April 17, 2010

It will be a new experience

In the circle of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, several people assisted him in his pursuit to bring continental European culture to the English-speaking world. Some of these friends included George Washington Greene, James Russell Lowell, and George Ticknor. Perhaps he had no closer relationship, however, than with Thomas Gold Appleton, his brother-in-law.

Appleton and Longfellow first met in Switzerland and it is there that the young professor fell for the beautiful Frances "Fanny" Appleton. They married after a seven-year courtship.

Tom Appleton published more books than did Longfellow on varying topics, ranging from travel essays to art books to poetry, many signed as "TGA." Heavily cultured, Appleton dabbled in poetry and painting, though he never amassed more than a local reputation in his 72 years. In the Boston area, however, he was known as a patron of the fine arts and for his witticisms

He once said that all good Americans, when they die, go to Paris. Instead, he died of pneumonia in New York at age 72 on April 17, 1884, having outlived his sister and her husband. On his deathbed he noted that death "will be a new experience." TGA had already experienced quite a bit in his life. He was incredibly well-traveled, and wrote (or created art) based on these experiences, including this poem about "A Sunset on the Nile" (which Longfellow published in his anthology Poems on Places):

Past emerald plains and furrowed mountains old,
Whose violet gorges snare the wandering eye,
The pillared palms day's dying ember's hold,
Like shafts of bronze against the crimson sky,
And every cloud mirrors its rosy fold
In tremulous waves which blush and wander by —
We float, and feel the magic penetrate,
Till all our soul is colored by the hues,
Making a heaven of earth, and, satiate
With splendor, we forego the use
Of speech, and reverently wait
While fades the glory with the falling dews,
And darkness seals for memory each gleam,
Happy to know it was not all a dream.


  1. Hey Rob,

    Wasn't Fanny Appleton the daughter of the Lowell Mills honcho Nathan Appleton? Lowell is a pretty interesting town of its own, including its many connections to the 20th-century writer Jack Kerouac. Returning to the 19th, the painter James A. McNeill Whistler was born in Lowell, I believe; his father worked for the canal system there (I think).

  2. That's right - Nathan was one of the five founding businessmen of Lowell. They love Kerouac up there. One of my most positive cemetery visits was my attempts at finding his burial plot. The Whistler birthplace in Lowell is open to the public as an art gallery and, I believe, as a function hall.

  3. Hope you found Jack's grave. It's sort of low-key but usually has some interesting ornaments left by devotees (booze bottles, guitar picks), and--last July--a little crumpled square of paper on which was penned, "Thanks, Jack--you saved my life." (Poignant, since Kerouac couldn't save his own.) Not far off is a statue--much more visible--of an Indian chief ("great warrior and friend to the white man") known as "an Indian saint," who supposedly lived to be 122 years old. I never made it to the Whistler home during my visit to Lowell: Kerouac and the mills filled-up the whole day. Meant to say earlier that Kerouac loved Thoreau, and was inspired by Whitman.