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Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes

Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes
By Mrs. E. Ball Hughes
Image courtesy of Frederick R. Brown III


    This treasure was rediscovered by Fred Brown while he was cleaning his basement in January 2009.  It was passed down through the Brown family, descendants of Robert Ball Hughes.
    The journal of hand-written pages was bound with a string. Inside the cover is a typewritten label that says "Mrs. E. Ball Hughes." There are 49 pages, apparently written by Robert Ball Hughes wife, Eliza Ball Hughes. She wrote at times in the "third person" but it's clear that she was speaking of herself.  It is believed to have been written between 1886 and Eliza's death in 1892 because of a reference to the book Every-day Religion that was written by James Freeman Clarke in 1886.
    Note that the handwritten title label ends with the initials “R.A.” for Royal Academician. According to the Archivist for the Royal Academy of Arts, Mark Pomeroy, “Only artists elected to membership of the Royal Academy are entitled to the letters "R.A." after their name. Your forebear did not receive this honour ...”
    There is no evidence that Ball Hughes ever claimed that he was a Royal Academician or used the initials “R.A.” after his name. He was justifiably proud of his awards from the Royal Academy. His family members may have mistakenly assumed that he was since he attended the Royal Academy school and won the Gold Medal from the Royal Academy. Note that even at the time of Ball Hughes's death, the Obituary for Robert Ball Hughes stated that he was a member of the Royal Academy. 
   In a letter1 to North Carolina Gov. Stokes on Dec. 7, 1831, Ball Hughes stated:
“I belong to the Royal Academy in London and studied for Eight years under the first Sculptor of the Age, and feel proud to state, that I am the only one of that institution that ever obtained all its medals. I do not state this with any feeling of vanity but only as a further claim on your confidence.”
    Ball Hughes may have been overstating his credentials if he was implying that he was a member of the Royal Academy and hence a Royal Academician. As a graduate, he did not “belong” to the Royal Academy.


    The biography starts with Robert's birth in London in 1804, the son of a carriage builder, and traces his life as an artist from a child to his death in Eliza's arms. The information confirms much of what is already known and fills in the gaps with new and previously unknown information.
    The reason for Ball Hughes coming to America in 1829, his meeting with President Andrew Jackson, and why he almost returned to England are revealed for the first time. His major works: the marble statue of Hamilton (and its' destruction), the Monument to Bishop Hobart, the model for the equestrian statue of Washington, the bronze statue of Bowditch, and the statue of Oliver Twist are covered in detail.
    Seven pages are devoted to Ball Hughes "Pokerisms", as Mrs. Hughes called them, and include another account of the First Pokerism. Ball Hughes' failing health is confirmed for the first time and why the family moved to Sunnyside in Dorchester. The rustic studio behind the Willey House in Crawford Notch, northwest of the Village of North Conway, NH in the White Mountains and Ball Hughes love of the mountains and nature are covered. Descriptions of his New York studio and Bromfield St. studio in Boston are also included.
    Most moving is Eliza's tribute to her husband's personality and artistic ability throughout the biography. Ball Hughes tasted success and failure throughout his life. The family struggled financially and Ball Hughes probably never owned a home but he was rich with friends.
    Thanks go to Kathleen Menendez, Curator, E-Museum of Pyrographic Art, for transcribing the entire hand-written journal in less than 5 days, typing to resemble as closely as possible Eliza's style and punctuation.
    The text of the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes is in 9 installments starting with The Early Years: 1804-1829
    I've been correcting and adding factual information on RobertBallHughes.com based on this biography. New information from the biography includes the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes as the reference.  See Page 1 for a sample of the original hand-written manuscript.

    Note that t
o make the manuscript easier to read, I substituted "ss" for the old English "fs" that Eliza used for the double "s" in words like "passed."

    Start with the first installment: 
The Early Years: 1804-1829.
 R. D. W. Connor, Canova's Statue of Washington (North Carolina Historical Commission Bulletin, No. 8): 1910. p. 62.
last update: 12/29/2012
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2012
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