Portrait Gallery

Mr. Neagle's Portrait of Henry Clay

Lofty, erect, beneath the Senate's dome, His bald, high forehead eloquent with thought, His clear eye kindled with a patriot's fire, Stands up, my country, here, the noble form Of one amidst the proudest, and the best Of thy illustrious sons,—around him spread Memorials of the trophies he has won. Here the anvil and the shuttle: here, Hard by the plough, which his own hand hath held; While far upon the blue booming sea, Leans the tall ship before the fresh'ning gale; Fair symbols all, of the tri-sisterhood, The bond of nations, and their monument, The strength and glory of the common weal— Wide Commerce, ancient Husbandry, and Art.

Beside him hangs, in broad and flowing folds Of striped and starry blazonry, that flag Ne'er borne aloft by tyrant hands, nor struck In base dishonour to a conquering foe— Young Freedom's ensign to a waiting world! O! well the artist's cunning hand hath wrought, In shape and shade, the spirit of the scene! And musing here, in still and thoughtful mood, In pensive silence gazing on that brow, My busy memory gathers the past, Runs o'er the records of the departed time, And marks the progress of his high career, Whose form and features beam upon me now.

I see him first, an orphan boy; his name Unknown to greatness, born upon no page Of proud and empty heraldry; his lot Cast not amidst the gay and glittering scenes Of rank and riches; his sole heritage A clear, strong head, and great fine heart, And, crowning these, a birthright of the free!

While yet the fresh bloom of life's youthful years Glows on his cheeks, that burning soul hath found Full utterance from his eloquent lips to scourge The false fear of oppression, and to claim Unshackled freedom for the pen and speech. I see him next ere thirty summer suns Had shed their radiance on his upward path, Standing, a peer, amid that choicest few, The guardians of its liberty and laws— Bearing upon his brow, and in his heart, With the high hope and confidence of youth, The calm, clear widom of experienced age.

Well hast thou placed hime, artist—underneath That vaulted roof, whose arches have sent back So oft the echo of his warning voice, Uplift, ever for the right and true.

Here, when deep gloom was brooding o'er the realm, When foreign despots trampled down our rights, And wavering sons within grew pale with fear, He roused the ancient spirit of our homes, To guard again their fire-sides and once more To keep their altars unprofaned and free; And his strong words, like tempests o' the sea, Bore on that infant navy, whose young arm Struck down, in many well-contested fight, Her meteor flag, whose folds had proudly swept, In haughty triumph, over the red waves Of Nile, the Baltic, and dread Trafalgar!

Here, when that cry for help fell on his ear, From out the Andes' Rocky fastness, From the green borders of the far La Plate, And from its broad Savannas—how he hailed, With answering voice, the supplicating call, And bade the struggling nations to be free!

Here, in a prouder hour, with loftier post, When his own country's sword had cloven thro' The sanctity fo private right—he stood, Unawed, amidst the storm of obloquy, And hissing hate, that rattled roudn his head. Guarding the civic ægis fo the State From the rough onset of usurping war!

When Greece—fair land of liberty and song— Long crushed, and bound, and bleeding—with her neck Beneath the Moslem's heel—rose up at length Stirred by the genius of her glorious past, Summoned by voices from the sunny shores Of Salamis, and from the rock pass Of terrible Thermopylæ, to shake Off from her limbs the fetters of the slave, And from her soul the palsying lethargy Of long, dark years, and new Demosthenes Spoke home and courage to her listening ear, In tones and spirit worthy of the old.

Hail! Patriot, Sage, and Statesman! on thy brow, Though fickle Fortune may not set her seal, A greener garland blooms than any wreath The wayward goddess for her minions binds; And in thy hands, though office may not place Its barren sceptre and its fleeting power, A brighter, better destiny is thine, Then hast thy country's love: with here renown They own is woven; with her name, they name, The pages of her history are thine! And when thy setting sun shall touch the verge Of life's horizen, shall a nation's eyes Follow in sadness the departing light; A nation's heart thy memory shall embalm; A nation' tongue thy eulogy shall speak; Worthy amonst the worthiest of her sons, Her dauntless champion, and her steadfast friend.

Mr. Neagle's Portrait of Henry Clay, The Indiana American, March 24, 1843, Page 4, Brookville, Franklin Co. Indiana. From the Lexington Intelligencer.

This instance of the poem is preceded by the following two paragraphs:


Mr. Hervey—Will you do me the favor to republish the poetic lines suggested by a view of the splendid painting just exhibited to our citizens by the eminent artist, Mr. Neagle.— This Picture is pronounced, by competent judges, a master-piece of Art. But it is a question in my mind, which has done himself and his illustrious subject the most credit—the Painter or the Poet. The Painter has given a grand and striking coup d'œil of Mr. Clay;—the Poet has briefly sketched a bold outline of his whole life. The one presents him giving an ear mark to the British sailor;—the other, defending his country's flag, maintaining its rights and its interests, at home and abroad; and advocating the cause of liberty and of man, in every part of the globe. The Artist has produced and inimitable portrait of Henry Clay, the Poet has translated it, and crowned its subject with garlands of immortal glory. The Portrait will adorn the Hall of a political Club,—while the poem will be multiplied by the press, and read and admired by the whole civilized world.

Now sir, let those who have seen the one, and read the other, decide each, for himself, which is done best.

Mr. Nagle's Portrait of Henry Clay, The Cecil Whig, Saturday April 29, 1843, Page 2. [From the Observer and Reporter] (PDF)

This instance of the poem is prefaced with the following note, attributing the poem to Dr. Elisha Bartlett.

When Professor Bartlett, of the Lexington Medical School, came to the West, we stated that we knew him in his boyhood as a brilliant poet. The following beautiful production shows that the early fire, which burned in his heart and upon his lips is unextinguished: Lou. Jour.

Mr. Neagle's Portrait of Henry Clay, The Sentinel of the Valley, Woodstock Virginia, January 11, 1844, Page 2. (PDF)

In this instance the poem is signed simply “G.”

Mr. Neagle's Portrait of Henry Clay, The Clay Minstrel, 1844, page 365. (PDF)

This version of the poem omits verses referring to Clay's advocacy of U.S. Support for liberation movements seeking to free South American countries from Spain, and Greece from Turkey.

The photo of Neagle's 1843 painting of Henry Clay appeared in the facebook account of the The Union League of Philadelphia. They say:

John Neagle, Henry Clay, 1843. Oil on canvas. Gift of Henry Pratt McKean, atfer 1867. This piece is located on the landing area of the 15th Street interior steps, in between the first and second floors.

Neagle presents Henry Clay gesturing to the globe draped with an American flag, a logical reference to Clay's patriotism. In the rear, objects of livelihood are seen: the plow, a cow and, in the distance, a ship at sea. The darkened sky may be a reference to the artist's or Clay's prediction of the nation's turbulent future; throughout his career in the Senate, Clay was a well-known proponent of emancipation and the Union.