Friday, November 23, 2012

The Sad Story of a Little Boy That Cried

Today is the 149th birthday of Katharine Pyle, Howard Pyle’s sister.

These two siblings seem to have had a conflicted relationship over the years: Howard (who was ten years older) often tried to encourage or push Katharine into a more “practical” career path, but she was too much of an independent spirit, who did things when and where and how she wanted to. At least that’s the sense one might get from reading her unpublished recollections. Katharine may even have gotten a certain glee out of exasperating her much more “controlled” brother.

Yet, for all the focus on his career, Howard Pyle couldn’t recall when his work first appeared in print. He said - more than once - that it was “The Magic Pill” in Scribner’s Monthly for July 1876. But a drawing he made for his mother’s poem “The Reformer” had appeared eight months earlier - and five years before that he made the masthead drawing for the Wilmington newspaper Every Evening. Maybe, however, Pyle was only concerned with his first published words, not his pictures. At any rate, although he may not have remembered his first time in print, his sister remembered hers:
My first finished attempt at verse was one that was taken by the St. Nicholas, and published in the department of children’s writings. Howard made a picture to go with it, and was paid for it but I, of course, was not paid for the verses as they were just a child’s contribution and I was very much disappointed that I wasn’t. They were about a child who was always crying until in the end his mouth had stretched till -
One Morning no Jackie was anywheres found,
But only a great mouth that lay on the ground;

And so that was all that was left, alack!
A great big mouth with a border of Jack.
Katharine neglected to provide a date, but searching through the pages of St. Nicholas - and page 78 of “The Letter-Box” of the November 1880 issue, in particular - one will find:

Once, a little boy, Jack, was, oh! ever so good,
Till he took a strange notion to cry all he could.

So he cried all the day, and he cried all the night,
He cried in the morning and in the twilight;

He cried till his voice was as hoarse as a crow,
And his mouth grew so large it looked like a great O.

It grew at the bottom, and grew at the top;
It grew till they thought that it never would stop.

Each day his great mouth grew taller and taller,
And his dear little self grew smaller and smaller.

At last, that same mouth grew so big that - alack! -
It was only a mouth with a border of Jack.

And so this was all that was left of poor Jack:
The great gaping mouth, like a wide-open sack!

P.K. [sic]
It should be noted, however, that no picture by Katharine’s brother - or anyone - accompanies the verse. Maybe Howard made one (and got paid, unlike his sister), or maybe he didn’t; it’s still a mystery.

But the real injury to Katharine was that somebody - the publisher, the typesetter, or the editors (who included Mary Mapes Dodge and Frank Stockton at the time) - reversed her initials from “K.P.” to “P.K.”, so she didn’t even get proper credit at the time - or maybe ever. That must have hurt. (Howard, by the way, suffered a similar indignity when his fable “The Fox and the Tablet” in St. Nicholas for April 1877 was credited to “P. Howard”.) So as a 149th birthday present I thought I’d finally give Katharine the credit she deserves.

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