Mountain Art & Artists
Sixty Years' Memories of Art and Artists
NEXT morning when we sallied forth for breakfast, the first thing that we saw posted on the walls was the announcement that a Provisional Government had been formed, with the names of Lamartine, Arago, Louis Blanc, Ledru Rollin and others at the head. This looked reassuring, and we found order was partially restored. The days following were uncertain ones. Immense deputations were constantly besieging the Hotel de Ville demanding impossible things of the Provisional government. Lamartine and others stood upon the balconies accepting this or refusing that fearlessly, speaking to the crowds, turning them from rash purposes at the risk of their lives. One deputation demanded that the red flag be adopted. Lamartine, while hundreds of guns pointed at him, said: "No! The tricolor flag has made the tour of the world with honor and glory, while the red one has only made the tour of the Champs de Mars dragged in the blood of citizens," thus alluding to an episode of the first revolution. These brave and manly words saved his life, and prevented the adoption of the odious red flag.
Things went along pretty quietly for some weeks. The people were amused with planting liberty trees, and writing " Liberté ! Egalité ! Fraternité!" upon the walls, singing the Marseillaise, and doing other harmless things. But by the first of June mutterings of discontent were again heard. The Government had no more money to keep employed the thousands of idle men about the city as they had been doing, and these men, joined by the lowest dregs of the population, turned against the authorities. For three days fighting went on in different parts of the city. It was difficult to get from one street to another. . The military sometime escorted me from one point to another until I reached home. Gen. Lamoricière with the troops and cannon demolished the barricades and cleared the Faubourg St. Antoine. The last night of this great emeute was a fearful one. The soldiers of the National Guard were stationed in every street, and at short intervals cried out " Selitinelle prenez garde a vous " during the whole night. But the riot was put down by the shedding of much blood, and order was once more restored.
During all this time I was going on with my panorama. Two of my assistants had been made Lieutenants of the National Guard, and we all shouted the Marseillaise as we worked together. In fact, all the old songs of the Great Revolution were in vogue again, and became familiar to all. By the end of the summer my work was completed, and sent home, and I followed it in a ship, sailing from Liverpool, bound for Boston, where I arrived after thirty-five days passage. My young friends, Wilde, Babcock and Hunt had gone to study in Coutine's atelier, and Gay soon after went to study with Troyon, and I had left them with regret. It was sometime before the immense panorama could be got in readiness for exhibition, but about the end of the year 1848 in the hall of the old Horticultural Building on School street, Boston, it was shown to the public. The opening was successful. Ben Perley Poore and other representatives of the press gave the panorama a good send-off. The little book descriptive of the painting was arranged and put together by Poore, aided by many suggestions of Longfellow, who was much interested in it, and I owed much to his interest and warm friendship. I owed much to the critics of the day, also, for the kind way in which they spoke of my work.
I described the picture as it was slowly unrolled, for I was perfectly familiar with the scenery and many of the legends of the river. The picture was successful with the best people of Boston, especially among those who had seen the Rhine. Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis, among others, interested herself in its success, and always brought troops of friends with her, and she became a good friend. But the great masses of the people upon whose support the financial success of the exhibition depended did not come out, and so the venture dragged along through the winter, paying little more than the running expenses. The panorama was sold, and taken to Codman Hall on Washington Street, where it languished for a while, and then came into my hands again. Then I went with it to Worcester with fair success, and from there to New Haven, Connecticut, where I had fair audiences. While I was in the latter city my brother in Boston sold the picture to other parties who wished to exhibit it in New York City, and who desired me to conduct the exhibition and describe the unrolling. But there as in Boston the show was not a success in a money point of view, and not long after I left New York, the panorama was attached by the owners of the hall for nonpayment of the rent, and for non-fulfillment of their obligations by the proprietors.
The panorama again came back into my possession, but how to get it was the problem I had to solve. The owners of the hall had hidden it up town, but after a time it was discovered, and I secured it, but not until after a lawsuit, and the court had decided in my favor. It was brought back to Boston at last, and finally sold to a third party, and taken to New York once more, and put on exhibition at the Crystal Palace-built in 1851 or 1852-and where it was at last burned in the fire that destroyed that building before the close of 1853. I was rather glad it was out of existence for it had been a source of anxiety to me from the moment of its being put on exhibition.
In the summer of 1849, I went to my old home at New Ipswich, where I was very heartily welcomed by my cousin, John Preston, who lived in the old homestead, my birthplace. I sketched old familiar scenes with great interest, found many of my old friends of schoolboy days, and renewed old associations. But I was suddenly called home by a message stating that my mother had died of cholera after a few hours' illness. I hastened to my sister's at Woburn, where I arrived just in time to hear the funeral service, and see my mother's loved face once more. She was the kindest and best of mothers, and it was a sad blow to us to see her thus stricken down.
After some weeks' illness I returned to New Ipswich to finish my work, then went to Jaffray where Mr. William Willard joined me. We climbed the old Monadnock together, and made sketches in the neighborhood. When I first approached the little hotel in jaffray to ask if I could be entertained there, the landlord looked at me coldly, seemed very gruff, and I could hardly get a civil answer from him. I saw he was holding back some dreadful emotion, but could not guess what. At last he blurted out with: " Why don't you shave yourself, and not go round looking so like the - ? " I had come home from abroad wearing a beard, and it was the first one the landlord had seen. Hence his indignation. The 49-ers had not then returned from California and spread the fashion. I went from jaffray to Keene, where I made many pleasant friends in that most delightful of New England towns.
That winter I took a studio in the old Tremont Temple to paint pictures
from my summer studies. The rooms on the upper floor were occupied mostly by artists.
Among them were: John Pope, Hanley, and F. H. Lane of old lithographic days, and now a
marine painter. There was a Mr. Mason, a portrait painter of no mean ability, and a most
excellent fellow. He had made many a household happy by his truthful likenesses. Joseph
Ames was also there, having returned with me from his trip to Rome, where he had painted
Pope Pius IX.
I had made an agreement with Kensett when in New York that when summer came we should go on a sketching trip to the White Mountains, but first we went to Buxton, Maine, with Mr. Willard to visit some friends. One day, searching for the picturesque, we had occasion to attempt the crossing of the Salmon river on a boom thrown across the stream to hold the lumber floating down. The logs were slippery and treacherous; our progress was slow, and we were finally brought to a stand by a particularly difficult point. But Kensett started off shouting " Flunkies! Flunkies ! " just then his foot slipped, and he had a good ducking in deep water, but he swam to shore, and we, more prudent, took off our clothes and soon joined him. We had a good laugh at his expense, and called him the Canvas Back Duck for he had his sketching materials with him when he made his plunge. The day was warm, and no harm came of it.
We left for Sebago Lake, went up Songo River to Bridgton, and not finding anything we cared to sketch, then continued on foot to Frye-burg. Here everything seemed lovely after what we had been through, and we went to work with a will. The broad intervales, with the Saco winding through between rich groups of elms and maple, charmed us. Kensett sent for Casilear to join us. He came, and for six weeks we revelled in the beauty of this valley. The village itself we found very picturesque. Old fashioned residences stood on either side of the principal street, and it had besides a charming rural air not common in New England.