page top

Letter from HIRAM POWERS to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated July 21, 1850.

Add to bookbag Add to Bookbag | Bookbag (0)

Item Description

Title: Letter from HIRAM POWERS to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated July 21, 1850.


  • Powers, Hiram, 1805-1873


  • Marsh, George Perkins, 1801-1882

Source Document

Extent: 1 letter

Genre(s): letter


Note [Digital Version]

, Center for Digital Initiatives, University of Vermont Libraries

Type of Resource: text

Parent Collections

Other Formats

Access Conditions

For usage rights related to this resource please visit:
More information.

Permanent Link:

Preferred citation

Letter from HIRAM POWERS to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated July 21, 1850., Original located at the University of Vermont's Special Collections in the George Perkins Marsh Collection, filed by date., (accessed January 23, 2018)

Letter from HIRAM POWERS to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated July 21, 1850.

Transcribed by : John Thomas, Ralph H. Orth and Ellen Thomson

TEI mark-up by : James P. Tranowski andEllen Thomson

Published by: University of Vermont. All rights reserved.

Publication Information

Florence July 21st 1850.

Honble George P. Marsh.

My Dear Friend.

I received yours of Jun 4th in due time, but have delayed to answer it for various reasons, not necessary I hope, to state to you, for you will not require that I should argue an apology to be justified --

Your letter gave us much pleasure and we were glad that your journey had been so fruitful of "lions" and events--but if disposed to envy you any part of your enjoyments it would be the sight of Vesuvius in eruption -- I would almost make an especial journey to Naples, to see such a sight, and that is saying a great deal for one so tied down as I am -- Your account of things in Rome--Pompeii and Herculaneum gave me a longing, but "patience must be my consolation as it is the exclamation of the Florentines when anything goes wrong--or does not come right --

I have been in Rome, but only for seven days -- I went with my friend Col John S. Preston who was in such a hurry to see all, and get back to his family at home, that we both nearly twisted our necks off seeing sights continually. I was really quite done up, and ill when I left for home and my impressions of Rome, are like those of a man, after hunting all day for bears in a cane brake, he has seen millions of reeds, but could not describe one of them -- We went twice through the Vatican--by rail road--and saw every thing by steam -- I bore away -------------------------------- Page -------------------------------- some impressions, however, from that wilderness of art, which will remain upon my mind for life -- They stand conspicuous, like solitary towers rising above a vast city, in my mind --

I was happy to find, that my own ideas of art were confirmed by what I saw My theory is--that excellence in Art keeps even pace with truth, and nature, and that there is no "ideal" as the term is commonly understood--in other words the highest ideal is only a near approach to the real, but I must endeavor to explain this clearly to you --

I regard art as the vehicle of nature and the real Artist as the collector of natures truths and beauties, none of which are, or can be invented by him, but when found and embodied by him they then become his embodiments but not his work, nor his creations--nor ought the Artist himself, nor his tools to be seen in his work, he should show nothing of himself in what he does--for that would be mannerism -- A painter should hide his brushes and colours behind his canvass and a sculptor his modelling sticks and chisels within his statue -- The means ought not to be seen--nor the manner -- This is illustrating my meaning in different ways--all tending to the same point--from which--at first sight, it may seem that I rob the Artist of all credit even for the most beautiful works ever produced--but this is by no means the case -- I take from him only the power of originating any new form that is truly ideal and beautiful, for no man ever originated such a form in his own mind, if he has such a form there, he has gathered it unto himself from the field of nature where alone it is to be found--as well might we attempt to add an atom to the earth's volume or take one away as to add to the fullness and completeness of natures preparations in the field of Art, -------------------------------- Page -------------------------------- a field in which the Apollo was found the Venus di Medicis--of Milo--of Naples and in short all the noble and beautiful antiques in existence -- The imperfections of Art, may be found there too, impurities with the pure; just as the gold hunters find treasures in our own California--gold mingled with quartz -- It is the business of the Artist to separate them -- Gold cannot be made but it may be found and if impure, refined--and so with form, which is the vehicle of beauty and expression even up to the "image of God" himself which transcends all human hope of rivaling, even such form still exists in nature, but not in any individual instance, it is scattered like gold among the sands--throughout the human race. You must have observed at Rome, as I did, that the most celebrated works are the most truly natural --

If I am right then, in my views, it follows that even the mightiest work of Phidias could not have come quite up to the truth, and that the highest Genius must find in nature its materials, and put them together according to natures laws, and not according to any system invented by man --

If an Artist, who has produced a beautiful work, is asked, "did you ever see such a form" he may answer "no." It would appear then, that he created it, but if we could go back with him, and accompany his mind during his studies--and observations; we should then perceive the sources from which his memory has been stored with the materials out of which he has built up the work before us -- The common horse dealer, has never seen in life, the ideal horse in his mind by which he judges all horses -- He has never seen a horse in all respects perfect, but rejecting all their imperfections--and retaining all their perfections, has left the impression -------------------------------- Page -------------------------------- of a perfect animal upon his memory and this impression cannot be called ideal in the ordinary sense--but real because it is the true impression of a horse -- By "the ideal" something transcending nature is generally understood -- I know some Artists who take such a view of it--and who imagine that deviations from natural proportions are proper and necessary to the best effect. They insist for instance that it is proper to make one leg longer than the other, in order to give more grace and the appearance of uniformity! as if the eye, accustomed to perspective in nature, required a false perspective in art -- Perhaps I ought to beg pardon for writing you a lecture on Art instead of a letter, but having no news to communicate, and knowing your great love of Art, I have ventured further upon this subject than I intended at first, and perhaps further than my knowledge has entitled me to go --

I am at work just now upon "America" but I have another statue in progress to be called "California" She points with her divining rod to the gold issuing from an inverted cornucopia at her feet, while she conceals behind her in the other hand, a cluster of thorns--her expression is capricious, and she stands with one foot advanced as one undecided whether to approach or retire -- I am endeavouring to give her an Indian character, and her drapery (there will be little of it) is in the Indian style -- I aim at the Goddess, not the God of gold--for his day is past since the discovery of the El dorado --

We are all quite well, and all unite in best wishes for you and yours -- Mr Gould desires me to give you his best regards --

Yours always most sincerely --

H. Powers

Add a comment:


* Optional

User Comments