Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Douglass Visits the Vatican and is Unimpressed

Although the cost of a ticket and the size of the crowds today causes a visitor to cram a visit to the Vatican into a single day, leaving her overwhelmed and fatigued by closing time, the Douglasses spread their visit out over three days. Art seems not to have been something that moved him to great effusion except when the subject offended him (of course, I'm now going to have to go back and search for his writing on art a little more methodically, but he did not strike me as a great art aficionado, leaving that to Helen). Usually, the offense was in the depiction of people of African descent, such as his tirade against the crouching emancipated slave at Lincoln's feet in a statue erected in Washington, D.C. near his home on Capitol Hill.  In the Vatican, the work that awakened his criticism was this:

"Saw among other great pictures a modern one proclaiming the new dogma of the emasculate conception of the Virgin, the Mother of Jesus. "

To be perfectly honest, I did not expect to actually see this painting, thinking that it was much smaller and would not be highlighted amid the works of Rafael, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and the anonymous artists of antiquity. How little did I know! As Douglass wrote, "The announcement of this fresh tax upon the credulity of the faithful in this picture is well calculated to impress favorably the devout Catholic[.]" Indeed, this picture three walls of an entire room, with a statue of the virgin in the center. The photo above is the typical tourist photo: walk into the room, say "oh, wow!" and snap a picture. This one below is on the wall to the left of the main image.:

 This one is on the right side of the main image:


Douglass then describes his impression of the figures in the painting: "The face of Pope Pius was given by the artist a celestial expression surpassing any modern attempts in that direction I have seen."

"Some of the faces of the Cardinal's seemed to be a little doubtful and have been brought to consent to the new dogma under external pressure rather than internal conviction."



Well, is he wrong? Some of those officials seem less than enthusiastic. This doctrine had been declared in 1854, followed by papal infallibility in the 1870s, all of which took place against a backdrop of Italian nationalism and unification that reduced the political power of the church in Italy. Douglass's detection of political expediency rather than faith probably did not miss the mark.
Douglass, secular and devoted to republicanism, had a difficult time refraining from mocking such ideas. I wonder if he held back around his hosts. He and Helen had been able to see parts of the Vatican through the influence of Gertrude Putnam's connections with one of the Cardinals (although I'm not certain if she knew him personally of if this was a matter of simply writing and asking for permission). That and her lodgings so close to the Vatican might suggest that she was sympathetic to Catholicism if not a believer herself (I would have to research this a little further).


Douglass, of course, never shied from expressing his opinion, and loved lively debate, including and perhaps especially with intelligent women. The Remond sisters were well aware of his propensity for debate and probably warned Putnam. Certainly, the lunch afterward with Gertrude, Edmund, and Caroline Putnam along with Maricha Redmond, Dr. Sarah Pinter, and Christine Sargent, the daughter of a Unitarian minister, must have been lively and fascinating. After all, as he looked around at the Remond sisters, Caroline, Maricha, and Sarah, he thought "in all of them I saw much of the fire of their eloquent Brother Charles;" and Charles had helped Douglass stoke his own flame so many decades earlier.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

More Sightings of "Women In the World of Frederick Douglass"

In a Houston bookstore:


That one is really quite groovy because I spent a good twenty-five(ish) years of my life in Houston.

In a Saratoga Springs, NY, bookstore:



At the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, aka "The Big Berks," with credit to my arkie pal Digger, editor of LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History  for the National Parks Service.:


Also at the Berks, among some embarrassingly great company:


Number 1 New Release in Civil War Women on Amazon!:


Also, part of "A Double-Dip of History" at the Seward House Museum in Auburn, New York, with the eminent historian, Douglas R. Egerton (aka "Mr. Leigh Fought") tonight, June 8, 2017, at 7 pm.


Riding high on Fortuna's Wheel!



Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Douglass Visits the Vatican, part 1

During their first week at in Rome, the Douglasses visited the Vatican three times. On their first full day, January 20, 1887, they went to the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica.:

I stood where until recently I never expected to stand, under the Dome of St. Peters, the largest Cathedral in the world, and around which clusters a larger interest perhaps than any other so called Christian edifice. In looking at its splender, one could not help being deeply impressed by its gorgiousness and perfection despite of its utter contradiction to the life and lessons of Jesus. he was meek and lowly, but here was little else than pride and pomp. It is well for the world that the age that could rear this wonderful building so perfect in architectural grace has past. Yet in view of what it speaks of architectural skill of man and of his possibilities we may rejoice that this marvellous building was erected and that it will long stand to pleas the eye of man.

The Baedeker's guide doesn't mention a fee for entering the Basilica at the time, but today here are a number of different ticket packages for self-guided tours, audio tours, and guided tours that include various parts of Vatican City including the Basilica, the Vatican Museum, gardens, palace, and so on. You can also wait in line for hours and hours. Scalpers -- yes, like at rock concerts -- will definitely offer to sell you "jump the line" tickets at highly inflated prices. They wear official looking tags that say "Vatican Information," but have no actual affiliation with the Vatican at all from what I could tell. Douglass seemed not to have encountered any of this. Still, I wonder if he stood in line at all and what the procedure for admittance was. This will take a little more scrutiny of the Baedeker's and more research into the Grand Tour.

Frederick's initial impressions of the contradiction of great worldly beauty and power in celebration of the humility of a carpenter's son who championed the poor and downtrodden continued when he and Helen were able to get a private tour of "the interior treasures of St. Peter's." This tour came through the connections of Mrs. Edmund Quincy Putnam. Mrs. Putnam was Gertrude [Elliston] Putnam, the daughter-in-law of Caroline Putnam. 


Caroline Putnam was born Caroline Remond, and she was the sister of Sarah Parker Remond and Charles Lenox Remond. We'll get back to Sarah Parker Remond, but Charles Lenox Remond was Frederick's first black companion on the antislavery lecturing circuit and Frederick derived quite a bit of courage in standing up to his white allied while travelling with Remond. The American Anti-Slavery Society Collection is filled with letters in which Maria Weston Chapman despairs at their independence and their failure to be what she deemed appropriately deferential. They went their separate ways quite acrimonously in the 1840s, but that was four decades earlier by the time the Douglasses arrived in Italy, and Remond had died in 1873. 

The Putnams also had a very convenient address to the Vatican. They lived at Hotel Palazzo Moroni, 165 Borgo Vecchio. You won't find Borgo Vecchio on the map today, nor its companion Borgo Nuovo. Google Maps turns up neither except as restaurant names. A "Find" search in the Baedeker, however, turns this up:
The Castle S. Angelo is adjoined by the Piazza Pia, whence four streets diverge to the W.: in the centre, on both sides of the fountain, which like the two adjacent facades was erected by Pius IX, are the streets called the Borgo Vecchio (l.) and Borgo Nuovo (r.); to the left, by the river, the Borgo S. Spirito; to the right is the Borgo S. Angelo.....The usual route to the Vatican is by the BORGO NUOVO. 
Using these clues and Google Maps:


I realized that the two have since been merged into the Via della Conciliazione.:


Indeed, they were merged and the layout all designed in the 1930s. Let the date sink in. Yes, by the Fascists; but that lay fifty years in the future. The Putnams' Borgo Vecchio address lay somewhere along the line of buildings on the left. On their second trip back through Rome later in the spring, the Douglasses also stayed there for nearly three weeks.

The day that Gertrude Putnam gave them a private tour of St. Peter's, the Douglasses went to lunch there where they were joined by not only Caroline Putnam but her two sisters, Maritcha Remond, and "she that I knew forty years and more ago as Miss Sarah Remond," now a doctor working in Florence and married to painter Lazzaro Pintor Cabras. On their second trip back through Rome, the Douglasses visited her where she lodged at 6 Piazza Barberini. 


I would not be surprised if she accompanied them on their journey to Florence or at least gave them recommendations on where to stay. 

The last that Frederick had, in fact, seen Sarah Remond, the two had met in England in 1860 as he promoted his second autobiography and lay low after being implicated in the Harpers Ferry raid. They both had hoped to visit France at the time, but both were denied passports under the argument that they were not U.S. citizens under the Dred Scot decision and therefore not entitled to one. Douglass turned back, and then returned to the U.S. after learning of the death of his daughter, Annie. Remond continued on defiantly, never returning to the country that had rejected her. After the Douglasses departed Rome for the last time, she sent along her love, telling Gertrude that "she treasures the pleasant memory of you both."

But, alas, this post is entering the range of TLDR ("too long didn't read") and must leave you hanging for the next entry. What did Douglass see in the Vatican and what did he think of it? 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Arriving in Rome

The Douglasses visited Rome twice in the winter and spring of 1887. The first time they arrived on January 19, "the day of days in our tour" Frederick proclaimed to his journal. "Like the mysterious lodestone to steel," he told a later audience, anyone with any love for history "is attracted by an invisible power and the attraction increases with every step of his approach" to Rome.

That was certainly the case for me. I chose Rome for my 50th birthday trip because, when I was in my early twenties and not so much living as existing in Houston, where everything was ugly and not allowed to stand for longer than 30 years, I wanted to see something that had endured longer than my own nation -- longer than Christ. I wanted to see beauty.

Unfortunately, the Douglasses arrived in Rome in the evening and, Frederick sighed, "we must curb our curiosity till morning." Waking added to their disappointment. "We were landed in the new part of the city which contradicted all our dreams of the Eternal City," he lamented, "To all appearances we might have been dropped down at any railway station in Paris, London or New York, or at some of the grand hotels at Saratoga or Coney Island."  I think that the young folk these days call that "humble bragging." Still, you can almost hear his crest fall as he describes a bustling, contemporary train station in which "all was more like an American town of the latest pattern than a city whose foundations were laid nearly a thousand years before the flight of Joseph and Mary into Egypt."

Perhaps all travelers experience that sort of clash between the imagined place and the city in which people actually live. For instance, on our first full day, we went to see the Colosseum, and a fundraiser for breast cancer research was taking place on the streets around the ancient center of the city.


I think I had prepared myself for that, or was used to the experience. Indeed, back when I was in my twenties, that was part of what I wanted to see: the juxtaposition of the ancient with the modern. You can find that around every corner in Rome, where every scratch on the earth's surface opens a layer of the past and half of the buildings seem held up by a wall built in the Middle Ages on a foundation build before Christ was born. As in this picture of the Teatro Marcello, which became part of a Medieval Villa, which is now apartments.

Here, the walls of an Etruscan temple lie under the Capitoline Museum, which is an edifice from the Renaissance, in a room built in the past decade to contain and preserve a bronze statue of Augustine dating to his own era.


The Douglasses checked into the Hotel Du Sud, located at 56 Via Capo le Case, which he pronounced "a very comfortable Hotel." I will confess that I did not do meticulous research before this particular trip because it was meant to be vacation with a little Douglass thrown in (I'm intending another that will be all Douglass), so I did not scope out the Hotel Du Sud's location before hand. Here is the Via Capo le Case according to my best friend, Google Maps.:


The heck of it is, I walked near there several times.

The Douglasses stayed in Rome until January 27, when they departed for Naples. In town for only a week, they saw the two major sites that draw most people to Rome: the ruins of the Roman Empire and the Vatican. 

This was the juxtaposition that fascinated Frederick. He later ruminated:
Here can be seen together the symbols of both Christian and pagan Rome; the temples of discarded gods and those of the accepted Savior of the world -- the Son of the Virgin Mary. Empires, principalities, powers and dominions have perished; altars and their gods have mingled with the dust; a religion which made men virtuous in peace and invincible in war, has perished or been supplanted, yet the Eternal City itself remains. 

Bearded Zeus becomes Jupiter becomes Michaelangelo's Creator. The Emperor becomes the Pope. Hadrian's Masoleum become the Pope's fortress becomes the Pope's palace. The statues of religious reverence become the statues of artistic reverence, but serve as the models for new objects of religious worship. The old myths become the metaphors for the new morality. The city regenerates.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Following Helen Douglass following Nathaniel Hawthorne on Capitoline Hill

Helen told her sister that, in the room with the "Dying Gladiator" in the Capitoline Museum, she and Eleanor Lewis "looked out of the same window Hawthorne mentions -- out over the old Roman Forum with the Colesseum at the farther end of it, and the beautiful Roman sky visible through one of its arches as he himself saw it."

Hawthorne, of course, having more time to revise and polish toward literary ends, and without the need to think of postage cost, described the scene further:
From one of the windows of this saloon, we may see a flight of broad stone steps, descending along side the antique and and massive foundation of the Capitol, toward the battered triumphal arch of Septimus Severus, right below.
Since Hawthorne's time in the American antebellum era, and indeed since the Douglass's time in the 1880s, the steps have been replaced with a driveway, somewhat visible in the picture above. The old, blown glass with its bubbles and waves makes a nice artistic rendition, but not so much a clear picture of the image, and my poor old digital camera (no, I do not own an iPhone) could not do much better. This model in another part of the museum shows the steps. The building containing the "Dying Gladiator" room is just northeast of the center of the picture and the steps run straight down, just to the right of that large building.:


That large building can be seen here in this picture. It is not the whit building topped with winged statues at either end that you can see in the distance. I actually mistook that one for the Capitoline Museum when we first arrived, but soon corrected. Not after we took a ride to the roof for a spectacular view of the city, however!

Septimus Severus's arch is the full triumphal arch there just above and to the right of the center of the picture. It is not quite so beat up as Hawthorne would have you believe, given what you see around it. The Roman Senate is the plain building to the right, with the forum opening out before both there on the right side of the picture.


Indeed, Hawthorne as more to say of this view from his and Helen's vantage in the museum:
Farther on, the eye skirts along the edge of the desolate Forum (where Roman washerwomen hang out their linen to the sun), passing over a shapeless confusion of modern edifices, piled rudely up with ancient brick and stone, and over the domes of Christian churches, built on the old pavements of heathen temples and supported by the very pillars that once upheld them. 
 At a distance beyond -- y et but a little way, considering how much history is heaped into the intervening space -- rises the great sweep of the Coliseum, with the blue sky brightening through its upper tier of arches. 
 Far off, the view is shut in by the Alban Mountains, looking just the same, amid all this decay and change, as when Romulus gazed thitherward over his half finished wall.
 
 We glance hastily at these things, -- at this bright sky, and those blue distant mountains, and at the ruins, Etruscan, Roman, Christian, venerable with a threefold antiquity, and at the company of world-famous statues in the saloon, -- in the hope of putting the reader into that state of feeling which is experienced oftenest at Rome. It is a vague sense of ponderous remembrances; a perception of such weight and density in a bygone life, of which this spot was the centre, that the present moment is pressed down or crowded out, and our individual affairs and interest are but half as real here as elsewhere.
These last pictures, I confess, were not taken from the Capitoline Museum but from the top of the Palatine Hill and the top of that gigantic white museum. You can see the domes, and the Colosseum. You see the forum and the ruins. No washerwomen hang laundry there any longer. They are now closed off as a protected park for which you must buy a ticket for admittance and in which archaeologists continue to ask questions of the stones.

Crowded with tourists now, and entrepreneurs selling hats, water, and selfie sticks -- oh, my god! the ubiquitous selfie sticks!-- between this park and the Colosseum, this heart of the Roman Empire still beats. Every language and every skin color: all roads still lead to Rome.

I also confess that this trip was in celebration of my own half-century mark, which occurs this July. Although I am riding up Fortuna's Wheel at this moment, Hawthorne was correct, "the present moment is pressed down or crowded out." The history, the city's, the world's, the Douglasses', Hawthorne's, my own, all walk together like ghosts. If you don't want to feel old, go somewhere that is much older.

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Notes:




Friday, June 2, 2017

Following Helen Douglass Following Nathaniel Hawthorne

After visiting Egypt in spring 1887, the Douglasses returned to Rome in April. Helen had become friends with Eleanor Lewis (who, I confess, I misidentified as Edmonia Lewis in my book), the niece of watercolorist Adelia Gates, both of whom lived in the Eternal City at the time. 

"We went together to the Capitoline Museum," Helen wrote to her sister, Jennie, "in which is the room described by Hawthorne in the Marble Faun. The dying Gladiator, the original, occupies the middle of the room."


Here is the description from Hawthorne that she references:
It was in that room (the first after ascending the staircase) in the centre of which reclines the noble and most pathetic figure of the Dying Gladiator, just sinking into his death-swoon.

Around the walls stand the Antinous,
the Amazon,
the Lycian Apollo,
the Juno;
all famous productions of antique sculpture, and still shining in the undiminished majesty and beauty of their ideal life, although the marble that embodies them is yellow with time, and perhaps corroded by the damp earth in which thy lay buried for centuries.
Helen thought "the Faun and an Antinous are most lovely." The faun no longer stands in that room, if it did when she visited, but lies in the next room over.


You can tell it is a faun by its tail.:


I wish she had described what she thought was so lovely about each. The Antinous strikes me as bland, but the red of this faun, his muscular definition, and  his devilish joy make me think, "oh, Helen, you minx!" She likely did not think that way, but her attraction to these two male forms suggests a heterosexual appreciation for a powerful physique. Of course, we already knew that about her given that her husband was renowned for his own, and kept himself physically fit well to his last days.

(My own husband, by the way, thought that the griffin was taken aback by the damage done to Apollo's manhood. The griffin does look as if he is saying, "whoa! Dude! What happened?")

Hawthorne, too, described a statue that was no longer in that room.
Here, likewise, is seen a symbol (as apt at this moment as it was two thousand years ago) of the Human Soul, with its choice of Innocence or Evil close at hand, in the pretty figure of a child, clasping a dove to her bosom, but assaulted by a snake.
It took me a while to find that sculpture, and I passed more than one of a child playing with a snake, but no dove.


I began to wonder if Hawthorne had invented the piece for art's sake. (I also wondered about Roman parents and the pets that they allowed their children. Perhaps this had something to do with high rates of infant mortality? Or maybe this just taught kids to be tough?)

Finally, in the last room that I entered, across from the Gladiator's room, I found her. She wasn't called "Human Soul," but "Child with Bird and Snake" or something similarly banal. 


You would hardly know she had a snake coiling about her because its head has broken off, but here she is.


After the "Dying Gladiator," Helen and Eleanor wandered through the faun's room, down a long gallery of busts and statues, and further on. "Two rooms of busts there, are most interesting ones," she told Jennie, "containing busts, all ancient, and supposable from life, of philosophers and renowned intellectual men and one of the Emperors. The first is my room...


...and the second is Miss Lewis' room."



The day that I was there, the staff were cleaning the busts in Miss Lewis' room.


In Helen's day, they probably used a feather duster. 

Her attraction to the room of philosophers makes sense, given that her attraction to her husband was also intellectual. Political power seemed to hold little interest for her, but moral and mental force along with the physical charisma captured her attention enough to enter into a daring marriage.

Both Hawthorne and Helen Douglass commented on the view from the room of the "Dying Gladiator," but that is a post for another time.
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Notes:


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Online Interview at Black Perspectives

Ibram X. Kendi interviewed me about Women in the World of Frederick Douglass  for his blog series featuring new books in African American history and African Diaspora Studies at Black Perspective. Here is the link: http://www.aaihs.org/the-womans-rights-man-a-new-book-on-women-in-frederick-douglasss-world/


Monday, May 22, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Man is by Nature a migratory animal"

From "My Foreign Travels," Douglass's December 15, 1887 speech to a crowd at the AME Metropolitan Church about his European tour.:

Man is by Nature a migratory animal. It does not appear that he was intended to swell forever in any one locality. He is a born traveler.
Assuming that he originated in one quarter of the globe only, which is the orthodox view of creation, I believe his present diffusion over the broad earth, shows that he must have early developed this migratory tendency: And when we consider the present passion for travel, the thousands who strain every nerve and muscle to raise the means to go abroad, the loss of time and money sustained, the comforts abandoned at home, and the discomforts borne patiently with abroad, the bad air breathed on ships, the dust, smoke and cinders swallowed on railways, the dangers to life and limb encountered -- we must admit that this migratory tendency, if original, has lost nothing of its intensity in the transmission.

The tendency to travel had taken Douglass's generation, with the expenses declining and the availability of Baedeker's travel guides removing some of the uncertainty. Cultural enlightenment and polish was within reach of parts of the middle class.

Some of us still yearn to move, to see, to partake of that western culture, of the waves of those who have gone before us as actors and tourists. So we shall! Not breathing bad air on ships, but crammed within airplanes (and in one of the middle seats in the middle sections). Not with dust, smoke and cinders, but other pollutants in new cities, different from those in our own cities. What danger to life and limb? I'd rather not contemplate, but the migratory intensity has been transmitted, if only temporarily.  I shall try to find some of the places that pulled him to Rome, Florence, and Venice.

Douglass pondered that Adam "might perhaps have remained at home, contented and happy with Mr.s Adam in the Garden of Eden until now. But they both seemed to have had a very strong desire for knowledge, and something of a roaming disposition." He traveled with his own Mrs. Adam, the second Mrs. Douglass, Helen. I too shall be traveling with my Mr. Adam, who shall remain nameless, as he wishes. I only mention him to point out that this is not a Douglass-centered visit but a vacation on which I hope to visit the same sites as Douglass. I shall have another person's itinerary to consider, as well. As much as he is willing to oblige my obsession, he is only human. Fortunately, like Douglass's Mrs. Adam, we two -- or we four -- have the same desire for knowledge of the same things.

Until we return!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Dreams Come True!

For some reason, seeing Women in the World of Frederick Douglass in the bookstore made me feel like a real, legitimate author. That's silly, magical thinking, as if all of the writing and researching weren't real and legitimate. As if the last book's researching and writing and appearing in a bookstore wasn't real and legitimate. As if the previous book's research and writing weren't, either. All of that was spectacular! Yet, somehow, seeing it in a commercial bookstore seemed like a crowing achievement. My 11 and 12 and 13 year old selves who fantasized about having a book published and sold in B. Dalton or Walden Books -- the chains in those days -- exploded from deep inside of me and we all whooped and shouted and danced around Barnes and Noble when we saw this book looking back at us from the shelf. One of the saleswomen came over and said, "I just have to know, what is it?"

"I wrote that!"

 And a friend sent me a picture from another store, too.:
And yet another friend sent me a picture from a store in D.C.:
Sometimes, dreams come true!