Dan O'Donnell

Dan O'Donnell

Common Sense Central is edited by WISN's Dan O'Donnell. Dan provides unique conservative commentary and analysis of stories that the mainstream media...Full Bio


The Painter's Pain

It’s said that the price of love is grief—an overwhelming, often paralyzing sense of despair that can make us feel like the world itself has stopped spinning. But in grief, the price of love can be paid in brilliance that changes the world forever.

This is the Forgotten History of the Painter’s Pain.

Samuel was madly in love. He had met the most beautiful girl in the world and asked her to be his wife. He was a gifted painter, but never made much money, so he was overjoyed when she said yes. Samuel and Lucretia would struggle to make ends meet, but they would struggle together.

He traveled the country, painting portraits of America’s wealthiest and most prominent people: President James Monroe, former President John Adams, the Marquis de Lafayette, Samuel painted them. He thought his career was about to take off when he painted the House of Representatives—a statement about the power and majesty of the young nation that would perfectly capture its spirit and finally bring him the fame and wealth he yearned for to take care of the woman he loved.

He traveled to Washington and studied the chamber for weeks in an effort to express the essence of American democracy. He framed the splendor of the room through candlelight, with the small figures of Congress feverishly working below.

This was it. He knew it. This was his masterpiece. This was America’s masterpiece. But when it was exhibited in New York, it was met with indifference if not outright derision. The chamber itself was too big and the Congressmen inside were too small.

Making matters worse, Samuel’s painting was exhibited with John Trumbull’s “Declaration of Independence,” a bona fide sensation. This—a dramatic scene of America’s founders creating a new nation—perfectly captured the essence of America. Samuel’s painting paled in comparison and was soon forgotten.

He returned home to Connecticut a defeated man. He would never be a famous artist; he would never even be able to provide a suitable living for his growing family. But Lucretia was there waiting for him with a warm embrace and words of encouragement. The next painting, she assured him, would be the one.

Still, Samuel had his doubts. He was 34 years old—much older than when all of his contemporaries had their big breaks. He was seriously considering giving up painting altogether. But if Lucretia believed in him, then he would, too.

She was right: The City of New York loved Samuel’s portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette so much that it commissioned him to paint one for them. And it was offering a staggering, life-changing sum of money to do so: $1,000. Samuel and Lucretia’s prayers were answered. They would finally have enough money and with this portrait Samuel would finally have the prestige to establish himself as one of America’s most prominent painters.

He left immediately for the four-day trip to New York City. And once there, Lucretia supported him through constant supportive letters.

“I think now that we can indulge a rational hope that the time is not very far distant when you can be happy in the bosom of your much-loved family,” she wrote. That family was about to grow again; she was pregnant with their third child.

“I long to hear from you,” Samuel wrote back, eagerly anticipating to hear from Lucretia after the birth.

He never did. Lucretia suffered a heart attack during childbirth and tragically passed away. A few days later, a letter arrived from Samuel’s father.

“My heart is in pain and deeply sorrowful, while I announce to you the sudden and unexpected death of your dear and deservedly loved wife,” he wrote.

Samuel raced home as fast as he could, but it was a four-day trip, and by the time he arrived, Lucretia had already been buried.

He was beyond devastated. The love of his life, his rock, the woman who believed in him even when the rest of the world wouldn’t, was gone. And worse, he didn’t learn about it until well after her funeral. His pain was unimaginable, but through his grief, something deep inside him changed.

He no longer wished to be a wealthy and famous painter; he wanted only to ensure that no one else would suffer the same pain he did. He rededicated his life to fundamentally changing the way people received devastating news—or any news, really.

The mail was simply too slow, but this new phenomenon called electricity, that was fast. Fast enough to outrun even the speed of grief. For years, he contemplated the possibility and read everything he could about it. He was fascinated by European technology that allowed for the transmission of messages over multiple wires.

But those semaphone machines were nearly impossible to use and the messages couldn’t travel far. What if messages could be sent over a single wire? Samuel was convinced it was possible. And he worked on it until he had a prototype ready to present to Congress for a patent.

But in 1838, he was rejected. But he wasn’t deterred. He returned four years later and demonstrated how he could send a message from one room to another. Congress was so impressed that they gave Samuel not only a patent, but also the astronomical sum of $30,000 to develop his invention.

In 1844, Samuel was able to send a message from Washington to Baltimore, one suggested by his 17-year-old daughter, “What hath God wrought?” With that, he had changed the world. No longer would it have to wait for news through the mail. Messages could be sent across the country and the world in seconds. No one else would ever have to experience the pain Samuel did.

And all because Samuel Morse used that pain to invent the telegraph.

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