Chapter 20: Italy.—May to September, 1839.—Age, 28.
April 20, and going by way of Lyons
embarked at Marseilles
, May 3, by steamer for Naples
On the route he visited Genoa
, and Pisa
, and was kept a day at the unattractive port of Civita Vecchia.
While at Naples
, where he remained about twelve days, he visited the well-known points of interest,—the Museum, Lake Avernus
, Misenum, Baiae
, and Vesuvius
May 20, and riding during the night, he had the next day his first view of St. Peter
's from the Alban hills
That moment a darling vision of childhood and youth was fulfilled.
No pilgrim ever entered the Imperial City
with a richer enthusiasm,— not even Goethe
, who, in his German home, could not, for some time before he crossed the Alps
, look at an engraving of Italian
scenery or read a Latin book, because of the pang they gave him. Here Sumner
remained till the close of August.
and the Campagna have attractions at this season which are withheld in winter, and he always regarded the time of his sojourn there as well chosen.2
He afterwards referred to these days as the happiest of his whole European
Thence he went, by way of Siena
, to Florence
, where he passed a fortnight; and then with a vetturino
, Rovigo, Padua, and ‘across the plains of Lombardy
alone, in a light wagon with a single horse,
harnessed with ropes, old leather, and the like.’
on the last day of September, after a week's visit, he arrived, Oct. 2, without breaking the journey, at Milan
, where his Italian
Three days later, he took a seat in the malle-poste
to cross the Alps
by the Stelvio Pass for Innsbruck
Such, in brief, was his route at a period when as yet there was no railway in Italy
His journey, as originally planned, included a visit to Greece
, and he was provided with letters of introduction by Dr. Samuel G. Howe
, which would have brought him at once into relations with the surviving leaders of the Greek Revolution
; but he had lingered too long in Rome
to allow him to extend his journey further east.
Afterwards he much regretted this failure in his plan, though he felt his precious days in Rome
had been only too few.
During his three months in Rome
was a devoted student.
He determined not only to learn the language of the country, but to come into full communion with the thought and spirit of its literature.
He kept aloof from society, and even his visits to galleries and ruins were made mostly in hours of needful recreation.
Rising at half-past 6 o'clock in the morning, and breakfasting some hours later in his room, he was devoted to his books till five or six in the afternoon, when he sallied out for dinner or a walk.
With such devotion, his progress even exceeded his expectations.
He read not only Dante
, Macchiavelli, Guicciardini, Alfieri
, and Niccolini
, but several minor authors, whose neglected works are explored only by the most assiduous students of Italian literature.
Most of all he enjoyed the great work of an author then living,—the ‘Promessi Sposi’ of Manzoni
wrote to him, Nov. 29: ‘You have made an admirable use of your opportunities in Italy
Nobody has ever done more so. The list of books which you have read absolutely startles me. I do not understand how you could have found time for any thing else.’
found at Rome
, in the Consul
of the United States
, a scholar of kindred tastes, with whom he established a perpetual friendship.
Some will remember that when, in his later years, he was to speak at Faneuil Hall, he brought with him to the platform a slightly built man of fine texture, scholarly mien, and imperfect sight, for whom he cared with singular delicacy.
was George W. Greene
, who at Rome
, thirty years before, had assisted him in his studies, strolled with him among ruins and on the Campagna, and was associated with the memories of happiest days,—a friend whom Sumner
was ever afterward quick to serve.
, the grandson of Washington
's most trusted general, was born in the same year with Sumner
As a youth of sixteen, and again three years later, he had been Lafayette
's guest at La Grange
In 1827, he met casually at Marseilles
a pilgrim scholar like himself,—Henry W. Longfellow
; and the two journeyed together to Rome
No scholar was ever more generous and patient than Greene
in helping others to follow paths already familiar to himself; and favors and associations in common studies were always freshly remembered by Sumner
, even in the absorbing pursuits of public life.
remembers well Sumner
's habits at this time,—his prolonged studies, his bringing each day a list of questions suggested by his reading, his forgetting at dinner the food before him while his difficulties were being solved, his earnestness, apparent in his countenance as well as in voice and gesture, and his prodigious interest in books.
If he was compelled to leave volumes unread, he would at least know their titles.
Just before leaving the Convent of Palazzuola, he took down one by one all its books, the dust of which had not been disturbed for years; and before leaving Rome
he did the same with Greene
His taste for art was then developing, but his interest in literature was greater.
Of public life or fame as an orator he had no thought.
Knowledge he appeared to seek for its own sake, and as a means of usefulness.3
he made two excursions,—one to Tivoli
, where, with ‘Horace’ in hand, he observed the scenes commemorated by the poet; and the other, in company with Greene
, to the Convent of Palazzuola, where for four days they were the guests of the monks.4
In his argument of Dec. 4, 1849, against the constitutionality of separate colored schools in Massachusetts
thus referred to this last visit:—
In Italy, at the Convent of Palazzuola, on the shores of the Alban Lake, amidst a scene of natural beauty enhanced by historical association, where I was once a guest, I have for days seen a native of Abyssinia, recently from his torrid home and ignorant of the language spoken about him, mingling in delightful and affectionate familiarity with the Franciscan friars, whose visitor and scholar he was. Do I err in saying that the Christian spirit shines in these examples?5
At Rome Sumner
made the acquaintance of a young artist, then little known but afterwards distinguished, to whom he rendered a most important service.
was then toiling in his studio, waiting for commissions, with narrow means and serious misgivings as to the future.
recognized at once his genius, and was particularly struck with the ‘Orpheus
’ on which he was at work.
He not only cheered the artist with hopeful words, but wrote many letters home, urging friends to interest themselves in his behalf.
He never failed, after leaving Rome
, to set forth Crawford
's merits as a sculptor to English and American travellers who were likely to invest in works of art. Nor did his zeal in the cause of the young artist end here, as the sequel will show.
, truly grateful for this kindly interest, was anxious to take a bust of Sumner
, who consented reluctantly upon Greene
's assuring him that he would thereby render a service to his friend.
It is the earliest representation of Sumner
, and was thought at the time to be faithful to the original.6 Sir Charles Vaughan
and John Kenyon
, on different occasions, saw it in Greene
's library a few months later, and each was so struck with the likeness that he gave Crawford
a commission to take a bust of himself.
William W. Story
writes, of this visit of Sumner
It was during this visit that the world of art first opened to him; and though he liked living men better, the great statues and pictures he saw made a profound impression on him. When he returned, hour after hour he used to talk with me about them, and stirred my blood with his glowing descriptions.
He took me, so to speak, by the hand, and carried me through the great galleries, and talked enthusiastically of the great works he saw there,—
of Titian and Correggio, the Elgin marbles and Phidias; of all the great names.
I remember his account of the Vatican, with its population of statues; and I well remember that one of the things which struck him most was the bust of the young Augustus; not so much because of its beauty and excellence of workmanship as because it was Octavius,—the Emperor, the Father of his country, the Augustus of history.
The world of art, as art purely, was to him always a half-opened, if not a locked world.
He longed to enter into it, and feel it as an artist does; but the keys were never given to him. His interest in it was historical and literary, not artistic.
His judgment as to a work of art was poor; his sense of art very limited, though he ever strove to cultivate his taste and feeling for it. It was in Rome that he first made the acquaintance of Thomas Crawford,—the distinguished sculptor,—for whom he formed a strong friendship and sympathy.
Crawford was then a young man, struggling up the first difficult steps of his art, with high ambition and very small means,—full of talent and vigor of mind and purpose, but hampered by the res angusta domi. Sumner, with that natural kindness and geniality of heart which always characterized him, sought his society, lent him encouragement, and prophesied for him the fame which he afterwards acquired.
More than this: his friendship did not exhaust itself in words, but took the shape of earnest acts of kindness.
Crawford was then modelling one of his first statues, representing Orpheus descending into Hades to redeem Eurydice; and Sumner, impressed by the beauty and spirit of the work, urged so strenuously upon his friends at home the propriety of giving a commission for this work in marble that he succeeded in his purpose; and Crawford owes to him his first commission for a statue, and his first great lift to fame.
Many a long year after, walking in Rome with me, Sumner recounted the pleasant days spent with him; and pointing out his studio, said: “There, in the old days, I passed many a pleasant hour with our friend: there he confided to me his great ambition, and his small hope of success; and once when, almost in despair at his dark prospects, he poured forth his heart to me, I said: ‘Coraggio, Crawford!
When I come again to Rome, you will be a great and successful sculptor, and be living in a palace.’
He smiled, and shook his head.
Was I not a true prophet?
He is now living in a palace; and he is a great sculptor.”
This friendship, let me add, never abated through life.
Crawford never forgot the debt of gratitude he owed him; and Sumner always took the most earnest and active interest in him and his works, and never failed to chant his praise.
After Crawford's death, we went together over his studio; and the tears came into Sumner's eyes, as he spoke of the old days, and the untimely end of our friend.
Tidings reached Sumner
of his father's death, which had taken place April 24.
He had languished for several weeks, and the end was not unexpected.
He had reached the age of sixty-three,—a year which he had, for some time, designated as likely to prove fatal to him. The family, in communicating the
event, urged Charles not to allow it to affect his plans of travelling, or to speed his return.
The character of his father has already been given,—just, but severe and rigid.
wrote, in relation to his death: ‘President Quincy
spoke of his character as a high-minded and honorable man in the most energetic terms; and that is the character which all ascribe to him.’
Charles reverenced his father's uprightness and fidelity to his convictions, and through life referred to him always in terms of filial respect.
He had no undutiful conduct to recall.
He had observed, in boyhood and in manhood, all the obligations of a son. ‘You were a good son,’ wrote Lieber
, in a letter of condolence.
, who knew all the circumstances of his life at home, wrote: ‘That your duty to him was fully done, must now be a source of infinite satisfaction.’
But this narrative would be incomplete, if it said no more of this relation of father and son. The father's rigid nature imposed an iron rule at home, which bore heavily on the elder sons.
Charles chafed under it; and after he was himself emancipated, and had taken lodgings away from home, he sympathized with his brothers and sisters whom he left behind.
When he went to Europe
, he besought from his father a milder regime
for the younger children; and, indeed, a somewhat milder one followed the next year.
The intervention, however, was not kindly received; and from that time a single letter from Charles was all that passed between the two.
This feature of Sumner
's early life was not a transient grief only.
The want of a genuine sympathy between father and son leaves a void in one's being, which time and new relations never fill.
While abroad, and for years after his return, he referred— though with no unfilial reproaches—to this unhappy experience of his youth, in words which showed how profoundly he had felt it. This was his first domestic calamity; but it was not to be his last!
became much interested in Horatio Greenough
, who was then at work on his ‘Washington
’ and ‘Rescue,’ both now placed—the latter a group—at the east front of the National Capitol
was greatly impressed with Greenough
's intellectual power, as well as his genius in his art, and much enjoyed his society.
, answering a letter in which Sumner
, after leaving Florence
, made some suggestions as to the ‘Washington
,’ wrote, Nov. 16, 1839:—
I look upon your advice respecting the accessory ornaments of my chair as having been most well-timed and fortunate for me,—not that I think the
figures you object to cannot be rendered poetical as well as effective; but because, as you convincingly observed, I ought, in a first great work, appealing to great national sympathies, to keep clear, quite clear, of debatable ground.
frequented at Florence
the studio of Powers, who was then at work upon his ‘Eve.’
He formed at the same time a pleasant acquaintance with Richard Henry Wilde
,—once a member of Congress from Georgia
,—then pursuing researches for a Life of Dante
, on which he was engaged.
's request, he traced out at Ferrara
some manuscripts of Tasso
, and afterwards at Venice
others connected with Dante
, he met a tourist from Boston
, already known to him, and younger than himself,—William Minot, Jr.
,—in whom he took much interest, inspired in part by an ancient friendship which had existed between their fathers.
wrote to him from Florence
, Sept. 26, 1839:—
I consider, my dear Mentor, my having met you at my entrance into Italy as a great piece of fortune.
You have set me at once on the right track, have stimulated all my motives and tastes, and have made the path of improvement and pleasure clear to me. I shall bind up our conferences with my bundle of associations in Italy, mark them “number one,” and lay them in a very handy corner of my brain.
, now a member of the Boston
While in Italy, he devoted himself with great zeal to the study of Italian art and literature.
I recollect being much impressed by his rapid acquisition and mastery of these subjects.
He made himself familiar with, and incorporated into his own mind, the works and thoughts of the master minds of Italy.
His intellectual food was of the richest and most nutritious kind, and was rapidly assimilated by his vigorous mind.
His tenacious memory, his capacity for continuous work, and taste for acknowledged superiority secured to him a rich harvest.
He was very kind and friendly to me personally, and full of anecdotes of the noted people he had met the previous summer in England,—especially Lord Brougham, with whom he had passed some time in Paris.
To his brother George, Sumner
wrote from Florence
a long letter full of counsel on various points,—the latter's proposed book on Russia
, his study of languages, his style of writing, intercourse in society, manners, and dress,—in which he said:—
There is, perhaps, no other person in the world who would venture to make to you the suggestions in this letter.
I judge others by myself; and
I should be truly grateful to any friend whose relations with me justified suggestions on such delicate subjects, who exercised the same freedom towards me that I now use with you. “Veniam petimusque damusque vicissiim.”
Remembering, as he faithfully did, his family ties, he added:
I hope you have already written home stimulating mother to the education of the children.
Lend me your influence.
Teach your brothers and sisters to be ambitious, to aspire, and to look up. You can do a great deal of good in this way. I hope that Horace, when grown up, will not smart as I do under the mortification of a defective education.
he wrote a long letter to Judge Story
, urging the adoption of a higher standard at Harvard College, where, as he thought, there was then a want of thoroughness in the system of instruction.7
Particularly he lamented the imperfect way in which the modern languages were taught,—a defect from which he had especially suffered.
Let a boy acquire one thing well, and he gets a standard of excellence to which he will endeavor to bring up his other knowledge; and, moreover, he will be conscious of his deficiencies by observing the difference between what he knows well and what indifferently. Let the requisites for admission be doubled, and subject all candidates for degrees to a most rigid examination.
We must make a beginning, and where can it be done better than at Harvard? . . . I cannot forbear writing you, ex mero motu, to say that I think Felton's usefulness as a professor would be very much increased if he could come abroad: and such a tour as he proposes would be productive of benefit and honor to himself, the college, and our country.
Thank God! I am an American. Much as there is to offend me in our country, yet it is the best country to be born in on the face of the globe.
In his tribute to Washington Allston
, Aug. 27, 1846, there is a description of Italy
which was inspired by the memories of these days:–
Turning his back upon Paris and the greatness of the Empire, he directed his steps towards Italy, the enchanted ground of literature, history, and art, —strown with richest memorials of the past; filled with scenes memorable in the progress of man; teaching by the pages of philosophers and historians; vocal with the melody of poets; ringing with the music which St. Cecilia protects; glowing with the living marble and canvas; beneath a sky of heavenly purity and brightness; with the sunsets which Claude has painted; parted by the Apennines, early witnesses of the unrecorded Etruscan civilization; surrounded by the snow-capped Alps and the blue, classic waters of the Mediterranean sea.
Rome, sole surviving city of antiquity, once disdaining all that
could be wrought by the cunning hand of sculpture,—who has commanded the world by her arms, her jurisprudence, her church,—now sways it further by her arts.
Pilgrims from afar, where her eagles, her praetors, her interdicts never reached, become willing subjects of this new empire; and the Vatican, stored with the priceless remains of antiquity and the touching creations of modern art, has succeeded to the Vatican whose thunders intermingled with the strifes of modern Europe.8