Seth Wells Cheney, John Cheney


Seth Wells Cheney

"Very young, slim, with a long face, a somewhat projecting chin, and firm lips. His eyes were most expressive, all soul. Hair light, silky, flowing, and voice clear. More poetry in him than in John. This appeared in the engravings."

"He was fine; never angry, not once. He was fond of humor, enjoying a good laugh. He used to say, 'The dinner is half a man's life.' They were both absorbed in engraving. No cards nor games interested Mr. Cheney, nor society, nor dancing.

But he enjoyed rambles in the country, particularly over Chesterfield Mt., where he fought a big rattlesnake, which escaped. He liked to be with friends and fellow-engravers."


While engaged in engraving he spent some time in Brattleboro', Vt., where he worked for Holbrook and Fessenden, on a comprehensive commentary of the Bible. The work was a pecuniary failure, and I have never seen a copy of it.

Letter To His Mother.

Brattleboro', 14th Saturday.

Dear Mother,---I wrote on a paper* last week that I was going to Vermont, and here I am. You will think, perhaps, rather strange of my coming to this place to engrave; but as there was a chance of getting employment for at least one year, and perhaps four or five, I thought I could not do better than come. The work I am engaged on is very profitable, and I am very pleasantly situated with Hills, who accompanied me from Boston. Ralph knows him. We room together, and board also. This is ---or, rather, will be--- a very pleasant place in the spring and summer, situated as it is on the banks of the Connecticut River, which winds along within a few rods of our office; and a lofty mountain rises on the opposite side of the river, which makes the view very fine. The steamboats run occasionally as far as here, which will make it easy getting home, which I will do as soon as I get time,---by the first of May, I think, if not before; but I have said enough of myself.

I have had no letter from John since I have been in Boston, but heard, a few days before I came here, second hand, that he was in Paris, and well. I think we must hear from him soon. Perhaps he will bring news of himself.

Hurry, hurry!


* Before the days of cheap letter postage it was very customary to send a newspaper on which a few words were written.

[The description of the young Seth Wells Cheney by Hills, the engraver from Burlington, Vermont, then living in Boston; and Seth Cheney's letter written to Electa Woodbridge, Mrs. George Cheney in Manchester, Connecticut on January 14, 1832, are both found in

Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney's Memoir of Seth W. Cheney, Artist. (Boston: Lee and Shepard, Publishers; University Press: John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, 1881).]


Seth Wells Cheney

Seth Wells Cheney was the son of George and Electa Woodbridge, born in South Manchester, Connecticut on November 26, 1810. In 1833 he joined his brother John in Paris and studied under Jean-Baptiste Isabey and Paul Delaroche.

Soon after returning to America, Cheney started drawing portraits in Boston in 1841. He pioneered in the black and white crayon and excelled in lending spirituality to portraits, especially to ideal female heads.



Henry Wadsworth Longfellow In 1844

Portrait By Seth Wells Cheney


Among his works are portraits of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, Theodore Parker, Harvard president James Walker, and Ephraim Peabody. Cheney was commissioned to work for Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, but circumstances prevented completion.

When the poet Fitz-Greene Halleck expressed surprise that his portrait was not finished, Cheney said, "I will finish it," whereupon he put his foot through it.

Seth Wells Cheney attended the Wesselhoeft Water Cure in Brattleboro during August 1854. He died in South Manchester, Connecticut on September 10, 1856.

The Cheney homestead, built by the clock maker Timothy Cheney in Manchester, Connecticut at some time during 1780 to 1785, is maintained by the Manchester Historical Society.


It is known that Seth Wells Cheney (see "Memoir," p. 13) engraved a number of plates for "The Comprehensive Commentary of the Holy Bible," in 6 vols., published in Brattleboro' and Boston from 1834 to 1838. (See "list of Books, etc.")

None of the plates in this work bear his name, but Mrs. Ednah D. Cheney is inclined to think that "The Nativity," on the title-page of Vol. IV, dated 1834, and six others in the same volume, illustrating Matt. xiii. 1-9 (The parable of the sower), Matt. xxii. 15-22 (The tribute money), Luke xvi. 19-31 (Lazarus at the door of the rich man), Luke xvii. 11-19 (Christ healing the ten lepers), John ix. (Jesus giving sight to one who was born blind), and John vi. 14-21 (Jesus walking on the sea), may be by him.

All of these are without any name, and the six are printed in pairs on yellow paper. Mr. Crosman says that "The Nativity" is "undoubtedly by Seth."

To me none of them appear worthy of Seth Wells Cheney (unless they should be earlier work, engraved some years before the book which contains them was published), with the possible exception of "The Nativity."

If this should be by him, the engraving on the title-page of Vol. III, dated 1837, might also be his work. Those curious in the matter can examine the book for themselves at the Boston Public Library.

Catalogue of the Engraved and Lithographed Work of John Cheney and Seth Wells Cheney, Compiled by S. R. Koehler (Boston: Lee and Shepard Publishers, 10 Milk St. Next "The Old South Meeting House", University Press: John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, 1891), p. 101.

Sylvester Rosa Koehler worked for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, and with the Smithsonian Institute.


John Cheney

John Cheney, View From Prospect Hill, August 1854.jpg

John Cheney, From Cemetery Hill, Brattleboro, August 1854

John Cheney, Drawing, August 1854.jpg

John Cheney, Drawing From Cemetery Hill, August 1854






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