Thursday, September 23, 2010

September 23, 1896

“Did thou tell them how I taught thee?” by Howard Pyle (1896)

On September 23, 1896, Howard Pyle wrote to Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell regarding the illustrations for the novel, Hugh Wynne:
…I wish most heartily now that I had not undertaken to illustrate it. I quite agree with you that a story, especially one that is so dramatically told, is very much better without illustrations than with them - that is unless these illustrations be made to fill out the text rather than to make a picture of some scene described in it.

I do not feel that my ability in picture-making lies in illustrating stories. In such work I am hampered and confined by the text, and my talent (such as it is) can have no room in which to play. It has always seemed to me to be better to choose for an illustration some point, if possible, not mentioned directly in the text but very descriptive of the text.

For example, in the first instance I was compelled to choose the return of the little boy from school welcomed by his mother. This, while perfectly charming in your description of it, was not a subject one could very well depict. You gave the idea of cool, dark interiors and wide spaces. In making the drawing I had to limit myself to the open door and a small vista outside; for in making a drawing one must make it with what one sees with the eyes and not with what one sees with the mind and thought, as you make in the text. If the story which I was illustrating had been mine, I would rather have chosen some impersonal subject to be called, perhaps, “Mother and Son,” in which the mother, with her arm around the little boy, is walking down the dark room with such surroundings as you depict in the text.

There is no such scene mentioned in your story, but I think it would illustrate the feeling you intend to convey, and if correctly drawn, would carry forward the thought of the reader with some definiteness of purpose.…

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September 21, 1910

Howard Pyle, 1910

I have it on good authority that this well-known snapshot of Howard Pyle was taken 100 years ago today. The photographer? Paul Strayer (1885–1981), a young Chicago artist, who had made a “pilgrimage” to Pyle’s Wilmington studio. Other photographs from this day show that Pyle, Stanley Arthurs, and Frank Schoonover were still hard at work on the enormous “Life in and Old Dutch Town” mural for the Hudson County Court House - which had just officially opened.

In a 1947 letter to Gertrude Brinckl√©, Strayer recalled his visit: how he had brought along a bound collection of Pyle’s illustrations; how Pyle sat down at a round Colonial table and slowly went through the volume, commenting on the pictures; and how, when he got to the end, Pyle asked, “Would you like me to draw a little picture in it for you?” and on the fly-leaf drew the head of a 17th Century cavalier (a common Pylean “doodle”) and signed it, “Howard Pyle, September 21, 1910.”

In 1953, Strayer - perhaps commemorating the centennial of Pyle’s birth - painted the portrait below, based on the snapshots he had (allegedly!) taken 43 years earlier.

Howard Pyle in 1910, by Paul Strayer

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Sun Also Rises in Chincoteague

In researching my posts on Howard Pyle’s Chincoteague trip, I found two letters from a Baltimore Sun correspondent, who visited the island around the same time. The first was printed on Thursday, August 17, 1876 (two days after Pyle’s first Chincoteague article appeared in the Wilmington Daily Commercial), and the second on Monday, August 28, 1876. As would be expected, they cover similar ground, and they also confirm - and call into question - some of Pyle’s observations. The correspondent, who signed his pieces “N.E.F.,” turns out to have been Norval Emmet Foard (1837-1906), who was associated with The Sun for almost 40 years. Here is a little from his point of view:
The Sun, Baltimore, Thursday Morning. August 17, 1876.


An Island World and its Inhabitants - Epicurean Living - Beach Ponies and their History - Interesting Sketches, &c.

[Correspondence of the Baltimore Sun.]


Having heard so much about Chincoteague since coming to this part of “the Shore,” I concluded that Chincoteague, which is an island on the east coast of Accomac, Va., must be a sort of pony paradise. Eastern Shoremen had told me that Chincoteague was a world within itself, having the best things to eat that the air, the earth and the sea afforded. I found that the Delawarians made up excursions to the Mecca from Georgetown and even from Wilmington, and that several trains a week ran down to the island, and that the islanders were always getting up a pony penning, a pony sale, a camp-meeting or some other divertisement as an attraction to allure visitors. So I determined to go to Chincoteague....
Indeed, the Wilmington Daily Commercial had noted that Chincoteague’s annual sheep-shearing would be held June 7, and (in the July 24 issue) that excursion trains would run to the island during the camp-meeting (held, evidently, August 5-17) and also that “special” excursion trains would run on the day of the penning (which day was not specified, but it was supposed to occur during the camp-meeting). Clearly, the place was not a well-kept secret. Now back to Foard:
I chose Sunday for my trip knowing that although the camp-meeting on the island had been closed there would be Sunday services in the pine grove where the camp had been held. Hiring a country conveyance, with no back to the seats, I drove from Ocean City to Berlin, where at 9.30 A.M. an excursion train from Delaware, comprising four coaches, and freighted with peninsula belles and beaux [or about 150 travelers in all], came along, and by eleven o’clock had reached the jumping-off place, which is Franklin, on the Boundary line of Worcester and Accomac....
By “Sunday” does Foard mean August 6? Or August 13? I think August 6 as he goes on to say, “Last week there was a penning of some thirty [ponies].” Also, Foard’s dateline was Wednesday, August 16; Pyle’s was Saturday, August 12, and Pyle referred to “the occasional penning of the ponies, or driving them into corral, one of which took place during our visit last week.” I assume they both meant the same “last week” and attended the same penning. Since Foard arrived midday Sunday and, as Pyle noted, “it was quite early in the morning when the penning came off,” I’m inclined to think it occurred between Monday, August 7, and Friday, August 11.

Furthermore, Foard’s Sun letter of August 28, shows that although Pyle reported on a pony-penning that summer, it was not the annual pony-penning as has been suggested or stated by Pyle himself and by some biographers - several of whom (starting, I think, with Charles D. Abbott in 1925) have also said that Pyle’s visit was in Spring 1876. Foard, again:
The Chincoteague annual pony-penning, occurring this year on the 23d and 24th of August, attracted many excursionists from Delaware and some from Baltimore. The recent completion of the line of railway to Franklin, and the employment of steam in the navigation of Chincoteague sound, are progressive steps in opening up this hitherto but little frequented section, which possesses attractions for sportsmen as well as for business enterprise. Chincoteague is now within easy reach of Baltimore and Philadelphia in a day, and large excursion trains from Wilmington, Georgetown, or Harrington, Del., to Ocean City or Chincoteague Island have been of frequent occurrence nearly every week this summer.
Maybe the precise date of Pyle’s particular penning will be found in one record or another, someday. Adding to the confusion is Foard’s statement that “the camp-meeting on the island had been closed,” whereas the Commercial stated it would be held August 5-17. Pyle, meanwhile, didn’t mention the camp-meeting in the Commercial, but in Scribner’s Monthly:
Sharing the interest with the pony penning is an occasional camp-meeting in the woods, occurring once in a year or so. In among the great pines of Chincoteague is a noble place for such a gathering, when at night their huge trunks are illuminated by the light of the “pine chunk” bonfires, in the gleam of which the distant trees flash forth for a moment and then vanish into obscurity again, - and when the solemn measured chant of the Methodist hymns is heard and the congregation sways with the mighty religious passion that stirs them, while over all hang lurid wreathings of resinous smoke.
Pyle certainly sounds like an eyewitness here, so maybe Foard was mistaken, or maybe Pyle was describing Foard’s “Sunday services in the pine grove.” (Or, yes, there’s always the chance that Pyle made more than one visit, which would render moot much of all this hand-wringing.)

Foard’s second Sun letter does, at least, corroborate the presence of Otto Lugger (1844-1901), who later became State Entomologist of Minnesota. Pyle called him “Otto Leugger” in the Commercial, but he is an unnamed “learned naturalist from the Baltimore Academy of Natural Science” and “the professor” in Scribner’s Monthly. Foard says:
In addition to sportsmen several widely known scientific men have during the past few weeks made Chincoteague the scene of their investigations, with valuable and interesting results. Mr. Otto Lugger, curator of the Maryland Academy of Sciences, has spent two weeks pursuing scientific research under the direction of Prof. P. E. Uhler, president of the academy, who also spent five or six days in the interesting field offered to the enthusiastic naturalist. Capt. Caulk, a Chincateager, who is given to kindred pursuits, says Mr. Lugger is the quickest bug catcher he ever saw, and that he has an eye as sharp as a microscope.
Other parallels can be found, but, over all, Foard, the well-seasoned journalist, is more generous - or just objective - and less prone to comic exaggeration and condescension than Pyle. He introduces Kendall Jester, for example, but doesn’t touch on his drinking. And here is his take on a typical Chincoteague home:
As their houses were all open to enjoy the cool air from the water the interiors were fairly exposed. In a ramble that took in thirty or forty small dwellings there were none which did not reveal a family party comprising parents and three or four children, with here and there a single aged relative seated at the little family board, the mother busily ministering to the wants of the family. Each dwelling had but one large room on the ground floor, an attic overhead, a back building for cooking, a little meat-house, pantry or safe in the yard put up on one or two posts, and in many cases an arbor or small shade tree, under which the table was spread. All the exteriors of the dwellings and fences were neatly whitewashed. The front room, in which the large high post family bed, protected with mosquito netting, stood the conspicuous article of furniture, was invariably a model of cleanliness. The bed clothing was of snowy whiteness, and the housewife’s hands appeared in many bright specimens of patchwork, while the husband’s taste was apparent in colored prints of marine subjects or trophies from the bay associated with his calling.
But Foard’s style is also much less evocative: compare the dramatic sweep of Pyle’s prose with this brief, bland description of (presumably) the same event:
Last week there was a penning of some thirty head belonging to the estate of a deceased testator for sale. The herd were driven by mounted riders down the beach into the enclosure, where the squealing, kicking, biting and tumult was immense. In order to catch and reduce or break them, the lasso had to be used, and a fight, in which several men engaged with each pony, was the invariable result. Breaking is always a difficult matter, but when finally accomplished and the mastery secured the animal is always characterized by docility afterwards....
And, according to Foard, the annual penning held later that month was even more dull:
The pony-penning was not so interesting as former occurrences of the kind are represented to have been. The ponies, several hundred of which were driven up from the beach, showed the wildness of any unrestrained stock, though there were but few that appeared desirable, and these were held at very high rates. In catching the animals after they were driven to the corral, Kendall Jester, who is a large and powerful man, employed a slip-noose, which he put over the heads of the wild ponies, and a great deal of kicking, neighing and dust, but nothing exciting in the whole business.
Well, we know what Chincoteague did for Howard Pyle, but Norval Foard seems to have been relatively uninspired by the place. Still, a more thorough side-by-side comparison of their respective reports would be useful to chart out, one of these days.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

“In the Reading-Room” at Sotheby’s

“In the Reading-Room” by Howard Pyle will be auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York City on Wednesday, September 29, 2010. It comes from the massive James S. Copley Library, which has been sold in parts over the past few months. The subject must have appealed to Copley, a newspaper man, who may have acquired it in the 1960s from Helen L. Card, successor to E. Walter Latendorf, who had it in 1950.

This 20 x 14" black and white oil on canvasboard was one of 26 illustrations Pyle made (probably in late 1889) for John Austin Stevens’s “Old New York Taverns” in Harper’s Monthly for May 1890. He was paid $800.00 for the lot: $100.00 each for four full-page oil paintings and $400.00 for 22 pen-and-ink drawings. Another one of the oils - “Game of Bowls” - sold at Christie’s in 2008 for $25,000 (including Buyer’s Premium).

As do a number of Pyle’s pictures from the late 1880s, this one features a sort of microcephalic gentleman with large feet. Not sure why Pyle fell into this trend, but I’m on the case.

You can zoom in and really study Pyle’s confident brushwork here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chincoteague, The Island of Ponies

The following article by Howard Pyle, born out of his letter published in the Wilmington Daily Commercial for August 15, 1876, was first published in Scribner’s Monthly for April 1877. The illustrations were redrawn from Pyle’s original pencil sketches by William Ludwell Sheppard (1833-1912), among others.

Chincoteague, The Island of Ponies
by Howard Pyle

Off the north-eastern shore of Virginia, and about five miles from the main-land, lies a small island known as Chincoteague - an island possessed of peculiarities shared by no other portion of the eastern United States; for here roams, in an entirely untamed state, a breed of horses, or rather ponies, as wild as the mustangs of Texas or the Pampas.

How these ponies first came upon the island is not known except through vague tradition, for when the first settlers came there, early in the eighteenth century, they found the animals already roaming wild about its piney meadows. The tradition received from the Indians of the main-land was that a vessel loaded with horses, sailing to one of the Elizabethan settlements of Virginia, was wrecked upon the southern point of the island, where the horses escaped, while the whites were rescued by the then friendly Indians and carried to the main-land, whence they found their way to some of the early settlements. The horses, left to themselves upon their new territory, became entirely wild, and, probably through hardships endured, degenerated into a peculiar breed of ponies.

In 1670 the island was first prospected; it was subsequently granted by King James II. to a person by whom it was sold in minor sections to various others. At present it is greatly subdivided, though one land-owner, Kendall Jester by name, holds over six hundred acres of marsh and pine land, and there are other holdings scarcely less in extent. Among the earliest settlers were the Thurstones, Taylors, and Mifflins; the head of the last-named family was a well-known Quaker, who, upon the introduction of slavery to the island, removed thence to the town of Camden, in the upper part of the province of Maryland, near Delaware.

It was long before Chincoteague was fairly settled, and even as late as 1838 there were but twenty-six houses there; now, however, many strangers, tempted by the exceptionally good fishing and oyster-dredging of the place, are pouring in from the main-land to settle there. To mere visitors the ponies are still a great, if not the main, attraction, and during the periods of “penning” - driving them into corral - numerous guests arrive daily from the coast.

When one puts foot aboard the puffing, wheezing little steamboat “Alice,” it is as though the narrow channel, across which he is ferried in about an hour, separates him from modern civilization, its rattling, dusty cars, its hurly-burly of business, its clatter and smoke of mills and factories, and lands him upon an enchanted island, cut loose from modern progress and left drifting some seventy-five years backward in the ocean of time. No smoke of manufactories pollutes the air of Chincoteague; no hissing steam-escape is heard except that of the “Alice;” no troublesome thought of politics, no religious dissension, no jealousy of other places, disturbs the minds of the Chincoteaguers, engrossed with whisky, their ponies and themselves.

Chincoteague is land-locked. Assateague Beach - a narrow strip of land, composed of pine woods, salt marshes and sand flats - lies between it and the ocean, separated from it by a channel about half a mile in width. Midway upon this beach stands Assateague light-house - a first-class light, and one of the finest on the coast. Between this beach or island upon the one side and the main-land on the other, in a calm, sleepy bay, lies lazy Chincoteague. There is but little agriculture; the inhabitants depend upon the sale of ponies and upon fishing for the necessaries of life, and mere necessaries suffice them. A little pork and bread, rank tobacco and whisky, in the proportion of Falstaff’s sack, and the acme of the Chincoteaguer’s happiness is attained.

Thick pine woods cover the island, in virgin growth, here and there opening into a glade of marshy flat, stretching off for a mile or more, called “the meadows,” where one occasionally catches a glimpse of a herd of ponies, peacefully browsing at a distance.

Tramping through the island, which is barely a mile in width, one emerges suddenly from the pine woods upon the western shore, where broad extended salt marshes, rank in growth, lie weltering in the hot sunlight the whole length of the island. A fence protects this marsh from the encroachments of the ponies, which are turned out here in the winter, and find a plentiful supply of fodder in the dead sedge underneath the snow.

“A son of the soil”

There are two distinct classes of inhabitants upon Chincoteague: the pony-owners - lords of the land - and the fishermen. Your pony-owner is a tough, bulbous, rough fellow, with a sponge-like capacity for absorbing liquor; bad or good, whisky, gin, or brandy, so that it have the titillating alcoholic twang, it is much the same to him. Coarse, heavy army shoes, a tattered felt hat, or a broad-brimmed straw that looks as if it had never been new; rough homespun or linen trowsers, innocent of soap and water, and patched with as many colors as Joseph’s coat; a blue or checked shirt, open at the throat, and disclosing a hairy chest, - these complete his costume. Your fisherman, now, though his costume is nearly similar, with the exception of shoes (which he does not wear), is in appearance quite different.. A lank body, shoulders round as the bowl of a spoon, far up which clamber his tightly strapped trowsers; a thin crane-like neck, poking out at right angles from somewhere immediately between the shoulder-blades; and, finally, a leathery, expressionless, peaked face, and wiry hair and beard complete his presentment. Hospitable in the extreme are these rough people. Any one visiting them at the time of their noonday meal will find some ingenuity necessary to parry their pressing solicitations to share those nodules of fat pork fried and floating in a dead sea of black molasses, fried potatoes, and chunks of bread - the last to he dipped in the molasses, and eaten with the pork. If sickness is pleaded in excuse, equal difficulty will be found in avoiding the administration of a dose of villainous whisky.

“The lady of the house”

In visiting their houses, you pick your way with some trouble through a flock of geese, over a pig, a dog, and probably a nearly naked baby rolling over the floor, and find yourself at last safely ensconced in a rickety chair. The good-woman of the house, who is smoking a very dirty pipe with a short stem, is profuse in the offices of hospitality, - spanking the rolling baby with one hand and handing a tin cup of water with the other. She may then, if you are a good listener and quiet enough, recount in much detail the ins and outs of her last attack of fever-’n’-ager, or how our Mariar married Jim Strand; in the meantime you can be making your own observations of an interior well calculated to repay the trouble. A rusty stove, a broken pitcher, a griddle, a skillet, two tin cups, a coffee-pot, and a dirty bucket, the smaller properties deposited in a rickety wash-tub in one corner of the room, which is mounted upon a crippled chair with a broken back; walls highly ornamented with cheap prints, labeled respectively “Ellen” or “Maggie,” circus bills and advertisements of patent soap; and, to crown all, a dozen or more bottles with little bits of red flannel in them hung here and there, enlivening the monotony like Turner’s daub of red in his gray sea picture. Then, lastly, the bed! We of the North have no conception of such beds - rising, a voluminous mountain of feathers, five feet in height, and bedecked with a gorgeous patch-work quilt, the valance slats at the top of the narrow spindle posts hung here and there with parti-colored worsted bobs. Let the family be ever so poor, the bed is the glory, the soul of their cottage. It is the pride of the good-woman’s heart, and in it she will swelter and suffocate in the hottest day of summer. Visiting, one day, a house where the woman was sick with bilious fever (quite a common complaint in Chincoteague), we saw nothing of her upon first entering, but a smell of tobacco-smoke stung our nostrils like vapor of oil of vitriol. Looking toward the bed, we saw a thin column of smoke ascending, and, approaching, saw the patient peacefully reposing and smoking in the midst of a feathery Yosemite.

“Uncle Ken”

Quaint and unique are the characters one meets. Kendal Jester, more popularly known as “Uncle Ken,” the beau-ideal of a Chincoteague pony-penner: one need have no fear of failing to make his acquaintance. An old fellow approaches, his face good-humored and redolent of innumerable potations of the favorite beverage. His daily life is comprised in three stages of existence: morning, when he is sober; noon, when if his thoughts are steady, his tongue is thick; night, when his thoughts are wool-gathering, and his stumbling tongue in vain tries to overtake them, - like a man pursuing one of his own ponies in the dark. He approaches with, “My name’s Kenneljester” (pronounced all in one word), “’s no harm in me.” We assure him we know that.

“I drink a little whisky now an’ then.”

We know that too.

“Doctor says got’s drink quart ’er whisky day - keep away bilious. Drink quart an’ pint - never have bilious.”

To do Uncle Ken justice, he implicitly follows the advice of his physician.

Should you imagine that when Uncle Ken is drunk he no longer has his wits about him, you will be vastly mistaken. A man who came over from the main-land to buy ponies from him thought that by making him drunk he could “skin him out of a bargain,” but his horror was unbounded when upon every drink that Uncle Ken took he increased his original price by ten dollars.

“Old Dan Tucker”

Here, too, is old Dan Tucker, boot-black and white-washer, with his pock-marked face and rich guttural “ki-he!” of a laugh. The artist wanted to make a sketch of this worthy, and ten cents were offered as an inducement for him to stand.

“See yeh, mars’! Guess I’se ugly ’nough ’out puttin’ on me on paper.”

“But we only want you as a - ah - memento, - a remembrance of our trip to Chincoteague.”

“Ke-he! Can’t fool me, wa - wat yo want me fo’?” (A sudden burst of righteous indignation.) “Go long, sketch some o’ de gals, dey’s heap puttier ’n me. Black yo’ boots fo’ ten cents. An’ I wants money, too. Money takes a man anyways - ’cept to Hebben.”

Nothing could induce him to be sketched, though we subsequently caught him on the fly, so to speak in front of the hotel.

“Uncle Benny”

Here, too is old Uncle Benny, ex-slave and now boot-black, freighted with glorious reminiscences of by-gone plantation days, possum and coon hunts, pumpkin pie and turkeys.

“Thankye, Mars’; sarvent:” says the poor old cripple, as he takes our ten cents, little knowing that we had made a hasty sketch of him as he bent over our shoes putting on the old-fashioned gloss he had acquired as a “boy” on the plantation.

Many more rise to memory: old Aunt Sally Jones, with her great scoop bonnet, her blue yarn stockings and her manifold complaints; old Mrs. Grant, who charms away cancers; and scores of others, the enumeration of whom would tire the patience of the reader.

Once or twice in a year the ponies of the island are driven together in a pen or corral for the purpose of branding the foals or for sale. Then is there excitement in Chincoteague. The natives are all agog. Rose and Hannah in the hotel kitchen are hard at work broiling, baking and stewing, preparing a brisk campaign against the appetites of the guests that assemble at such periods. Every now and then, above the frizzling of mutton-chops and frying of potatoes, arises a sudden burst of that rich minor hymn music heard only at its best among the southern plantation negroes - the wild music holding something half savage in its cadences - a music one might imagine their barbaric ancestors sang at some secret sacrificial feast.

And so on ad infinitum, now rising full and lusty, now sinking into the sputtering of the frying-pan.

It is a still morning and the broad white sand beach stretches far up the island. Here and there lies a pool of salt water glassily reflecting the clear sky.

Suddenly some one cries, “Here they come.” Down the beach come the ponies, pattering over the moist sand and dashing the placid salt pools into a myriad sparkling drops. Close behind ride the drivers, men and boys, gesticulating wildly. For saddles most of them have tanned sheep-skins, the woolly side out, strapped around the bodies of their ponies. Now a driver, bending almost level with his pony’s back, dashes on to head off some fractious animal. At length they approach the pen into which, after some trouble, they are headed, a tumultuous crowd, kicking, biting and squealing; then a rush and they are in! Now comes the tug of war, the lassoing and haltering; but that is left till the afternoon. It is well; for there goes the dinner-bell and we are ready for the summons.

Merciful Providence! What a crowd of hungry excursionists are coming from the main-land in the little steamer to attend the sales! From upper deck to lower the vessel is crowded with passengers. Can even Rose and Hannah’s labors suffice to stay the appetites of all these hungry wights? But to look at the face of Mr. English, the hotel-keeper, re-assures one. He is as calm and courageous as Napoleon at Austerlitz, or Nelson at Trafalgar. But we hasten into the dining-room and are seated by the time the boat touches the wharf and then the rush begins. Meal tickets are given, and Captain Caulk (pronounced Cork) stands at the door and collects them.

“Sir,” cries he to one old man, as the crowd pushes tumultuously against him, “for the love of Heaven do not tread on my cork foot!”

“Have you a cork foot, sir?”

“Two of ’em.”

“Tut, tut, tut! Well, I’m sorry! “ cries the sympathetic old gentleman from Snow Hill.

“The pony pen”

At length dinner is completed, and we start once more for the pony pen. The momentous time arrives for casting the lasso; not as they do in the West, but by hanging it on the end of a long pole, and then dropping it skillfully over the pony’s head. Uncle Ken takes the pole. Holding the noose well aloft on the top of it, so as not to frighten the intended prey upon which he has fixed his eye, he cautiously approaches the herd, around which the crowd has gathered. One of the ponies takes a sudden fright and a stampede follows, the spectators scattering right and left. For a moment the intended captive is wedged in the midst of the rest of the herd. Uncle Ken sees his advantage. He rushes forward, the noose is dropped and settles around the pony’s neck. Immediately six lusty negroes, with glistening teeth, perspiring faces and glittering eyes, are at the other end of the rope. The animal makes a gallant fight. This way and that he hauls his assailants, rearing and squealing. Now he makes a sudden side dash and sends them rolling over and over, plowing their heads through the shifting sand till their wool is fairly powdered; still, however, “the boys” hold on to the rope. At length the choking halter commences to tell; the pony, with rolling eyes and quivering flanks, wheezes audibly. Now is the moment! In rush the negroes, clutching the animal by legs and tail. A wrestle and a heave, a struggle on the pony’s part, a kick that sends Ned hopping with a barked shin like a crazy turkey, and Sambo plowing through the sand and stinkweed in among the spectators, and then over goes the pony with four or five lusty shouting negroes sprawling around him. The work is done: a running noose is slipped around the pony’s nose, his forelock is tied to this by a bit of string, and soon his tantrums cease as he realizes that he is indeed a captive.

“Catching a pony”

Many of the ponies are taken over the narrow channel that separates Chincoteague from Assateague, to run wild upon the latter island, which is largely unclaimed land. We were so fortunate as to witness the lively scene of the swimming of a number of ponies across this channel or inlet. For a mile we tramped through salt meadows rank with sedge, while everywhere from beneath our feet scattered innumerable ridiculous little fiddler-crabs about the size of a silver quarter of a dollar, one claw of enormous magnitude and conspicuousness and the other preposterously small and insignificant, like the candidates for President and Vice-President. At length we arrived at the edge of the channel, the ponies whickering as their nostrils fill with the salt air. One man enters the boat and poles it along, the channel being very shallow, while another with a rope in his hand drags at a pony. The pony is stubborn and will not enter. Kicks and blows rain freely upon him, the negroes running up to give him a kick and then rushing frantically away in mortal terror of the returning kick of the animal. Presently, with a splash the pony is in, and then all goes smoothly until his feet touch the sheltering bank on the other side, when the plunging recommences, and one poor wretch who has hold of the halter, and whose thoughts are wandering, awakes to find himself where he has not been for a long time - in cold water.

“Crossing to Assateague”

Among the visitors to the island we made some pleasant acquaintances, chief among whom was a learned naturalist from the Baltimore Academy of Natural Science. The professor was puzzling the natives greatly by his strange proceedings, his butterfly nets and insect-collecting, his seines, dredges, and deep-sea fishing. During a trip we took together through brake and thicket, - the professor wide-awake for specimens - we made, unknown to ourselves, some very unpleasant acquaintances. As we returned to the shore and seated ourselves leisurely upon a stranded boat to smoke and chat, we suddenly discovered that we were literally covered with seed-ticks, minute insects that burrow beneath the skin, causing a maddening irritation. After vain endeavors to pick them off; we started in haste for the hotel, there to scrub, in the secrecy of one’s chamber, in a tub of salt water.

Everything at Chincoteague seems conducted in unique and unconventional fashion. The only butcher-shop is no shop at all, but only a spot in the woods, where from two cross-pieces between the trees cattle are strung up by a block and tackle and slaughtered, after which their skins are stretched and dyed. It is a wild, gloomy place, surrounded by towering pines of a century’s growth, straight as arrows. The piney needles have sung to the wind many a dirge of slaughtered cattle.

The chief restaurant of Chincoteague is a piece of sail elegantly draped over a few upright posts, with a canvas streamer above it bearing conspicuously the sign, “Stewed Oysters.”

Upon the western side of the island is a bluff that overlooks the Atlantic toward the south. It is a barren, sandy spot; here and there a cactus crawls along half hidden in the shifting sand, or a clump of coarse grass shivers and whispers in the breeze. It is called the Old Grave-yard, and in this lonely, desolate, silent spot a few rounded stones and pieces of carved wood without letter or sign mark the last resting-places. There is something touching in the sentiment that impelled those rough, uncultured people to lay the weary, fever-burnt bones of their companions here in this lonely spot, facing the ocean they knew so well. Every year, as from the south the tumultuous waves of the Atlantic roll up the Shore, the bluff washes away, and the bones of the departed are brought to a premature resurrection. The burial-ground now in use is farther up the island and in the interior; a ridge dotted with head-stones runs up beneath the shelter of aged pines, with branches crooked as the cedars of Lebanon and draped with pall-like festoons of gray Florida moss.

Upon “Uncle Ken’s” estate of six hundred and sixty-five acres, valued at about four thousand dollars and called Wild-Cat Marsh, numerous flocks of domesticated wild geese are feeding. Every year numbers of those birds are shot in their passage south. The natives sink a barrel into the ground close to the beach in which they hide, and when the geese swimming far out at sea approach the beach to “gravel” they fall an easy prey to the gunners. Those that are only winged are saved and subsequently domesticated. One frequently hears the peculiar resonant “hank” of the wild geese, and, looking in the direction from which it came, sees the black head and neck of a bird stretching above the surrounding sedge. These birds cross freely with the ordinary domesticated geese, producing a hybrid which is called a “mule goose.”

The fishing and gunning of Chincoteague are excellent. Innumerable snipe are shot and sea-trout caught, some of the latter weighing as much as two pounds. The bathing would be excellent were it not for numerous neighboring sharks, some of them twenty or twenty-five feet long. When one sees a triangular fin cutting the glassy surface of the water near at hand, much of the pleasure of bathing is taken away.

Sharing the interest with the pony penning is an occasional camp-meeting in the woods, occurring once in a year or so. In among the great pines of Chincoteague is a noble place for such a gathering, when at night their huge trunks are illuminated by the light of the “pine chunk” bonfires, in the gleam of which the distant trees flash forth for a moment and then vanish into obscurity again, - and when the solemn measured chant of the Methodist hymns is heard and the congregation sways with the mighty religious passion that stirs them, while over all hang lurid wreathings of resinous smoke.

So far as one sees, geese, dogs, children and pigs compose the chief population of Chincoteague. The last thing to be heard in the evening and at intervals during the night is the cackling of geese, and when one wakes in the morning the geese are cackling still. Pigs are almost as much a feature of the place. The natural born Chincoteague porker is a thin, scrawny animal like his owner, the fisherman. He has a meditative air of curiosity and will watch a stranger askance, at the same time grunting in a low tone to himself, as though making his own observations. Quite a different character is the porcine nobleman from the main-land. He is regarded with affectionate reverence by his owner and grows fat upon fish and succulent mollusks, taking his siesta in undisturbed possession of the softest sand-bank.

It is difficult to say to what extent the law may be exercised in Chincoteague, for certainly there is not a place of confinement upon the whole island. We witnessed, however, what we imagine must have been a sample of the enforcement of the law. Two negro “boys” were fighting, rolling over the ground and biting at each other, when up rushed the magistrate of the island, seized a heavy barrel stave and delivered such blows right and left upon the heads of the belligerent blacks as would have stunned any ordinary white man.

“The majesty of the law”

Many traditions of the island are handed down from mouth to mouth by the natives, but few of them being able to read or write. It is thus we receive a full account of the great storm and accompanying tidal wave of the year 1821; telling how the black wrack gathered all one dreadful day to the southeast; how all night the breathless air, inky black, was full of strange moaning sounds, and pine needles quivered at the forecasting hurricane that lay in wait in the southward offing; how sea-mews and gulls hurtled screaming through the midnight air; how in the early morning the terrified inhabitants, looking from their windows facing the ocean, saw an awful sight: the waters had receded toward the southward, and where the Atlantic had rolled the night before, miles of sandbars lay bare to the gloomy light, as the bottom of the Red Sea to the Israelites; then how a dull roar came near and nearer, and suddenly a solid mass of wind and rain and salt spray leaped upon the devoted island with a scream. Great pines bent for a moment, and then, groaning and shrieking, were torn from their centuried growth like wisps of straw and hurled one against another; houses were cut from their foundations and thrown headlong, and then a deeper roar swelled the noise of the tempest, and a monstrous wall of inky waters rushed with the speed of lightning toward the island. It struck Assateague, and in a moment half the land was a waste of seething foam and tossing pine trunks; the next instant it struck Chincoteague, and in an unbroken mass swept across the low south marsh flats, carrying away men and ponies like insects; rushing up the island, tearing its way through the stricken pine woods.

“The storm of 1821”

Many a time by the side of his bright crackling fire, the aged Chincoteaguer, removing his pipe from the toothless gums where he has been sucking its bitter sweetness, will tell, as the winter wind roars up from the ocean, how Hickman, with his little grandson clinging to his neck, was swept by the great wave to King’s Bush marsh, far up on the main-land six miles away, and caught in the tough branches of its bushes; or how Andrews, with wife and family swept away in his sight, was borne up the island on the waters, and the next morning was discovered hanging in a pine-tree, by his waistband twenty feet from the ground.

“J. A. M. Whealton”

Chincoteague, united by no ties of interest to the rest of East Virginia, and dependent for its necessaries, its flour, tobacco, whisky, and calicoes, upon Philadelphia and New York, claims to have been during the war the only loyal portion of the eastern coast of Virginia. When the ratification of secession was returned to the votes of the people, only one man in Chincoteague, Joseph Hill by name, cast his vote for it - and then died. An immense Bell and Everett flag-pole, one hundred and twenty feet in height, was erected, - chiefly through the instrumentality of Mr. J. A. M. Whealton, one of the most prominent of the present inhabitants of Chincoteague, - and to the top of the pole were raised a great bell and a United States flag. It was distinctly seen from the main-land, and a deputation soon visited Mr. Whealton, demanding its removal.

“Gentlemen,” said the gallant little Unionist, “I erected that flag and bell, and when they go down, I go down with them; but so long as I have a dram of powder and an ounce of lead, and am able to use them, there they stay.” And there they staid.

But when the northern ports were closed to southern trade, Chincoteague suffered much. No flour, calico, or tobacco, and, what was worse, no whisky, could be obtained from the North. As to the South, it was more bitter against the so-called renegades than against the Yankees proper. A boat was loaded with oysters and sent to Philadelphia, only to be immediately captured. Another was started, and met with a similar fate. Then Mr. Whealton went himself, and, after much difficulty, secured the desired articles and conveyed them in triumph to Chincoteague. He then employed Dr. Snow of Snow Hill to plead the cause of the loyalists in Washington, and so well did the Doctor fulfill his mission, that the gun-boat “Louisiana” was sent to lie in Chincoteague Bay for the protection of the inhabitants. For two or three days the Secessionists, some two or three hundred in number, stood upon the main-land, about half a mile from the “Louisiana,” upon which they kept up a running fire, without, however, doing any damage. Soon General Lockwood was stationed upon the eastern shore, and then, with the protecting arm of the Federal Government around her, Chincoteague enjoyed her hominy-pots and whisky in unbroken felicity.

“That Miserable Engagement”

In his letter of August 26, 1876, to the Misses Cresson, Howard Pyle mentioned “that miserable engagement that detained me at the Newspaper Office, until half past one on that Tuesday when you passed through Wilmington.”

But what miserable engagement? What Newspaper Office? What Tuesday? I needed to find out. Fortunately, there were only a couple of newspapers published in Wilmington at that time, chiefly Every Evening and the Wilmington Daily Commercial. Pyle had an established relationship with the former: his first known published work of any kind was a drawing for Every Evening’s masthead in 1871. But for some reason that I can’t recall now (this was 15 years ago), I decided to search the Commercial first; perhaps it was because its editor, Howard M. Jenkins (1842-1902), was a friend of the Pyle family and a fellow member of the Friends’ Social Lyceum (plus Swarthmore College has a letter Pyle wrote him in 1889). Jenkins, incidentally, went on to edit The American - a Philadelphia-based periodical which published several works by Pyle’s mother and sister - and The Friends’ Intelligencer. An account of life and tragic death can be found here.

Anyway, the Library of Congress had bound volumes of the newspaper - which were less blinding to go through than microfilm - and I set to slog. As the volume for 1876 wasn’t delivered right away, I started with earlier years, which gave me a better sense of what life was like in Wilmington during Pyle’s youth (I was struck, in particular, by the number of stories about spelling bees and cases of epizooty).

Now, in his Cresson letter, Pyle also mentioned that “duty called me to make a visit to Chincoteague.” This was equally intriguing: after all, Pyle’s “Chincoteague, The Island of Ponies,” (Scribner’s Monthly, April 1877) helped launch his career. He called the article "the first I ever wrote for publication” (in a letter to Henry Troth, April 13, 1897) and it is routinely mentioned in interviews and biographical sketches. In 1903, for instance, Pyle said:
"Then I went to an island off the coast of Virginia, where roamed at will a breed of half-wild ponies. Once a year they were corraled and branded. I wrote an article about them and made some pencil drawings, which were redrawn; and on its publication I felt my art was of some practical use. This was confirmed by Mr. Roswell Smith, who advised me through my father, who had dropped in at Scribner’s to inquire if an article of mine were acceptable, to come to New York." (Interview with Charles Hall Garrett in The Reader, May 1903)
Well, I eventually got to August 1876 in the Wilmington Daily Commercial - and this jumped out at me:

Wilmington Daily Commercial, Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, August 15, 1876.



Correspondence of the Commercial.

Chincoteague, Va., August 12. - Could a man be suddenly transported from one country to another, as in eastern fables, he could meet with no more strongly marked and different peculiarities than he will discover when a day’s ride from Wilmington lands him on the Island of Chincoteague, just off the northernmost coast, or Eastern Shore, of Virginia.

The inhabitants themselves, are a peculiar race, for the most part of a sallow, leathery, smoke-dried complexion, with back and shoulders rounded like the bowl of a spoon. They generally roam in bare feet in summer, thus avoiding the unnecessary expense of shoe leather, their chief costume consisting of a pair of extraordinarily patched trowsers, strapped up to the seventh rib, a red or checked shirt, and a straw hat with wonderful breadth of brim, sheltering a placid face from the torrid glare of the sun.

Immediately to the eastward of Chincoteague, between it and the ocean, stretches Assateague Island, or, as the natives call it, “the beach,” upon the middle of which stands Assateague light-house, a first-class light and one of the finest in the country.

The ponies for which Chincoteague is so widely celebrated mostly roam in a wild state over the whole island, though some are now confined by their owners to large tracts of salt meadows fenced off, while others are swum across the narrow channel that separates Chincoteague from Assateague, to run at large upon the latter island, which, in spite of its quite heavy pine timber, is still in many portions unclaimed land.

Land-locked as Chincoteague is, separated by interest as by water from the rest of Virginia, its inhabitants seem to have retained the thoughts and prejudices of the state of civilization of seventy-five years ago. Not more than one or two of the older native inhabitants can read, and though in the last few years many people from the mainland have settled upon the island, you may still live there for weeks without beholding a newspaper, or a book of any kind for that matter.

Among the quaint and curious characters of the island is one popularly known as “Uncle Ken” Jester, one of the largest pony owners of the place, all whose thoughts seem to bear directly or indirectly upon “beach-hosses,” and to the one additional topic of whiskey. Of this favored liquor Uncle Ken imbibes on an average a quart or three pints a day, but drunk or sober he knows all that is to be known about ponies, and can catch them when at their wildest.

The wisdom evolved from the inner consciousness of these illiterate people is often quaint and shrewd enough. An old negro who goes by the name of “Ole Dan Tucker” was very entertaining in this respect. A pencil sketch of his queer figure was much desired, and he was offered ten cents as an inducement to stand still for that purpose. “Look yeh, Mass,” said he, in his broad Virginia accent, “reckon I’s ugly ’nough ’out puttin’t on paper. Land knows I want money too, I reckon. Money’ll take a man anywhe’s - ’cept to Heaven.” So Dan could not be persuaded to “pose,” but was subsequently caught upon the wing, so to speak, in front of the hotel.

Curious to northern eyes were the interior of some of the houses visited on Chincoteague, but with hospitable inhabitants. On the visitor’s entrance to the first the good woman of the house who was smoking vile tobacco in a very dirty short pipe, spanked a child who was rolling nearly naked upon the floor, whipped a sauce pan and a dirty pair of trousers off a chair and bade her guest sit down, all in a breath. One or two cheap prints, a highly-colored circus advertisement, and bottles with red flannel inside them were hung here and there, ornamenting the walls. The housekeeping arrangements consisted of three or four rickety chairs, a saucepan, a cracked pitcher, a griddle and a coffee pot; the smaller properties heaped in a rickety wash tub in one corner of the room. Then the bed! a voluminous mass of feathers rising in a mountainous heap quite five feet in height, with tawny counterpane and spindle bed-posts decked at the top with bits of parti-colored worsted. So hospitable are the owners of these dwellings that it requires some ingenuity to escape from the pressing invitations to share the meal which spread their board, consisting of fried potatoes, nodules of fat pork fried and floating in molasses, and conical chunks of bread which they dip in the same.

Some of the houses of a better class are equally curious in their way. One such is the residence of Capt. Caulk, an ex-Delawarean, a frame structure of hexagon shape in front of which is a collection of immense bones, relics of an enormous whale that was stranded upon the beach in a storm.

The Island of Chincoteague claims to have been, during the late war, the only loyal spot in East Virginia. The interests of the islanders were all against secession; they dealt with the North and held intercourse with it, while with Virginia and the South they had little or nothing in common. Only one man upon the Island, Joseph Hill by name, voted for the ratification of the secession act of the Virginia Assembly. The inhabitants of Chincoteague raised an immense flag-pole, a hundred and odd feet in height, to which, being Bell-Everett men, they hung a great bell and a United States flag. Prominent in this action was Mr. J. A. M. Whealton, a man of an intellect and education not often found among native Chincoteaguers. Upon a deputy coming from the mainland to protest and threaten, “Gentlemen,” said the courageous loyalist, “I hung that flag and bell, and when they go down I go down with them, but they hang there so long as I have powder and bullets and can use them.” And the Mainlanders were satisfied and let them hang!

At this season of the year Chincoteague is visited by quite a number of guests from other sections of the country, drawn by the exceptionally good gunning and fishing to be found upon the island no less than by the legitimate attractions of the ponies. Among these we had great pleasure in making the acquaintance of Prof. Otto Leugger, the German naturalist of the Baltimore Academy of Natural Sciences, who was there, puzzling the natives with his strange implements and proceedings; his butterfly nets and insect chasing; his seines and dredges and deep sea fishing. A pleasant expedition we had through the pine woods and thickets that clothe the island, though from that expedition and those thickets we emerged covered with myriads of seed ticks. Seated upon the edge of a stranded boat we endeavored to remove them from our persons with but indifferent success. Among the many insects which the Professor has collected it may be doubted if any have cost him more pains than those he doubtless still carries about him.

The most important event in the routine of Chincoteague life is the occasional penning of the ponies, or driving them into corral, one of which took place during our visit last week, when the ponies were penned for public sale. The pen was located immediately behind and to one side of a curious old frame building called the Virginia Hotel. It was quite early in the morning when the penning came off. Along the beach that stretches up the Island a mile or more, came suddenly in sight a crowd of ponies dashing along, now pattering over the moist sand, now splashing through shallow salt-pools that lay here and there along the strand. Behind came clattering with noise and gesticulation the figures of the drivers, men and boys, riding for the most part stirrupless and upon simple sheep-skins strapped to their ponies’ backs, bending almost level from their seat, every now and then dashing ahead to head off some fractious animal. Presently they approach the pen and squealing, whickering, biting and kicking, the ponies are headed tumultuously in. Then comes the tug of war, the capturing and haltering for the sale.

The lasso used is a rope about fifteen yards long with a running noose at one end. They do not cast the lasso after the manner of the Western mustang catchers, but hanging the noose around the end of a pole eighteen or twenty feet long, they approach near enough to drop it over the pony’s head. Now “Uncle Ken” takes the pole. Cautiously approaching, he keeps his eye fixed upon the one he wishes to secure, keeping the pole and noose well raised so as not to scare his intended captive. Suddenly, one of them taking fright, away they all plunge, scattering the spectators right and left. In the meantime the chosen pony is wedged in the midst of a crowd of his fellows. Uncle Ken sees his advantage; he runs forward, the noose is dropped and the pony captive. Then, as the animal feels the noose tighten upon his neck, ensues a shouting and struggling, half a dozen negroes at one end of the line and the pony at the other. He rears and plunges, dragging Ned and Sambo and the rest through the soft sand in a cloud of dust. Sometimes they are thrown completely off their feet as the pony makes a side plunge; then over they go, their heads plowing through the sand and stink-weed, but still gallantly and with much perspiration they retain their hold upon the line. At length the choking noose overcomes the pony’s courage; he stands still, trembling, with eyes rolling, while he emits a wheezing noise from his contracted larynx. Now is the time; a parcel of negroes rush quickly forward seizing the pony by every available point, legs, mane and tail. In vain the creature struggles; a sudden heave and over he goes, amid the tumultuous cheers of the surrounding spectators. Even yet he does not cease from his struggles, and sometimes by a sudden kick, he will send his captors tumbling right and left through the scattering crowd. But it is a last effort; a running noose is slipped over his nose and a piece of string tied from his forelock to this new loop. From this moment a sadder change comes over the pony. Now and then he will kick and plunge, of course, but as a general rule, he stands with half closed eyes as though nearly asleep, so that one would scarcely imagine that this was a veritable wild pony. But should you imagine that all the spirit has died out of him, attempt to mount him and you will discover your error.

The game in Chincoteague is excellent. Trout are caught by the fishermen in great abundance and sometimes of very large size. One that was shown me must have weighed two pounds. Another sportsman claimed to have shot one hundred and twenty snipe in less than two hours. The oysters and crabs are delicious, and indeed the island upon the whole abounds in good things; an interesting place to visit, though not altogether favorable for a permanent abode.


So, as Every Evening’s masthead is Pyle’s first known published drawing, this article represents Pyle’s first known published piece of prose. It predates the publication of “Chincoteague, The Island of Ponies” by more than seven months.

It also begs a few questions: Was Pyle working - even occasionally - as a reporter? Possibly, but I was unable to find any other pieces with his byline in the Commercial (or, for that matter, in Every Evening). Did he write the article on speculation, then submit it to Jenkins, or did Jenkins commission it? I wish I knew. But “that miserable engagement” probably involved Jenkins prodding Pyle at the Commercial offices (at the southwest corner of Fifth and Market Streets in Wilmington) to tweak and polish his text until it was good enough to be printed in that day’s paper.

As luck would have it, just as an Every Evening reader had criticized Pyle’s masthead drawing back in 1871, a disgruntled Commercial reader found fault with his Chincoteague letter. On August 29, 1876, the paper printed the following:

Chincoteague’s Bright Side.


Correspondence of the Commercial.

Chincoteague, Va., August 22. - Chincoteague boasts to-day of her public institutions; though the youngest settlement on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, hers is the only school district that runs a graded school. Its session covers ten months in the year, with an average attendance of scholars which exceeds one hundred, and to the expense of which the trustees of the Peabody Educational Fund made an annual appropriation of three hundred dollars.

Chincoteague has her Cornet Brass Band of fourteen instruments, under the leadership of Mr. J. T. Kenney, a gentleman of extraordinary musical ability, and though the organization has been in existence but twelve months, it stands side by side with similar institutions of longer standing.

We invite your correspondent “H.P.” to visit our churches and Sabbath schools, of which we have three, claiming that Chincoteague in her pulpits and pews, has as much ability and intelligence as is usually found in country churches.

Instead of the islanders, as “H.P.” asserts, being of a “sallow, leathery, smoke-dried complexion, with back and shoulders rounded like the bowl of a spoon,” they are in complexion the picture of tanned health; and in stature they resemble the North American Indian, from which race a few of them claim to have descended. An acquaintance with the Birch family, the Whealton and Lewis families, and a host of others, will fully corroborate the above statement. Whatever else may be said of the natives, to their credit we will say that in their homes and persons, though many of them are poor, they are the personification of neatness and cleanliness.

It is a strange fact, that while, as “H.P.” asserts, “one might live here for weeks without beholding a newspaper or a book of any kind,” we should read his article in the Commercial of the 15th the following morning; and we would say, just here, that if “H.P.” had made the acquaintance and associated with the better class of our island, they would have supplied him with the following leading publications: Harper’s Weekly, N.Y. Herald, N.Y. Sun, Philadelphia Times, Philadelphia Ledger, Wilmington Commercial, Baltimore American, Baltimore Sun, Richmond Dispatch, N.Y. Christian Advocate, Baltimore Methodist Protestant, with a host of lesser lights, all of which are received at our post office by actual subscription. The fact that H.P. failed to get a copy of Appleton’s Journal was not a proof of his assertion. We boast too of our commercial importance. Chincoteague Bay and tributaries yield to the toilers of the sea an annual income of two hundred thousand dollars, while from our agriculture, ponies, and sheep comes no small revenue.

Among our summer visitors we have had Hon. John A. J. Creswell, Col. H. R. Torbert of the Baltimore Custom House, Lieut. Thomas Traviss of the U.S.R.M. service, Mr. James Maffitt, theatrical manager, of Boston, Capt. C. H. Smith and family, of Wilmington, and a host of others, who spent their summer vacation here.


(Our correspondent, as may be inferred from some expressions, takes strong exception to a letter from Chincoteague, published in the Commercial of August 15th. He does not give fair credit, we think, to the generally kind and friendly tone of “H.P.’s” letter, but as he presents a number of additional facts, we print his letter with pleasure, and should be glad to hear from him again. - Ed. Commercial)

But Pyle ignored “Jonadab.” Rather, he broadened his text threefold, added more anecdotes and local color, retained all of his grotesque descriptions, and further lampooned the islanders. In doing so, however, he was emulating the travel-writing of his day, which combined autobiography, history, and humor - as well as prevailing prejudices. He had excellent models: both Mark Twain and Bayard Taylor, America’s first professional travel writer (and Pyle’s “cousin” - at least according to Pyle), had grown wealthy and world-renowned on the genre. When completed, the second version of Pyle’s Chincoteague article surely lacked the finesse of these masters, but it was a creditable, even precocious effort - and worthy enough to appear in Scribner’s Monthly the following April.

The sketches Pyle had made, though, weren’t quite up to snuff, so the magazine had them redrawn by more seasoned illustrators. Still, as this and his illustrated fable, “Drummer Fritz and his Exploits” (St. Nicholas, September 1877), had been accepted by national publications - and even some commissions had begun drifting his way - Pyle felt encouraged enough to set out on what he later called his “new life” as an artist-author. And by mid-October 1876, he had left Wilmington for New York.

Howard Pyle’s text and the redrawn pictures for “Chincoteague, The Island of Ponies” will be in my next post.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

September 4, 1871

I’m interrupting my planned follow-up post to present this...

Today is the 139th anniversary of the first known appearance in print of a Howard Pyle work. He made this rather crude drawing for the masthead of the inaugural issue of Every Evening, a Wilmington newspaper, and it was featured for the next two years.

As far as I know, Pyle, out of embarrassment or forgetfulness, never mentioned it later in life and it eluded the otherwise 90+ percent comprehensive bibliography assembled by Willard S. Morse and Gertrude Brinckl√© in 1921. It was credited, however, otherwise it’s creator would never have been known:

And, as luck would have it, it also garnered the first known critical review of a Pyle work. The following appeared in the issue of September 6, 1871:

As the editor helpfully noted, “But is he smoking a cigar?” Lavinia, it seems, misread the father’s handlebar mustache.