Welcome to the fifth installment of the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes by Mrs. E. Ball Hughes.
At the end of the last installment, we learned about the toll that the monumental Bronze Statue of Nathaniel Bowditch took on her husband mentally and physically. His family and friends persuaded him to give up city life and move to a quiet home in the country for rest, where he could model and still visit the city.
Text of handwritten pages 23-30 with original punctuation:
… A large old fashioned house, at the corner of School St on the upper road Dorchester, was the one to which they removed. It was an old place with
large garden, well stocked with delicious fruit – a place where everything around and about it show’d how well it had been cultivated. I recall those days with intense pleasure said Mrs. Hughes . for my husband seem’d very happy . and gained strength daily – and he began to think that nature was the kindest mother, and Physician for a weary mind. He selected for his study a pleasant room with two south windows – and a north window was afterwards added _ and for marble works a large part of the barn was turned into a beautiful studio . where he could model anything – for he had brought with him into this new Home, his exhaustless talent, and well he used it, well he knew that feeling is nothing unless it crystallizes into action. His first work in his barn studio was to carve a Marble Bust of Dr. N. Bowditch for the family _ Then to gratify his ideal . a life size Fisher boy _ which was exhibited greatly admired – and sold to the late Dr. Weiselhoff –
Now my memory recalls a statuette of General Scott . and a superb one of General Warren of which R C Winthrop was a great admirer _ S. D. Warren and B. F. Brown also had casts of it _ I always thought it one of Mr. Hughes best works. This was done at the suggestion of a friend, who hoped that when seen by the Committee . it would get him an order for a Large one _ But all these twenty years that I have been writing about . America was growing her own sculptors. Well do I remember says Mrs. Hughes . The late Dr. Erasmus D Miller bringing into our house a small group in clay “Calling on the Dr_” and asking Mr. Hughes what he thought of that? and being so delighted with my husbands reply. This group was by Mr. John Rogers . and I think his first – but gave
promise of the excellent things he has since done. I may say the beautiful work he has done. He evidently understands that Nature, and the Ideal, must be wedded in high art. Thus he will be liked by all who see his works, and the most educated and refined will fully appreciate their excellence. Mr. Hughes loved the beautiful in everything, and was particularly pleased with it in sculpture. Many warm friends gather’d around him in his pleasant new home. The family was not large but very cheerful. His wife and two sweet daughters a large white cockatoo, and a King Charles Spaniel. The bird had been a family pet for 17 years – and Barnaby Rudge never took more comfort with his Raven Grip than did the sculptor with his beautiful bird.
Mr. Hughes could not give up the time to see all who called upon him – therefore chose Friday as his reception day,
being the day on which he had received his medals – he always called it, “His lucky day. – and reserved it for his friends. Those pleasant days and evenings will always be remember’d, by those who had the entrée to them. Most of the dear ones have passed away! It was delightful to see how much Mr. Hughes enjoy’d his country home, he could truly say.
T’is home, where the heart is, where’ever that be
In city or desert, in mountain or dell
Not the grandeur, the number, the objects we see,
But that which we love, is the magical spell.
Like the dove from the Ark a sure heaven to find
In vain or the seas, or the mountain we rove,
Home only can yield solid joys of the mind
And where the heart lingers, there only is home.
“Im recalling those happy years” said Mrs. Hughes, I am reminded of something I read not long ago.” T’is like living twice, thus to be able to recall the past portion of life!
The simple act of recalling events which happen’d thirty or forty years ago, is a deep a wonderful, the most wonderful of all phenomena! To discover this process, would be, to gain the key to the innermost mysteries of Mortal [?] Philosophy! I do not philosophise [sic] about it! I look upon it, as one of God’s good gifts, without attempting to reason it out! List [sic] by so doing, I should begin. and end where that metaphysical burlesque did asking. “what is mind? no matter; what is matter? never mind!
I am grateful for this gift of memory as it gives me the power of recalling those happy days, with deepest gratitude! for they brought to our home, dear Friends whose presence and friendship gladden’d our hearts, and left such blessed memories of unselfishness and all that makes lives beautiful.
It was Goethe who said “Energy will do anything that can be done in this world.” And no talent, no circumstance, no opportunities can make a man without. I must differ with him for never did Mortal (with talent equal to that which he attempted) exert himself more energetically than did my dear husband to obtain the order for the Washington Monument! He was quietly executing various orders when news came of his Mother’s death. This event added a little to our small income, and at once awoke the sleeping ambition of the dear sculptor – He would go again to Philadelphia, again they should see the Equestrian Statue which had been approved so many years ago. They saw it, expressed their admiration of it, but they were not ready to give the order. Mr. Hughes was an Englishman – and Americans were to immortalize their great men. That beautiful Model is now the property of B. F Brown.
“For practical purposes it has been said Genius is as useful as a telescope at a theater—not so, as you shall presently see. A truly great mind can embrace equally great things and small. Now the Poker pictures, and how the doing of them came about…
Sunnyside was truly Home for the Ball Hugheses. There, the family was very happy and Ball Hughes gained strength after the difficulties he had with the Bronze Statue of Nathaniel Bowditch.
A large part of the attached barn was turned into a beautiful studio where Ball Hughes could model anything from busts to statues. He did many works during this time including: a marble bust of Nathaniel Bowditch, statuettes of General Scott and General Warren, life-size Fisher Boy, and the Magdalen statuette.
So many visitors came to see Ball Hughes that he had to reserve Friday as his reception day. It was his lucky day that he received his first silver medal from the Royal Academy on Friday December 10th, 1819 (at age 15) for the best Model from the Antique.
Eliza describes what I have always thought was the reason Ball Hughes did not receive more commissions: “America was growing her own sculptors.” She recalls Dr. Miller bringing a small group by John Rogers (1829-1904) to show to Ball Hughes and how she and her husband were impressed with the younger artist.
After his Mother's death, Ball Hughes traveled to Philadelphia for his last bid for the Washington Monument. Eliza confirmed what I have thought since Ball Hughes was rebuffed by President Andrew Jackson in 1829, when she stated: “Mr. Hughes was an Englishman - and Americans were to immortalize their great men.”
Eliza’s quote: “For practical purposes it has been said Genius is as useful as a telescope at a theater—not so, as you shall presently see.” followed by: “A truly great mind can embrace equally great things and small.” was her way of transitioning from his great works of the past to his new Poker pictures.
Notes (by journal page number):
Eliza states that the Ball Hugheses moved to a large old-fashioned house at 1 School St. in Dorchester in 1851. Eliza describes their new home including Robert's study, the attached barn (known as the annex), and his first new works: a marble bust of Nathaniel Bowditch and a life-size Fisher Boy that was greatly admired. Eliza also mentions the second floor study on p. 40 of the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes (See Reflections: 1860's). The 1894 Bromley Atlas Map shows the attached annex is larger than the house which is listed as occupying 1600 sq. ft. on the City of Boston property assessment record.
Ball Hughes made statuettes of General Scott and General Warren (1858). The statuette of General Warren was very popular and several casts of it were made. Ball Hughes had hoped that the Committee would order a large statue of it. S. D. Warren was a paper manufacturer and presumably a descendant of General Warren.
Eliza describes what I have always thought was the reason Ball Hughes did not receive more commissions: “America was growing her own sculptors.” Ball Hughes was impressed by the small group of clay by the American John Rogers (1829-1904) that Dr. Erasmus D. Miller, a prominent Dorchester physician and surgeon, brought to their house to ask what Ball Hughes thought of it. Dr. Miller ( -1881/89) was a prominent physician and surgeon of the town of Dorchester.
John Rogers, who was 25 years younger than Ball Hughes, started making plaster statuettes of groups in Boston around 1860 after artistic training at Rome and Paris. Dr. Miller's visit to Ball Hughes with Rogers' small group in clay “Calling on the Dr.” was probably in the early to mid 1860's. I think that Rogers' works look similar in style to Ball Hughes works, like Hughes' Uncle Toby & The Widow Wadman. Many images of Rogers' work can be found with Google Search.
Another sculptor at the time was the American, Henry Dexter (1806-1876), of Cambridge, MA, who I also believe must have competed against Ball Hughes for commissions in Boston. John Albee wrote in Henry Dextor - Sculptor - A Memorial, Cambridge: University Press, 1898, p. 49, that when Henry Dexter arrived in Boston in 1836 (about 4 years before Ball Hughes), "he hired [rented] Bromfield Hall, on the street of the same name, a room sixty by twenty feet that he divided into three portions; one for a studio, another for a chamber, and the third he rented." This was the same place where Ball Hughes later had his first studio in Boston.
Dexter, like Ball Hughes, did sculpture for Mt. Auburn Cemetery, including The Binney Child (1840). Dexter's words about it were recorded by Albee on p. 99: "This was the first marble statue in the United States made by a native American artist who had not been to Europe." This sounds like Dexter was purposely excluding Ball Hughes and his fellow American sculptors who got their professional training abroad.
Eliza speaks of friends visiting the home, their two sweet daughters, a large white cockatoo, and a King Charles Spaniel. So many guests came to visit him that he had to reserve Friday as his reception day because that was the day he received his medals, his “lucky day” as he called it. The poem Eliza records was found in The Repository – A Magazine for Christian Home Vol LI. Boston: 1874, The Universalist Publishing House, p. 224. Eliza omitted several verses in red below:
Eliza reflects on the gift of memory in recalling those happy days with friends in Dorchester in the 1850’s. "What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind." Quote by George Berkeley (1685-1753) also known as Bishop Berkeley, an influential Irish philosopher.
Eliza quotes German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and the effort that her husband expended to obtain the order for the Washington Monument. Money was a constant issue to the family and Ball Hughes apparently inherited a small amount of money after his Mother’s death.
He decided to go to Philadelphia to show the Equestrian Statue of George Washington but the Committee was still not ready to give the order for it. Eliza states that “Mr. Hughes was an Englishman - and Americans were to immortalize their great men.” The beautiful model was later given to the Boston Athenaeum by Ball Hughes Son-in-law, B. F. Brown.
The quote “For practical purposes it has been said Genius is as useful as a telescope at a theater” was by the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) who was known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity. It has been recorded several ways including “For practical life genius is as useful as a telescope is at a theatre.” It was quoted in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 29, 1872, p. 504.
Eliza followed the quote by Schopenhauer by saying “A truly great mind can embrace equally great things and small.” Now the Poker pictures, and how the doing of them came about…
This was a transition from recalling Ball Hughes past achievements to the birth of Poker pictures that follows in the next installment.
last update 5/24/2012
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2012