Accent on Living

NOT since August, 1946, have we been favored with a piece of prose for these pages by Carl Rose. The length of the interval is deplorable. As an illustrator — indeed our only illustrator for the past decade — Carl has lent corroboration to even the most accomplished of our authors; the text with a tendency to wander he has restored to the rails with a concise pictorial point. He never gets in the author’s way or tries to take over his job. He has the true journalist’s respect for the calendar, the clock, and the deadline, He is celebrated among publishers, also, as that prodigy of illustrators who not only reads but understands the text assigned to him, and it is no uncommon thing for him to discover three or four significant ideas in a bit of writing and combine them in a single fanciful but always relevant and economical visual scheme of his own. He prefers ideas to decorations, but his nature studies, his landscapes, and abstractions have beauty and, always, a delicate attunement to the written word.

At age seventeen, Carl decided to be a professional artist. By eonvincing a taxi company that he was old enough to vote, he got a job driving a cab; two years later he entered the Art Students League, which he attended for four years, driving the cab by day or night and going to classes in his off hours. At age twenty-three, he became an all-purpose assignment man for the New York Sunday World, and substituted on occasion for Clive Weed, the political cartoonist for the Evening World. He was one of the earliest contributors to Harold Ross’s new venture, The New Yorker, where hundreds of his drawings subsequently appeared, and towards the latter twenties he found himself the political cartoonist of the Boston Herald, at what was considered a rousing wage in those times.

One of the numerous squeezes of the 1932 stock market brought. Carl a tender of affectionate regard and a 60 per cent reduction in salary from the Herald. Carl put on his hat, packed up his family, and set off into the thick of the depression to go back to New York as a free lance. He did well enough at it, and has been his own man ever since. He is one of the few people who, if he had to, could write, edit, and illustrate a good magazine, more or loss by himself.

I say “if he had to" advisedly, for nothing is harder than persuading an artist to write. My own most protracted effort of this sort was to exact from Francis Dahl a. sufficient text of his own to accompany a book of his wonderfully funny drawings of Bostonians and their pets. The project began a half-dozen years ago, and I received, after long silences, bulletins from the artist at one time or another: the writing had begun; all was going well; difficulties were being met; progress—not much but some. About two years passed with no news at all, and I was cheered to receive a call from Dahl that he had copy to show. What he handed me later that day was a single sheet on which he had written, in pencil, some ten lines of prose.

“What do you think of it?” he asked me.

“It’s lovely stuff,”I said, “but I don’t believe there is quite enough.”

Two or throe more years passed, but then, out of the blue, Dahl produced the five chapters of prose comedy which appear in his recently published collection, Birds, Beasts, and Bostonians. A paragraph from his findings on cats will account, I trust, for our permanent interest in anything that Dahl writes: —

“Boston cats run pretty big, and unlike our squirrels they are fully furred. This may be because Bostonians who summer on the coast of Maine have access to the supply of ‘coon’ cats for which Maine is famous. These big busby-tails hear no relation to the raccoon, but generations of them have served as barn cats, hunting all sorts of varmints and running tramps off the place. They take the transition from Blue Hill to Beacon Hill in stride, and when the moon glitters on the gold dome of the statehouse, they are the ones who sing bass.”

Herblock (less frequently known as Herbert Block) wrote for the book of his cartoons from the Washington Post a commentary which stands in the very front rank of American writing on public affairs. Titled The Herblock Book, it was a thoroughgoing success, but the publishers still recall the agonies of the author in bringing it to its ultimate perfection. Herblock is the acknowledged master of tilling and caption writing and he was determined that his text should meet his customary standard. “The man was a lapidary,” his editor explains, “if he underlined a dozen or twenty words on each of his galley proofs, we spent twenty minutes with him on each word before he let it stand or found the better one.”

It was characteristic of Carl Rose that he objected earnestly when I told him that I proposed to say something about him here in print. There are so many better artists who write better, he argued, that it would be absurd. He rattled off a long list, which began with Cellini and the sonnets of Michelangelo and extended through Carroll, Thackeray, Day, Thurber, and many others, lie sent me a sheaf of charming pages written and illustrated for Life, when it was a humorous weekly, by F. G. Cooper; he reminded me of the seahorse cover which E. B. White painted for The New Yorker, asserting offhandedly, from his reservoir of total recall, that this was “some time in 1933.” As I write this I have no idea of what Carl will devise for his headpiece for these observations, but I am sure that we shall have one, and on time, too.