Our Illustrators


BLESSED be the magazine which does not illustrate its stories, but which allows the imagination — so much more potent than the brush of any painter— to do its own picture-making! This fervent exclamation comes from one who has suffered much, both as author and reader.

The scene of my first published story was laid at a blast-furnace. Having lived all my life in an iron-manufacturing section, I did not suspect that many persons must of necessity be ignorant of the size and use of a cinder-ladle, and therefore I neglected to say that a cinder-ladle was a great car, holding many tons of molten cinder. But I did say that it was drawn by a locomotive and that its contents, poured out on the mountain-like cinder-bank, illuminated the country for half a mile. What was my distress, upon turning with excited hands to the first printed product of my ambitious brain, to discover that to the illustrator a cinder-ladle was little larger than the familiar cooking utensil, and no different in shape! My pictured hero held it in his hand; the molten cinder was to him no more than so much apple-butter, as, with hands and body impervious to heat, he spooned it out!

Thus warned, I opened my stories with trepidation — with a trepidation which I have found, alas, almost invariably justified. I describe by word and deed a sturdy young countryman, and he becomes under the pencil of my illustrator a sentimental noodle with long hair. I tell of the extraordinary achievement of a very old or a very weak person in the rescuing of a drowning child, and my hero is pictured as a Hercules to whom the feat would have been no feat at all. I put upon my country heroine the sunbonnet which is her natural and suitable head-covering, and, sure as fate, she appears in a turban such as only an African mammy would wear. I describe a spotted dog, running as spotted dogs invariably run, under his master’s carriage, and the artist, makes him a solid black. A gentle protest to a friend produces the astonished and astonishing reply that the artist is the most famous delineator of animals in America and that I should be proud to have his name under mine on the title-page. If he is the most famous delineator of animals in America, why could he not draw my little spotted dog?

I do not suffer alone. Within a few years a leading American monthly published a story in which there were three characters — two men and a woman. Though one of the men appeared chiefly as raconteur, his sex was made plain, not only by many indirect allusions, but by a clear statement. Yet in the well-drawn, and no doubt very expensive full-page illustration, he was a woman.

An incident in an enormously popular and elaborately illustrated novel is the presentation to the heroine of a fur coat, whose great value is an important element in the story. Under the brush of the illustrator — the same magician who changed my spotted dog to a black one — the coat has shrunk to the tiniest of neck-pieces, even though the very words of the author under the picture describe a sable coat!

Once upon a time I had a thoroughly satisfactory illustrator, who combined with great artistic skill the finest consideration and common sense. Assigned a story whose scene was laid in a country with which he was not familiar, he went thither to see how people lived and how they looked. His combination of art and accuracy has made his pictures valuable for all time. Not only did he scrutinize my characters in real life, but, more wonderful still, he read my text carefully. When a costume I had described seemed to him to lack sufficient contrast of color, he did not remove the white ‘ fascinator’ from my Mary’s arm and substitute a dark shawl with entire indifference to me and my text. He telegraphed, ‘May Mary carry a dark shawl?’ thereby giving me one of the most bewildered moments of my life. Recovering as I slowly identified Mary, I changed the text gladly, and Mary stands, a joy forever, her shawl over her arm. Her portrait-painter is, alas! dead, and I fear I shall see his like no more.

It. is far from my purpose to propose as a remedy that consultation with authors become a general habit of illustrators. Such a remedy would bring about a new set of evils more trying than those from which we suffer at the present time. I have in mind a story of my own in which the leading character committed a theft. Years later, after he had fled from village to village and from state to state, he is brought to a consciousness of his guilt and foolishness by a storm which so terrifies him that penitence, confession, and peace take the place of defiance and despair. I quote from the appeal of the illustrator: —

‘I have been appointed to make the pictures for your interesting story. I can make the final picture much more effective if you will change the storm with which you close into a peaceful sunset.’

No; let it not be spread abroad that an appeal to the author is possible! Rather let us suffer pictures of black dogs when we have described spotted dogs, turbans when we have described sunbonnets, even women when we have said men, and we may still escape an entire change of plot. Meanwhile, let us write for and read the Atlantic when we can.