Howard Pyle: A Chronicle. By Charles D. Abbott. With an Introduction by N. C. Wyeth and Many Illustrations from Howard Pyle's Works. New York: Harper and Brothers. $5.00.
The Knave of Hearts. By Louise Saunders. With Pictures by Maxfield Parrish. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. $10.00.
In a letter to William Dean Howells, Howard Pyle remarks that "we hope shortly to have that greatest of all blessings befall us—to give another life to this dear, beautiful old world." "This dear, beautiful old world"! As I look back upon the pleasure that Howard Pyle's pictures have always given me, and as—in the light of this new "Chronicle"—the man himself now stands more fully revealed than before, it seems to me that a better phrase could hardly be found, to indicate his essential attitude towards life and towards his art. It is good to know that the color which spread itself so generously over the pages of Harper's Magazine through the opening decade of the century, and which made so many books a veritable feast for the eye of youth, was thus a reflection of something in the soul of its creator. And it may be that here was the source of the enthusiasm that enabled Pyle so whole-heartedly to enter into the spirit of his various undertakings that he became, quite ujimistakably, one of the Good Enchanters of men.
This is not, of course, the only attitude that may lead a man to be an artist: it is not even the only attitude conducive to the evoking of enchantment. If it were, there could be few artists indeed; for not to many of Nature's spoiled and tortured children is given such peacefulness of spirit as belonged to Pyle. There is absolutely no indication in Mr. Abbott's book that his subject can ever have known the nervous irritability, the divine impatience, the alternate raptures and despairs that most of us have come to feel inseparable from the "artistic temperament." Not even when Pyle discusses intelligently the sad condition of American art, when he enters, with full self-abnegation, into large plans for its betterment, does his own serenity seem in the least disturbed. This is not without its disadvantages, so far as the biographer is concerned: it makes the first part of the book—with its entire absence of spiritual struggle on the part of the young artist—almost unpleasantly placid. Later on, the impression of smugness disappears, and you get instead the not so common spectacle of a soul at peace. Perhaps, in the final analysis, it is the peace that rests on faith. Consider here this astonishing statement of maturity: "I have found that whatever remains of turgid doubts yet lingered in my mind are now clean gone, never. I believe, to return, and only the truth is left as light as day." I am confident that this temper of Pyle's reacted upon his work, though just how the influence operated it would be hazardous to say. Had he been different, perhaps deeper —had he penetrated farther into the House of Pain, had he looked more steadily into the terrible cesspools in man's heart, perhaps there might have been less romantic loveliness and more such strong pictures as he actually did for How-ells's bitter "Stops for Various Quills". And, on the other hand, he might, in such a contingency, have turned to art as a refuge, an avenue of escape, thus producing even gayer, brighter things than he did. The theory that human misery is the final source of all artistic expression has perhaps as much of truth about it as any other, for if we could live with entire satisfaction in the actual world that we inhabit, why should we seek to create and escape into another, which, even at its best, must be wholly imaginary? Stevenson's is surely not the only case in which thwarted ambition has builded for itself a lovely, glittering House of Cards: Stevenson becomes rather a type of blighted humanity, triumphant because it can dream! A strange theory, this—to connect with Howard Pyle! If I refer to it here—where it seems quite inapplicable—it is not merely to reveal its shortcomings, but much rather because I believe no single theory can take fully into account the many tangled mysteries of human expression in art.
One thing at least is clear about Pyle—that though his temper and his surety were of the mystic, rather than of the artist, this led to no unlovely dogmatism on his part, no lack of sympathetic divining of the tempers and the capabilities of others. If Mr. N. C. Wyeth's really touching and admirable introduction to the present volume does nothing more than bear testimony to this, it will still be abundantly justified. In a season when Wyeth's pictures for two books —"The Deerslayer" and "The Oregon Trail"—have given fresh but unneeded proof that a generous measure of his beloved teacher's gift for enchantment has descended to him, it is fitting that he should speak as he does of Pyle's "commanding spirit of earnestness and of love that made his leadership distinctive, and which has perpetuated in the hearts of all his pupils a deep affection akin to that which one holds towards his own parents." It is no conventional introduction that Mr. Wyeth has written: it is a really beautiful and earnest tribute, and it shows him almost as graceful with the pen as he is with the brush.
I am not, of course, attempting to enroll Pyle in the first rank of the world's enchanters. This would be to claim for him a place among the world's greatest artists. For great art, in its last analysis, is nothing but witchery, and the greatest artists are supreme enchanters. As for the craftsmen who know not magic, let their merits be what they may. The histories are crowded with their names, but their works stand gathering dust, every one. For the differences between Shakespeare and Dryden, between Cervantes and Pope, are not differences in form and technique, solely or even mainly: they are fundamentally differences in quality of soul. The critical attitude may serve us in estimating the second-rate, but in the face of really great creations, criticism is helpless, and the wisest—as well as the most respectful—attitude is one of open-mouthed gratitude and wonder. No man has ever really criticized the "Divine Comedy", for no man has ever really understood it, as it lay in all its pristine beauty in the mind of Dante. Not even Shakespeare could have done so with entire satisfaction, and in that case, who would criticize "King Lear"? These are humanity's sacred books, and it would seem wholly irrelevant to refer to them in this connection, save that the nature of artistic inspiration is, fundamentally, everywhere the same, and it is not only to the supremely great that the gift of enchantment is given. Not so long ago, such a poet as Longfellow seemed to have a good deal of it, and one always remembers Bliss Perry's description of the detractors of Longfellow, as young men of over-developed minds and under-developed hearts. And what has criticism ever done, what can it ever do, to lessen the vogue of Dickens? You may prove his psychology false, his understanding shallow, his plots mere fabrications of the veriest melodrama, but the lovers of "Copperfield", and those who are under the spell that enchanted Scrooge will only shake their heads at you and read smilingly on. Who would not gladly give all the musical criticism ever written for another overture to "Pinafore"? Pyle understood well how such things can happen.
Two other attractive qualities of Pyle's—manifested by Mr. Abbott—are his patriotism and the courage of his devotion to his art: the eagerness with which he always claimed for his genius the conditions under which it could make itself felt with the greatest hope of success. By his patriotism I do not mean his fondness for flag-raising and his tendency to design posters for the Republican National Committee— these things might have been spared. I refer rather to the energy with which he devoted himself to the task of re-creating our National past, the eagerness with which he labored that every detail should be just right. "I have lived so long in our American past that it is like a certain part of my life." His ideals—in art and in literature—may be estimated from his reaction to James Branch Cabell:
I do not think it right for me to spend so great a part of my time in manufacturing drawings for magazine stories which I cannot regard as having any really solid or permanent literary value. Mr. Cabell's stories, for instance, are very clever . . . but they are neither exactly true to history nor exactly fanciful, and whilst I have made the very best illustrations for them which I am capable of making, I feel that they are not true to medieval life, and that they lack a really permanent value. . . .
Pyle's courage in dealing with the authors whose work he illustrated may best be understood by reference to his correspondence with Woodrow Wilson, when he was doing the pictures for Wilson's "George Washington". In reply to Pyle's questioning certain of his facts, Wilson wrote: "I can say with all sincerity that the more you test my details the more I shall like it. I am not in the least sensitive on that point." This shows even more about Wilson than it does about Pyle, and it is particularly welcome now, when so many are telling us that the great Virginian never could bear to be corrected about anything.
The "Chronicle" of Pyle is handsomely made and well illustrated. The choice of certain of the illustrations might be questioned, however. With so much of Howard Pyle still uncollected, there is small reason for reprinting here material already included in accessible books, especially in the recently published and widely distributed "Book of Pirates" and "Book of the American Spirit". Other shortcomings are the total absence of indices and bibliographies. A complete bibliography was not to be expected: the one published in 1921, by the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, is almost as long as the "Chronicle" itself. But a bare list of independent publications might surely have been offered.
Maxfield Parrish's illustrations for the delicate re-telling of the story of "The Knave of Hearts", now offered dramatically by Miss Louise Saunders—(it appears that he was not, after all, a thief)—reveal Howard Pyle's influence, just as surely as does the work of Wyeth. And if possible there is even more enchantment in them. His capacity for depicting action, Pyle did not hand on to Par-rish: all the latter's best works are pictures of still life. But even after the worst has been said of Maxfield Parrish: his defective sense of proportion, his frequent failure to join limbs properly, his great tendency to repeat his designs and his situations—there is still much for which we are in his debt. The chasteness of his imagination, the delicacy of his fancy, his unfailing skill in color work, his positively glorious lighting effects, the sweet humanity that pervades all his work—such gifts must not be too thanklessly received. Even his commercial art has carried beauty into corners where otherwise it could hardly have gone. "The Knave of Hearts" is one of the most gorgeous picture-books ever produced in America. The size of the page-twelve inches by fifteen—gave Mr. Parrish a fine opportunity, and the reproductions are excellent, far more beautiful than very many that Pyle ever saw of his own work, and a happy contrast to the reproductions of the Parrish pictures for "The Arabian Nights." Those plates have been so long in use and are now so worn that their continued employment is an insult to Mr. Parrish and a disgrace to his publishers. The end sheets in the new book, each a double page, are devoted to a new—and far more beautiful—employment of the general design used in the artist's popular "Daybreak." What does it matter whether such things are great art? If they can light us with their colors and touch us with their sweetness, what more have we a right to ask? For a little while they may lend enchantment to the strange, fascinating tragedy of human days.