Monday, April 30

An Artist With a Message

Dying Hercules
By Grant Davies

On this day (-3) in 1791, a noted painter was born in Charleston, Massachusetts. His art was oft times meant to send a message. In fact, his most famous masterpiece was titled Dying Hercules and many thought it was meant to represent a political statement about the War of 1812. It may be because he was an American, living in England, while painting it during that conflict.

But it seems that his most lucrative artistic endeavor was painting portraits. He painted a lot of famous people, including a former President, John Adams, in 1815, and a sitting President, James Monroe, in 1820. But it was when he was in the middle of painting a portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette in 1825 that a tragic event occurred. That event led to the reason most people today remember him as an inventor, instead of an artist.

While he was away from home working on the painting, Samuel Finley Breese Morse received a message telling him that his wife had fallen deathly ill back in Massachusetts. He left immediately. But by the time he arrived home, she had passed away and had already been buried. In his grief, the need for faster communication was impressed upon him, and it would become part of the inspiration for his later contributions to the invention of the telegraph system. He also co-invented the code that bears his name.

Sam was a complicated guy. He was an admirer of Thomas Jefferson because he (Jefferson) favored the common man over the aristocrat. He favored a smaller government because he feared that a large centralized one was dangerous to freedom. But, he was pro-slavery. It wasn't that he owned any slaves, but because he thought it was a divinely inspired system of life. Not a sin, just a part of the grand plan. He gave large amounts to charity in consideration of his fellow man, yet he was vehemently anti-Catholic and anti-immigration.

So, he helped the world to send its messages, but the message he personally was sending was garbled in transmission. It must have been in Morse code.

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