This is probably the first magazine cover ever to feature an illustration by Howard Pyle. It’s not something that Pyle remembered, apparently, and it also eluded his bibliographers. But here it is: the May 1877 cover of St. Nicholas, Scribner’s Illustrated Magazine for Girls & Boys.
The beautiful tablet by Mr. Pyle, which adorns our cover this month, tells a true story in its own lively fashion. Its quaint costumes of successive centuries, showing how May-day rejoicings have been kept up from age to age, will send some of you a-Maying in encyclopedias and year-books, but it gives its real meaning at a glance - which is, that through all time people have welcomed the first coming of the spring. “Merrie May,” meaning pleasant May (for in old times “merry” simply meant pleasant), was as fresh and beautiful ages ago as it is to-day; and in one way or another the thought at the bottom of all the rejoicing is ever that of the old carol:
“A garland gay I’ve brought you here,
And at your door I stand;
It’s but a sprout, but it’s well budded out.
The work of our Lord’s hand.”
Pyle most likely drew this “tablet” for “The Merrie Month of May” in the depths of the winter of 1877, while occupying a “small hall bedroom” at 250 West 38th Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) in New York.