MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections


1879 drawing from "The Log of the Dorian"

1879 Drawing from "The Log of the Dorian"

The Journal of Francis H. Bacon, 1878-79

Few MIT students have had the opportunity to tour ancient ruins, be starved and nearly drowned on a small sail boat, or be shot at on the Danube and arrested in the Bosphorus in the brief interval between completing school and landing a steady job, yet such was the destiny of Francis H. Bacon. Bacon, who completed a special program in architecture with Professor William Ware at the Institute in 1876, and his friend Joseph T. Clarke pooled their meager funds in July 1878 in England to buy a small cutter, which they proceeded to sail from London to Athens by way of Holland, the Rhine, the Danube, the Black Sea, and the Aegean. (At Mainz they shipped the boat by rail to Bamberg.) Bacon's handwritten account of his 1878-79 odyssey is preserved in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections as "The Log of the Dorian."

The professed purpose of the trip was to visit every "important Greek temple" so that Clarke could write a history of Doric architecture while the artistically inclined Bacon sketched sites. Their rationale for purchasing the Cobweb (promptly renamed the Dorian) was that living on a boat would be economical, realizing great savings on hotels and transportation. The real motive, however, may have been more closely attuned to youthful exuberance than scholarship. "Incidentally," Bacon later recalled, "we were each two-and-twenty and the world was bright!"

Bacon neatly transcribed the 11" by 17" journal in 1894 and carefully pasted in his own precise watercolors, pencil sketches, photographs, and pen-and-ink drawings interspersed with text. The pen-and-ink cartoon reproduced here shows the artist dwarfed by and closely inspecting a giant lekythos at the National Archaeological Museum on Patissia Road in Athens. Lekythoi, narrow-mouthed vessels with one handle, were used in ancient Greece to hold oil to anoint the skin after bathing. The huge size of this marble example suggests that it had a votive rather than a practical purpose. Note the artist's omnipresent sketchbook and his natty attire, including jacket, bow tie, and boater, which have apparently accompanied him on the 3480-mile voyage. His mustache has been carefully waxed.

Bacon returned to America in December 1879, "stone broke" after steaming from Sicily to New York in the steerage compartment of a fruit boat. On the day after his arrival he secured a job with the prestigious architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White. He later became a noted designer of interiors and furnishings. The shrine that housed the Constitution and Declaration of Independence at the Library of Congress was built according to his plans. (The documents were moved to Exhibition Hall in the National Archives Building in 1952.) "The Log of the Dorian" and a journal of Bacon's 1904 tour of Greece and Asia Minor are available for research in the Institute Archives and Special Collections, 14N-118.

Object of the Month: June 2001; June 2007


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