Howard Pyle and Oliver Wendell Holmes
Years ago I was showing in the Jack Meier Gallery in Houston, Texas. Across the street from the gallery was one of the most enjoyable bookstores I’ve ever been to, The Detering Book Gallery. It was a wonderful place, as most old bookstores are, polished wooden floors, grand old wooden bookshelves, lots of nooks and crannies all filled with used and rare books. The smell alone was heaven. They had two floors and one could lose oneself in there quite easily for a whole day. Every time I visited Jack and Martha Meier I would walk across the street and become one of the lost for hours. On their shelves one could find original Robert Crumb art, books with original sketches and inscriptions by the likes of Bruce Bairnsfather (I can’t believe I let that one get away!) and Howard Pyle.
The Detering Book Gallery is gone now, but has been bought, renamed and relocated. It’s now called Graham Book Gallery and if you’re in Houston I suggest making the pilgrimage there.
The Howard Pyle I did not let get away and I thought I’d share it with you here. It is a two-volume set of “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, illustrated by Howard Pyle and inscribed by him. I figured this was as close as I would ever get to owning a Pyle original.
Pyle is considered the Father of American Illustration. He was a great writer and teacher as well, teaching the likes of NC Wyeth, Harvey Dunn, Frank Schoonover, etc. at his Brandywine school.
The books were published in 1893, originally copyrighted in 1858. In this particular edition, on the title page of the first volume is a superb inscription by Howard Pyle dated 1897 reminiscing about meeting Holmes and discussing his place in the world of American literature. I have tried to cipher all of Pyle’s handwriting, though some of it I could not figure out. Here is my attempt amended by Ian Schoenherr who I sent this to for possible inclusion on his Howard Pyle blog:
I did not know “the Autocrat” – (for so Dr Holmes loved to be called) until toward the close of his life. At that time he stood a prophetical exemplair of that poem he wrote away back in the thirties – “the Last Leaf”. Longfellow had gone, Lowell had gone[,] Emerson had gone, Whittier had just gone – “the Autocrat” was indeed the last leaf of that sturdy tree of literature that had for so long spread its branches over New England.
I had expected to find his loneliness weighing upon him with a burden, at least of gentle melancholy. Instead, I found him gay, chatty, debonair, almost boastful of being the last leaf upon the tree. He quoted the poem and plumed himself upon the fulfillment of his own prophecy. He felt that all the glory of that great generation of letters was now upborn, Atlas-like upon his individual shoulders.
Human nature is a queer thing; some wrap themselves in it as in a blanket. “The Autocrat” wore his with the jauntiness of an opera-cloak.
October 30th 1897
The Last Leaf
I have forwarded scans of this inscription to Ian Schonhoerr for his exceptional blog on Howard Pyle which you would do well to visit. It’s a treasure trove of information and drawings and paintings about Pyle’s life. I highly recommend it.