Letter from HIRAM POWERS to CAROLINE CRANE MARSH, dated January 17, 1865.

Primary tabs

Publication Information

Page 1

Dear Mrs Marsh

I am very sorry that the Hon Robt J Walker passed through Florence without my knowing it -- I certainly should have called on him, but not to make explanations for (until what you have told me) I did not suppose that I had offended him --

It is quite true, that he gave me an order for a to be taken from the bust of himself when finished in marble--and he handed to me $20. to defray expenses, and he would have received the cast many years ago, had circumstances justified me in finishing his bust in marble -- The order for the marble bust was not given by Mr Walker but by Gen Memucan Hunt the Texan Commissioner in Washington about 29 years ago, and before Texas had become one of the United States -- Mr Hunt engaged also, a bust of Genl Gaines. Both these busts were ordered--as he told me--for the Texan Government as a mark of respect to Mr Walker and Gen Gaines, in consideration of services rendered by those gentlemen--during--and after the Texan revolution -- Mr Hunt also ordered his own bust and he paid to me--if my memory serves me--$450. (half payment) on all three -- I have not time now to look over these old accounts --

It was understood--that I was to execute

Page 2

these busts in Italy--and in their order with prior commissions -- Accordingly I brought them out here--and soon as I could--began the work -- I found--on coming here, that $300-- would not repay expenses--on each bust. Indeed I should have failed altogether and become bankrupt, if I had not been supported during the first 5 years of my residence here by kind friends. Nevertheless, I executed in marble two of the busts. Gen Gaines and Gen Hunt--and blocked out the bust of Hon Mr Walker--when I learned that the Texan Government as an independent state--had ceased to exist--by an act of annexation to the United States. This raised a question -- To whom was I to look for the final payment -- I thought it probable that Mr Hunt would write to me and I suspended work on Mr Walkers bust until I might hear from him -- I questioned some of my visitors from the South from time to time--on the subject--but gained no information as to the whereabouts of Gen Hunt -- that I ought not to go on with the commission without further instructions from some one --and that a special act of the Texan Legislature would be necessary to secure the final payment -- I might indeed--have taken more active

Page 3

measures in the premises--and if I did not I am the greatest sufferer--for 2 of the busts were done--and have never been paid for -- The third was nearly half done in marble and has never been paid for -- My expenses on these works had already far exceeded all that I had received on them --

It is needless to say, that I still hoped to hear from Gen Hunt, and that he would interest himself in the matter -- I am sorry--my Dear Friend--to trouble you with a long statement like this--and no less sorry to be obliged--for my good names sake (God cares for us all and if we do right will sustain us) to spend so much precious time in making it. But as the most estimable Lady of the Hon Mr Walker has been so generous as to state to you the reasons why her kind Husband and my friend--did not call on me while in Florence--and as I am deeply grieved at the misunderstanding I may [ . . . ] something from your indulgence while I continue this statement --

An accident--happening to the model of Mr Walkers bust, I wrote out for a cast from the part of his face required to restore the defect -- To this request Mr Walker most kindly consented--and the cast was duly sent out -- I have never had any other correspondence with that friend since being in Italy--and the only grievance

Page 4

of which--(without knowing the circumstances of the case) he might reasonably complain is my failure to supply him with a plaster cast of his bust in marble -- I have already explained the reasons--and here I might stop--but am tempted by a natural desire to place this matter in a still clearer light. Doubtless it would have been highly satisfactory had it been in my power to complete these works--sent them out--and had them placed in the Capitol of --before she became a state of the United States -- But I did all I could do in the premises, and all I ever promised to do -- I most faithfully performed my duty up to the time at which ceased to exist -- General Memucan Hunt--had never written to me--or if he had--I did not know of it--no communication had ever reached me -- At last--and years ago, a Gentleman from the South called on me--and in answer to my enquiries said that he knew Gen Hunt -- He too--told me, that I should do nothing further unless by special authority -- He said that Gen Hunt--was poor--and could hardly afford to pay what was still due on his own bust--finished in marble --

To this I replied--He shall have his bust without further charge--but I cannot afford the expenses of sending it to him "I will pay all that"--said his friend--and he left me the money for that purpose --

Page 5

Accordingly--I packed up his bust, and sent it to Mr Bank as per directions --

And here comes a statement which pains me to put on paper --

Many months elapsed without any communication from Gen Hunt--when I received a letter from the House in N. York--to whom I had sent the bust--apologizing for having neglected to forward the bust, or notified Gen Hunt--and containing an from him of a ! -- He claimed that I had forfeited all right to the consideration of Gentlemen--that I was bound to send out all three busts to him without further compensation -- The interest of the money he had already paid to me was sufficient to cover the final payment--and in short--that I had acted throughout in a manner not becoming a Gentleman! I forbear to repeat what I said in reply to this insolent note, but am bound to say that I never received any answer to it--nor do I know what became of the bust I had sent to him----to the extent of the last payment --

I could refer to old papers--and thus make out an exact statement of all these matters Possibly I may be wrong as to some of the details--I have trusted to memory alone--but in the main that I am right. My friend--Mr Walker--I say my --

Page 6

for he was civil and ever kind to me--when I much needed friends in Washington, will duly weigh what I have said to you--and if I have left anything unexplained--he will be candid and generous enough--to mention it -- I cannot fulfil my contract with him without first executing his bust in marble, but the money he advanced to me is still his own -- I should have returned it to him years ago--but for obvious reasons. It is hard to resist the temptation to return it to him without a moments delay--and I would do it, if I did not fear to offend Mr Walker --

Since writing the above it has occurred to me that a bust of Hon W C. Preston was also ordered and part paid for by the Texan Commissioner -- I know that I executed his bust in marble and finally sent it out to Mr Preston as a present for his great kindness to me -- But this was after Texas had become one of the United States. -- I am still responsible to any agent of the Texan Government for the complete fulfilment of every obligation in the premises--and to Mr Walker for a cast from his bust in marble--but I am not bound by the last, except by the first -- I am however bound to return the $20

Page 7

to him--and circumstances yet to arise--will determine--whether or not--I shall insist--if necessary--on his receiving it -- I am guilty of remisness in many things Thoughtlesnes--Carelesness and procrastination in business matters, Many and great have been my losses on those accounts. But I have never intentionally done a mean thing--or purposely neglected to requite the kindness of a friend -- On the contrary--I have always felt disposed to do better than I am done by--. I pray you to say to the Lady of Mr Walker that she shall have--not a plaster cast--of the bust of the man who has proved himself the most capable and most useful Secretary of the Treasury of the United States--not only--but a true Patriot besides She shall have a marble bust of her husband from my hands--from a model taken from the original in the prime of his life--if she will accept it from his and her friend.

The bust of Gen Gaines still remains in my studio -- P.S. I shall expect an answer to the above imperfect statement of facts--and if it shall appear that any thing requires further explanation I will then

Page 8

go into an examination of my files of old papers on the subject --

I presume that you will enclose all this to the Lady of Hon Mr Walker, and that she will reply to any remarks you may make in the spirit of her own womanly kindness -- I know you too well--to doubt that you will admonish me wherein I have failed to place this case in a clear and proper light. You will not fail I know--to put my best foot foremost--and call her kind attention to my good will [and?] away from the awkward manner in which I have expressed it -- Yours ever,

[...][...] Geo. P. Marsh


Jan 17 1865

References in this letter:

Robert J. Walker (1801-69), U.S. Senator and later Secretary of the Treasury in the Polk administration, probably sat for Powers in Washington in 1837, the commission having been given by another of Powers' sitters, General Memucan Hunt, for Walker's advocacy of the Texas cause. The marble replica, which was executed in Florence, was partially finished at the time of Texas' admission to the Union and Powers found himself unable to obtain further payment from the financially straitened Hunt. The marble version may never have been completed, and its ultimate fate is unknown.

General Edmund Pendleton Gaines (1777-1849), a career soldier who had served in the Mexican War, sat for Powers in Washington in March, 1837, the commission having been given by another of Powers' sitters, General Memucan Hunt, for service in that war. The marble replica, made from the plaster original in Florence, was never paid for by the financially straitened Hunt, nor could Powers in 1873 persuade Gaines' widow to buy it for a greatly reduced price. It is now in the Smithsonian Institution.

General Memucan Hunt (1807-56), Texas minister to Washington while Texas was still independent and later a U.S. general in the Mexican War, sat for Powers in Washington in the Spring of 1837. Powers made a marble replica from the plaster original in Florence and, hearing later that Hunt was unable to pay what was still due on the bust (and on those of Edmund Pendleton Gaines and Robert J. Walker, which he had also commissioned), shipped it to him in 1850 for what had already been paid. The bust is owned by the state of Texas and is on permanent loan to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in Austin.

William C. Preston (1794-1860), a U.S. Senator from South Carolina, was a supporter of Powers and, through his influence, enabled the sculptor to establish his studio in Italy. He sat for Powers in March 1836. The marble version of the plaster original, probably finished in 1843, was given by Preston to South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) in 1856.