Memorials That Do Adorn
( Originally Published 1922 )
Well out in the hilly edge of the city to the northward, and near the Soldiers' Home, is a rather large graveyard, called that of Rock Creek, containing a number of old graves with many more recent ones. An interesting feature is little St. Paul's Church, something over two hundred years old, which still retains much of its old-time aspect in spite of having suffered from prosperity, restoration and fire. It is the oldest church within the limits of the District of Columbia. It is a quaint little brick structure with the black brick headers of long ago, with a short nave, rather squarish, and with much English ivy on its old walls. Such fascinating old brick churches, all of about the same period, are to be found in many of the old parishes through all of eastern Maryland. A benefactor of long ago gave this church a glebe of one hundred acres, of hill and valley, and the glebe is now crowded with graves. The donor, one Bradford, a strange New England name for this part of the world, lies under a stone near the entrance, and immediately around the old church are a few flat quaint table-gravestones. There is a distinct effect of loneliness, owing largely to ancient monumental oaks about and near the church, and emphasized by the absence of vehicles, whose entrance is forbidden.
On a hillside, some distance below the church, on a slope where the graves are thick, stands a group of gloomy trees, narrow cedars and tall umbrageous pines and massed rhododendrons and bushy low-growing laurel; and secluded within this solemn grouping, with "tall black pines like nodding plumes over the bier to wave," is a solitary grave guarded by a wonderful figure in bronze.
It is a Saint Gaudens masterpiece, this monument, in absolute seclusion. The brooding bronze figure guards the tomb of the wife of Henry Adams, great-grandson of the second President, John Adams.
Facing a massive stone bench, in the cloistered shade of the evergreens, hidden from the blue sky, is a large bronze figure seated on a gloomy rock; a real rock, not one of bronze. The bronze draperies are solemnly simple: "clinging like cerements."
A cloak-like garment covers head and figure, with only one arm and the face emergent.
And such a face! A face representing the finality of death. It is a strong face, a fine face, a beautiful face, a face that stays in the memory.
Pettiness is not there; ostentation is not there; there is no grief expressed in chiseled words—no name.
It is impressive. It is a little open-air temple of silence. It is a woman who will brood throughout all eternity. Seated on the black stone, her back is against a monolith. Her chin is upon her hand. Her eyes are cast down. She is musing and her revery will last forever.
As one leaves it and turns across the hills, under giant oaks, one likes to remember that Saint Gaudens and Henry Adams were two of a group of close friends. The son of Saint Gaudens has re-corded that his father worked on this statue with infinite delight, and that he wrote to Adams that this was to be the "result of Michelangelo, Buddha and Saint Gaudens." Ten years or more after it was in place, in 1903, the sculptor stood in front of the monument and said that he wished he could remodel the fold at the knees. Then, after a pause: "I believe that would be all I would do." Adams found in it, "The Peace of God," but Saint Gaudens him-self called it, "The Mystery of the Hereafter."
This memorial bronze, so quietly and unostentatiously placed, the memory of the great love of a quiet and unostentatious life, undoubtedly ranks with the great monuments of the world.
One of the delightful sentences of Shakespeare is as modern sounding as if it were written but yesterday: "The memorials and the works of art that do adorn the city." Shakespeare makes these words refer to an Italian city, but how they apply to the American city on the Potomac!—rich as it has become in memorials and is becoming in works of art.
Memorials may take such a fine variety of forms. And this thought especially comes because Henry Adams, who had the Rock Creek Memorial made, could look out of his own window on Lafayette Square and see some superb memorials massed thick in front of his vision. It has long been believed that the great old trees that beautify the square, the glorious elms, the most beautifully boled beeches, the great gloomy pines, the great glossy-leaved magnolias, were planted as memorials to the then existent States. The number did not represent a work of forestration as it would to-day, but made much more than the original Thirteen.
One of the most familiar of the great number of outstanding memorials in Washington is the Dupont Fountain, in the center of an elm-bordered circle at the crossing of the three highly important avenues, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire . What a New England setting! In the usual Washington way with its circles, 19th and P streets also take the opportunity to run in and out again.
Back in the time of the Civil War, Congress voted a monument at this confluence of thoroughfares for Admiral Dupont. The neighborhood at that time was sparsely settled and quite ordinary, and the monument was paltry in quality, showing Dupont as a square-built, rugged man; which was sufficiently fitting, as he seems to have done square-built, rugged work in his Civil War career. But as the city developed, and this section and the thoroughfares became important, and great houses were built on them, the very wealthy Dupont family became rather conscious of the humdrum monument to their forbear and, accustomed to building roads across States or doing anything else that came. into their minds as desirable, they decided to do away with the humdrum and put up a beautiful memorial fountain on the now magnificent circle which Congress had so conveniently provided. Daniel Chester French was engaged as sculptor and Henry Bacon as architect—the names are worth remembering as their united work is so fine here and in other and greater work—and the Art Commission promptly passed in favor of the desirability of the proposed memorial. There is a simple, stately beauty about it. The bottom of the fountain is a broad pool from which rise emergent three lovely female figures, tucked as if in shelter within the paneled white-stone stem, and charmingly representative of the Sea, the Wind and the Stars—highly suitable for an admiral ! From the perfectly curving white basin above their heads the water overflows and falls so as to frame these hauntingly graceful figures.
This Dupont fountain, sheltered within the old greenery of the Circle, is a most successful example of a small memorial, attracting immense attention. Everybody knows it as a landmark not to be confused with any other; and in this it is not in the least like most of the equestrian circle-centers of Washington, which are confused one with another in the public mind.
Not only have there been many new memorials planned and built, but there is a constant ebullition of ideas, developing a line of further memorials of one or another kind. A great memorial bridge is planned between the Lincoln memorial and Arlington. One enterprising citizen after another thinks of a supposed need and pushes it, such as a huge campanile with the greatest chime of bells in the world. Of course, being American, it has to be the "greatest peal in the world!" It is hoped that each State will supply a bell; and the carillon is to be rung on every joyous national occasion. A Memorial Hall, with a great bronze star for every soldier killed in war, is another of the plans. Another project is that of a hillside devoted to gardens and outdoor theatricals, with buildings for women's advancement. And al-ready there are avenues of young memorial trees, and old beechwoods are preserved to honor a President who liked them.
The Freer Gallery, one of the wonderful things that has newly come to Washington, will never be forgotten in recapitulating the adorning structures of the city. The building was designed, built and endowed by Charles L. Freer of Detroit, and the collections to date were personally made by him. There has previously been no collection of Oriental porcelains in Washington museums, and the Freer collection will begin to fill the want.
There is some doubt as to what the precise scope of the collection will develope into, but it has the precious Oriental china, which Washington needs very much, and many paintings by the best American artists.
As a beginning, a unique exhibit will be the most striking of the works of James McNeill Whistler. For the home of Frederick R. Leyland in Prince's Gate, London, Whistler made a most colorful decoration : an elaborate and even whimsical peacock design.
But, with Whistler, friendships always came to an end. No man ever better understood the gentle art of making enemies! And somehow, before many years, the peacock decoration was not in the Leyland home, nor was it even in England, for it appeared as the principal decoration of Freer's home in Detroit. And now it is to be the most important initial exhibit of the exquisite Freer Gallery.
The bridges of the city are of high decorative importance. Especially notable is the long structure, a high-level bridge leading Connecticut Avenue over the ravine of Rock Creek and bringing into a fine thoroughfare connection a whole district previously isolated by a deep wooded valley. On each approach of this great wide bridge is a splendid monumental lion, just uprising in a guarding posture. There is a parklike setting to the bridge and its approaches and its spaciousness is marked off by bronze eagles on pillars.
With its entrance just off Massachusetts Avenue near Sheridan Circle is the striking I Street bridge with its approaches marked by great statuesque bison: these two bridges making structures that would anywhere be distinctly memorable. The great Bison bridge gives a fine motor approach, again over the ravine of Rock Creek, and in this case to George-town. The old and still main-traveled road to 'Georgetown at Pennsylvania Avenue is not notable for beauty.
The famous "Long Bridge" across the Potomac, so noted in local and national history, vanished long ago. As I write, you go to the Virginia side of the Potomac through Georgetown over an old bridge, but the great new bridge called the Key Memorial is nearly finished and will be a great thoroughfare to Fort Meyer and Arlington. It is named in honor of the author of the Star Spangled Banner. In time there will be another and magnificent bridge beside the Lincoln Memorial, connecting the Mall with the Virginia shore.
A fine kind of memorial, the spirit of which would well be imitated, is shown in a small memorial fountain set unobtrusively just outside the southern edge of the White House grounds. It is a simple fountain, but at the same time not insignificant. It is bowered in pleasant greenery and was put up in memory of two men, Captain Archibald Butt, a White House aide and F. D. Millet, artist and author, who bravely and unostentatiously gave their lives, in order that others might not perish, in the great disaster of the Lusitania. Its location is fine from the standpoint of sentiment, for it is within sight of the White House where one was aide, but its placing is destructive to the symmetry of the grounds, and it is not therefore looked on with favor in its present place.
There could not be a finer reason for a memorial or one that would inspire to nobler purpose. Of all Washingtonians, none past or present would have so appreciated the manly bravery of Butts and Millet as would have the great kind-hearted Lincoln, and now their monuments, great and small, are in sight of each other.
Grandest of all the memorials in Washington is the Lincoln Memorial, at the western end of the Mall near the edge of the Potomac. It is the greatest monument that has ever been erected to the memory of one man. It is a superbly pillared temple of great size, of great symmetry, of great impressiveness, of great effectiveness.
It is centered on a straight line extending from the entrance of the Capitol, down the Mall, and directly through Washington Monument.
The Lincoln Memorial is serene, tremendous, massive, yet is at the same time of exquisite beauty. It is rectangular in shape. It is nearly two hundred feet long. Its central hall is within a colonnade of enormous fluted columns, double upon the eastern front, the main facade, which faces toward the Capitol.
The pillars number thirty-six, to keep in mind the number of States forming the Union when Lincoln died. The pillars are enormous in size, being seven feet four inches in diameter at the base and forty-four feet high. They are deemed to be the largest of their kind in the world, and the capstones are of unsurpassed size—yet the wonder continues that everything gives an impression of delicacy in connection with enduring strength; such as is the case with the splendid roof, perfect in proportions, distinguished in design.
Isolated and serene, the Memorial stands on an artificial mound that raises it above the level of the surrounding land. Henry Bacon was the architect and he devoted himself with intensity to the task that, more than anything else, must represent the labor and pleasure of his life.
Within the central hall, which is seventy feet long by sixty high, is a statue of Lincoln by Daniel Chester French. The figure is seated and is faintly remindful of the standing Lincoln in Chicago : and if not quite the equal of that incomparable statue it is at least adequate. It is a figure of dignity, and, with the rested elbows and the wide Roman seat, fits perfectly the general shape of the room. Lincoln looks thoughtfully out, between the pillars of the main entrance, and off past the monument to his great predecessor Washington, to the Capitol.
Something attempted with far sighted skill is the building of a highly pictorial narrow lagoon approaching the Memorial. The reflections and shadows are remindful of those in the long water basin at the front of the Taj Mahal, where the white arch and dome show double. The enchanting reflections and shadows have been so studied that they are here to be marvelous—the water-shadows of the Memorial as one approaches it, and of the Washington Monument as one looks back. These effects were worked out experimentally with a temporary basin, and now permanent stone is to be built in and the effect will be of ethereal loveliness with an environment of dark and formal trees.
In a room at one side of the interior is a great tablet of bronze on which is forever inscribed Lincoln's Second Inaugural, and in a similar room on the other side is his Gettysburg Address. The tablets are of immense impressiveness, and it is worth while seeing before us, on one side: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in," and on the other side a tablet where one is thrilled to read: "That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
On each side of the bronze tablets are modeled, as parts of the tablets, long palm branches of bronze, curiously simple and impressive, and above the tablets are high-banded mural decorations by Jules Guerin, in dullish blue and red and brown and green; positive yet tempered. These take the coldness from the room and give an impression of a living memorial rather than the feeling of a tomb.
The Memorial gives a distinguished and curious feeling of isolation: one feels, in going toward the pillared glory, as if walking across the plain to pillared Paestum. Yet this Memorial, although it has a landscape to itself, is readily reachable, for it is on the Potomac's bank, adjacent to the main part of the city and across from the heights of Arlington.
Never before in history has a man begun as humbly as in Lincoln's log cabin and attained such memorial fame. Immovable, immortal, eminent such was Lincoln and such is this monument.