Samuel Finley Breese Morse.

Samuel F. B. Morse; his letters and journals, ed. and supplemented by his son Edward Lind Morse; (Volume 1) online

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Letters and
v. 1


3 3333 07636 2363


N J6965

The New York
Public Library

Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

B Morse

Morse, Samuel Finley

Samuel F. B. Morse;


The Branch Libraries
188 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Books and non-print media may be returned
to any branch of The New York Public Library.
Materials must be returned by the last date
stamped on the card. Fines are charged for
overdue items. Pom #0690

card. Jbines arc
Form #0727














te^ Cambri&Qe


Published November 1914

3043 1





" It is the hour of fate,
And those who follow me reach every state
Mortals desire, and conquer every foe
Save death. But they who doubt or hesitate
Condemned to failure, penury and woe
Seek me in vain and uselessly implore.

I hear them not, and I return no more."

INGALLS, Opportunity.


ARTHUR CHRISTOPHER BENSON, in the introduction
to his studies in biography entitled " The Leaves of the
Tree," says:

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

The judgment of a son may, perhaps, be biased in
favor of a beloved father; he may unconsciously "slur
over the faults and failings," and lay emphasis only on
the virtues. In selecting and putting together the let-
ters, diaries, etc., of my father, Samuel F. B. Morse,
I have tried to avoid that fault; my desire has been to
present a true portrait of the man, with both lights and


shadows duly emphasized; but I can say with perfect
truth that I have found but little to deplore. He was
human, he had his faults, and he made mistakes. While
honestly differing from him on certain questions, I am
yet convinced that, in all his beliefs, he was absolutely
sincere, and the deeper I have delved into his corres-
pondence, the more I have been impressed by the true
nobility and greatness of the man.

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

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

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

In my selection of letters to be published I have tried


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

Many of the letters here published have already ap-
peared in Mr. S. Irenaeus Prime's biography of Morse,
but others are now printed for the first time, and I have
omitted many which Mr. Prime included. I must ac-
knowledge my indebtedness to Mr. Prime for the possi-
bility of filling in certain gaps in the correspondence; and
for much interesting material not now otherwise ob-

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

His versatility and abounding vitality were astound-
ing. He would have been an eminent man in his day
had he never invented the telegraph; but it is of absorb-
ing interest, in following his career, to note how he was
forced to give up one ambition after another, to suf-
fer blow after blow which would have overwhelmed a
man of less indomitable perseverance, until all his great


energies were impelled into the one channel which ulti-
mately led to undying fame.

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

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


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

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

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

Such as it is I send the book forth in the hope that
it may add to the knowledge and appreciation of the


character of one of the world's great men, and that it
may, perhaps, be an inspiration to others who are
striving, against great odds, to benefit their fellow men,
or to those who are championing the cause of justice
and truth.




APRIL 27, 1791 SEPTEMBER 8, 1810

Birth of S. F. B. Morse. His parents. Letters of Dr. Belknap and
Rev. Mr. Wells. Phillips, Andover. First letter. Letter from
his father. Religious letter from Morse to his brothers. Letters
from the mother to her sons. Morse enters Yale. His journey
there. Difficulty in keeping up with his class. Letter of warning
from his mother. Letters of Jedediah Morse to Bishop of London
and Lindley Murray. Morse becomes more studious. Bill of
expenses. Longing to travel and interest in electricity. Philadel-
phia and New York. Graduates from college. Wishes to accom-
pany Allston to England, but submits to parents' desires ... 1


OCTOBER 31, 1810 AUGUST 17, 1811

Enters bookshop as clerk. Devotes leisure to painting. Leaves
shop. Letter to his brothers on appointments at Yale. Letters
from Joseph P. Rossiter. Morse's first love affair. Paints
"Landing of the Pilgrims." Prepares to sail with Allstons for
England. Letters of introduction from his father. Disagreeable
stage-ride to New York. Sails on the Lydia. Prosperous voyage.
Liverpool. Trip to London. Observations on people and cus-
toms. Frequently cheated. Critical time in England. Dr.
Lettson. Sheridan's verse. Longing for a telegraph. A ghost 24


AUGUST 24, 1811 DECEMBER 1, 1811

Benjamin West. George III. Morse begins his studies. Intro-
duced to West. Enthusiasms. Smuggling and lotteries. Eng-
lish appreciation of art. Copley. Friendliness of West. Elgin
marbles. Cries of London. Custom in knocking. Witnesses
balloon ascension. Crowds. Vauxhall Gardens. St. Bartholo-
mew's Fair. Efforts to be economical. Signs of war. Mails
delayed. Admitted to Royal Academy. Disturbances, riots, and
murders .42



JANUARY 18, 1812 AUGUST 6, 1812

Political opinions. Charles R. Leslie's reminiscences of Morse,
Allston, King, and Coleridge. C. B. King's letter. Sidney E.
Morse's letter. Benjamin West's kindness. Sir William Beechy.

Murders, robberies, etc. Morse and Leslie paint each other's
portraits. The elder Morse's financial difficulties. He deprecates
the war talk. The son differs from his father. The Prince
Regent. Orders in Council. Estimate of West. Alarming state
of affairs in England. Assassination of Perceval, Prime Minister.
Execution of assassin. Morse's love for his art. Stephen Van
Rensselaer. Leslie the friend and Allston the master. Afternoon
tea. The elder Morse well known in Europe. Lord Castlereagh.

The Queen's drawing-room. Kemble and Mrs. Siddons.
Zachary Macaulay. Warning letter from his parents. War
declared. Morse approves. Gratitude to his parents, and to
Allston 58


SEPTEMBER 20, 1812 JUNE 13, 1813

Models the "Dying Hercules." Dreams of greatness. Again ex-
presses gratitude to his parents. Begins painting of "Dying Her-
cules." Letter from Jeremiah Evarts. Morse upholds righteous-
ness of the war. Henry Thornton. Political discussions. Gil-
bert Stuart. William Wilberforce. James Wynne's reminiscences
of Morse, Coleridge, Leslie, Allston, and Dr. Abernethy. Letters
from his mother and brother. Letters from friends on the state of
the fine arts in America. "The Dying Hercules" exhibited at the
Royal Academy. Expenses of painting. Receives Adelphi Gold
Medal for statuette of Hercules. Mr. Dunlap's reminiscences.
Critics praise "Dying Hercules" 84


JULY 10, 1813 APRIL 6, 1814

Letter from the father on economies and political views. Morse dep-
recates lack of spirit in New England and rejoices at Wellington's
victories. Allston's poems. Morse coat-of-arms. Letter of
Joseph Hillhouse. Letter of exhortation from his mother. Morse
wishes to stay longer in Europe. Amused at mother's political
views. The father sends more money for a longer stay. Sidney
exalts poetry above painting. His mother warns him against infidels
and actors. Bristol. Optimism. Letter on infidels and his own
religious observances. Future of American art. He is in good
health, but thin. Letter from Mr. Vlsger. Benjamin Burritt,
American prisoner. Efforts in his behalf unsuccessful. Capture


of Paris by the Allies. Again expresses gratitude to parents.
Writes a play for Charles Mathews. Not produced .... 108


MAY 2, 1814 OCTOBER 11, 1814

Allston writes encouragingly to the parents. Morse unwilling to be
mere portrait-painter. Ambitious to stand at the head of his pro-
fession. Desires patronage from wealthy friends. Delay in the
mails. Account of entree of Louis XVIII into London. The
Prince Regent. Indignation at acts of English. His parents
relieved at hearing from him after seven months' silence. No hope
of patronage from America. His brothers. Account of fetes.
Emperor Alexander, King of Prussia, Bliicher, Platoff . Wishes
to go to Paris. Letter from M. Van Schaick about battle of Lake
Erie. Disgusted with England 131


NOVEMBER 9, 1814 APRIL 23, 1815

Does not go to Paris. Letter of admonition from his mother.
His parents' early economies. Letter from Leslie. Letter from
Rev. S. F. Jarvis on politics. The mother tells of the economies of
another young American, Dr. Parkman. The son resents constant
exhortations to economize, and tells of meanness of Dr. Parkman.
Writes of his own economies and industry. Disgusted with Bristol.
Prophesies peace between England and America. Estimates of
Morse's character by Dr. Romeyn and Mr. Van Schaick. The
father regrets reproof of son for political views. Death of Mrs.
Allston. Disagreeable experience in Bristol. More economies.
Napoleon I. Peace 154


MAY 3, 1815 OCTOBER 18, 1815

Decides to return home in the fall. Hopes to return to Europe in a
year. Ambitions. Paints "Judgment of Jupiter." Not allowed
to compete for premium. Mr. Russell's portrait. Reproof of his
parents. Battle of Waterloo. Wilberforce. Painting of "Dy-
ing Hercules" received by parents. Much admired. Sails for
home. Dreadful voyage lasting fifty-eight days. Extracts from
his journal. Home at last 175


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 Whit-
ney. Miss Walker visits Charlestown. Morse's religious convic-
tions. More success in New Hampshire. Winter in Charleston,
South Carolina. John A. Alston. Success. Returns north.
Letter from his uncle Dr. Finley. Marriage 196


NOVEMBER 19, 1818 MARCH 81, 1821

Morse and his wife go to Charleston, South Carolina. Hospitably en-
tertained 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. Hospitali-
ties. 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 219


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 suc-
cess. Donates five hundred dollars to Yale. Letter from Mr. De
Forest. New York "Observer." Discouragements. First son
born. Invents marble-carving machine. Goes to Albany.
Stephen Van Rensselaer. Slight encouragement in Albany.
Longing for a home. Goes to New York. Portrait of Chancellor
Kent. Appointed attache to Legation to Mexico. High hopes.
Takes affecting leave of his family. Rough journey to Washington.
Expedition to Mexico indefinitely postponed. Returns North.
Settles in New York. Fairly prosperous 238



JANUARY 4, 1825 NOVEMBER 18, 1825

Success in New York. Chosen to paint portrait of Lafayette. Hope
of a permanent home with his family. Meets Lafayette in Washing-
ton. Mutually attracted. Attends President's levee. Begins
portrait of Lafayette. Death of his wife. Crushed by the news.
His attachment to her. Epitaph composed by Benjamin Silliman.

Bravely takes up his work again. Finishes portrait of Lafayette.

Describes it in letter of a later date. Sonnet on death of Lafay-
ette's dog. Rents a house in Canal Street, New York. One of the
founders of National Academy of Design. Tactful resolutions on
organization. First thirty members. Morse elected first presi-
dent. Reelected every year until 1845. Again made president in
1861. Lectures on Art. Popularity 259


JANUARY 1, 1826 DECEMBER 5, 1829

Success of his lectures, the first of the kind in the United States. Diffi-
culties of his position as leader. Still longing for a home. Very
busy but in good health. Death of his father. Estimates of Dr.
Morse. Letters to his mother. Wishes to go to Europe again.
Delivers address at first anniversary of National Academy of Design.

Professor Dana lectures on electricity. Morse's study of the
subject. Moves to No. 13 Murray Street. Too busy to visit his
family. Death of his mother. A remarkable woman. Goes to
central New York. A serious accident. Moral reflections.
Prepares to go to Europe. Letter of John A. Dix. Sails for
Liverpool. Rough voyage. Liverpool 283


DECEMBER 6, 1829 FEBRUARY 6, 1830

Journey from Liverpool to London by coach. Neatness of the cot-
tages. Trentham Hall. Stratford-on-Avon. Oxford. Lon-
don. Charles R. Leslie. Samuel Rogers. Seated with Academi-
cians at Royal Academy lecture. Washington Irving. Turner.
Leaves London for Dover. Canterbury Cathedral. Detained at
Dover by bad weather. Incident of a former visit. Channel
steamer. Boulogne-sur-Mer. First impressions of France.
Paris. The Louvre. Lafayette. Cold in Paris. Continental
Sunday. Leaves Paris for Marseilles in diligence. Intense cold.

Dijon. French funeral. Lyons. The H6tel Dieu. Avi-
gnon. Catholic church services. Marseilles. Toulon. The
navy yard and the galley slaves. Disagreeable experience at an inn.

The Riviera. Genoa .... 304




FEBRUARY 6, 1830 JUNE 15, 1830

Serra Palace in Genoa. Starts for Rome. Rain in the mountains.
A brigand. Carrara. First mention of a railroad. Pisa. The
leaning tower. Rome at last. Begins copying at once. Note-
books. Ceremonies at the Vatican. Pope Pius VIII. Academy
of St. Luke's. St. Peter's. Chiesa Nuova. Painting at the Vat-
ican. Beggar monks. Festa of the Annunciation. Soiree at
Palazzo Simbaldi. Passion Sunday. Horace Vernet. Lying in
state of a cardinal. Miserere at Sistine Chapel. Holy Thursday
at St. Peter's. Third cardinal dies. Meets Thorwaldsen at Signor
Persianis's. Manners of English, French, and Americans. Lan-
di's pictures. Funeral of a young girl. Trip to Tivoli, Subiaco.
Procession of the Corpus Domini. Disagreeable experience . . 39


JUNE 17, 1830 FEBRUARY 2, 1831

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

The Honorable Mr. Spencer and Catholicism. Election of Pope
Gregory XVI 354


'FEBRUARY 10, 1831 SEPTEMBER 12, 1831

Historic events witnessed by Morse. Rumors of revolution. Danger
to foreigners. Coronation of the new Pope. Pleasant experience.

Cause of the revolution a mystery. Bloody plot foiled. Plans to
leave for Florence. Sends casts, etc., to National Academy of De-
sign. Leaves Rome. Dangers of the journey. Florence. De-
scription of meeting Prince Radziwill in Coliseum at Rome. Copies
portraits of Rubens and Titian in Florence. Leaves Florence for
Venice. Disagreeable voyage on the Po. Venice, beautiful but
smelly. Copies Tintoret's "Miracle of the Slave." Thunder-
storms. Reflections on the Fourth of July. Leaves Venice.
Recoaro. Milan. Reflections on Catholicism and art. Como


and Maggiore. The Rigi. Schaffhausen and Heidelberg.
Evades the quarantine on French border. Thrilling experience.
Paris 379


SEPTEMBER 18, 1831 SEPTEMBER 21, 1832

Takes rooms with Horatio Greenough. Political talk with Lafayette.

Riots in Paris. Letters from Greenough. Bunker Hill Monu-
ment. Letters from Fenimore Cooper. Cooper's portrait by Ver-
boeckhoven. European criticisms. Reminiscences of R. W.
Habersham. Hints of an electric telegraph. Not remembered by
Morse. Early experiments in photography. Painting of the
Louvre. Cholera in Paris. Baron von Humboldt. Morse pre-
sides at Fourth of July dinner. Proposes toast to Lafayette. Let-
ter to New York "Observer" on Fenimore Cooper. Also on pride in
American citizenship. Works with Lafayette in behalf of Poles.
Letter from Lafayette. Morse visits London before sailing for home. .

Sits to Leslie for head of Sterne 407


Morse's life almost equally divided into two periods, artistic and scien-
tific. Estimate of his artistic ability by Daniel Huntington. Also
by Samuel Isham. His character as revealed by his letters, notes,
etc. End of Volume I .... .434


IHoRSE THE AHTIST (Photogravure) .... Frontispiece
Painted by himself in London about 1814.


Online LibrarySamuel Finley Breese MorseSamuel F. B. Morse; his letters and journals, ed. and supplemented by his son Edward Lind Morse; (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 31)