Morse Code: A love story+comment
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell, which is a history of how Hawaii became a state. That may sound dry, but it has plenty of incest, prostitution, alcoholism, broken promises and genital-worshiping hula dances to keep things entertaining. I was cruising along, interested but not necessarily engrossed, until a small anecdote, an aside really, about the invention of the Morse Code reached out and broke my heart.
The story is this: Samuel Morse was a painter. Dedicated to improving his craft, he studied in London and Paris, returning home to paint portraits of many influential people of his time, including John Adams. He married Lucretia Pickering Walker in 1819, and together they had four children.
In 1825 Morse was commissioned to paint a portrait of Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, which required him to leave his home in New Haven and travel to Washington. He was about halfway through the project when he received a letter from his father informing him that his wife was gravely ill.
He left Washington immediately, but because the letter had taken so long to get to him, by the time he returned home, Lucretia had already died and been buried. Devastated that she had died before he could get to her, and frustrated that she had been ill so long without his knowledge, Morse began to concentrate his energies on finding a quicker way to communicate across long distances, which eventually led to the invention of the Morse Code.
I was never a big fan of history class. The way history was taught in my school, the entire subject seemed like a giant timeline recording when one group of people killed another group of people. Dates of events were just numbers to be memorized. But this story reminded me that history does not have to be a dull thing to be learned by rote. History isn’t always a recording of policies and politics. Sometimes it is a love story.