Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 6

Friday. 18th.

Sunday. 20th.

Saturday. 19th. CFA Saturday. 19th. CFA
Saturday. 19th.
New Bedford

The weather continues fine as it rarely is at this part of the season. We arose early and made our preparations for leaving this spot. After having accompanied Mr. Silliman to the room of a portrait painter Mr. Swain who appears to have some merit,1 we walked down to the Steamboat but it was not quite ready, so that we waited a considerable 222time on the Wharf. This was disagreeable as the knowledge of our departure was rapidly bringing down persons to the Wharf. The presence of a band with the Circus company which has been performing here for some time and which is now leaving with us added to the noise and bustle. This band had serenaded my father last evening and now when the Steamboat rounded off produced quite scenic effect. Thus we left this singular Community, one which is worth seeing, but not worth envying.

Yet I was pleased with the civility of the people, their freedom from pomp and the kindness which they manifested. One old captain Myrick especially drew me aside and expressed so much very plain but honest respect for our name that I felt as I always do upon such occasions that there is some compensation to a public man for his trials and mortifications.

Our passage across the Shoals to the Vineyard was a very favorable one and here we left Mr. Paine whom I have never known much before. My impressions of his character as a companion are not favorable. Distinction has turned his head. How few men of Note in this world can keep themselves fit for social intercourse! Prosperity and it’s trials are full of moral for a reflecting mind.

From the Vineyard we went across to Woodville and then over the fine sheet of water called Buzzard’s bay to New Bedford. The band again struck up as we came up to the Wharf, and no sooner did we touch than a crowd rushed in and there were appearances of a design to make an affair of the reception. My father manages these matters very awkwardly and I feeling no disposition to make part of the train to follow him to his lodgings took a circuitous route and got to the house where we were expected before him.2 But the afternoon was taken up by the various visitors and by looking at the place.

New Bedford is an offshoot from Nantucket and more thriving than the original stem. Both equally depend upon the Whaling business which is now carried on to an extent far too great for permanent success. The fortunes suddenly made at this place have poured themselves out upon the surface in the shape of Houses and grounds. We were taken to see the street which has lately risen like Magic and which presents more noble looking mansions than any other in this Country. In the most beautiful and expensive one we were asked to go and accordingly went through it. It belongs to a Mr. J. A. Parker who has built and furnished it in a manner as costly as any of the most extravagant of the modern Boston houses. He himself and his family present to it the greatest incongruity.3

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After having seen and duly admired, we went on to Mr. Arnold’s where we stopped. He took us over his garden which has been laid out with much taste. The presence of a female of taste is perceptible in it.4 Having gone through it we were ushered into the house and found Mrs. Arnold, her daughter, and his sister to whom we were introduced. The melancholy story which has saddened this family for life made me feel surprised to see Miss Arnold. But I conversed with her for some time and found her a woman whose mind will always prevent her from being despicable in any body’s eyes. Mrs. Arnold too is a lady as there are not many.5

A considerable number of gentlemen came in during the evening, but circumstances made it wearisome to me. After a beautiful fruit collation I hurried home before the rest of the party.

1.

Probably William Swain, on whom see Groce and Wallace, Dict. Amer. Artists.

2.

The party had lodgings at Mrs. Doubleday’s inn, “The Mansion House,” formerly the home of William Rotch Sr. and opened as an hostelry in 1828 (JQA, Diary, 19 Sept.).

3.

The residence which John Avery Parker built in 1833 to plans by Russell Warren of Providence was the finest of the “palace houses” erected along County Street in New Bedford and was reputed to have cost $125,000. Parker, who organized and was for many years president of the Merchants’ Bank, had accumulated his fortune, the largest in the city, only in recent years, through whaling. Without the New Bedford or Nantucket background of most of New Bedford’s leaders, his career has been called “curious.” He had been rebuffed by the selectmen of Westport as not desired when he attempted to settle there in 1792. In 1804 he received a license in New Bedford to sell liquor, but in 1808 a meeting of his creditors was advertised. By 1816, however, he had recovered sufficiently to be a bank director, and thereafter his rise had been rapid. (Zephaniah W. Pease, History of New Bedford, 3 vols., N.Y., 1918, 1:130–131, 329; Pease, The Centenary of the Merchants National Bank, New Bedford, 1925, p. 10–13, 27–28, 43–44; a portrait of Parker faces p. 20.)

4.

Although there were finer mansions along County Street than that of James Arnold and his wife, the former Sarah Rotch, the Arnold residence, built in 1821, remained for fifty years the showpiece for visitors by reason of its parklike setting, the elegance of its furnishings, and the hospitality of its owners (Zephaniah W. Pease, “The Arnold Mansion and its Traditions,” Old Dartmouth Historical Society, Historical Sketches, No. 52, 1924, p. [5]–13).

In 1843, when JQA again visited New Bedford, he was once more received in the Arnold home, the Arnolds in the meanwhile having spent three years in Europe. Recollecting the earlier visit, JQA wrote: “Their house was then graceful and comfortable, and furnished with elegance, and at great cost. It is now embellished with many articles of exquisite luxury from Italy” (Diary, 28 Sept. 1843).

It was in the extent and magnificence of the grounds, however, that the Arnold mansion surpassed all others in New Bedford. The estate, as originally developed out of the farm of Abraham Russell, extended westward from County Street along Arnold Street and encompassed eleven acres of great trees and gardens. The treatment accorded the natural advantages of the site won the notice of Andrew Jackson Downing in his Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening Adapted to North America ... with Remarks on Rural Architecture, N.Y., 1841, p. 42–43: “There is scarcely a place in New-England where the pleasure-grounds are 224so artistically laid out, so full of variety, and in such perfect order and keeping, as at this charming spot; and its winding walks, open bits of lawn, shrubs and plants grouped on turf, shady bowers, and rustic seats, all most agreeably combined, render this a very interesting and instructive suburban seat.”

Although James Arnold was intensely proud of the grounds as they had been developed, the principal credit for them apparently belongs to Mrs. Arnold, who showed a lifelong interest in arboriculture. To mark that interest of his wife would seem to have been part of Arnold’s purposes in providing in his will a bequest of $100,000 for the “promotion of Agricultural or horticultural improvements,” which ultimately came to Harvard College “to develop and maintain an arboretum” – the Arnold Arboretum on the former Bussey farm in West Roxbury (S. B. Sutton, Charles Sprague Sargent and the Arnold Arboretum, Cambridge, Mass., 1970, p. 29–30).

5.

A family portrait of James Arnold, his wife Sarah, and their daughter Elizabeth Rotch Arnold is reproduced in the present volume; on the portrait and on the “melancholy story” of the group, see p. xi–xii, above.