“All eyes were turned to Abraham Davenport...” by Howard Pyle
It’s always interesting - interesting to me, at least - to see great minds succumb to rounds of anxiety and self-doubt. On July 17, 1883, Howard Pyle wrote to his wife, Anne, who was down at her family’s cottage in Rehoboth, Delaware with their 13-month-old son, Sellers:
I sit here this evening a right up and down blue man. Why am I so blue? That I can’t tell thee; thee knows how I get such spells upon me; one of them is upon me now. I have had a day of enforced - I might almost say - idleness through the failure of Harpers to send the Higginson MS. that they must forward. Beside this, my drawing for Butler (the Philadelphia publisher) has not turned out what I could have desired. It is too good to do over again and yet is almost too bad to send away. I want to get it out of the house for I hate the sight of it when I come into the studio. I don’t know whether it is the hot weather or whether it is thy being away that upsets me, or whether I am going backward in my work, but certainly it seems to me that I do not draw so well now as I did three months ago. I really am very much inclined to write to Mr. [Charles] Parsons [head of Harper & Brothers’ art department] and ask him to send me away somewhere on a trip so that I can get away from the jog-trot drudgery of manufacturing pictures for two or three weeks. If I have a change, perhaps I can tackle my work again with more vim and go when I come back to it again.Pyle may well have been in a sort of post-partum depression at this point: he had recently finished writing and illustrating his Gesamtkunstwerk, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood - which would come out that fall - and he seems to have been casting about for something equally absorbing. He had just begun writing verses which would later be collected in Pepper & Salt and was doing - or trying to do - his usual bread-and-butter work.
The “Higginson MS.” was Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s manuscript for either “The Dawning of Independence” or “The Birth of a Nation” or “Our Country’s Cradle” - articles which Pyle ultimately illustrated for Harper’s Monthly.
And his “drawing for Butler” is, perhaps, the illustration shown here for Monroe's New Fifth Reader (Philadelphia: E. H. Butler & Co., 1884), which somehow missed inclusion in the 1921 bibliography of Pyle’s works (I’m not yet entirely sure if this is the one Pyle meant, though: I need to keep hunting).
Pyle’s Franklin Street studio, meanwhile, was in the process of being built, hence his statement, “I want to get it out of the house,” since between 1881 and 1883 his workspace was located in his - actually, his mother-in-law’s - home at 207 Washington Street in Wilmington.
Still blue, Pyle wrote to Anne the following day: “Bad luck today. No MS. from Harpers.… Rubbed off from my picture that which I did yesterday, and think it looks better. I shall send it away tomorrow without touching it any more - I hope.”