Reflections: 1860's

Welcome to the eighth installment of the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes by Mrs. E. Ball Hughes.

    In the last installment, we learned about Ball Hughes' summer in North Conway, New Hampshire in the 1860's. He loved the beautiful scenery of Crawford Notch and had time for modeling in his rustic studio and time for reading and reflection as he walked through the woods. He had grown weary in the 1850's and appeared frail in his later life. The summer at the Willey House refreshed his mind and body.

Text of handwritten pages 40-45 with original punctuation:

40)

... It was Victor Hugo, who said “That the soul intent on any great work, was often helped by a secret force so great, so grand, that it completely overpower’d the body. and raised it.   The only bird ever known, to sustain, and elevate its own cage.  This seem’d to be the sculptor’s case, for his physical strength seem’d daily to decrease, while his mental strength, his energy was unusually active.

He would get up early have a charcoal fire lighted in his pretty study burn for an hour or two, then come down into the dining room, throw himself on the sofa, read awhile, then go up and finish some wonderful Pokerism.

It has been facetiously remarked – that to be useless belongs to the character of works of genius!  It is their letter of nobility. That, all other products of man, are here

41) 

for the preservation, or smoothing our existence – only those here are not.  They alone are here for their own sake, and are to be regarded in this sense [?] as the Flower, or the pure result of existence!  And to compare useful people, with men of Genius, is like comparing building stones with Diamonds !  But let me say “both are needed, the useful, and the ornamental !  Has not beautiful Architecture been called Frozen Poetry?  Yes the Genius of a Michael Angelo. can by the help of his Genius make building stones more valuable than diamonds !  “Genius and taste in their common acceptation appear to be very nearly related.

The difference lies only in this, that Genius, has super added [?] to it, a habit, or power of execution, or we may say that taste, when it has this power added, changes its name, and becomes Genius!

“A man of real taste” says Sir Joshua Reynold’s
[sic] is always a man of judgement”  In other respects, those inventions which disdain, or shrink from reason are 

42)

generally I fear, more like the dreams of a disturbed brain, than the exhalted [sic] enthusiasm of a true Genius.

Excellence, is never granted to man, but as the reward of labor!   Invention, strictly speaking is little more than a new combination of those images which have been previously gather’d, and deposited in the memory.  Nothing, can come of nothing!  He who has laid up no materials , can produce no combinations.  Nothing is denied to well directed labor, nothing is to be attained without it.  The great end of Art, is to strike the imagination the divinest of Mental faculties!

Now however contrary it may be in Geometry, it is true in taste, that many little things will not make a great one.

The sublime impresses the mind at once, with one grand idea!
Nature is, and must be the fountain which alone is inexhaustible, and from which all excellence must originally flow.

43)

Mr. Hughes often alluded to his charming visit to the mountains, was never tired of talking it over with his friends!  But there was a subdued manner about him, a tired manner, which had us to think he did not feel well – he greatly enjoy’d driving over Milton Hill, it always cheer’d him, and I remember said Mrs. Hughes that on our return from Niagara and the St. Lawrence, where we had passed a couple of months the year our daughter was married.  Mr. Hughes had said, on his return home “I have not seen anything more beautiful than the view from Milton Hill.  He was also extremely attached to the Blue Hills  The winter of 1868 was passed very pleasantly – And from his study some remarkably fine Pokerisms were sent to N York – and remarking [?] among [?]
us how languid he seem’d, we got our dear good Dr. Erasmus D Miller to come and question him – but Mr. Hughes always changed the conversation,

44)

and became the questioner on other subjects.

Mr. Hughes never, no never, talked about, himself, or what he had done, or could do.  In this respect, he was different from anyone I ever knew.  Man is doubtless the highest divine creative divelopement [sic] on earth,!  and he was a noble specimen.  That which is the characteristic and glorious element of manhood is, his spiritual nature !  The body is but the Temple.  The altar fire, and service the Holy service, are within .  That which is our real life, can be seen only by its effects, never in itself.  The reality of our life, the fulness [sic] of our being, the richness of God’s gift to us divine immortal glorious, is invisible.

No one had seen the man, that is in man.

Mr. Hughes always thought that science without religion is empty, is dead.  He had true reverence for religion –  , and his works show great purity of taste – He was in sculpture, what

45)

Charles Dickens, was in Fiction, always aiming at something pure and elevating... 

Commentary

    Eliza quotes Victor Hugo, Arthur Schopenhauer, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Henry Ward Beecher in her testament to Ball Hughes. I will not attempt to add to what she has said. Eliza then speaks about how Ball Hughes appeared languid in the winter of 1868. His doctor was called to visit him but Ball Hughes quickly changed the conversation away from himself. Eliza describes how he never talked about himself or boasted of his works or his abilities. She speaks of how the real man is within. Our spiritual nature and can only be seen by its effects.

“Mr. Hughes always thought that science without religion is empty, is dead. He had true reverence for religion –  , and his works show great purity of taste – He was in sculpture, what Charles Dickens, was in Fiction, always aiming at something pure and elevating.”

Notes (by journal page number):

P. 40
Eliza quotes Victor Hugo: “That the soul intent on any great work, was often helped by a secret force so great, so grand, that it completely overpower’d the body. and raised it. The only bird ever known, to sustain, and elevate its own cage.

A similar quote by Hugo from Les Miserables: “In all his trials he felt encouraged and sometimes even upheld by a secret force within. The soul helps the body, and at certain moments raises it. It is the only bird that sustains its cage.

Victor-Marie Hugo (1802-1885) was a French poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, visual artist, statesman, human rights activist and exponent of the Romantic movement in France.

Eliza recorded: “He would get up early have a charcoal fire lighted in his pretty study burn for an hour or two, then come down into the dining room, throw himself on the sofa, read awhile, then go up and finish some wonderful Pokerism.

From this we know that his study was on the second floor and had a fireplace. Many Colonial homes had fireplaces in many of the rooms.

On p. 24 of the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes (See Sunnyside: 1851-1868), Eliza also mentioned the study: “He selected for his study a pleasant room with two south windows – and a north window was afterwards added.

From this and photos of the home, we assume that it was on the east or west side of the home and extended from the south to the north (front to rear of the home). The home faces south and has two south-facing windows on each side of the center entrance facing School St.

The home has two chimneys towards the rear, one on either side of the center. The two chimneys can be seen in the old photos of Sunnyside and from the air on Zillow.com.  Note that the house was moved and is the second building from the left in the aerial view and no longer at the corner.

PP. 40-41
Eliza: “It has been facetiously remarked – that to be useless belongs to the character of works of genius!  It is their letter of nobility. That, all other products of man, are here for the preservation, or smoothing our existence – only those here are not.  They alone are here for their own sake, and are to be regarded in this sense [?] as the Flower, or the pure result of existence!  And to compare useful people, with men of Genius, is like comparing building stones with Diamonds !

The quote is by German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer  (1788-1860) who was known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity. It's recorded in Arthur Schopenhauer, his life and his philosophy by Helen Zimmern, London: Longman's, Green, and Co., 1876, p. 231:

Just because genius consists in the free service of the intellect, emancipated from the service of the Will, its productions can serve no useful purposes, whether music, philosophy, painting or poetry: a work of genius is not a thing of utility. To be useless, belongs to the character of works of genius; it is their patent of nobility. All other human works exist for the maintenance or convenience of existence, only not those in question. They alone exist for themselves, and are in this sense to be regarded as the blossom, the real produce of existence. Therefore, in enjoying them, our hearts expand, for we rise above the heavy earthy atmosphere of needs. Thus we seldom see the beautiful and the useful combined: fine lofty trees bear no fruit; fruit-trees are ugly little cripples; the double garden rose is barren—only the little wild, scentless one is fruitful. The finest buildings are not the most useful; a temple is no dwelling-house. A man endowed with rare intellectual gifts, who is forced to follow a merely useful profession which the most ordinary person might pursue, is like a costly painted vase used as a cooking utensil. To compare useful people to geniuses is like comparing bricks to diamonds.

P. 41
Eliza: “But let me say “both are needed, the useful, and the ornamental !

The phrase “the useful, and the ornamental” was used in discussions of architecture, art, science, and education in 1800’s.

Eliza: “Has not beautiful Architecture been called Frozen Poetry?  Yes the Genius of a Michael Angelo. can by the help of his Genius make building stones more valuable than diamonds !

From Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 9, London, J. R. Smith 1853, p. 38: “Michael Angelo was a poet as well as an architect; and in later days Vanbrugh, as well as one lately passed from us, were as famous for their writing as their building. Madame de Stael called architecture "frozen music"; it is rather frozen poetry,

PP. 41-42
Eliza:  “Genius and taste in their common acceptation appear to be very nearly related.
The difference lies only in this, that Genius, has super added [?] to it, a habit, or power of execution, or we may say that taste, when it has this power added, changes its name, and becomes Genius!

Reynolds: “Genius and taste, in their common acceptation, appear to be very nearly related; the difference lies only in this, that genius has superadded to it a habit or power of execution.  Or we may say, that taste, when this power is added, changes its name, and is called genius.

This was the first of many quotes by Sir Joshua Reynolds in his Discourses on Art that are recorded by Eliza. Let me pause here and discuss Reynolds and the significance of his Discourses.

From WikipediaSir Joshua Reynolds RA FRS FRSA (1723-1792) was an influential 18th-century English painter, specialising in portraits and promoting the "Grand Style" in painting which depended on idealization of the imperfect. He was one of the founders and first President of the Royal Academy. King George III appreciated his merits and knighted him in 1769. (Note that Robert Ball Hughes entered the Royal Academy in 1818.)

Professionally, Reynolds' career never peaked. He was one of the earliest members of the Royal Society of Arts, helped found the Society of Artists, and, with Gainsborough, established the Royal Academy of Arts as a spin-off organisation. In 1768 he was made the RA's first President, a position he held until his death.

As a lecturer, Reynolds' Discourses on Art (delivered between 1769 and 1790) are remembered for their sensitivity and perception. In one of these lectures he was of the opinion that "invention, strictly speaking, is little more than a new combination of those images which have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory." (Eliza quotes this on p. 42, see below)

Reynolds Discourses have been printed in many versions and are available under the following titles:

Discourses on the fine arts delivered to the students of the Royal Academy by Joshua Reynolds (sir) W. and R. Chambers, 1853.

Seven Discourses on Art, by Joshua Reynolds, Edited by Henry Morley, Project Gutenberg, May 8, 2005  [eBook #2176], transcribed from the 1901 Cassell and Company edition by David Price.

Along with his Gold Medal, Robert also received the Discourses of Reynolds and West according to the Edinburgh Annual Register, Volume 16 for 1823, by Sir Walter Scott, Edinburgh: James Ballantyne, and Co., 1824, p. 413.

The Discourses of Reynolds must have been prized by Ball Hughes and left an impression on Eliza.

Notes continued:

P. 42
Eliza: “A man of real taste” says Sir Joshua Reynold’s [sic] is always a man of judgement”  In other respects, those inventions which disdain, or shrink from reason are generally I fear, more like the dreams of a disturbed brain, than the exhalted [sic] enthusiasm of a true Genius.

Reynolds: “A man of real taste is always a man of judgment in other respects; and those inventions which either disdain or shrink from reason, are generally, I fear, more like the dreams of a distempered brain than the exalted enthusiasm of a sound and true genius.”

Eliza: “Excellence, is never granted to man, but as the reward of labor!

Reynolds: “excellence is never granted to man, but as the reward of labour

Eliza “Invention, strictly speaking is little more than a new combination of those images which have been previously gather’d, and deposited in the memory.  Nothing, can come of nothing!  He who has laid up no materials , can produce no combinations.

Reynolds: “Invention, strictly speaking, is little more than a new combination of those images which have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory.  Nothing can come of nothing.  He who has laid up no materials can produce no combinations.

Eliza “Nothing is denied to well directed labor, nothing is to be attained without it.”

Reynolds: “There is one precept, however, in which I shall only be opposed by the vain, the ignorant, and the idle.  I am not afraid that I shall repeat it too often.  You must have no dependence on your own genius.  If you have great talents, industry will improve them: if you have but moderate abilities, industry will supply their deficiency.  Nothing is denied to well-directed labour: nothing is to be obtained without it.

Eliza “
The great end of Art, is to strike the imagination the divinest of Mental faculties!

Reynolds: “The great end of art is to strike the imagination.

Eliza: “Now however contrary it may be in Geometry, it is true in taste, that many little things will not make a great one. The sublime impresses the mind at once, with one grand idea!

Reynolds: “However contradictory it may be in geometry, it is true in taste, that many little things will not make a great one. The sublime impresses the mind at once with one great idea; it is a single blow: the elegant indeed may be produced by a repetition, by an accumulation of many minute circumstances.

Eliza: “Nature is, and must be the fountain which alone is inexhaustible, and from which all excellence must originally flow.

Reynolds: “Nature is, and must be, the fountain which alone is inexhaustible; and from which all excellences must originally flow.

Note that Reynolds uses “genius” 72 times in his seven discourses.

P. 43
Eliza speaks again of their summers in New Hampshire where Ball Hughes had a rustic studio near the Willey House. See North Conway: 1860's for Eliza's first account.

Milton Hill, in Milton, MA, south of Boston, offers sweeping views of Boston and the South Shore. Milton is located between the Neponset River and the Blue Hills. Milton borders Dorchester, where the Ball Hugheses resided.

Eliza compares the beauty of Milton Hill to Niagara Falls and the St. Lawrence River. They had visited both in 1852, the year that their younger daughter, Augusta, married Benjamin Franklin Brown.

The Blue Hills area of Massachusetts is now the Blue Hills Reservation, a 7,000 acre park south of Boston. Rising above the horizon, Great Blue Hill reaches a height of 635 feet, the highest of the 22 hills in the Blue Hills chain. From the rocky summit visitors can see over the entire metropolitan area.

Ball Hughes continued burning pokerisms in his study up to his death in March 1868.

Dr. Erasmus D Miller ( -1881/89) was a prominent Dorchester physician and surgeon and probably a good family friend.

P. 44
Eliza speaks of Ball Hughes' humility and his spiritual side.

Eliza: 
Mr. Hughes never, no never, talked about, himself, or what he had done, or could do.  In this respect, he was different from anyone I ever knew.  Man is doubtless the highest divine creative divelopement [sic] on earth,!  and he was a noble specimen.  That which is the characteristic and glorious element of manhood is, his spiritual nature !  The body is but the Temple.  The altar fire, and service the Holy service, are within .  That which is our real life, can be seen only by its effects, never in itself.  The reality of our life, the fulness [sic] of our being, the richness of God’s gift to us divine immortal glorious, is invisible.

The quote is by Henry Ward Beecher from Royal Truths: Reported From the Spoken Words of Henry Ward BeecherFourth American from the Sixth English Edition, New York: Fords, Howard, & Hulbert, 1887, (originally copyrighted 1866 in Massuchusetts), p. 96:

Man is the highest divine creative development upon earth. That which is the characteristic and glorious element of manhood is our spiritual nature. The body is but the temple; the altar fire and holy service are within. That which . is our real life can be seen, only by its effects; never in itself. The reality of our life, the fulness of our being, the richness of God's gift to us, divine, immortal, glorious, is invisible. No one has ever seen the man that is in man.

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) was a prominent Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, abolitionist, and speaker in the mid to late 19th century.

P. 45
Ball Hughes was an acquaintance of Charles Dickens and created several sculptures based on Dickens' characters.


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last update 5/24/2012
 
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