Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
With Cole, the Painter, at Rome
By George Washington Greene (18111883)
[Born in East Greenwich, R. I., 1811. Died there, 1883. Biographical Studies. 1860.]
WE sat and watched the lingering day. We saw the shadows slowly stealing up from the valley, and the last sunbeams meekly fading into twilight. We saw that second glow which bursts forth when the sun is gone; the last look of expiring day at the scenes which it had gladdened by its smile, swathing the mountain-sides in golden floods, and playing along their rugged crests like lightning on the edges of a cloud. Then this, too, passed away, and through the mountain gap above Tivoli rose a soft and silvery gleam, gradually extending over the horizon, and growing purer and brighter, till the full moon came forth unveiled, and shed her beams so gently on all that magic scene, that the rough mountain-side seemed to smile at their touch, and the dank vapors, that floated cloud-like far and wide over the Campagna, looked like islands of liquid light.
We spoke of the past; of the thousands who had come from distant places to look upon that scene; of the mysterious decree which had crowded so large a portion of the worlds destinies within that narrow circle. We summoned the plebeians of old to people once more the deserted hill on which they had called into life the second element of Roman greatness. We pitched the tent of the Carthaginian on the banks of the Anio, and watched the beams that fell on the gray mounds that once were the Tusculum of Cicero. And as we asked ourselves why all this had been, and why it had been so, and not otherwise, Coles thoughts went back to his Course of Empire, and the conception from which it had sprung, and how he had hoped to make landscape speak to the heart by the pencil, as it was speaking to us, there, of the great questions of life. He talked, too, of the works which he had planned, in which nature was to tell a story of vaster import than the rise and fall of human powerthe triumph of religion. And as he spoke, his heart seemed to glow with the conception, and his imagination called up wonderful forms, and his words flowed fast and with burning eloquence, for it was a thought which had long been dear to him. He had clung to it through disappointment and depression. When compelled to force himself down to little tasks for his daily bread, it had still been with him a burning aspiration and a strengthening hope; and a few years later, when he laid down his pencil for the last time, the third picture of the first of that wonderful series stood yet unfinished on his easel.
When we returned home, he asked for a copy of Bryant, and read the Thanatopsis, and the Hymn to the North Star; and as his mind grew calmer under the influence of the poet he loved most, his thoughts turned homewards to gentler and familiar scenes, and he went on with the Rivulet, and Green River, and others of those exquisite pieces, which reflect the sweet aspect of nature so truthfully that their melody steals into the heart with the balmy freshness of natures own soothings.
When the first three pictures were finished and the fourth nearly so, Terry lent him his studio in the Orto di Napoli to exhibit them in, and he became anxious to have Thorwaldsen see them. As I had frequent opportunities of meeting him, I undertook to arrange an interview between the two artists. Thorwaldsen accepted the invitation at once, and fixed upon the next morning for his visit. Crawford, who neglected no opportunity of conversing with his great master, offered to show him the way, and I went before to see that all was ready.
The moment that he entered the room, I could see by the lighting up of his clear, blue eye, that he felt himself at home; and before Cole could do anything more than name the subject of the series, he took up the interpretation himself, and read the story off from the canvas, with a readiness that made Coles eyes moisten with delight. When he came to the last, he paused and gazed; then returned to the first, passed slowly before them all; and coming back to the last again, stood before it for a long while without uttering a word. It seemed to me as if he felt that he, too, had reached that silent sea, and was comparing the recollections of his own eventful career with the story of the old man and his shattered bark. And to this day I can never look upon that picture without fancying that I still see Thorwaldsen standing before it, with his gray locks falling over his shoulders, like those of the hero of the picture, and his serene features composed to deep and solemn meditation. It was the old man, in Young, walking
When, at last, he spoke, it was in the strongest terms of gratification: and often as we used to meet during those last two years of his life in Rome, he never forgot to inquire after Cole; always ending withGreat artist, great artist.