This is the Life!
Chapter Three -- Living By One's Wits (Part 1)
The Angel of the Centennial ... The Brooklyn Theatre Fire ... Artists of the earlier days ... Mat Morgan's studio ... Notable habitues ... Father's atelier for chess-players ... The Rev. Hannibal Goodwin ... Breaking into Puck ... Value of the grotesque ... A remarkable coincidence ... The Graphic and its ballooon ... The sensitive model
Exposition, which now seems as remote as Tut-ankh-amen's first birthday
party, exercised an incalculable influence upon the inhabitants of nearby
regions, and it must have been an enormous incentive to me, albeit I seem to
recall plainly only a few of its outstanding features. One was the gigantic Corliss engine,
the other a marvelous statue, entitled, I think, "The Flight of
Time," a beautiful concept of a lovely woman, just blooming into matronly
perfection, being hurried along by Father Time, a piece of Italian sculpture
which has lingered in my mind's eye all these years.
One of my engraver friends named
Billy Black, who now is, I believe, the Superintendent of the Pennsylvania R.R.
station in New York, had become an
"extra" conductor between Philadelphia
and New York,
and he used to carry me to and from the Exposition whenever I wished to go.
Many happy and fecund days I spent within the Exposition grounds, and I had
many curious adventures in the City of Brotherly
Love, which harbored more dives and disreputable
joints than any I have ever visited. The number of naughty pictures showing
completely nude women exposed behind the bars of saloons seems to me to have
been legion. George
Folsom, Will's brother-in-law and afterward manager of the World's art department, was then a
silver-engraver. He used to play pool with Francis Wilson,
a slight little variety actor with a pair of concentric legs which Gene Field has made
immortal, who seemed rather to patronize me on the score of my youthful
appearance, for it has always been my misfortune to appear perhaps ten years
younger than I am. Yet it may have been a year or so earlier that these
meetings occurred, for I went to Philadelphia
frequently. Pool, however, never was attractive to me, and most of my time was
spent in seeking adventures.
One night I sat down to rest myself
on a tiny marble stoop and went to sleep, awaking to find myself lying in the
daintiest and most exquisite bed that I had ever seen. Almost instantly there
came to my mind the story of the tailor in the "Arabian Nights," and
I was not at all surprised when a fairy appeared. She was as beautiful as she
was kind-hearted and clever, but my Scotch instincts warned me against her
wiles. She made me stay to breakfast, and was more wistfully charming and
lady-like than any woman I have ever met, I think, but I was intent upon guarding
my virtue, and like any Sir Galahad—or did he guard his?—I was cold to her
charms every moment while under the roof of this Phryne, and as soon as I could
manage to escape from her clutches I bolted. There is no fool like a young
That winter, while visiting a friend
in Brooklyn, a servant rushed in, crying:
"The theater is on fire!"
We ran around the block to witness,
from the rear of the Brooklyn Theater, the memorable disaster.
Next Sunday, on one of the coldest days that I remember, we went out to the
fields and saw that lengthy procession of funeral coaches, the funeral of more
than two hundred victims of the fire. The event produced upon me a profound
impression, but I imagine it also hardened me, as it were, for I was never
again unduly excited or moved under similar circumstances.
That year I also saw the production
at Booth's Theater of "Sardanapalus,"
unless my memory fails me as to the date. It was so superbly impressive and so
realistic that it has always remained, with the sole exception of Fox's "Humpty
Dumpty" (which appeared to me to be actually supernatural in its
amazing transformations), the very highest pinnacle of theatrical endeavor.
That I must have gone often to the theater is attested by the fact that I
Davenport, Agnes Booth
Cushman, the Albaughs
and Ada Rehan in
their best days, but "The Big Bonanza" and "The Three
Orphans" were the only plays that I retained long in my memory.
Living by one's wits, which exactly
describes the profession of the cartoonist and caricaturist, who has to produce
something new every day, at least tends to develop habits of observation and
induce something akin to cerebral activity. I happen to recall that once when I
had prefaced a remark with the words "I think," Arthur Brisbane, in
the pride of having written a five-thousand-word story of a society wedding in
one day, interrupted me.
"Think! You don't think!"
he said contemptuously. "Why, you haven't a wrinkle on your face!"
Arthur had, even in his early
twenties, a plexus of deep-lined cryptic creases in his lofty dome's front like
those of a newborn setter pup, and quite naturally connected them with mental
action. Instead of delivering a lecture upon these palpable evidences of
cerebral deficiency, I merely replied that I "did not think with my
skin." Age will tool the brow as does a bookbinder's tool, but wrinkles in
youth are atavistic blemishes like the short simian thumb and the canine
incisors of the half-developed Neanderthal man, and they usually indicate, if
they denote anything, a difficulty in thinking.
One satisfaction the cartoonist has:
he gets a quick decision upon his work. I kept afloat a number of comics among
the New York
weeklies while I worked and played, and I sold one frequently enough to prevent
complete discouragement, each sale, in fact, filling me with renewed confidence
Puck had a
sort of organization in its art department, the others were less formal and
more genial. Puck's artists and
writers were inclined to have hauteur, swelled with the first pride of success,
Harper's men were rather patronizing
but kindly, and the Judge crowd
brotherly and helpful. On Puck a new
artist was confined to a small room, given a subject to illustrate within a
reasonable time, and if he did not make the grade, was promptly given the gate.
The other weeklies seem to have recognized latent talent and to have assisted
it. Their art departments were readily accessible. I remember once seeing Edwin A. Abbey tear up a drawing in
almost tearful disgust as he declared that he ought to be out in a wagon
selling clams. Also, how James
A. Wales, then a top-liner on Judge,
wisely and very kindly counseled me about my work for more than an hour,
pointing out defects and, above all, revealing to me the wonders of the work of
Vierge. I was able, not
so many years later, to give him the opportunity to do considerable work for
The manager of Judge's art department ran a faro bank as a
side line. All of the writers and most of the artists supported it, it seems,
and it was an inducement to hard work, for it kept them poor. Syd.
B. Griffin, afterward my own partner, was the most humorous of Puck's staff. His capable right hand
became paralyzed, and then he quickly learned to do even better work with his
the most famous cartoonist after Nast, was a pompous German and a fair draftsman
but whose knowledge of the rigging of a ship excited even my youthful ridicule.
When I sold him a comic of a milkman to whom a cow was an unknown animal, he
himself captioned it "No Wonder!" which shows that he had a real
sense of humor and it was indeed a very poor cow.
The greatest comic artist of the
Seventies, after L.
Hopkins of the Graphic, was Eugene
Zimmerman, a splendid handler of pen and ink, utterly unspoiled by an
immense success, a few years my elder, who, like Hopkins, made pictures that were funny in
themselves, regardless of the subject matter. Few artists seemed then to
recognize the distinction, perhaps because few were really humorous. As years
went on, "Zim" altered his style, growing funnier if less artistic,
but through an inexplicable lack of recognition by the latter-day publishers he
has retired into comparative obscurity. In those early days Fred Opper, now a
brilliant star in the American's
galaxy, was doing good work and aspiring to be a water-color painter, and was
much more dignified and upstage in his twenties than he is now. He was always
reserved and kept aloof from the dissipations of his confreres, and thereby he
managed to acquire a reputation for nearness comparable to that of Sir Harry
Lauder when he first came to this country, and productive of almost as many
anecdotes. One was to the effect that when he was lunching at the Auditorium
Hotel in Chicago with Tom
Powers, Swinnerton and Davenport, the
others each placed a fifty-cent tip under a glass, obliging him to follow suit.
It was said that he never afterward recognized any of them, but I know better.
An endeavor to list all the rivals
that were set up against Puck and Judge would be barren of interest, for,
with the exception of Life, they were
short-lived. Each of them, however, was a bow of promise, while it lasted, to
every peripatetic artist and writer. Farthest back in my memory is the Tomahawk, started by Matt Morgan,
a dashing, handsome Englishman of the Herbert Standing
type, whose studio was the daily resort of many of the illustrators, poets and
actors of the time. There I first saw Walt Whitman on my only visit to the
place with John Bolles, a Newarker. That afternoon there came Thomas
Wust, Hopkins and Miranda, with Charles Frohman, then
circulation manager for the Graphic,
William H. Shelton, famous for his escape from a Southern prison, and the
dapper Gray Parker, then on Harper's
staff, with others no less distinguished but quite unknown to the two obscure
I had almost forgotten to mention
among them one whom for many years I did not properly appreciate, Herman
Melville, the author of "Typee," and whom I very often encountered,
as I did Walt Whitman, lounging along Park Row, a rather moody, sullen man, I
thought, but now I imagine that he was shy. Under the influence of the punch,
perhaps, I invited Melville out to our house, to meet Marion Harland, and he
accepted the invitation graciously enough but he never came.
I remember that both Bolles and I
thought the conversation nothing much for such distinguished company, for we
were both, no doubt, looking for pyrotechnics. We agreed that we had heard much
more brilliant talk right in my own home. I thought Whitman a domineering old
windbag who couldn't keep his tobacco out of his splendid white whiskers, but
when I grew up I came to like him very much, and Horace
Traubel, whom I knew very well after I went to live in Philadelphia, while
he was still a bank clerk, told me that the old poet often urged him to bring
me over, but I knew that the secret of his liking was the fact that I was the
only man he knew who, like himself, chewed Mayflower tobacco, long since an
In the center of Morgan's studio was
parked a new washtub half filled with claret punch, which, it seemed, was a
permanent adjunct of the apartment and which gave me an exalted idea of the
owner's affluence. I remember seeing a similar punch bowl when a child on the
occasion of a big baseball game, and, much later, on the dedication, or
whatever it was, of Grant's Tomb.
The Tomahawk was several degrees above the other comic papers in many
respects, but it soon died and Morgan returned to London. Another very good British artist,
John Hyde, came here about that time who used to do the alluring front pages
for Fox's Police Gazette,
wherein almost painfully beautiful legs were always conspicuous, and I was
informed that there was much jealousy between the two Londoners. Both of Hyde's
sons, Clarence and Raymond, were on the World
That gathering was somewhat
different from the daily assembly of chess-players in my father's rather shabby
studio three floors up in an old building on Broad Street. Father was a handsome man
of lovable character and filled with information. He had an insatiable avidity
for new methods and ideas, and was constantly experimenting with novelties in
pigments, papers and mediums new in the arts. The latest of Newark's products, celluloid, appealed to him
as a substitute for ivory, upon which he painted his miniatures. He was a
leader in the art at that time, having painted Edgar Allan Poe, which miniature
was reproduced in the Century Magazine
in 1910, Henry Clay, Commodore Vanderbilt, General Scott and other celebrities.
He devoted considerable time to ascertaining the fitness of celluloid for this
His studio was the resort of a
number of men who, whether young or old, called him "Jack," to my
intense disgust and mortification. Here came very often George Inness, with whom he went
sketching in the Orange Mountains, Thomas
Moran, just returned from the Colorado Canyon and painting his great
pictures now in the Capitol at Washington, in a small house in South Street,
Alex Drake, art director of the Century
Magazine, A. B.
Durand the painter, who had been an engraver, as had Moran and Drake, and
who was then devoting all his energies to raising giant strawberries, Thomas Dunn English,
who wrote "Ben Bolt" and was editing a Newark newspaper, Thomas A.
Edison, then running an electrical shop around the corner, and Bill Gilder,
afterward famous for his journey afoot across Siberia in aid of the Jeanette
expedition. Gilder was a competent, even brilliant portrait-painter, but joined
the Herald staff and gave me all of
In this interesting group, mostly
chess-players, was also the Reverend Hannibal Goodwin,
rector of the House of Prayer, an uptown church of the swellest Episcopalians,
who became interested in the celluloid plates upon which father was painting.
Goodwin was a sweet-tempered, wholesome man, kindly and curious, who amused
himself with chemical experiments but had no real scientific training, I
believe. My more intimate contact with him began with his interest in the
gelatine reproduction process, the method then in use for making pen-and-ink
cuts for printing. He had me make him many drawings for his experiments.
Finally, when he took up the new zinc-etching and its necessary photography,
the result of his labors was the celluloid photograph film.
My worthy parent had overlooked the
almost transparent plates right under his nose as he worked, but the studious
cleric, although no photographer, had, as if by instinct, detected the latent meaning
of that transparency. It made the motion picture possible and led to fame and wealth,
but not for Hannibal Goodwin, for the invention was pirated by camera
manufacturers. Long afterward the courts compelled the greatest of these to pay
ten million dollars to his widow—a genuine romance with a happy ending!
Goodwin's discovery was of
incalculable value to photographers and others. In that Age of Invention,
during which celluloid collars, typewriters, electric lights, fountain pens,
the hot dog, the xylophone, invented by a lad in Stumptown whom I knew, the
linotype, bottled catsup, the burglar alarm, wood pavements and canned baby powder
emerged from the cosmos, I was not neglectful of the opportunities, for I
invented the tiny bent-wire device
by which price tags are attached to ready-made clothing. I sold the patent for
$350 to two men whose very names I have somehow managed to forget, probably because
of the dull ache their memory rouses within me.
McDowell, then president of the Seabeach Railroad and
afterward prominent as a peace-promoter, counseled me to invest my wealth in
Bell Telephone stock, then selling at a dollar a share, but when I asked Edison's
advice he intimated that McDowell wanted to unload a burden upon me, and told
me that the telephone was only a toy that would never be a commercial success. I
fancy now that he was kidding me, but I took his advice. In 1907, John Wanamaker, for
whose son Thomas I was toiling on the Philadelphia North American, informed me that he
had borrowed six millions on that stock during that year's brief panic. That I had
little business sense is shown by the fact that while making pictures every
month for the struggling Prudential Insurance Company I could have received
stock but preferred to be paid in cash!
** End of Chapter 3 Part 1
Labels: McDougall's This Is The Life