March 31, 2012

Brith of Appleton: deeply, darkly, beautifully blue

Thomas Gold Appleton was born in Boston on March 31, 1812, though he rarely stayed in one place after. The day after his 21st birthday in 1833, he joined his family on a trip to Europe. It was his first major experience as a traveler. It immediately had a profound impact on him. As he wrote at the time:

The air exhilarated, the waters sparkled, and the bell rang. Handkerchiefs waved, hands were kissed, and we were off. The weather was so fine that the little steamer was filled with a delightful party of girls, ladies, and other passengers... In the evening the moon rose full and cloudless, the sun setting in the west in a sheet of crimson. We conversed and promenaded till eleven, and then retired to our berths.

A few days later, he continued his journal:

The sea a most beautiful sight; lying in shifting light and shadow, "deeply, darkly, beautifully blue"—that blue which I had heard of, but never saw before. The water hissed and simmered as we clove its ridges, running off from the sides in long, undulating sheets of foam, with partial breaks of the most exquisite beryl tint. I have leaned this morning hours on the taffrail, gazing at the stir and tumult, the many beautiful shapes of the wreathed spray, or watching the effects of light and shadow— light which makes the distant billows look like a twisted and wrinkled strip of tin-foil, and shadow that gives to the sharp edge of the horizon the hue and outline of a hacked carving-knife. Excuse the romance of the similes, for their truth.

In his adult years, he called either Boston or Cambridge his home, though he was equally likely to be found in New York, or at sea (particularly the summer home in Nahant, Massachusetts that he shared with his brother-in-law Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and family).  Later, he also traveled to Palestine and Syria (a trip which inspired his book Syrian Sunshine).

A painter, poet, essayist, and travel writer, Appleton was particularly well-known among the New England literati. Today, little of his work is remembered, though he is recognized for his philanthropy: he was a trustee in the early years of both the Boston Public Library and Museum of Fine Arts in that city. His family wealth allowed him to experience culture, learning, and art and hoped others could share in the experience. Appleton was also recognized for his wit. He is credited with the the line that "All good Americans, when they die, go to Paris." Further, on his deathbed in 1884, he reportedly looked forward to whatever happened next by noting, "it will be a new experience."

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