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SAMUEL F.B. MORSE, — .. -..- . -.. / — . … … .- –. . … PART 1

MORSECODE.WORLD PROVIDED a portion of the title above, reading “mixed messages.” And if ever there was a person deserving such an epitaph, it’s Samuel F.B. Morse. Here in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow are tidbits on this complex man.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse, 1791–1872, American portraitist, inventor, anti-Catholic, pro-slavery, anti-immigrationist. Image, possibly by Louis Daguerre, from 1840.

His Youth. Samuel F. B. Morse was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts. He attended Phillips Academy and then Yale, where he studied religious philosophy, mathematics, and the science of horses. 

Wikipedia notes, “While at Yale, he attended lectures on electricity from Benjamin Silliman and Jeremiah Day and was a member of the Society of Brothers in Unity. He supported himself by painting. In 1810, he graduated from Yale with Phi Beta Kappa honors.

Morse, the Painter. In 1811, Morse began a three-year stay in England where by year’s end, he gained admittance to the Royal Academy. Wikipedia says, “The decade 1815–1825 marked significant growth in Morse’s work, as he sought to capture the essence of America’s culture and life. He painted the Federalist former President John Adams (1816)…. Morse also sought commissions among the elite of Charleston, South Carolina.”

John Adams, 1816, by Samuel F.B. Morse.

Morse also painted the Marquis de Lafayette. Wikipedia cites “a developing relationship between Morse and Lafayette and their discussions of the Revolutionary War affected the artist after his return to New York City.”

Marquis de Lafayette, 1826, by Samuel F.B. Morse.

In 1826, Morse helped found the National Academy of Design in New York City. He continued his European travels, with meeting Louis Daguerre. Back in the U.S., Morse mentored Mathew Brady, later famed for his Civil War photography.

The Gallery of the Louvre, 1831–1833, by Samuel F.B. Morse.

Morse’s Place in American Art. In The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980, Howard Hibbard wrote, “Samuel F.B. Morse was an American original…. His daughter, painted in the mid-1830s, is shown in a fanciful setting that must have been wholly unlike his own modest rooms, when he was an unpaid professor of art at New York University.”

The Muse—Susan Walker Morse, 1835–1837, by Samuel F.B. Morse. Image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980.

Hibbard continued, “The picture was acclaimed in 1837, but having been denied a commission to paint a scene for the Capitol rotunda, Morse gave up art for his electrical experiments, which made him rich and famous.” 

Thus far, we’ve celebrated Samuel F.B. Morse’s artistic life. Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll encounter mixed messages in his other achievements, and not simply in dots and dashes. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021

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