Friday, September 30, 2011

“I am glad I am not dead”

Today is the 108th birthday of Miss Mary Asenath Ball, who sent a fan letter to Howard Pyle when she was seven years old. Her letter is lost, but we can glean what she wrote by reading Pyle’s reply:

In case Pyle’s writing is difficult to decipher, he said:
My Dear Mary Ball

I like your letter. I am glad you like my books. I wish I had written an Indian story. I did not write one. I am glad I am not dead.

I am yours truly

Howard Pyle
Pyle received Mary’s letter when he was in Florence, Italy, and he sent his reply sometime in April 1911 (I haven’t yet figured out if, on the postmark, the “1” refers to the day and the “17” to the hour, or vice versa). This is (so far) the last known letter in Pyle’s own hand - in fact, all the others sent from Italy were written or typed by his secretary, Gertrude Brincklé. And, of course, there’s a certain poignancy to it since Pyle died some seven months later.

Mary was the only child of Bertrand Emery Ball and the sculptor Caroline Cheever (Peddle) Ball (1869-1938), who studied under Pyle’s friends Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Kenyon Cox.


kev ferrara said...

Love this. I really enjoy seeing Pyle's sense of humor in action.

Does Pyle's handwriting in this letter look particularly dodgy to you?

Ian Schoenherr said...

I think that - for the sake of the child - Pyle was overcompensating for his often illegible handwriting. But slowing it down - or making it more “childlike” - also made it look more wobbly than usual.

Ian Schoenherr said...

For an example of Pyle’s “usual” handwriting (from late 1906, at least), see the letter near the bottom of this post: