Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Daniel Sargent Curtis

Claude Monet to
Ariana Randolph Wormeley Curtis
December 7, 1908
In August 1869, Daniel Sargent Curtis took a train headed to Needham, Massachusetts. He was joined in the train compartment by Judge Al Churchill who, with a female guest, took a seat nearby. At some point during that journey an altercation ensued connected to an ill-placed carpetbag, a toy wagon, and an empty seat. Words were exchanged, with Churchill commenting that Curtis must not be a gentleman. Feeling insulted, Curtis twisted Churchill's nose and struck him in the eye, breaking his glasses. Curtis was charged with assault and sentenced to two months in jail. According to John Berendt, author of The City of Fallen Angels, more than 300 prominent citizens of Massachusetts petitioned for a pardon for Curtis. However, Curtis refused to sign it. He also refused Churchill's offer to drop the charges for an apology because he felt that his actions on the train had been justified - and so Daniel Curtis went to jail.

Henry James to
Ariana Randolph Wormeley Curtis
May 3, 1897
It is often stated that it was this "unfortunate incident" that prompted the Curtis family to leave America for Venice, Italy. Berendt, however, states that the desire to leave America had been voiced by Curtis many years before this event. Curtis left for Venice in 1881 with his wife, Ariana Randolph Wormeley, and their son Ralf. There they rented and later bought the Palazzo Barbaro. After restoring it to its former glory the Palazzo Barbaro became the center of American life in Venice. The Curtises hosted many writers, artists and other expatriates at their home, including John Singer Sargent (a distant relative), Robert Browning, Edith Wharton, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Claude Monet and Henry James (a close friend of Ariana). James had several prolonged visits with the Curtises between 1887 and 1907, and, when not in Venice, wrote many letters to his "Dear Mrs. Curtis," often with tales about life at home in England or with requests for introductions for his acquaintances.

Henry James to
Ariana Randolph Wormeley Curtis
May 3, 1897
Henry James to
Ariana Randolph Wormeley Curtis
May 3, 1897
The correspondence of Daniel Sargent Curtis and his family is a small but vital collection and includes not only letters from Henry James to Ariana Curtis, but also letters from Henry Adams, Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent, Lady Ritchie and John Addington Symonds.

Ask for MS-194 to read the letters in the collection.

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