Page images
PDF
EPUB

and dining-room. But the heart of the house lay beyond, in the library, where among his books the Senator did much of his later work, where he spent quiet evenings by the open fire, and where many a conference on matters of state and politics was held with heads of the party during the quartercentury between Grant and Roosevelt. Here he surrounded himself with objects that he loved and memorials of his service. Besides his books which lined the walls, there were the desk and chair he had occupied during his twelve years as member of the House, his portrait bust by Preston Powers, mementoes of foreign travel, and his pictures, of which he was justly proud.

His visit to Europe in 1867 had stimulated his early fondness for works of art, and as soon as his plans for the house were settled he began to seek pictures for its walls. In 1861 he invoked the aid of George P. Marsh, a fellow Vermonter, a cultivated man and a lover of art, then our Minister to Rome. Marsh bought for him several pictures in Munich, and in the following years sent him three more which he bought in Florence and which Morrill greatly liked. These were: A view of the hill of San Miniato and of the valley of the Arno, by Spranger; a view of the bridge of Maddalina at the Baths of Lucca and environs, by Luzzi; and the third, a rocky peak, Monte Pizzo d'Urcello, near Carrara, by C. Agostini. Encouraged by these ventures, Morrill disclosed his interest to another of his friends from Vermont who had domiciled himself in Italy - Larkin G. Mead, the sculptor — who sought out both engravings and pictures, and offered them to the Senator, glad to find an opportunity to repay some of the many kindnesses he had received at his hands. The story of these accessions cannot better be told than in two of Mead's letters written in 1876 and 1877:

NEW YORK, May 26, 1876 MY DEAR SIR

Your kind favor enclosing letters of introduction was duly received. I protest against being paid more than my price for the picture. The value of the picture is in its associations more than what it would command in dollars and cents. According to the Venetian Academy of Fine Arts, it is by Carlo Marata who was one of the first artists of his time. I think the design is Correggio's and Marata reproduced it putting his own style of coloring into it. The frame is of carved wood and I think is as old as the picture. The Venetian lady who owned the picture insisted that it was a Correggio. (You will see that one of the engravings was made in 1500 and something.) My private opinion is that it is as pleasing a specimen of old painting as there is in Washington. It needs to be in a subdued light. If you have two or three pictures of Ethan,' unmounted, please roll them up and send by mail. I am, yours with high regard

LARKIN G. MEAD

NEW YORK, 35 WEST 18TH

Dec. 9, 1877 MY DEAR SIR —

Your kind favor is received. I send the engravings which I think if you examine carefully will please you. The precision of line is quite remarkable. In one of the niches is a statue of St. George, by Donatello, with a shield in front of him. Michael Angelo when he saw it was so struck with its presence that he exclaimed, “March!” I presume you cannot fully understand the text which is written in Italian, but in Murray you will get a general description. The Rembrandt is evidently very old. ...

In one niche in the engraving you will see four statues. When the artist had completed them, he could not get them into the niche and was obliged to beg Donatello to do it.

The engravings are not fastened into the book so you can see them better by taking them out by themselves.

I was sorry, when you were in New York, I could not show you three large paintings which I have by old masters of un

1 This refers to the statue of Ethan Allen which Mead had made, under a commission from the State of Vermont, for Statuary Hall in the Capitol at Washington.

doubted merit. One I bought near Canova's home and carried forty miles on my knees in a wagon; one I bought in a church in Venice; one of a private family. One is said to be by Moretta di Brescia of the Titian School. The subject is the Wise Men of the East bringing presents to the Infant Saviour; one (I think) by Guido Reni - subject Diana pursued by her lover, with a profusion of exquisitely painted cherubs. The other, 6 by 3%, said to be by Tiepolo of Venice who is much copied by the present French School, represents young Hannibal offering a sacrifice before going to battle. I am yours, with high regard

LARKIN G. MEAD

The pictures took their places in due course on the walls of the house in Thomas Circle where some years later Eastman Johnson's portrait of the Senator had the place of honor.

Settled in this comfortable home where for the first time Mrs. Morrill and her sister could exercise the graceful hospitality which the limitations of a boarding-house had rendered impossible, and where he could entertain his fellow Senators and members of the Government in a manner suitable to his station, he seems to have felt himself for the first time thoroughly at home in Washington. As the years went by, the house became known for its friendliness, and for its atmosphere of quiet, well-bred cordiality that made its guests content and made an invitation to dinner at Senator Morrill's a thing to be coveted. Those dinners were never lavish nor convivial, but there was no kill-joy at the board; the host loved good talk, delighted in a jest, and extended his good taste to his wine. Of large and showy entertainment there was none, but once a year the house became the scene of a gathering which in course of time grew to one of the notable social events of Washington. This was the Senator's birthday party which began to be popular in 1880 when former Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin turned a dinner the Senator was giving to a few friends into a surprise party

which filled the house. Morrill had his chance and turned the tables on his friends when he learned where the refreshments had been ordered and went early the next day and paid the bill. From this time on the birthday parties bloomed into general receptions to which all the official world, the President, Justices of the Supreme Court, members of the Diplomatic Corps, fellow Senators, Congressmen and their wives, came to pay their respects to one they loved to honor. No less pleasant to recall are the regular rubbers of whist which, after the manner of an earlier day, were played every evening after dinner with a few old friends and neighbors, like General Sherman, Senator Vance, Senator Anthony, and Senator Payne, who would rather have missed their dinner than their game.

A Senator's life in Washington has always been dignified. As in the case of members of the upper chambers of other parliaments, the office is clothed not only with power, but with much respect and a measure of deference such as makes the position of Senator one of the most agreeable as well as influential in this or any other country. It has been so from the beginning, but in the days of General Grant, to be a Republican Senator, still more to be a member of the inner circle of the dominant party, was to have both the feeling and the possession of power such as no Senators of any party have had since. Reconstruction still rendered the Opposition powerless; the President, unskilled in politics, was disposed to leave national affairs — with the exception of a few pet policies — to Congress, where the Senate had a large measure of control. Morrill sat there on the powerful Committee on Finance of which in due course he became chair. man, and, as he said some years later in declining a seat in the Cabinet, “There is no gift, no office to which I could be appointed, that I would accept in preference to a seat in the United States Senate. I consider that the highest honor that

[graphic][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »