April 9, 2013

Cranch and Story: poesy and art and mirth

Both Christopher Pearse Cranch and William Wetmore Story dabbled in art and poetry — and were successful in each field. They became particularly close in the 1850s. The two men went to Europe at the same time and spent time together in Rome, Paris, and London. In 1855, Cranch described Story as "a good, constant and warm-hearted friend, and congenial to all my tastes."

Story was particularly known as a sculptor, and Cranch praised his work and particularly the statue of Cleopatra, which he concluded was "great. I have seen no modern statue, American or European, that impressed me so much." Story, in turn, convinced Cranch to continue his series of writings for children (the "Huggermugger" series) and even secured his publisher.

Cranch reportedly had a portrait of Story in the study at his home on Ellery Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Story, in turn, sketched Cranch at least twice (one is pictured above, the other is here). Story made Europe his permanent home, however, and Cranch seldom saw him. Expressing his lament over the distance, Cranch wrote a poem (or, more accurately, a sonnet) to his artist friend, dated April 9, 1870, and titled "To W. W. S.":

So many years have passed, so far away
You seem, since arm in arm and eye to eye
We talked together, while the great blue sky
Of Rome smiled over us day after day,
Or on the flower-starred villa grounds we lay
Beneath the pines, while poesy and art
And mirth lent us one common mind and heart.
So long ago! while we are growing gray,
And neither knows the life the other leads,
Shut in our separate spheres of thought and change.
Friend of my youth, how oft my spirit needs
The old, responsive voice! Silence is strange,
That so conspires with Time. O, let us break
The spell, and speak, at least for old love's sake!

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