W. A. (William Allen) Rogers.

A world worth while : a record of auld acquaintance online

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'seventies and 'eighties. What the camera does so
easily to-day the artist had to do all by himself
then. An illustrator of to-day hardly reeJizes how
much he owes in the way of facts to the instan-
taneous photograph.

In the 'seventies we had to memorize detaik of
which there was perhaps no record other than a
hasty sketch. When a '"big*' news event was to be
pictiu*ed one of us youngsters had to go out, armed
only with pad and pencil, and gather up whatever
he could of the details, whether it was of a proces-
sion, reception, celebration, or accident. He then
brought his sketches to the art department, laid out
a page or double page, traced it roughly on the box-
wood block, and divided the jointed block into
several pieces — ^and then everybody took a hand at
the drawing.

For instance, I was once sent to Boston for Har-
per^s Weekly and brought back sketches of some
historical celebration where the participants were
dressed in costumes of the Revolution. Abbey came
down from his Thirteenth Street studio and drew
the foreground figures, while I filled in those in the
middle distance and background. Old "Dory"
Davis, a veteran "special artist" of the Civil War,

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drew the architecture, put in the dome of the State
House and the Sacred Codfish thereon. We used to
pass the blocks we were working on back and forth
to one another to make the joints, and I remember
well how Abbey, as we worked side by side, gave me
many a quick illuminating insight into some intricacy
of form. Never have I seen a man with more deft
skill in the handling of a pencil on the wooden block.

While in his serious work Ned Abbey would draw
a figure over and over a dozen times and rub and
scrape out what looked perfect to me, yet in a
*' hurry-up" job he bent his knowledge to the swift,
inevitable line unerringly.

The methods used in those days in producing a
''news'* drawing have passed away so completely
that it may be interesting to the iUustrator of to-
day to know in detail just how we handled a wood-
block drawing. Of course, it must be understood
that many drawings on wood were made by artists
working entirely alone — often very careful work
carried out in studios with models and accessories
carefully studied. What I shall endeavor to describe
now is the "rush" work, pictorial records of news of
the day, such as the instantaneous photograph,
reproduced in "half tone," gives to the public to-day
in the daily papers.

Before going into the exact methods of drawing on
wood, it will be as well to describe the wood block
itself. A double-page block for Harper's Weekly was
usually made up of thirty-six pieces of boxwood
about one inch in thickness, cut across the grain and
highly polished. The back of each piece of wood

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was hollowed out to admit steel bolts which ran
through to the adjoining section, and when tightened
held the whole together in a single smooth block.

A very thin film of Chinese white was rubbed into
the surface of the block to kill the warm color of the
boxwood and afford a surface for pencil lines. The
first step in making the illustration was to draw a
rough sketch on paper the exact size of the com-
posite wood block. From this a tracing was made,
which was rubbed down reversed on the block. K
the subject was a street scene the perspective was
carefully worked out in the sketch.

After the tracing on the block was completed one
of the men, with a brush and India ink> laid in the
main broad shadows. Before the *^ figure man" out-
lined his people or his horses (no automobiles in
those days), or whatever details were to form the
main subject of the picture, the two, three, or even
four men who were to work on the drawing would
get together and determine how deep a tone was to
pervade the whole composition. Each man had to
carry this in his mind, else the picture when com-
pleted would never hold together. Many of these
drawings of news subjects were made in a wash
emphasized by sharp pencil lines, that being rather
an old-fashioned mediod which descended to us
from the "slippery" period of illustration. But as
we became more skillful and, I think I may say,
more artistic in our ideas, we learned to make our
drawings entirely with a brush. It was surprising
how well a group of men used to working together
could keep a composition from flying to pieces.

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Where a figure or an object in one of these com-
posite pictures happened to cross a joint the figure
or object was finished before the block was taken
apart, and this gave a dew to the tone to be adhered
to. When any part of the drawing was completed,
that section often went to the engraving room at
once. There the same thing was done in regard to
objects crossing joints — ^they were engraved first so
that each engraver had a dew to the width of line
his neighbor was using. I remember one drawing I
made of a double page, working alone, in which I
never saw the entire picture together until it appeared
in the paper.

Charles Graham, who had the finest sense of per-
spective of any man I ever knew, made wonderful
architectural drawings on wood. It was a pleasure
to draw on the same block with him, for by a clever
manipulation of light and shade he would adapt his
architectural details to my figures. Many a night
out on the road we juggled architecture and figures
back and forth on a wood block under a single gas
jet in a hotel bedroom.

I once made a rather touching sketch of little
Charley Graham in his nightshirt, holding up a
block dose to a miserable flickering light, and with
his skillful left hand putting on the finishing touches
to one of our joint drawings. All that is a thing of
the past; now a photographer goes out with his
camera and — dick! — ^he has it all in half the wink of
an eye.

I remember one day, after his return from his first
visit to England, Ned Abbey was putting the finish-

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ing touches on a water color, a picture called "^The
Sisters/* which added greatly to his reputation.
Since it was the day of the exhibition, one would
naturally have supposed that his picture would be
finished and himg. But not at all. I walked into
his studio and foimd him busily at work on the face
of the for^pround figure. At the last moment he
had washed it out and was painting it all over again
— so great pains did he take with his finished work.

I took one look and started downstairs again at
full speed, but Abbey was too quick for me. He
had me by the collar in a moment and dragged me
up again.

'^Are you good at painting rugs?** he asked.

In the picture was a Persian rug, half of it painted
in elaborate detail, the other half barely outlined.
I quickly effaced myself by diving into some port-
folios and remained hidden behind them until limch
was announced. Down in the dining room, where
Gedney Bimce and another guest sat at table. Abbey
told stories — ^told of his experiences in London — and
I had finally to take him by the shoulders and start
him up the stairs to his studio.

That evening at seven-thirty I walked into the ex-
hibition gallery, fearing that Abbey's picture would
surely be absent; but there in its frame, which,
by the way, had preceded the picture by some hours,
hung the picture, beautiful, finished — ^the rug with-
out a flaw.

At this time Stanley Reinhart was living in Paris,
and it was not imtil some years afterward that I
came to know him. C. S. Reinhart was a most

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distinguished member of the guild, if such I may
call it, of Am^can iUustrators of the 'eighties; but,
in addition to that, he had talents which assured
him a welcome wherever he went. Julian Ralph
wrote a story about him in the Sun^ which he called
"An Artist Telling a Story."

Reinhart had a positive genius for making inter-
esting stwies out of trifles. As Julian Ralph said:
"When another person told a story, you heard it.
When Reinhart told a story, you saw it.** We used
to beg Reinhart to write, but he told me once that
when he took a pen in his hand the ink in it promptly
froze solid. You see in that the pictorial quality of
his thought.

In the 'seventies everybody used to look in the
magazines for a new story in verse by WiU Carleton.
Carleton was a country man who knew his neigh-
bors better than they knew themselves; and he
toudied some sore spots in the rural character as no
one, perhaps, had ever touched them before. His
"Over the Hill to the Poorhouse** must have stung
many a tough hide like the cut of a "black-snake''
whip. Carleton became a good deal of a philosopher
of the optimistic school as he grew older, and he had
a keen wit which he used to advantage in defending
his faith. I remember we were walking down the
Bowery one day and he was arguing that every man,
no matter how worthless, had some good in him. I
asked him what good there was in a confidence man.

"Just enough for bait!" he answered.

In 1880 came the Hancock campaign. The Demo-
cratic party was in dire straits. Defeat had hung

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on its banners in one campaign after another for
many years. The old party was fast becoming
mummified, and something radical had to be done to
revive it. Then some bright political genius thought
of Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock. Perhaps his war
record and his high personal character would carry
the party through to victory. He was nominated.

About this time I dropped in one morning at the
art department of Harper's Weekly. Mr. J. Henry
Harper was expressing his concern over Mr. Nast's
absence — on a lecture tour, I think — ^and the neces-
sity of getting a cartoon, somehow, for the next issue
of the Weekly.

Up to that time I had done nothing in that line
for the Weekly; but instantly there canie to me a
picture of a transfusion of blood from the veins of
the strong, healthy general \o the moribimd figure
of the Democracy. I sketched it out roughly and
handed it to Mr. Harper. He was inclined to accept
the idea, but doubted if I could make a cartoon. I
wasn't sure myself, but was willing to take a chance
and make the drawing on approval. The approval
came along when it was finished, and I suddenly
found myself a full-fledged cartoonist. I have told
this incident to show what a large part chance plays
in our lives.

Up until that morning I had gone placidly along,
illustrating magazine articles, boys' stories, and
doing the work on Harper^ s Weekly that the camera
so easily performs now — ^making drawings of news
events, riots, celebrations, conventions, and what
not. By a turn of the wheel I now was plunged

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into the whirl of thought on public affairs — on the
big political happenings of the world. It was like
the fate of a boatman who has been rowing about
in some small tributary and who finds himself sud-
denly carried out on the broad surface and swift
current of a great river.



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CHAPTER n

CARTOON work occupied only a part of my
time at Harpers\ Many were the news
assignments on which I journeyed from
place to place. Most important of these was a trip
to Washington at the time of the assassination of
President Garfield. At eight o'clock in the morning
after the President was shot I met by appointment
Mr. Belly a well-known photographer of Washington,
at the Arlington Hotel. The Harpers had depended
on him to furnish a photograph of Guiteau, the
assassin. Mr. Bell threw up both hands as we met
in the corridor.

"No use/* he cried. "Attorney-General Wayne
MacVeagh declares that no photograph shall ever
be made of Guiteau. He positively refuses to allow
us, or anyone else, to see Guiteau in the jail."

It so happened that, late the night before, on my
arrival at the hotel, an artist whom I knew and who
represented the DaH^f Oraphic of New York showed
me a hasty pendl sketch of Guiteau, which he had
made at the jail when the assassin was brought in.
That was handle enough for me, and in spite of Bell's
protests that it was useless, I dragged the unwill-
ing photographer over to Mr. MacVeagh's house at
that unseasonable hour.

An old colored butler assured us that the Attomey-

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General had not yet arisen; but I begged for a mo-
ment's interview, and in a couple of minutes Mr.
MacVeagh appeared at the door in his dressing gown.
He was, very pardonably, not in the most amiable
of moods.

I stated my case briefly and asked if Harper* s
Weekly 9 a national paper, was to be discriminated
against in favor of the Daily Oraphicy a local paper
of New York. Was an inadequate sketch to go out
as a portrait of the assassin, when we had Mr. Bell
ready to make a true likeness of Guiteau» which
everyone in the country wished to see?

Mr. MacVeagh interrupted my little speech to
say very cuttingly that he did not believe a word of
my story of the Oraphic artist.

I straightened up and asked him point-blank if
he believed for an instant that Harper's Weekly
would send to him a man who was a liar. He looked
me in the eye for almost a minute and then very
courteously said he was sure they would not. Inside
of ten minutes he had given me a letter to District-
Attorney Corkhill, authorizing him to admit Mr.
Bdl to the jafl for the purpose of photographing
the assassin. That was one of the cases where a
quick, sharp fight won the day. At other times
entirdy different tactics had to be employed.

Several days after obtaining the photograph of
Guiteau, I went down to Washington again to get
pictures in and about the White House, where Presi-
dent Garfield lay hovering between life and deliath.
This was a very delicate matter and had to be
handled with great care. At the Arlington I met



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Frank Bennett, then a young clerk at the hotel desk.
In later days he was known and trusted by Senators,
diplomats, and Presidents, and was probably the
depositary of more political secrets than any man in
Washington. When I met him he was scarcely more
than a boy, but with a wise head on his yoimg
shoulders.

He suggested a plan of action which was success-
fully carried out.

I sent a messenger boy to each of the physicians
and surgeons attending the President, asking each
for his photograph for Harper's Weekly. I also sent
messengers to several important officials of the
White House staff, with Uie same request. This
would furnish me with the portraits I needed, and
at the same time gave me a favorable mtroduction
to all these gentlemen. I obtained the photographs.

Then I went to Mr. Stanley Brown, the President's
private secretary, and made my plea. I dwelt on the
natural and sympathetic desire of the public to know
the exact surroimdings of the President in his fight
for life. I reminded him that, in any case, pictures
would be printed in less conscientious publications
than Harper's Weekly and this, being a matter of
history, should be accurately portrayed. I asked
Mr. Brown to try to obtain the consent of the
physicians and of the President's family for me to
make a sketch of the sick room. That was on
Saturday. Mr. Brown thought it hardly possible,
but said he would do all he could to obtain permis-
sion for me.

Late that night I saw the private secretary again.



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He toM me to come to the White House at eight
o'clock the next morning, before the usual throng of
reporters and others arrived, and said he would see
what could be done. I was a very early visitor at
Mr. Brown's office on Sunday morning, and sat there
for an hour. A few stragglers dropped in from time
to time. At last an inner door opened a crack and
Mr. Brown motioned to me to come over. We dis-
appeared into the Cabinet room and thence passed
into the President's private quarters.

I was ushered into a corridor from which there
opened, much in the nature of \ large alcove, the
room in which the President lay sleeping. Several
of the physicians were grouped about the room, and
Mrs. Susan Edson, the nurse, sat beside the bed with
a large palm-leaf fan, which she held ready to drop
in front of the patient's face in case he awakened.
I had my sketch pad out instantly, and I can remem-
ber no half hour of my life when I put so much on
paper. Mrs. Garfield and her eldest son, Harry,
looked for a moment over my shoulder as I worked,
and that, I felt, gave me just the touch of author-
ity which was needed.

I laid out my drawing for the Weekly^ double-
page size, that day at the Arlington, young Frank
Bennett rejoicing with me at the success of our little
enterprise in diplomacy.

At nine o'dodc on Monday morning I stepped into
the art department of Harper's Weekly. Mr. Parsons,
the art superintendent, jumped to his feet.

"My dear boy," he exclaimed, "why did you leave
Washington? Postmaster-General James is working

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to get you into the White House, and we are sure he
will be able to do so before this week is over. You
must return at once!" For answer, of course, I un-
rolled my bundle of sketches made at the President's
bedside. I don't recollect exactly what Mr. Parsons
did, but he was an impulsive old gentleman and my
impression is that he hugged me.

The controversy which arose in February, 1920,
over the right of the Cabinet to meet while President
Wilson lay iU and unable to transact the public
business during the fall and winter months of the
previous year, reminds me that I *'sat in" at a
Cabinet meeting one hot July night in 1881, while
President Garfield lay helpless and hardly conscious
in his bed, a few yards distant.

I drew a picture that night, from life, of James
G. Blaine, Robert Lincoln, Kirkwood of Iowa, and
other members of the Cabinet, which was published
in Harper^s Weekly under the title of ^^An Anxious
Night in the Cabinet."

It was considered, at that time, a perfectly proper
proceeding for members of the Cabinet to meet in-
formally under the extraordinary circumstances; I
never heard the propriety of it even discussed.

I remember particularly that a bust of Abraham
Lincoln occupied a place over the door leading to the
private secretary's offices, and that Robert Lincoln
stood directly beneath it. No one sat down at the
ocnmdl table. Everyone was in a state of nervous
tension and walked about the Cabinet room, gather-
ing from time to time around Mr. Blaine, who was
generally the magnet wherever he appeared in those



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days. In an interview published in the New York
Times of February 16, 1920, Mr* Robert Lincohi said
that no formal meetings of the Cabinet were held
during the period when Garfield lay helpless; but
he also said that the matter of the President's pos-
sible disability to perform the duties of his office was
discussed by members of the Cabinet, together with
the possibility of the Vice-President having to assume
those duties in his place.

The Sim beat down pitilessly in those July days
and the intense heat penetrated to the sick room of
the President. Public sympathy was so wrought upon
by the suspense of his long fight for life that all sorts
of suggestions poured into the White House to better,
if possible, his chances for recovery or to mitigate his
discomforts.

One morning the driveway from Jackson Square
was blocked with ice wagons; some one had sug-
gested filling the basement floor with ice. After it
was filled, no effect from the piles of ice was apparent
even a few feet distant. Another suggestion was
made to pour streams of water over the ice in order
to start the cool air upward. Inside of five min-
utes two fire engines were at work spraying the ice.
Very little real help came from the many suggestions
sent in, but they served, at any rate, to express
the emotion of the people.

One day as I was leaving the grounds an elderly
man stopped me at the White House gate to inquire —
everyone inquired ^f everyone else in those anxious
days — ^for the latest news of the President's condi-



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tion. We fell into conversation and I saw a curious
expression steal over his face as he said:

^'I was a treasury clerk during the war» and of
course this brings back the time when Lincoln was
assassinated and the terrible days that followed; but
I had one experience with Mr. Lincoln that comes
to me always with a picture of his old, baggy, black
suit, his rusty taU hat, and his whimsical smile.

"As I said, I was a young treasury clerk, and in
addition to my duties in the Treasury Building I
belonged to the Home Guard and was liable to be
called out for guard duty after office hours at any
time. One night I had arranged to go to a ball and
had arrayed myself in my best claw-hammer, my
most immaculate vest, and a silk hat. I was about
to leave the house when a call for guard duty came.
No time for a change of raiment — ^but one thing to
do, shoulder my musket and march all night in front
of the Treasury Building!

"In the early gray dawn I saw the long, sham-
bling figure of the President coming down the White
House walk. He had his hands folded behind his
back and his head was bowed. Evidently he was out
to do a little quiet thinking by himself. He ap-
proached, and when he was still a few feet away I
stiffened up in true military form and presented arms
to the commander in chief of the aitoy and navy of
the United States.

"Mr. Lincoln stopped, looked at me carefully, and
then inquired what regiment I belonged to. I felt a
good deal flustered, but managed to reply that I was
treasury-clerk So-and-so called for guard duty in

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such-and-such a company and regiment of the Home
Guard.

^'ThePresident looked at my top hat, at my patent-
leather pumps, my claw-hammer coat, and my old
army musket, and he said, ^Well, young man, I did
not wish to be too inquisitive, but I can't get used
to all these new uniforms."'

In the nineteenth century there were some very
violent prejudices raging up and down the land
which seem happily to have faded from view in the
twentieth.

There was a very bitter gentleman named Eugene
Lawrence who used to write unkind things about the
Catholic Church for Harper's Weekly when I first
went to Franklin Square. It was the fashion then,
and had been for years, to take strong sides on sec-
tarian questions and to believe the devil was on the
side of anyone who disagreed with you. I am glad
to say that this attitude on the part of the Weekly
was dianging even then, and soon a more liberal view
took its place.

On a certain day in the spring an ancient pagan
custom of going up to a high place at daybreak and
singing a song of praise as the sun came up is still
observed by some of the people at Paterson, New
Jersey. This custom is so strikingly similar to the
Easter ceremony observed by the Moravian Church
at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, that I have no doubt
both have the same origin in the dim past and that
back in the mountains of eastern Europe an old
pagan ceremony was grafted on to the new religion.
Just outside Paterson is a ^'moimtain" ending on

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its easterly side in an abrupt diff which overlooks
the city. Here the people assemble, sometimes many
thousands of them, to celebrate the coming of the
spring — or to worship the sun> perhaps, if the thought
down deep in their subconscious minds could be
divined.

On one occasion of this kind some of the great
crowd of people who had assembled aroused the ire
of an eccentric old farmer who lived alone in a little
stone house on top' of the mountain, and he got out
his shotgun and fired into the crowd, slightly wound-
ing a boy, I think. At any rate, enough was done to
start a riot and every window pane in the farmer's
house was smashed. Some of his neighbors came to
the rescue and there was a beautiful "shindy.** The
old man was badly mauled as he was being dragged
away by his friends; and at last he and they all took
refuge in another farmhouse half a mile distant.

A crowd once angered, as this one was, becomes
dangerous very quickly. Some wise person, realizing


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Online LibraryW. A. (William Allen) RogersA world worth while : a record of auld acquaintance → online text (page 2 of 20)