Lucretia, that I am possessed of quite an
insensible _heart_; pardon me if I say the same of you, for I have heard
that several have become candidates for your affections, but that you
remained unmoved until Mr. M., of Charlestown, made his appearance, when,
I understand, you did hope that his sentiments in your favor were
"I rejoice to hear this, for, though I am unacquainted with that
gentleman, yet, when I heard he was likely to become a successful suitor,
I have made some enquiries concerning him, and find he is possessed of
every excellent and amiable quality that I should wish the person to have
who was to become the husband of so dear a friend as yourself."
Morse must have returned home about the end of October, for we find no
more letters until the 14th of December, when he writes from Portsmouth,
"I should have written you sooner but I have been employed in settling
myself. I thought it best not to be precipitate in fixing on a place to
board and lodge, but first to sound the public as to my success. Every
one thinks I shall meet with encouragement, and, on the strength of this,
I have taken lodgings and a room at Mrs. Hinge's in Jaffrey Street; a
very excellent and central situation.... I shall commence on Monday
morning with Governor Langdon's portrait. He is very kind and attentive
to me, as, indeed, are all here, and will do everything to aid me. I wish
not to raise high expectations, but I think I shall succeed tolerably
About this time Finley Morse and his brother Edwards had jointly devised
and patented a new "flexible piston-pump," from which they hoped great
things. Edwards, always more or less of a wag, proposed to call it
"Morse's Patent Metallic Double-headed Ocean-Drinker and Deluge-Spouter
It was to be used in connection with fire-engines, and seems really to
have been an excellent invention, for President Jeremiah Day, of Yale
College, gave the young inventors his written endorsement, and Eli
Whitney, the inventor of the cotton-gin, thus recommends it: "Having
examined the model of a fire-engine invented by Mr. Morse, with pistons
of a new construction, I am of opinion that an engine may be made on that
principle (being more simple and much less expensive), which would have a
preference to those in common use."
In the letters of the year 1817 and of several following years, even in
the letters of the young man to his _fiancee,_ many long references are
made to this pump and to the varying success in introducing it into
general use. I shall not, however, refer to it again, and only mention it
to show the bent of Morse's mind towards invention.
He spent some time in the early part of 1817 in Portsmouth, New
Hampshire, meeting with success in his profession. Miss Walker was also
there visiting friends, so we may presume that his stay was pleasant as
well as profitable.
In February of that year he accompanied his _fiancee_ to Charlestown, his
parents, naturally, wishing to make the acquaintance of the young lady,
and then returned to Portsmouth to finish his work there.
The visit of Miss Walker to Charlestown gave great satisfaction to all
concerned. On March 4, 1817, Morse writes to his parents from Portsmouth:
"I am under the agreeable necessity (shall I say) of postponing my return
... in consequence of a _press of business_. I shall have three begun
to-night; one sat yesterday (a large one), and two will sit to-day
(small), and three more have it in serious contemplation. This unexpected
occurrence will deprive me of the pleasure of seeing you this week at
And on the next day, March 5, he writes: "The unexpected application of
three sitters at a time completely stopped me. Since I wrote I have taken
a first sitting of a fourth (large), and a fifth (large) sits on Friday
morning; so you see I am over head and ears in business."
As it is necessary to a clear understanding of Morse's character to
realize the depth of his religious convictions, I shall quote the
following from this same letter of March 5:--
"I wish much to know the progress of the Revival, how many are admitted
next communion, and any religious news.
"I have been in the house almost ever since I came from home sifting the
scheme of Universal Salvation to the bottom. What occasioned this was an
occurrence on the evening of Sunday before last. I heard the bell ring
for lecture and concluded it was at Mr. Putnam's; I accordingly sallied
out to go to it, when I found that it was in the Universalist
"As I was out and never in a Universalist meeting, I thought, for mere
curiosity, I would go in. I went into a very large meeting-house; the
meeting was overflowing with people of both sexes, and the singing the
finest I have heard in Portsmouth. I was struck with the contrast it made
to Mr. Putnam's sacramental lecture; fifteen or sixteen persons thinly
scattered over the house, and the choir consisting of four or five whose
united voice could scarcely be heard in the farthest corner of the
church, and, when heard, so out of harmony as to set one's teeth on edge.
"The reflections which this melancholy contrast caused I could not help
communicating to Mr. Putnam in the words of Mr. Spring's sermon,
'_something must be done_.' He agreed it was a dreadful state of society
here but almost gave up as hopeless. I told him he never should yield a
post like this to the Devil without a struggle; and, at any rate, I told
him that the few Christians that there were (and, indeed, they are but as
one to one thousand) could pray, and I thought it was high time. I told
him I would do all in my power to assist him in any scheme where I could
be of use."
The year 1817 was spent by the young man in executing the commissions
which had been promised him the year before in New Hampshire. In all his
journeyings back and forth the road invariably led through Concord, and
the pure love of the young people for each other increased as the months
rolled by. I shall not profane the sacredness of this love by introducing
any of the more intimate passages of their letters of this and of later
years. The young girl responded readily to the religious exhortations of
her _fiance_ and became a sincere and devout Christian.
It will not be necessary to follow him in this journey, as the
experiences were but a repetition of those of the year before. He painted
many portraits in Concord, Hanover, and other places, and finally
concluded to venture on a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, where his
kinsman, Dr. Finley, and Mr. John A. Alston had urged him to come,
assuring him good business.
On January 27, 1818, he arrived in that beautiful Southern city and thus
announced his arrival to his parents: "I find myself in a new climate,
the weather warm as our May. I have been introduced to a number of
friends. I think my prospects are favorable."
At first, however, the promised success did not materialize, and it was
not until after many weeks of waiting that the tide turned. But it did
turn, for an excellent portrait of Dr. Finley, one of the best ever
painted by Morse, aroused the enthusiasm of the Charlestonians, and
orders began to pour in, so that in a few weeks he was engaged to paint
one hundred and fifty portraits at sixty dollars each. Quite an advance
over the meagre fifteen dollars he had received in New England. But for
some of his more elaborate productions he received even more, as the
following extract from a letter of Mr. John A. Alston, dated April 7,
1818, will prove:--
"I have just received your favor of the 30th ultimo, and thank you very
cordially for your goodness in consenting to take my daughter's
full-length likeness in the manner I described, say twenty-four inches in
length. I will pay you most willingly the two hundred dollars you require
for it, and will consider myself a gainer by the bargain. I shall expect
you to decorate this picture with the most superb landscape you are
capable of designing, and that you will produce a masterpiece of
painting. I agree to your taking it with you to the northward to finish
it. Be pleased to represent my daughter in the finest attitude you can
Mr. Alston was a generous patron and paid the young artist liberally for
the portraits of his children. In recognition of this Morse presented him
with his most ambitious painting, "The Judgment of Jupiter." Mr. Alston
prized this picture highly during his lifetime, but after his death it
was sold and for many years was lost sight of. It was purchased long
afterwards in England by an American gentleman, who, not knowing who the
painter was, gave it to a niece of Morse's, Mrs. Parmalee, and it is
still, I believe, in the possession of the family.
While he was in Charleston his father wrote to him of the dangerous
illness of his mother with what he called a "peripneumony," which, from
the description, must have been the term used in those days for
pneumonia. Her life was spared, however, and she lived for many years
In June of the year 1818, Morse returned to the North and spent the
summer in completing such portraits as he had carried with him in an
unfinished state, and in painting such others as he could procure
commissions for. He planned to return to Charleston in the following
year, but this time with a young wife to accompany him.
His uncle, Dr. Finley, writing to him on June 16, says:--
"Your letter of 2d instant, conveying the pleasing intelligence of your
safe and very short passage and happy meeting with your affectionate
parents at your own home, came safe to hand in due time.... And so
Lucretia was expected and you intended to surprise her by your
"Finley, I am afraid you will be too happy. You ought to meet a little
rub or two or you will be too much in the clouds and forget that you are
among mortals. Let me see if I cannot give you a friendly twist
"Your pictures--aye--suppose I should speak of them and what is said of
them during your absence. I will perform the office of him who was placed
near the triumphal car of the conqueror to abuse him lest he should be
"Well--'His pictures,' say people, 'are undoubtedly good likenesses, but
he paints carelessly and in too much haste and his draperies are not well
done. He must be more attentive or he will lose his reputation.' 'See,'
say others, 'how he flatters.' 'Oh!' says another, 'he has not flattered
me'; etc., etc.
"By the bye, I saw old General C.C. Pinckney yesterday, and he told me,
in his laughing, humorous way, that he had requested you to draw his
brother Thomas twenty years younger than he really was, so as to be a
companion to his own when he was twenty years younger than at this time,
and to flatter him as he had directed Stuart to do so to him."
Morse had now abandoned his idea of soon returning to Europe; he
renounced, for the present, his ambition to devote himself to the
painting of great historical pictures, and threw himself with enthusiasm
into the painting of portraits. He had an added incentive, for he wished
to marry at once, and his parents and those of his _fiancee_ agreed that
it would be wise for the young people to make the venture. Everything
seemed to presage success in life, at least in a modest way, to the young
On the 6th of October, 1818, the following notice appeared in the New
Hampshire "Patriot," of Concord: "Married in this town, October 1st, by
Rev. Dr. McFarland, Mr. Samuel F.B. Morse (the celebrated painter) to
Miss Lucretia Walker, daughter of Charles Walker, Esq."
On the 5th of October the young man writes to his parents:--
"I was married, as I wrote you I should be, on Tuesday morning last. We
set out at nine o'clock and reached Amherst over bad roads at night. The
next day we continued our journey through Wilton to New Ipswich, eighteen
miles over one of the worst roads I ever travelled, all uphill and down
and very rocky, and no tavern on the road. We enquired at New Ipswich our
best route to Northampton, where we intended to go to meet Mr. and Mrs.
Cornelius, but we found on enquiry that there were nothing but
cross-roads and these very bad, and no taverns where we could be
comfortably accommodated. Our horse also was tired, so we thought our best
way was to return. Accordingly the next day we started for Concord, and
arrived on Friday evening safe home again.
"Lucretia wishes to spend this week with her friends, so that I shall
return (Providence permitting) on this day week, and reach home by
Tuesday noon, probably to dinner. We are both well and send a great deal
of love to you all. Mr. and Mrs. Walker wish me to present their best
respects to you. We had delightful weather for travelling, and got home
just in season to escape Saturday's rain."
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.
The young couple decided to spend the winter in Charleston, South
Carolina, where Morse had won a reputation the previous winter as an
excellent portrait-painter, and where much good business awaited him.
The following letter was written to his parents:--
SCHOONER TONTINE, AT ANCHOR OFF CHARLESTON LIGHTHOUSE,
THURSDAY, November 19, 1818, 5 o'clock P.M.
We have arrived thus far on our voyage safely through the kind protection
of Providence. We have had a very rough passage attended with many
dangers and more fears, but have graciously been delivered from them all.
It is seven days since we left New York. If you recollect that was the
time of my last passage in this same vessel. She is an excellent vessel
and has the best captain and accommodations in the trade.
Lucretia was a little seasick in the roughest times, but, on the whole,
bore the voyage extremely well. She seems a little downcast this
afternoon in consequence of feeling as if she was going among strangers,
but I tell her she will overcome it in ten minutes' interview with Uncle
and Aunt Finley and family.
She is otherwise very well and sends a great deal of love to you all.
Please let Mr. and Mrs. Walker know of our arrival as soon as may be. I
will leave the remainder of this until I get up to town. We hope to go up
when the tide changes in about an hour.
FRIDAY MORNING, 20th, AT UNCLE FINLEY'S.
We are safely housed under the hospitable roof of Uncle Finley, where
they received us, as you might expect, with open arms. He has provided
lodgings for us at ten dollars per week. I have not yet seen them; shall
I received a letter from Richard at Savannah; he writes in fine spirits
and feels quite delighted with the hospitable people of the South.
This refers to his brother Richard Carey Morse, who was still pursuing
his theological studies.
The visit of the young couple to Charleston was a most enjoyable one, and
the artist found many patrons eager to be immortalized by his brush.
On December 22, 1818, he writes to his parents:--
"Lucretia is well and contented. She makes many friends and we receive as
much attention from the hospitable Carolinians as we can possibly attend
to. She is esteemed quite handsome here; she has grown quite fleshy and
healthy, and we are as happy in each other as you can possibly wish us.
"There are several painters arrived from New York, but I fear no
competition; I have as much as I can do."
As a chronicle of fair weather, favorable winds, and blue skies is apt to
grow monotonous, I shall pass rapidly over the next few years, only
selecting from the voluminous correspondence of that period a few
extracts which have more than a passing interest.
On February 4, 1819, he writes to his friend and master, Washington
Allston, who had now returned to Boston:--
"Excuse my neglect in not having written you before this according to my
promise before I left Boston. I can only plead as apology (what I know
will gratify you) a multiplicity of business. I am painting from morning
till night and have continual applications. I have added to my list, this
season only, to the amount of three thousand dollars; that is since I
left you. Among them are three full lengths to be finished at the North,
I hope in Boston, where I shall once more enjoy your criticisms.
"I am exerting my utmost to improve; every picture I try to make my best,
and in the evening I draw two hours from the antique as I did in London;
for I ought to inform you that I fortunately found a fine 'Venus de
Medicis' without a blemish, imported from Paris sometime since by a
gentleman of this city who wished to dispose of it; also a young Apollo
which was so broken that he gave it to me, saying it was useless. I have,
however, after a great deal of trouble, put it together entirely, and
these two figures, with some fragments,--hands, feet, etc.,--make a good
academy. Mr. Fraser, Mr. Cogdell, Mr. Fisher, of Boston, and myself meet
here of an evening to improve ourselves. I feel as much enthusiasm as
ever in my art and love it more than ever. A few years, at the rate I am
now going on, will place me independent of public patronage.
"Thus much for myself, for you told me in one of your letters from London
that I must be more of an egotist or you should be less of one in your
letters to me, which I should greatly regret.
"And now, permit me, my dear sir, to congratulate you on your election to
the Royal Academy. I know you will believe me when I say I jumped for joy
when I heard it. Though it cannot add to your merit, yet it will extend
the knowledge of it, especially in our own country, where we are still
influenced by foreign opinion, and more justly, perhaps, in regard to
taste in the fine arts than in any other thing."
On March 1, 1819, the Common Council of Charleston passed the following
"Resolved unanimously that His Honor the Intendant be requested to
solicit James Monroe, President of the United States, to permit a
full-length likeness to be taken for the City of Charleston, and that Mr.
Morse be requested to take all necessary measures for executing the said
likeness on the visit of the President to this city.
"Resolved unanimously that the sum of seven hundred and fifty dollars be
appropriated for this purpose.
"Extract from the minutes.
"WILLIAM ROACH, JR.,
"Clerk of Council."
This portrait of President Monroe was completed later on and still hangs
in the City Hall of Charleston. I shall have occasion to refer to it
Morse, in a letter to his parents of March 26, 1819, says:--
"Two of your letters have been lately received detailing the state of the
parish and church. I cannot say I was surprised, for it is what might be
expected from Charlestown people.... As to returning home in the way I
mentioned mama need not be at all uneasy on that score. It is necessary I
should visit Washington, as the President will stay so short a time here
that I cannot complete the head unless I see him in Washington.... Now as
to the parish and church business, I hope all things will turn out right
yet, and I can't help wishing that nothing may occur to keep you any
longer in that nest of vipers and conspirators. I think with Edwards
decidedly that, on mama's account alone, you should leave a place which
is full of the most unpleasant associations to all the family, and retire
to some place of quiet to enjoy your old age.
"Why not come to Charleston? Here is a fine place for usefulness, a
pleasant climate especially for persons advanced in life, and your
children here; for I think seriously of settling in Charleston. Lucretia
is willing, and I think it will be much for my advantage to remain
through the year. Richard can find a place here if he will, and Edwards
can come on and be _Bishop_ or _President_ or _Professor_ in some of the
colleges (for I can't think of him in a less character) after he has
"I wish seriously you would think of this. Your friends here would
greatly rejoice and an opening could be found, I have no doubt.
Christians want their hands strengthened, and a veteran soldier, like
papa, might be of great service here in the infancy of the _Unitarian
Hydra_, who finds a population too well adapted to receive and cherish
its easy and fascinating tenets."
All this refers to a movement organized by the enemies of Dr. Morse to
oust him from his parish in Charlestown. He was a militant fighter for
orthodoxy and an uncompromising foe to Unitarianism, which was gradually
obtaining the ascendancy in and near Boston. The movement was finally
successful, as we shall see later, but they did not go as far from their
old haunts as Charleston.
I shall not attempt to argue the rights and wrongs of the case, which
seem to have been rather complicated, for Dr. Morse, more than a year
after this, in writing to a friend says: "The events of the last fifteen
months are still involved in impenetrable mystery, which I doubt not will
be unravelled in due time."
The winter and spring of 1819 were spent by the young couple both
pleasantly and profitably in Charleston. The best society of that
charming city opened its arms to them and orders flowed in in a steady
stream. Mr. John A. Alston was a most generous patron, ordering many
portraits of his children and friends, and sometimes insisting on paying
the young man even more than the price agreed upon.
In a letter to Morse he says: "Which of my friends was it who lately
observed to you that I had a picture mania? You made, I understand, a
most excellent reply, 'You wished I would come to town, then, and bite a
dozen.' Indeed, my very good sir, was it in my power to excite in them a
just admiration of your talents, I would readily come to town and bite
the whole community."
And in another letter of April 10, 1819, Mr. Alston says: "Your portrait
of my daughter was left in Georgetown [South Carolina], at the house of a
friend; nearly all of the citizens have seen it, and I really think it
will occasion you some applications.... Every one thought himself at
liberty to make remarks. Some declared it to be a good likeness, while
others insisted it was not so, and several who made such remarks, I
_knew_ had _never_ seen my daughter. At last a rich Jew gentleman
observed, 'it was the _richest_ piece of painting he had ever seen.' This
being so much in character that I assure you, sir, I could contain myself
no longer, which, spreading among the audience, occasioned not an
Morse and his young wife returned to the North in the early summer of
1819, and spent the summer and fall with his parents in Charlestown. The
young man occupied himself with the completion of the portraits which he
had brought with him from the South, and his wife was busied with
preparations for the event which is thus recorded in a letter of Dr.
Morse's to his son Sidney Edwards at Andover: "Since I have been writing
the above, Lucretia has presented us with a fine granddaughter and is
doing well. The event has filled us with joy and gratitude."
The child was christened Susan Walker Morse. In the mean time the
distressing news had come from Charleston of the sudden death of Dr.
Finley, to whose kindly affection and influence Morse owed much of the
pleasure and success of his several visits to Charleston.
Affairs had come to a crisis in the parish at Charlestown, and Dr. Morse
decided to resign and planned to move to New Haven, Connecticut, with his
family in the following spring.
The necessity for pursuing his profession in the most profitable field
compelled Morse to return to Charleston by way of Washington in November,
and this time he had to go alone, much against his inclinations.
He writes to his mother from New York on November 28, 1819: "I miss
Lucretia and little Susan more than you can think, and I shall long to
have us all together at New Haven in the spring."
His object in going to Washington was to paint the portrait of the
President, and of this he says in a letter: "I began on Monday to paint
the President and have almost completed the head. I am thus far pleased
with it, but I find it very perplexing, for he cannot sit more than ten
or twenty minutes at a time, so that the moment I feel engaged he is
called away again. I set my palette to-day at ten o'clock and waited
until four o'clock this afternoon before he came in. He then sat ten
minutes and we were called to dinner. Is not this trying to one's
"_December 17, 1819._ I have been here nearly a fortnight. I commenced
the President's portrait on Monday and shall finish it to-morrow. I have
succeeded to my satisfaction, and, what is better, to the satisfaction of
himself and family; so much so that one of his daughters wishes me to
copy the head for her. They all say that mine is the best that has been
taken of him. The daughter told me (she said as a secret) that her father
was delighted with it, and said it was the only one that in his opinion
looked like him; and this, too, with Stuart's in the room.
"The President has been very kind and hospitable to me; I have dined with
him three times and taken tea as often; he and his family have been very
sociable and unreserved. I have painted him at his house, next room to
his cabinet, so that when he had a moment to spare he would come in to
"Wednesday evening Mrs. Monroe held a drawing-room. I attended and made
my bow. She was splendidly and tastily dressed. The drawing-room and
suite of rooms at the President's are furnished and decorated in the most
splendid manner; some think too much so, but I do not. Something of
splendor is certainly proper about the Chief Magistrate for the credit of
the nation. Plainness can be carried to an extreme, and in national
buildings and establishments it will, with good reason, be styled
"_December 23, 1819._ It is obviously for my interest to hasten to
Charleston, as I shall there be immediately at work, and this is the more
necessary as there is a fresh gang of adventurers in the brush line gone
to Charleston before me."
A short while after this he received the news of the death of his
grandfather, Jedediah Morse, at Woodstock, Connecticut, on December 29,
aged ninety-four years. Mr. Prime says of him: "He was a strong man in
body and mind, an able and upright magistrate, for eighteen years one of
the selectmen of the town, twenty-seven years town clerk and treasurer,
fifteen years a member of the Colonial and State Legislature, and a
prominent, honored, and useful member and officer of the church."
In January of the year 1820, Dr. Morse, realizing that it would be for
the best interests of all concerned to relinquish his pastorate at
Charlestown, turned his active brain in another direction, and resolved
to carry out a plan which he had long contemplated. This was to secure
from the Government at Washington an appointment as commissioner to the
Indians on the borders of the United States of those early days, in order
to enquire into their condition with a view to their moral and physical
betterment. To this end he journeyed to Washington and laid his project
before the President and the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun. He was
most courteously entertained by these gentlemen and received the
In the following spring with his son Richard he travelled through the
northwestern frontiers of the United States, and gained much valuable
information which he laid before the Government. As he was a man of
delicate constitution, we cannot but admire his indomitable spirit in
ever devising new projects of usefulness to his fellow men. It was
impossible for him to remain idle.
But it is not within the scope of this work to follow him on his
journeys, although his letters of that period make interesting reading.
While he was in Washington his wife, writing to him on January 27, 1820,
says: "Mrs. Salisbury and Abby drank tea with us day before yesterday.
They told us that Catherine Breese was married to a lieutenant in the
army. This must have been a very sudden thing, and I should suppose very
grievous to Arthur."
Little did the good lady think as she penned these words that, many years
afterwards, her beloved eldest son would take as his second wife a
daughter of this union. Why this marriage should have been "grievous" to
the father, Arthur Breese, I do not know, unless all army officers were
classed among the ungodly by the very pious of those days. As a matter of
fact, Lieutenant, afterwards Captain, Griswold was a most gallant
In the mean time Finley Morse had reached Charleston in safety after a
tedious journey of many days by stage from Washington, and was busily
employed in painting. On February 4, 1820, he writes to his mother:--
"I received your good letter of the 19th and 22d ult., and thank you for
it. I wish I had time to give you a narrative of my journey as you wish,
but you know '_time is money_,' and we must '_make hay while the sun
shines_,' and '_a penny saved is a penny got_," and '_least said soonest
mended_,' and a good many other wise sayings which would be quite pat,
but I can't think of them.
"The fact is I have scarcely time to say or write a word. I am busily
employed in getting the cash, or else Ned's almanac for March will
"I am doing well, although the city fairly swarms with painters. I am the
only one that has as much as he can do; all the rest are complaining. I
wish I could divide with some of them, very clever men who have families
to support, and can get nothing to do.... I feel rejoiced that things
have come to such a crisis in Charlestown that our family will be
released from that region of trouble so soon.
"Keep up your spirits, mother, the Lord will show you good days according
to those in which you have seen evil....
"I am glad Lucretia and the dear little Susan intend meeting me at New
Haven. I think this by far the best plan; it will save me a great deal of
time, which, as I said before, is money.
"I shall have to spend some time in New Haven getting settled, and I wish
to commence painting as soon as possible, for I have more than a summer's
work before me in the President's portrait and Mrs. Ball's.
"As soon as the cash comes in, mother, it shall all be remitted except
what I immediately want. You may depend upon it that nothing shall be
left undone on my part to help you and the rest of us from that hole of
"I think it very probable I shall return by the middle of May; it will
depend much on circumstances, however. I wish very much to be with my
dear wife and daughter. I must contrive to bring them with me next season
to Charleston, though it may be more expensive, yet I do not think that
should be a consideration. I think that a man should be separated from
his family but very seldom, and then under cases of absolute necessity,
as I consider the case to be at present with me: that is, I think they
should not be separated for any length of time. If I know my own
disposition I am of a domestic habit, formed to this habit, probably, by
the circumstances that have been so peculiar to our family in
Charlestown. I by no means regret having such a habit if it can be
properly regulated; I think it may be carried to excess, and shut us from
the opportunities of doing good by mixing with our fellow men."
This pronouncement was very characteristic of the man. He was always, all
through his long life, happiest when at home surrounded by all his
family, and yet he never shirked the duty of absenting himself from home,
even for a prolonged period, when by so doing he could accomplish some
great or good work.
That a portrait-painter's lot is not always a happy one may be
illustrated by the following extracts from letters of Morse to the Mrs.
Ball whom he mentions in the foregoing letter to his mother, and who
seems to have been a most capricious person, insisting on continual
alterations, and one day pleased and the next almost insulting in her
MADAM,--Supposing that I was dealing not only with a woman of honor, but,
from her professions, with a Christian, I ventured in my note of the 18th
inst., to make an appeal to your conscience in support of the justness of
my demand of the four hundred dollars still due from you for your
portrait. By your last note I find you are disposed to take an advantage
of that circumstance of which I did not suppose you capable. My sense of
the justness of my demand was so strong, as will appear from the whole
tenor of that note, that I venture this appeal, not imagining that any
person of honor, of the least spark of generous feeling, and more
especially of Christian principle, could understand anything more than
the enforcing my claim by an appeal to that principle which I knew should
be the strongest in a real Christian.
Whilst, however, you have chosen to put a different construction on this
part of the note, and supposed that I left you to say whether you would
pay me anything or nothing, you have (doubtless unconsciously) shown that
your conscience has decided in favor of the whole amount which is my due,
and which I can never voluntarily relinquish.
You affirm in the first part of your note that, after due consideration,
you think the real value of the picture is four hundred dollars (without
the frame), yet, had your crop been good, your conscience would have
adjudged me the remaining four hundred dollars without hesitation; and
again (if your crop should be good) you could pay me the four hundred
dollars next season.
Must I understand from this, madam, that the goodness or badness of your
crop is the scale on which your conscience measures your obligation to
pay a just debt, and that it contracts or expands as your crop increases
or diminishes? Pardon me, madam, if I say that this appears to be the
case from your letter.
My wish throughout this whole business has been to accommodate the time
and terms of payment as much to your convenience as I could consistently
with my duty to my family and myself. As a proof of this you need only
advert to my note of yesterday, in which I inform you that I am paying
interest on money borrowed for the use of my family which your debt, if
it had been promptly paid, would have prevented.
And in another letter he says:--
"I completed your picture in the summer with two others which have given,
as far as I can learn, entire satisfaction. Yours was painted with the
same attention and with the same ability as the others, and admired as a
picture, after it was finished, as much by some as the others, and more
"Among these latter were the celebrated Colonel Trumbull and Vanderlyn,
painters of New York.... You cannot but recollect, madam, that when you
yourself with your children visited it, not withstanding you expressed
yourself before them in terms so strong against it and so wounding to my
feelings, yet all your children dissented from you, the youngest saying
it was 'mama,' and the eldest, 'I am sure, mother, it is very like
"Your picture, from the day I commenced it, has been the source of one of
my greatest trials, and, if it has taught me in any degree patience and
forbearance, I shall have abundant reason to be thankful for the
In the end he consented to take less than had been agreed upon in order
to close the incident.
As a happy contrast to this episode we have the following quotation from
a letter to his wife written on February 17, 1820:--
"Did I tell you in my last that Colonel Alston insisted on giving me
_two hundred dollars_ more than I asked for the picture of little Sally,
and a commission to paint her again full length next season, smaller than
the last and larger than the first portrait, for which I shall receive
four hundred dollars? He intimates also that I am to paint a picture
annually for him. Is not he a strange man? (as people say here). I wish
some more of the great fortunes in this part of the country would be as
strange and encourage other artists who are men of genius and starving
for want of employment."
Morse returned to the North in the spring of 1820 and joined his mother
and his wife and daughter in New Haven, where they had preceded him and
where they were comfortably and agreeably settled, as will appear from
the following sentence in a letter to his good friend and mentor, Henry
Bromfield, of London, dated August, 1820: "You will perceive by the
heading of this letter that I am in New Haven. My father and his family
have left Charlestown, Massachusetts, and are settled in this place. My
own family also, consisting of wife and daughter, are pleasantly settled
in this delightful spot. I have built me a fine painting-room attached to
my house in which I paint my large pictures in the summer, and in the
winter I migrate to Charleston, South Carolina, where I have commissions
sufficient to employ me for some years to come."
He returned to Charleston in the fall of 1820 and was again compelled to
go alone. He writes to his wife on December 27: "I feel the separation
this time more than ever, and I felt the other day, when I saw the
steamship start for New York, that I had almost a mind to return in her."
From this sentence we learn that the slow schooner of the preceding years
had been supplanted by the more rapid steamship, but that is,
unfortunately, all he has to say of this great step forward in human
Further on in this same letter he says: "I am occupied fully so that I
have no reason to complain. I have not a _press_ like the first season or
like the last, but still I can say I am all the time employed.... My
President pleases very much; I have heard no dissatisfaction expressed.
It is placed in the great Hall in a fine light and place.... Mrs. Ball
wants some alterations, that is to say every five minutes she would like
it to be different. She is the most unreasonable of all mortals;
derangement is her only apology. I can't tell you all in a letter, must
wait till I see you. I shall get the rest of the cash from her shortly."
Just at this time the wave of prosperity on which the young man had so
long floated, began to subside, for he writes to his wife on January 28,
"I wish I could write encouragingly as to my professional pursuits, but I
cannot. Notwithstanding the diminished price and the increase of exertion
to please, and although I am conscious of painting much better portraits
than formerly (which, indeed, stands to reason if I make continual
exertion to improve), yet with all I receive no new commissions, cold and
procrastinating answers from those to whom I write and who had put their
names on my list. I give less satisfaction to those whom I have painted;
I receive less attention also from some of those who formerly paid me
much attention, and none at all from most."
But with his usual hopefulness he says later on in this letter:--
"Why should I expect my sky to be perpetually unclouded, my sun to be
never obscured? I have thus far enjoyed more of the sunshine of
prosperity than most of my fellow men. 'Shall I receive good at the hands
of the Lord and shall I not also receive evil?'"
In this letter, a very long one, he suggests the establishment of an
academy or school of painting in New Haven, so that he may be enabled to
live at home with his family, and find time to paint some of the great
historical works which he still longed to do. He also tells of the
formation of such an academy in Charleston:--
"Since writing this there has been formed here an Academy of Arts to be
erected immediately. J.R. Poinsett, Esq., is President, and six others
with myself are chosen Directors. What this is going to lead to I don't
know. I heard Mr. Cogdell say that it was intended to have lectures read,
among other things. I feel not very sanguine as to its success, still I
shall do all in my power to help it on as long as I am here."
His forebodings seem to have been justified, for Mr. John S. Cogdell, a
sculptor, thus writes of it in later years to Mr. Dunlap:--
"The Legislature granted a charter, but, my good sir, as they possessed
no powers under the constitution to confer taste or talent, and possessed
none of those feelings which prompt to patronage, they gave none to the
infant academy.... The institution was allowed from apathy and opposition
to die; but Mr. Poinsett and myself with a few others have purchased,
with a hope of reviving, the establishment."
Referring to this academy the wife in New Haven, in a letter of February
25, 1821, says: "Mr. Silliman says he is not much pleased to hear that
they have an academy for painting in Charleston. He is afraid they will
decoy you there."
On March 11, 1821, Morse answers thus: "Tell Mr. Silliman I have stronger
_magnets_ at New Haven than any academy can have, and, while that is the
case, I cannot be decoyed permanently from home."
I wonder if he used the word "magnets" advisedly, for it was with
Professor Silliman that he at that time pursued the studies in physics,
including electricity, which had so interested him while in college, and
it was largely due to the familiarity with the subject which he then
acquired that he was, in later years, enabled successfully to perfect his
On the 12th of March, 1821, another daughter was born to the young
couple, and was named Elizabeth Ann after her paternal grandmother. The
child lived but a few days, however, much to the grief of her parents and
Charleston had now given all she had to give to the young painter, and he
packed his belongings to return home with feelings both of joy and of
regret. He was overjoyed at the prospect of so soon seeing his dearly
loved wife and daughter, and his parents and brothers; at the same time
he had met with great hospitality in Charleston; had made many firm
friends; had impressed himself strongly on the life of the city, as he
always did wherever he went, and had met with most gratifying success in
his profession. A partial list of the portraits painted while he was
there gives the names of fifty-five persons, and, as the prices received
are appended, we learn that he received over four thousand dollars from
his patrons for these portraits alone.
On March 31, 1821, he joyfully announces his homecoming: "I just drop you
a hasty line to say that, in all probability, your husband will be with
you as soon, if not sooner than this letter. I am entirely clear of all
sitters, having outstayed my last application; have been engaged in
finishing off and packing up for two days past and contemplate embarking
by the middle or end of the coming week in the steamship for New York.
You must not be surprised, therefore, to see me soon after this reaches
you; still don't be disappointed if I am a little longer, as the winds
most prevalent at this season are head winds in going to the North. I am
busy in collecting my dues and paying my debts."
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. DeForest.--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.
Much as Morse longed for a permanent home, where he could find continuous
employment while surrounded by those he loved, it was not until many
years afterwards and under totally different circumstances that his dream
was realized. For the present the necessity of earning money for the
support of his young family and for the assistance of his ageing father
and mother drove him continually forth to new fields, and on May 23,
1821, which must have been only a few weeks after his return from the
South, he writes to his wife from Pittsfield, Massachusetts:--
"We are thus far on our tour safe and sound. Mr. Silliman's health is
very perceptibly better already. Last night we lodged at Litchfield; Mr.
Silliman had an excellent night and is in fine spirits.
"At Litchfield I called on Judge Reeves and sat a little while.... I
called at Mr. Beecher's with Mr. Silliman and Judge Gould; no one at
home. Called with Mr. Silliman at Dr. Shelden's, and stayed a few
moments; sat a few moments also at Judge Gould's.
"I was much pleased with the exterior appearance of Litchfield; saw at a
distance Edwards's pickerel pond.
"We left at five this morning, breakfasted at Norfolk, dined at
Stockbridge. We there left the stage and have hired a wagon to go on to
Middlebury, Vermont, at our leisure. We lodge here to-night and shall
probably reach Bennington, Vermont, to-morrow night.
"I have made one slight pencil sketch of the Hoosac Mountain. At
Stockbridge we visited the marble quarries, and to-morrow at Lanesborough
shall visit the quarries of fine white marble there.
"I am much delighted with my excursion thus far. To travel with such a
companion as Mr. Silliman I consider as highly advantageous as well as
This is all the record I have of this particular trip. The Mr. Beecher
referred to was the father of Henry Ward Beecher.
Later in the summer he accompanied his wife and little daughter to
Concord, New Hampshire, and left them there with her father and mother.
Writing to her from Boston on his way back to New Haven, he says in
characteristically masculine fashion:--
"I have talked with Aunt Bartlett about getting you a bonnet. She says
that it is no time to get a fashionable winter bonnet in Boston now, and
that it would be much better if you could get it in New York, as the
Bostonians get their fashions from New York and, of course, much later
than we should in New Haven. She thinks that white is better than blue,
etc., etc., etc., which she can explain to you much better than I can.
She is willing, however, to get you any you wish if you still request it.
She thinks, if you cannot wait for the new fashion, that your black
bonnet put into proper shape with black plumes would be as _tasty_ and
fashionable as any you could procure. I think so, too. You had better
write Aunt particularly about it."
While Morse had conscientiously tried to put the best of himself into the
painting of portraits, and had succeeded better than he himself knew, he
still longed for wider fields, and in November, 1821, he went to
Washington, D.C., to begin a work which he for some time had had in
contemplation, and which he now felt justified in undertaking. This was
to be a large painting of the House of Representatives with many
portraits of the members. The idea was well received at Washington and he
obtained the use of one of the rooms at the Capitol for a studio, making
it easy for the members to sit for him. It could not have been all plain
sailing, however, for his wife says to him in a letter of December 28,
1821: "Knowing that perseverance is a trait in your character, we do not
any of us feel surprised to hear you have overcome so many obstacles. You
have undertaken a great work.... Every one thinks it must be a very
popular subject and that you will make a splendid picture of it."
Writing to his wife he says:--
"I am up at daylight, have my breakfast and prayers over and commence the
labors of the day long before the workmen are called to work on the
Capitol by the bell. This I continue unremittingly till one o'clock, when
I dine in about fifteen minutes and then pursue my labors until tea,
which scarcely interrupts me, as I often have my cup of tea in one hand
and my pencil in the other. Between ten and eleven o'clock I retire to
rest. This has been my course every day (Sundays, of course, excepted)
since I have been here, making about fourteen hours' study out of the
"This you will say is too hard, and that I shall injure my health. I can
say that I never enjoyed better health, and my body, by the simple fare I
live on, is disciplined to this course. As it will not be necessary to
continue long so assiduously I shall not fail to pursue it till the work
"I receive every possible facility from all about the Capitol. The
doorkeeper, a venerable man, has offered to light the great chandelier
expressly for me to take my sketches in the evening for two hours
together, for I shall have it a candlelight effect, when the room,
already very splendid, will appear ten times more so."
On the 2d of January, 1822, he writes: "I have commenced to-day taking
the likenesses of the members. I find them not only willing to sit, but
apparently esteeming it an honor. I shall take seventy of them and
perhaps more; all if possible. I find the picture is becoming the subject
of conversation, and every day gives me greater encouragement. I shall
paint it on part of the great canvas when I return home. It will be
eleven feet by seven and a half feet.... It will take me until October
next to complete it."
The room which he painted was then the Hall of Representatives, but is
now Statuary Hall. As a work of art the painting is excellent and is
highly esteemed by artists of the present day. It contains eighty
His high expectations of gaining much profit from its exhibition and of
selling it for a large sum were, however, doomed to disappointment. It
did not attract the public attention which he had anticipated and it
proved a financial loss to him. It was finally sold to an Englishman, who
took it across the ocean, and it was lost sight of until, after
twenty-five years, it was found by an artist friend, Mr. F.W. Edmonds, in
New York, where it had been sent from London. It was in a more or less
damaged condition, but was restored by Morse. It eventually became the
property of the late Daniel Huntington, who loaned it to the Corcoran
Gallery of Art in Washington, where it now hangs.
[Footnote 1: This painting has recently been purchased by the Trustees of
the Corcoran Gallery.]
I find no more letters of special interest of the year 1822, but Mr.
Prime has this to record: "In the winter of 1822, notwithstanding the
great expenses to which Mr. Morse had been subjected in producing this
picture, and before he had realized anything from its exhibition, he made
a donation of five hundred dollars to the library fund of Yale College;
probably the largest donation in proportion to the means of the giver
which that institution ever received."
The corporation, by vote, presented the thanks of the board in the
December 4th, 1822.
DEAR SIR,--I am directed by the corporation of this college to present to
you the thanks of the board for your subscription of five hundred dollars
for the enlargement of the library. Should this example of liberality be
generally imitated by the friends of the institution, we should soon have
a library creditable to the college and invaluable to men of literary and
With respectful and grateful acknowledgment,
Your obedient servant,
While he was at home in New Haven in the early part of 1823 he sought
orders for portraits, and that he was successful in at least one instance
is evidenced by the following letter:--
Mr. D.C. DeForest's compliments to Mr. Morse. Mr. DeForest desires to
have his portrait taken such as it would have been six or eight years
ago, making the necessary calculation for it, and at the same time making
it a good likeness in all other respects.
This reason is not to make himself younger, but to appear to children and
grandchildren more suitably matched as to age with their mother and
If Mr. Morse is at leisure and disposed to undertake this work, he will
please prepare his canvas and let me know when he is ready for my
30th March, 1823.
Whether Morse succeeded to the satisfaction of Mr. DeForest does not
appear from the correspondence, but both this portrait and that of Mrs.
DeForest now hang in the galleries of the Yale School of the Fine Arts,
and are here reproduced so that the reader may judge for himself.
[Illustration: MR. D.C. DE FOREST MRS. D.C. DE FOREST
From "Thistle Prints." Copyright Detroit Publishing Co.
From a painting by Morse now in the Gallery of the Yale School of the
On the 17th of May, 1828, the first number of the New York "Observer" was
published. While being a religious newspaper the prospectus says it
"contains also miscellaneous articles and summaries of news and
information on every subject in which the community is interested."
This paper was founded and edited by the two brothers Sidney E. and
Richard C. Morse, who had abandoned respectively the law and the
ministry. It was very successful, and became at one time a power in the
community and is still in existence.
The editorial offices were first established at 50 Wall Street, but later
the brothers bought a lot and erected a building at the corner of Nassau
and Beekman Streets, and that edifice had an important connection with
the invention of the telegraph. On the same site now stands the Morse
Building, a pioneer sky-scraper now sadly dwarfed by its gigantic
The year 1823 was one of mingled discouragement and hope. Compelled to
absent himself from home for long periods in search of work, always
hoping that in some place he would find enough to do to warrant his
bringing his family and making for them a permanent home, his letters
reflect his varying moods, but always with the underlying conviction that
Providence will yet order all things for the best. The letters of the
young wife are pathetic in their expressions of loneliness during the
absence of her husband, and yet of forced cheerfulness and submission to
the will of God.
On the 17th of March, 1823, another child was born, a son, who was named
for his maternal grandfather, Charles Walker. The child was at first very
delicate, and this added to the anxieties of the fond mother and father,
but he soon outgrew his childish ailments.
Morse's active mind was ever bent on invention, and in this year he
devised and sought to patent a machine for carving marble statues,
"perfect copies of any model." He had great hopes of pecuniary profit
from this invention and it is mentioned many times in the letters of this
and the following year, but he found, on enquiry, that it was not
patentable, as it would have been an infringement on the machine of
Thomas Blanchard which was patented in 1820.
So once more were his hopes of independence blasted, as they had been in
the case of the pump and fire-engine. He longed, like all artists, to be
free from the petty cares and humiliations of the struggle for existence,
free to give full rein to his lofty aspirations, secure in the confidence
that those he loved were well provided for; but, like most other
geniuses, he was compelled to drink still deeper of the bitter cup, to
drain it to the very dregs.
In the month of August, 1823, he went to Albany, hoping through his
acquaintance with the Patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer, to establish
himself there. He painted the portrait of the Patroon, confident that, by
its exhibition, he would secure other orders. In a letter to his wife he
"I have found lodgings--a large front room on the second story,
twenty-five by eighteen feet, and twelve feet high--a fine room for
painting, with a neat little bedroom, and every convenience, and board,
all for six dollars a week, which I think is very reasonable. My landlord
is an elderly Irish gentleman with three daughters, once in independent
circumstances but now reduced. Everything bears the appearance of
old-fashioned gentility which you know I always liked. Everything is neat
and clean and genteel.... Bishop Hobart and a great many acquaintances
were on board of the boat upon which I came up to this city.
"I can form no idea as yet of the prospect of success in my profession
here. If I get enough to employ me I shall go no farther; if not, I may
visit some of the smaller towns in the interior of the State. I await
with some anxiety the result of experiments with my machine. I hope the
invention may enable me to remain at home."
"_16th of August._ I have not as yet received any application for a
portrait. Many tell me I have come at the wrong time--the same tune that
has been rung in my ears so long. I hope the right tune will come by and
by. The winter, it is said, is the proper season, but, as it is better in
the South at that season and it will be more profitable to be there, I
shall give Albany a thorough trial and do my best. If I should not find
enough to employ me here, I think I shall return to New York and settle
there. This I had rather not do at present, but it may be the best that I
can do. Roaming becomes more and more irksome. Imperious necessity alone
drives me to this course. Don't think by this I am faint-hearted; I shall
persevere in this course, painful as is the separation from my family,
until Providence clearly points out my duty to return."
"_August 22._ I have something to do. I have one portrait in progress and
the promise of more. One hundred dollars will pay all my expenses here
for three months, so that the two I am now painting will clear me in that
respect and all that comes after will be clear gain. I am, therefore,
easier in my mind as to this. The portrait I am now painting is Judge
Moss Kent, brother of the Chancellor. He says that I shall paint the
Chancellor when he returns to Albany, and his niece also, and from these
particulars you may infer that I shall be here for some little time
longer, just so long as my good prospects continue; but, should they
fail, I am determined to try New York City, and sit down there in my
profession permanently. I believe I have now attained sufficient
proficiency to venture there. My progress may be slow at first, but I
believe it will be sure. I do not like going South and I have given up
the idea of New Orleans or any Southern city, at least for the present.
Circumstances may vary this determination, but I think a settlement in
New York is more feasible now than ever before. I shall be near you and
home in cases of emergency, and in the summer and sickly season can visit
you at New Haven, while you can do the same to me in New York until we
live again at New Haven altogether. I leave out of this calculation the
_machine for sculpture_. If that should entirely succeed, my plans would
be materially varied, but I speak of my present plan as if that had
"_August 24._ I finished Mr. Kent's picture yesterday and received the
money for it.... Mr. Kent is very polite to me, and has introduced me to
a number of persons and families, among others to the Kanes--very wealthy
people--to Governor Yates, etc. Mr. Clinton's son called on me and
invited me to their house.... I have been introduced to Senor Rocafuerto,
the Spaniard who made so excellent a speech before the Bible Society last
May. He is a very handsome man, very intelligent, full of wit and
vivacity. He is a great favorite with the ladies and is a man of wealth
and a zealous patriot, studying our manners, customs, and improvements,
with a view of benefiting his own countrymen in Peru.... I long to be
with you again and to see you all at _home_. I fear I dote on _home_ too
much, but mine is such an uncommon home, such a delightful home, that I
cannot but feel strongly my privation of its pleasures."
"_August 27._ My last two letters have held out to you some encouraging
prospects of success here, but now they seem darkened again. I have had
nothing to do this week thus far but to wait patiently. I have advertised
in both of the city papers that I should remain one week to receive
applications, but as yet it has produced no effect....
"Chancellor Kent is out of town and I was told yesterday would not be in
until the end of next month. If I should have nothing to do in the mean
time it is hardly worth while to stay solely for that. Many have been
talking of having their portraits painted, but there it has thus far
ended. I feel a little perplexed to know what to do. I find nothing in
Albany which can profitably employ my leisure hours. If there were any
pictures or statuary where I could sketch and draw, it would be
different.... I have visited several families who have been very kind to
me, for which I am thankful....
"I shall leave Albany and return to New York a week from to-day if there
is no change in my prospects.... The more I think of making a push at New
York as a permanent place of residence in my profession, the more proper
it seems that it should be pretty soon. There is now no rival that I
should fear; a few more years may produce one that would be hard to
overcome. New York does not yet feel the influx of wealth from the
Western canal but in a year or two she will feel it, and it will be
advantageous to me to be previously identified among her citizens as a
"It requires some little time to become known in such a city as New York.
Colonel T---- is growing old, too, and there is no artist of education
sufficiently prominent to take his place as President of the Academy of
Arts. By becoming more known to the New York public, and exerting my
talents to discover the best methods of promoting the arts and writing
about them, I may possibly be promoted to his place, where I could have a
better opportunity of doing _something for the arts in our country_, the
object at which I aim."
"_September 3._ I have nothing to do and shall pack up on the morrow for
New York unless appearances change again. I have not had full employment
since I have been in Albany and I feel miserable in doing nothing. I
shall set out on Friday, and perhaps may go to New Haven for a day or two
to look at you all."
He did manage to pay a short visit to his home, and then he started for
New York by boat, but was driven by a storm into Black Rock Harbor and
continued his journey from there by land. Writing home the day after his
arrival he says: "I have obtained a place to board at friend Coolidge's
at two dollars and twenty-five cents a week, and have taken for my studio
a fine room in Broadway opposite Trinity Churchyard, for which I am to
pay six dollars and fifty cents a week, being fifty cents less than I
expected to pay."
There has been some increase in the rental price of rooms on Broadway
opposite Trinity Churchyard since that day.
Further on he says:--
"I shall go to work in a few days vigorously. It is a half mile from my
room to the place where I board, so that I am obliged to walk more than
three miles every day. It is good exercise for me and I feel better for
it. I sleep in my room on the floor and put my bed out of sight during
the day, as at Washington. I feel in the spirit of 'buckling down to it,'
and am determined to paint and study with all my might this winter."
The loving wife is distressed at the idea of his sleeping on the floor,
and thus expresses herself in a letter which is dated, curiously enough,
November 31: "You know, dear Finley, I have always set my face as a flint
and have borne my testimony against your sleeping on the floor. Indeed,
it makes my heart ache, when I go to bed in my comfortable chamber, to
think of my dear husband sleeping without a bedstead. Your mother says
she sent one to Richard, which he has since told her was unnecessary as
he used a settee, and which you can get of him. But, if it is in use, do
get one or I shall take no comfort."
Soon after his arrival in New York he began the portrait of Chancellor
Kent, and writing of him he says:--
"He is not a good sitter; he scarcely presents the same view twice; he is
very impatient and you well know that I cannot paint an impatient person;
I must have my mind at ease or I cannot paint.
"I have no more applications as yet, but it is not time to expect them.
All the artists are complaining, and there are many of them, and they are
all poor. The arts are as low as they can be. It is no better at the
South, and all the accounts of the arts or artists are of the most
The portrait of the Chancellor seems not to have brought him more orders,
for a little later he writes to his wife: "I waited many days in the hope
of some application in my profession, but have been disappointed until
last evening I called and spent the evening with my friend Mr. Van
Schaick, and told him I had thought of painting some little design from
the 'Sketch Book,' so as not to be idle, and mentioned the subject of
Ichabod Crane discovering the headless horseman.
"He said: 'Paint it for me and another picture of the same size, and I
will take them of you.' So I am now employed....
"_My secret scheme_ is not yet disclosable, but I shall let you know as
soon as I hear anything definite."
Still later he says:--
"I have seen many of the artists; they all agree that little is doing in
the city of New York. It seems wholly given to commerce. Every man is
driving at one object--the making of money--not the spending of it....
"My _secret scheme_ looks promising, but I am still in suspense; you
shall know the moment it is decided one way or the other."
His brother, Sidney Edwards, in a letter to his parents of December 9,
1823, says: "Finley is in good spirits again; not because he has any
prospect of business here, but he is dreaming of the gold mines of
As his _secret_ was now out, he explains it fully in the following letter
to his wife, dated December 21, 1823:--
"My cash is almost gone and I begin to feel some anxiety and perplexity
to know what to do. I have advertised, and visited, and hinted, and
pleaded, and even asked one man to sit, but all to no purpose.... My
expenses, with the most rigid economy, too, are necessarily great; my
rent to-morrow will amount to thirty-three dollars, and I have nothing to
pay it with.
"What can I do? I have been here five weeks and there is not the smallest
prospect _now_ of any difference as to business. I am willing to stay and
wish to stay if there is anything to do. The pictures that I am painting
for Mr. Van Schaick will not pay my expenses if painted here; my rent and
board would eat it all up.
"I have thought of various plans, but what to decide upon I am completely
at a loss, nor can I decide until I hear definitely from Washington in
regard to my Mexico expedition. Since Brother Sidney has hinted it to you
I will tell you the state of it. I wrote to General Van Rensselaer, Mr.
Poinsett, and Colonel Hayne, of the Senate, applying for some situation
in the legation to Mexico soon to be sent thither. I stated my object in
going and my wish to go free of expense and under government protection.
"I received a letter a few days ago from General Van Rensselaer in which
he says: 'I immediately laid your request before the President and
seconded it with my warmest recommendations. It is impossible to predict
the result at present. If our friend Mr. Poinsett is appointed minister,
which his friends are pressing, he will no doubt be happy to have you in
"Thus the case rests at present. If Mr. Poinsett is appointed I shall
probably go to Mexico, if not, it will be more doubtful.... If I go I
should take my picture of the House of Representatives, which, in the
present state of favorable feeling towards our country, I should probably
dispose of to advantage.
"All accounts that I hear from Mexico are in the highest degree favorable
to my enterprise, and I hear much from various quarters."
As can well be imagined, his wife did not look with unalloyed pleasure on
this plan. She says in a letter of December 25, 1823: "I have felt much
for you, my dearest Finley, in all your trials and perplexities. I was
sorry to hear you had been unsuccessful in obtaining portraits. I hope
you will, ere long, experience a change for the better.... As to the
Mexico plan, I know not what to think of it. How can I consent to have
you be at such a distance?"
However, convinced by her husband that it would be for his best interests
to go, she reluctantly gave her consent and he used every legitimate
effort to secure the appointment. He was finally successful. Mr. Poinsett
was not appointed as minister; this honor was bestowed on the Honorable
Ninian Edwards, of Illinois, but Morse was named as one of his suite.
In a note from the Honorable Robert Young Hayne, who, it will be
remembered, was the opponent of Daniel Webster in the great debates on
States' Rights in the Senate, Morse was thus apprised of his appointment:
"Governor Edwards's suite consists of Mr. Mason, of Georgetown, D.C.,
secretary of the legation; Mr. Hodgson, of Virginia, private secretary;
and yourself, attache."
Morse had great hopes of increasing his reputation as a painter and of
earning much money in Mexico. He was perfectly frank in stating that his
principal object in seeking an appointment as attache was that he might
pursue his profession, and, in a letter to Mr. Edwards of April 15, 1824,
he thus explains why he considers this not incompatible with his duties
as attache: "That the pursuit of my profession will not be derogatory to
the situation I may hold I infer from the fact that many of the ancient
painters were ambassadors to different European courts, and pursued their
professions constantly while abroad. Rubens, while ambassador to the
English court, executed some of his finest portraits and decorated the
ceiling of the chapel of White Hall with some of his best historical
When it was finally decided that he should go, he made all his
preparations, including a bed and bedding among his impedimenta, being
assured that this was necessary in Mexico, and bade farewell to his
His father, his wife and children, and his sister-in-law accompanied him