“How convenient a refuge is Italian!” So begins a letter dated January 11, 1883 from young sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931; perhaps best known for his statue of Lincoln) to his friend Elizabeth (“Beth”) Hoar (1854-1924). Both the Hoar and French families lived in Concord and socialized regularly. Beth’s brother Sherman (1860-1898) was a model for French’s statue of John Harvard in Harvard Yard.
The January 11 letter is one of a half dozen playful, gallant, flirtatious letters from French to Beth Hoar (“Princess”) in the Bowles-Hoar Family Papers in the Archives and Special Collections. French’s letters date from this one, written when Beth was planning a trip to Europe, to 1923, some six months before she died. Undoubtedly, there were others that did not survive. The first few letters date from before Beth’s marriage to Samuel Bowles IV in June, 1884. It’s impossible to know the full nature of their relationship from these letters alone, but they certainly suggest (and thereby provide entertaining speculation briefly indulged here) that there might have been a romance somehow nipped in the bud. Or did French write to all his female friends in the same manner? His daughter’s biography, Life of Daniel Chester French: Journey into Fame indicates that he was popular with the young women in Concord. At the moment, the evidence for his relationship with Beth Hoar is confined to reading between the lines of these letters. French married his cousin Mary in 1886.
139 West 55th St.
New York, Jan. 11, 1883
Mia cara Signorina,
How convenient a refuge is Italian!
I have delayed answering your letter, till I should find a time of comparative calm in this confusion of getting my studio in order, to appreciate the privilege as it deserved.
It is needless to say that your letter gave me great pleasure, and if so simple an offering as a box of candy would always be productive of so excellent a result, I should be tempted to repeat the experiment often.
Yes, the money I left with your mother was for the paper-knife, and you are committed to executing the commission which you try to excuse yourself from, on the plea of my not wanting it! Do not think to escape in any such way; I may look lenient, but I am not. Want it? Haven’t I been suffering ever since I came here, because I neglected to bring a paper [folder] with me? No, I will not put it carefully away at all, but shall put it on my writing table and use it daily – unless I conclude to hang it on my walls. Please don’t imagine that I know so little of the value of [?] as to think I am paying for it; I only seized upon this as a simple method of getting you to make me a present.
I shall certainly want to see Mr. Allen’s studio, after seeing the enthusiasm it called forth from you.
When is the ball to be. If this month, as I fear, I can hardly hope to enjoy it. It is very kind of you to remember my intention of coming home to it.
You have no idea how dissipated my life has been this week – a dinner of the Society of Am. Artists Monday night, a German Tuesday night with cousin Bessie, 10-3, awfully swell! And last night a dinner and the theatre, with whom but cousin John? He will tell you how we wept over the play.
I have now thanked you for sending to me as a Christmas card the one that you know I wanted. I intended my New Year’s gift as a recognition of it.
Please remember me to my friends within your gates and believe me
Dan C. French
July 28, 1883
To the Princess, Greeting,
Why am I writing to you? Simply because I want to and this, being vacation, I have no intention of denying myself anything agreeable. Moreover a very immediate reply is expected!
So you have extended your journey as I predicted; and, I have no doubt, will carry out my prediction still further, and spend the winter abroad. Alas, why did we ever let you try your wings? I fear we shall never be able to toll you back to this narrow cage.
And I hear you are delighted with Paris and that you are going to operas and indulging in all manner of gaiety in that frivolous city. Paris does not seem at all to harmonize with you as I imagine it, though, to be sure be sure, you changed the role of the lily for that of the cardinal flower, one hardly knows what garden you do belong in.
Cardinal flower! That reminds me that it is near the time for our annual row (long o, please) – a fresh cause for regret that you are away, but there is a new one every hour so that it revolves itself into one prolonged sensation.
My season in New York ended two weeks ago when I came home and have been trying very hard to loaf ever since. I so far conceded to my aversion to idleness a week ago as to open my studio, and should certainly find myself in the [mill] again, if I had not laid various plans for visiting.
Concord is very quiet this summer, even the philosophers [being] less aggressive than usual – and far less numerous. As to “the girls,” Miss Florence and Marion are starring this season, all the rest of the troupe (pardon me) having been withdrawn from this scene. It runs thus; Wednesday night, tennis with Miss Florence and Marion; Thursday, driving with Marion; Friday, bowling with Marion and Miss Florence; tonight, tea at Miss Florence’s with Marion – whist afterwards. “I like taffy, but!” I am at your mercy.
Are you really going to stay all winter? If you know how much you are missed (I could easily make it much less general than that) you would not be so cruel. Please come home.
I have a large bunch of sweet peas from your garden on the desk before me.
The collection also contains two small drawings that Dan French made for Beth. One is a reflection on their friendship showing the pleasures of the past (including the “annual row”) and lamenting the march of time. It probably dates around the time of Beth’s engagement.
The other drawing is for Beth’s son Samuel V, probably dating around the time of his first birthday in 1886.
Perhaps the last word (here, at least) on French’s relationship with Beth is at the Brooklyn Museum. And it’s not really a “word.” A writer for the Brooklyn Museum’s blog posted an entry in 2007 that included a photograph of one of the figures by Dan French on the museum’s facade. The figure is that of “Greek Lyric Poetry.” When the image of this statue opened on the screen, I thought at once of a picture of Beth in the Bowles-Hoar Family Papers. What do you think — did he immortalize her in this way on the facade, and did he place her there anonymously, to speak to him alone?
Additional information about Daniel Chester French may be found here:
http://chesterwood.org/ (French’s studio in Stockbridge, Mass.)
http://www.concordlibrary.org/scollect/Fin_Aids/DCFrench.htm (Concord Free Public Library)
http://chapin.williams.edu/collect/chesterwood.html (Williams College)
http://international.loc.gov/service/mss/eadxmlmss/eadpdfmss/2009/ms009274.pdf (Library of Congress)