Sidney H. Morse

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Sidney H. Morse was an American mutualist writer, poet and sculptor. He was the literary executor for Josiah Warren and explored Warren's system of equitable commerce in several of his works. He was also a friend and follower of Walt Whitman. He wrote for Liberty (1881-1907) under the names "H," "Morse" and "Phillip."



  • The Start: Young People's Magazine of Art and Literature [c. 1894]

Brief Sketch of his Life


Brief Sketch of His Life, His Work and His Character.

(For Portrait, see Frontispiece.)


THOMAS PAINE'S philosophy appealed to patriots and poets; his classical features attracted the painter and sculptor. The great Romney painted his portrait, and Sharpe engraved the same in England. Charles W. Peale, the American artist of the Revolution, painted his portrait, in 1777, for the president of the Continental Congress; but it remained for an American sculptor to give permanence in marble to the features of Paine for a pedestal in Independence Hall, to commemorate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence.

That sculptor, Sidney H. Morse, was born in Rochester, N. Y., Oct. 3, 1833. Early in life he went to Connecticut to enter the marble business with an uncle, and it was there that his artistic tendencies got their first encouragement. He learned to cut and carve in marble. He became a Unitarian minister, receiving his degrees from Antioch College.

His work for Rationalism is given by Horace Traubel in the Conservative, from which the following extracts are taken.

"In the latter sixties Morse edited The Radical. What The Dial was to Transcendentalism, The Radical was to Free Religion. Some of the very men who helped make The Dial famous gave what they could with their pens and influence to make The Radical a success. Morse did not qualify his own faith. He contributed his goods and his labor, cent and blood. His faith outlasted his labor, his labor outlasted his money. When his money was gone, The Radical passed in its checks. But the five or six years of its formal life conferred an immortality. ......

"Think of the cluster of men and women who helped Morse with The Radical. Think of Emerson, Alcott, Weiss, Johnson, Wasson, Lydia Maria Child. Of such was the kingdom of this Free Religious heaven. ......

"Morse was born for a free lancer. He tried the liberal church for a while but the experiment was a failure. He succeeded Moncure D. Conway in a Cincinnati ministry which is now forgotten. Later on he occupied a pulpit in Haverhill. While there he started The Radical. While running The Radical he gave up the pulpit. After the disappearance of The Radical Morse went into sculpture, having studios first in Boston and then in Quincy. In the years that followed Morse produced a number of notable works, including a head of Emerson which Emerson's family and a very large proportion of his friends regard as the best Emerson in plaster. Morse went to Washington in 1886 or 1887 to make a statuette of Cleveland for a Boston house. ......

"Morse is a transcendentalist. But he is also of this earth more or less earthy. He has the sort of philosophy which grounds itself in hearts as they are, and which sympathizes with man in his actual struggles of the flesh. ....

"Nobody knows Morse. He is practically dead before his death. Morse is the sort of man the world can formally forget. But without such men the world would miss the best grade of its treasure. ......

"Morse's literary faculty was always remarkable. He was the author of the famous Phillip letters printed at two different periods in The Irish World. He wrote the "Chips from my Studio" in Benjamin Tucker's Radical Review, which lived only a year. Afterward he wrote for Liberty, for Unity, for The Conservator, and here and there miscellaneously in the daily papers. All his writing is of perfected texture. He never was a man given to the polemic vein. He can be critical. He can even be severe. But he cannot deny his love. ......

"Morse's prevailing humor is one of easy friendliness. He leaves himself wherever he goes. In Philadelphia and Chicago he visited all about the poorer sections. He made himself the dear friend of children. He put books into their hands. He sketched on their walls. He felt himself at home by making the homes he visited more homelike for all. He never knew how to use money. He never seemed to need money. He never got down in the mouth. He even welcomed adversity. The farmers in the Northwest wished him to settle up their way. They claimed him. They volunteered to take care of him. The pleasure of having him about was better than a fresh air fund. In the world sense Morse took care of everybody but himself. He fed everybody but himself. He would starve himself to feed others. This is not figurative. It is a literal fact. All his friends have deplored his worldlessness. Yet they are proud of him.

"Morse went about lecturing. He had lectures on Whitman, Carlyle, Emerson and others, which, while more or less reminiscent, were also in a high degree historic and abstract. He would lecture for money. He would lecture without money. He was also always busy with his clay. And as long as he was able to do so he gave away duplicates of his plasters lavishly. All over the country are households in which such gifts are treasured. Once, while in Chicago, he started a monthly for children. It only lived through two inimitable issues. ......

"I found Morse the other night mentally unshaken. He has met his disasters with serene courage. Morse never has had any quarrel with fate. Even when disasters left him in deep shadows he has just as sweetly argued against dispair. He is one of the most indomitable spirits of our history. He has never organised his forces. He has never done the greatest work that he has always seemed about to do. But the elements of that greatness have always existed and have always kept alive in his friends the air of pleasant expectation.

"Morse is of the type of the new democrat. The new democrat is always at home first of all to himself. Then he is at home to all others. Morse is a man who has never lived with closed doors. .... Morse survives his compeers. When you meet him you find yourself within hailing distance of Emerson, Whitman, and the rest of his illustrious kinsmen. ....

"Morse died at San Mateo, Florida, February 18,1903. The best of him is left behind as well as taken along."

His body was buried at Richmond, Indiana.

Morse made busts of the following Rationalists and reformers: Paine (see frontispiece to May Review), Jefferson, Theo. Parker, Lincoln, Grant, McKinley, Browning, Emerson, Longfellow, Holmes, Whitman, Susan B. Anthony, Lucreta Mott etc.

3515 Wallace St., Philadelphia, Pa.

Source: The Humanitarian Review. 3, 7 (July, 1905) 255-258.