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Chapter 25: service for Crawford.—The Somers Mutiny.—The nation's duty as to slavery.—1843.—Age, 32.

The strong interest which while abroad Sumner took in Thomas Crawford, whose acquaintance he first made in Rome, has already appeared in his letters. He had then assured the young sculptor, who was waiting wearily for commissions, that eminent success was in store for him; and his efforts, next after the artist's genius, were to give fulfilment to the prediction. After leaving Rome, he sounded Crawford's praises in all circles where art was valued. From Europe he wrote in a most earnest strain to many friends in the artist's behalf, and at home renewed the appeal; but he did not rest content with words alone. The next winter he obtained, by personal solicitation, subscriptions to the amount of twenty-five hundred dollars for a marble copy of the ‘Orpheus,’ then only in plaster, to be placed in the Boston Athenaeum. He called attention to its merits in an article which, accompanied by a steel engraving of the statue, he contributed to the ‘Democratic Review.’1 The article related the legend which was the artist's theme, described the work itself, and cited the opinions of connoisseurs. The editor of the ‘Review,’ after stating in a note to the article that the statue had been purchased for the Athenaeum, said: ‘It may not be improper to mention here, to the credit of Mr. Charles Sumner (who is also the author of the above paper), that it is mainly to his exertions that his native city will owe the honor and advantage of possessing this noble sculpture.’

The article thus described the statue:—

It is the moment when Cerberus has yielded to the music, and closed the eyes of his three heads in sleep, that the artist has selected for his chisel. The dog lies on the ground, no longer offering any impediment to the passage. [231] Orpheus steps forward with earnest action,—reaching with his body, as it were, into the shades impenetrable to mortals. In one hand he holds the lyre, which has done its first work of conquest; and, with the other, he shades his eyes, that he may better collect the light to guide his adventurous progress. The expression of the body and of the countenance are in harmony; and they denote the strong resolve which inspires the heart of the lover to seek his lost companion. Nothing shall make him hesitate. He sees already her image: he catches the sound of her voice. He has left the light of day behind him; and he knows not fear. Move on, then, eager soul! Such devotion shall not be without its reward. The torments of hell shall cease at your approach: the company of the damned shall bless your coming; and at least one fleeting vision of her whom you have loved so well shall be yours!

Too much cannot be said in praise of the manner in which the artist has arranged his little group. The attitude of the principal figure, the position of the arms, and the apt employment of drapery, strike the most careless eye. But it is in the selection of the scene, and the poetical conception of it, that Crawford challenges our warmest admiration. It is not known that any other sculptor—we believe no other artist of any kind—has illustrated this scene. From the pictured urn of the past our young countryman first drew it forth, and invested it with the light of his genius.

The statue was not finished in marble till some months after the order was received; and its arrival in Boston was delayed till September, 1843. Sumner was much annoyed to find, on opening the box, that it had been broken in the transportation. He employed Mr. Henry Dexter to restore it,—under whose skilful hands the fractures were mended. He arranged an exhibition for the artist's benefit; and the sculpture hall of the Athenaeum, then situated on Pearl Street, being unsuitable for the purpose, he induced the proprietors to erect a small temporary building on the lawn by the side of it. He attended to the choice of coloring for the walls, selection of furniture, admission of light from proper points, and other preliminary details. The exhibition, with a view to a better attendance of visitors, was postponed till the next May. Sumner obtained from the owners of Crawford's works, residing in Boston, the privilege of exhibiting them with the ‘Orpheus;’ and, by the advice of friends, his own bust was added to the number. His best expectations were realized; and he had the satisfaction of seeing the artist's reputation established by the exhibition.

Mr. Hillard, writing twenty-four years later, said:—

The statue excited great and general admiration, alike from the originality of the conception and the technical excellence of the details. Good [232] judges felt that it was the production of an artist who was something more than a patient and skilful reproducer of existing forms, and that it was imbued with a creative genius which revealed a power of progress and an element of growth, asking recognition and encouragement. The strong impression made by this statue produced its natural result: many commissions were sent to him, and some of them for works of an ideal character, —such as gave him the sphere and opportunity he had long desired. The days of sharp struggle were over, and his patient expectation began to reap its reward. He had no longer occasion to struggle against depression and despondency; he had fought the fight, and won the crown. Work, and congenial work, too, came to hint in reasonable measure,—not enough to absorb and exhaust all his energies, but sufficient to give him uninterrupted occupation, and to make his future sure. He had a large studio fitted up in the Piazza Barberini; and his active industry soon filled it with a collection of expressive and original works.

Crawford came to this country in the autumn of 1844, and during this visit married Miss Louisa Ward,—one of ‘the Three Graces of Bond Street,’—whom he had previously met at Rome. Sumner rejoiced in the happiness which this domestic event brought to his friend, as well as in the professional success which he had at length won. Later,—in the early part of 1845,—he bespoke Judge Story's influence for Crawford, who visited the National Capital seeking from the Government a commission for an equestrian statue of Washington. The artist did not succeed in his errand, but his conception was yet to be realized in that noble group at Richmond,—the most inspiring memorial of Revolutionary patriotism which American art has created.

Crawford wrote to George Sumner, in 1844:—

I am looking forward, my dear George, with an intensity of pleasure to meeting your truly glorious brother Charles. After my own family, there is no person in the United States whose friendship I have placed nearer my heart; and Charles has certainly proved how true a man can be to all those sympathies which make this world a pleasant place to live in. I scarce know what-short of a look into Paradise-could induce me to give up the pleasure of looking again into Charles's face, and feeling the earnest pressure of his hand on mine.

Sumner followed Crawford to the end with unfailing interest, and with a warmth of friendship which never abated; but the artist, although tenderly grateful to one who had served him so well, had now, with fame and fortune achieved, little need of his good offices. The visitor who passes through the halls of the Art Museum of Boston cannot fail to observe the ‘Orpheus,’ [233] where it stands, not only as a piece of noble sculpture, but as the perpetual witness of that generous and faithful zeal which Crawford's friend and benefactor showed for him at a critical moment of his career.

‘The Mutiny of the ‘Somers’’ was the subject of Sumner's only contribution to the ‘North American Review,’2 after his return from Europe.

The ‘Somers,’ a brig-of-war of the United States, sailed front New York upon a voyage to the coast of Africa, on Sept. 12, 1842, under the command of Alexander Slidell Mackenzie.3 Her crew consisted largely of apprentice boys, whom she had received from the Naval School. Holding the rank of midshipman among her officers was Philip Spencer, son of John C. Spencer, then Secretary of War under President Tyler. He had been guilty of previous misconduct in the service, and was reluctantly received by the commander. During the voyage, he was assiduous in corrupting the crew with attentions, money, tobacco, and spirits. On the return, he was discovered in a conspiracy to murder the officers, take possession of the ship, and enter on a career of piracy; and he and two confederates —Small, a seaman, and Cromwell, a boatswain's mate—were put in irons. Four others were soon after arrested, and the seven confined on the quarter-deck. The commander intended to carry all the prisoners to the United States for trial; but finding that in consequence of their confinement a mutinous disposition was spreading among the crew, he called a council of his officers. They, after a careful examination of the evidence and a consideration of the necessity, advised, in a formal document signed by them, the immediate execution of Spencer, Small, and Cromwell,—closing their decision with the words, ‘bearing in mind our duty to our God, our country, and to the service.’ Accordingly, by the order of the commander, the three were hung at the yard-arm, on Dec. 1,—four days before the arrival of the ship at St. Thomas. Spencer and Small confessed their guilt, and acknowledged the justice of the punishment. A question was, however, raised as to the guilt of Cromwell. A court of inquiry, of which Commodore Stewart was President, approved Mackenzie's course. Afterwards, a court-martial, of [234] which Commodore Downes was President, upon a hearing of more than forty days, acquitted him; and their judgment was confirmed by President Tyler.

Such, however, was the position of Mr. Spencer,—the father, —his active interference with the proceedings, and the influence of others who were in his interest, that Mackenzie's conduct, notwithstanding this judicial vindication, was subjected to severe censure in some quarters. Both

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