AND THE BOOK V INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON
THE AMERICANS IN FLORENCE'S 'ENGLISH' CEMETERY I
SATURDAY, 11 OCTOBER 2008
FLORENCE'S LYCEUM CLUB AND THE 'ENGLISH' CEMETERY
I. Abolitionistws in the 'English' Cemetery
'Edmonia Lewis and the Boston of Italy'. Marilyn Richardson, Independent ScholarProfessor Marilyn Richardson has a most impressive vita, having been a scholar at Harvard and having family connections with its Divinity School. She is responsible for finding the lost 'Cleopatra', so that it could become the powerful centrepiece of the Smithsonian's American Art Museum. When she visited the Cemetery on Wednesday she made a bee-line to Theodore Parker's tomb, the same bee-line Frederick Douglass had made.
'Theodore Parker's Graves'. Sally Mitchell, Temple University
'Villino Trollope, Piazza dell'Independenza: Incubator for the Independence of the African-American'. Brenda Ayres, Liberty University
'Social Criticism in Richard Hildreth's The White Slave, 1852'. Sirpa Salenius, Universty of New Haven in Florence
Edmonia Lewis (c. 1842 – c. 1911), the first black American
to gain an international reputation as a sculptor is famous
again. Her marble sculpture sells for higher and higher prices
each time a newly discovered piece comes on the market. Her
name and images of her artwork appear in reference works on
the history of American art. She is represented in major
collections and exhibitions, and there is a reasonable amount
of information available for the study of her life and her
career. Or, in the latter case, so it would appear.
A close look at the hundreds of 19th- and early 20th-century newspaper and journal articles about her reveals a bewildering tangle of contradictions concerning even the most basic facts: where and when was she born? Minnesota, New York State, and Maine claim her as a native daughter. She gave her birth year on official documents as 1842, 1844, and even 1854, and her birthday as the 4th of July (a common practice well into the past century for Americans who did not know their date of birth.) No certificate of birth or baptism has been found in her name. And what was her name? Wildfire, as she claimed her mother’s Ojibway people called her? Mary Edmonia? Edmonia? The woman we know as Edmonia Lewis, as famous as she was, lived and died a mystery - - and she wanted it that way.
The child of a black father and an Indian mother, Wildfire and her brother Sunrise were orphaned early in life, left to be raised in the wilds of upstate New York by their Ojibway relatives. But most of the Ojibway had long since been relocated north and west.
A supposedly uneducated waif, Lewis somehow enrolled at Oberlin College just before the Civil War began. A few years later she appeared in Boston with a letter of introduction to William Lloyd Garrison, and by late 1866, she was setting up her studio in Rome. There she made her name and her living creating works of sculpture which embraced the conventions of the late neoclassical style, but also others which strained against those aesthetic strictures embracing realism and naturalism. But before Rome, there was Florence.
Edmonia Lewis, late 1860s.In January of 1865, Lewis was at work of a bust of Maria Weston Chapman.
Lewis’s Chapman, in plaster, is instantly recognizable as the
woman called in her day the “workhorse of the abolitionist
movement.” A co-founder of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society,
she became a heroine of the cause when a mob attacked the
Society’s 1835 meeting. “If this is the last bulwark of freedom,
we may as well die here,” Chapman declared, and through force of
will led a column of black and white women unscathed through a
parting sea of rioters. In her later years, Chapman displayed two
portrait busts by Lewis in her drawing room; one of Colonel Shaw,
and one of herself.
M. W. Chapman by Edmonia Lewis, 1865
Florence, as the wags had it, was the Boston of Italy; not only for the infusion of New England artists and writers who enjoyed extended stays there, but also for a quite Bostonian conviction within old Florentine families of intellectual and aesthetic superiority. That was coupled with an emphasis on family position and social hierarchy comfortably familiar to New Englanders of similar ilk who qualified for admission to the charmed circle. Florentine history, a living force in the daily life of the city, beckoned an endless surge of tourists. It enthralled artists and poets who settled there with their families and chose to be buried in Tuscan soil. Religious, cultural, and intimate personal dramas were played out under the bemused and briskly discriminating scrutiny of the city’s social arbiters aloft in their ancestral seats of privilege and authority.
Joining the band of expatriates there arrived one day in the late summer of 1865 a singular oddity, a black American sculptor; not of Black Brahmin stock as were the Remond Family, or the Philadelphia Fortens, but by way of her Boston patrons and sponsors quite well-connected indeed. Edmonia Lewis arrived both exhilarated and exhausted. In the first great rush of excitement, freedom, anticipation and possibility that she felt in setting foot on every American sculptor’s 'Promised Land,' Lewis was warmly welcomed by major American artists in Florence, in particular Hiram Powers and Thomas Ball who supplied her with tools and helped her find living and working space.
Powers was a force within the Florentine Anglo-American community. He and his family were 'fixtures, as essential a sight for visiting celebrities as the Pitti Palace or the Uffizi.' The touring elite made sure to attend Mrs. Powers’ 'Wednesdays' and to visit the sculptor in his studio. He gave Lewis instruction in the arcane skills of constructing armatures equal to the task of supporting heavy, wet clay precisely in place while it was being worked over time. The building of such structures, upon which the success or failure of a work literally depends, is a complex balance of physics and brute force incorporating a mastery of the anatomy of figures yet to be translated from sketches to statues in the round.
By October Lewis was settled and working in her own studio. Profoundly moved and influenced by the painting, sculpture and architecture she studied in museums, churches, historic buildings and colleagues’ studios, Lewis set to work, apparently recovered from the lingering illness that had worried her Boston doctors. Her American friends and patrons awaited news of her journey and arrival.
Given the time it took for
letters to cross the ocean, modest misunderstandings could
grow to the point where accusations were hurled before
matters were resolved. There was both delight and dismay in
Lewis’s first letters from Florence, and Boston pens in turn
were soon busy. 'I had a letter from Edmonia Lewis, dated
Florence, the other day,' Lydia Maria Child wrote to
publisher James T. Fields concerning his wife and his
sister-in-law. 'She writes' Child quoted, 'Mrs. Fields was
very kind to me in Boston, and gave me a letter to her
sister, Miss Adams. She wished me to call on her sister
before I did on anyone else in Florence; and I did so. Mr.
Marsh, the U. S. Minister, told me I had better call on her
for some advice, as I was a stranger in a strange land, and
he sent his man with me. I sent in Mrs. Field’s (sic)
letter, and when she had kept it long enough to read it, she
sent it back to me without one word. When I told Mr. Marsh,
he said, "Never mind! You will find good friends
here."' Child then sharpened a terse barb of righteous
indignation to conclude her letter: 'Is this Miss Adams your
sister-in-law? If so, you must tell her she is lagging
behind the age. Yours cordially, L.M. Child.'
James Fields quickly
dropped that hot potato into his wife’s lap. Annie wrote to
Child who in turn had to quickly mend fences but remained
staunch in her support for Lewis; she replied in November
1865 that she was
Followed in the next issue by:
Tempest calmed; tea served. That this choice bit of gossip among the Boston liberals made such a flurry in the papers further confirms that Lewis had made quite a name for herself before leaving for Europe and was considered eminently newsworthy. It also establishes that she had access to the art circles of the moment and the attention and support of elements of the American expatriate community.
A visit to Florence’s church of Santa Croce gave the French writer Henri-Marie Beyle who went by the single name Stendhal a medical syndrome of his own, a condition brought about by the experience of sensory and emotional overload in the presence of an unanticipated encounter with such an abundance of sublime artistic achievement that it can scarcely be taken in, let alone intellectually processed entered the diagnostic literature as the 'Stendhal Syndrome'. Although there is no record of Edmonia Lewis gripped by the dizziness, shortness of breath or random hallucinations of the 'Stendhal Syndrome' at the same church, it’s clear she too was deeply moved and influenced by one of the most visually and intellectually overwhelming spaces in the world. Within the confines of the magnificent Franciscan basilica she could see the course of centuries of aesthetic, theological and intellectual history, embodied at every turn, in every niche, along every passageway.
From its origins in 1294 to the very year of her arrival in Florence, Santa Croce bore living witness to unfolding Tuscan religious and political imbroglios and even more turbulent and spectacular manifestations of artistic genius. Santa Croce was itself an artist’s university. Within the complex of the church, the cloisters, the smaller chapels, the refectory, the campanile, and the public square surrounding it all, Lewis encountered examples of the finest work of such Florentine masters as Giotto, the Gaddis, Brunelleschi and Donatello. She could lose herself in endless thought at the tomb of Michelangelo or of Galileo within the church, or at the newly erected monument to Dante Alighieri outside in the square. Of course Lewis found exceptional resources and inspiration in the secular studios of her friends and mentors in Florence. Her Roman Catholicism, however, would have lent an added dimension of personal connection to the religious sites, a bond more tentative among the generally Protestant and politically anti-Papist majority of the American community there.
Edmonia Lewis was not the only well-known black American woman in Florence at the time. Historian Karen Jean Hunt identifies three goals that anti- slavery lecturer Sarah Parker Remond had in mind when she first sailed from Boston for Liverpool in September of 1858. One was to remove herself from the daily toxicity of American racism. Another was to do all she could to consolidate anti-slavery sentiment on the eve of the Civil War by arguing the ethical and economic advantages of British support for the Union during the War. The third was to secure for herself an education superior to any available to her at home. Her speaking schedule, before groups up to two thousand strong, kept her on the road and often near exhaustion. Still, she wrote to Maria Weston Chapman that, 'on the 12th of this month [October 1859] I go to London to attend the lectures at the Ladies College.' She continued both her lectures and her studies at Bedford College for Ladies, later a part of the University of London. Although there was steady demand for her services following the war as a speaker on behalf of the freedmen, Remond had her eye on Italy.
Sarah Remond’s political connections in England introduced her to reformers and revolutionaries from the Continent. With her friends Harriet Martineau, Mary Estlin and Clementia Taylor, she was a founding member of the Ladies’ London Emancipation Society which supported causes beyond the abolition of slavery in the United States. The Society had two male members, one active, and one honorary. The active member was Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini whom Remond had met in her early days abroad. He was a close friend of the Taylors with whom she stayed in London. Remond, as did Margaret Fuller before her, became a supporter of the Italian reunification struggle. She won Mazzini’s confidence as an effective speaker and fund-raiser for his cause during his visits with the Taylors. The honorary member was the great Garibaldi himself.
Sarah Parker Remond, undated photographs,
collection of the
At the age of forty she moved to Florence where she embarked on medical studies at Santa Maria Nuova, the hospital founded in the thirteenth century by Dante's Beatrice's father and which later served as Florence Nightingale's model of medical care and training.
The black publication, The Christian Recorder, reported on what was
probably one stage of her medical education with the notice
that, 'Miss Sarah Remond, a gifted colored lady, who studied
medicine with Dr. Appleton --the friend and physician of
Theodore Parker, during the latter portion of his life at
Rome and Florence, has been regularly admitted as a
practitioner of midwifery in Florence, where she is now
residing, with excellent prospects of employment and
success. Her merit has won her friends on the continent of
Europe, as it did in
A few years later, Sarah Remond’s sister,
Caroline Putnam, an Oberlin College graduate and founder of a
school for freed men and women in Lottsburg, Virginia, lived
with her for a while in Florence. Putnam’s school was
supported by Louisa May Alcott (senior) and Ellen Emerson.
Elizabeth Buffum Chace, human rights activist and former
conductor on the Underground Railroad, visited Remond in
Florence in 1873 and wrote that: 'Sarah Remond is a remarkable
woman and by indomitable energy and perseverance is winning a
fine position in Florence as a physician and also socially;
although she says Americans have used their influence to
prevent her by bringing their hateful prejudices over here. If
one tenth of the American women who travel in
Lewis and Remond certainly aroused
curiosity and comment in
Jacopo Pontormo, Alessandro
de Medici, The Art Institute of
Decades after Lewis’s arrival, Frederick
Douglass and his second wife, Helen, visited
At the close of
Powers’ Greek Slave would have shown how shaped with 'Art’s fiery finger,' Lewis’s own work in marble might speak beyond the quintessentially European limitations of sculptural aesthetic and practice. Furthermore, a case may be made for the influence of the work of Hiram Powers and the anti-slavery poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning upon certain of the thematic and design decisions Lewis made first in her Florentine sculpture, The Freedwoman and Her Child, and then in the transition of that unlocated work to her ambitious early Roman project, the abolition group, Forever Free.
In Florence Lewis
began a two-figure composition that immediately attracted
critical attention. It was written about as The
Freedwoman and Her Child, or, The
Freedwoman on First hearing of Her
Lewis, who, in this instance spoke of herself as black, is quoted as saying that 'Yes, so was my race treated in the market and elsewhere,' the writer adds that the work 'tells with much eloquence a painful story.' Whether this piece ever went from clay to plaster we do not know, although she sent photographs of the work in progress to two white friends who were among the first volunteers to go south with the New England Freedman’s Aid Association to care for the black refugees pouring across the Union lines. Certainly the newspaper stories, complete with vivid descriptions of a two-foot high work in its earliest stages were unusual for a young artist at such an early stage of her career. Newspapers in England, on the Continent and across the United States could be counted on to reprint the story; anything from a line or two in an Art Notes section to a multi-column interview with such an improbable celebrity was always good copy. For the next two decades, her colleagues competing for studio visits, commissions and sales would make acerbic pronouncements on the press coverage Lewis so cannily manipulated.
The likely prototype for the abolition group is an illustration from the 1864 tract Slavery: Its Sin, Moral Effects, and Certain Death, by Justus Keefer.
The figure of liberty, stern and imposing
brandishes aloft the long sword of justice with which she has
severed the chain she holds in her other hand. The Stars and
Stripes ripple and wave in the strong wind that swirls the
woman warrior’s robes. The crouching black woman, in a posture
still reminiscent of the 'woman and sister' pose used in
abolitionist iconography, is all but overcome by emotion. She
raises one hand skyward, while with the other she clasps her
young child to her to her breast. The child looks
questioningly into the mother's eyes. The mother looks both
heavenward and in the direction of the figure of
Freedman’s Record reported
that “Miss Lewis is anxious to put her work in marble, and Mr.
Waterston has kindly offered to receive and transmit to her
any contributions on the part of her friends to enable her to
do so. She proposes to dedicate her work to Miss H. E.
Stevenson and Mrs. E. D. Chaney, 'as an expression of
gratitude for their labors in behalf of the education of her
father’s race.' Upon her move to
Forever Free by Edmonia Lewis completed in 1867. Collection
The emancipation group Forever Free is Lewis's best known and most frequently illustrated work. Begun in 1865, the year of the passage of the thirteenth amendment, and originally called The Morning of Liberty, the two figures suggest the first exclamations of triumph and of prayerful thanksgiving for their barely realized freedom. The viewer confronts both the man's nascent recognition of new and abundant possibilities and the woman's gratitude for being a living witness to the end of the long night of generations of slavery. Their gaze, upward and toward a distant horizon might well, in the convention of literary sculpture of the day, invite the viewer to interpolate a bright sun rising from below that horizon. Metaphors of morning were certainly to be expected in characterizing the early days of emancipation, and Lewis might well have read one of the most lyrical of such statements in an editorial by Frederick Douglass written in anticipation of the formal announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation as the January, 1863, issue of the Douglass Monthly was being set in type. Under the heading 'The Glorious Morning of Liberty,' Douglass avowed:
is scarcely a day for prose. It is a day for poetry and song. These cloudless skies, this balmy
air this brilliant sunshine, (making
December as pleasant as May,) are in harmony with the glorious morning of
As likely a description of the spirit infusing Lewis's figures as she could ever wish.
Forever Free, the title she ultimately inscribed on the base of the statue, is of course taken from the Proclamation itself: “… all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State . . . in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free . . .” In the context of the period of Reconstruction in which she completed the statue, the two strong declarative words acquire the timbre of an echoing cry of reiteration and renewed resolve in the face of increasing black disillusionment, racist terror, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan which was fully organized by 1866. By then the sunrise had given way to the scorching heat of the day.
The relative positions of the figures inevitably raise questions of symbolic hierarchy. Does the woman on her knees, even in prayer, suggest the social, political, and economic constraints faced by all women, but most especially black women, of that era? Is the man's hand upon her shoulder simultaneously protective and patronizing, even subtly keeping her 'in her place' at a time when black men were given, however briefly, the right to vote and to hold elected and appointed office?
ambiguity in the kneeling woman’s position which Lewis
recognized and exploited. In terms of images of blacks most
familiar to the general public in 19th-century
Ball’s Emancipation Group,
The female version of the supplicant slave, showing a kneeling black woman often nude above the waist, bearing the motto 'Am I Not A Woman And A Sister?' seems to have first appeared in the 1820s - again a British export, this time from the Ladies Negro's Friend Society of Birmingham, England, who used the image on their first report issued in 1826. Variations on the emblem show the kneeling Africans, alone or together, addressing various fully clothed white women who bear the symbolic attributes of Justice (scales, of course) or Liberty (helmet and spear), including in one French version what seems to be the spirit of Noblesse Oblige in crown and ermine. Intended to encourage public opinion in favor of abolition, the kneeling man and woman in chains were stark reminders of the suffering and degradation of the enslaved. Given their wildly successful dissemination these emblems, for all their champions’ good intentions, also became default, almost subconscious, indicators of perpetual black inferiority, impressing an uneasy and ambiguous iconographic message on both black and white memory for generations to come.
Forever Free provides a commentary on these ubiquitous ante-bellum images. The man, still nude above the waist, stands tall. The woman, modest in a simple shift caught at the waist with a sash, has not escaped the kneeling posture, but hers is a genuflection of thanksgiving with undertones of supplication. Man and woman, freed from the carved low relief and stylized profile of the images of petition, are presented in the complete sculptural dimensions of their humanity; both squarely face the viewer, and yet cast their eyes and their thoughts above and beyond any human witness to their victory. The imploring question of their very membership in the human race is here replaced by a ringing declaration. Whatever their relationship to the white world, as man and brother, woman and sister, it is superseded by their union as a free couple, in principle answerable only to themselves, in principle free to travel to that horizon upon which they gaze.
If the female
figure suggests a compromised, or perhaps incomplete,
vindication of generations of appeal to the conscience of the
nation, Lewis performed the significant feat of getting the
black man emphatically off of his knees in American art.
Thomas Ball showed his freedman all but groveling with thanks
John Quincy Adams Ward’s bronze Freedman (1862-63) modeled on the very cusp of
emancipation, offers a pensive heroic figure taut with the
power of his own agency, shown at the moment of transition
from subjugation to free-standing manhood. Ward fashioned
actual barrel locks and keys that fit the shackles of the
original work and the many copies that were made, suggestive
tokens of the demands of autonomy. Francesco Pezzicar’s statue
of the jubilant freed slave holding aloft a copy of the
Emancipation Proclamation was actually an Austrian entry in
the art display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
That bronze work so disconcerted William Dean Howells that he
declared it 'a most offensively Frenchy negro . . . one longs
to clap him back into hopeless bondage.'
It fell to Edmonia Lewis to be the first American sculptor to show a newly freed slave standing astride his broken shackles holding aloft the dangling links of a severed chain.
Working from classical sources and in
of symbolic import, specific to Lewis among the visual
chroniclers of Emancipation, presents itself in Forever
Free. In considering the work of African American
artists, viewers today are familiar with a spectrum of
religious and biblical references, metaphors, scenes, and even
individuals as elements of the cultural vocabulary of Africans
There is no precedent however, for
looking at the work of a 19th-century black American artist
through the lens of Roman Catholicism even though, for a
sculptor of Lewis's period, the study of the European
masterworks would be greatly enhanced by a familiarity with
the religious, political and philosophical history behind the
centuries of European art both religious and secular. Lewis
spoke of her Catholic faith, acted upon it, modeled work in
celebration of it, and addressed specific doctrinal
distinctions which separated her from white and black
Protestants alike, in particular her avowed reverence for the
cult of the Virgin Mary. In an 1871 interview in the journal,
The Revolution, with the editor, Laura
Curtis Bullard, Lewis, in discussing her eloquent life-size
figure of Hagar declared
“I have a strong sympathy for all women who have
struggled and suffered. For this reason the Virgin Mary is
very dear to me." As a devout Roman Catholic, Lewis would have
appreciated analogies between the redemption of mankind
through the suffering and resurrection of Christ, and the
redemption of enslaved blacks through the blood bath of the
Civil War and the liberation granted by the Emancipation
Proclamation. These New Testament images, which would be
familiar to all who knew something of the history of European
art and particularly Italian painting and sculpture, might
spring less readily to mind in the context of American and
African American Protestantism. Edmonia Lewis posited an
emblematic counterpart to the historical resurrection and
transfiguration of blacks in
For blacks and their white champions, the Emancipation Proclamation was a document of quasi-religious dimensions. Her status utterly transformed by a pronouncement from the political equivalent of 'on high,' the kneeling woman is indeed the recipient of an announcement unlike any previously delivered in this nation. Her posture echoes some medieval and renaissance depictions of the Annunciation to the Virgin in which Mary is sometimes shown surprised at prayer, half-seated or kneeling.
Mary's response is not one of supplication, of course, but of fear and questioning in a swirling suspension of all that had theretofore grounded her in a familiar psychological and physical reality. She becomes the embodiment of a cataclysmic shift in the meaning and perception of historical time in the Western world. Lewis's contemplation of the relevance of the Marian experience to that of African American women would have been heightened by the promulgation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in 1854 by Pope Pius IX. This is the doctrine that Mary herself was born without original sin - she was in effect, and canonically described as, the New Eve. In a secular America, this couple, at a moment of national transformation, is the configuration of a meridian, the gnomon of a political sundial, which, by the time Lewis was well into the work of constructing the statue, had clearly begun to indicate the menacing shadows of Reconstruction a threat to that Morning of Liberty which had seemed a secular Resurrection for black Americans.
As for the male figure’s stance, in the Biblical
accounts, early in the morning, when those assigned watch have
given in to asleep, Christ, risen from the tomb, emerges time
and again - in fresco, portal, marble and on canvas - his
right hand uplifted in a gesture of benediction and triumph
while his left hand, at the lower end of a diagonal sweep,
rests in a position similar to the freedman's, between waist
and thigh, often holding the stanchion of a wind-whipped
banner of victory. Although Lewis, incorporating two figures
into her composition, chooses to reverse the traditional
position of the arms, her composition echoes many such
depictions readily available to her. Bronzino’s effusively
Mannerist Resurrection of Christ at Florence's
Church of the Annunziata, to give one example, is a virtual
template for her freedman emerging from the symbolic death and
entombment of slavery.
Detail, Bronzino, Resurrection
of Christ, Florence, Church of the Santissima
Numerous scenes of the Transfiguration of Christ show the central figure in a similar pose, often with a kneeling woman in the foreground, certainly an apt metaphor for the falling away of all that was past and the reinvention of the self in the dawning of the new order. Conflating these symbolic transformations within the two figures, Lewis incorporates supplication, thanksgiving, and an intimation of the awe-inspiring transcendence of that defining moment which she underscores by revising her title from The Morning of Liberty to Forever Free - - morning after all, passes, night descends; but even amid the dashed hopes and growing horrors of reconstruction and its aftermath, forever abides.
Other sources for this work by a Catholic artist impressed throughout her travels in Italy by endless repetitions of the story of the Passion of Christ and finding there an emblematic counterpart to the historical resurrection and transfiguration of blacks in America even as those events were taking place would include scenes of the harrowing of hell where locks, chains and prison doors are broken to free the captives of sin. Again an apt corollary for the emancipation of the slaves whose lives as autonomous individuals had been viciously suppressed for generations. Lewis's broken chains, and the ardent gratitude of her kneeling woman are central to most such depictions in which Christ ushers the thankful captives into the light while crushing underfoot the devil and his instruments of torture and restraint.
A final integral scene in the tableaux of events surrounding the resurrection, the poignant ritual of recognition, longing, and refusal, known as the Noli Me Tangere, includes a woman in a posture much like that of the freedwoman in Forever Free. At first mistaking the risen Christ for a gardener - a laborer and tiller of the soil - Mary Magdalene recognizes him only when he calls her by name, and yet, through all the centuries of Christian art, she is forever denied her strongest wish and impulse which is merely to touch him. Lewis, in an intriguing resolution of that tension between the mortal and the divine, draws together her two figures, clearly designating them both mortal; the freedman in a tender laying on of hands, seems to proffer both a benediction and a vow of protection.
It is impossible to overstate the impact
and influence that the churches, museums, galleries and
private collections of Florence would have had on Lewis, or
for that matter any other American artist for the first time
surrounded by such a concentrated abundance of art in every
form and medium known at that era. Stendhal arrived from
art-rich France after all, and still faltered under the
sensory overload. Dostoyevsky knew the great religious
iconography and ornament of the Russian Orthodox tradition,
but ecstasy or epilepsy set the neurons in his brain firing
wildly under the Florentine influence nonetheless. Nothing in
America could have prepared Lewis for the initial shock of the
physical scale, historical depth and stylistic range of the
artwork both religious and secular she encountered at every
turn in Florence. Edmonia Lewis visited Paris on her way to
Italy; she returned there for visits and decades later for an
extended stay. She moved on from Florence to build a life and
career for herself in Rome. But it was in Florence that the
world of art and the life of the artist were first revealed to
her in all their endless possibility.
© Marilyn Richardson, 2008. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced without permission.
Visite photograph of Edmonia Lewis by H. Rocher.
Unitarian Universalist Association, 1947.
Expositions, 1876-1916. U. of Chicago P, 1984.
1806-1899, vol. II.
Professor Brenda Ayres of Liberty University has a strong Web presence concerning anti-slavery novelists. She is editing these for Pickering.
Villino Trollope, Piazza Independenza, Florence; The Birthplace of the American Civil War: The Fanny Trollope and Harriet Beecher Stowe Connections
Brenda Ayres, Liberty University. Paper.
Ever since President Lincoln reportedly said to Harriet Beecher Stowe, "So you're the little woman that started this great war!" Uncle Tom's Cabin has been considered the juggernaut to end slavery in America. It did indeed trigger an upheaval, but the novel itself did not suddenly appear out of vacuity. There were many artists who preceded Stowe, who, if they had not been faithful to the call of their hearts to use their skills and talent to alleviate the suffering of their black brothers and sisters, Uncle Tom's Cabin might not have been written and might not have had the impact that it did.
This paper will recognize the contributions of a handful of English and Americans who significantly advanced the Abolition Movement, moved to Florence, and there continued their work until they were laid to rest in the 'English' Cemetery.
Frances Trollope (1779–1863) was persuaded by her friend,
Frances Wright, to pursue a dream of racial, class, and gender
equality among God's people in the wilds of Tennessee in a
community called Nashoba, populated mostly by emancipated
slaves. With her two daughters, youngest son, and a young artist
by the name of Auguste Hervieu, Fanny Trollope set sail on the
4th of November 1827, leaving behind her ailing and insolvent
husband in England. The anticipated utopia proved a delusion:
The people in the commune were sick, no one was working,
adequate food and housing were scarce, and there was no school
in which Hervieu was to teach. Fanny and her troop left as
quickly as they could for the nearest metropolis booming at that
time, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Cincinnati was situated across from Kentucky with only the Ohio River separating free from slave states. As slaves escaped into Cincinnati, Fanny heard their horror stories and saw their scars, and from these, she spun the first anti-slavery novel in English literature, The Life and Adventures of Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw.
But she would not write it until she had gathered more knowledge about that new great experiment in democracy called America.
Before then, she had her hands full with what Lafayette called the "Queen City of the West" (Van Thal 15). The Midwestern town itself did not embrace the ebullient and often haughty British lady, nor did Fanny take to its streets crowded with hogs. Cincinnatians were not interested in being told what was wrong with them and their town and what they needed to do to become cultured, but Fanny was very interested in enlightening them. They were proud that their city was nicknamed Porkopolis, that they marketed more than five million pounds of pork products that first year of Fanny's sojourn (William Hildreth 41). Besides her mission to civilize this part of the American wilderness, Fanny was determined to raise money not only to care for her family in America but also to pay for the education in England of her two oldest boys, Tom and Anthony, and to pay her family's debts. Toward those ends, she built an elaborate, exotic bazaar. Her husband invested $4,000, in what Trollope derided as "trumpery goods," merchandise that no one in a Midwestern town would want to or could afford to buy (Heineman 66). Known as 'Trollope's Folly', the bazaar turned out to be a financial disaster, but its failure would become a great boon to the Trollope family and to the abolition cause.
One unforeseen benefit occurred during the American Civil War when Fanny's bazaar was converted into the Soldier's Home by the Sanity Commission. Located centrally near the corner of Third and Main streets, after its debacle as a cultural center and emporium, it had been turned into a large boarding house and hotel, complete with cooking ranges, laundry facilities, store rooms, and dining hall. Later, on 15 May 1862, it was reopened to care for 150 sick and wounded soldiers. It was in operation for three-and-a-half years (Newberry 344–46).
Thirty-some years later, this worthy utilization would have been very gratifying to Fanny, but in 1830, she was facing bankruptcy on two continents. Distressed, more likely indignant and frustrated, but not defeated, never defeated, Fanny hastened away from creditors and traveled through West Virginia; Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Virginia; Pennsylvania; and New York before returning to England (Ransom 63–70). The disaster in Ohio forced her to contemplate another scheme to recoup financially. Through her travels, she saw very little freedom, especially for women and people of color. As I wrote in my introduction to The Social Problems of Frances Trollope, "Propelled by the struggles she saw and compelled by financial necessity, she turned to writing and produced a book that challenged America's claim to be the land of the free. Written at the age of 52, Domestic Manners of the Americans became an overnight sensation" (viii–ix). Fanny wrote her son, Tom, who was in school, that like her friend Byron, "I woke one morning and found myself famous" (Frances Eleanor Trollope, 1: 152). According to one of her biographers, "Domestic Manners achieved a success almost unheard of for a first attempt by an unknown author. In 1832 alone it went through four English and four American editions. In 1838 there was a fifth American edition, and in 1839 a fifth English edition" (Heineman 100). It has never been out of print and has been translated into five languages. Most scholars and students of American history are familiar with its realistic, stark exposé of early nineteenth-century America, unique among other accounts that romanticized it instead.
Americans were none too happy with Trollope's unfavorable portrait of their country. However, on both sides of the Atlantic, the book sold, the critics condemned it, and people talked about it. But Fanny was not finished with taking America to task. Outraged by American slavery, she commuted her wrath for satire and sarcasm and poured it into Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw. An instant bestseller in 1836, it went through three editions in the first year alone, fanning the flames of popular sentiment to press Parliament to pass the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1838 which prohibited slavery throughout its colonies. An earlier act of 1833 was meant to abolish slavery in the colonies, but to ease the burden that would inevitably befall white slave owners, Parliament failed to bring about emancipation. Instead, slaves were forced to serve periods of indentured apprenticeships stipulated by their masters. Slave children were free, which was some consolation and hope for the future, but who would take care of their children while the parents remained as slaves? In addition to its effect on the 1838 act, Fanny's novel inspired the formation of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society to induce other countries, especially America, to make slavery illegal. Trollope's novel was immediately a success in Britain, going through three editions within the year. Judging from the plethora of reviews (largely shocked that a woman vilified the gentlemanly, American South and wrote with such vulgarity on subjects not suitable to her sex), one can deduce that the book was of consequence.
As with Domestic Manners, the book was not well received in the States, but it had influence in a significant quarter, and that was on Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Before Fanny departed from Cincinnati, leaving them with plenty to talk about, Lyman Beecher moved there to become the first president of Lane Theological Seminary, recently completed in 1830. Beecher, a Congregationalist minister and one of the leaders of the Second Great Awakening or Christian revival, brought with him his children who would become some of the most famous people in America in their leadership of the woman's movement and abolition.
Arriving in 1832, his daughter Harriet would have just missed the notorious Mrs. Trollope who would have already returned to England, but Fanny's vinegar would have still been in their mouths, and her two books—because they both mentioned Cincinnati and because their authoress was now the town's most famous personality—would certainly have come to Harriet Beecher's attention as she acclimated to her new home. Later she would correspond with Fanny about her books and would visit her in Florence in 1859 (Neville-Sington 343) and in 1860 (Kissel 128).
Uncle Tom's Cabin was published fifteen years after Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw. Harold Scudder has recognized eleven major parallels between the two books. Susan Kissel identifies much more of Trollope in Stowe's book. Helen Heineman also provides a detailed comparison between the two novels in her biography, Mrs. Trollope: The Triumphant Feminine in the Nineteenth Century (144–45). Therefore, it is no stretch of the imagination to deduce that Stowe's novel was modeled after Trollope's and that Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw paved the way for Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Nevertheless, Fanny did not write in a vacuum either. While she was creating JJW, Richard Hildreth was working on his first anti-slavery novel, The Slave: or Memoirs of Archy Moore, which was published six months after Trollope's novel.
Hildreth (1807–1865) was born in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Like Stowe, his father was a Congregational minister. After graduating from Harvard and traveling through the southern part of the United States, he wrote and published The Slave anonymously. It so realistically depicted violence that masters inflicted upon slaves and their slaves' retaliation, that most people believed it to be an actual slave narrative. Even though the novel went through seven editions over the next couple of decades, it did not sell well. Hildreth later revised it, adding more chapters that culminate with the burning alive of a slave who had killed his master. The novel came out as The White Slave in 1852, after Uncle Tom's Cabin first appeared in serialized form in the June 1851 issue of National Era. In 1840 Hildreth published another anti-slavery book, Despotism in America. Between 1857 and 1860 he wrote several anti-slavery tracts. Although his works were not as popular or politically provocative as were Fanny's, he did come under a lot of critical attack—as did Fanny—for writing with a perspective that tended to alienate instead of ingratiate. While his wife supported him and their family (as Fanny worked to support her husband and family), he spent eight years writing his six-volume History of the United States, published between 1849 and 1852. Nor was it well because since he attacked the puritanical elements of America, and unlike other American histories, failed to instil nationalism. He was as vinegary as Trollope in all that he penned, avoiding the "tinsel and gingerbread" (to use a common nineteenth-century phrase) that characterized much of the writing of his day. As Martha Pingel put it, he "was one of the earliest American thinkers to treat history as a scientific account of man's actual achievements rather than as an embellishment of his hopes" (ix). Hildreth suffered as many disappointments as did Fanny Trollope in his personal and professional life, such as failing to secure a much desired history appointment at Harvard. Abraham Lincoln sent him as consul to Trieste, Italy, during the Civil War. There he became ill and had to resign the post. He died in poverty on the 11th of July 1865. His simple tombstone in Florence was erected by the publishing house of Harper Brothers which had handled many of his works.
Not far from Hildreth's grave in the English Cemetery lies Theodore Parker (1810–1860), who had been a Unitarian minister in Boston. He not only preached against slavery (Cobbe), and encouraged, justified, and openly defied the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act by abetting runaways on their way to Canada; he even often preached with a loaded gun next to him in the pulpit to be used against any slave catchers. With much mutual respect for each other, Parker and Hildreth worked together in Massachusetts to legally challenge the Fugitive Slave Law. Both of them attended Harvard (but not at the same time), and both suffered from substantial social criticism for their controversial views. Parker had a sizable following, though, with a congregation that included fellow abolitionists Louisa May Alcott, William Lloyd Garrison, Julia Ward Howe, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, plus enough followers during his services to fill the Boston Music Hall. He was the first to use the phrase "of all the people, by all the people, for all the people" (Parker 105), which Abraham Lincoln later borrowed for his famous Gettysburg Address. Parker wrote "A Letter to a Southern Slaveholder"in 1848 which became very familiar to Southern clergy. In that year he also published A Letter to the People of the United States Touching the Matter of Slavery. Finally convinced that slavery would not end without violence, he became one of the infamous "Secret Six," who helped finance John Brown's raid (Merrill 7). When stricken with tuberculosis, he went to milder climates for his health, ending in Florence where he was buried before the issue of slavery came to a head at Ft. Sumter. His second tombstone, by William Wetmore Story, reads:
For three years, Powers and his growing family lived in Washington, D.C. where he become the premier sculptor of busts for politicians. His clients included such famous Americans as John Adams, Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and Martin Van Buren. He also designed a fountain for the Capitol, all of which gleaned him fame but very little money. Regardless, Powers established himself as the patriotic sculptor of the American greats, currency that would boost his contribution to the American Abolition Movement.
The friendship between Powers and Trollope continued after
he moved to Florence in 1837. Frances Trollope called him the
"truth-inspired sculptor of Ohio" and said that he was to
sculpture what Shakespeare was to poetry ("American Sculptor").
A glowing review of his 'Eve' can be found in her 1842 A Visit to Italy
(1:141–45). Three years later he sculpted the statue, 'Greek
Slave', that would make him internationally famous. A tour
throughout America from 1847–48, a total of 447 days, drew over
one hundred thousand people who paid to see it (Wunder 242).
After that the statue was exhibited at the center of the Crystal
Palace in 1851 in London and then in the New York City Crystal
Palace in 1853. Copies appeared in most of the government
buildings in the North, as it came to be regarded as an icon for
the abolition of slavery.
His statue moved Elizabeth Barrett Browning to write a sonnet, "Hiram Power's 'Greek Slave,'" in which she appeals to art to "break up ere long / The serfdom of this world." In the poem, she clearly cries out against slavery not only in the East, but also in the West.
Also inspired by "The Greek Slave," Mary Irving wrote a poem that appeared in The Independent (11 September 1851). The last two stanzas are
Calm in the "Crystal Hall" it
To crown a nation's fame;
'Tis well the world should read the type
That tells a nation's shame.
Messenger to her mother-land—
Gem for her gorgeous nave—
What hath the home of Slavery
More fitting than a slave?
She ended with this note: "You are aware that it is the chief ornament of the American exhibit in the 'Palace of Industry.'" With similar sentiment, Henry T. Tuckerman (1813–1871) published his "A Greek Slave" in the New York Daily Tribune (9 September 1847), which includes these prophetic lines:
That Earth's tyranny doth weave,
And her slaves by wisest courage
Shall their destiny retrieve.
Besides these and several other poems as well as essays and laudatory reviews, the National Era articulated the statue's message to America:
As this eloquent statue traverses the land, may many a mother and daughter of the Republic be awakened to a sense of the enormity of slavery, as it exists in our midst! Thus may Art, indeed, fulfill its high and holy mission! Let the solemn lesson sink deep into the hearts of the fair women of the North and of the South! Waste not your sympathies on the senseless marble, but reserve some tears for the helpless humanity which lies quivering beneath the lash of American freemen. (2 Sept. 1847).
Powers denied being an abolitionist; however, nearly at the end of the American Civil War, he wrote to a friend:
The Hell of Slavery cannot prevail against the High Heaven of Liberty. The world's progress has passed that bound—and come what may, the ghastly head of southern despotism will never again arise in the west where it has gone down in blood. (qtd. in Wunder 318)
After he relocated to Florence in 1837 for the remainder of his life, he was a regular at Villino Trollope, especially for Fanny's séances (Neville-Sington 351). He died on June 27, 1873, ten years after Trollope, and is buried in the English Cemetery, as are three of his children.
Fanny and Thomas Adolphus (her eldest son, Tom) also resettled in Florence in September 1943, staying at first with Lady Bulwer at the Palazzo Passerini until they found an apartment, which they did shortly thereafter. This was in the Casa Berti, "next to the east end of the church of Santa Croce," which was having a new steeple built (Thomas A. Trollope 139). It was located in the Via del Giglio where Milton stayed when he was in Florence (142). The Trollopes remained there until the summer of 1844, when they returned to England, to their home at Penrith in the Lake District, where they met Anthony's new bride. On September 1, Fanny returned to Florence again, this time to an apartment in Palazzo Berti (Ransom 158) in the Via dei Malcontenti (Thomas A. Trollope 139). By July 1845, they were back in England, only to return to Florence again in September 1845, there to live in an apartment in the Via del Giglio (Ransom 162–63) until April 1847, when they returned to Penrith for the last time (166). By the middle of September 1847, they were back to stay in Florence (171). Thomas Adolphus bought a house in the Piazza Maria Antonia, now the Piazza dell'Independenza, which was to become known as the Villino Trollope. There they would live until Fanny's death in 1863, at the age of 84.
Fanny was a very sociable person and held Friday receptions every week. Villino Trollope was a must-visit for every traveler from Britain and America who wanted to meet not only meet the famous author, but also anyone who was anyone in Florence. In Florence Hildreth, Parker, Powers, Trollope, and Barrett Browning forged a friendship with each other that energized and directed their exertions to abolish slavery.
These expatriates—and several more besides—fought the war for independence from what might be considered their headquarters, Villano Trollope, in the Piazza Independenza. Except for Stowe, their names are etched in stone at the English Cemetery after a valiant fight for freedom. The engraving on Fanny's tombstone is an epitaph that memorializes them all:
"Here lies what is mortal, but the remembrance of her divine spirit needs no marble."
Works CitedAyres, Brenda. Introduction. The Social Problem Novels of Frances Trollope. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2009. vii–xxii.
Barrett Browning, Elizabeth. "Hiram Power's 'Greek Slave.'"Cobbe, Frances Power. Discourses on Slavery. Vol. 5. The Collected Works of Theodore Parker. 14 vols. London: Trübner and Company, 1863.
Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. 1893. Autobiographies. NY: Library of America, 1994.
Heineman, Helen. Mrs. Trollope: The Triumphant Feminine in the Nineteenth Century. Athens: Ohio UP, 1979.
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———. History of the United States. 6 vols. NY: Harper, 1849–52.
———. The Slave; or, Memoirs of Archy Moore. Boston: J. H. Eastburn, 1836.
———. The White Slave or, Memoirs of a Fugitive. Boston : Tappan and Whittemore, 1852
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Railton and the University of Virginia. 1999. http://www.iath.virginia.edu/utc/sentimnt/snpo12at.html.
Kissel, Susan S. " Trollope, Dickens, Gaskell, Stowe and A. Trollope." In Common Cause:The "Conservative" Frances Trollope and the "Radical" Frances Wright. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1993. 115–44.
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Parker, Theodore. "The American Idea." Speech at the New England Anti-Slavery Convention in Boston, May 29, 1850. Discourses of Slavery Vol. 5. The Collected Works of Theodore Parker. 14 vols. Ed. Frances Power Cobbe. London: Trübner & Co., 1863.
———. A Letter to the People of the United States Touching the Matter of Slavery. Boston: James Munore and Company, 1848.
———."To a Southern Slaveholder." 1848. Theodore Parker Web Site. 2002.
Pingel, Martha A. An American Utilitarian: Richard Hildreth as a Philosopher. NY: Columbia UP, 1948.
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———. Domestic Manners of the Americans. Illust. Auguste Hervieu. 2 vols. London: Whittaker Treacher, 1832.
———. The Life and Adventures of Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw: or Scenes on the Mississippi. Illust. Auguste Hervieu. 3 vols. London: Bentley, 1836.
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With the Sponsorship of the Comune di Firenze, the United States
Consulate General in Florence, Syracuse University in Florence,
Oxford Dictionary of
National Biography, the Lyceum Club of
Florence, the Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Svizzera of
Florence, and the Aureo Anello
Associazione Mediatheca 'Fioretta Mazzei' e Amici del Cimitero