Observations on American Art: Selections from the Writings of John Neal (1793-1876)

By Harold Edward Dickson | Go to book overview
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The Yankee (1828-1829)


WE ARE indebted to the NEW ENGLAND GALAXY for the following paper, which, take it altogether, is so eminently characteristic of the Editor, in language, thought and blundering audacity, that we cannot resist the desire we feel to preserve it in the Yankee along with a few of our notes, which some four or five years hence will be regarded, however unjust and severe they may seem now, as nothing more than generally acknowledged truth. The only wonder will then be, that we should have ever thought it worth our while to show up the Editor of the Galaxy.

"SCULPTURE AT THE CAPITOL. On Wednesday week, Mr. Eaton presented to the Senate of the United States the following memorial, which was referred to the committee on the District of Columbia. "To the Honorable Members of the Senate.

After seven years that I have been to Washington every session, to receive the appropriation to finish my Allegorical Group, I request a decision of the Senate to finish my work, or to have a compensation for the expenses I have made during the space of seven years. That comes to a much higher amount than what I shall receive for the Group, if I am, as I hope, to finish it this year.


"If the government or any of its agents have made contracts with the gentleman who signs this memorial, it is highly proper that such contract should be complied with. A government should not place itself in a condition liable to be dunned so unceremoniously. But if the "Allegorical Group," by which we suppose is meant the figures, which, according to Philadelphia philologists, are being made on the tympanum (?) of the pediment over the East portico of the Capitol, we pray Heaven it may not be finished in another seven years -- yea, not in seventy times seven ages. The workshop of rough lumber which has been erected against the pediment, to accomodate the sculptor while engaged at his work, is not so uncouth and insignificant an appendage to this splendid edifice, as are the clumsy and unmeaning works of Messrs. Causici and Capellano, which embellish the Rotundo. Those sculptured figures are as dishonorable and disgraceful to that elegant apartment, (?) as the tables of the apple-woman, which annoyed Mr. Randolph, are to some other parts of the building. A Yankee sailor with a jack-knife and a shingle, would carve images that would be better imitators (?) of humanity. Pocahontas has legs that would do credit to a Dutch market-woman, and her contemporary aboriginals look like what might be supposed of the Aldermen of Brobdignag. As to the Pilgrims landing on the rock, they have neither shape nor limb that should lead the Indian (who is presenting to them an ear of corn!) that they were creatures of heaven, earth, or the waters under the earth. If Congress should appropriate ten thousand dollars for the removal of these nuisances and fill up their places with simple bricks and mortar, without plaster, no man would begrudge the expenditure."


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Observations on American Art: Selections from the Writings of John Neal (1793-1876)


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