Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Washington’s Birth-Day

From  Harper's Weekly for March 4, 1882:

Washington’s Birth-Day
by Howard Pyle

The breakfast china stood in rows,
And all was smart and bright at home,
Where Patience stood in Sunday clothes,
Waiting for Jared Judd to come.

For it was Washington’s Birth-day,
And Jared was to take her down
To Bristol Township for to stay,
And see the doings in the town.

So up he comes, all sprucely dressed:
A finer sight you never see
Than Jared in his Sunday best,
With light blue coat and figured vest,
And splatterdashers to the knee.

Then Jared’s heart beat nation high,
As down they rode the turnpike way,
With Patience on the pillion nigh
Behind him, on the dapple gray.

The town with flags was all afloat;
They fluttered in the frosty air;
And all the men of local note
Were gathered there from everywhere.

And there they see the butchers’ stalls,
With “show beef” hung, and ribbons gay,
And flags tacked up against the wall,
Where sirloins stand in fat array.

The fife and drums are playing loud,
And likely girls the sidewalks hem,
And close behind the band, a crowd
Of men and boys march after them.

The drummers make a pesky noise,
The fifer fifes with might and main;
The girls laugh at the men and boys,
Then look away and laugh again.

And on the common, near at hand,
They’d brought the old town cannon out,
And built a ten-foot speeching-stand,
With flags and streamers hung about.

And there they see the train-band stout
All step about with measured tread,
While Captain Green gives orders out,
And marches boldly at their head.

And then Judge Dean he makes a speech,
While great men sit along the stand.
Says he, “The train-band men will teach
Our foes to shun our native land.”

At which all cheered; and Captain Bent
He jabbed a red-hot poker to
The cannon’s butt, and off it went,
Till't shook the folks all through and through.

It frightened Patience so, she caught
At Jared's arm and shook for fear;
And so he took her by, and bought
Her cooky-cakes and ginger-beer.

And so the holiday was passed;
And as the afternoon grew late,
He took her home, and said good-by,
And kissed her near the garden gate.

“...and followed by Washington’s Birthday”

“Enter Fourth of July bowing and followed by Washington’s Birthday” by Howard Pyle from “The Revolt of the Holidays” by E. I. Stevenson (Harper’s Young People, December 18, 1883).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pyle, Lincoln, and Roosevelt

“Abraham Lincoln” by Howard Pyle (1907)

On this day 150 years ago - February 21, 1861 - President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrived in Philadelphia en (circuitous) route to Washington, D.C.. After a 34-gun salute, he rode from the depot in an open barouche pulled by four white horses to the Continental Hotel as anywhere from 100,000 to a quarter of a million people cheered him on. Mrs. Margaret C. Pyle was one of the onlookers, having come up from Wilmington, Delaware, at the invitation of a friend.

Some 46 years later, Mrs. Pyle’s son Howard painted this illustration for “Lincoln’s Last Day” by William H. Crook (Harper’s Monthly Magazine, September 1907). During a visit to the studio, Mrs. Anna Roosevelt Cowles got to see the original oil on canvas, and Pyle reported to her younger brother, Theodore Roosevelt:
She appeared to be moved by the pathos of the image which I had attempted to depict, and I told her then that the inspiration of your tireless and energetic struggle for the benefit of a great people had had a large, if not a dominant, influence upon my presenting the picture of your great fellow-president.

You also will always be remembered as one who has given the best efforts of his life to the combatting of a gigantic evil and for the preservation of the best interests, and the enlargement of the future happiness of his fellow men.
The painting was subsequently sold in Chicago - possibly at an exhibition of Pyle’s works at Marshall Field & Company in December 1909 - and hasn’t been seen in public since then.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On the Bargello, 1911

“As to the Bargello, which was once the judgment hall and the state prison of Florence, but which is now a Museum, there are treasures beyond calculation - ancient arms and armor, ancient saddles, ancient carved ivories inlaid with gold and colored, old medals, and jewels, a single one of which would make an American feel rich in the possession of it - all these are crowded into half a dozen great rooms, through which one passes, and where they are exposed to view to all who come. During the week the charge of admission is a franc to each exhibition, but on Sundays admission is free, and then they are crowded with the plain people of Florence, soldiers and bourgeois, who gather there to see them.”
Howard Pyle to Stanley Arthurs, February 16, 1911

On the Palazzo Strozzi, 1911

“The Strozzi Palace is perfect, and is even yet lived in by a remnant of the Strozzi family. All around the palace there are link holes in the wall with great rings where those who lighted the links assisted themselves to climb to them; and the building itself is as fresh as though it were built five or ten years ago.”
Howard Pyle to Stanley Arthurs, February 16, 1911

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A. B. Frost to Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle (right) in the summer of 1878 as depicted by his friend and fellow illustrator Arthur Burdett Frost (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, May 1879)

“I would love to go over the old times and the nice little sketching rambles we used to take, when we gathered cat-tails and scared the farmer by waving a big knife at him. I am pretty nearly as vigorous as I was then. I can stand a lot of hard walking with a gun and if it wasn’t for the rheumatism I think I am nearly as tough as I ever was.”
Arthur Burdett Frost to Howard Pyle, February 9, 1903

Friday, February 4, 2011

Howard Pyleiostro

“Mr. Pyle enjoys teasing the maids, especially Lina, just how he wants his egg, due minuti [e] mezzo; he will not learn Italian, found that inchiostro is Italian for ink, and adds iostro to everything.”
Gertrude Brinckl√© to an unidentified correspondent, February 4, 1911. (Not to be outdone, the Florentine servants addressed Mr. Pyle as “Signor PEE-lay.”)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

“Morgan at Porto Bello” (and then New York)

Above is the earliest known letter written on this date by Howard Pyle. It is addressed to Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833-1908), the “Banker-Poet” and one of the first seven men elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

For a couple of years, Pyle carried on a spirited correspondence with Stedman, who had been fortunate enough to have a few of his ballads embellished by Pyle. After seeing Pyle’s illustration for his poem, “Morgan,” (published in Harper’s Monthly for December 1888) Stedman wrote on July 20, 1888:
The drawing, or rather painting, is magnificent! Figures, faces, composition, all dramatically fine, and catching the spirit of the ballad at its most characteristic point. ’Tis a pity that this unique painting, which is the result of both talent and close labor, should have to be condensed into a page of Harper. Yet, it will be effective, even on that scale.

Yes, it is one of your very best, and will bear off the honors next December.

I suppose you own the painting, but I ought to. I wish I were able to pay your price for it, if you would permit it to go on my walls. When I see such a picture enriching my own verse, I feel more than ever the loss of my former means. Still, I will pinch a good deal in other directions, if you will name a price for it.
Pyle named $100. Stedman replied:
I am charmed that you are willing to sell me the “Morgan” cartoon, and at a price which I dare pay, and to obtain which (the amount) I shall write and sell a hundred dollar poem, between now and the date of its return to your possession. And if I had the means formerly at my command, I should tell you that you ought to have more for so successful and elaborate a picture. If then, you are willing to dispose of it to me, for the hundred dollars, please consider it sold. And when you deliver it, advise me as to the most appropriate frame for me to give it.
By late October 1888, the painting hadn’t yet made its way back to Pyle, who worried that Frank H. Wellington (who, incidentally, died after eating toadstools in Passaic, NJ, in 1911) may have “soiled” it while making the wood engraving for the magazine, and he begged Stedman to “let me slick my child up a little before he is finally presented to Metropolitan Society”:
Seriously, I have always felt a little bit shabby - a trifle hang-dog concerning that charge of a hundred dollars for a drawing which should unquestionably have belonged to you. So I would like to do all that I can to make it presentable and acceptable.
But Stedman told Pyle to “do that you choose, & I’ll be proportionately grateful.”

It took a while, but by January 28, 1889, Pyle had finished cleaning, repairing, retouching, re-varnishing, and framing the painting, and “Morgan” was on “his last cruise, perhaps,” to New York. Pyle also mentioned to Stedman that he was about to take a cruise of his own to the West Indies, “to follow in the footsteps of the redoubtable Welshman [i.e. Henry Morgan] and others of his kidney”:
Oh, that you were inspired to go along! What an opportunity to become acquainted with you as we cruised together through the Spanish Main and amongst those musty old towns that were one time the glory as they were the ruin of poor Mother Spain. My wife goes along with me.
Stedman jokingly warned Pyle of the “beautiful girls, of mixed breed & dubious character” in Panama, who “wear jasmines in their hair…& talk Spanish-Indian - but you are to take your family with you? If so, you are safe. However, the French invaders have probably taken all the poetry out of the place.”

And - to make a long-winded story short - Pyle replied on February 3, 1889:
Wilmington, Delaware

Feby. 3rd 1889

My Dear Mr Stedman: -

I am glad that your Morgan came at last - the hanging which he received was too good a fate for the like of him.

As for the frame - I may as well be frank at once - it was the making of it that delayed his final voyage to New York. To tell the truth I have always had a sneaking fondness for that particular offspring of mine, and it tickled a certain rib of self vanity to dress him in good clothes before I packed him off to his new home in great New York. Moreover I have always had an idea that black and white would look well set in a wooden mat. I hope you like the plan of so framing it and will pardon me if I have taken a liberty in putting a stick or two around the drawing instead of leaving it to your better taste.

I shall certainly endeavour to make the Panama trip that you advise - it sounds alluring enough. But as for the girls with jessamines in their hair, why, as I take my good wife with me and as in these seven years I have n’t found anyone that quite tickles my fancy as she does I hardly think that I shall leave the tiller and jump overboard at the beck of the “greaser” sirens.

I remembered your book-plate very well so soon as I laid eyes on it. It was published in the “Book-Buyer”, was it not? Honestly I like it much better than my own lucubrations, if I may so apply the word, it looks more like a real book-plate and less like a Christmas card.

I suppose that the Players will officially notify me if I am to be enrolled as one of them [They did so on February 11, 1889]. As for the book-plate, if they pass favorably upon it I hope that they will return it for corrections as soon as possible as I leave home on Saturday next.

Very Truly Yours

Howard Pyle

I might add that I’ve been able to bask in the glory of the original and I’ve sometimes wished that Pyle had followed Stedman’s advice and had made “a painting four times this size, from this fine study, possibly with more colors than black-and-white, for a large effect and for exhibition and sale.”

But he didn’t. And “Morgan at Porto Bello” - a relatively small, black and white thing at 15 x 24 inches - now resides in rural New Jersey.

“Morgan at Porto Bello” by Howard Pyle (1888)