Monday, January 11, 2010

January 11, 1890

The January 11, 1890, issue of the New York Ledger included a “Souvenir Supplement” featuring “The Captain’s Well,” a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, illustrated by Howard Pyle. Here is one of the illustrations (which Pyle painted in late summer or fall 1889), untitled, and engraved on wood by Henry Wolf.

Note the marked resemblance to Pyle’s much better known “Marooned” of 1887...

...and his even better known “Marooned” of 1909...

Like many artists, Pyle revisited similar themes, scenes, and poses now and then, and he made at least four variations on this one (the third, chronologically speaking, is in a private collection).

The figure here, however, is neither marooned, nor a pirate. Rather, he is Valentine Bagley (1773-1839), a Massachusetts sailor, who was shipwrecked off the Arabian coast in 1792.

“He wandered for fifty-one days over the desert, suffering intensely from lack of food and water, and from heat, having been robbed by Bedouins of all his clothing,” said William Sloane Kennedy in “In Whittier’s Land” (The New England Magazine, November 1892). And here is an extract from Whittier’s poem, specific to the picture.
In the Arab desert, where shade is none,
The waterless land of sand and sun,

Under the pitiless, brazen sky
My burning throat as the sand was dry;

My crazed brain listened in fever dreams
For plash of buckets and ripple of streams;

And opening my eyes to the blinding glare,
And my lips to the breath of the blistering air,

Tortured alike by the heavens and earth,
I cursed, like Job, the day of my birth.

Then something tender, and sad, and mild
As a mother's voice to her wandering child,

Rebuked my frenzy; and bowing my head,
I prayed as I never before had prayed:

Pity me, God! for I die of thirst;
Take me out of this land accurst;

And if ever I reach my home again,
Where earth has springs, and the sky has rain,

I will dig a well for the passers-by,
And none shall suffer from thirst as I.


kev ferrara said...

Very interesting, Ian. I would add that while Pyle would reuse the odd pose now and again, I don't think he ever used a single pose as the defining element in a piece like he did in these four pictures from his "marooned series." It is interest to speculate on what exactly compelled Pyle to return again and again to this particular pose.

Enjoying your blog posts as always.


Ian Schoenherr said...

You make an excellent point!

Anonymous said...

I bought a box of paper at a flea market and it contained a copy of the January 11, 1890 New York Ledger Supplement, which contains The Captain's Well by John Greenleaf Whittier, and 4 engraved illustrations by Howard Pyle. Unfortunately it was folded into quarters and there is a 1/2" tear at the binding edge horizontal crease and a 3 inch tear at the open edge horizontal crease. However it does not affect 3 of the 4 interior engravings and barely touches the 4th. I was going to try and auction this on eBay, but thought that you or one of your readers might be interested.