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Title: William Hamilton Gibson - artist—naturalist—author
Author: Adams, John Coleman
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "William Hamilton Gibson - artist—naturalist—author" ***


          |               BY JOHN COLEMAN ADAMS                |
          |                                                    |
          |                                                    |
          |            NATURE STUDIES IN BERKSHIRE             |
          |                                                    |
          |_Photogravure Edition_, with 16 illustrations       |
          |          in photogravure. 8º                $4.50  |
          |                                                    |
          | Popular Edition, illustrated                 2.50  |
          |                                                    |
          |                                                    |
          |              WILLIAM HAMILTON GIBSON               |
          |            ARTIST--NATURALIST--AUTHOR              |
          | 8º. Fully illustrated. (By mail $2.15) net, $2.00  |
          |                                                    |
          |                G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS                 |
          |                NEW YORK AND LONDON                 |

                     [Illustration: _Frontispiece_

                          W. Hamilton Gibson]

           [Illustration: _William Hamilton Gibson, Age 41_

 (_The autograph was always written without lifting the pen, beginning
    with the last half of the “H” and ending with the first half_)]

                        William Hamilton Gibson

                          John Coleman Adams
             Author of “Nature Studies in Berkshire,” etc.



                          G. P. Putnam’s Sons
                          New York and London
                        The Knickerbocker Press

                            COPYRIGHT, 1901
                          G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

                   The Knickerbocker Press, New York

                           Emma L. B. Gibson
                               Her Sons


Three men have done more than any others to inspire our generation with
the love of nature. They are Henry D. Thoreau, John Burroughs, and
William Hamilton Gibson. Thoreau, when the generation was young,
challenged it to come out of doors, live in a shanty, and see as much of
the world as he saw. John Burroughs, in later years, has acted as guide
to a multitude of minds, eager to be “personally conducted” to field and
forest. William Hamilton Gibson, besides winning many feet into those
“highways and byways” whose charms he taught us to feel, was fortunate
in his exceptional power to bring nature to the very eyes of men in the
works of his pencil, with which he made luminous--literally
“illustrated”--his pages. This alone would be a justification of some
account of his life and work.

But in addition to this claim on the interest of the public, those who
knew him are aware of others;--a personality of singular charm and
forcefulness; a career quite marvelous in its swift and sure
achievements; a genius as rare as it was versatile; a devotion to art
and to study which fairly wore him out in its exactions on his energy;
an ideal which instructs while it shames our sordidness and
materialism. His personality will surely grow upon the American people
as time gives a true perspective to his life and work. Already we can
see something of his conspicuousness and his right to a place in the
foremost group of our nature-prophets. In that great trio, Thoreau is
the philosopher, Burroughs the poet and man of letters, Gibson the
artist-naturalist. In these days when so many are entering into the
inheritance which Gibson helped to secure, it is fitting that
nature-lovers should hear the story of his fruitful life.


CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

   I. A FORTUNATE BOYHOOD                                              1

  II. CALLING AND ELECTION                                            24

 III. A QUICK SUCCESS                                                 49

  IV. WITH PENCIL AND BRUSH                                           81

   V. THE OPEN EYE                                                   108

  VI. THE ACCIDENT OF AUTHORSHIP                                     139

 VII. THE WORKMAN AND HIS WORK                                       166

VIII. THE PERSONAL SIDE                                              200

  IX. AFTERGLOW                                                      237


   WILLIAM HAMILTON GIBSON                                 _Frontispiece_
             Age, 41


   THE GUNNERY                                                         6
             Washington, Connecticut

   WILLIAM HAMILTON GIBSON                                            18
             Age, 13

   WILLIAM HAMILTON GIBSON                                            28
             Age, 17

[A]THE ROAD TO HIDE-AND-SEEK TOWN                                     36
             First Composition, 1873

   WILLIAM HAMILTON GIBSON                                            42
             Age, 23

     PLUME”)                                                          48
             (“Highways and Byways”)
             Copyright, 1882, by Harper Brothers

[A]GOD’S MIRACLE                                                      58
             By permission of The Curtis Publishing Company

   THE SUMACS                                                         80

[A]PEN-AND-INK SKETCH                                                 82
             From a Letter

   AT THE EASEL                                                       90
             Brooklyn Studio

[A]THE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE                                              98
             First Watercolor

[A]“CYPRIPEDIUM ACAULE”                                              108
             (“My Studio Neighbors”)
             Copyright, 1897, by Harper Brothers

[A]UPLAND MEADOWS                                                    120
             From a Painting

[A]“THE BOBOLINK AT HOME”                                            130
             (“Strolls by Starlight”)
             Copyright, 1890, by Harper Brothers

   THE WRITING DESK                                                  138
             Brooklyn Studio

[A]A WINTER HUNT                                                     144

[A]SPRINGTIME                                                        154
             From a Painting

[A]LAKE WARAMAUG                                                     162
             From a Painting

[A]“WIDE-AWAKE DAY-DOZERS”                                           178
             (“Strolls by Starlight and Sunshine”)
             Copyright, 1890, by Harper Brothers

[A]THE ROXBURY ROAD                                                  188

[A]LATE OCTOBER                                                      222
             From a Painting

[A]THE EDGE OF THE WOODS                                             234
             From a Painting

   THE VILLAGE GREEN                                                 240
             Washington, Connecticut

   GIBSON’S GRAVE                                                    248
             Washington Cemetery

   THE BRONZE MEMORIAL                                               266

 [A] From a drawing by William Hamilton Gibson

                        WILLIAM HAMILTON GIBBON



To be well-born is half of the battle of life; and to have an
environment which helps the life of the child and the youth is a good
fraction of the other half. So that the man whose parentage and whose
education are good is fortunate above his fellows, and well-assured of a
successful issue to his life. Heredity and early environment--these are
what the scientists call them--are as the building and the rigging of
the ship. The best sailing-master can do little with an ill-built,
ill-rigged vessel. There is much in the stock from which William
Hamilton Gibson came, much in his education and early association, which
explains his life and the way in which he lived it. He was born in Sandy
Hook, Newtown, Connecticut, in a region where the lower Berkshire
mountain-ranges break into irregular and crowded hills, green,
picturesque, and restful. He has himself left a charming description of
the old home and its immediate surroundings, in the chapter called
“Summer” in “Pastoral Days.”

“Hometown (Sandy Hook), owing to some early faction, is divided into two
sections, forming two distinct towns. One Newborough (Newtown), a
hilltop hamlet, with its picturesque long street, a hundred feet in
width, and shaded with great weeping elms that almost meet overhead; and
the other, Hometown proper (Sandy Hook), a picturesque little village in
the valley, cuddling close around the foot of a precipitous bluff, known
as Mt. Pisgah. A mile’s distance separates the two centers. The old
homestead is situated in the heart of Hometown, fronting on the main
street. The house itself is a series of after-thoughts, wing after wing,
gable after gable having clustered around the old nucleus as the growth
of new generations necessitated new accommodation. Its outward aspect is
rather modern, but the interior with its broad open fireplace and
accessories in the shape of crane and firedogs, is rich with all the
features of typical New England; and the two gables of the main roof
enclose the dearest old garret imaginable.... Looking through the dingy
window between the maple-boughs, my eye extends over lawns and
shrubberies three acres in extent,--a little park, overrun with paths in
every direction, through ancient orchard and embowered dells, while far
beyond are glimpses of the wooded knolls, the winding brook, and meadows
dotted with waving willows, and farther still, the undulating farm.”

In such a spot Gibson was born October the fifth, 1850. His father was
originally a Boston man, who finally removed to Brooklyn, though
maintaining the home in the country, at Newtown.

The Gibson ancestry is one of no little interest, embracing as it does,
in various branches, some of the most distinguished names in Eastern
Massachusetts. The first American bearer of the name was John Gibson of
Cambridge, whose coming to this country was at least as early as 1634,
and who died in Cambridge in 1694 at the age of ninety-three years. His
descendants remained for the most part in Massachusetts for several
generations. Thomas Gibson of Townsend, Massachusetts, the grandfather
of William Hamilton, by marriage with Frances Maria Hastings brought
into the family line the famous Dana family, a connection of which his
descendants were justly proud. The original Dana ancestor was also a
Cambridge settler, Richard by name, who married Anne Bullard. His
grandson, by his son Daniel (who married Naomi Crosswell), was Mr.
Justice Richard Dana, whose death in 1772 deprived the patriots of those
stormy days of one of their foremost and ablest leaders. Justice Dana
was unquestionably at the head of the Massachusetts bar, an authority on
the precedents in American cases more quoted by Story than any other
pleader of his time. He is one of the figures in Hawthorne’s sketch,
given in his “Grandfather’s Chair,” of the episode in the drama of
pre-Revolutionary agitation, when Andrew Oliver made oath to take no
measures to enforce the Stamp Act. One of his brothers was Francis Dana,
Chief Justice of Massachusetts, and ambassador to Russia, whose wife was
Elizabeth Ellery, and whose son Richard Henry left a name always
honorable in the history of American letters. Richard Dana’s daughter
Lydia married John Hastings, a descendant of both the famous John
Cottons of Boston renown. Their daughter Frances M., married to Thomas
Gibson, was the mother of Edmund Trowbridge Hastings Gibson, and
grandmother of William Hamilton Gibson. It is no wonder that the latter
should write to an inquiring friend:

“You ask whether I am a New Englander. Let me set your heart at rest by
telling you that I am a way-back Puritan. The race has been petering out
from old John Cotton down through a long list of historical men whom I
am glad to own as ancestors. (I don’t count some of the earlier Lords
and Ladies to whom I trace my lineage--they are a pretty bad lot to my
thinking.) I honor the humble names of several of my progenitors who
lived and died in the love and respect of their fellow men, and have
some reason to feel a little pride in being able to allude to Justice
Richard Dana, of Massachusetts, as my great-great-grandfather, and a
lineage which embraces the names of Washington Allston, Ellery Channing,
and others equally noble and worthy; and now it has come down to me in
this branch of the family. Yes, I am New England to the _core_. No other
place on earth will ever be so near and dear or carry me to loftier
mountain tops.”

From the old country home and its surroundings the lad of ten years went
to a school which was probably as well-adapted to his temper and tastes
as any which could have been selected. At any rate it was a school to
which he became profoundly attached, and whose master he was to count
among the dearest and closest friends of a lifetime. The “Gunn School,”
or the “Gunnery,” as it came to be called, was one of the famous
institutions of this country, a school which left its indelible mark
upon many a boy whose maturity was to be eminent and useful in the
national life. It was a school unique in its theory and without rivals
in its practice. Its founder and head was Frederick W. Gunn, a native of
Washington, Connecticut, where he spent his life, did his great and good
work, and died in a ripe old age. He was a man of rare character and
gifts. Large-hearted and large-minded, with a religious and ethical
nature of the most positive kind, he was a man predestined to influence
others, and mold the lives of youth. Though he was an “abolitionist” in
days when that term carried with it intensest odium and social
proscription, and a dissenter from conventional orthodoxy in a time
when to differ from established standards was to write one’s self down
an “infidel,” he was a successful teacher, and made and maintained a
series of schools, which finally grew into the noble “Gunnery,” a term
at first used by the boys facetiously, but so apt and so happy as to be
officially adopted as the title of the school. One of his old pupils,
writing of the character of the institution, says:

“When Mr. Gunn called the school which his genius had established ‘a
home for boys’ he stated the simple and exact truth.... Mr. and Mrs.
Gunn both had the parental instinct so strong that they really took to
their hearts each individual boy, and brooded over him as if he were
their own flesh and blood.”

This home-school and school-home in one was conducted as a miniature
republic; its aim was all-round, symmetrical character; its method grew
out of the hearty, wholesome, honest, and loving nature of its head; its
spirit was justice and love. Perhaps it was not a school where “marks”
counted for a great deal; and the drill in books may not have been as
severe and systematic as in some institutions. But the boy who went to
the “Gunnery” was pretty sure to imbibe some notions of honor, justice,
kindliness, and obedience which he never forgot. As one of the old
pupils writes:

“We recall an era of uncurbed freedom in a spot

[Illustration: _The Gunnery_

_Washington, Connecticut_]

hallowed by home affections without home effeminacies; where every bad
trait of a boy was systematically assailed and every good trait
strengthened, so far as might be, so as to take its final place in an
enduring character and robust manhood.”

Gibson himself has given a tender and vivid picture of the school which
played so large a part in his life, in the pages of “Pastoral Days”:

“How lightly did I appreciate the fortunate journey when, twenty summers
ago, I followed this road for the first time, when a boy of ten years,
on my way to an unknown village, I looked across the landscape to the
little spires on that distant hill! Little did I dream of the six years
of unmixed happiness and precious experience that awaited me in that
little Judea! I only knew that I was sadly quitting a happy home on my
way to ‘boarding-school’--a school called the Snuggery, taught by a Mr.
Snug, in a little village named Snug Hamlet, about twenty miles from

“There are some experiences in the life of every one which, however
truthful, cannot be told but to elicit the doubtful nod or the warning
finger of incredulity. They were such experiences as these, however,
that made up the sum of my early life in that happy refuge called in
modern parlance a ‘boarding-school’--a name as empty, a word as weak and
tame in its significance, as poverty itself; no doubt abundantly
expressive in its ordinary application, but here it is a mockery and a
satire. This is not a ‘boarding-school’; it is a _household_, whose
memories moisten the eye and stir the soul; to which its scattered
members through the fleeting years look back as to a neglected home,
with father and mother dear, whom they long once more to meet as in the
tenderness of boyhood days; a cherished remembrance which, like the
‘house upon a hill, cannot be hid,’ but sends abroad its light unto many
hearts who in those early days sought the loving shelter; a bright star
in the horizon of the past, a glow that ne’er grows dim, but only
kindles and brightens with the flood of years. Yes, yes; I know it
sounds like a dash of sentiment, but words of mine are feeble and
impotent indeed when sought for the expression of an attachment so fond,
of a love so deep.”

Most delightfully, too, does he blend an account, in the same chapter,
of a return to the old school, in later years, and a picture of the
characteristic life of that school as it lies in the memories of many
successive generations of boys who passed through its scenes:

“It is eight o’clock, and the Snuggery is hushed in the quiet of the
study hour, and as we look through the windows we see the little groups
of studious lads bending over their books. Turning a corner on the
piazza, we are confronted with a tall hexagonal structure at its
farther end. This is the Tower, the lower room of which is consecrated
to the cozy retirement of Mr. and Mrs. Snug. The door leading to the
porch is open, and, as if awakening from a nap in which the past fifteen
years have been a dream, I listen to the same dear voice. I approach
nearer. Under the glow of a student’s lamp I look upon the beloved face,
the flowing hair and beard now silvered with the lapse of years--a face
of unusual firmness, but whose every line marks the expression of a
tender, loving nature, and of a large and noble heart. Near him another
sits--a helpmeet kind and true, cherished companion in a happy, useful
life. Into her lap a nestling lad has climbed; and as she strokes the
curly head and looks into the chubby face, I see the same expression as
of old, the same motherly tenderness and love beaming from the large
gray eyes.

“Mr. Snug is leaning back in his easy-chair, and two boys are standing
up before him; one of them is speaking, evidently in answer to a

‘I called him a galoot, sir.’

‘You called George a galoot, and then he threw the base-ball club at
you--is that it?’

‘Yes, sir,’ interrupted George; ‘but I was only playing, sir.’

‘Yes,’ resumed the voice of Mr. Snug, ‘but that club went with
considerable force, and landed over the fence, and made havoc in Deacon
Farish’s onion-bed; and that reminds me that the deacon’s onion-bed is
overrun with weeds. Now, Willie,’ continued Mr. Snug, after a moment’s
hesitation, with eyes closed, and head thrown back against the chair,
‘Saturday morning--to-morrow, that is--directly after breakfast, you go
out into the grove and call names to the big rock for half an hour.
Don’t stop to take breath; and don’t call the same name twice. Your
vocabulary will easily stand the drain. You understand?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘And, George,’ continued Mr. Snug, with deliberate, easy intonation,
‘to-morrow morning, at the same time, you present yourself politely to
Deacon Farish, tell him that I sent you, and ask him to escort you to
his onion-bed. After which you will go carefully to work and pull out
all the weeds. You understand, sir?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘And then you will both report to me as usual.’ And with a pleasant
smile, which was reflected in both their faces, the erring youngsters
were dismissed. Before the door has closed behind them we are standing
in the doorway. Here I draw the curtain; for who but one of its own
household could understand a welcome at the Snuggery?”

No feature of the “Gunnery” life is more interesting to the old scholar
or to outsiders than the ingenious and effective punishments invented by
Mr. Gunn for the less serious and still important offenses inevitable
in such a community. He made early application of the principles so
earnestly defended in Herbert Spencer’s “Education” and contrived to
“make the punishment fit the crime” in a manner worthy of W. S.
Gilbert’s famous “Mikado.” His memorialist, enlarging on this phase of
the “Gunnery” life, thus enumerates “the grotesque punishments which Mr.
Gunn visited on petty offenses in his school and family”:

“A boy of uncommon diffidence might be sent to call on some village
spinster or, worse yet for the blushing youngster, on some comely
village lass. A youth too boisterous would be dismissed for a four-mile
walk, ordered to hold a chip in his mouth for an hour, or to run a dozen
times around the church on the Green, sounding the tin dinner-horn at
each corner in rotation. Two small boys caught fighting were often
ordered to sit, one in the other’s lap, taking turns thus for an hour or
two. Pounding a log with a heavy club was a favorite panacea for
superfluous energy in the family sitting-room. Once a mischievous
youngster was seen sprinkling a dog’s face with water at the tank behind
the Gunnery. The master, who had a tender spot in his heart for animals,
stole up behind the offender and ducked him liberally, to give him, as
he said afterward, an inkling of the feelings of the dog. At the Gunnery
it used to be a custom to allow a boy to take the anniversary of his
birth as a holiday, and a too clever lad was detected by Mr. Gunn
celebrating thus his third birthday within a single year. The next
genuine anniversary of the boy’s birth came on a Saturday, which the
recusant celebrated by hugging a tree for several hours while his
schoolmates enjoyed the regular school holiday. A resident of Washington
tells how, years ago, he found at the fork of two roads and hugging a
sign-post in anything but sentimental fashion a youth whose only reply
to questions was, ‘I’m a poor miserable sinner,’ that being the formula
of penance which the master had prescribed. A dozen lads some twenty
years ago were caught raiding the bough-apple trees of the neighbors.
Mr. Gunn made them draw up a formal address of apology, bear it in
procession to each of the amazed owners of the trees, read it on their
knees, and pray forgiveness. A single truant once caught committing the
same offense in the orchard of a poor widow was sent to work all day
picking up stones in one of her fields.

“Actual wickedness was severely punished by Mr. Gunn, sometimes in the
good, old-fashioned way; but his motive in inflicting for minor faults
the odd penalties here alluded to seemed to be to take cognizance of the
error in a manner that would sufficiently incommode the culprit without
hurting his self-respect or leaving an angry smart. The boy appreciated
the fact that ‘he stood corrected’; but he also appreciated the
humorous side of the penalty. Those who revisited Washington after
leaving school sought no familiar haunt with more interest than the
shrines to which they had made penitential pilgrimages under
orders--Kirby Corners, a gentle jog around the square; the old sawmill
in the hollow, which, visited at night, was weird and ghostly enough to
sober the wildest urchin; Moody Barn, as redolent of pleasant memories
as of new-mown hay; and, for more serious faults, distant ‘Judd’s

       *       *       *       *       *

“He insisted on neatness and order, and often a family meeting was
called and made a court of inquiry over a bit of paper found on the
lawn, or a peanut-shuck on the stairs. Once there was a question as to
the history of several pieces of orange-peel in the grass in front of
the house. The forty boys were summoned and made to stand in a row on
the long piazza. Mr. Gunn called upon each one to state what he knew
about the orange-peel, and at the end of the investigation he formed the
dozen or more culprits into file, the tallest at the head, and made them
march in solemn procession about the yard until they had picked up all
the offending scraps, and then to the pig-sty to deposit them in their
proper place.”

There is a delightful paragraph in a letter which Gibson wrote home to
his brothers, in which he tells in a boy’s quaint way of one of these
ingenious penalties which was visited on himself.

“One day I and two other boys eat some walnuts in church in the meeting
time. Mr. Gunn found it out. He made us three boys take the rest of our
walnuts up to the minister. We did so and the minister gave us his
thanks for the walnuts, and asked us if we would not have some supper,
for it was supper time. We refused and left. He told us not to eat any

But Mr. Gunn could administer as sharp reprimands to parents and older
folk as he could to the boys who were his pupils. There is a plaintive
letter from Gibson to his father, growing yellow now, with age, in which
the heart of the little boy is uncovered, and his longing for letters
from home is touchingly revealed. And the fatherly, warm-hearted teacher
had evidently read it, and his soul burned within him. So he wrote upon
the back page of the little note the following admonitory words, which
must have elicited a letter by return mail:

“MY DEAR SIR: It seems to me if I had such a dear little son as Willie
Gibson, sent away from home to a boarding school, and thrown upon the
cold charities of the world, so proverbially heartless and selfish as
the ministers say it is, I would require one of the clerks to write to
him once or twice a quarter. Willie is happy in his present relations,
but somewhat anxious about the friends he left behind him. He presumes
his parents are well, not having seen their names in the papers, but
would feel more sure if he heard from them. Willie is a dear little
fellow, just as good as he can be. Should you think it best to write to
him, direct care of F. W. Gunn, Washington, Conn.”!

These are words like rifle bullets!

Of course the students of child psychology will be interested to learn
whatever is worth knowing concerning the appearance, in embryo, of the
man Gibson in the boy of this period. There is satisfaction for such
investigators and there is disappointment as well. There are many
intimations, at this period, of the man that is to be. There are traces
of peculiarities which wholly disappeared with the years. There were
aptitudes and tastes appearing in the school-days at the Gunnery, which
no reprimands and no discouragements could subdue; and there were
shortcomings and faults which the years were destined utterly to efface.
It certainly seems strange to find Mr. Gunn writing to the boy’s mother,
“Willie has not yet learned to be spontaneously industrious. I know he
will come to it. He improves”; and again to his father, “Willie insists
that he is getting along finely in his studies, that he studies very
hard, and is doing well. But you must accept this with some grains of
allowance for a boy’s favorable judgment of himself. He does not learn
as fast as I wish to have him. I think his tendency to take on fat
hinders his power of industrious, persevering application; he is
getting to be quite a big fellow, and I urge him a good deal.” When one
remembers that the most marked of all his traits as a man was the fierce
and enthusiastic zeal with which he worked, consuming the powers of a
robust physique in his zest for toil, one is moved to be very patient
with the unpromising side of a child’s nature. It may take a great while
to become “spontaneously industrious”; but Gibson’s experience shows how
needless it is to be despondent because a boy does not work with a man’s
spirit. Sufficient unto the age are the traits thereof.

But in other ways, the schoolboy was forecasting the traits of the
mature man. There is a mournful letter preserved out of these years, in
which the little fellow writes his father after receiving a reprimand
for illustrating his letters with pen-and-ink pictures. His inborn
faculty would exhibit itself, and the home letters were filled with
funny and interesting sketches. But that did not seem to the parental
mind a wise use of writing materials. So the embryo artist was warned to
curb his passion for illustration. He wrote a few penitent lines in
response. “Next comes about the writing. I own that I am very foolish in
putting those pictures in my letters, and I won’t do it any more. I
never put them in only to the letters home.” Vain promise! It was one
more attempt to drive out nature with a pitchfork; and was as
unsuccessful--as it deserved to be. The artist-impulse was straining
and struggling within him already and was bound to assert itself more
and more vigorously till it should triumph in his life-work.

So, too, there appeared in these early days the passionate love of
nature which was to be a controlling element in his later years. Botany
was one of the studies which he insisted upon taking up under Mr. Gunn’s
teaching. There was a little family controversy over the matter, growing
out of the mother’s fear that the really practical things would be
neglected in this passion for nature-study. It sounds strange enough, at
this distance in time, with all the light of the boy’s later life, to
read the mother’s anxious words:

“We wish [Mr. Gunn] to judge and direct in all these things, but I was
afraid your own wish and the way I spoke to you about the delight of
studying Botany, might have led you to speak so positively in choosing
it, that he would suppose it was by our direction. If you really do take
up Botany you must expect to find that it is not all play either. There
are hard things to remember, and you must make up your mind to work at
them bravely and perseveringly if you are determined to make them

A little sentence later in the same letter shows the bent of the boy.
His mother, referring to a recent visit of his father to the school,

“I was afraid when your father told me how he found you in the calamus
swamp, that you would be sick.”

That tells an interesting story of boyish passion for plants. And so do
the little fellow’s letters home. Very early in his life at the Gunnery
he wrote to his father:

“I get along in my studies in Botany very well indeed, and he has
described two or three plants, one of which was Marsh-marigold or the
Cowslip. He has analyzed the cherry blossom”; and Mr. Gunn wrote a
footnote to the same letter saying: “He seems delighted with Botany and
makes close observations.” This quality of his mind, cropping out in its
earliest essays, appears again and again in these juvenile letters. They
are well worth quoting, as early witnesses to the attentive eye, the
retentive memory, the descriptive power which were part of his natural
and congenital outfit for his life-work. One of them divides its pages
between art and natural history:

“My paints have given me a great deal of fun. I bought a blank book and
copied several pictures in it out of my ‘Harris’s Insects,’ and I also
painted them, some from the description and some from the plates. I have
one page of beetles, another page of butterflies, etc., etc. I guess
when I get it done it will be ‘_betterish nische_.’ Everybody comes to
me lately to have

[Illustration: _William Hamilton Gibson_

_Age, 13_]

me draw and paint them a valentine, which of course I do for some of
them. I wish that in your next letter you would send me a couple of
paint brushes, for the hairs of mine keep coming out all the while.

“That same feeling has come over me that I used to have last summer when
I was after bugs and butterflies. The other day, it came very strong and
I went out to look for cocoons, and I looked and looked, but saw
nothing, and gave it up entirely, but as I was coming on my way into the
house I saw some small pear-trees and I thought that I would look on
them and I did, and saw a bunch of leaves. I looked and saw there was a
Cecropia cocoon done up in them which made me feel like an eagle darting
at her prey. I grabbed the prize and kept it and have got it yet. We
have got a new minister which I told you about. I showed it to him and
he told me to call and see him and bring it to him and he then asked me
if any boy had a microscope. I told him yes (for Commodore has got a
Craig’s Microscope) and the next evening Commodore and I took my
‘Harris’s Insects’ and showed it to him. He was much pleased with it and
is going to get one. We did not make a very long call, but it was a nice

Another letter to his mother enlists her help in his entomological

“I have just found an Imperial moth worm on a maple-tree. Will you
please look on one of the small apple-trees in the orchard near the
place where the arbor used to be, and on that row of small apple-trees,
there is a tree on which I put a Cecropia worm for myself, which may be
found by its effects under the tree. I think a great deal of it or I
wouldn’t write about it. Have you found any worms yet? I wish that I was
there to look about for them, or I wish that there was somebody there
who would look after them for me, for it is such a splendid place for
them. The boys are leaving from here, very fast, and we all will leave
in 13 days more....

“P. S. That worm that I told you about on the apple-tree, if very large,
must be taken off and put into a box with fresh apple leaves every day;
if small, do the same.”

A letter which he wrote in 1865 bears witness to the trait which his
teacher had already noted--his careful observation. He made pen-and-ink
drawings to make clear what flower he was trying to identify, which was
plainly the false foxglove.

“I have been out in several places and have stuck in as much as ten
stakes in different places where those beautiful scarlet or crimson
lilies grow and when the stalk has gone I will take them up. Saturday I
intend to go out in search of some more. There are plenty of them, and
sometimes I see them two or three on one stalk.

“Do you know what the large trumpet-creeper is that has very large
flowers of a red color? One used to grow at the east end of the back
piazza up against the side of the house. Well, there is a flower of the
same shape and kind of a beautiful yellow color, but it grows like a
primrose; on one stalk there are over 20 flowers of about an inch and a
half in length. The tops of the buds seem to be lapped over each other,
and when there are blossoms they look very pretty. I am going to try and
get it for you, but I don’t know whether it has seed or not. I suppose
not. Nevertheless, I’ll try and get it for you, for it is very pretty.

“In a garden up here there is a kind of ‘Columbine,’ very large, of two
kinds, purple and white and _very large_. I am welcome to all the seed
that I want. I don’t know whether you want any or not, but nevertheless
I’ll get you a lot.

“Here I must stop. I remain

“Your aff. son WILLIE.”

The boy was fortunate in his mother, whose fine nature, trained tastes,
and Christian spirit moved and moulded the best there was in him. Her
letters to the little pupil are models of maternal sympathy, and reflect
very vividly the boy’s strong passion for living things and the study of
them. One of her characteristic messages went to him in 1862, and
reveals her own interest in the pursuits which were delighting her
children and which were destined to mean so much to the boy she was
writing to:

“How are your friends and dear companions, the worms? I missed them very
much after you had gone, and often found myself stepping carefully and
looking down to the right and the left in crossing the upper hall,
expecting to see some green or brown thing crawling about. The great
drawer I gave you, we call ‘the worm drawer’ yet, and I don’t know as I
shall ever open it comfortably again. The peaceable and innocent rolls
of linen and sewing lie in it now, just as they used before you had it,
but sometimes I forget and open the one under it cautiously, expecting
to see some of your treasures dropped through again, on my things. Henry
and Julie are making collections now also, and Cottie brought home, the
other day, the finest, largest specimen I ever saw, of the sort you
called ‘Polyphemus’? It was of immense size, and a very bright healthy
color, both in its body and in those little tufts that stud it all over.
He laid it away very carefully, and left it in peace a few days, and
yesterday, behold it had spun a cocoon in its box as large as a
butternut, and as strong as linen, of a beautiful reddish brown. We
shall expect the moth with great interest. The children are too
impatient to hurry up business with their worms. They are forever
opening the boxes, and lifting and handling the creatures, so that I
should think the poor things would despair of ever getting a chance to
set their houses in order, at all.”

His relations with his mother were always close and sympathetic. She was
a rare nature, refined and cultivated, with a strong literary bent and
deep religious feeling. She wrote not a little, contributing to the
pages of “The Christian Union” and other publications. She scrupulously
kept all the boy’s letters from his schooldays forward through the
years. One of the cherished mementos of her life was a little manuscript
volume, which bears the inscription: “I leave this book to my son
William.” It is a record of her study of the Bible, her grapple with the
great problems of ethical and theological thought, prayers in which she
has uttered the aspirations of a reverent spirit insistently seeking
light through all the confusion and shadow of modern speculation,
comment upon the great books which were stirring Christendom and
sounding the note of the new thought about Christ and Christianity. To
read them is to discover the sources of the son’s deep reverence and
broad, unconventional religious life. It is to feel anew the unconscious
power of motherhood in shaping the ductile spirit of childhood, and to
be certain that the light of such a spirit was a very pillar of fire to
the soul of her son.



It was between the years 1866 and 1868 that the great crisis of young
Gibson’s life occurred; and a series of influences and incidents befell,
which were decisive in settling the great questions of his life-work and
of the spirit in which he would undertake it.

The latter of the two was the first to be decided. It was at this period
of his life that the boy experienced one of those changes in
disposition, which was like the awakening or the sudden unfolding of the
real self, hitherto hidden under apparently opposite traits. While he
was at the Gunnery, Gibson had troubled the soul of his teacher, as we
have seen, because he had not, as Mr. Gunn put it, “learned to be
spontaneously industrious.” But during the years immediately following,
while he was yet at the Polytechnic, he “came to himself.” He had been
an easy-going boy, rather indolent in habit, or at least deficient in
the power of industrious, persevering application. But now he began to
show a love of work, to love it for its own sake, to plan it, and to
seek it of his own volition. He took a vigorous hold upon his studies at
the Polytechnic. He found a new delight, as well as a sustained,
deep-seated interest in his drawing. He took up a new pursuit, to which
he devoted his spare hours to such good purpose that he mastered it in
astonishingly little time, and carried it to a high point of skill.
Chancing to see some wax-flowers made by an expert of his time in
Brooklyn, he promptly decided that the art was one which he could
master. After some essays of his own, he put himself under the
instruction of this teacher, who soon told the boy that he could teach
him no more. There are some wonderful stories floating down from those
days concerning the work he did in this medium, so fine in its imitative
perfection as to deceive the very elect. One, in particular, is to the
effect that a cluster of blossoms which he had modeled and carried, as a
gift, to Mr. Beecher’s home, stood upon a table in a little vase when
Mrs. Beecher saw it for the first time. She took up the vase, and,
raising it to inhale the fragrance which it promised, had crushed the
delicate work before she discovered the illusion. Apocryphal or not, the
story shows the impression his work made upon his early admirers.

But the time had come which was to put his earnestness and force to the
test. His father’s death in 1868 had made it necessary that he should
hasten to choose a career and begin his self-support. Few young men are
“called” to any special work in life; fewer still “elect,” of their own
free will, the thing they will do because it is the thing they must do,
beyond a doubt. And Gibson began by showing himself no different from
other youth; he was to discover his distinction later. For no particular
reason, save that it was suggested to him by a business friend and
adviser of whom he sought counsel, he took up life-insurance, and became
an agent for a leading company of his time. It gives one a strange
feeling of incongruity to read the little business card, bearing the
title of the “Home Life Insurance Company,” announcing “Wm. H. Gibson,
General Agent, 103 Fulton Street, Brooklyn,” with “Office hours, 9 to
10.” One thinks of Nathaniel Hawthorne in the custom-house at Salem; of
Charles Lamb at his clerk’s desk in East India House; and experiences a
deep sense of relief that this new genius had the grace and the strength
to escape from an uncongenial pursuit and follow the urgings of his own
spirit. The business had no attractions for the boy. He wanted to draw.
He was yearning after open fields and wide horizons. There was a craving
in his nature which was at once an outcry for a life of self-utterance
by the means and methods of art, and a protest against a life spent in
what is called, with cool disparagement of other pursuits, “business.”
The young man felt that the one career would mean self-expression, with
all its joy, its power, its peace; while the other would be a
self-repression, continual, galling, paralyzing. He was born to be a
student of nature and to tell her story to the men and women who had not
his endowment. The hour had come in which he was to decide whether he
could heed his call, believe in himself, choose the path which invited
him to labors that fitted his nature, and dare all its difficulties for
the sake of being true to his own soul. The situation was not new. It is
no unusual thing for young men to waver between such rival purposes. But
the interest of such a crisis never wanes. It is always a trial of the
real stuff and fiber of the individual. It is an experience which the
youth must bear alone. But the gain belongs to all men when the decision
is made which seals a life to devotion to its own highest ideal.

There is nothing to record the inward struggle of those days, save the
quick resolve which he made, and the abrupt turn in his purpose. In the
course of his calls to solicit business he chanced upon an acquaintance
who was a draughtsman, and found him engaged in drawing upon the block.
Gibson watched him a while, and forgot his errand in the sight of this
congenial work. As he told a friend, years afterward: “After looking on
for a few moments, I decided that I could do such work as well as he. I
learned where the blocks could be bought and went off immediately to
invest in a quantity of the material. From that moment I abandoned
everything else, and set to work at drawing.” This was in truth the
Rubicon of his life. In the decision it marks, young Gibson yielded to
his own most honorable ambitions. He elected what was probably the
harder way, if we count discouragements of one sort and another, the
dampening predictions of the critical and experienced, the warnings and
dissuasions of his best friends. Even in a financial way, it meant
straitened circumstances, hard work for small pay, and years of the most
strenuous effort, before he could obtain the recognition which meant a
market for his wares. By so much the more must we esteem his courage,
his faith in himself, his willingness to pay the high price of toil and
patient waiting for the success which came at last.

One hardly does justice to the boldness of the young man’s resolve until
he remembers that Gibson was proposing to begin his career as an artist
with nothing but his native genius as a warrant of success. He was
wholly lacking in training, as later days would understand it. He had
studied art in no school. He had received the teaching of no
master-artist. All that he could do was what he had worked out for
himself. It would seem almost audacious, even reckless, for a young man
to rush into the field of illustration with no more preparation either
to fit him to do intelligent work or to discover to himself whether he
really possessed abilities which would make his venture worth while.
Untaught and unpractised, save in the desultory

[Illustration: _William Hamilton Gibson_

_Age, 17_]

way of a boy’s attempts to express his own ideas with the pencil, he
made up his mind that he could and that he would do as good artistic
work as anybody. The intrepidity of youth is either ridiculous or it is
sublime. Perhaps we must let events decide which it is. In this case the
years made Gibson’s daring spirit seem the truest courage. Yet one holds
his breath as he thinks of this boy boldly walking into the offices of
the Harper Brothers, with his drawings on wood, to offer them for sale.

It is small wonder that they did not find acceptance in this exacting
quarter. Gibson, armed with a letter of introduction to the Harpers, had
gone to one of the firm, who turned him over to Charles Parsons, the
head of the art department. It was arranged that he should have two
weeks’ trial, to test his capacity. At the end of that time Mr. Parsons
said to him, in substance, “I do not see that you will ever succeed in
an artistic career. I advise you to drop it at once, and go into some
other pursuit. I do not feel justified in recommending you to go on.”
This judgment was as kindly in intention as it was candid in tone. It
was the verdict of a cool-headed critic as well as an honest friend. It
ought to have put an end to Gibson’s aspirations. It is the joy of all
his friends to remember how he met this rebuff. He insisted that he
should go on; he knew what he could do, and he meant to show other
people. Nothing could deter, nothing could discourage him. “Very well,”
said Mr. Parsons, “whatever you do, do your best; and show me your work
from time to time.”

So Gibson turned from the doors which afterward opened to him so
eagerly, and traveled on in search of appreciation and a market. He
found both at the hands of John G. Shea, then of Frank Leslie’s house,
who bought his drawings for “The Chimney Corner” and “The Boys’ and
Girls’ Weekly.” “I began to pay my way,” said Gibson in a newspaper
interview, “as soon as I met him. It was he who first suggested to me
that I might furnish text with my drawings; and then I received double
pay.” Soon after this he began to furnish botanical drawings for “The
American Agriculturist.” His work was so acceptable that he was invited
to take a desk in the offices of the publication, and he here became
acquainted with J. C. Beard, Jr., with whom he had a life-long
friendship. An opportunity occurring to furnish drawings for botanical
articles in Appleton’s “Encyclopædia,” Gibson undertook the task; and
when this led to a disagreement with the manager of the “Agriculturist,”
he and Beard left the paper and took a room by themselves, in John
Street. Here the orders began to come in, besides what they were doing
for Leslie and Appleton, from various lithographers. The young men led a
happy life, full of hard work, good fellowship, ambitious plans. Gibson
was absorbed in his pursuits. He shrank from nothing because it was
hard or because it was humble. He turned his pencil to whatever would
afford him training and whatever would bring him honest returns. He was
ready to do all sorts of “odds and ends” of illustration. He had great
facility in producing puzzles of every description, especially those
depending on illustration. One entire notebook is filled with
suggestions for riddles, puzzles, rebuses, anagrams, which he worked out
or had in reserve.

The days were full of hope and determination. He had no doubts about his
ultimate success. He was a firm believer in himself. And he knew he had
found the work he loved and into which he could throw his whole
abounding life. It is a fine picture of a brave young fellow facing a
difficult career with the buoyant hopes of youth and the confidence of a
really strong nature. He was only nineteen when he wrote to the young
girl to whom he had already given his heart: “This work perfectly
fascinates me. It has always been my choice; it always will be. I shall
never be happy if I have to abandon it. I look forward to it with
delight and enthusiasm.... I do not allow myself to be too sanguine. I
expect difficulties, trials, disappointments. I am willing to work, use
all my energy, brave all manner of disappointments if in the end that
future which we so often picture to one another can be realized.”

Another letter, a few months later, tells the story of hard work and
increasing care, in apology for delay in writing to his mother. It also
introduces the matter of one of his largest commissions up to this time,
and shows how certainly he was making his way:

“Mother, I think of you just as much as ever, but I am so busy that when
evening comes my natural dislike to letter writing is increased tenfold
by fatigue. I wish I could give some correct idea of the amount of work
that I do, and of how continually I am occupied. I am dreadfully busy,
and last week and week before I worked at the office evening after
evening until nearly eight, very seldom leaving before seven. You may
perhaps form some idea when I tell you that I have got work on hand now
(all in a hurry, as fast as I can do it) amounting to over $1,000.00
(one thousand dollars). It is all from Appleton & Co. and $840.00 of it
is in one commission. It consists of twelve drawings on stone, each
stone measuring nearly four feet by three, and weighing about four
hundred pounds. I agreed to do the drawings on each stone for $70.00
which amounts as above. I have commenced and finished one stone
satisfactorily, and commenced another to-day. It takes five men to bring
the stone to my office and it is the largest size that can be used on a
power press. A ‘tremendous job’ people call it, and don’t see ‘how on
earth I manage to get at all these things.’ I believe I told you
something about it. You remember that I heard of the intention of the
Appletons to publish some mammoth botanical charts, and as it was rather
in my line I went and saw Mr. Appleton about it. He asked me if I could
draw on stone. I told him ‘yes,’ as if I had done it all my life, and
gave him my estimate. It was an estimate calculated to pay me well, and
I felt sure by previous inquiry that it was as low as he could get it
done elsewhere. It resulted as I expected and the entire job was turned
over to me.”

The sequel to that story is given in one of his frank, confidential
letters to his mother, meant only for her eye, and therefore full of
such a self-expression as he would have made to no one else. It answers
still further the question as to how he came to get this particular
commission in a way which reveals again his boldness and faith in
undertaking new and untried work:

“N. Y., _Jan. 22, 1872_.


     “I have stopped short in my work for the purpose of writing a few
     lines to you, as more time has already elapsed since you last heard
     from me than I had expected to allow. Everything goes on as
     smoothly as I could desire; of course there are ripples
     occasionally but they only tend to make the intervening success and
     prosperity more serene by contrast.

     “I still continue as busy as ever only more so. The stone work is
     the principal employment, at present, and I have given from the
     start immense satisfaction. You remember that in my last ‘long
     letter’ I spoke of commencing on the second stone the following
     day. Well I did so and finished on the next day after, not spending
     quite two days on it. That week I realized $170.00 for work which I
     did all myself. The Appletons were surprised more than I can tell
     you when I informed them of the completion of the second stone, and
     would scarcely believe that I had done it myself. When they came to
     see the proof they were even more pleased than they were with the
     first. The third stone was then sent to my office on the next
     _Saturday afternoon_. Monday morning following it had not a mark on
     it and before I left for home that very evening it was completely
     finished, thus making $70 in one day. On the next morning I went up
     to the Appletons’ and notified Mr. A. that his third stone for the
     charts was finished and in a playful way that I wished he would
     please send for it and let me have the next. ‘Why,’ said he, ‘I
     told them to take it to you last Saturday afternoon.’ ‘Well,’ said
     I, they _did_ bring me one last Saturday afternoon and that is the
     one that I have finished and wish you to take away.’ I wish you
     could have seen the expression of mingled surprise and incredulity
     which covered his face. ‘Why,’ said he, ‘have you done it
     yourself?’ ‘Yes,’ I returned, ‘I commenced it and finished it
     yesterday.’ He received the intelligence rather with hesitation at
     first and finally as I had expected, took the course of questioning
     whether there was really $70.00 worth of work on them. He was very
     coy in his manner of doing it but I saw well enough through it all.
     He put such questions as these, ‘Well, you are doing them much
     quicker than you expected aren’t you? There is not quite so much
     work on them as you expected, is there? You thought at first that
     there would be a week’s time on each stone you remember?’ You see
     the style of query he used. To all these I admitted that they had
     become much more easy for me than I had expected, that I was
     hurrying them up because I knew that they were in a great hurry for
     the work. I reminded them that my estimate was the lowest that they
     could obtain in the city and said if I had the faculty of working
     fast that I ought to be remunerated for it, etc. ‘But,’ said he,
     ‘there is quite a wide difference between a week and a day and it
     seems that you did the last one in a day.’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘so I
     did, but I will spend a week at them hereafter.’ This made him
     laugh heartily, and he drew me a check for $70.00 on the spot and
     told me that he was glad I was doing them so fast and that the firm
     were more than pleased, thinking my work far ahead of the original,
     etc. The fourth stone I finished this Monday having commenced it on
     Saturday last. It has been taken away this morning; the fifth one
     is now on my desk ready for me to proceed. It is a beautiful
     surface to draw upon, and I enjoy the work very much. I certainly
     have the faculty of drawing very fast. Several artists have seen my
     drawings on the stone and several lithographers also, and they all
     tell me frankly (after they have been really convinced that I have
     drawn one in a day or even two days) that there is not another man
     in the city that could do it and no one that could do it better.
     The most reasonable time which the Appletons could find elsewhere
     was a week and this amongst lithographers who had drawn upon stone
     all their lives. The printers of my lithographic work say that they
     never printed neater work in their lives and that my drawings all
     print very brightly.”

It was about these days that he made his first original work, a little
composition now treasured and carefully preserved. He wrote about it to
his mother:

     “Week before last I took to Mr. Bunce a little bit of sunset effect
     in the form of a sketch which I did in fifteen minutes, in India
     ink and white. Beard admired it ever so much, and just for fun I
     took it to Bunce as a sort of specimen of ‘original design.’ To my
     surprise he admired it so much that he gave me a block, and told me
     to put it on the wood by all means, for the ‘Journal.’ It is very
     simple in composition, being drawn in a circle with the foreground

[Illustration: _The Road to Hide-and-Seek Town_

_First Composition, 1873_]

     open. On the right is a hillside with a few tall trees; on the left
     another slope, more distant. The extreme distance is composed of a
     village with church-spire, trees, etc., standing out against a
     brilliant sunset sky which shows through the trees. In the extreme
     foreground is a traveler, or farmer, wending his way homeward; his
     figure is almost a silhouette and his shadow is cast upon the road.
     It is my first attempt at a design. My head is ‘chuck full of
     them,’ but I cannot get a chance to use them I am so busy.”

Other letters covering this period are full of interest. They show the
heart of the young fellow, his frank delight in his own success, and in
the approval which his work begins to receive. He was much elated over
the success of an engraving he made for the “Aldine”:

“NEW YORK, _Feb. 2, 1872_.


     “I have just a few moments’ spare time which I will improve by
     writing a short letter or note to you.

     “Concerning my picture, all the artists of the establishment
     admired the effect and recognized the ‘excellent copy’ of Inness’
     style and handling. They all seem to think that the picture is
     rather unnatural in its intensity but that the effect is wonderful.
     Well, it was yesterday that I brought it over. I had cut it out of
     the paper on which I drew it and pasted it neatly on a large piece
     of white stiff photograph board. Its appearance was thus greatly
     improved, as it had a margin of nearly six inches all around it. At
     noon time I took the sketch down to the ‘Aldine.’ I saw Mr. Sutton,
     the proprietor. He held the sketch off from him, looked at it
     through his hand, and pronounced it magnificent. I of course told
     him that it was a copy. He asked me if he had not met me before. I
     told him ‘yes’; that one year ago I came to him with my first
     drawings on wood, and that he did a great deal to encourage me at
     the time. He remembered me, remembered my little drawings and
     described both of them to me--told me that I had a _tremendous_ eye
     for color, and he had noticed it when I first went to him. He said,
     ‘When you were here a year ago I told you to come to me when you
     began to do original work, did I not?’ I answered yes and told him
     a little of my experience since that time. Well we had a nice
     little talk and it ended in his giving me a large full page block
     with the order to put it on wood and he said that I must bring him
     some more sketches. I am to correct Inness’ unfinished style and
     make a more finished picture than the original is, as a painting.
     When it is done I will probably receive from 50 to 60 dollars for

     “I begin it next week and as I cannot give Roberts’ time to it and
     will have to work evenings, will probably not finish it for two
     weeks or so.”

In the fall of this year he had a commission from the Appletons to
visit Rhode Island on a sketching tour. It was his first attempt at
anything of just this sort, and he was evidently nervous over his
responsibilities. But his unfailing courage served him once more, and
his naïve account of the trip and of the reception of its fruits is
preserved in a letter to his mother:

“BROOKLYN, N. Y., _Sept. 23/72_.


     “I returned from my trip on Thursday, but did not wish to write you
     immediately as I hoped to be able to send you more encouraging news
     by waiting a day or so. Many were the disadvantages which I labored
     under during all the time while I was away, being almost sick
     constantly. Nevertheless I worked through it all, hard and
     faithfully, and the result is ‘a perfect success,’ far exceeding my
     greatest anticipations. It was a very important period in my
     business career, and I felt the necessity of working _hard_, and,
     truth to say, I was confident of success, but not to any such
     degree as that with which I have met.

     “My commission included Providence and Suburbs: Pawtucket;
     Providence Bay; Narragansett Bay; Rocky Point and Narragansett
     Pier, all of which I visited and sketched. During the first week I
     remained at the Central Hotel, Providence, where I had quite a
     pleasant room. It being the first time of my being sent upon work
     of this kind I was ignorant as to what would be expected of me and
     of course was much worried and anxious, and the one thing which
     troubled me most has been the one of all others which has made me
     so successful. Each day, (with my camp seat, umbrella and
     materials,) I would start out either on foot or in the cars,
     traveling nearly until evening and in no case did I bring home with
     me more than three sketches, and this number only once. It was this
     scarcity in my number of sketches that caused me to worry, but I
     still felt that what I had got were good; all through the day would
     I pass by little bits of landscape that I thought would compose
     rather prettily, but nevertheless I made up my mind (as I was not
     to be gone long) to sketch only such bits as I knew would be
     particularly attractive, and of course it would take nearly the
     whole day before I could find and sketch more than two. I imagined
     that this was a very small number, but did not see how I could do
     much better, as it took a great deal of time to walk about and
     select the prettiest views. Well, I worked on in this way for the
     whole week, and at the end of it I never realized more happily the
     fact that ‘seven times two made fourteen’ and I thought that if I
     could go home with twenty-eight sketches it would be certainly well
     enough as far as the number was concerned. But, again I was very
     much in doubt as to the merit of my sketches and as the other
     cause of anxiety was now partially removed, this took its place and
     troubled me. The next circumstance took the spirits right out of me
     and made me about sick. It commenced to rain and kept it up
     constantly until I left, and it was the meanest, wetest, rain that
     I ever knew of, and when it didn’t actually rain it ‘fogged’ and
     drizzled which was nastier yet. The blank sheet of my drawing paper
     would have been the best sketch of landscape during those days, as
     I could see scarcely more than this would represent. Even in the
     rain I went out and made a few sketches of places already decided
     upon and finally left Providence in disgust, on my way home down
     Narragansett Bay. I stopped over night at Rocky Point where I made
     two sketches, leaving for Newport on the following day (Tuesday).
     On Wednesday I went to Narragansett Pier when I also made two or
     three sketches, thence homeward.

     “I came home with about twenty-two sketches. All here at the house
     thought them beautiful. Mr. Beard was perfectly surprised at their
     beauty and Mr. Bunce at Appleton’s pronounced them one of the ‘best
     lots of sketches he has yet had’ and complimented me on my ‘perfect
     success.’ He was very much pleased indeed, and admired them all,
     and gave vent to his admiration with loud praise; he called old and
     young Appleton and several other gentlemen to see them, all of whom
     pronounced them ‘very fine.’ I expected then that he would look
     them over and select about five of the prettiest for me to put on
     the wood. This was the most that I thought he would select. Mr.
     Beard, when I asked him, said that he thought they would select
     about five, as in other cases they had only taken about that number
     out of an equivalent stock of sketches. Judge of my complete
     surprise to see him select and count fifteen of them saying that he
     would have them all drawn for the ‘Picturesque America.’ This left
     only about six of the lot which he did not want, and he
     complimented me on the choice of my selections, saying ‘Generally a
     lot of sketches will come in, and I will look them over and reject
     two thirds of them, on account of the subjects not being
     interesting, the artists sketching whatever they come across that
     looks “pretty” and not hunting for the most interesting alone.’
     This is the amount of what he said to me and finished it up by
     telling me that all of mine were of interest and composed well,
     which was the very thing I studied for and which most troubled me
     on account of the time it took and the consequent small number of
     my sketches. Mr. Bunce was perfectly delighted, and if I please him
     as well in my drawings on the wood, he will probably wish to send
     me off again, when I will in all probability receive ‘$40.00 per
     week and expenses.’ He gave me four large blocks nearly ‘full page’
     to start on and the rest

[Illustration: _William Hamilton Gibson_

_Age, 23_]

     will come along as fast as I want them; and will amount to about
     $400 worth of work. Besides this I have plenty of work from Filmer,
     in a hurry, another very large job from Appleton (on stone), stacks
     of work for Leslie and plenty else besides, scarcely knowing where
     to begin. My bill to D. App. & Co. for my trip was considerably
     over $100, which they paid without a word not even wishing an item.

     “It does seem rather strange to me that whatever I undertake to do,
     always ends in success, and in _unexpected success_. To be sure it
     is done by hard work and I do not see why any one cannot succeed
     who will put their shoulder to the wheel, be ambitious and full of
     resolution to surmount all difficulties. So far I have not made a
     failure, and one reason has been that I have not attempted a thing
     to which I did not feel equal. I am thankful that I do succeed, and
     I recognize, through all my experience in business, and in my
     efforts to advance, the ever present help and guidance of a good
     and kind Providence.”

On the 29th of October, 1873, he was married to Miss Emma L. Blanchard
of Brooklyn. The occasion was made the more interesting by the marriage
of his sister Juliet, and the double service was performed by Mr.
Beecher. In the following spring he made a sketching trip to Washington,
D. C., making pictures for “Picturesque America.” He was now doing good
work and receiving constant employment. He says of the Washington
sketches, especially having in mind a “combination” which included many
of the public buildings:

“BROOKLYN, _Apr. 19, 1874_.


     “I am only going to write you a few lines to-night (which by the
     way has generally been my expressed intention every time I have
     written) and for fear that I may possibly overstep that intention I
     have selected a larger sheet of paper than usual, and expect at
     least to confine the limits of my letter therein.

     “Mr. Bunce was very much pleased with my rendering of a difficult
     subject, and one which had worried him considerably. I took him the
     drawing yesterday, and received another commission from him, more
     work for the ‘Picturesque America.’ My drawings will already appear
     under three heads, viz.: ‘Providence and Suburbs,’ ‘Connecticut
     Shore,’ and ‘Washington and Mt. Vernon,’ and now there is still
     another to be added. I am to proceed immediately with Brooklyn and
     Prospect Park, and expect to begin my sketching to-morrow, of
     course being paid as I am usually, for my time. The series will not
     be very extensive, probably a combination or two with a few small
     separate pictures. I hope that this new work will not interfere
     with my intended visit with you during arbutus season. I will try
     and manage so as to bring my work up there for I hope to spend
     three or four days with you. _Be sure and let us know_ when the
     arbutus is in bloom.”

In the fall of 1876 Gibson published through James Miller a book for
boys, of which a fuller word will be said later in these pages. It bore
the title, alluring to any boy, “The Complete American Trapper; or the
Tricks of Trapping and Trap-Making.” It was republished by two other
firms, and still has a market.

These were the years of apprenticeship and study. The young man’s art
class was his own studio. His course of study was determined by the
business needs of those who employed him. His chief instructor was
himself. The years went quickly by. A trip to the Adirondacks in 1875,
another to Philadelphia to sketch the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 were
the chief incidents of the next two years. The Philadelphia enterprise
was under the patronage of Harper Brothers. For at last he had secured
the approval he had coveted so much, and was able to win his way into
the publications of this house on his own merits. From time to time he
had shown his work to Mr. Parsons, who admitted his progress and
acknowledged his growing promise. At last he received an order to
illustrate an article in conjunction with his friend Beard. Other work
followed, and he was a recognized contributor to the Harpers’

But the work which probably made his “calling and election sure” was his
masterly illustration of an article written by Mrs. Helen S. Conant,
entitled “Birds and Plumage.” Gibson had suggested the article,
furnishing the idea and proposing as a title “The Plumage of Fashion.”
He did not secure the commission to write the text: his abilities as a
writer had not been demonstrated, and he himself was diffident about
them. But he received the order for sixteen illustrations, into which we
may well believe he threw his whole strength. The initial design
attracted marked attention and drew out unstinted praise. It was a
full-page picture of a peacock’s feather. It gave the article instant
success. The press was enthusiastic in commending it. The August number
of “Harper’s Magazine” for 1878 may be said to have marked a new epoch
in American illustration; and young Gibson’s work led all the rest. The
reserved and refrigerated criticism of the “Nation” was relaxed almost
to the point of enthusiasm: “The remarkable series of birds drawn on the
block by Mr. William H. Gibson is more obviously than the imitations
just mentioned the result of the engraver’s skill and unwearied
patience. The cut of the peacock feather, for instance, which introduces
the paper on ‘Birds and Plumage,’ must impress even the uninitiated with
its rare and costly character, whether regarded as a design or as an
engraving. Mr. Gibson has evidently studied his subjects with great care
and succeeded in portraying them, both in action and in repose, in a
graceful and life-like manner, with instructive accessories.” The
“Christian Union,” always careful and conservative, said: “Upon this
article, which has been a long time in preparation, the publishers have,
it is understood, laid out an unprecedentedly large sum of money.
Certainly Mr. Gibson’s graceful pencil has given them the worth of it.
No better work, it is safe to say, has ever appeared in the pages of the

But best and most conclusive of all the words of praise which this
drawing elicited, were those of Mr. Charles Eliot Norton, in a personal
letter to the young artist:

“CAMBRIDGE, _Nov. 8, 1878_.

     “DEAR SIR: I am much obliged to you for your note, for it gives me
     an opportunity which I have desired, to express to you my
     admiration of the skill and beauty of the design of the peacock’s
     feather, so excellently cut on wood by Mr. King. It is not merely
     subtle and refined execution which is shown in the piece, but a
     poetic feeling for the quality and charm of the feather itself and
     for its value in composition. Your feather ought to be as well
     known as Rembrandt’s shell or Hollar’s furs. For you and Mr. King
     in your joint work have succeeded in suggesting the splendor, the
     play, the concentration of color, the bewildering multiplicity of
     interlacing curves, the elastic spring and vitality of every fiber,
     and have given the immortality of art to one of the purely
     decorative productions of nature. I shall look for your new work
     with great interest.

     “I am very desirous to see a proof of your feathers on soft India
     paper. If I can find some proper paper here I shall be tempted to
     send it to you. But paper suitable for such work is not easily

All this was said of the youth who six years before had been pronounced
without even the promise of ability! Surely he had a right to be proud
of his triumph. He had fairly won his spurs. Henceforth there was no
doubt of his standing as one of the first of American illustrators.

[Illustration: _”The Peacock’s Feather” (“The Peerless Plume”)_

(“_Highways and Byways_”)

_Copyright, 1882, by Harper & Brothers_]



From this time forward, Gibson’s success as an artist was assured. And
not very long after, he was induced to try his hand at authorship, with
results quite as convincing. During the summer of 1878 he spent his
vacation, in company with his wife, in the old homes at Newtown and at
Washington, Connecticut. Returning to the city in the autumn, and
recounting his delightful experiences to Mr. Alden, the editor of
“Harper’s Magazine,” the latter insisted that Gibson should put them
into an article which he should also illustrate. But even with the
practice which he had given himself, in the brief articles he had
furnished with many of his drawings, he distrusted his own capacity for
literary work. He had no such innate sense of power to write as made him
so confident with his pencil. He demurred at the proposition; but Mr.
Alden was firm and persistent. “Write it just as you have told it to
me,” was his encouraging word. His suggestion was followed, and in the
August number of the monthly appeared an affectionate sketch of the old
boyhood homes, under the title, which was but a thin disguise,
“Hometown and Snug Hamlet.” It proved an instant success. The note
struck was genuine and pleasing. The illustrations won the public eye.
The canny editor suggested a similar article which should cover the
winter phases of country life in the same vein. It was prepared, and
appeared in the number for March, 1880; and had a reception as
enthusiastic as his former venture. The idea of completing the cycle of
the seasons was inevitable, and in June there followed the article on
“Spring-Time,” which was pronounced “the most attractive paper” of this
number of the magazine, whose “rhythmic prose” was not less highly
commended than its illustrations, which another critic called “almost as
good as spring itself.” In November the series was rounded out with “An
Autumn Pastoral,” which led a reviewer to say “Mr. Gibson is a great
artist, and has a great future before him.”

In 1879 he furnished illustrations for E. P. Roe’s “Success with Small
Fruits,” which appeared serially in “Scribner’s Magazine,” and which
opened the way to an intimate friendship with the author. He made the
designs for the poems of the Goodale sisters, “In Berkshire with the
Wild-flowers.” But these were mere incidents in the work he was turning
off, for half the firms in New York City, and on all sorts of subjects
having to do with nature, with animal life, with flowers, and with
fruits. In the spring he made a visit to “Roeland” to sketch, and he
divided his August vacation between Connecticut and the White
Mountains, where he gathered material for a year’s hard work. He busied
himself, too, with work in water color, steadily keeping his ideals in
mind, and his own art-training in hand.

In the fall of 1880, the four papers which had appeared in “Harper’s
Magazine” were collected and published in a sumptuous volume, entitled
“Pastoral Days.” It was a book which yesterday would have been called
“epoch-making”; to-day it would only be called “record-breaking.” The
simple truth about it is that it really touched the high-water mark in
the history of nature-illustration by means of wood-engraving. It was
everywhere hailed as exhibiting the very best work of its kind ever
achieved. The praise which fell to Gibson himself was twofold; for it
was an enthusiastic recognition of his talent both as author and as
artist. His engravers were applauded for the skill and spirit with which
they interpreted his designs. His publishers were commended for the
unstinted generosity which had balked at no pains or cost. Even the
printer received a curtain-call. For the “Evening Post” with great
discrimination insisted that much of the success of the work was due to
“another artist, whose name is nowhere given. That artist’s name is
David Lewis and he passes his days in the press-room of Harper Brothers,
amid the clatter of the printing-machines, engaged in the grimy work of
his office.” The “Evening Mail” expressed the unanimous verdict of art
circles when it declared: “Writers on art spoke of the days of Bewick
with a sort of despair, as though no one like him might ever be expected
again. It has been reserved for the United States to show that wood has,
for the purposes of engraving, capacities of which Bewick never dreamed,
and to produce a school of artists who in treating landscape, at least
upon wood, have surpassed everything on the other side of the ocean. In
the first rank of these artists stands Mr. William Hamilton Gibson.” The
London “Times” in a long notice spoke of his having “the rare gift of
feeling for the exquisitely graceful forms of plant life and the fine
touch of an expert draughtsman which enable him to select and to draw
with a refinement which few artists in this direction have ever shown.”
Even the “Saturday Review” in a notice a column and a half in length,
confessing its ignorance of Mr. Gibson and his work, declared that his
drawings were so full of delicate fancy and feeling, and his writing so
skilful and graceful, that it hoped “to hear more of him soon, in either
function or both.” In hardly more than two years from the time of his
first illustrations Gibson had made his way to the very front rank of
the world’s illustrators. His position was truly of his own achieving;
and he never fell back from the eminence he had so fairly won. His
friend Mr. Charles N. Hurd of the Boston “Transcript” does the
situation no more than simple justice in a letter written upon reading
the “Saturday Review” article:

                          “TRANSCRIPT OFFICE,


                       “BOSTON, _May 18, 1881_.


     “I congratulate you from the very bottom of my heart on the
     magnificent article on ‘Pastoral Days’ in the Saturday Review,
     which, you will see by the papers I send, I have copied into the
     Transcript. Nothing could have been more gracefully done, and then,
     in the Saturday Review, one of the very hardest to please of all
     the British journals! Why, my dear fellow, they never said half so
     much before of any literary American, living or dead. And there
     isn’t an ‘if’ in the whole article! I feel as rejoiced about it as
     if I had some personal share in the glory. If you haven’t a right
     now to carry your chin high on Broadway then nobody in New York
     has. I tell you, it’s a great thing to be appreciated; to get
     praise where you feel that it rests wholly and altogether upon the
     merits of your work, and has in it no spark of flattery. I can
     imagine how long the way home seemed that night, and how happy you
     two were in reading over what the two-thousand-mile-away critic had
     written. It is worth a good many years’ hard pulling to have one
     such day.”

One great and decisive reason why he moved on so steadily was his
constant ambition to improve upon what he had done. One might easily be
misled by the tone of his confidential letters to his mother and others
into thinking him overconfident in himself, and a little puffed up by
his quick and overwhelming success. But the thought would be absolutely
unfair. He was not vain; he was never self-satisfied; he never rested in
what he had achieved. After the rousing reception of “Pastoral Days,” he
could write to Colonel Gibson in quiet Fryeburg: “I have just finished
the last of my White Mountain illustrations--four months’ work--and am
beginning a new series of original articles which shall ‘knock spots’
out of all past work. You ask in a previous letter, ‘Can you beat
“Pastoral Days”’? Good gracious! The book is so full of shortcomings to
me that I wonder at the astonishing appreciation of it. There are a few
illustrations in it that I hardly expect to improve very much upon; but
as to the average excellence I can ‘see it’ and ‘go a hundred better.’
Perhaps the result will not be as popular. Can’t tell. But I can do
better work.” That was the key-note of his life. To do something better
next time was the rule of his endeavor. To do something different each
time, to turn some new page, follow some new trail, record some new
traits of his favorite world, was another characteristic of his
purposes. And it kept him from becoming repetitious and tiresome, as he
repeatedly piqued curiosity with his novel enterprises in nature-study.

In the late summer of 1880 he spent six weeks in sketching among the
White Mountains, whence he went to Williamstown, Massachusetts, for
another six weeks of rest. He came home laden with sketches and with
photographs, which were at once utilized in making the illustrations for
Drake’s “Heart of the White Mountains.” He worked at these with
diligence, as we have seen, never a day, apparently, passing without its
picture; but it was far into the following spring before the series was
finished. The volume was issued in 1881, but before its appearance he
was well along with the text and the illustrations for the new articles
in the magazine, in the same vein as “Pastoral Days.” In expanded form
they were published in the fall of 1882 under the title “Highways and
Byways.” It would have seemed improbable that the reception given to his
first volume could be repeated. Novelty does so much with Americans to
arouse enthusiasm, and they are so quick to compare the later with the
former effort, that it might have been predicted that a second volume
striking the same note as Gibson’s first success would not be so warmly
praised. But the public liked the note, and it pronounced the new book
better than the old. The press notices of ’82 and ’83 are in the same
strain of unaffected admiration and delight as those of two years
before. Perhaps he had most reason to be proud of the approval the new
book won from the staid London “Academy” and from Mr. Philip Gilbert
Hamerton’s “Portfolio.” The former, though a little late in discovering
him was ingenious in its sweeping approval. “Fancy to yourself” said the
“Academy,” “a Thoreau who has read both Darwin and Ruskin, and who has
learned to use the pencil of Birket Foster. To this add the finest
workmanship of the American school of wood-engraving, and all the luxury
of the richest paper and the clearest type, and you may form some idea
of the handsome book now before us. At first it attracted only by the
rare delicacy of its drawings, which reproduce with unrivaled truth the
exquisite tracery of vegetation, and the ‘ebon and ivory’ of Nature’s
shadows. But when we discovered that the artist is also the author, we
began to read; and we found ourselves unable to stop till we got to the
end.” “We feel that we have here far more than in most American books, a
genuine product of the soil.” Mr. Hamerton credits the new book with “a
love of nature that is Wordsworthian in its reverence, the close and
patient observation of an artist, the peculiar humor of a genial
American in the study of men and things.” To such expressions as these,
Mr. George William Curtis, voicing the sentiment of his own countrymen,
said of him: “Mr. William Hamilton Gibson’s reputation as one of the
first of modern artists for wood-engraving, is established and secure.”
“It is hard to believe that the blended softness, vigor, and
individuality of the art could go further than in the illustrations of
this choice volume.”

He had found time during the year for no little study and work in
water-color, and even began to essay painting in oils. Despite a long
illness of eight months he contributed to several exhibitions and
finished a number of new pictures. His goal was always to be a painter.
In all the heat of his endeavor and the intoxication of his success he
never forgot his ideals, never slackened his march toward the highest
art in the most approved forms and mediums.

In May, 1883, his first child was born, and he was soon writing to “Dear
Mother Gunn,” in answer to her importunate inquiries, all about the
new-comer. “Hamilton Gibson then is his name I understand, though not a
gift from me, but simply because I have not the heart to refuse anything
to my precious wife just now. So she has christened him as above in
spite of much foreboding on my part, as to the probable curtailment of
his cognomen among the contemporaneous specimens of his genus in the
days which will soon be upon us. I have waited so long for this little
angel to come, that I hardly dare realize to the full the happiness
which has befallen me lest I awake in bitterness to find it all a
tantalizing dream.... But ere long I suppose the reality will be brought
home to me more effectually,--a few hours’ perambulating in the ‘wee
sma’ hours’ every night for a week or two would dispel all doubts or
fears, and place the experience on the basis of solid prosaic reality.
At present writing, however, I can truthfully say, as every antecedent
pa has done, that he is the best baby alive, quiet, absorbent, and
somnolent to a degree of perfection which leaves nothing to be desired.
Only last night, after taking his meal, (at least that is what I
understand they feed him on) he was placed upon his pillow at ten
o’clock and slept like a chrysalis till half-past five this morning.
During the day to be sure he is not quiescent for quite so long a
period, as then nature seems to ‘abhor the vacuum’ more than ever.”

The year 1883 was devoted to the illustration of E. P. Roe’s “Nature’s
Serial Story,” a work into which he entered with heartiness and
sympathy. Much time, too, was given to the preparation of the “Memorial”
of Mr. Gunn, a volume issued under the direction of an association of
his old pupils, commemorative of his striking personality and of the old
days in the school at Washington. This book was finely illustrated by
the hand of his loving pupil, who also wrote the introduction which was
to have been written by Mr. Beecher, whose death occurred while the

[Illustration: _God’s Miracle_

_By permission of the Curtis Publishing Company_]

work was in progress. The summer vacation was spent, as usual, in hard
work, the scene of his labors being in the White Mountains, at Lake
George, ending with two weeks in Washington, where he took many
photographs and made many sketches for the “Memorial.” There was much
painting in water-color for exhibitions here and there, with many sales
at good prices. From time to time in 1885 and 1886 he furnished more of
the charming articles which the public had learned to look for and to
love. “Harper’s Magazine” for October, 1886, contained a surprise and a
new delight to his readers in the shape of the famous “Back-Yard
Studies,” in which he challenged the belief of the average man, and even
astonished himself with the story of the variety of wild-flowers which
he found growing in his city yard. A friend had expressed a longing to
study wild flowers, but felt that there was no hope of gratifying
herself as long as she lived in the city. Gibson advised her to utilize
her back-yard, and ventured the guess that he could gather twenty-five
different species of plants in his grass-patch, as the harvest of the
seed sown by the breezes, the insects, and occasional birds. The next
morning he made a count, and was himself surprised to see his “finds”
running up to a total of sixty-four different species. The description
of his wild garden in these sordid and unromantic surroundings made him
new friends and strengthened his old ones in the assurance that he
would never fail them in nature-wisdom or originality of vein. For he
showed, as he himself maintained, how the back-yard “may become a means
of grace, and with its welcome, peaceful symbols of the woodside and the
hay-field, the wood-path, pasture, and the farmyard, serve to reawaken
and console the latent yearnings of our unfortunate metropolitan exile.”
In the fall of 1886 the new volume appeared, to greet a larger public
than ever, enthusiastic in its praise and appreciation. One of his
reviewers linked his name most happily with some of the favorites of an
earlier day. “At the Christmas season of the last generation there was a
general anticipation of a new holiday book from Dickens and Thackeray,
and the expectation was rewarded year after year. We are coming to
cherish the same hope of a Christmas book from William Hamilton Gibson.”
With equal fitness this writer assigned him that place which the popular
consensus had now begun to allot him, saying, “Mr. Gibson must take his
place, as an acute and delightful observer of nature, with Gilbert
White, and Henry Thoreau, and John Burroughs.” His niche was secure, his
right to it now unquestioned; and all qualified judges saw that he had
in himself a quality quite his own, a temperament, a gift, a
qualification to sound his own note and deliver a fresh message.

The next months ensuing Gibson spent in working up material for the
illustration of a series of papers prepared by Mr. Charles Dudley
Warner and Mrs. Rebecca Harding Davis, descriptive of life and nature in
the South. In March, 1886, he had left New York to join Mr. Warner in
New Orleans. They made a tour, two months in length, covering Georgia,
Alabama, and Louisiana, in which he took over five hundred photographs
and accumulated much material in notes and sketches. A bright and
picturesque letter to his wife gives a fine reminiscence of this
delightful trip.


“_May 12/86_.


     “I have just returned from a trip in the outlying country to find
     your two letters awaiting me. Since leaving New Orleans I have been
     gadding about the country north, east, south and west, and am not
     yet done. The Téche country is mightily interesting if one can only
     live through it. The days come and go and are filled with
     enjoyment, but as to the night no man knoweth what may be in store
     for him. My hotel experiences would interest you, but I cannot
     write them. I left New Orleans with a Mr. William King as a
     companion, a young man who knows the country thoroughly and whose
     company Mr. Warner recommended I should request, as Warner was
     obliged to leave for the north. By the time we reach New Orleans
     again about five days hence, we shall have traveled together over
     one thousand miles of the Téche and other Louisiana territory. The
     weather has been charming, no hot weather which has not been
     deliciously tempered by the never failing breeze from the gulf.
     Cool breezy nights.

     “We have driven for a whole day over a prairie peopled with all
     sorts of wild things in the way of birds. Meadow larks, plover,
     snipe, white and blue herons, buzzards, egrets, many birds so tame
     that they could easily be killed by a cut of my whip. We drove
     through acres and acres of blue flag in blossom, and for miles
     pursued the shaded roads through dense woods draped in the
     ever-present festoons of moss--in this country seen in its fullest
     perfection, every tree being laden with it, hanging like heavy
     trailing curtains, sometimes twenty feet in length. The effect in a
     breeze is indescribably beautiful. The Téche Country is the
     paradise of Louisiana, and comes as a welcome contrast to the filth
     and squalor of the city of New Orleans with which I was so
     nauseated. To-night we leave for the Averys’. We shall arrive there
     to-night and I anticipate a fine time visiting Jefferson’s Island
     and making trips up the various bayous. We shall try to get away
     from there Friday evening in time to get the steamer ‘Iberia’ here
     by which we shall return, through a sail of about 300 miles by
     lake, bayou, and Mississippi River to New Orleans. Thereat I shall
     spend about three days and then start for the homeward trip,
     stopping over at Mobile for a day or so. I will be home about June
     1 as I originally approximated.

     “Of course you know that I am anxious to be at home again. The only
     way that I can keep my spirits is to throw my mind into the work
     and interest myself with my surroundings. In the main my health has
     been good, in fact, excellent, in spite of starvation cookery and
     God-forsaken hostelries which anywhere else under heaven would be
     considered good material for bonfires and their proprietors hung.

     “A beautiful country and full of interest, if, forsooth, one might
     exist without a stomach. Everything is Creole--Creole cows, Creole
     milk, Creole eggs--even the ‘niggers’ are Creoles, and all speak
     French. My limited vocabulary of pure Parisian French has stood a
     heavy drain and has occasionally precipitated upon my hearers
     consequences which I feared would prove serious;--item--Night
     before last we stopped in a hamlet of shanties and at last found
     the ‘Hotel,’ kept by a talkative, voluble French idiot and his
     wife. The only guest bed in the shebang I occupied, and Mr. King
     slept on a mattress on the floor in another room. I was tired and
     suffering from an attack of nervous dyspepsia, from the greasy grub
     which I had been forced to eat in the face of starvation
     (everything here even a boiled egg is taught to swim in hot fat,
     and is only rescued therefrom by the famished boarder, who
     sometimes is obliged to bolt it after scraping off the congealed
     lard). It was with difficulty that I could get to sleep on the
     night in question, owing to my indisposition, together with a
     certain nervous apprehension as to the census of my immediate
     surroundings. I had barely dropped off into a snooze when I was
     startled by the movement of the window shutter near my bed, when
     looking, I observed a mule who was making a meal of a table-cloth
     near my bed. Once more after lying awake an hour I had begun to
     congratulate myself on prospects of slumber, when a shrill piercing
     note of a mocking-bird struck up its piccolo in the dead of night,
     another and another joined in the chorus, and kept this up for an
     hour before it dawned upon me that the birds were in cages on the
     farther side of the very partition of my room. On which discovery
     you may perhaps imagine how the limited French vocabulary at my
     command was exhausted and reinforced, but to no purpose. I raved
     and swore in Dutch, French, and Pidgeon English and was at length
     compelled to yell my colored servant (driver, servant, and
     interpreter) from his slumbers and make him translate a short
     address to the French idiot (who snorted in blissful sleep in
     concert with his spouse in another quarter of the shanty) to the
     effect that the offending birds be immediately chucked out of
     doors, beheaded, or strangled. The shrieking trio was finally
     removed to the rear but my sleep was ruined for that night. Only
     toward morning after dawn had just begun to lighten the east did I
     begin to feel drowsy, but at this point the ‘moqueurs’ were again
     restored to their original places and I was compelled to have them
     again removed, and by this time Monsieur and Madame were up and
     about preparing our morning ‘grease’ which they seemed to be doing
     by sheer force of lungs and belaboring of pans and kettles.

     “At breakfast I drank the proprietor’s health.

     “‘Monsieur, votre santé! Votre hospitalité est magnifique! Votre
     table est bien gré! Votre moqueur--! _Ah! Votre moqueur!_ (a pause
     with dramatic enthusiasm, then continuing) vous procurez deux,
     trois, quatre plus moqueurs! et votre hôtel est perfection!’

     “This eloquent outburst greatly amused the Madame, but the old man
     seemed ‘busting’ with suppressed emotion, which probably, had he
     then been in pocket for his bill, would have shown some outward

     “We left this place for the day and after settling the bill, we
     told them that we would leave our satchels until we returned in the
     evening, whereupon ‘la madame’ through my interpreter, asked me if
     she should prepare a meal for us for evening. I asked her in reply
     if she would cook anything I wished, to order. She replied ‘Oui!
     anything I can get.’ Whereupon I ordered ‘_three moqueurs on
     toast_!’ much to her discomfiture, and she grumbled to herself as
     she left us, which grumble being translated would signify, ‘My God!
     three mocking birds! that feast would cost you thirty dollars!’”

The rest of the year was spent in working up the material thus gathered,
and much of the following winter and spring. The summer of 1887 was
passed in Washington, Connecticut, where, as a note in his journal tells
us, he “spent a very busy season. Made many drawings for two prospective
articles on ‘Midnight Rambles’ and ‘Insect Botanists,’ besides many
flower-studies and a number of water-colors. Very busy on the ‘Memorial’
volume to Mr. Gunn. Made a large number of drawings for botany.” The
last remark refers to a large scheme which now possessed his teeming
brain, a plan to write an illustrated botany. He never dropped his
purpose,--indeed, abandoned plans were unknown in his life-history,--and
before his death he had accumulated over 1500 drawings toward such a
work. There have been many such undertakings put forth, successful and
valuable. But it is impossible to think without a pang of the wonderful
work he would have made out of his accurate knowledge and his matchless

The “Memorial” was published in 1887, and he went on with the articles
and the water-colors, busy all the time, and always laying out work in
advance of his swiftest execution. The spring of 1888 brought the
opportunity for a trip to Europe, which included a tour in Great
Britain, France, Holland, and Switzerland, with a fortnight in London
and another in Paris. His camera and his pencil were both busy, but the
new experiences made only an episode in his busy life. He was interested
in all the art he saw, and the life of the people appealed to him there,
as it did at home. A letter describing his impressions of Holland shows
the spirit in which he traveled and the things he elected to see.

“Since last writing you I have enjoyed a week (or more I fear) of rare
incident and experience, my days being so full and my evenings so tired
that I have failed again in my good intentions as to frequency of

“I hurried your last letter into the mail and am somewhat in doubt
whether it reached the Queenstown post in time. Since that writing we
(which means a party of Van Ingen, Willis, Roberts, McGrath, Dunthorne
and myself) have visited successively Flushing, Rotterdam, The Hague,
Dordrecht, Scheveningen, Amsterdam and Brussels. Of course our visit has
been brief as the period of time represented has been but four days. The
picture galleries have received most of our attention at these places,
but at Dordrecht and Scheveningen we found the living pictures
unmatched by any in the respective art exhibitions. Dort is a perfect
treasure of a place, pictorially considered, and I shall live in hopes
of revisiting it in the future more at my leisure and with an eye to
‘material.’ You would have been charmed with the quaintness of this old
Dutch village with its Venice-like canals, its queer inhabitants, its
hundreds of wind-mills and picturesque old boats. We hired a boat and
guide and rowed for hours upon one of these meandering waterways--under
arched bridges beneath which we had to stoop; beneath overhanging
balconies bright with flowering plants and with an occasional saucy or
coquettish face half disclosed between the Venetian blinds at the
windows, occasionally with a giggle accompaniment or a handkerchief
manœuvered in a manner which would have done credit to a French or
Spanish coquette. The little Dutch ‘yongen’ or Deutscher ‘pups’ saluted
us with questionable slang or with stones or what-not, at every private
quay or alley-way opening on the canal and altogether our turnout with
its noisy exclamatory cargo was a great center of attraction to
contiguous neighborhoods whose windows were usually filled with curious
spectators mostly on a broad grin of Dutch proportions and typical
comeliness, and ’tis true occasionally relieved by a disclosure which
our Scotch friend Roberts assured us was ‘bonny’ and which commentary I
was pleased to verify, and which moreover was the signal of a chorus of
‘ah’s’ from our bateau that would have done credit to a West Brighton
populace at the ‘busting’ of a rocket. Our trip was occasionally varied
by a landing at some quaint quay or alley, and a rummaging visit to some
musty old bric-a-brac den or junk shop. The streets were of the queerest
in architecture and life--queer old women with brass headgear and huge
sabots or wooden shoes, and voices like a fog-horn, peddling their green
goods, their eggs, milk or whatever, their treasures suspended from
yokes, and borne with apparent pleasure. I have bought one of their huge
brass milk cans and a few other of their distinguishing paraphernalia
for our front parlor over the mantel--(a part of the foregoing was
penned late last night but I was so utterly tired that I had to quit in
the midst of a sentence which I presume you can detect by examination).
I am in the same condition to-night (Friday, May 25th), having spent
seven mortal hours on my feet in the ‘Louvre’ to say nothing of the
exhaustion which the visit has brought to the other end of my person.
Yesterday I was seven hours at the Salon, viewing the miles of pictures
and occasionally imagining myself in a harem or in a feminine quarter of
a Turkish bath by mistake. I shall go again to-morrow, as I did not see
one half of the bathers yesterday and besides there are a few landscapes
that I want to get a peep at, if the fleshly charmers will only give a
fellow half a chance. 5000 pictures!!! to say nothing of about three
acres of statuary!

“I shall spend a week here at Paris and shall then leave for
Switzerland, including Chamounix, Interlaken, Rigi, Lucerne, &c.,
returning after about a week’s trip direct to London there to spend the
few days prior to my return. I shall sail with Van Ingen on the
‘Adriatic’ June 13th and shall be most happy to be with my loved ones
again. How truly do we measure time by voluminousness of incident. Our
Holland trip of 4 days seemed like a month and it seems a half year
since I left you in New York. In my hours--say rather moments--of repose
I am homesick and my tired feeling adds to the nostalgia. Mr. Van Ingen
and McGrath left me in my tracks to-day, and the way I am dispensing my
hybrid French to the natives hereabouts is a case of wilful persecution.
But I get along better than I would have supposed. I have raked up my
old vocabulary and with a reinforcement of grins, gesticulations and
shrugs, it is surprising how quickly my victim succumbs. Once in a while
it is true I chance upon an ass who don’t catch on, but as a rule I
manage to make my patient comprehend my intentions. Everything thus goes
well until _he_ starts in, and the average Frenchman can pronounce three
words at once with most facile ease and evident delight. I generally
wait until he has run through his dictionary from Alfred to Omaha and
then inform him that I haven’t understood a word that he has been
saying and beg of him to begin again and go slow. When he comprehends
that he is to be remunerated by _time_, and not by the _job_, and turns
out words instead of mush, his lingo is not half so overpowering or so
enigmatical. I had the honor to compliment a waiter to-day upon his
excellent French when indulged in moderation, bringing a touching
parable to my rescue, likening his ‘escargot’ speech to my dish of small
isolated boiled potatoes and his ‘chemin du fer’ French to my ‘haricot’
much to his delight and comprehension.”

In 1888 his second son was born, and the happy father writes of the new
baby to Colonel Gibson, excusing himself for not having made him a
visit: “I have found that we cannot always bend circumstances to our
wills, especially when those aforesaid circumstances are materialized in
the shape of bills payable, taxes, insurance, houses, wives (I beg
pardon, _wife_), and babies! Yes, babies! For Hamilton Jr. no longer
runs this establishment; I enclose the counterfeit presentment of a
successor of his who makes us all toe the mark, and bosses the entire
household. Is it possible that his fame has not reached your latitude?
He has his own way hereabouts, and we imagined that the limits of New
England had at least been brought within earshot of his lungs. But he is
a darling, if he does take after his daddy. His name is Dana Gibson;
(not Charles A.) but old Judge Dana, Richard Dana, his ancestor.”

The year 1889 found him busy with the erection of a new story to his
Brooklyn house and his instalment there in a studio which became a
favorite theme for newspaper gossip and description. In Washington, too,
he acquired another studio for his summer days, in the shape of a little
old schoolhouse which was familiar to him in his boyhood. In the autumn
of this year he recorded the idea of a “prospective work ‘Eyes to the
Blind’ to be prepared with a view to book publication. Made proposition
to Harpers who requested me to run the same through the year in ‘Young
People,’ one page each, with about 200 drawings.” This, is of course,
that favorite work which finally took the name of “Sharp Eyes” and
attained such wide popularity. Writing of this new scheme to his friend
Colonel Gibson, in Fryeburg, Maine, he opens his mind and heart in his
own direct and exuberant way. The letter was written in August, 1890.

“This series will run through the year, and you may like to know how it
all came about. Know then that my head gradually got so big with the
muchness of learning that I had to rig up a safety valve of some sort,
or _bust_! This would have been an unpleasant denouement for myself and
especially tough on the immediate surroundings, human or otherwise, and
so I hit upon a plan to put all my goods in the show window and get
credit for a big reinforcement behind the counter! Great scheme! eh!
(that is if they only won’t try to get a look inside!) My note-books,
visible and intangible, have been multiplying from year to year with no
available opportunities of keeping pace with them in my accustomed
magazine facilities. So I concluded to materialize my material in the
form of a dainty book, comprising the more interesting incidents of my
journal, arranging the incidents or episodes chronologically--a timely
item or two for each week in the year, so that the book might serve as a
sort of pictorial reference calendar for the saunterer, affording him at
least some few hints of the rich store of wonders which surround him
unheeded in every field and by every path. I believe there is real true
missionary possibility in such a book as that. My plan completed and a
little material duly prepared I broached the matter to the Harpers. They
jumped at it at once, and much to my astonishment made me the offer to
run it for the entire year of 52 weeks in the ‘Young People,’ an unheard
of thing! and something which I had never dreamed of. By this
arrangement I not only received much more liberal compensation for the
large number of designs than would have been financially possible on the
first basis, but in addition realized generously upon the letter press
which in the original plan would have been furnished gratis on the
customary plan of books paying royalty. In addition to this, inasmuch
as the cost of the entire series would of course be charged to the ‘Y.
P.’ it gave me a bigger margin both in number and scope of the designs,
so that the book as now shaped will be more generously illustrated than
as first planned. The series will end with the Xmas number and will then
begin to take its book form with numerous fresh additions of tail-pieces
and other morceaux, comprising some 300 illustrations. It will not be
issued however until the Christmas of 1891 as I have already on the
press a volume for the coming season.

“The title of this--my fifth book--is ‘Strolls by Starlight and
Sunshine.’ My two midnight articles taking the lead, and followed by my
other magazine papers published during the last two years. ‘Bird-Notes,’
(Harper’s), ‘Bird-Cradles,’ (Scribner’s), ‘Prehistoric Botanists,’
(Century), and ‘Wild Garden,’ (Harper’s), this September (now due).

“You shall see the volume as soon as you are likely to desire it, and
whether you take any stock in it or not you will, I hope, give me credit
of being a well meaning fellow anyhow.

“There! that’s about as big a dose as even your friendship can stand,
and so I’ll come around to my autograph and give you a rest--No--not yet
either! I wonder if you can’t do me a little favor, just for the sake of
old times and in spite of my sins. In addition to all my other work I
have been for years preparing a botany on a new plan, and nearly all the
bloomin’ things that grow in these parts have been victimized in my

“There is one plant, perhaps two, which I remember to have seen and
gathered on the sand at Lovell’s pond, but which I never identified,
which perhaps you could now help me to secure. A little low thing with a
few yellow (or pink) blossoms growing on its extremity, and which I saw
in profusion the last time I visited the spot with you. I am afraid that
the season is too late, or will be when I could receive them from you,
but if you can, after about twelve days, or rather about the date of the
third of September gather the plants for me, enclose them in a tin spice
box, no water, and mail them to me here at Washington, Conn., you will
earn my thanks anew. Plants enclosed in tin boxes, with air-tight
covers, will keep fresh for days--indeed for many days longer than the
same plant would keep in a vase of water.

“And now, my dear friend, au revoir! I sincerely wish that we might meet
again if only to clasp hands and exchange greeting, but until another
year at least it seems improbable. To-morrow I leave to visit friends in
the Adirondacks for two weeks returning here to keep my nose to the
grindstone until November when I return to Brooklyn,

“Good bye, regards to all. W. H. G.”

In season for the holidays in 1890 “Strolls by Starlight and Sunshine”
was ready; and Gibson had another surprise for the nature-lovers in the
chapters on “A Midnight Ramble,” and “Night Witchery.” All he had done
was to take his lantern and wander among the grasses and the
wild-flowers as they slept, and to tell the story of what he saw and
heard. But when he had done with them, his readers all felt, at
second-hand, indeed, but keenly enough, as he himself had done, “We have
explored a new world--a realm which we can look in the face on the
morrow, with an exchange of recognition impossible yesterday.” Edmund
Clarence Stedman, suggesting possible choice of material for the
“Library of American Literature,” said of this article,” I scarcely
believe that you or any one has of late written anything more novel or
more poetic than your espionage in the camp of the flowers at midnight.”

All the next year was devoted to work upon “Sharp Eyes,” which appeared
in the late autumn of 1891. The intent and scope of the book has been
told in the author’s letter to his friend. He puts his purpose
succinctly in a paragraph of the introduction, which he quaintly
entitled “Through My Spectacles”: “‘Sharp Eyes,’ then, is, in brief, a
cordial recommendation and invitation to walk the fields and woods with
me and reap the perpetual harvest of a quiet eye, which Nature
everywhere bestows; to witness with me the strange revelations of this
wild _bal masqué_, to laugh, to admire, to study, to ponder, to
philosophize,--between the lines,--to question, and always to rejoice
and give thanks.”

Meantime, he was hard at work pushing the studies for his botany. With
the sketches he was making for this purpose, he was also making more
water-colors, sending them to the various exhibitions, and arranging
sales of his own. He was at work on new articles for the “Young People”
continuing the unexhausted vein he had opened for these pages. For older
readers he was beginning the articles on the cross-fertilization of
flowers which foreshadowed the wonderful charts and lectures with which
he delighted and informed the whole country. He had begun to lecture
too, and he notes in his journal, July 23, 1891, “At Mrs. Van Ingen’s
suggestion, I have concluded to give a series of ten familiar talks on
Nature, covering botany, entomology, and ornithology, two each week.”
This was the beginning of successive series of lectures, covering four
years. From these home talks his work in this field grew and multiplied.
Soon he was lecturing with these amazing charts before the clubs in New
York, before colleges and schools, and finally before popular audiences.
In the winter of 1893-94, he made the venture of a series of six
lectures in Hardman Hall, New York City, which netted him the handsome
sum of eight hundred and fifty dollars, and drew from the veteran
manager, Major Pond, an expression of wonder: “The news of your success
in Hardman Hall is phenomenal. I can assure you that you are the only
man in the United States who could have done such a business.”

Then the calls began to come from all over the country. The same energy,
industry, and genius which he had put into his painting and his writing
he threw with increasing intensity into this new work. In 1894 he
lectured sixty-four times. His success in the new field was instant and
complete. It was as thoroughgoing with scientific folk as it was with
the children and the plain people. The press had nothing but wonder and
commendations. It was an epoch in the popular presentation of scientific
fact and research unequaled since the days of Agassiz.

But somehow, in the midst of this new interest and the engagements it
brought, he found the time to bring out still another book, as novel and
as fascinating as any of its predecessors; and though it dealt with what
at first sight seemed an unlovely theme, it was perhaps the most
beautiful of his volumes. Promptly on calendar time in 1895 came “Our
Edible Mushrooms and Toadstools,” destined to be the forerunner of a
fungus-literature growing with every year. Its accuracy satisfied the
scientific; its information gratified the popular mind; its
illustrations were a joy to the mushroom-hunters. And his originality
in treatment gave a hint to the publishers which they have been quick to
follow and which they will be sure to follow for many a year to come.

Two more books were to be added to the list of his collected writings,
“Eye Spy,” and “My Studio Neighbors,” both volumes in the same vein as
“Sharp Eyes,” and made up of his magazine articles. But before they were
gathered between covers, he had finished his brief career and had passed
on. The last entry in his journal was made on June 12, 1896, to record,
as did all his brief notes, nothing but a new item of work,--“Lecture,
Holiday House.” He was already in the grip of death. The fierce fires of
a relentless industry had burned his forces to a cinder. Through the
summer days he languished and drooped, yet would not wholly give over
work, nor cease his planning. On the 16th of July, among the hills of
Washington, he suddenly died from apoplexy. His overtaxed frame gave
way, and, at the early age of forty-six, he slept the long sleep of the
body, in the beautiful home he had reared for himself, among those
dearest scenes.

Perhaps there is no more fitting close to this hurried sketch of his
career than a reference to this beautiful home which he made for himself
out of the earnings of his toil, and which seems to have embodied the
desires and the noble purposes of his whole life. It was natural,
inevitable, than he should choose Washington as the site of this new
hearthstone. He located it upon a hillside sloping to the river-valley,
with a long and entrancing outlook to distant southern hills. He left
the wild-flowers to grow undisturbed upon his lawns, and the clumps of
low trees which bore their crimson cones in August gave him the right to
call the new estate “The Sumacs.” Here he planted his house, building
first of all a story of stones gathered from the fields and old walls
round-about. Then a “story-and-a-half,” to use New England phraseology,
a tasteful adaptation of old Yankee architecture, with hip roof and low
studding. Broad piazzas surrounded it, a great hall welcomed the guest,
and inviting rooms with enticing prospects through great windows gave a
sense of comfortable space within. To complete the ideal of a home, the
great fireplace stood ready for the winter backlog, or bore a screen of
boughs in summer and in autumn. How bitter the irony of life, in that as
soon as he had reared this shrine for his domestic affections, amid
scenes for which he had been yearning all his days, imprisoned in the
city, among friends of his boyhood, who loved him as few men are
loved--what a strange and baffling lot was his, to be summoned from it
all, and from the larger future which seemed opening before his eager

[Illustration: _The Sumacs_]



It is hard to say whether Gibson was first a naturalist and afterwards
an artist, or first an artist and afterwards a naturalist. Art was his
mode of expression; but his knowledge of nature furnished the material
of what he would express. Art was his speech, but nature was his theme.
In point of time there was no difference in the development of these two
sides of his nature. His boyhood passion seemed to divide between
studying nature and drawing pictures. He wrote of himself in “Pastoral
Days” (p. 66): “Insect-hunting had always been a passion with me. Large
collections of moths and butterflies had many times accumulated under my
hands, only to meet destruction through boyish inexperience; and even in
childhood the love for the insect and the passion for the pencil strove
hard for the ascendency, and were only reconciled by a combination which
filled my sketch-book with studies of insect life.”

His letters are equally full of the nature-subjects he is treating and
of the ways in which he is treating them. But there is no question of
the strong, irrepressible need of his spirit which drove him to
self-expression by pencil and brush. “I am fairly crazy to get to
painting,” he said to a friend at the beginning of the last summer of
his life. “My lecture course and other business matters have kept me
from using my brush lately, and I long to get my colors and go to work.”
That was a remark which reveals his whole life, his constant mood. Not
only was he always anxious to be at work, but he wanted to be at work
with his colors. This urgency drove him to art as a profession. It
lightened all his busy years. It ranked him by divine right among the
best of American artists.

He was a thorough artist in his love of the technical side of his work.
He delighted in mastery of the materials of art. He liked the problems
growing out of them. He knew the tools of his craft, and never was
hampered by any uncertainty as to what he could do with the means at his
command. His use of pencil and brush began early, and he soon knew the
possibilities of black and white and water-colors. He was quick to learn
the special art of drawing upon wood, for the engraver. He had no
fastidious scruples against the camera, but was swift to resort to it
and learn its possibilities and make it into a tool to shape his
thought. When he turned to color as a medium of expression, he did so
with all the

[Illustration: _Pen-and-Ink Sketch_

_From a Letter_]

enthusiam of a true believer in its power, and a purpose to get at all
its resources. Although so much of his early work was translated to the
world by the wood-engraver, yet when wood-engraving began to decline,
and the publishers took to process-work, and the “half-tone” crowded out
the fine, laborious work of the burin, Gibson was not in the least
dismayed. He wasted no time or sentiment in mourning the decadent
methods, but sought at once to learn the utmost what the new methods
would yield to a determined and artistic mind. How successful he was is
well shown in that beautiful volume which won such instant favor with
his later constituency, “Sharp Eyes.” Its delicate half-tones vie with
the wood-engraving in expressiveness, in delicacy, and in poetic
feeling; and they are a standing testimony to the artist’s versatility
and technical energy. He was never at a loss for a means of expression.
The rudest tools were converted to delicate and sufficient implements in
his fingers. There are letters from him describing some illustration of
his or some painting, in which the pen and ink with which he wrote were
made to sketch his work so vividly that one is tempted to rate the
_tour-de-force_ of the written page as fine a show of power as the
picture it illustrated.

His work, moreover, was strong not only in its mastery of the science of
expression, but by its fidelity to the facts of science in its
subject-matter. It was a flat refutation of the doctrine, so dear to
shallow sentimentalists, that the progress of science must weaken the
power and circumscribe the field of art. There is much misleading talk
to the effect that science is filching from the realm of the
imagination, the kingdom where art thrives, and by its cold light is
taking all the glow and loveliness out of the atmosphere in which the
fancy has been wont to see its fairest visions. But almost any one of
Gibson’s illustrations of natural history, of botanical subjects, or of
open-air life and scenery sufficiently refutes this theory. Here is a
mind at once faithful to the scientific method, and free in its artistic
spirit. Here is the accuracy of the scientist’s eye and the artist’s
creative imagination. Turning the pages of “Sharp Eyes,” or indeed
almost any of his books, one knows not which to praise the more, his
close observation of fact or his easy translation of it into the dress
of fancy. One of his critics said: “His pictures sometimes seem ideal,
they are wrought with such a light and painstaking touch. Yet close
analysis will show them to be almost photographic in their accuracy.”
However freely his fancy deals with the facts, he never violates their
logic, nor misrepresents their substance. Mr. Roe, in a letter to Gibson
once told him: “You understand nature, and are capable of seeing her as
she exists. Most other artists have conventional ideas of nature. You
can take an actual scene and reproduce it, while at the same time
idealizing it.” His methods are a triumphant example of the scientific
use of the imagination, and of the imaginative presentation of science.
The most hardened Gradgrinds of research could find no fault with his
facts, but were astonished and put to confusion by his power to suffuse
reality with the glow of a poetic fancy. One critic, writing in the “New
York Tribune,” did say of him, in the tone of one pointing out a
limitation, “Nimble and agile as he was of intellect, he did not possess
breadth and scope of judgment, nor maintain a deliberate balance of
interests.” But even this farfetched comment did not deny his fidelity
to the facts, but only claimed a tendency to give them wrong values; and
moreover the critic was reckoning without a large knowledge of his mind.
He confuses Gibson’s business as an artist with what his business might
have been as a mere naturalist, and in doing so makes the common mistake
of disparaging what is done by showing that it is not something which
was not attempted.

Here, for instance, in a chapter on “Ballooning Seeds,” Gibson draws
across a page what he calls a “fanciful eddy,” wafting up a swarm of
seeds, which fly abroad on the autumn breeze. Every form in the airy
sketch is accurate enough for a text-book, yet the whole is fit for the
illustration of a poem. Again, in “A Masquerade of Stamens,” his pencil
leads down the page out of a sunny meadow a long procession which,
beginning in the grasses of the foreground, develops into the exactly
drawn forms of a score of curiously fashioned stamens. The
illustrations for “Queer Fruits from the Bee’s Basket,” with its
decorated initial, showing just the right bee, investigating just the
right flower; the laden bees hastening from the clump of bushes in the
foreground to the distant hives behind the farmhouse; and finally the
sketch at the close, of a group of the odd forms of pollen-dust which
the microscope reveals;--these are all examples of a fancy which only
serves to illumine, throw light upon, the fact, but never to distort it
or to pervert it. In this phase of his work, Gibson carries the office
of the illustrator to its highest possible point, and shows all its
dignity and power.

He did all this in his own way. No artist of our generation was more
thoroughly individual in his methods and in his aim. He sought what his
own spirit loved and longed for. He saw with no eyes but his own. He
drew and painted after his own fashion. His originality was absolute. He
had none of the mannerisms of any man or any school but his own. He
asked no one to tell him the color of the grass, or the fashion in which
he should paint the clouds. What he did was his own work, what he saw
was his own vision. What men called his “versatility” in the choice of
“mediums” was his quick sense of fitness and of adaptation. His aim was
never loyalty to a school, adherence to a method, repetition of a
successful device of technique. It was always, rather, fidelity to
nature, adaptation of the medium to the thing represented, variety of
method to treat his various themes. If his style became characteristic,
it was because he put his own strong mark on all his work. It was as
much his own as his autograph. It was William Hamilton Gibson
transferred to paper or canvas.

Gibson’s success as an artist was as good for the American people as it
was for himself. It was truly a “popular” success. The people, and a
great many of them, secured it. For he spoke to them, and they made
approving answer. It would be hard to name an artist of his generation
who appealed to a larger public, whose work in the magazines was hailed
with a heartier delight, whose name stood for a more definite pleasure
and appreciation than his. The people liked his work, and they knew why
they liked it. One of his most discriminating critics said of him, in

“Mr. Gibson’s work has been essentially democratic, that is, has reached
the many rather than the few, presenting to them studies of nature which
stand for a great deal more than mere descriptive picturesqueness,
because, as we have said before, they are informed not only with the
feeling for the beautiful, but also with the scientific spirit of
inquiry and a love of exact truth.” To gain such universal approval
without the slightest swerving from his artistic integrity, or any
lowering of his artistic standard, was an immense triumph. He realized
it, and it gave him great joy. His honest and ingenuous pride in the
reception accorded to his early work is well shown in two brief notes to
his mother, one in May, the other in July, 1878:

“The bird article is finished and the proofs are beginning to pour in.
One or two of them are so fine that their fame has spread over the city,
and I am besieged by engravers and artists to see them. One, a
full-sized peacock’s feather which takes up a full page of the magazine,
is by far the most superb piece of wood-engraving that has ever been
accomplished. It is spoken of in art-circles all over the city. It is
the opening picture, and will create a sensation. The illustrations
number sixteen in all, and Mr. Parsons told Mr. Beard and others that it
was the most beautiful and at the same time the most expensive article
the magazine had ever gotten up. Mr. Parsons told me that the drawings
not only pleased him, but that they exceeded his highest expectations,
and that he did not believe there was another man in this country or in
any other that could excel them.”

In similar vein, after the notices began to appear, he wrote again:

“BROOKLYN, _July 27, 1878_.


     “I send you to-day a copy of the ‘Nation’ containing notice of
     Harper’s Magazine. The ‘Nation’ is a high authority and has the
     reputation of stating the truth. It seldom goes into ecstasies over
     anything, and such a notice as it has given of my ‘birds’ is
     considered by the Harpers as a magnificent compliment.”

The qualities of his art in which the public delighted and which came to
be characteristic of all his work, were refinement, gracefulness, and
truth. He saw the finer qualities of nature, sought out her delicate
beauties, loved her humbler moods, objects, episodes. He vindicated his
own taste in the paragraph with which he prefaced the chapter on “Sap
Bewitched,” over the signature of “Plinius Secundus”:

“We wonder at the mighty and monstrous shoulders of Elephants, we marvel
at the strong necks of bulls: we keep a wondering at the ravening of
tigers, and the shag manes of Lions: and yet in comparison of insects
there is nothing wherein Nature and her whole power is more seen,
neither sheweth she her might more than in these least creatures of

In the spirit of those words he wrought at his art. “These least
creatures of all” found in him a loving exponent. He saw their charm,
and he was not above interpreting it to others. The web of a spider, the
nest of a bird, the down of the dandelion, the leaf of the jewel-weed,
the tangle of grasses in a fence-corner, the vegetable contents of a
city back-yard,--Gibson found beauties in all these least things, which
he did not disdain to celebrate. He had learned from Thoreau, chief
among American students and expositors of nature, the meaning of the
proverb, “Natura maxima in minimis.” His devotion to the Concord
recluse, and to his methods, appears in his studies. That discipleship
affected his artistic life. It inspired him in his choice of themes and
it drew his eyes still closer to the lesser objects and humbler
horizons. He wrote to a friend in 1888:

“There are few authors whom I love more than Thoreau.... I have read him
with love and reverence, and have visited his haunts as sacred ground,
and have pictured those haunts in projected compositions, and yet hope
to see them realized.”

He had no apologies whatsoever for having elected the field of what men
call the minor forms of life. He knew there was no such thing as major
and minor in the things of nature. One may go in either direction and
find infinity. A telescope is no more effective than a microscope; and
it begins to look as if the atoms would be found as marvelous as the
universe. Gibson repeatedly preached this doctrine. In one place he

“There is often an almost inexhaustible field for botanic investigation
even on a single fallen tree. My scientific friend already alluded to
recently informed me, on his return from an exploring tour, that he had
spent two days most delightfully and profitably in the study of the
yield of a single dead

[Illustration: _At the Easel_

_Brooklyn Studio_]

tree, and had surprised himself by a discovery by actual count of over a
hundred distinct species of plants congregated upon it. Plumy dicentra
clustered along its length, graceful sprays of the frost-flower, with
its little spire of snow crystals, rose up here and there, scarlet
berries of the Indian turnip glowed among the leaves, and, with the
crowding beds of lycopodiums and mosses, its ferns and lichens, and host
of fungous growths, it became an easy matter to extend the list of
species into the second hundred. It is something worth remembering the
next time we go into the woods.”

Such study and such affection made him the guide of a great multitude of
people in America, teaching them of beauties and graces they had never
perceived for themselves. To him thousands of men and women were under
the deepest obligation, because he gave knowledge that in small areas
and in close quarters one may see great beauties and far-reaching powers
and forces. He taught by his art the greatness of the little, the
divinity of the familiar. He revealed the wonders of the every-day
world, the miracles of the commonplace. He seemed to discern, and had
the power to show others, the whole of nature in her humblest parts. He
was the prophet of the unnoted and the unprized; for when his
appreciative pencil had drawn them, they straightway became noteworthy,
brilliant, extraordinary. One feels all the power of this call of his
to be the apostle of the unconsidered in a bit of rhapsody over the
infinite pictures hung along any country roadside:

“See how the cool gray rails are relieved against that rich dark
background of dense olive juniper, how they hide among the prickly
foliage! Look at that low-hanging branch which so exquisitely conceals
the lowest rail as it emerges from its other side, and spreads out among
the creeping briers that wreathe the ground with their shining leaves of
crimson and deep bronze! Could any art more daringly concentrate a
rhapsody of color than nature has here done in bringing up that gorgeous
spray of scarlet sumach, whose fern-like pinnate leaves are so richly
massed against that background of dark evergreens? And even in that
single branch see the wondrous gradation of color, from purest green to
purplish olive melting into crimson, and then to scarlet, and through
orange into yellow, and all sustaining in its midst the clustered cone
of berries of rich maroon! Verily, it were almost an affront to sit down
before such a shrine and attempt to match it in material pigment. A
passing sketch, perhaps, that shall serve to aid the memory in the
retirement of the studio, but a careful copy, _never!_ until we can have
a tenfold lease of life, and paint with sunbeams. But there is more
still in this tantalizing ideal, for a luxuriant wild grapevine, that
shuts in the fence near by, sends toward us an adventurous branch that
climbs the upright rail, and festoons itself from fence to tree, and
hangs its luminous canopy over the crest of the yielding juniper. Even
from where we stand we can see the pendent clusters of tiny grapes
clearly shadowed against the translucent golden screen. Add to all this
the charm of life and motion, with trembling leaves and branches bending
in the breeze, with here and there a flitting shadow playing across the
half hidden rails, and where can you find another such picture, its
counterpart in beauty--where? perhaps its very neighbor, for all
roadside pictures are ‘hung upon the line,’ they are all by the same
great Master, and it is often difficult to choose.”

Two letters must serve as types of hundreds which he received, from
every quarter of this country and from England--from California and from
Anticosti Island, from Minnesota and from Georgia. The people loved his
work. It expressed things they all had felt. It revealed to them things
they had never seen. It was at once interpretation and disclosure. They
did not know how good it was technically, but they did realize that it
was good art in substance and in spirit, and from grateful hearts and
lives quickened and enriched by his genius they wrote him their letters
of gratitude and recognition. This one is from a Massachusetts town:

“B----, MASS., _Aug. 30, ’90_.


     “Your exquisite drawings and no less delightful descriptions have
     been a constant delight and inspiration to me for ten years. I have
     often wanted to tell you so, but the fear that a letter of thanks
     might seem intrusive has kept me silent. You really must forgive me
     for writing now, however, for your ‘group of pyrolas’ has a
     fascination quite irresistible.

     I resolutely close my Harper only to open again for one more long
     lingering look at their airy loveliness, and then of course must
     follow another peep at the lilies and the goodyera and the dainty
     fern fronds which seem to spring up as spontaneously under your
     pencil’s magic as they do in our fern-filled woods of B----.

     “Do you realize how much you have added to the joy of pastoral
     days, what an enchantment you have thrown around our highways and

     “Almost every favorite flower lives again for me in your
     illustrations, and many and many a time have I been lifted up and
     out of weariness or discouragement by your pen or pencil, for your
     word pictures are as vivid as the others.

     “Let me thank you too for your suggestions. ‘There is a spiritual
     body and there is a natural body,’ and the atmosphere of the first
     is always around your work, always full of help for all who can
     discern it.

     “I am not an art connoisseur and should never dare express my
     opinion ‘as one having authority,’ but I do love beauty, and some
     of your beautiful woodland scenes, some ferns or mosses or flowers
     or birds have power to give ‘thoughts that do often lie too deep
     for tears.’ You reveal Nature’s very soul and as a most ardent
     worshipper of Nature and as a child of the Heavenly Father whose
     thoughts you have so often interpreted, I want to thank you.

     “May you have many long years to continue making the world happier,
     and may you receive as much sunshine in your own life as you have
     given others.

“Yours most sincerely,


The other letter is from his pastor:

       *       *       *       *       *

     “To me you are an interpreter of a word of God which is both older
     and newer than the one to the interpretation of which I have given
     my life. You have enabled a vaster congregation than any minister
     ever speaks to, to see in it a meaning before unseen, if not
     unsuspected. I am one of your congregation and I am your debtor for
     lessons, not merely of beauty, but of truth and purity, which
     cannot be put into words. In interpreting Nature you bring us
     nearer to God and the eternal beauty and goodness. For this, no
     less than for the autograph which hangs on our walls Mrs. Abbott
     and I heartily thank you.

“Yours sincerely,

_7 April, 1888_.”

Gibson was a warm partisan of water-color as a medium of artistic
expression. He believed thoroughly in the possibilities of that mode of
painting, which, it will be noted, was by no means understood or
well-developed in this country when he was beginning to paint. His views
in reference to it are well set forth in a letter to his mother,
describing his first picture for the Water Color Society’s exhibition,
written in the winter of 1874. He says:

“I am at present busily engaged on my water-color painting for the
coming Spring exhibition. It is only just under way, but all who have
seen it express much pleasure and enthusiasm at it and particularly
admire my selection of a subject. It would be difficult to find a
subject calculated to create such popular favor, and you know that a
good selection in this particular is ‘half the battle.’ The idea is
this: Subject, a ‘Struggle for Life.’ It is indicated by an old, old
tree (an oak if you please) growing under all possible disadvantages,
and besieged with a host of parasitic growths which threaten to sap its
vitality and hasten its death. The trunk and main portion of a few
branches only are shown and but one or two of them are possessed of any
leafage. The near portion is devoid of bark and the exposed wood, by the
action of the weather without and decay within, has become stained and
broken. The interior is hollow, and the rich brown debris of its
decomposing wood falls through a large irregular opening at the base of
the trunk, and then spreading itself on a moss and lichen covered rock
becomes the prey to brilliantly colored fungi and mother to many ferns.
The tree is supposed to have started life near a rock and in the course
of time its roots have grown over its surface and again by the action of
time and other causes are now bare of bark and some of them dead. Higher
in the tree, an unsightly gaping hollow presents itself, left after the
fall of some dead and useless limb and this, collecting the rain water
from each successive shower, has caused the gradual undermining of the
tree and hurried it to its approaching death. Close beneath this
opening, true to nature, sapping what little life blood still circulates
in the part clings a luxuriant clump of the deadly agaric (touch wood)
which may so often be seen on trees that have passed their better days.
These are not all the burdens under which this aged subject is
struggling. The mistletoe has fastened itself upon its only living
branch, and parasitic vines innumerable clamber up and surround the
trunk in their ‘deadly embrace.’ A brightly colored woodpecker has just
alighted on the dying tree and finds food in plenty in the substance of
decay. The whole picture is intended to suggest the idea of a struggle,
and I know that I can make it so plain that anyone will realize my
intention. A little pool of rain water lies at the foot of the rock and
touching the roots which will give an additional effect of reflection,
and what with this, the warm coloring of dried fallen leaves relieved by
a group of delicate ferns, and other like growths, together with a
strong play of sunlight on the whole, I see no reason why the picture
should not be a good success and feel equal to rendering all that my
imagination suggests and pictures. I have only just commenced, but
enough is even now suggested to insure an at least attractive result. I
have selected the medium of water-color because I believe that more can
be done with that than most people are aware. I can work faster with
water-color and secure just as brilliant effect as I could in oils.
People in general do not know how much can be done with water-color, and
I hope that I may live to show them.”

Six years later, coming back to the same subject in a letter to Colonel
Gibson, he defends water-color as a medium in the following hearty

“Concerning the ‘water-color’ subject, on which you say ‘Of course
water-color painting is not or cannot be high art, because it concerns
itself too much with detail’ (not verbatim but embodying your

[Illustration: _The Struggle for Life_

_First Watercolor_]

expressed idea), I regret that a man in your position should decline
from the standard to which his namesake had elevated him, and come down
to such a statement as that. Color is color, whether it is mixed with
water or oil, and you can make a broad flat tint in oil-color or
water-color just as you choose. There is no reason why one should use
‘one-hair brushes’ in water-color painting either. Neither is there any
reason why he should paint more detail in the one than in the other. You
should have had one glimpse of the last W. C. Ex. It would have made you
open your eyes. I never saw stronger or broader pictures in oil than
some that were in that exhibit. Neither does the medium make a snap of
difference, excepting so far as it cramps the hand that wields it. The
talk about ‘body color’ is a ‘hobby horse’ for art critics to ride on
when they get ‘run out’ of their vocabulary. I use both, so do several
others, some to such an excess as to abuse it and spoil the result. It
should not be used to tell as paint, but to express texture or relief in
an object where such qualities are important requisites.”

His own work in this medium showed the same steady and constant
improvement as his work with the pencil. He toiled incessantly, and with
his toil his power and facility grew. Remembering that he was
self-taught in all his art-work; that he wholly lacked the training of
the schools; that all his studies had to be made in the rush and under
the pressure of his intensely busy life; yet that all of these studies
were good enough to have a market value, and to take rank as works of
art, his professional career is indeed a marvelous one. It was soon
apparent that he was to take his place among the leading workers in
color, and in an astonishingly short time he was recognized as one of
the first water-colorists in America. He brought the same dash and
fervor and sincerity to the color-box that he bestowed upon monotone. He
was as ambitious to excel in this field as in his earlier one. He
overcame heavy odds, chief among which was a popular prejudice that a
man who does one thing well cannot do anything else. The public had come
to rank him as a master in illustration. It was not readily converted to
the notion that he might take as good a position in color-work. The
critics talked, as critics will, in much this strain. “He is not a
colorist,” said one. “His best work is in monotone,” said another. “He
has won more admirers by his black-and-white work than he ever will win
as a water-colorist,” wrote a third. They evidently had not heard the
tale of his early attempts, and had not the fear of his caricatures
before them. Gibson lived to confute their judgment and to prove his
power as a colorist. That he had the root of the matter in him, and that
he was qualified by temperament to see and feel the power of nature’s
glowing hues he shows in a few lines of revelation, written out of his
inmost spirit.

“How many beautiful pictures have I seen emerge from a cloud of dust
upon a country road! How many of those pictures have again been half
obliterated by the dust of after-years, only to be recalled to life by
even so trivial a thing as the bleating of a lamb, the ring of a boyish
laugh, or the homely music of the falling pasture bars!

“Pity for him whose heart knows no such sensitive and latent chord of
sympathy to yield its harmony along the way, lending an inspiration to
the present, while sanctifying the past, and drawing from its better
memories a renewed delight in living! There is no walk in life, however
dull or prosaic, no circumstance so commonplace, that they can stifle
this ever-present melody. It sings in unison with nature in a thousand
different keys--in a falling leaf or a cricket’s song. The rain-drops of
to-day but repeat the old-time patter on the garret-roof. The noisy
katydid, whenever heard, is that same untiring nightly visitant outside
your window to whose perpetual whim you loved to listen, and in fancy
tantalize until you dropped off to sleep upon your pillow. This skimming
swallow sailing near will never cross your path but so surely will he
fly to those same old nests beneath the barn-yard eaves. If there is
ever a blessed mood ‘most musical, most melancholy,’ it may be found
beneath the refining influence of just such reminiscences; for whether
or not there are added elements of home association, there are always a
legion of indelible memories that love to linger along the country road
and lane--highways and byways beloved of fancy--paths of recollection
filled with footprints which not even the tempest can obliterate.”

One rarely finds a profounder analysis of the true mean between breadth
and detail, between effect and incident, nor a truer affirmation of one
of the neglected sources of power in translating the larger aspects of
the world than in the following:

“‘There is as much finish in the right concealment of things as in the
right exhibition of them.’

“Here is a key to the very heart of nature, if one will only use it. And
I would but add my faint echo in an entreaty for a deeper sense of the
infinity of nature’s living tone and palpitating color--a plea for the
more intelligent recognition of the elements that yield the tint which
we vainly strive to imitate upon the canvas. Such knowledge will give a
voice to every pigment on the palette, and to the brush an answering
consciousness; for, whether disciple of a school or not, whether artist,
poet, or layman, who can deny that such an attitude toward nature shall
yield a harvest of deeper knowledge, and increased delight, not merely
in the contemplation of the footprint, but even as truly in the study of
the limitless panorama?

“Is there not to me an added charm in the pink flush that mantles the
side of yonder mountain-spur when I know so well that it is shed by the
myriads of blossoms in an acre of glowing fire-weed? And as my eye
follows the cool cloud-shadow as it glides down upon the mountain-slope,
among the varied patchwork of its fields and farms, is there not a
deepened significance imparted to every separate tint that tells me
something of its being?

“If in the faint yellow checkered forms I see fields of billowing wheat
and barley, and recall a hundred of their associations, or if from that
quaintly-dotted patch there comes a whiff from a sweet-scented field,
with its cocks of new-mown hay, its skimming swallows and ringing
scythes, with here a luminous gray of sandy meadow fresh from the plough
or harrow, and there a weed-grown copse lit up with golden-rod; if that
kaleidoscopic medley of grays and olives and browns tells me of its
pastures, with their tinkling bells, of its fragrant beds of
everlasting, ferns, and hardhack, its trailing junipers and its
moss-flecked bowlders, and each of these in turn draws me still closer,
and whispers something of itself--the everlasting with its pendent
jewel, the orchis with its little confidant and nursling, the gentian
with its close-kept secret and its never-opened eye; if yonder bluish
bloom means a field of blueberries to me, and that snowy sweep brings
visions of the blossoming buckwheat field, with its symphony of humming
bees--tell me, have I not only seen the mountain-slope, but have I not
also heard its voice?

Such a man could not keep out of the field of color. The feeling in him
had to express itself. He must interpret on the canvas what he saw upon
the hillside. It was inevitable that he should soon win as hearty praise
for his color as he had for his drawing. Of course, the reputation could
not be as wide as that he had achieved as illustrator in black and
white. Fewer eyes could see his paintings than had been regaled with his
illustrations. But when he laid down his brush, to paint no more, he had
made a name for himself as one of the foremost American water-colorists.

It is but fair to say that his later experiences taught him a larger
respect for “oil” as a medium of artistic expression. He was so eager to
enlarge his field of work that he could not but venture upon experiments
which brought to him a new sense of power and a knowledge of resources
hitherto untouched. A few brief entries in his journal show his state of
mind, and his prompt surrender of former prejudices. In March, 1881, he

“Painting for three weeks on oil-pictures for Academy Exhibition. First
attempts in oil for exhibition. Trouble with medium. Final triumph of
mind over matter. Painted a week or more on large autumn study commenced
at Williamstown. Grew frantic and in a moment of frenzy took a piece of
pasteboard and palette-knife and produced strongest picture I ever
painted, in less than fifteen minutes,--a revelation which gave me
confidence. A victorious fight with an oil-tube which had threatened to
get the better of me.”

A few days later he tried a similar study, with which he was even more
satisfied. In another entry he says of this attempt:

“Much pleased with effect of sky I carried picture to a finish by four
o’clock. Went out and ordered frame for it. A Diaz effect,--quite
strong. What a revelation to me who, ten days ago, was disgusted with
oil-color as a medium! I am all aglow with enthusiasm at finding another
medium for the expression of my thoughts and feelings.”

From this time forward he knew that there were still greater
possibilities before him than he had realized, and with the knowledge
came a fresh ambition, a stronger challenge to his artistic nature.

The “smoke-pictures” which he executed were one more example of his
versatility and delight in new and daring methods. He did a great many
of them, and they attracted much attention. They were, briefly,
black-and-white pictures made by a gas flame upon a cardboard or paper
ground. In his first experiments he held the paper before a horizontal
flame and by passing one part after another across the flame, secured
masses of lamp-black, which he found he could manipulate to great
advantage. Landscape, cloud-effects, deep shadows of night or storm were
easily within reach. Afterward he attached a rubber tube to his
gas-fixture, and with a suitable nozzle was able to sit at his easel and
manipulate the pipe as he would a brush. After the paper was well coated
with varying shades of gray and black, he would work up the picture with
brush or finger or palette-knife, deepening the tones, when desirable,
by more smoke, lightening them by scraping and rubbing. The total effect
was broad, yet marked by gradations so fine as to be almost beyond the
reach of ordinary methods of black-and-white work; while the rich,
velvety textures were of a depth quite remarkable. Though he never
devised any method of “fixing” the smoke, yet after the lapse of a dozen
years, these pictures, when preserved under glass, have kept all their
original brilliancy and force.

But all that Gibson had done in his artistic career was to him only an
apprenticeship. He meant more than he achieved. He was on the way to
better things, when death stayed his feet. With all his tremendous
intensity, his restless industry, his fulness of conception and scheme,
he was yet a man of undreamed-of patience. He saw far ahead of what he
had reached, and planned for it, and meant to attain it. He himself
regarded all that he had done in black and white, in water-color, even
his beginnings in oil, as only the preparation for a larger, stronger
art, in which he should interpret the spiritual side of Nature. There
was always before his mind a dream of the subtler phases of natural
beauty, the deeper meaning she conveys to the listening soul. He was
feeling, with more and more force every day that he lived, the spell of

    “The light that never was on sea or land,
     The consecration and the poet’s dream,”

and the passion grew within him to paint, in the most permanent and
adequate medium, the things he was coming to feel and to see. Art was
really his goal. Painting was his crowning ambition. His own view of his
life was that he had but just fitted himself for a worthier task, that
he was just ready to begin the work to which he was called.



We have seen how the passion for the study of nature was born with
Gibson, and grew with his growth. He was a naturalist by nature; and all
his training strengthened in him the passion which made the young boy,
with a “Cecropia” in sight, “feel like an eagle darting at her prey.”
The natural world was to him a perpetual attraction, a land to be
explored, a mystery to be searched, a delight to be enjoyed. The
frontispiece to his chapter “Across Lots” in “Highways and Byways”
represents an upland shrubby pasture, beyond whose limits gleam the
waters of a pond, backed by a round-topped hill. In the foreground
stretches a rail fence, with a gateway whose bars are dropped; and this
open pathway to the wild fields and waters he has suggestively entitled
“An Invitation.” That invitation was continually pressing upon him. He
always felt it, outweighing all other calls, summoning him from every
other career, bidding him take to the fields and the woods and the
hills, to listen, to see, to learn, and to impart. In 1867, when he was
a boy of seventeen, convalescing from a severe illness, he wrote to a
dear friend:

[Illustration: “_Cypripedium Acaule_”

(“_My Studio Neighbors_”) _Copyright, 1897, by Harper & Brothers_]

“You ask me what I do all day. This question is very easily answered. It
is the same thing over and over again day after day. The great part of
the time I spend in the woods, alone. I start off about ten o’clock in
the morning and ramble through the woods and thickets. There is one spot
in particular which I frequent the most, because there are two
wood-thrushes which invariably come and sing to me. This spot is a
singular little dell. It is situated in front of a precipice two hundred
feet high, in among ferns and large rocks which are shaded by hemlock
trees. It is on these trees that the wood-thrushes sit and chant their
songs by the hour. Oh, I do not believe I could be happy if this
pleasure were taken away from me. I am always happy alone in the woods.
I dare say I am destined to spend half my life in just such places. This
is the daily program of the way I spend my time. Silly isn’t it? But I
can’t help it. It is my nature to enjoy nature, and I mean to do it at
every opportunity.” That outburst struck the keynote of Gibson’s life
and spirit.

But his love of nature, like his knowledge of it, was broad and
catholic. He was not a specialist in any narrow or pedantic sense. He
was botanist, ornithologist, entomologist, biologist, all in one. A
butterfly had as much interest for him as an evening-primrose, a
chipmunk as a nuthatch. Everything was grist that came to his mill.
Nothing could better illustrate this universal love of all living
things, than a note which he left, on which he intended evidently to
base a sketch. Imperfect as it is, it is an admirable illustration of
his method and of his broad sympathy and interest. He begins with
several experiments at a title, and then outlines his plan; after which
he enumerates the “available episodes,” as he calls them, to fill the

“‘A Rare Day with the Speckled Trout. Speckled Beauties. A Rare Day’s
Trouting.’ See Burroughs’s ‘Speckled Trout,’ Prime’s ‘I go a-Fishing,’
Isaak Walton.

“Begin: It was the 29th of June. A glimpse of a large platter of
speckled trout, a one day’s catch displayed with pride by a neighbor,
revived my old-time zeal and reminded me that there was but one day left
in which to beat the record. I consequently start off fully equipped,
and meet with an interesting train of episodes, and an accumulation of a
basket of specimens,--plants, insects, bird’s nests. Following the
course of the stream, the incidents are such as are perfectly
appropriate to this setting and the season. A trout occasionally alluded
to, as an accessory, jumping, etc.

“Or begin with quotation about ‘Not even a minister is to be trusted on
the subject of fish.’ Fish stories. I have one to tell which however it
may compare with others has at least the merit of truth. It is true that
I once caught forty-nine trout, within an hour; but that was not a
circumstance to the fortune which has often since befallen me. My last
is a fair sample of these lucky days.

“End something in this vein,--after an enumeration of natural beauties:
And, by the way, the trout? There in the rippling pools; for I left them
all there! And yet there are those who would have followed my trail, and
have brought home nothing but a basketful of dead fish. Finish with some
apt quotation or quaint proverb, of how one went and brought back chaff,
and another fetched the kernel.”

It is plain that such a man as this did not love Nature for the sake of
the contribution she made to his particular sport or his favorite study.
He was one of that class whom Professor John Van Dyke has in mind, in
entitling a certain book of his “Nature for Its Own Sake.” He was out
after anything that mother Nature vouchsafed to put in his way, and he
gathered up reverently whatever he found, as something good for him
because it came from her. Witness a single incident in which he modestly
attributes to fortune what was quite as much due to his own habitual

“By a fortunate train of weather conditions I was once favored with a
phenomenon by which almost the entire vegetable bill of fare of the
winter birds, at least in the way of seeds, was spread out before
me--brought to my feet, as it were.

“Walking upon the firm and polished snow-crust, picking my way along a
rail-fence at the foot of a steep, sloping pasture, I suddenly aroused
into flight a flock of small birds from behind the bulwark of drifts
with which the fence was hemmed in and partially buried. So loud was the
united flutter of their wings that it at first suggested the whir of a
partridge, until I saw it dissipated in the flock of smaller fry above
the edge of the drift. They proved to be, as I remember, mostly
snowbirds, white buntings, and goldfinches, though doubtless the
cedar-birds, winter-wrens, tree-sparrows, pine and purple finches, were
also among them. Their noisy flight was the signal for a general alarm
all along the line, following the fence for several hundred feet, each
zigzag corner sending up its winged bevy to perch and twitter upon the
upper rails. Almost every projecting beam showed its chirruping

“Interested to discover the secret of such a great feathery convocation,
I crept up to the edge of the slippery drift and looked over. Beyond the
fence rose the steep, white, glistening slope of the pasture, a distance
of a furlong or more, its surface mottled with its brown withered
vegetation. Following the rambling rails on either side were drifts of
the most fantastic form, now and then almost peering above the fence
riders, and between them ran a winding valley, in which the old fence
seemed to be walking knee-deep in snow. It needed only a second glance
into this hollow, whence the startled flocks had flown, to understand
its attractiveness for the birds. Its depths were fairly littered with
the choicest kind of allurement. The very cream of the pasture had
flowed into this trough. It was the hopper which had received the entire
wind-blown tribute of the weedy upland that looked down upon it, and of
the overhanging woods far up the slope. Here were wind-rows of various
seeds which had been dislodged from the weeds and trees and blown along
the glassy snow to be caught in this convenient bin. The small
goblet-shaped hollows around the projecting grass-stems were full to the
brim with their good cheer, and the deeper vales and gullies were marked
out everywhere by their brown meandering lines of intermingled chaff and
seeds, often to the depth of two inches or more. A happy valley and a
land of plenty, surely!

“A single handful of this grist taken up at random presented a
surprising variety of elements, offering a wide choice for the most
fastidious bird appetite. Curious to test this question further, I
followed the fence for a long distance, occasionally sampling the meadow
crumbs, and continually discovering some new ingredient of fruit or

“Even the powdery chaff which I blew away in order to better reveal the
larger morsels, proved to be the fine seed of various grasses and
sedges; while among the more conspicuous which remained I noted the
following considerable list, not to mention others which were then
beyond my limited botanical knowledge. The seeds of the alder, birch,
hemlock, ragweed, bur-marigold, and wild-carrot, were, perhaps, the most
numerous and general. There was an exclusive colony of dried grapes
assembled in one particular corner, doubtless laying their plans for a
future arborescent monopoly of the rails in their vicinity. I found,
also, numbers of larch seeds, both with and without their wings.
Stag-horn-sumach, poison-ivy, ash, and hop-hornbeam representatives were
frequent, and one chaffy handful, downy with goldenrod and aster seeds
was lit up with a bright scarlet berry of black alder, like a tiny live
coal in a bed of ashes. There was an occasional withered poke-berry to
be met with, also fruits of sheep-berry, _ampelopsis_, juniper, and
hawthorn. Another sample challenged my audacious familiarity with the
fangs of a _Cenchrus_ bur--the spiny fruit of the hedgehog grass, and
still another was pretty well doctored with the poisonous seeds of
stramonium, or jimson-weed, a line of which followed along the base of a
drift like an open trail fuse of blasting powder leading up to a drill
hole well calked with chaff. I recall also a few samaras of the
tulip-tree, some hazel-nuts, oats, foxtail-grass seed, as well as
several other queer diminutive forms which were unknown to me at the
time, and which I cannot now identify from memory.”

If we were to name the quality most characteristic of his work as a
naturalist, it would be his habit of close and accurate observation. He
saw more of the objects and incidents of the natural world in a square
rod, than most men, even fairly observant, would see in a square mile.
His books are a mass of evidence of the minuteness and the accuracy of
his observations; and his note-books tell with still greater force the
story of his patience and industry in preparing himself to report what
he had seen. They show that he looked and saw for himself, and that his
stories of plant and insect life are genuine studies, at first hand. A
fine instance of the personal observation and actual experience which
lay behind his work is afforded in the case of the chapter upon the
“Bombardier-Beetle” in “Sharp Eyes.” It is but a brief sketch, and
reports only a curious performance on the part of a rather rare insect.
But the observed facts on which it is based are set down in a record
almost as long as the sketch itself, and in a manner to show the
foundation of close attention and scrutiny to which he was continually
subjecting the face of the earth. He writes under date of September
28th, at Williamstown, Massachusetts. The note begins with a memorandum
to the effect that he carried his camera, with four plates, and that he
observed tumble-bugs, ichneumon flies, and dung beetles. “In turning
over a large stone, as is my habit in my walks, I discerned beneath it a
little beetle which I at first supposed to be the common species, so
closely resembling the Bombardier beetle of Europe. I had no special
desire to capture it, and as it escaped beneath the grass and debris, my
attention was arrested by a series of queer detonations, which made me
suspect that some kind of a toad lay concealed near by. As I rummaged
among the leaves I heard the queer report right at my fingers’ ends, and
at the same time noticed a tiny cloud of smoke emerging from the same
quarter. The fact then dawned upon me that perhaps I had discovered a
genuine Bombardier. A moment’s search revealed the little fellow, and he
discharged his battery six times or so. I captured him. I have not yet
read of this species having been discovered in America. And certainly
the allied species of this country possess no such detonating power.
Before the detonation the body of the beetle would swell considerably. I
kept the beetle and several of its allied species in a box some weeks
afterward, and observed the explosion several times. Mrs. Gibson also
heard it once and distinctly saw the small cloud of smoke of the
volatile fluid. About two days after the capture of the Bombardier, I
espied a beetle crawling on the floor of my room, and thinking that my
pet had escaped I captured the insect. It proved to be another of the
same species, but evidently of the other sex, and it was undoubtedly
seeking for its imprisoned mate. There are numerous parallel instances
in my own experience, but in this instance it is especially remarkable
that I should find a second individual of a species so rare in America
that I had never been able to find one before; and although I overturned
at least a thousand stones during my stay in Williamstown, I was never
able to discover another specimen.”

A few weeks earlier in the same summer, he recorded another incident
which shows his alertness of eye and the success with which it was
constantly rewarded. He was on a trip to South Amboy, to study orchids
in a conservatory there. He wrote:

“In a ramble near the station I found (as usual) exactly what I had
started out to hunt for, a large patch of milkweed. This luck is an
every day experience with me and has long since ceased to be a surprise.
Once let my vision be set on the qui-vive for any given object, and I am
led to it as by some irresistible intuition. No matter whether the
object sought be a four-leaved clover, a certain flower, a rare
caterpillar, a gold-bug or a ‘walking-stick,’ I am soon rewarded. I was
desirous of discovering a specimen of an insect laden with pollen of
milkweed. In less than ten minutes I found a large tract of pollen, in
full bloom. In an instant more I detected a beautiful Cetonia beetle,
nestling in a tuft of blossoms. Soon there came a small yellow hornet,
which I captured. Its legs were fringed with the pollen-masses. So were
the toes of the beetle.”

Probably Gibson explains his own success in a sentence or two in one of
his own chapters: “Anticipation is an equipment, the surest talisman to
discovery, and anticipation may be quickened, either by pictorial hint
or previous experience. The retina must be on the alert.” That certainly
was true of his own eye, and the fact that he was such an enthusiastic
seeker accounts in large measure for the fact that he was such a
successful finder.

His notebooks show the broad scope of his observations and of his
studies. They cover every corner of natural life. One day he would go
out and bring back material for pages of memoranda concerning the chase
of what he believed to be a hermit thrush. On another day he makes an
entry of fourteen varieties of golden-rod analyzed, six kinds of aster,
and, as he adds, “many others.” One page of his notes gives the results
of careful experiments with three dozen dandelion blossoms, to determine
how long the flower requires to pass from bud to the state when it
floats away in silvery down. Another passage records in a minute
description his first observation of the snapping of the witch-hazel
seeds, to which he adds a list of a dozen subjects for illustration. He
counts the number of different plants he finds in his city back-yard.
He sets down the things seen in a walk through the Park with a lantern,
from nine o’clock to eleven at night. He notes that on a certain June
29th, in the midst of a heavy thunder storm he heard the song of the
Wilson thrush in the woods near his house. He makes liberal memoranda of
the things most touching his attention after a fresh snow-fall. He sets
down a list of more than a score of birds whose song he heard “in a
continuous roundel,” while sitting on his porch on a quiet Sunday.
Thoreau in his hermit haunts at Walden was not more minute and attentive
in his observations than this eager three-fold worker, hurrying from
city to country and back to city again, equally busy at sketching, and
writing, and observing. There are pages upon pages of his notes which
read like the “Natural History of Selborne” in their detailed and
leisurely narrative of things seen and heard in the fields and beside
the brooks. In these records of his intermittent life in the country one
never hears the faintest echo of the bustling round of the dweller in
cities. He drops all that when he locks the door of his town-house
behind him. Once in the open air he is again the free and buoyant youth,
preoccupied only by the purposes and the pursuits which belong to the
open air, the meadow, and the wood. Indeed it seems as if his early
training and experiences, those school-days at the “Gunnery,” the
passions there born, the habits there fostered and confirmed, lay at
the basis of all his life afield. He himself somewhere said: “To the
average observer, if the eye is ever thus to be a means of grace, it
must store up its harvest while hearts are light and life is new, when
eyes are bright and undimmed. How many a prisoner caged in city walls is
living on the harvest stored in free, unburdened youth, which has never
been replenished.” Perhaps that was true of this observer so much above
the “average,” and caught for half his time in the city’s durance.

But even there he proved again the truth of Lovelace’s lines:

    “Stone walls do not a prison make
     Nor iron bars a cage.”

He made the city rural, and told others his secret:

“How little do we appreciate our opportunities for natural observation!
Even under the most apparently discouraging and commonplace environment,
what a neglected harvest! A back-yard city grass-plot, forsooth, what an
invitation! Yet there is one interrogation to which the local naturalist
is continually called to respond. If perchance he dwells in Connecticut,
how repeatedly is he asked, ‘Don’t you find your particular locality in
Connecticut a specially rich field for natural observation?’ The
botanist of New Jersey or the ornithologist of Esopus-on-Hudson is
expected to give an affirmative reply to similar questions

[Illustration: _Upland Meadows_

_From a Painting_]

concerning his chosen hunting-grounds, if, indeed, he does not avail
himself of that happy aphorism with which Gilbert White was wont to
instruct his questioners concerning the natural-history harvest of his
beloved Selborne: ‘That locality is always richest which is most

“With the possession of a back-yard, then, there is still hope for the
most case-hardened cit. Let the quickened sod have its freedom of
expression, and the grasses and weeds a respite from the sickle. Give
the cold shoulder to the gardener, or, if need be, confine his arts to
the fence border, and if you would repeat my experience, let the
chrysanthemum claim the chief part of his attention. Twenty-five
varieties of this plant bloomed in my borders last season, and they won
my admiration, not less because of their beautiful display of color,
which more than once relieved itself against a background of snow, than
for the sterling wisdom they had displayed in biding their time until
the rival wildlings of my grass-plot had seen their day.

“Next summer my square of turf shall again contribute to my enjoyment,
yea, though I seed the whole community with thistles, tares, and
fleabane, and run the gauntlet of the city ordinances.”

Gibson was mindful of the exhortation, “To do good and to communicate,
forget not.” He could not contain himself, when he knew so many
interesting things. He was a born teacher, a communicator and medium of
knowledge. His studies all had a real if unconscious aim. He could not
content himself with making them simply as a contribution to the field
of facts, nor to the formation of theories. He wanted them to go farther
and furnish information to other men. He craved an audience. He needed
pupils, or at least auditors. It was not for the sake of being heard by
others, or of hearing himself, either; he wanted others to know and to
enjoy the great store of wonderful and fascinating things which mother
Nature keeps in store for those who love her. He was a genuine
missionary of science, an apostle of art, a herald of the wonders and
beauties of the world. His social nature, eager for companionships,
sought associates in knowledge. He loved to share what he had received.
And he took others into his confidence as soon as he had unearthed a new
secret of the world around us. He had the same spirit in scientific
knowledge that sends men and women to preach the gospel to the ignorant
and misguided. Indeed, in one of his letters, outlining the idea of his
“Sharp Eyes,” he uses the word “missionary,” which he repeats in the
introduction to that volume. The whole paragraph in which it occurs
shows Gibson’s feeling toward those who, “having eyes, see not:”

“Recognizing too the evident hunger for information concerning
every-day objects in Nature, and that where one individual would write
for enlightenment one hundred would wonder in silence and ten thousand
would dwell in heedless ignorance, I realized that such a book might
also go forth as a missionary to open the eyes of the blind, or at least
to quicken a desire for fuller comprehension of the omnipresent marvel
and beauty of the commonplace.” One can realize how to such a nature,
with such a sense of responsibility to others, a letter like the
following would appeal, written by a friend of his who had given much of
her time and strength to thought and labor for the interest of working

“It has come to me through my association with these working girls that
the meagerness of their lives does not so much mean the lack of _things_
as the lack of _thoughts_, and I have been planning these talks which
have been running through the winter in answer to the question ‘What
shall we think about?’ I have asked every one to make the talk simple
and plain and I have tried to impress upon them that it is to be _only_
a talk, not a lecture. I have also sought for simple themes, so that
they need not be so far above the comprehension of the untrained minds
that it would find no answering chord in their desires. If we can take
the every-day things which you and I know are full of a wonderful
interest, if one but know how to see them, and open their eyes to their
wonders, I have believed that one would be opening doors into an
undreamed-of fairy land to them. So you see why I come to you. You are
one of the door-keepers into that fairy land. Will you open it for us?”

This desire to inform others kept him wholly free from anything like
pedantry. He had none of the self-importance of men who try to make a
little knowledge go a great way. Nor was he forgetful of the
difficulties of less instructed minds. His style in picture and in
speech was simple and direct. He had no passion for long words. He did
not find it necessary to befog others with the technical speech of the
specialists. He was the friend of children and simple country folk and
the unlearned everywhere; and they will owe him a debt of gratitude that
he spoke in their language and made them understand him. “I wonder,” he
once said, “if the time will ever come when a man may read a botanical
work without understanding Latin.” It was one of his ambitions to write
such a book; he meant to make a botany in English, and illustrate it
himself. Over fifteen hundred drawings, as we have seen, are in
existence which he had accumulated with this work in view,--one more of
the many schemes that fertile mind was projecting, never, alas! to be
carried out.

Of all the great nature students of our time, Richard Jeffries ranks as
the one most closely in touch with the sub-human world, the earth and
all the life it bears in and on its bosom. His whole soul seems
exquisitely in tune with the cosmos. He breathes with the respirations
of the earth; he sighs with the breath of the winds; his senses and his
thoughts sway with the bending of the grain and the waving of the
tree-tops. “To know him,” says his eulogist, Mr. Ellwanger, “is to
approach nearer the heart of the flower, the mystic concave of the sky,
and the elusive verge of the horizon.” But in this respect he has a peer
in William Hamilton Gibson. No man ever lived on friendlier terms with
nature. As close, as accurate, as patient in his observation as any of
the classic characters in nature love, he has a distinction all his own,
a peculiar personal attitude toward all extra-human life. He feels and
he expresses a sort of fellowship with life in other than human form. He
accepts the lesser things as little brothers and sisters of the human.
He gives the right hand of fellowship to whatever has life. He
humanizes, if one may so term it, the life which lies below man’s in the
vital scale. What writer since the days of the primeval fairy tales ever
brought the worlds of human life and other life so near each other? He
seems a modern Siegfried, into whose ears the birds talk, and the grass
whispers as it grows. When he comes back from an exploration into the
insect realm close to his own doorstep, he reports what he has seen and
heard precisely as if he were recounting the talk and doings of his own
kind. He translates this life of beetle and spider and bee and ant and
bird into the terms of human life and activity. He makes all life seem
related to our lives, all being to appear of one substance, all to be
worthy of interest, sympathy, love, and reverence. More than any other
mind of his generation he leads us to feel that kinship of all life
which Drummond has asserted in “The Ascent of Life,” and which Professor
Shaler has condensed into a phrase in calling it “The Bond of the
Generations.” That was a shrewd and sagacious disclosure of character,
as well as a bit of fun, which led his mother to write, in the letter
already quoted, “How are your friends and dear companions, the worms?”
He was on terms of friendship with all living things. But to any mind at
all sensitive to the real and deeper meaning of nature, to its spiritual
origin, its profound unity, this underlying affinity of all its forms of
life, there was a bit of true philosophy in the mother’s comment. It was
certainly truer and wiser than the criticism once made upon his
intellectual temperament in the columns of the “Tribune.” “So
thoroughly,” said this reviewer, “was he absorbed in the life of the
humbler animals and plants that one suspects he was quite out of his
element elsewhere. He was incapable of assigning them a relative place.
To him they were always supreme. And because they were supreme they were
colored and transformed by his humanizing and anthropomorphizing
whimseys. He was always reading into them his own charming qualities of
mind and heart, at the same time that he was imitating their own
quickness and alertness. Indeed, natural life always appealed not so
much to his imagination as to his fancy. He was absorbed in nature as a
child is absorbed in its playthings. With all his minuteness of
knowledge, he never fully and unqualifiedly faced the two great facts of
the natural world, the struggle for existence, and the survival of the
fittest. He exaggerated and instinctively transformed the natural world,
and to the using of it as the source and stimulus of his own acute
poetic ingenuity, devoted all his energies and interest.” The criticism
is brilliant, but superficial; and its kindly temper does not atone for
its total injustice and perversion of values. It is pure assumption, in
the first place, to call the “struggle for existence, and the survival
of the fittest” “the two great facts of the natural world.” Who
authorizes the ranking of those facts as prime or principal? Why not
assign the highest place to the continuity of life, and the conservation
of advantages, and the advance of types? These are quite as impressive
facts as those others. And if they are suggestive of quite other
inferences neither Gibson nor any nature lover need be disparaged for
choosing to dwell upon those inferences. If he, like a growing company
of later students and observers, was impressed with the fraternity of
all lives, great and small, with the analogies between the human and the
dumb creation, and felt the kinship of even insects and birds, with
their later and more favored human cousins,--if we may not use a closer
term,--why should this keener insight be called a “whimsey,” and this
deeper divination a “fancy”? And because he had a nature which thrilled
and fired with the delight of knowledge and all the mental activity
which it sets in motion, why should he be accused of using his growing
store of that knowledge as a wine to warm his fancy and a spur to the
making of similes? The fact is, Gibson not only saw and faced the law of
struggle and of survival, but he saw a great deal more. And if he did
not dwell upon these facts with the lugubrious emphasis which
characterized so many of his contemporaries in science, it was not
because he saw them out of relation, but in truer and clearer
perspective. There has been too little sympathy, too little of the
“humanizing and anthropomorphizing” spirit in scientific research.
Gibson was a prophet, in advance of his day. What he was doing is fast
becoming the dominant spirit of investigators. And many more laws and
principles will be laid bare when men come to realize that all living
things are of one blood, than are to be discerned through the cold and
unsympathetic gaze of old-fashioned science. Gibson’s habit, moreover,
was not a “humanizing” of animal and plant life, in the sense of trying
to force our life upon theirs, attributing human thoughts and aims and
feelings to the lower creation. It was rather an effort to link their
life to ours, by insight, sympathy, and study. He simply made men feel
the kinship of all living things. In that he was fully in the spirit of
the most advanced science. He believed thoroughly in the truth contained
in a sentence which he quoted from “the rapt philosopher of Walden”:
“Man cannot afford to be a naturalist and look at nature directly. He
must look through and beyond her. To look at her is as fatal as to look
at the head of Medusa. It turns the man of science to stone.”

How thoroughly he grasped the spirit of the “new botany” which traces
the links between the animal and insect worlds one passage will suffice
to show.

“What startling disclosures are revealed to the inward eye within the
hearts of all these strange orchidaceous flowers! Blossoms whose
functions, through long eras of adaptation, have gradually shaped
themselves to the forms of certain chosen insect sponsors; blossoms
whose chalices are literally fashioned to bees or butterflies; blossoms
whose slender, prolonged nectaries invite and reward the murmuring
sphinx-moth alone, the floral throat closely embracing his head while it
attaches its pollen masses to the bulging eyes, or perchance to the
capillary tongue! And thus in endless modifications, evidences all of
the same deep vital purpose.

“Let us then content ourselves no longer with being mere
‘botanists’--historians of structural facts. The flowers are not mere
comely or curious vegetable creations, with colors, odors, petals,
stamens, and innumerable technical attributes. The wonted insight alike
of scientist, philosopher, theologian, and dreamer is now repudiated in
the new revelation. Beauty is not ‘its own excuse for being,’ nor was
fragrance ever ‘wasted on the desert air.’ The seer has at last heard
and interpreted the voice in the wilderness. The flower is no longer a
simple passive victim in the busy bee’s sweet pillage, but rather a
conscious being, with hopes, aspirations, and companionships. The insect
is its counterpart. Its fragrance is but a perfumed whisper of welcome,
its color is as the wooing blush and rosy lip, its portals are decked
for his coming, and its sweet hospitalities humored to his tarrying; and
as it finally speeds its parting affinity rests content that its life’s
consummation has been fulfilled.”

How closely he observed and how much he read “between the lines” appears
in his account of his introduction to the study of entomology, the first
awakening of his real interest in what became the object of a consuming

“It was a day in early June, and nature was bursting with exuberance.
The very earth was teeming with awakening germs--here an acorn, with its
biformed hungry germ--parody on the dual mission of mortal life--one
seeking earth, the other heaven; here

[Illustration: “_The Bobolink at Home_”

(“_Strolls by Starlight_”)

_Copyright, 1890, by Harper & Brothers_]

an odd little elf of maple, with his winged cap still clinging as he
danced upon his slender stem; while numerous nameless green things clove
the sod and matted leaves, and slender coils of ferns unrolled in eager
grasp from their woolly winter nest.

“But dear to my heart as were these familiar tokens, how quickly were
they all forgotten in my contemplation simply of a little stone that lay
upon a patch of mold directly at my elbow, and my wandering eyes were
riveted upon it, for it seemed as though in the universal quickening
even this also had taken life.

“I can see it this moment. It moves again, and yet again, until now,
with a final effort, it is lifted from its setting and rolled away,
while in its place there protrudes from the ground a chrysalis risen
from its sepulcher. Filled with wonder, I sit and watch as though in a
dream, awaiting the revelation from this mysterious earthly messenger,
when suddenly the encasement swells and breaks, the cerements are burst,
and the strange shape gives birth to the form of a beautiful moth--a
tender, trembling thing, which emerges from the empty shell and creeps
quivering upon an overhanging spray.

“Now followed that beautiful and wonderous unfolding of the winged
life--the softly-falling crumpled folds, the quivering pulsations of the
new-born wings eager for their flight, until at length their glory
shone in purity and perfection--a trial flutter, and the perfect being
took wing and flew away!

“Thus did I become a votary to that science known as ‘entomology.’ What
wonder, then, that it should yield to me in after life a winged
significance, a spirit of unrest that bursts the shell of mere
terminology, and enjoys a realm of resource not found in books, except,
indeed, between the lines? For the entomology which I would seek is not
yet written, and it is beyond my conception that any one among its
votaries could witness unmoved by its deeper impress a spectacle such as
this, or could find through the retina of science alone an ample

It is a curious feature of his experience that even the birds and the
beasts seemed to feel this sympathy of his, and permitted him to take
such liberties with them as they seldom grant. So many stories of his
power and its exercise have gone out, that it seems best to let him give
his own version of it. The first instances are narrated in a letter
written from the Thorn Mountain House, Jackson, New Hampshire, in
September, 1883:

“Among other things that Mrs. Farr has confided to a few of her newly
made friends at the Intervale, is my remarkable power over animals and
birds, by which I take them in my hand alive in the woods, and tame
them. But while this idea of hers originally started in a joke, I am
gradually becoming convinced that I _have_ the power she attributes to
me, but fail to develop or utilize it. On the very day she first spread
the rumor, I walked with herself and husband in Cathedral Woods. He
espied a squirrel jumping along the pine needles with a cone in his
mouth. I suddenly conceived the notion to capture him. I followed him
for a few paces and finally succeeded in placing my hand over him and
catching him, holding him in my hand for several minutes afterward, as
my fingers still bear witness from the network of scratches they
exhibit. On the following day I almost caught a chick-a-dee, and to cap
the climax, of all things, to-day, after dinner, while sitting on the
porch I observed what I supposed to be a day-sphinx hovering over a bed
of flowers across the lawn. I approached and soon discovered it to be a
humming-bird, and was about to turn back when the thought suggested
itself to try and catch the little fellow. Accordingly I approached and
watched him closely for a moment or two, drawing nearer and nearer the
while. He soon seemed to get accustomed to my presence and came to sip
the honey from some verbenas at my feet. I lowered my hand slowly, and
closed it about his tiny body with perfect ease and he seemed to make no
effort to release himself. I took him to my room and closing the windows
gave him wing. I played with him for nearly an hour and he at length
became so tame that he would alight upon my finger and jump from one
finger to another placed in front of him, and even preen his feathers.
He was a dear little creature and I almost wanted to keep him. He would
alight upon the window shutter, and when I held my finger an inch or so
in front of him he would jump on it and fluff out his feathers. I could
pick him up at any moment and lay him on his back in my hand, where he
would remain perfectly quiet, with his bright black eyes moving all
about as alive as could be. At length I concluded to give him his
freedom, but in order first to allow the guests of the house an
opportunity to see my diminutive captive, I tied a long piece of cotton
twine loosely in one knot about one of his tiny feet and thus exhibited
him. The twine was so heavy that it eased his occasional flight and the
softness of it prevented injury to his foot. When all had seen him I cut
the string close to his leg and away he went like the wind, no doubt
taking his first opportunity to pick off the loose fold of string still
dangling to his leg. Once before I almost picked a humming-bird from a
flower, and I believe I can do it again and again with a few trials. So
I feel less than ever like disabusing the mind of Mrs. Farr of what at
first seemed so incredible and improbable.”

In the chapter on “Woodnotes” in “Happy Hunting Grounds” Gibson
describes the incident which was mentioned by Dr. Raymond at his
funeral. He was once standing in line with many others at the polls in
a voting-place in Brooklyn, when a dove flew down and into the room, and
came straight to him, alighting upon his shoulder. No one in the place
knew anything about the bird, or had ever seen it before. No one could
see why it should have chosen him over all others in the group of
voters. Possibly Mr. Gibson’s own explanation will have to answer. In
his note of the incident he says, “I remarked to the bystanders, ‘That
bird knows a good Republican when he sees one.’”

Others also recall the incident of Dr. Abbott’s visit to Washington,
when Mr. Gibson pointed out a bird in a near-by tree and began to
describe its peculiar markings. Soon he rose impulsively, went up to the
tree, reached out for the bird, and took the little creature in his
hand, without its appearing in the least alarmed or hurt. Then, when he
had finished his description and thus illustrated it from life, he
replaced his specimen in the tree, whence it flew away. He certainly
seemed to have that about him which made even the birds feel that he
loved them and meant them no harm.

His crowning work as a naturalist was done in the lectures upon the
cross-fertilization of plants which fascinated so many audiences with
the novel story of one of nature’s most amazing manifestations of
adaptation and of resource. For years he had been a careful student of
Sprengel, Darwin, and Müller, whose experiments and studies he
supplemented with careful observations of his own, upon the relations of
plant-and insect-life. He accumulated a mass of studies and of notes. He
brooded over this theme for years. And at last, driven to utterance, he
prepared himself, as few men are able to, for a series of lectures,
illustrated with charts of his own invention and his own making. The
machinery of these lectures was a superb test of his triple powers as
naturalist, as artist, as writer. They were based on a solid and
accurate knowledge of natural history. They were illustrated by a master
hand in mechanical technique, reinforced by an artist’s skill in drawing
and in color. They were set forth in a text which was clear, vivacious,
and forceful. They constituted one of the most delightful and popular
courses ever given before the American public. His own account of the
origin of these lectures is most interesting. He had been in the habit
of giving informal talks and lectures upon natural history in his summer
home at Washington, illustrating them by rapid sketches on the
blackboard. “When I came,” he said, “to touch upon the topic of
inter-association and inter-communion of insects and flowers, especially
the mechanism of flowers, their movements and forms, I found that I was
handicapped, as many other scientists had been, by the difficulty of
expressing motion by fixed drawings and descriptions. It occurred to me
to make a drawing of the sage-blossom with its tilted stamen fastened on
separately to show the movement. This I did. It proved to be a
revelation to myself and I made several other sectional charts of
flowers and of insects that same summer. They served to demonstrate
ocularly and simply, without the slightest effort on the part of my
audience, what had heretofore been presented only in difficult technical
descriptions. There really seemed to be a new field for work, and I
accepted the indications and concentrated my thought upon the theme.” A
writer who had been an attendant at these lectures gives this
description of them:

“The lecture describes some general principles about a group of flowers
and their associated insect-visitors, and while the listener is
endeavoring to induce his imagination to form some picture of the
process, Mr. Gibson steps to a screen, hangs up and unfolds a
beautifully executed sketch of the flower, and gives an ocular
demonstration of the thing he has just described. One sees the bee crawl
into the sage-blossom, tilt the pivoted stamens, and come out with the
pollen upon his back, which burden he is now ready to carry to another
blossom, upon whose pistil he partly unloads it. The same busy bee
creeps into the pogonia and straightway two powdery anthers are clasped
to his side, leaving their visible deposit of yellow dust. The orchids
are made to clap sticking-plasters upon their visitors, or to hurl
bombshells of pollen on their heads. There is no room for failure to
understand. The whole process is demonstrated before the sight, by a
mechanism which works to a charm, a visible and artistic unfolding of
the most subtle operations of the plant and insect world.”

An instant and complete success awaited this new venture. Everywhere
there was a demand for the lectures, and they were received with a
popular interest rather surprising when one considers how thoroughly
scientific they were. The farmers of his own neighborhood; the members
of sedate city clubs; school-children and society-women,--all classes
and types of people with any appetite for knowledge, or any sense of the
wonderful in nature, joined in the applause which greeted Gibson’s
appearance as a lecturer upon natural history. He repeated upon the
platform the success he had won as a writer and an artist. He
established his reputation as a master in scientific demonstration. It
was truly said of him that the field he entered in these lectures “had
not since the days of Agassiz been cultivated with such success as by
Mr. Gibson.” As a popular teacher of scientific fact no man in this
country since Agassiz gained such a hold or did such a work as he. There
is no doubt that if he had lived he would have won an international
renown in this field as well as that of art.

[Illustration: _The Writing Desk_

_Brooklyn Studio_]



It was written deep in the constitution of his spirit that William
Hamilton Gibson was to be a naturalist and an artist. By endowment and
by desire he was marked for that career which made him at once the
observer of nature and her illustrator by pencil and by brush. But the
predestination does not seem so clear in the case of his authorship. It
does not appear to have been so plainly provided in his nature that he
was called to be a writer of books. Here the prophecy could not have
been so surely made--beforehand. Gibson himself used to declare that he
drifted into authorship; that his writing was not premeditated but
accidental. He was not impelled to this mode of expression as he was to
his drawing and his painting and his lecturing. He described to a friend
the manner in which he began to write, and his first attempt at such
work as afterward gave him standing as an author:

“The way in which I drifted into literary work was quite natural, and in
a way this work became imperative if I was to gain a livelihood. I had
my sketch-book and portfolio full of drawings from nature. As a
beginner I could not illustrate, I could only show these specimens,
which would not sell alone by themselves. But there were certain things
in natural history which my sketches did illustrate. This fact suggested
to me the possibility of writing up matter to go with my sketches. In
this way I found entrance into the illustrated publications, and
eventually secured a good hold for myself. But I had never yet had the
remotest idea of becoming a writer. The way in which I happened to take
up more serious writing was through a suggestion of Mr. Henry M. Alden,
the editor of Harper’s Magazine. I returned one summer from a vacation
spent in Washington, Connecticut, and was describing to him my
school-life, telling him little episodes which had been recalled by my
visit to Mr. Gunn. Mr. Alden seemed interested, and when I was done,
said to me, ‘I want you to write that out for the magazine.’ This
suggestion led to an article called ‘Snug Hamlet,’ which to my surprise
and gratification was received when it appeared, with a good deal of
favor. Then Mr. Alden suggested that I prepare an article to go with it,
which, as this had to do with summer, should treat of winter. This, too,
was written, ‘The Winter Idyl.’ Then followed others upon spring and
autumn. With these four sketches I had enough for a book; and ‘Pastoral
Days’ was the result, which proved a great success.”

Such was his introduction to literature. He always regarded it as a
pendant to his other work, something to introduce his sketches, to help
along his art. He never became confused by his various aptitudes, nor
lost sight of his great passion and purpose. He kept the essential
spirit of his life and work quite clear of any entanglement with what
was accidental. He had never expected, never intended to be a writer;
and his success at literary work was a surprise to him, as it was to his
friends. They apparently had never thought of him as a possible author,
and scarcely knew how to take his achievement.

When the press-notices of “Pastoral Days” began to come in, they were
almost unanimous in according to the newly fledged author unstinted
praise for the literary portion of his work. The chorus of appreciation
is almost unbroken; and one feels, through all the perfunctory
graciousness of the reviewers, so hard-pressed at Christmas-tide, a note
of sincerity and real pleasure in the new writer’s production. When one
considers that Gibson the writer was an unknown aspirant for favor, and
that he was competing with Gibson the artist, the reigning favorite
among American illustrators, the success of his literary venture is
really amazing. Repeatedly the book is called “a prose-poem.” “Although
there be no poetry in it, the book in its totality is a most exquisite
poem.” “There is a smooth and tender rhythmic flow in the phrasing, an
affluence of diction which constitute one of the indispensable elements
of poetry, and almost entitle the sketches to be named among the poems
of the language.” One of the most competent critics, in a journal of the
first rank, wrote of his prose:

“William Blake is the most noted poet-artist of this century, but not in
his work is to be found such unity and harmony between what he does as
pictorial and literary artist, as exists in ‘Pastoral Days.’ We have
used the words poet-artist advisedly in connection with Mr. Gibson. He
is above all a poet-artist. Not a poet alone, nor an artist alone, but
the two together, a combination as rare as it is charming.”

Even the “Evening Post” calls them “Mr. Gibson’s four sympathetic,
appreciative, poetically interpretative essays upon the seasons.” And it
puts the question to its readers, “Need we say that this author-artist
is a poet although he writes in prose, or that his text and his pictures
are essentially a poem of the New England year?” But two of his
reviewers--one in the “Utica Morning Herald,” and another in the “Boston
Literary World”--actually cite the same passage in his prose which
“reads with the movement and rhythm of blank verse.” The latter of these

“Mr. Gibson writes with a curious study of rhythmic effect; his whole
book, in fact, might easily have been converted into blank verse,--as
witness this extract from pp. 127-8, which, to help the illusion, we
print in that form:

    Silently like thoughts that come and go,
    The snowflakes fall each one a gem,
    The whitened air conceals all earthly trace,
    And leaves to memory the space to fill.
    I look upon a blank whereon my fancy paints,
    As could no hand of mine, the pictures and the poems
       of a boyhood life:
    And even as the undertone of a painting, be it warm or cool,
    Shall modify or change the color laid upon it,
    So this cold and frosty background, through the window,
    Transfigures all my thoughts, and forms them into winter
       memories, legion like the snow.
    Oh, that I could translate for other eyes, the winter
       idyl painted there!
    I see a living past!

“All this, understand, and the rest of a hundred and fifty and more
pages like it, is sober prose; but it makes one think of
eighteenth-century poetry like Graham’s, which is very good descriptive
poetry by the way.”

Says one enthusiastic critic, speaking first of the make-up of the

“It is almost too beautiful to read; but with a determination to see
what lay beyond this vision of the beautiful, we commenced to read, and
found the author to be a high-priest of nature. We were led along by the
charming simplicity of the writer, till at last, in midsummer we seemed
to be surrounded by scenes so familiar that we almost suspected that by
some strange mishap the author had misspelled the name of the school of
early days, and had written ‘Snuggery’ for ‘Gunnery.’ How is this?...

“The letter-press of such books is usually a make-weight for the
illustrations; but in this case it is hard to decide which of the two
merits the palm.”

Another speaks of the text of the book, saying:

“Here quite as strikingly as in the designs for illustration is shown
that loving familiarity with all the infinite variations in nature’s
moods and works. Without the pictures altogether, these sketches would
compel admiration as very notable specimens of word-painting.”

It will be news to many of his admirers to know that Gibson’s first book
was published in 1876. It was entitled, “The Complete American Trapper,”
and was published by James Miller, of New York. The book was republished
in 1878 by Bradley & Co., and again in 1880 by Harper Brothers under the
title, “Camp-Life in the Woods; and the Tricks of Trapping and
Trap-Making.” It was written out of the joyous and ample memories of his
youth, supplemented by his reading and intercourse with hunters and
woodsmen. He refers in the preface to his own boyish days, and to “one
autumn in particular which shines out above all the rest; and that was
when his traps were first set, and were the chief source of his
amusement. The adventurous excitement which sped him on in those daily
tramps through the woods, and the

[Illustration: _A Winter Hunt_]

buoyant, exhilarating effect of the exercise, can be realized only by
those who have had the same experience.” This little book, which still
appeals to the juvenile mind,--a new edition was put out as lately as
1899,--has had a singular charm, not only for boys, but for those grown
men who never quite lose the heart of boyhood. Gibson himself brought it
to the notice of Charles A. Dana, of the “New York Sun,” and handed him
a copy to read. The result of that chance courtesy was not a perfunctory
review by a subordinate of the staff. The “chief” himself read it and
wrote an enthusiastic notice of over two columns’ length. The young
author--he was only twenty-six--went to Mr. Beecher for a notice, at the
time he first changed publishers. He wrote this account of the call to
his mother:

“NEW YORK, _July 22, /78_.


     “I sent you the day I wrote this letter, four papers and a
     magazine. The magazine is quite well printed and the bird article
     has created a regular ‘sensation.’ I hear of it on all sides, hear
     people talking about it on the ferry-boats and in restaurants, and
     have received many enthusiastic congratulations. The press (those
     which have yet spoken) are appreciative, as you see, and there will
     be doubtless many more equally commendatory notices. It is a
     pleasure unspeakable.

     “I have got a little bit of news which I think will please you. You
     remember I told you that I thought of getting a line from Mr.
     Beecher on my book to be used on a circular. Well, I called upon
     him and took my bird proofs with me. He was delighted, even
     excited, over them, and manifested the keenest interest in all
     pertaining to them, particularly as regarded Mr. Parsons. I told
     him all about the thing and he ended up by saying ‘Well, Will, your
     progress is simply stupendous. I’m proud of you.’ I then told him
     about the change in my book, and he was again delighted at the
     mention of Mr. Bradley’s name. He said that I might travel the
     world over and would not find a nobler man than Bradley, and the
     business push of the firm was second to no other in this or any
     other country--that it was a ‘feather in my cap’ to secure such men
     as my publishers. I broached the subject of the ‘opinion’ from him,
     asking him if he could conscientiously give me about ‘ten words.’
     He turned about after a minute’s thought, and penned two pages of
     note paper, and such a two pages! The following is a copy:

     “‘Why was I born so early? Why did not the messenger angel sent
     with me defer his visit to earth until the ‘Complete American
     Trapper’ had been published? I even mourn to think of what I was
     deprived of in my youth. I can’t imagine a country boy, a real
     American boy, who would not go without his dinner for months if in
     this way only he could obtain this wonderful boy’s book! And that
     parent is hard-hearted, and may even be in dread of I Timothy 5;8,
     who will not buy this book for his boys; and for that matter, a man
     is a boy until he is fifty years old. I am all the more interested
     in the book because Mr. Gibson is one of my boys, brought up under
     my eyes in old Plymouth, and by good hard work has deserved


“On the morning after receiving the above I found a letter from Bradley
& Co., in which they remarked that they hoped I would succeed in getting
a word from Mr. Beecher. I sent the notice to them and would like you to
see the letter I got from them in acknowledgment.”

Dr. J. G. Holland was another friend to whom he looked for a word of
approval. He was not quite so sure of his own mind, and wrote in a much
more guarded way. His humane heart was a little troubled about the
effect of the book. In truth, Gibson himself became, in later years,
quite uneasy about it. His own sympathy with animals increased, and his
love for them, as little brothers and sisters of the wood; and he grew
more and more averse to whatever gave them pain. But he rested in the
intent of his book as he describes it explicitly in the preface: “If the
poor victims are to serve no use after their capture, either as food,
or in the furnishing of their plumage or skins for useful purposes, the
sport becomes heartless cruelty, and we do not wish to be understood as
encouraging it under any circumstances.” He would probably have
strengthened that utterance at a later day, and possibly have written
another preface. Dr. Holland’s letter runs thus:

“NEW YORK, _Nov. 7, 1878_.


     “I have been looking over your book with an interest mingled of
     dread and delight. It is so easy to pervert all these traps of
     yours into instruments of cruelty that the book seems almost a
     dangerous one. But, after all, what good thing is there that is not
     liable to be perverted? The capture of animals for food is entirely
     legitimate. The capture of the fur-bearing animals is quite as
     proper, while the destruction of those that are dangerous to the
     life of men and domestic animals cannot be objected to on any

     “These purposes cover your field, or nearly cover it, and you
     certainly have met them with a book which, so far as I know, has no
     equal. It is a good book to put in the hands of every boy who is
     not so cruel as to deserve to be caught in a trap himself.

     “Yours truly,

     “J. G. HOLLAND.”

It should not be supposed that Gibson was so confident of himself and
his own resources that he disdained the work and experience and
knowledge of others. He was a good reader and a hard student. The pages
of his books are crowded with passages out of his favorite poets, and
his note-books show the careful husbanding of the fruits of his reading
on all the themes nearest to his heart. Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and
Browning, in all that they have seen and sung of nature, were his
authorities often cited, and annotated, and winnowed into his
note-books. The New England poets he knew and loved, and shared all
their honest preference for those home products which so many count
homely and call commonplace because they happen to be common. Thoreau he
knew thoroughly and loved as a master in the great profession of
nature-study; and his references to him are always those of a modest
disciple, his bearing and attitude that of deference and respect.
Hawthorne, too, was one whose subtle and spiritual genius found a
sympathetic and ready interpreter in his own imagination. Darwin he
knew, and all his works which bore upon cross-fertilization had
mastered. When he gave the wonderful talks on flowers and their insect
allies to the townspeople and farmers of Washington, an old “native”
came to him, and in the dialect of old New England said: “Mr. Gibson, do
you mean to tell me thet thet’s whut Darwin’s been tellin’ ’baout?”
“Yes,” was the reply, “that is one of the things he has been talking
about.” “Wal,” was the rejoinder, “I never took no stock in Darwin
afore, but I sh’ll think a heap on him naow.” Indeed, there was, in all
his lectures, the frankest acknowledgment of his indebtedness--of the
common debt of all of us--to those pioneers in this fallow field of
knowledge. He stinted no praise, no honor to their names, and used their
work with hearty acknowledgment. He knew Sprengel, Darwin, Müller, well
and, following their lead into the enchanted and enchanting country of
new knowledge, soon made himself a student at first hand of the things
he had been taught by these great masters.

Gibson was by no means an “easy” writer. His page, as it stands, revised
and corrected, hardly gives a sign of the pains taken to bring it into
smooth and fluent shape. It seems to be a natural, spontaneous
running-on of a mind as sure of its expressions as it is of its
impressions. But the effect was purchased only by the hardest and most
conscientious labor. His “first drafts” show all the experiments he made
in words, phrases, expressions, and construction. Many times the text is
hardly legible, it is so crossed, recrossed, cut, interlined, and
rewritten altogether. If Sheridan’s judgment is to be accepted, that
“easy writing’s curst hard reading,” Gibson comes honestly by his
pleasing style. The patient work of the author has smoothed the way for
the reader. He had both the qualifications which Pope declares
constitute the secret of good writing,--“to know thoroughly what one
writes about, and not to be affected.” And to these he added a third; he
took pains.

In a letter written to Mr. Gunn in 1880, Gibson pours out his heart, as
he always did to his old teacher, and reveals incidentally the spirit in
which he took his literary work, as well as the honest and conscientious
purpose behind it all.

“140 NASSAU ST., N. Y.

“_June 7/80._


     “If you only knew how much happiness your letters always give me
     you would never feel it necessary to accompany them with any
     apology whose need exists only in your imagination. There are a
     hundred reasons why I value a letter from you more than that of any
     other friend in the world, even though it should be all that you
     seem to think, in ‘tameness.’ I like your so-called tame letters. I
     don’t care how you write, so long as you write when you feel like
     it. Your appreciation of my ‘Springtime’ gratifies me more than all
     the ‘press’ encomiums put together, for you combine all the
     qualifications for the most perfect criticism, both as regards the
     question of truthfulness and style. I appreciate your praise, more
     than I can tell, albeit I may inwardly feel that it is not
     deserved. When I write on the subject of nature, there seems to be
     an unseen impulse that guides my hand and fairly overwhelms me with
     memories. It is difficult for me to select from the enormous mass
     of reminiscences and vivid pictures that crowd upon me. Dates and
     figures I cannot remember, but verily it does seem that every bit
     of animate or inanimate nature, whether in the form of insect or of
     flower, whether subtle tint of bark or lichen, crumpled leaf or
     dried and broken twig among the herbage, every one comes up before
     me as though by magic spell, and I thank my happy life at the
     Gunnery for the inspiration that led to the thoughtful study of the
     infinite beauties of nature. How thankful I am that they are
     infinite, that so long as I live I shall always find fresh food for
     contemplation. I am now in my element and as happy a man as walks
     the earth at this moment. My future is without a sign of
     disappointment, and so long as I keep convinced of a present lack
     of fulfilment of the powers within me, so long am I sure of
     progress and happiness as far as my work is concerned. My work is
     so full of faults to me, that I am amazed that others do not see
     them. So long as I improve I am satisfied and I am greatly
     gratified that you consider my latest an improvement on the former

     “I have just finished a set of drawings for an article to complete
     the series. It is an ‘Autumn Reverie,’ to appear in October. The
     drawings are better I think than ‘Springtime.’ The article is yet
     unborn but exists in chaos in my brain, an immense tangle in which
     at present it seems impossible to find the loose end. But I shall
     get hold of it in a few days and it will reel off all right I
     suppose. This literary work was a strange result of circumstances.
     I can thank the Gunnery for this also, for it was only after
     narrating my happy experience at Washington that I was urged to
     write it up. The article was a success and of course another
     followed and another, each apparently an improvement, until now I
     find my literary work at a premium....

     “When it comes to extended landscapes I would rather paint them on
     larger surfaces than a few inches. Don’t count too much on my
     ‘climbing.’ I have not written much yet. You may yet have the
     chance, but not if I know it. I have been utterly amazed at the
     ignorance shown by the people (who are supposed to be writing from
     the ‘inspiration of Nature’) both in their anachronisms and in
     their wild ideas about our fauna. Thus in September ‘Harper’s’ will
     appear five large drawings by me illustrating a poem written by
     some fellow who you would imagine was fresh from England with his
     skylarks and fieldfares, etc. I called the attention of the editor
     to it, but I suppose it will go in all the same. My portfolios are
     full of sketches and studies and notes thereon as to dates, etc.
     In writing haphazard I fall into many errors, but I let no
     manuscript leave my hands carelessly prepared. I have been
     criticised on my ‘coltsfoot,’ some thinking only _Tussilago
     Farfara_, whereas I used the ‘common’ name in our section for the
     _Asarum Canadense_. So also with my partridge, I knew better; but
     should I have alluded to a ‘ruffed grouse’ in Sandy Hook, they
     would have thought I was talking Latin!”

There is an interesting letter, much prized by Gibson, in which his old
friend gave him such unstinted praise as seldom comes from so exacting a
critic in the field in which the young man was at work. Mr. Gunn wrote

“_Sunday, June 6th, 11 P.M._


     “I have thought of you 7 times every day, ever since the
     publication of your beautiful Idyll of Spring. You expected me to
     write; but I cannot do that even now. Everything that I think and
     much more everything that I think on paper, seems so flat and
     unworthy to be written. Other men seem content to write and say
     little, or little to the purpose. The fact is, Willie, there are
     few men who know the spring. They know a little about it, a few
     flowers, a few birds, a few showers, a few facts and phenomena--but
     I don’t know any artists, poets, or other men but you and John
     Burroughs that know it all. I don’t see how or when you

[Illustration: _Springtime_

_From a Painting_]

learned it all. I have never met a man that knew so much of the real
life of Nature as I know myself--and how did you come to see and hear it
all? I remember it now that you recall it to me--I even thought one
night in my bed, that I had detected a slip in your chronology. I
thought you had delayed the flower which you euphoniously denominate the
‘Swamp Cabbage’ till too late a day. I looked in the morning in the
Magazine and there it was promptly ready in the wild days of March. I
venture to say that no poet has before been so true to nature as you
have been. I thought no man except John Burroughs had seen or heard so
much in the woods as I am wont to see; but lo! one of my own boys has
seen with keener eyes, has heard with more acute ears, and has had
genius and taste to tell it all in words, and to paint it all with a
magic brush. Other men don’t know which most to admire in you, the
artist or the naturalist. Well I don’t; but who before has described
spring without a blunder? They draw a nightingale where I heard a
whippoorwill, or they set Venus to glow in the east on a summer evening.
I have not detected a slip. And what an old fool I was to keep pencils
away from you, when you were born with a whole magazine of them. I
cannot write. I ought not to have begun. I think ‘Spring’ by far the
richer article of the two--full of the nicest touches both with pencil
and with pen--and you are a dear good fellow, and so is your wife. God
bless you both. Go and see Abbie at 36 Garden Place.


“F. W. GUNN.”

To this Gibson made speedy answer, giving full absolution and much more:

“Do not chide yourself for keeping the pencils from me, for it is not
true. You never did--you tried, but gave it up. When you were wont to
say every few minutes in school ‘Gibson, what are you doing?’ I used to
answer, withdrawing my eyes from the window ‘Nothing, sir.’ You never
dreamed of the true amount of thinking that was going on within my
cranium. Lazy as I seemed to be, I was never idle in my mind and I can
see now the flickering light and shade among the leaves of the old
school-house maples--see the squirming caterpillar dangling from his
silken thread, swinging in the summer breeze.

“The white-faced wasp upon the window-sill is as distinct to me now as
if he crawled upon this paper. These and a thousand more I recall, and
even the first glimpse of the first day of my happy life at Washington
comes up before me with a freshness in decided contrast to the memories
of the later years. You well remember ‘Amy’s Grotto’ in the pasture lot.
You took me to see it and my eyes were wide open also in those early
days. Little thing, as it was, it has impressed itself upon my memory
as indelibly as anything in my entire life? I recall its every sprig of
green and hear the tuneful drops in the limpid pool.

“Where then did I learn it all, except from your own dear self in the
happiest season of my life? You it was who turned my thoughts towards
nature, and inspired the desire in me to follow up the study. If I have
lived to see the day when you are ‘proud of me’ or when I can in any way
contribute to your pleasure as a meagre return for the many years of
happiness you have given me, I have not lived in vain, for this very
desire has been a factor in the ends and aims of my ambition.

“Whew! Talk of letters! Don’t you ever say another word about your
letters. A page of your handwriting acts like a talisman that conjures
up a host of reminiscences, and sets my pen and thoughts going like a
saw mill; and here it is six o’clock, and my wife told me to be home by
that time, as we are both going to call upon Mrs. Gunn this evening by
appointment. Gracious! and only to think that I haven’t got a moment to
spare to dot my i’s and cross my t’s, nor send it to the binders. I hope
you will be able to make it all out. I’ll page it for you anyhow.

                    “Good bye, with much love from

                             “Your old boy

                         “W. HAMILTON GIBSON.

“Alias WILLIE.”

The chief sources of the interest of his literary work appear in those
lines. He had something to say; and he said it in his own way. There are
no better recipes than those for concocting a lasting success in

His style was, like all good style, the outcome of his spirit. He had a
marvelous power of telling because he had such exceptional power of
seeing. In the passage describing the night stroll in the woods, he
fills the mind with the mystery of the outward scene, and makes it seem,
without any sense of undue artifice, just the setting for the mysterious
transaction which ensues between the primrose and the moth.

“Our misty primrose dell is fast lighting its pale lamps in the
twilight. One by one they flash out in the gloom as if obedient to the
hovering touch of some Ariel unseen--or is it the bright response to the
firefly’s flitting torch? The sun has long sunk beneath the hill. And
now, when the impenetrable dusk has deepened round about, involving all,
where but a moment since all was visible, this shadowy dell has
forgotten the sunset, and knows a twilight all its own, independent of
the fading glow of the sky. It was a sleepy nook by day, where it is now
all life and vigilance; it was dark and still at noon, where it is now
bright and murmurous. The ‘delicious secret’ is now whispered abroad,
and where in all the mystic alchemy of odors or attars shall you find
such a witching fragrance as this which is here borne on the diaphanous
tide of the jealous gliding mist, and fills the air with its sweet
enchantment--the stilly night’s own spirit guised in perfume? Yonder
bright cluster, deep within the recess of the alders, how it glows!
fanned by numerous feathery wings, it glimmers in the dark like a
phosphorescent aureole--verily as though some merry will-o’-the-wisp,
tired of his dancing, had perched him there, while other luminous spires
rise above the mist, or here and there hover in lambent banks beyond,
or, like those throbbing fires beneath the ocean surge, illume the fog
with half-smothered halo. This lustrous tuft at our elbow! Let us turn
our lantern upon it. Its nightly whorl of lamps is already lit, save one
or two that have escaped our fairy in his rounds, but not for long, for
the green veil of this sunset bud is now rent from base to tip. The
confined folded petals are pressing hard for their release. In a moment
more, with an audible impulse, the green apex bursts asunder, and the
four freed sepals slowly reflex against the hollow tube of the flower,
while the lustrous corolla shakes out its folds, saluting the air with
its virgin breath.

“The slender stamens now explore the gloom, and hang their festoons of
webby pollen across their tips. None too soon, for even now a silvery
moth circles about the blossom, and settles among the outstretched
filaments, sipping the nectar in tremulous content. But he carries a
precious token as he hies away, a golden necklace, perhaps, and with it
a message to yonder blossom among the alders, and thus until the dawn,
his rounds directed with a deep design of which he is an innocent
instrument, but which insures a perpetual paradise of primroses for
future sippers like himself.”

The reader feels the pure delight he takes in the beauty of bird-and
flower-forms; and there is no stinting of phrases in his determination
to convey some sense of them to those who, “having eyes, see not.” He is
as accurate as Audubon and as poetic as Lowell in his description of the
rose-breasted grosbeak and his rich song.

“Hark, from the apple-tree in the field below, that note so full and
ripe and mellow! ‘A robin,’ say you? No; nor an oriole. There is a
distinct individuality in that song, which, while suggesting both these
birds, still differentiates it in many respects as the superior to
either, as though from a fuller throat, a more ample vocal source. It is
one of the rarest, choicest voices among all our feathered songsters, in
_timbre_ and volume surpassing the thrush, and in these qualities
unequaled, I think, by any of our birds. Listen to the overflowing
measure of its melody! How comparatively few the notes, and yet how
telling!--no single tone lost, no superficial intricacies. Sensuous, and
suffused with color, it is like a rich, pulpy, luscious, pink-cheeked
tropic fruit rendered into sound. Such would seem the irresistible
figure as I listen with closed eyes to the swelling notes--a figure
entirely independent of, though certainly sustained in, the
ornithological form pictured in the song, sitting quietly on an upper
twig, with full plump breast as carmine-cheeked as the autumn apples now
promised in the swelling blossom calyxes among which it so quietly
nestles. I can see the jetty head, and quills splashed with silvery
white, and the intervals of song seem spanned with rosy light as pure as
the prism released from those upraised wings as the singer preens his
plumage with ivory bill. This is the rose-breasted grosbeak, with his
overflowing cup, his pastoral cornucopia, his musical horn of plenty.”

There is something about the description of the piping of the frogs in
the distant marsh which brings tears to the eye of him who reads it with
a hundred boyhood memories to make it real. This is the passage which
excited the admiration of the critic in the “Saturday Review,” and led
him to say: “People must be strangely constituted who do not enjoy such
pages as Mr. Gibson has presented to us here. It is not merely that he
writes well, though he possesses a style that is full of felicities, but
the subject itself is irresistibly fascinating.”

“A plaintive piping trill now breaks the impressive stillness. Again and
again I hear the little lonely voice vibrating through the low-lying
mist. It is only a little frog in some far-off marsh; but what a sweet
sense of sadness is awakened by that lowly melody! How its weird minor
key, with its magic touch, unlocks the treasures of the heart. Only the
peeping of a frog; but where in all the varied voices of the night,
where, even among the great chorus of nature’s sweetest music, is there
another song so lulling in its dreamy melody, so full of that emotive
charm which quickens the human heart? How often in the vague spring
twilight have I yielded to the strange, fascinating melancholy awakened
by the frog’s low murmur at the water’s edge! How many times have I
lingered near some swampy roadside bog, and let these little wizards
weave their mystic spell about my willing senses, while the very air
seemed to quiver in the fulness of their song! I remember the tangle of
tall and withered rushes, through whose mysterious depths the eye in
vain would strive to penetrate at the sound of some faint splash or
ripple, or perhaps at the quaint, high-keyed note of some little
isolated hermit, piping in his somber solitude. I recall the first
glimpse of the rising moon, as its great golden face peered out at me
from over the distant hill, enclosing half the summit against its broad
and luminous surface. Slowly and steadily it seemed to steal into view,
until, risen in all its fulness, I caught its image in the trembling
ripples at the edge of the soggy pool, where

[Illustration: _Lake Waramaug_

_From a Painting_]

the palpitating water responded to the frog’s low, tremulous monotone.”

He loves a swamp, and is repeatedly telling of its charm, which he
celebrates in a brief paragraph that swings through the whole cycle of
the natural year, and finds a new theme to celebrate for every month.

“I know of no other place in which the progress of the year is so
readily traced as in these swampy fallow lands. They are a living
calendar, not merely of the seasons alone, but of every month
successively; and its record is almost unmistakably disclosed. It is
whispered in the fragrant breath of flowers, and of the aromatic herbage
you crush beneath your feet. It floats about on filmy wings of
dragon-fly and butterfly, or glistens in the air on silky seeds. It
skips upon the surface of the water, or swims among the weeds beneath;
and is noised about in myriads of telltale songs among the reeds and
sedges. The swallows and the starlings proclaim it in their flight, and
the very absence of these living features is as eloquent as life itself.
Even in the simple story of the leaf, the bud, the blossom, and the
downy seed, it is told as plainly as though written in prosaic words and
strewn among the herbage.

“In the early, blustering days of March, there is a stir beneath the
thawing ground, and the swamp cabbage-root sends up a well protected
scout to explore among the bogs; but so dismal are the tidings which he
brings, that for weeks no other venturing sprout dares lift its head. He
braves alone the stormy month--the solitary sign of spring, save,
perhaps, the lengthening of the alder catkins that loosen in the wind.
April woos the yellow cowslips into bloom along the water’s edge, and
the golden willow twigs shake out their perfumed tassels. In May the
prickly carex blossoms among the tussocks, and the calamus buds burst
forth among their flat, green blades. June is heralded on right and left
by the unfurling of blue-flags, and the eyebright blue winks and blinks
as it awakens in the dazzling July sun.

“Then follows brimful August, with the summer’s consummation of
luxuriance and bloom; with flowers in dense profusion in bouquets of
iron-weed and thoroughworts, of cardinal flowers and fragrant clethra,
with their host of blossoming companions. The milkweed pods fray out
their early floss upon September breezes, and the blue petals of the
gentian first unfold their fringes. October overwhelms us with the
friendly tokens of bur-marigolds and bidens; while its thickets of
black-alder lose their autumn verdure, and leave November with a
“burning bush” of scarlet berries hitherto half-hidden in the leafage.
Now, too, the copses of witch-hazel bedeck themselves, and are yellow
with their tiny ribbons. December’s name is written in wreaths of snow
upon the withered stalks of slender weeds and rushes, which soon lie
bent and broken in the lap of January, crushed beneath their winter
weight. And in the fulfilment of the cycle, February sees the swelling
buds of willow, with their restless pussies eager for the spring, half
creeping from their winter cells.”



Mr. Gibson was characteristically American in his habits of work and in
his love of it. He wrought with a zeal and a passion which are
characteristic of the race from which he came. And the early, abrupt,
and untimely close of his brilliant career must be charged almost wholly
to this fiery passion for work, this ardor in doing.

One comes upon traces of this characteristic very early in his career.
His own letters as well as the letters of his friends written in his
youth show that, very soon after leaving “The Gunnery” at any rate, he
acquired the habit of continuous application, and became an expert at
it. No sooner had he made up his mind what he would do in life, than he
began to do it with all his might. He felt the pressure of need, and
responded to it promptly and vigorously. He lost no time, he spared no
pains to train himself for his career. He realized his lack of education
in art, and that he had to furnish out of himself both discipline and
knowledge. There was in his mind evidently but one way to supply the
defects of technical education, which to so many would have seemed
insuperable obstacles. He could overcome everything by work. He knew
how to “toil terribly.” He spared no time, no trial, no tasking of
himself. After he had done a good day’s work in the things he was under
contract to do for his employers, he would turn to work again for
himself and upon schemes of his own, and would spend hours more in the
most absorbing labor. If any student of his work should wonder how his
swift success was won, and how he so soon made good his defects of
education and training, they may find their answer in that one
word--work. It was his talisman. That he had gifts, power, genius, he
believed most implicitly. It was that which gave him courage; but he
knew, too, that genius without work is an engine without steam. A letter
which he wrote to his mother during the progress of his first drawing
for the “Aldine,” of the Inness landscape is his own confession of
excessive industry, and gives a glimpse at the same time of the fiery
zeal and undoubting courage which possessed him.

“I had intended writing to you during the early part of the week, as I
had a message to send you; but I have been so excessively busy that I
could find no moment of time.... I have worked very hard during the past
few weeks, not only during the day, but in the evenings also, yea, even
until the morning on several occasions. The object of my labors you of
course understand is the Inness picture. Well, it is finished and has
been universally admired. I have drawn nearly the whole of it in the
night-time here at home, as my days have been occupied by O. J. & Co.’s
work. I have (with reason) been very anxious over this ‘Aldine’ picture
of mine. Everybody has told me that I was too headstrong to attempt such
a large drawing for my first start in landscape, and no one imagined
that I would succeed. Roberts told me that he knew I would not succeed
and that I ought to have commenced on something smaller at first. Others
have said: ‘It’s a pretty big start to commence with a full page in the
finest American illustrated journal.’ But I have commenced and my
drawing has been admired, accepted and paid for by Mr. Sutton, and is to
appear in the ‘Aldine’ in the course of a few months. I am going to
study very hard on landscape henceforth, as I feel convinced of
success.... I have received congratulations on all sides, for it is not
a small thing to get a drawing accepted in the ‘Aldine.’ I, of course,
am very much encouraged and am determined that my next drawing shall be
an improvement on my last.”

While he was writing those lines his mother was writing to him, in
warning and caution against his undue application:

“I hope your picture will be done before long, so that you will not have
to work at night. Depend upon it you will lose strength and eyesight by
unwise application. I am uneasy to find that you are trying your
strength to its utmost limit. Do be advised.”

Receiving the news of his success with his work, she sends him her
congratulations, and renews her motherly--and timely--cautions. It is
all very interesting reading in the light of what followed; for it is to
be remembered that all these letters were written in 1872, when Gibson
was but twenty-two,--a mere stripling just entering the lists!

“SANDY HOOK, _Tuesday Eve., March 12/72_.


     “Excuse this peculiar note-paper! Henry has gone out to spend the
     evening, and I cannot find the family supply without more hunting
     round than is worth while for mere appearance’s sake. I was
     surprised and delighted at the good news in your welcome letter
     this noon! Certainly it was a great deal more than I expected, and
     I think your success, in such an ambitious effort, the first time,
     and with the ‘Aldine,’ is truly wonderful. I can only account for
     it by the explanation, that your talent in art is an intuition, a
     gift, by which you are, and will be, enabled to surpass those who
     would seem to be more likely to succeed than you, on account of
     greater practice and education in that particular. But even if this
     is the case, that would not be enough of itself, and you add to it
     an industry, a perseverance, and a courage which put you straight
     through. I cannot see why, if your health and strength are spared,
     yours should not yet become a prominent name among American
     artists. If you study, work, and continue to add to your knowledge
     and skill, you will, by and by, begin to compose, and once well
     started in that line, your future is made, and your best ambition
     satisfied. I congratulate you most sincerely and lovingly, and
     thank God that he has endowed you with a rare and blessed gift.
     _Now, don’t keep on working at night._ You must see that it is very
     unwise, and that for the future you should not allow yourself to be
     tempted into it.”

     His early friend, Mr. Beard, from whom the fortunes of business had
     separated him, wrote to him in the same warning strain. Would that
     these friendly counsels had been heeded! It was this burning of the
     candle at both ends which forecast the early end of it all at
     forty-six. But who can think of this letter as addressed to the boy
     in whom Mr. Gunn could awaken no spontaneous industry!

     “Do you know, I think that in many ways our divorce is a mistake. I
     am perhaps more prosperous, but not so happy as in the old times
     when we were together; and had we waited a little while we would
     have found ample space for both to swim without interfering with
     each other. The tide was rising. It has risen very high for you at
     least, and I have been and now am heartily glad that it is so.

     “You need my laziness and carelessness to temper your consuming
     ambition. You need to alternately get indignant, and laugh, and
     argue, and double shuffle, if you would avoid the horrors of an
     early grave. Of course it is not becoming to your station and
     position to do this, but to wear your dignity always is as bad as
     being condemned to a dress suit and tight shoes without the
     possibility of a change. Forgive an old friend for speaking so
     freely, but I have a real affection for you and I believe that you
     need this admonition. Your work is killing you, because you are so
     fierce at it, and don’t let up at all. I know Parsons thinks as I
     do and in fact you must know it yourself.”

Seven years later, in 1879, his wife in a letter to his mother reveals
the same habit, and prophesies, alas! too truthfully, the inevitable
result. She says:

“Will, I believe, will always be busy day and night until he breaks down
in health. I think that would be the only thing (except, perhaps, a
fortune) which would put a stop to his midnight work. I certainly
thought he would be ill after his last strain. He was so weak after
remaining in the house so long, and using his brain so continuously,
that when the last day came and he was copying his manuscript, he nearly
fainted. Only a few more strains like that will be necessary to weaken
his constitution seriously.”

But not only did he overdraw upon the hours he ought to have spent in
sleep. He was always at it while he was awake. He was not a fitful
workman, busy by turns, but taking equal turns at idleness. He could not
be idle. All times were work-times, the odds-and-ends of the day, the
intervals between tasks, the moments of interruption and of waiting, he
turned to the most valuable account. Among the drawings which he made
for his projected botany he left a memorandum, which shows his incessant
watchfulness for subjects of study, and the prompt industry which made
him always ready to secure his material. He was always loaded for the
game that turned up. And no scantiness of materials or of tools in the
least daunted or deterred him. This is his memorandum as he wrote it:


     “Drawings made in odd moments.”

     “While waiting for train.”

     “On back of mule.”

     “During delay on railroad.”

     “On envelopes, bills, letters, check-book, on back of books,
     margins of newspapers, inside of a lozenge-paper, all that was

     “On top of stage-coach, from overhanging bough while waiting.”

     “On boats in water; on back of mule.”

     “While sketching; strolls in park.”

     “On city fence while waiting for car, yard specimen.”

     “From specimens dried to shreds.”

     “From specimens collected in hat or under hat sweat-band.”

     “On ferry-boat from specimens picked in city yards.”

     “Flower reconstructed from dried specimens on fruity stems
     entangled in spider-web. (Spider an ally.)”

“Leaf. Impression with soot at hotels everywhere; intricate details in a
few seconds.”

“Seeds from spider-webs and bird’s-nests.”

Let indolence meditate this matter.

Not even the working hours seem to have been sufficient for him. He also
trenched upon the term sacred to sleep, and in one instance, at least,
did his planning in his dreams. For a time before the publication of the
“Sharp Eyes” articles was begun in Harper’s “Young Folks,” Gibson was
casting about for some new idea for a book, some hint or inspiration or
theme which should serve to focalize his thoughts and materials. One
morning he said to his wife: “I dreamed out a whole book last night. I
never had such a vivid dream. The whole scheme came to me, and I know
just what I will do. I am going over to Harpers’ to talk it over with
them.” This he immediately did, offering them fifty-two articles, to
serve as a sort of naturalist’s almanac. The contract was agreed upon
and he began work immediately. He often thereafter referred to his
“lucky dream.” It was, perhaps, the most popular of his books, and,
whatever its origin, was certainly in itself a very wide-awake volume.

His note-books are witnesses of the same character and tenor. They show,
of course, his thorough study of every project on which his mind was
engaged. They show also how his brain teemed with new projects and
outlined new schemes, before he was done with old ones. His purposes
were always far outrunning his capacity to perform. Yet if ever a man
could do two or three things at a time, he was the one. At least his
motto might well have been that remorseless pledge to continual
industry, “Nulla dies sine linea.” One of his note-books dates from
April, 1877, and runs to June 12, 1896, a month before he died, covering
thus a period of nineteen years. In it is a record of every day’s work
in all that time; and if there was not a line drawn every day, on some
days he drew enough to fully make good the deficit and fulfil the very
letter of the proverb. Sometimes the entries record every item of his
work, like the following, taken at random:

  “March 29. Boston on business.”

  “April 9. Cover design for ‘Sharp Eyes.’”

  “  “   “  Art Artisans’ Institute.”

  “  “  13. All day on proof of ‘Sharp Eyes.’”

  “  “  14.  “   “   “   “   “   “   “

  “  “  15. New York 1/2 day, 1/2 on ‘Sharp Eyes.’”

  “April 16.  1/2 day on proof, ‘Sharp Eyes.’”

  “   “   “   Art Artisans’ 2 hours, 3 hours in evening
  on proofs.”

  “April 17.  Whole day on proofs.”

  “   “  18.  1/2 day on proof.”

  “   “  20.  Initial, design, ‘Shakespeare’s Country.’”

  “April 20.  Initial, design, illustration of apple-blossom.”

  “April 20.  Design for ‘Sharp Eyes,’ ‘Bees.’”

So the pages run, by scores and by hundreds. But elsewhere he condenses
the story of a season’s continuous work into a few lines. After the date
May 18, 1887, he wrote:

“Left for Hilltop--

“A very busy summer. Made many drawings for two prospective articles on
‘Midnight Rambles,’ and ‘Insect Botanists,’ beside many flower studies,
and a number of water-colors. Very busy on the memorial volume of Mr.
Gunn. Made a large number of drawings for Botany.”

Then follow pages of entries recording the sketches, designs,
water-colors, illustrations, which in part constituted the details of
that “busy summer.” The following year he made a similar condensation of
a European trip. It is but a note, yet the single item which refers to
“three hundred photographs,” tells the story of his busy days:

“Trip to Europe. Left New York in April, returned in June. Visited
England, France, Holland, Switzerland, including a fortnight each in
London and Paris. Brought home over 300 instantaneous photographs, taken
under all conditions by my detective camera. Went direct to Hilltop, and
settled down to magazine work.”

These note-books carry the evidence of his faithfulness to his various
aims and lines of interest. While he was at work as the artist, he never
hesitated to do something for himself as either naturalist or author. He
was never so preoccupied with his sketching that his ear could not catch
a new bird-note, or his eye perceive an event in the insect-world. His
color box often did duty as a botanist’s case, or bore home a load of
cocoons and beetles. And when he sat down to record his impressions or
outline his plans he revealed his triple interest in every line. Once he
began certain memoranda which he headed “Night-Notes.” In the margin, by
a dozen hasty lines with his pen he made a design for a title-page,--a
lighted candle with moths flying about it. Then he wrote into his text
ideas which should interest the future reader of some article, upon the
scientific side, in sentences which suggest at once the illustrations
and the text itself:

“Moths creeping up screen outside window, their presence marked only by
their luminous eyes. The lamp the center of a whirling maze of all
sorts of nocturnal insects. A rare treat spread on the table before me.
Exquisite hints for the colorist, decorator, or illustrator. Here a
dainty mite of a moth with the most delicate of sage-green, flat-open
wings, crossed by bands of cream-color. Another with steeple-roofed
wings (at rest) glistening like satin, decorated with faint contrast of
pale pink and faded olive.” And so on for pages together.

Such passages as these from his own notes, never meant for the public
eye, and therefore absolutely conclusive of his sincerity and his real
spirit, show how truly he was an observer at first hand. He saw things
for himself. There was not a trace of cant in what he had to say about
original observation of nature, her wonders and her beauties. The thing
he tried to lead others to do he had already done himself. A friend, who
is himself a keen observer of nature, wrote of Gibson, at his death:

“It was to the habit of observation more than to any endowment that he
owed the prosperity of his work,--for his life was a successful one. It
enabled him to see clearly, without a teacher, what others find it hard
to see at all. He acquired his art practically without instruction, and
indeed against opposition, simply taking his pencil and brush into the
field and drawing and painting what he saw there. The greatest painters
are those who have pursued this method. As a writer and lecturer he
showed the advantage of a good scholastic education; yet his themes were
those he had chosen and worked out for himself. He was as well-informed
on botany, entomology, ornithology, and allied studies as almost any
professors of these sciences that could be named; yet it was in the
woods and fields rather than in books that he acquired his knowledge.”

Gibson’s own words, in the preface to “Sharp Eyes,” confirm his friend’s
reflection: “The facts in the following pages are almost entirely drawn
from individual experience, largely gathered in boyhood, the apparently
random selection being based upon a desire for the greatest variety
possible within a limited range of the minor flora and fauna. The dates
are apportioned from careful notes verified through a record of many

It was this close and personal observation of nature which gave him his
rare power in drawing and in composition. He never wished to make his
pictures with the models, the objects he was drawing, before him. He
studied them in sketches, and mastered every detail of their
construction and appearance. This impression, clear-cut, exact,
truthful, he carried in his memory. And when he wished to draw it, he
worked from memory, refreshed, perhaps, by the memorandum of the sketch;
but his picture would be suffused by the glow of his own imagination,


“_Wide-Awake Day-Dozers_”

(“_Strolls by Starlight and Sunshine_”)

_Copyright, 1890, by Harper & Brothers_]

by that imperceptible increment which is merely the self, the personal
temperament of the artist, lighting up his subject. His memory furnished
the anatomy of his subject, and his imagination infused it with life. It
was the thing as it was, and something more. Because it was the thing as
he saw it. His view of the function of the sketch, and, indeed, his
theory of art, condensed into small compass, is well put by himself, in
a paragraph from “The Squirrel’s Highway”:

“Humility is the only attitude that wins the heart of nature. It yields
the glow that lights the vision of the ‘inward eye,’ beside which all
other eyes are blind. Audacity and impressionism have their importance
and place in art, but they are not its pinnacle; the one yields helpful
courage for the encounter, the other is the useful short-hand system
which often comes to the artist’s rescue, and without whose aid many of
nature’s most rare and subtle expressions would elude him, and be lost.
But its function is realized in the sketch or motive, which is rarely a
picture, but more often a rough draft, a hieroglyph, a stenographic
note, which like others of its class is fully intelligible alone to its
author, and whose only rational excuse for being is in its latent
possibilities of ultimate translation and perfection.”

That was the method of the artist; and it grew naturally and logically
from the nature of the man. He agreed at bottom with the impressionists,
because he painted and drew only what he saw. His point of difference
with them was that he painted and drew far more than they would
sanction, because he saw so much more. If the canon of the
impressionists is admitted, they must be prepared frequently to see it
apparently violated by some man who, while painting only what he
actually sees, and getting “broad effects” and “values,” sees so much
more than the average observer, and notes as “values” so many things
which even the ordinary trained eye slips over as insignificant, that he
seems to be “descending” to details. Gibson could never have painted to
suit this class, because he saw and felt so much more than they did. Yet
he was as true as the most orthodox of them to the very method he seemed
to defy. He had been speaking (“Highways and Byways,” p. 68) of the
seed-pods of the fireweed, and their hidden floss, “a warp of woven
sunshine, with a woof of ether,” and reasons thus about it:

“It is always awe-inspiring and wonderful to me; it is beautiful beyond
description; and when I see those snowy forms take wing and fly
heavenward, it is more than beautiful, it is divine. And yet it would
seem that there are those among her students who are above the influence
of such a revelation as this in Nature. Disciples of a rampant
superficial school of art, who in seeking to portray Nature ‘in her
breadth’ would feel that they can put the straight jacket upon her and
readily ignore so small and trivial a thing as this. The landscape to
their half-blind and unsympathetic eyes resolves itself into a map, a
relative opposition of so many ‘masses’ and ‘values’ of form and color.
In the mastery of these lies their end and aim while Nature in her
‘detail’ is worthy only of the scientist and ‘has no place in art.’

       *       *       *       *       *

“That Nature’s landscape does, to those who seek therefor, resolve
itself into so-called masses and values, is an important truth; but
equally and more deeply true are the infinity and spirit of her breadth.
The value of the broad gray mass of yonder sloping meadow will find its
truest interpreter (assuming an equality of technical skill) in him who
knows by heart its elements of life and color, who has seen its ‘violet
by a mossy stone,’ who has plucked its grasses from their purple maze
and knows the scent of those endless subtle variations of tender
russets, greys, and greens, and cloudy films of smoky color that spread
among its herbage. The true significance and ‘value’ of that massive
bank of oaks will be most deeply felt and understood, and therefore most
truly rendered, by him who has learned the beauty of its vernal buds of
scarlet velvet, its swinging catkins, and the contour of its perfect
leaf; who has stood beside its boughs, and seen the blue of sky and gray
of passing cloud in turn reflected from the polished foliage.

“The impress of that knowledge and the sympathy and companionship it
implies will send its impulse quivering to his brush-tip, in a
spontaneous enthusiasm that shall subdue the pigment to a medium for
thought, and shall hold it in its place as the means rather than the
end. And while the misguided apostle of the new school who shows us
‘Nature in her breadth’ shall revel in his values of turpentine, and
paint and brush-marks, the transcript of his more humble brother-worker,
while not less broad, shall palpitate with life and feeling, and through
some secret intangible testimony of its own, shall conjure up in the
beholder the heart-memories of Nature, and shall breathe her spirit from
the canvas.”

Perhaps it is worth while just here to rescue from oblivion the
exceedingly funny account of some newspaper writer, whose story of Mr.
Gibson’s methods is widely at variance with that we are telling, and
what Gibson himself told, but which has a certain weird charm of its
own. Commenting upon the “marvelous skill” ascribed to Gibson, he
proceeds to say that nothing could be simpler than his method. “When Mr.
Gibson sets out on a walk he always takes a camera with him, and when an
especially interesting twig or fern attracts his attention, he promptly
snaps at it. On his return home the plates are sent to the nearest
photographer to be developed and from the negatives thus obtained,
‘bleach prints’ are made. Mr. Gibson then proceeds to draw very
carefully on these prints, following of course the outline, shading,
etc., of the photograph. After the drawings are finished, all traces of
the photograph are quickly bleached out by immersing them in a simple
solution of chemicals, leaving only the drawings on white paper.” After
such a graphic and veracious account of the way in which the foremost
American illustrator made his pictures, one is not surprised to have the
writer add the brave statement that “it may be said without fear of
contradiction that whatever excellence may exist in Mr. Gibson’s
published work, is due to the careful work of the photographer and the
engraver.” Such is the sort of stuff which some metropolitan newspapers
serve up as “art criticism.” The writer might indeed declare that he
spoke without fear of contradiction; for nobody would take the trouble
to contradict an account so ridiculous. How refreshing, after such a
tissue of absurdities, to read the letter of Henry Marsh, foremost among
the wood-engravers of his day, the estimate, by a real artist, of
another artist:

“POMFRET CENTRE, CONN., _March 8th_.


     “Pressure of work has prevented me from answering yours of Jan.
     1st. I did not see an impression of the ‘chick a dee dee’ block and
     was surprised to find it was in any degree successful. I have never
     even seen a drawing of yours till now and have never had any idea
     of your artistic quality. Common printed impressions of course
     represent no one fairly, but those artists lose the most who have
     the most to lose, and you are no exception to the rule, as I should
     never have guessed what your drawings looked like from anything I
     ever have seen printed. You will certainly be disappointed in my
     rendering of your work, for I have no patience and my hand is not
     as firm or my line as delicate as your drawings require, but if you
     send me a block I shall do it honestly after my fashion. With
     hearty sympathy in the troubles which you must always find in the
     engraving of your most elegant and refined work, I remain

“Yours truly,


Thackeray somewhere says that there are no people who so love their work
as the artists do, unless it be the actors, who when they are not
playing themselves are always at the theater. Even the holiday of the
artist is generally devoted to work in a different locality from the
home studio; so that it amounts to nothing more than a change of scene
without any abatement of business. Gibson himself was one of the worst
offenders in this way. He never seemed to rest, while in health, save in
and by a change in the place and character of his task. In the pages of
“Pastoral Days,” in which he describes--in the chapter upon
“Summer”--his visit to “Hometown and Snug-Hamlet,” he confesses his
propensity for thus using his vacation.

“My wife and I have run away from the city for a month or so. A vacation
we call it; but to an artist such a thing is rarely known in its
ordinary sense, and often, indeed, it means an increase of labor, rather
than a respite. My first week, however, I had consecrated to luxurious
idleness. Together we wandered through the old familiar rambles, where
as boy and girl in earlier days we had been so oft together.” But the
sort of thing which he calls idling comes out a few pages later, when he
sums up the doings of that seven days of luxury.

“For a week thus we idled, now on the mountain, now in the meadow, while
I with my sketch-book and collecting-box either whiled away the hours
with my pencil, or left the unfinished work to pursue the tantalizing
butterfly or search for unsuspecting caterpillars among the weeds and
bushes.” What a busy-body was this, who knew no distinction between work
and play, and to whom the sketch-book and collecting-box were the
playthings of the idle hour as well as the tools of the most laborious
of professions! Well might the companion of that happy summer say in
after years, “He seemed never to spend an idle hour.” Another member of
his household circle bears similar testimony. “If he were sitting at
the table, chatting and joking with us, as likely as not he would have
his pencil in his hand, and before we knew it, would dash off on any
scrap of paper, some sketch of a beetle, or a bird, or a butterfly, or
perhaps a caricature of somebody in the group.” With this nature, steam
was always up, and the fires hardly banked at all. No wonder that the
machinery literally wore out prematurely.

There is one legacy of his busy life which seems to have a special
interest to those who loved his work and care to know how he did it. For
many years he carried in his mind a plan for a new work, which was
characteristic of his genius, and would have added a new delight to
those he had conferred. He meant some day to write and to illustrate a
book which should describe the history of the endless movement of water,
from cloud to mountain-top, from the heights to the valleys, from the
valleys to the sea, and back to the clouds again. He had made many notes
and references, and the scheme was well worked out in its general
features. The memoranda which he left are sufficiently full to convey a
clear idea of what he proposed; and as one reads them they seem to
suggest all the graceful text and the graphic illustration with which
his matured skill would have filled them out. While they raise the
keenest disappointment in the thought that they never were completed
and that American literature and nature-study have missed what they
promised, yet they are so full of hints, so stimulating to the
imagination, that they seem to belong to that public for which he
wrought, and which prizes every thought of his fertile mind.

On the fly-leaf of the blank-book in which these notes are entered, with
long blanks for the material yet to be written in, he has written the
words “Memoranda; Cycle of the Raindrop.” On the next page follow a
number of tentative titles:

“From the Fountain to the Deep Sea.

“The Cycle of the Raindrop.

“From the Rain Cloud to the Sea.

“A Mission of

“A Cycle of

“The Emblematic Cycle. Typical of human life. Soul from heaven. Earthly
pilgrimage: dross and impurity and final resurrection in mist.”

“An Eternal Pilgrimage

“A---- Pilgrimage

“The Story without an End.

Then follows a suggestion for a table of contents. He heads it,

_Division of Subject_

“1. The Rain Cloud and the Fountain. ‘Story of a Fountain.’

“2. The Mountain Brook--(Trout Brook) (Trout Stream).

“3. The Mountain Lake. The Swamp.

“4. The Pastoral Brook. The Pond?

“5. The River.

“6. The Delta and the Deep Sea.”

This is the first and broadest sketch. Upon this ground plan he proceeds
to lay out the themes he would treat, evidently having in mind both text
and illustrations. Sometimes the note means one, sometimes the other.
And the closeness with which the two are associated in his mind is a
fine revelation of the manner in which his thought embraced both forms
of production in a profound psychological unity.

_1. The Rain Cloud and Spring_

The birth of the spring; from perpetual snow on mountain peaks; dew;
mist and cloud; storm cloud.

Rain Cloud dragging its veil on mountain-top. (See quotation from Ruskin
in note-book). Poetic simile of mountain “Light of Asia” (227). Storm on

Hovering Mist and Cloud. Lifting and creeping in fantastic forms, above
the lake. Wild Mountain Pass. Hermit’s Ravine. See reference. Ruskin in
literary memorandum. Shelley’s “Cloud.”

Mountain Veterans. Gnarled spruces.

Mountain Flowers. The heath family, clothing the rugged mountains.

Mountain Fruits. “Propitiating the Mountain-gods

[Illustration: _The Roxbury Road_]

by a sacrifice of their fruits.” Thoreau. Supper of blue-berries.

The Trickling Mountain Spring. “Amy’s Grotto.”

A Dewdrop on leaf (vignette-idea; or tail-piece).

Primeval Elements. Indian Legends, etc. Story of a Fountain. Primeval
spring and incident. Hawthorne.

A Trickling Passage. Drops trickling down a spray of Fumitory (Adlumia)
over rock.

A Recluse. A shy wood flower.

Indian Pipe--legend?

Loiterings among mossy boulders and ferns.

The Wood-bird’s Bath.

The Harebell.

A Fungus. Some beautiful specimen of Hydnum Agaricum or--

Through the Mossy Groove (bole)--to the old Trough.

Water Trough. This subject must come in book. Make view from above
conduit, and looking out through verdure upon road from back of trough.
See Hawthorne’s “Town Pump.” “David Swan.”

Waste Water Running along road and under. Plank Bridge (with roadside
ford) bordered with tall Galingales, Cat-tails etc.

The Meadow Stream (place after mountain-lake?)

The Meadow Rue (shadow or silhouette).

Sensitive Fern (one of the most antiquated forms of existing ferns).

Cardinal Flower.

A Border Tangle. Galium. Rue.

Coils of Gold. The Jewel-weed (or some other plant). Strangled by the
golden dodder. The dodder is mentioned in Lowell’s “Threnodia” as an
emblem of love. It is a questionable sort of love that hangs on by the
teeth. “Deadly gripe of gold” (Hawthorne).

Hemlock cones and Chickadees.

An Ambuscade. Leaf-nest of large Arachnid.

The Alders.

Gathering Cowslip-greens (combine with picture of plant).

_The Trout Brook_

The Angler. (Consult Izaak Walton. “Contemplative Man’s Recreation.”)

Beauties (good subject for tail-piece).

The Water-mill. Children playing with toy-wheel. See sketch made at
Cumberland, Me.

A Trickling Flume. A mossy flume perched on tall beams, embowered in
leafy branches and overgrown with weeds. See photo and sketch of
“Haunted Mill” with mill in distance.

The Sawmill (combine cider-mill with same? Washington).

“Highland Stream tamed by human cunning.” Hawthorne.

Riding on Sawmill Carry. Children riding out over abyss on the

Under the Mill (old wheel, etc.).


Life under the Water. (Crawfish; leopard-frog, etc.) Under the Water.
Battle of dragon-fly and lizard. Caddis-worms and nests.

The Slender Foot-bridge--“Dangerous passage.” Bubby fishing; three or
four minnows on string. Lovers.

The Witch Hazel. (Several subjects. See memoranda in “Nature Jottings.”)
Unfurling banners and saluting coming snow. The Divining Rod. Old Witch.
Witch hazel; (see Whittier’s Poem, Preface or dedication?) Shrub over
Brook. Peculiar Quality of perfume. Horizontal Foliage in Wood.
Reference in Hawthorne.

Into the Lake. Cascade over precipice into Lake. Boating and fishing.

The Camp. (Adirondacks. See sketch.)

Morning on the Lake (Water-color sketch, deer drinking).

Evening. Hunting with jack. (Dudley Warner’s “Deer hunt.”) “The Loon’s
weird laughter, far away.”

The Rise. Trout rising; flash of sun on still water. “Long ripple.”

Guide Lore.

Sand Orchid. Secret of fertilization. Lovell’s Pond, several

Pond Lilies? (or on brook?) Yellow pond lilies. Hawthorne’s simile.

The Water Mussel. Beautiful pearl. Saranac lake. Wondrous tints brought
out by scouring with sand.

Tiger-beetles on Sand. (Show nests.)

Heron’s Nest (see cut in Harper’s). Evening Subject. Weird Effect.

The Plover.

Evening Mist. Mist rising. Returning skyward. Sun drawing water.

Wild Ducks.

The Bittern. “His precious legs.” Thoreau.

Water Adder. (Winnepesaukee incident, see note-book “Nature Jottings.”)

The Outlet. A Chasm. “Ausable Chasm.”

_The Brook (Shepaug?)_

The Water-fence.

A Hot Day (cows in water in shade).

Under the Water. Caddis Worms in nest. (Life under ice. Thoreau.)
Dragon-fly larvæ.

Battle under Water. “No refuge e’en in water.” Lizard and dragon-fly
larva. Aquarium incident.

Scouring Rush (grass) gatherers. See quotations.

The Little Sandpipers.

Ephemera. (The creatures of an hour. The twilight flight.)

The Crossing Pole (Newtown brook. Children over dark still current).

The Swimming Hole. (Bathers. Twilight effect. Interrupted Bath.)

The Old Bridge.

On the Muddy Beam (Phebe nest or other bird).

A Gravel Island. (Thoreau’s sentiments on beholding an island.)

A Pebbly Beach.

A Still Nook in Shore. Gnats emerging. Boats of Eggs.

A Sungleam from the River bed. Minnow or Sunfish turning. Combine same
with Kingfisher, if possible, showing the incident of prey from the
fish’s standpoint, under water looking out above. Consult Thoreau’s
“Concord River” and his experiences in taming the fish.

The Willows. The Closed Gentian. The Button-bush.

Sailing the Boat.

The Kingfisher (watching for the gleam).

A Bit of Sentiment. Two figures by the brink; thoughts of brook, etc.

The Freshet. Broken Dam. Ice Blockade. Ice piling and crushing against

A Tumultuous Record. Water sculpture. Torrent making holes in rocks.
Worn by boulders. Diana’s Baths, Shepaug Falls. Glassy Ice on Dripping

_The Swamp_

(This section should be introduced here as a “loitering-place” of the
saunterer as well as of the brook,--a rest in the journey of the waters
when they linger placidly in the old mill-pond, backing-up from the dam,
and flooding the lowlands. Although it might be brought in between the
mountain-lake and the brook.)

Consider the Black Mountain Swamp for example; Beaver dam, Lenox. Cotton
sedge; Sarracenia; Pond lilies; Sphagnum.

A Quaint Cradle. Nest of Reed Warbler or other bird built among reeds or

Musk-rat Huts. A Musquash Village. Muskrat’s bubble under the ice,
driven away from its heath. See “Trapper”; also Thoreau. The provident

Scouts. Spring Heralds. Skunk cabbage.

Winter Botany. Crystalline Botany; Thoreau. It is the anatomy which
determines the marked character and distinct individuality of plants,
even of the same genus. The winter phantoms present its most perfect and
unencumbered articulation, and render their forms against the snow
especially conspicuous. Thus have I counted, without effort, eight
species of golden-rod, growing in a tangle each as distinctly specific
as in its summer dress and ornament.

A Frost Grotto.

Will o’ the Wisp. A fantasy with fairies, nymphs, or naiads.

Haunt of the Hylas.

Cranberry Culture. The Cranberry plant.

After Bullfrogs. Spatter Dock, turtles, etc.; turtles on a projecting
log or rock, family group. Pollywogs. Duckweed. Specimen of similar
plant. Green shell-like, nerve-like leaf, floating on surface and
sending downward a fringe of purplish black rootlets. Found at
Washington, spring of 1882.

A Living Opal. A fairy creature of the marsh. This is described in my
note-book about two years ago, and I note that Mr. John Burroughs has
discovered the same creature and has written of it under title “A
Fairy,” in Scribner’s, January, 1883.

Pickerel Weed and Pickerel.

Vallisneria--Anacharsis; waterweed.

Swamp plants for selection. (Here follows a list of some twenty plants.)

Transformation of Neuroptera.

Exquisite Bivalves in the mud (small pearly clams).

_The Brook (Continued)_

The Millpond.

The Water adder (see notes Lake Winnepesaukee).

Nymphæ; maids of the pond (nymphs floating in mist above the floating
lilies. See John Lafarge, portfolio proofs).

Among the Pond-lilies. The Lotus-lily with cup capsule. Allied to
Eastern lily. Suggestion of the Nile.

Mirror of the Sunset. (Reflections. Still pond. Mill dam.)

The Heron.

Winter Sports on the Ice. Fishing. Harvesting the Ice-crop. Waiting for
a Bite (comic character). (See Wordsworth “To win a pittance from the
cold, unfeeling lake.”)

The Grist-Mill. The Miller. (A character from life; Standing at window
of mill door. “The mills of the gods.”)

Under the Fall. (Foam. Bubbles that reflect the glories of the world.)

Swallows. (Skimming over water. “Swallows skating on the air.”)

Below the Dam. The Ripples. The marriage of the Waters; (see Poem,
Burns). The Camp. Shad-fishing.

_The River_

The Osprey. (Rising with fish. Tumult of water. Bald eagle and catfish,
incident, Cape Cod.) See Wolf’s “Wild Animals.”

The Canoe (modern and Indian).

The Toll Bridge. (Old covered bridge in spans.) Bennett’s Bridge.
Glimpse out from openings of bridge.

The Toll-man’s daughter. (Pathos. Dragging the River. The white face
among the lily-pads.)

Drifting. (Sentiment.)

Spearing Fish by night.

Drawing the Seine.

The Rope Ferry. (North Hampton.)

Calling the Ferry in “ye olden tyme.” (The swarthy boatman. The
Ferryman’s Cottage. Interior of Cottage.)

Cascade and Factories. (Moonlight.)

Through a Large Manufacturing Town.

Picturesque Factories.

Approach to Salt Water. (Stooping from boat to drink from the
river,--brackish water! This and the presence of the mallows which had
escaped our notice, betoken the inroads of the sea.)

Rest this section herewith.

_The Delta and the Deep Sea_

Navigation. (Scene on Hudson, or Connecticut, or Mississippi. Barges.
Twilight from ferry-boat; (further on?))

Snipe Shooting.

Wild Ducks. (Chesapeake Bay. Clouds of duck,--and hunters.)

Salt Marshes. (Gathering Salt hay. See Sound sketches. “Picturesque

Crab-fishing. (Sheepshead Bay.)

Low Tide on Marsh. (Fiddler crabs, playing about holes.)

From the edge of the Boat. (A natural aquarium. Hermit Crabs, fishes,
mussels, algæ.)

Samphire gatherers. (See Hawthorne. Footprints on Seashore. Samphire

The Prickly Opuntia. (Allude to the wondrous caress of the stamina. A
beautiful cactus, common on our shores, yet quite unknown.)

Fisherman’s Huts. (Quaint houses made of canal-boats. Half canal-boat,
set up on end. See studio prints.)

Gathering Sea-weeds.

A Nursling of the Sea. (Beautiful floating Laminaria.)

The Throng at the Surf. (Coney Island or Rockaway.)

Oyster-dredging. (Water in action--picturesque boat.)

Among the Driftwood. Eggs of shark or skate.

Wind-waves on Sand. (Original explanation.)

Sand Yellow-Jackets digging caves in sand.

Sand-spider. Gossamer tunnel. Fierce maternal solicitude.

Fairy Circles in Sand (around bending grasses.)

Faint Columns of Gnats in still twilight rising like streaks of smoke
from salt-marshes.

A Marsh nest.


Tiger Beetles and holes.

Under the Water.

Rocky Headland. (Mt. Desert, Nahant.)

The Sporting Shoal. Porpoises.

The Vasty Deep. Limitless Mid-ocean.

The Return of the Waters. Waterspout. Earth and Heaven. Finis. A link
completing the cycle. Tailpiece.



There is a curious notice of Gibson’s work, written for a leading New
York publication in 1882, which is calculated to fill the minds of his
friends with wonder, not unmingled with amusement. The writer attempts a
portrait of Gibson’s soul, and does it, as the Irishman made his
chopping-block, “out of his own head.” “In some way,” he (or she) says,
“Mr. Gibson has never classed himself in our mind with the profession of
illustrators, but has seemed rather to stand apart, to work in his own
ways, to avoid association, to prefer lonely walks, to follow his own
bent, no matter where it leads, and irrespective of any who come after
him. These impressions have given a certain solitariness to his figure,
so that we fancy him wandering alone up and down the earth, a man of
silence, a man of keen and penetrating eye, of ear attent, of swiftly
susceptible feelings, who searches out nature in her recesses, and
coyest moods, is on the friendliest terms with her, to whose delicate
touch she lends herself with an indulgence which coarser lovers are
denied”! That extraordinary sketch of the personality of the man is a
most felicitous antithesis of the real Gibson. It happily describes
what he was not. It is a capital portrait of somebody else. Just where
the writer got his materials for such a description, it would be hard to
tell. Certainly not from personal contact with the subject. It sounds
like a far-off account of Thoreau; as if he had been taken as the
likeliest type of a thoroughgoing nature lover, and the lines drawn
after the similitude of his strange nature. But it would be hard to find
two men in more total contrast than Thoreau and Gibson. The former may
have loved “to stand apart, to work in his own ways, to avoid
association, to prefer lonely walks.” But the latter loved to touch
elbows with his fellow-men; to cultivate friendships and share the joys
of society; to walk with a company of congenial spirits, from whom he
was always learning something, unless they were those to whom he could
always teach something. He was not the least bit of a recluse. A
hermitage would have had no charms for him. For he was, in the highest
sense, “a man of the world,” who loved his kind, and loved to live with
them. There was no “solitariness” about him. He was eminently social. So
far was he from “wandering alone up and down the world,” that he always
drew a crowd about him, wherever he went. He was no McGregor, to usurp
the head of the table; but wherever Gibson was, there was the center of
the circle. And, far from being “a man of silence,” he was the freest
and easiest of talkers, accessible, communicative, as genial as
sunshine, as fluent as a brook.

The nature which was in him began to express itself from the earliest
years. In his school-days he was anything but the shy, retiring child
which would be the father of such a man as our critic described; and his
love and yearning for companionship and the expression of affection come
out in almost every one of his juvenile letters. It is so seldom that a
boy’s letters really express the boy’s life that one does not feel that
they have any permanent interest. But the boy Gibson wrote letters which
deserve to be preserved. They are as quaint as if they were fictitious.
They could not have been truer to life if they had been made out of
whole cloth. It would be hard to match the following, written when he
was twelve years old, from the “Gunnery”; its quaint and naïve
boyishness is delicious:

“WASHINGTON, _March 1, 1863_.


“I received your letter for the first in three weeks and was as happy as
a king and I am now. you may expect a letter from me every week.

“Only till the latter part of this month before the Exhibition, and then
comes vacation which I long for very much. Every Friday the boys act a
drama; the last one was ‘Love in ’76,’ and it was perfectly splendid
and the one before that was ‘Romance under Difficulties,’ and that was
better than the last. I wish you could send me up some small dramas
because I would like to read them.

“The principal thing among the boys is catching mice with little box
traps, (like the one that Grandpa made two or three summers ago) which
we make ourselves. One of the boys took some hoopskirt and made a cage
to keep his mice in and I made two and have got four traps. The boy that
made the first trap made the first cage and he is a very ingenious boy
his name is Charley Howard he is a nice boy and is liked throughout this
whole great institution as well as the other boys too.

“It is a very unpleasant day first in the morning it snowed and next it
rained and now it is snowing again and looks as if it would snow a long
while it is dark dismal and foggy.

“I am very sorry that Cotty has so many boils, because I can imagine how
they feel but you must tell him he must try to be as patient as Job if
he can. The other evening I touched the tip end of my nose to the stove
pipe the stove pipe being hot burnt the tip of my nose off so now
everywhere I go I am laughed at. It don’t hurt me any to be laughed at
if they leave my nose alone that is all I ask.

“The other day I was sliding out in the grove on the ice and I slipped
and fell and struck on my sore knee and now it cracks just like it did
first, only it don’t hurt me so much, but I guess I will get over it
before long. I am known in this school by the name of Fatty and Pussy
and am so used to it that I take it as my own name.

“Please ask Julie and Henry if they think that they are big enough to
read letters, and if they say yes tell them I will write to them you
tell me in your next letter. In your answer let Hubie write as he did in
one of your letters.

“And now as I have written you a long letter I will stop. Sending love
to you all and give them all a kiss for me.

“From your aff. Willie.

     “P. S. Excuse bad writing as I have a sore finger.”

     The same winter he wrote to his sister; and surely nothing could be
     more delightfully artless than the patronizing little moral
     harangue with which the letter begins--a strain which ends in such
     complacent satisfaction over his own success as a good boy! It must
     have been mightily encouraging to the little girl. But when he
     drops into narrative and gives such a vivid account of his skating
     adventures, one begins to feel the real boy’s heart again:

“WASHINGTON, _Feb. 24, 1863_.


     “I guess that you are getting to be a great big girl by this time
     and I hope that you are trying to be a good girl too and that you
     are trying to correct all your bad habits. I am trying to do it and
     succeed very well.

     “I will now tell you about my last skate; we all started at half
     past nine in the morning and went to a lake warramaug which is 5
     miles from Mr. Gunn’s house I walked up there and put on my skates
     and off I went like a streak of blue greased lightning and the ice
     was as smooth as glass and a foot thick after I skated about four
     hours, something happened. did the ice break, No! did my skate
     break, No! My buckle, NO! the clouds broke and their contents were
     spilled upon the earth and you had better believe that I got off my
     skates and put for home with my legs in my boots. It was a snow
     storm. On going home I summed up how many miles I had been that day
     and found out that I had gone on my own legs no body else’s you
     understand, I had that day gone 20 miles. the next day I was sick.
     I soon got over it and was all right again.

“I remain your aff. Brother


     “Give love to all write soon.”

Sometime during this same year he wrote in quite a different vein to his
mother. He shows a spirit “strenuous” enough to suit the most
aggressive, and as tender as strenuous. There are two or three points of
school ethics which appear with much force in his account of the

     “The other night a few of the boys (Henry and I included) were
     playing ‘blind man’s buff’ in the kitchen, and I was it and one of
     the boys got a hand full of pepper and doused it in Henry’s eyes.
     of course Henry cried some, but you couldn’t get him to tell Mr.
     Gunn and at last one of the boys Daniel B. Gunn told Mr. Gunn and
     he called him in there and sent all the other boys to bed. When I
     was just getting in bed, a knock came at my door and I opened it
     and there stood ‘Henry’ with a handkerchief up to his face a crying
     he kissed me good night and went in his room. Pretty soon after I
     went in his room and he was still crying and told him not to mind
     it but keep a wet handkerchief to it and it wouldn’t ache much, so
     he did so and he felt quite comfortable. I told Ralph (which was
     the boy that did it) if he ever did another thing of the kind to my
     brother, I would knock him down, and I think I ought to. If I had
     only seen Ralph do it I would have knocked him down on the spot and
     teach him to mind his own business.

     “According to Mr. Gunn’s rules ‘Stick up for your Brother’ and I
     mean to do it.

     “With love to all, I remain your aff. son.


Other letters written in these delightful school-days show him at the
time when the boy-mind begins to realize the importance of dress and of
personal adornment. The episode of the diamond pin is told with
characteristic frankness and vivacity. But another paragraph from the
letter shows a most commendable fondness for his old hat--a marked
evidence of the genuine sentiment of the boy’s nature. The description
of the football field and its unfailing perils carries a contemporaneous
interest; and a boy’s account of his studies is always fascinating
reading. The brief story of the prayer-meeting in “Willie Beecher’s”
room and his confidence in the leader who “can explain about any passage
in the Bible” must close these glimpses into the real heart of an
unspoiled and ingenuous boy. They are a key to his nature,--its
frankness, heartiness, enjoyment of simple things, a self-confidence
that was destined to help him touch the goal of a great success,
singularly combined with a humility which kept him always open to
reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. They show his
warm and affectionate nature, which never changed but to deepen and
sweeten as he matured. They reveal his earnestness and sincerity; traits
which underlie all his qualities like the bedrock of the continent, and
on which his fun and frolic grew as naturally as grass and foliage out
of the soil which masks and clothes the granite:

“WASHINGTON, CONN., _May 21, 1864_.


     “I arrived here safely. Meeting Willie B. and Bertie B. & Mary Gunn
     all at Newtown in the cars. We had a very pleasant time coming up
     & Mrs. Gunn was delighted with the Tulips. Everybody noticed my
     diamond pin, & I tell you what!!!! They praise it up, saying &
     asking me how much it cost? and having me stand still, so that they
     might see it, once in a while I do _stand still_ & let them feast
     their eyes on it. Some of them ask me if it is glass set round with
     Gutta Percha and brass. I always tell them ‘yes of course.’ I tell
     you what!! I’m proud of it and _will keep it_ & conform to your
     rules. I wear it whenever I go to school & put the guard on my
     shirt, so if the tie should fall off it would be held on. I suppose
     you remember the blue tie that you got me. I wore it up from N. Y.
     to here, & my rough coat rubbing against it made it look awful,
     bringing out all the shoddy, and making it look like down all over
     the tie.

     “When I got home I took every bit of the white stuff out & now all
     the boys think it looks a great deal prettier. Dear Mother I want
     to tell you something about that hat. It is one that I have had two
     winters, and I like it because it is so old. I would rather have
     this one than a new one, and the other is not fit to wear and
     doesn’t fit me, so Henry may have a new one.

     “Mrs. Gunn thinks that I ought to have my own old hat. And she is
     going to try and have the other one fixed up for Henry.

     “Here I must stop,

I am your affectionate Son,


     “_Dec. 6, 1864_.


     “It is a very cold day, and we have just come in from out doors. We
     all have been playing foot ball Which is a very exciting game.
     However I dont play much for the simple reason, that I am too short
     winded. A great many of the boys get their shins kicked, but I am
     very fortunate, for I have never got _mine_ kicked but once and
     then I kicked it myself, when I _meant_ to have kicked the
     foot-ball. At all times of the recess you can look about the green
     and see certain boys hopping about holding one leg up, and crying.

            *       *       *       *       *

     “This year I study a great many lessons, Latin, Anatomy,
     Book-keeping, Spelling, & Arithmetic. In Latin, I get along nicely.
     It seems a great deal easier this term than it ever has yet. In
     Anatomy I get along perfectly splendid. I know every bone in your
     body and the latin (or Scientific) names of them all. in
     book-keeping I get along nicely. In Arithmetic I am in square root
     and I understand it perfectly. I guess that if Mr. Gunn writes to
     you, he will say that I get along very well in my studies, and you
     can tell Father so too.

     “I suppose that he thinks that I idle away my time writing letters.
     to be sure I do write a great many letters, but I _don’t_ write
     them until all my studies are learned. now this is so. And while a
     person is away from home he wants to hear from his friends. All the
     boys write a great many letters.

     “Please send me some postage stamps in your letter.

     “Here I must stop with love to all.

“I remain your aff. Son WILLIE.”


“_Jan. 22, 1865_.


“Are you getting better, I hope so. I am very anxious about you, & you
must not think that I forget you, because I think of you all the time,
and pray for you every night.

“Willie Beecher has a prayer-meeting in his room every saturday night, &
a great many boys attend. I am one of them, and I am liked more this
term than any yet. Willie is superintendent and he can explain, about
any passage in the bible, to us, so that we can perfectly understand

But the poor boy did not always keep his lofty and self-approving mood.
Near the close of the same year he had occasion to realize how hard it
is to tread the right line of virtue. His wrath at one of the boys and
his doings got the better of his good feeling, and he vented himself in
some strong language written to one of the boys at home. This, being
brought to his mother’s attention, drew down a sharp reprimand, which
was quite effectual,--almost too effectual one feels, on reading dear
Mrs. Gunn’s calm and wise view of it. But the quick, passionate grief of
the repentant boy shows his warm and wholesome heart:

“WASHINGTON, _Dec. 9th, 1863_.


     “I received your letter and with repeated sobs heard Mrs. Gunn read
     it to me. I am very sorry for what I said in Frank’s letter and I
     sincerely promise that I never will commit such a wrong again. And
     do please forgive me this time and take me into your arms again.
     Tell Mrs. Howard if you see her that I am very sorry and will never
     permit such a thing to come out of my mouth again. I will write to
     Frank and apologize for it. And I don’t think you will ever reprove
     me of such a wrong again.

     “With much love I remain your affectionate Son


“_He that calleth his brother a fool is in danger of hell fire._ I will
remember this.”

When this letter went to his mother Mrs. Gunn sent the following with

“_Wednesday eve._


     “Willie was almost heartbroken, when he heard your letter, which he
     had given to me to read to him, without a suspicion of its
     contents. He went immediately, without prompting from any one, and
     wrote this answer. I am glad to see that he makes no attempt to
     excuse himself, and I rejoice that the ‘expression’ came so soon to
     your knowledge. He will never forget the lesson. I know he is not
     in the habit of using such expressions, and cannot account for his
     having written it. I think he does not quarrel at all with Henry.
     You will think from Henry’s letter to Juliet, that he is suffering
     from homesickness, but he seems perfectly happy. His mother’s
     letter made him long to see you all and he wrote to Juliet
     immediately. He and Bertie are very happy together and he is
     getting on nicely now with all the boys. At first he used to get
     himself into trouble constantly by calling them names, and treating
     them as I suppose he had been treated by village boys in Newtown. I
     presume it was that which made Willie write of him as he did, as he
     was very much annoyed by it. I have heard nothing of it for some
     days past, and conclude that he has discovered the way to live
     happily and pleasantly with the other boys. He is a dear little
     fellow and always good to us, obedient and cheerful.

In haste, yours sincerely,

“A. J. GUNN.”

In a letter written a week later he comes back to the subject in the
same tone of grief and honest penitence; and he gives another glimpse at
his real nature. For when a boy tells you what he thinks about after he
has gone to bed at night, he has taken you very much into his

“WASHINGTON, CONN., _Dec. 15, 1863_.


“You can’t realize how sorry I feel for that great misconduct that
happened about a week ago and I want to be forgiven. Will you forgive me
this time.

“Christmas is now near at hand and I have concluded to stay here and I
suppose you had rather have me to. Mrs. Gunn has just got through
reading ‘Eric or little by little’ and the boys were delighted with it
only they didn’t like to have the ‘hero’ of the story die. They expected
to have it turn out that he would be a great man: But it didn’t. You
know that he died on hearing that his Mother was very sick and might
die. It ended up very sad and scarcely a boy ceased to cry. It is a
beautiful book and impressed several things on the hearts of some of our
boys and I realy believe it has done them some good and if it hasn’t
done them any I think it has me. Often in bed I think of ‘Eric’ and hope
that I will never do some of the bad things he did; but, on the other
hand if I turn out to be as good a boy as he turned out to be I will be
satisfied and I guess you will to.”

Out of such a frank, hearty, kindly boyhood, there matured its natural
and necessary fruit. The boy was father to the man. The mature Gibson
was no disappointment to the hopes of those who had known him in youth.
He had all the charm of a perfectly natural and wholesome nature,
developing along lines which strengthened constantly all that was
noblest and most admirable in it. He was able to express himself fully
in his work; and his self-expression constantly broadened and deepened
his best qualities.

His exuberant nature continually overflowed in fun. His seriousness was
tempered by an unfailing sense of humor, and his tremendous energy was
stopped short of oppressiveness by his capacity for play. He had the
secret of perpetual youth. He always kept the heart of boyhood. His
letters bubbled with mirth. His talk was bright with it. All his friends
have memories of this side of his life which form one of the most
delightful legacies from that past. But there is no preserving the
effervescence of such a nature. It is never the same on the memorial
page. His own spirit was so much a part of it all that without his
personality behind the joke it would lose half its point. But whether he
made sport for a company, as in his droll stories at the club, or raised
the laugh in the flow of personal talk, his touch was sure, his humor
was contagious.

Probably no trait in him thus throve and grew as did his enthusiasm, his
zest in living, his love of what he did, and what he saw, and what he
contributed to other lives. To all who knew him he was a fellow of
infinite zest. He enjoyed life. He enjoyed all lives, both great and
small, human and sub-human. A friend used to say of him that Gibson was
a man who thoroughly enjoyed _himself_. No doubt he did. For that is
only another way of saying that he rejoiced in the things God had given
him, the powers which were at once endowment and working capital in his
life. No man ever took more keen delight in what is commonly counted the
drudgery of toil. He really did not seem to be conscious of the hardship
of hard work or the irksomeness of the set task. He so thoroughly loved
the thing which he did, that all labor was a labor of love. That took
away the sense of bondage to his business, and was one of the secrets of
his immense endurance, his elasticity under heavy loads, his exuberance
of spirits in situations when most men would have sunk overwhelmed.

He had the trait which marks all such natures, a whole-heartedness in
all that he undertook, which made him a difficult man to overcome, to
put down, or to defeat. That was obvious in all his hard apprenticeship;
in his determined struggle for success; in his loyalty to his own
ideals. It came out in some other incidents of his life. His vigorous
fight against the spirit of vandalism which threatened the natural
beauties of Prospect Park, at the hands of a dense and narrow
officialism, was a case in point. In the spring of 1887, Mr. Gibson, in
the course of a stroll through the Park, was filled with the
consternation and wrath which are inevitable in a real nature-lover when
he finds that ignorant and unsympathetic hands--and heads--have been
busy destroying the natural beauties which years of artificial culture
cannot make good. As he wrote in a communication to one of the most
reputable journals of the day: “One of the wildest and most beautiful
sections of the Park had been invaded by the butcherly Goths and Vandals
known as our Park Commissioners. Chaos reigned on every side--beautiful
fresh trees by the score, lying in piles of logs among seas of chips,
bonfires of brushwood on every hand, and the beauty of the place
otherwise hacked and slashed on all sides.” Gibson at once sounded an
emphatic and indignant warning through the columns of the Brooklyn
“Eagle.” The Park Commissioners replied through an agent in contemptuous
fashion, and declared that all they had been doing was to cut down “a
lot of ailanthus trees.” They did not know the caliber of their critic.
In a second letter Gibson reiterated his charges and showed as the
result of actual count and careful identification, that over two hundred
trees had been felled in one small acre, and that these included large
and beautiful specimens of white birch, black birch, willow, elm,
poplar, sweet-gum, flowering dogwood, hornbeam, European alder,
nettle-tree, young maple, and numerous other varieties of the minor
sylvae, comprising one of the most beautiful pieces of underwood to be
found in any park. The Park Commissioners met this new charge with a
square denial. Gibson produced new and indisputable evidence to confute
them; induced a committee of gentlemen of the highest standing and
intelligence to investigate the premises and the evidences of his
accuracy,--including Dr. Charles H. Hall, Dr. Charles C. Hall, Dr.
Truman J. Backus, and Dr. Almon Gunnison,--who over their own names
verified all his statements. Then the Commissioners were forced to admit
his charges (and thus, indirectly, their own untruthfulness), but
claimed that what they had done was in the nature of the “improvement”
of the Park. Then Gibson challenged the discomfited Commissioners to
refer their claim of “improvement” to Samuel Parsons, the Superintendent
of Central Park, requesting his expert decision whether this cutting was
or was not a justifiable artistic or skilful piece of landscape
gardening. The challenge was not accepted. There was no need that it
should be. Gibson had roused a vigorous public sentiment which forced
the Commissioners to call a halt in their reckless and stupid work; and
his absolute honesty, accuracy, and readiness as an advocate had put his
adversaries to shame and confusion. The incident is well worth recalling
as an evidence of what one honest and vigorous citizen can do in the
correction of a public evil. It is even more interesting as an
illustration of the thoroughness and grasp of his mind on all subjects
of which he claimed any right to speak.

His encounters with his critics were often as amusing as they were
interesting, on account of the completeness with which he would effect
their refutation and overthrow. His very neat rejoinder to that
redoubtable critic, Charles A. Dana, was a piquant instance of the care
with which he took a position, as well as of the skill with which he
defended it. Mr. Dana had taken Gibson to task in the columns of the
“Sun,” for using the form “witch-hazel” instead of “wych-hazel,” which
he held to be the correct and original form,--“wych” being an old Saxon
word which means “hanging,” and has been applied to foliage with pendent
stems. Gibson responded in a very brief letter showing that while both
forms of the word had sanction, yet that the oldest and the latest
botanists used the form which he had adopted, as well as the most
reputable dictionaries of that date. His summing-up, in a letter to the
“New York Tribune,” is too well-turned to be translated or abridged.

“Who then are my authorities? The botanical scholars; Thoreau, Tennyson;
The Imperial Dictionary, Stormonth’s, Webster’s, and Worcester’s
Dictionaries; and I might add, last but by no means least, ‘The American
Cyclopedia,’ an able authority which presents conspicuously the
questioned form ‘witch-hazel,’ and upon whose title-page, by the way,
the name of Charles A. Dana appears significantly as editor.”

Well might an intimate friend write to him, after such an effective
“counter”: “Against a literary shot like that, which hits the bull’s eye
squarely in the center, no ‘literary sins’ of a minor order can count
for much even when they are proved; and no one who has the power to make
the shot need be over-modest about his literary ability--he has the
essential thing.”

Quite as dramatic in its completeness was the refutation to which he
subjected a critic of his illustrations, who had accused him of owing
much that there was of merit in his pictures to the skill of his
engravers. Gibson’s own letter tells the whole story and exposes his
critic in the fewest possible words.

This is the incident referred to in one of Mr. Roe’s letters to Gibson
which appears in his memoir (p. 189).

“The Editor of the ‘Tribune.’


     “I observe this evening in the current number of the ‘Critic,’ an
     art reference which calls for a slight correction. In a review of
     ‘Nature’s Serial Story,’ by E. P. Roe, after paying a delicate
     compliment to the illustrations of the volume the reviewer goes on
     to say that, ‘without detracting from the artist’s meed of praise,
     the most remarkable thing about these illustrations is the
     extraordinary skill displayed by the engravers.... Mr. Henry Marsh,
     whose delicacy and precision of touch are marvelous, shows the
     still rarer power of taking up the theme submitted to him by the
     artist and adding increment after increment of meaning to it until
     it becomes almost wholly his own. His engraving of “A Winter
     Thunder-Storm” is the finest thing in the book. We give the credit
     to him because we know that Mr. Gibson’s forte is not in

     “I yield to no one in my admiration of Mr. Marsh not only as a
     master and a poet in his art, but equally as an esteemed personal
     friend. Indeed I love him too well, and have too great a respect
     for his interpretative genius to see attributed to him a piece of
     work which I am sure he would not care to claim, although it is
     ‘the finest thing in the book’ and fraught with ‘increment after
     increment of meaning’ and which is nevertheless nothing but a
     photo-engraved plate, by a purely mechanical process. Of course the
     ‘Critic’ (?) will hasten to make all due acknowledgments and place
     the credit where it righteously belongs, _i. e._, to the Ives
     Photo-Engraving Company, Phila., Pa., whose admirable process has
     reproduced not only this, but several others of the illustrations
     in which the aforesaid alleged marvelous ‘increment’ was
     discovered. Such is fame!

     “Shade of Albrecht Dürer! Who are our critics?”

Mr. Roe wrote under date of Dec. 29, 1884: “You did indeed win a victory
over the ‘incrementitious’ critic. I should think he would wish to crawl
into a small hole, and pull the hole in after him. I enjoyed your
triumph as much as if it had been my own. It was the neatest thrust
under the fifth rib I ever saw, and I fear I shall never have enough of
Christian meekness not to enjoy seeing a fellow receive his _congé_ when
so well deserved. Dr. Abbott and I took part in the ‘wake’ up here.”

Another instance of his trapping the friendly critic is preserved in his
correspondence. Colonel Gibson had objected to the “Old Barnyard” as
pictured in “Pastoral Days.” “The sloppy slush through which the man is
splashing” he wrote, “is almost too faithful. But, my dear fellow,--an
apple-tree in a cow-yard!--and loose fence-posts leaning on it!... And
do you ever see trees or shrubs on the pond side of a mill?” (referring
to the skating scene in the same paper). To which Gibson the artist made
answer as follows:

“I have had considerable amusement over my large and most important work
at the last display, viz.: ‘Autumn at Knoll Farm,’ bought first day by
Henry Ward Beecher, who says that ‘the Colmans, the Giffords, or the
Smiths can’t beat it.’ He tells all his friends so, and in his
appreciation of it only sounds the universal praise which it met with;
but, mark you! Our most high-toned and modern art publication, ‘The Art
Review,’ which employs the finest staff of contributors the country
affords, contained in its last issue a criticism that ‘did me proud’ and
at the same time gave me a jolly laugh at the way I had ‘fooled’ one of
our most noted art critics. He went on at the beginning of his
‘critique’ to condemn lightly the body-color school, claimed that it
took away from the atmosphere, ‘made mud,’ was always likely to hurt
rather than improve a painting. He hedged himself however in the
statement that ‘a skilful hand could obtain a finer effect with ‘body
color’ than an unskilled hand with wash.’ But he did not see the
necessity of using it at all.’ ‘Not even for the most bold subjects is
it necessary.’ ... ‘Take for instance Swain Gifford’s (I forget title,
but it was a very strong bit of color), rich and full of strength, or
even W. H. Gibson’s very strong “Autumn,” all rocks and tree trunks and
weeds and admirable sky, all done with pure blots.’ Mark you! Those
rocks and tree trunks and weeds were all put in thick with body color,
painted over. The result was a rich full texture, that could not have
been got in wash without at least much more labor and I doubt even then.
Others are deceived in the same way, and I repeat that the result
sanctifies the means, and I will guarantee to deceive any critic in the
country on the question of body color. I sold

[Illustration: _Late October_

_From a Painting_]

three of my pictures and it looks as though the rest would go too.

“I am glad you admired my ‘Idyl’ and especially so that you should have
thought to write me about it. It is always pleasant to receive such
letters, although unpleasant to think that you are obliged to send such
horrible scrawls in return. But I believe you are good at ‘puzzles’ even
if it is a 13.15.14. But you slipped up in your overhauling of that barn
with its fence-posts leaning against an apple-tree, and an ‘apple-tree
in a barn-yard’! Know, my friend, that that apple-tree and barn, with
all their ‘improbabilities’ in the way of posts and apple-trees, etc.,
were direct from a photograph which I made from nature with my little
camera, and all these things were there. The old mill with its
‘pond-side trees’ was also from nature, and if you will take another
look at it, consider these questions meanwhile: What does the mill stand
on? Could not a tree grow from the ground at its other indefinite end
and spread toward you?”

He was a man of many and warm friendships. It was natural for him to
like and to love his fellow-men. He opened his heart and his lips
readily to all who came to him in sincerity and in friendliness. But he
had special places in his life and thoughts for those who stood nearest
to him in sympathy and affinity. The “old boys” of the “Gunnery” were
accorded a high place in his heart, and so were those who later became
his neighbors in Washington. His affection for Mr. and Mrs. Gunn was
almost a sacred passion with him, and never waned but rather grew
throughout his life. Very tender and beautiful were the expressions of
this affection which passed between himself and his old teacher.

No less genuine and tender was his devotion to Henry Ward Beecher, his
pastor as a boy in Plymouth, his friend and sympathizer always. His
frank and open nature was one to which the warm heart of the great
preacher would naturally be drawn; and Beecher’s fervid, enthusiastic
personality would as inevitably attract and hold the appreciative,
impulsive heart of the young artist. There was little danger of
misunderstanding between these two. Through all the great sorrow of Mr.
Beecher’s life, young Gibson was his enthusiastic champion, his loyal
friend. His own heart was heavy and hot by turns, over the hounding of
Mr. Beecher. He wrote at the close of a letter to his wife:

“Mr. D. worked me up into a red-hot rage this evening, by his
insufferable and insulting remarks against Mr. Beecher. If he were a
gentleman he would at least have manners enough not to insult Mr.
Beecher to my face, knowing him to be my pastor and personal friend.”

In a later letter of the same year, he excuses himself for not writing
oftener, by saying:

“My mind has been full of this trouble, not through anxiety about Mr.
Beecher’s innocence or guilt, but more through my belief in his
innocence and consequent pity and sorrow for him. I love him almost as a
father. He has done more than I can tell for my spiritual good, and his
kindness and interest in me have drawn me close to him.”

He poured his whole heart into a letter which he sent with the volume
which he had dedicated to Mr. Beecher:



“_Dec 23, ’86_.


     “I send herewith the volume which I have taken the liberty of
     inscribing to you. If you shall find between these brief lines any
     deeper sentiment than there appears, any grateful acknowledgment of
     a friendship which I have been fortunate and proud to possess,
     which I have sought to deserve and which has been most fondly
     returned; of thanks for many kindnesses on the threshold of my
     struggle for recognition, and of your continual helpful and welcome
     encouragement; of sincere gratitude too toward my pastor, who from
     earliest youth has quickened my aspirations toward a high ideal of
     character and a life of usefulness and integrity;--if you shall
     discover these and thus learn how close a place you hold in my
     affections, then you shall read truly the spirit of my dedication.

     “With hopes that the coming Christmas may be blest with peace and
     joy to you and yours and that your helpful companionship may be
     spared to all of us with health and happiness to yourself and with
     continual beneficence to others for many years to come,

“Believe me,

“Yours affectionately,


An interesting side-light is thrown on a now memorable event in Plymouth
Church in another letter, written on the same day on which Mr. Beecher
delivered his famous sermon in denunciation of Calvinism, and made his
outspoken and unmistakable revolt against the stern dogmas of an older
day. There is little doubt that Gibson was one of the quickest and
heartiest in the applause which he describes:

“Mr. Beecher delivered, this morning, to an immense audience the finest
sermon of his life,--the most eloquent effort, without doubt, that ever
escaped his lips. He was heartily applauded throughout the house several
times, as he vehemently denounced the right of bishops and other
ecclesiastical heads, to usurp authority in the Church. True
Christianity, he said, implied liberty. Men should not turn their hearts
to Christ through fear but through love. The God that has been and is
still preached in the churches throughout the land, is not a god but a
devil. If he could picture a monster the most horrible and cruel
imaginable it would be the God which is preached in many of our churches
and to thousands of our people. He maintained his utter independence,
and said that no man could say to him what he should do or what he
should not do, he was responsible to God alone, and if he was inspired
to preach the gospel to his people he would do it with all his heart and
all his soul and would give utterance to every thought he chose. ‘Men
say I shall not, I say I shall.’ Christianity, he said, had been
trampled under foot by the spirit of ecclesiastical authority, that the
time was approaching when liberty in the church was to rule triumphant
and until it did the world would suffer.

“His voice rose very high and it was altogether the most eloquent effort
he has ever made in this pulpit,--and is so conceded by all whom I have
spoken with. I never saw Mr. Beecher when he appeared happier and
healthier than now.

“It had been almost decided to send him away on a six months’ vacation
for rest, but he to-day refused to take it, saying that he did not need
it and would rather stay at home with his people as ‘they needed his
preaching and he needed to preach.’ I am going to call on him soon.”

To attempt to enumerate the authors and the artists, the critics and the
clergymen, the naturalists and the nature “amateurs” with whom he was on
friendly and even intimate terms would be to make a long catalogue of
the most eminent men of his time. It would include such names as Stedman
and Stoddard, Beard and Murphy, Abbott and Ludlow, Burroughs and Roe and
Ellwanger, Parsons and Alden and the Egglestons. His correspondence
included men and women from all over the world. His genius appealed to
men of all classes and pursuits--to all who had the simple heart of
childhood and its open eye. And that genius was so full of the vitality
of the individual, so warm with his own personality, that to admire him
as artist or naturalist was to be drawn to him as a man. He seemed to
come to people as a friendly interpreter and as a helpful friend,
unlocking new gates outward into nature’s life, disclosing new horizons,
telling new secrets of the Cosmos. The tone of the letters he received
from hundreds of unknown admirers shows that he was everywhere held as a
personal friend, a teacher who won at once the attention, the
admiration, and the love of his disciples.

Two letters from correspondents curiously remote from each other are
types of the hundreds who were drawn by the human spirit of his writings
to ply him with questions, or overwhelm him with appreciation and
gratitude. From the confines of civilization on the north to the
boundary of the nation on the south, the friends whom he had made by his
pencil and his pen, his art and his scientific knowledge, appealed to
him with an instinctive feeling that he would understand them, welcome
them, help them if he could. Nor were they ever disappointed. The first
letter is from bleak Anticosti Island:


“_South West Point_,

“_13th May, 1895_.


     “We hesitated a long time before coming to you with this question.
     We knew that so many must worry you in the same way, and yet we
     have come at last like the rest. I can only hope you will forgive
     us. We live on Anticosti, an island with a very bad name in the
     Gulf of St. Lawrence. I know you never heard a good word of it. I
     must beg you, though, to believe that it is as much belied as the
     toadstools you championed last year. Its woods and plains are full
     of treasures and among them goodly stores of those same toadstools.
     They were all under the ban, though, as in other places and we
     dared only look at them regretfully.

     “You don’t know how glad we were when you broke the spell in
     ‘Harper’s’ last summer. I don’t think anybody else was so glad. You
     know we live alone here and try to make friends of ‘all out-doors’
     and anything like this means more to us than to most people.

     “For a while then we were happy. We knew you and we had faith
     enough in ourselves to believe that we were able to understand
     anything you wrote for everyday folks, let alone something that led
     them among deadly poisons. But very soon we began to fret. Nearly
     every toadstool we met near home was a Russula and generally far
     larger and more delicious-looking than anything else we could find
     far or near.

     “They went through every shade of redness and pinkness and
     pepperiness. I should be afraid to say how often I vowed with
     pricking lips that I would taste no more. Some ‘were not so _very_
     red or so _very_ peppery’ and then ‘how very far Mr. Gibson must be
     keeping on the safe side for the sake of stupid people.’ I tried
     cooking some of them though I felt in my heart that they were the
     same as the rest and found them very good. But every one was, and
     very reasonably, shy of them.

     “At this critical time we came across the article enclosed.

     “Here was another excitement. But who was Charles McIlvaine? ‘He
     knows what he is talking about anyway,’ I said, ‘and I am going to
     try the whole red tribe’; and I did.

     “They were all he said and after a while the others took courage
     and we even gave some to a friend who had discovered the common
     mushroom for us.

     “I felt misgivings all through the winter, though, about the
     coming season. I did not want to risk unpleasantness and ‘emeticus’
     is such a very ominous name. And who was McIlvaine, after all?
     Wasn’t it rash to listen to him?

     “And lo and behold you talk now in the ‘Bazar’ of Captain Charles
     McIlvaine the eminent mycologist!

     “Did you know that he said all that about the Russula? If we follow
     his advice what risk do we run of making people ill? We don’t mind
     so much about ourselves but we must think a little more of our
     guests. They are rare enough without poisoning any of them.

     “Please give us just a little word of advice, anything you find
     time to say. And please, even if you cannot excuse this liberty and
     cannot say anything, send me back the newspaper cutting.

     “I never intended to say all this when I began and feel quite
     ashamed when I look back at the length of my letter. Hoping that
     you will excuse it, believe me with warmest thanks and gratitude,

“Yours faithfully,


The second letter, a few years before, came from the extreme southwest:


“_Jan’y 13th, 1892_.


     “Will you pardon me, an entire stranger, and a Texan writing to
     you, but I want to tell you how much I have enjoyed and profited by
     reading your ‘Sharp Eyes.’ A good friend sent it from Denver as a
     Xmas remembrance and each night I read some portion because it is a
     never failing delight to read of my many familiar friends in Nature
     you describe in such a clear and delightful manner. Knowing your
     time is valuable and you are of human patience, though you have the
     young lover of Nature at heart, I am tempted to ask you to solve
     for me a problem that has been not only a mystery for several years
     but an actual annoyance not to be able to find a satisfactory
     explanation. It is this. Often in winter time we see flies and
     mosquitoes swollen almost to bursting attached to panes of glass,
     their little bodies oftentimes striped like a yellow wasp’s and
     surrounding them and attached to the glass is a misty deposit of
     some kind. It is the cause and object of this misty deposit I seek.
     If you will enlighten me upon this subject by explanation or
     reference you will add only one more favor to a large number.

     “That you have been the means of adding greatly to the pleasure and
     instruction of the present generation, young and old, I see from my
     limited field of observation. That you may be spared many years to
     continue your good work and enjoy the pleasures of God’s Nature in
     this world and reap a rich reward in the Life hereafter is the
     earnest wish of

“Your sincere admirer,

One could add to these indefinitely. A minister in the northwest, a
lover of flowers and a true woodsman, has a fine program for a canoeing
trip on Minnesota rivers and lakes; a farmer’s wife writes to ask
direction to some simple manual which will help her copy flowers in
color, and encloses some examples of her simple work; an admiring poet
sends some verses which will not scan, and will be glad to have her
adulations published,--and remuneration secured; another admirer insists
that he is not an autograph fiend,--but he _would_ like a letter in
reply to his praises; an impecunious poet suggests an immediate loan of
ten dollars; a mother in a western state sends some admirable sketches
done by her daughter and wishes his judgment upon their merits. People
felt his kindly nature in his writings and in his pictures. It was a
virtue that went out of him, and drew like a loadstone.

Nowhere, perhaps, outside the charmed and privileged circle of the
“Gunnery” boys,--they were always “boys” and “girls” to one
another!--was he more welcome or more warmly cherished than at the
Authors Club. He counted it a great honor to be chosen into that
favored circle, and as he was one of its earliest members, so he was one
of its most constant and loyal supporters. Whenever he could he joined
in its social conclaves and its decorous revels; and his presence was
always a guarantee of good fellowship, unconstrained, talkative, and
sparkling. In the earliest home of the Club in East Fifteenth St.; in
its rooms in West Twenty-fourth St.; later in the West Twenty-third St.
quarters; and finally in the soaring apartments to which it attained,
Gibson’s was one of the familiar figures, as it was one of those most
commonly sought out of strangers. But it was never a figure with “a
certain solitariness,” as seen by his imaginative critic. Wherever
Gibson sat or stood, there was sure to be a group. Men gathered about
him as birds flock to the banks of a rippling stream. Nor was he any
slower in coming to the side of others. He sought companionship as
frankly as he gave it. He was always running over with bright,
attractive talk; but he had a willing ear. He was conscious of his power
to attract; but it never bred in him the slightest condescension toward
others. He was passionately fond of wit, and humor, and all the honest
fun of life; but he never showed a particle of coarseness, and he never
confounded fun with foulness. He was as much at home with the largest
minds and characters as he was with the simple farmers and rustics, he
delighted to describe; for he met all men on the ground of their common

[Illustration: _The Edge of the Woods_

_From a Painting_]

and had no absurd consciousness of external condition and accidental
differences to embarrass him. His reverence and his religiousness were
profound elements of his nature. He was no formalist. Probably he did
not set a very high value upon some of the externals of spiritual life
which seem so important to many men. He was, indeed, a loyal supporter
of religious works and enterprises, as he was a member of the visible
church; and he paid the highest respect to all that pertained to what is
commonly demanded as a mark of Christian life and interest. But he had a
life in the Spirit which was larger and broader than all that. He felt
and he loved the Divine Life in all that he saw, and heard, and studied,
and tried to draw and paint, in the world around him. To his thinking it
was all the expression of God; as such he reverenced the creation.
Through this world of nature he was always seeing and feeling the
Father. His letters breathe a note of honest devoutness which passes all
lip-service. And scattered through his pages are frequent expressions of
a spirituality deeper than any words or phrases which so easily become
cant. There is a deep revelation of the heart of the man in a passage in
“Woodnotes.” Listen to his soul pouring itself out in these words:

“Sitting alone in the woods I have sometimes known a moment of such
supreme exaltation that I have almost questioned my sanity--a spirit and
an impulse which I would no more attempt to frame into words than I
should think to define the Deity himself--‘I am glad to the brink of
fear.’ My own identity is a mystery. The presence of the dearest friend
on earth would be an unwelcome intrusion. The pulses of the woods beat
through me. The joyous flight of bird brings buoyant memories, the
linnet’s song now seems swelling in my own throat. Happy Donatello in
the garden of the Borghese is no longer a myth, though even he knew no
such joy as this. At such times--and are they not vouchsafed to every
true ‘Holy-Lander’?--I am conscious of an unwonted sympathy in nature--a
strange, double, paradoxical existence, which, while lifting me to the
clouds, still holds me to the earth.”

It was this inner soul of nature as it filled the inner soul of the man,
which he felt a growing power to express in art. But before he could
speak his message he passed from our presence.



For many months preceding the summer of 1896, Mr. Gibson had felt
himself failing in health. The strain of his long lecture-tours told
seriously upon his strength, and several times he suffered from fainting
attacks and vertigo, sometimes in the very presence of his audiences.
When he withdrew from the city in the early summer, it was with a
knowledge that his health was impaired, and the hope, as well, that in
Washington, at “The Sumacs,” he would find the quiet and the rest which
would restore the tone of his system and repair the wastes of excessive
work. But this hope was not to be fulfilled. He himself was depressed
and apprehensive, and his friends shared his fears. A slight improvement
seemed to come with midsummer, but proved illusory. On Thursday evening,
the 16th of July, he left his home to go after his mail at the village
post-office. Meeting a number of friends and acquaintances he sat down
outside the office for a chat with them. He appeared to be in excellent
spirits, and for an hour was quite himself. Then he turned to a
gentleman beside him and asked if there was anything wrong about his
speech. He said his voice seemed thick, and that he could not
articulate plainly. A book he held in his hand dropped to the floor
several times, and he seemed unable to retain his hold of it. Being
asked if he felt ill, he said that he did, and suggested that he should
walk to the residence of Dr. Ford. His friends prevailed upon him to
remain quiet, and one of their number hurried for medical aid. Drs. Ford
and Brown soon arrived, and they did all in their power for their
patient. A wagon was soon brought to the door, and Mr. Gibson was placed
in a chair in the wagon, but before they had reached his beautiful home,
“The Sumacs,” he had ceased breathing, and upon the friends who had
accompanied him was thrown the task of breaking the sad news to his wife
and children.

On Sunday, the 19th, occurred the funeral services, a tender and
sympathetic account of which was given in “Plymouth Chimes.”

“The village of Washington, Connecticut, has been made famous by the
‘Gunnery’ School, and by Mr. Gibson, its illustrious pupil, who received
within its walls the inspiration of his career. The forests, thickets,
and hillsides of that picturesque region furnished the favorite subjects
of his pencil and pen; and, after he had achieved professional success,
he established at Washington, among the friends of his boyhood, his
country home. Everybody there knew and loved him, and was proud of him.
And when death suddenly came to him, it was felt to be an element of
mercy in the shock of sorrow, that he was struck down in the midst of
happy intercourse with his neighbors.

“The funeral service, held on Sunday afternoon, July 19th, at his
residence, ‘The Sumacs,’ was keyed throughout to triumph and
thanksgiving, rather than gloom. The day was bright and cool; birds sang
about the house; wild flowers and green branches filled all available
spaces; and the crowd of neighbors sat in the pleasant rooms or out on
the porch beyond the open door.

“The Scripture, read by Mr. Carter, the Washington pastor, comprised
passages descriptive of the glory of God in nature, and of the triumph
and rest of the saints. The prayer, by Mr. Turner (formerly pastor at
Washington, and now chaplain at the Hampton Institute, in Virginia), was
similarly attuned to solemn exultation. The hymns (favorites of Mr.
Gibson) were ‘Love Divine,’ ‘Abide with Me,’ and ‘Upward Where the Stars
are Burning’--the last sung exquisitely as a solo; the two others, with
scarcely less tender sweetness, by the whole company.

“The address, by his life-long friend, Dr. R. W. Raymond, was, from
beginning to end, an expression of gratitude rather than grief. It
enumerated the features of the victorious, happy, fruitful, sincere,
loving, and devout life which had been sent as a blessing and
inspiration among men. Several anecdotes were related, illustrative of
Mr. Gibson’s sympathy with all living things, and of the surprising way
in which it was recognized and reciprocated.

“It was told, for instance, how he could take a wild bird from the
branch of a tree, caress it, and return it unharmed and unfrightened;
how strange birds would fly to him and light upon his shoulder; and how
even butterflies seemed to be attracted to him.

“The address closed with a beautiful poem, written for the occasion by
Dr. Raymond.

“Through shady roads the funeral procession of carriages and pedestrians
passed to the loveliest spot in Washington, the burial-ground, which
occupies the side of a hill, commanding a prospect of forest and meadow,
stream and mountain, full of peace and beauty. The grave was lined with
green branches and fringed with goldenrod; and after a hymn ‘The
Home-land’ and a prayer, the casket was gently lowered into this bower
of rest. And then, under the benediction of the sunset, the mortal body
of William Hamilton Gibson was left to its repose.”

The fine word spoken by Dr. Raymond on this occasion is one which should
have a lasting place among the memorials of his friend. It was in such
entire harmony with the spirit of the hour, with the memories which were
uppermost, with the sense of loss, and the still deeper sense of life
enriched and

[Illustration: _The Village Green_

_Washington, Connecticut_]

brightened by the earthly work which was ended, that it was instantly
recognized as at once synopsis and echo of Gibson’s career. Dr. Raymond

“I count it a great privilege to stand here this day, and utter the love
and sorrow of so many souls. Words are but feeble expedients for such a
task; yet there is, in one respect, a significant choice of words. Shall
we express grief or gratitude? Shall we measure our loss by the vacancy
it has left behind, or count with joy the treasure we have had, giving
God thanks that we had it so long and so abundantly? For my part, I
would not desecrate with the wailing of grief this sky of Sabbath peace,
or that face of serene triumph and repose. Let us measure our love and
our sorrow, then, in terms of gratitude. Thanks be to God for the
unspeakable gift to us of a victorious, happy, fruitful, helpful,
sincere, loving, devout, inspired life, which, once received among us,
we can never lose. Even the nearest and dearest and most bitterly
bereaved can comfort grief with gratitude.

“I say it was a victorious life. I knew William Hamilton Gibson when he
was a boy; and I knew the struggle of his early life, when, impelled by
an irresistible impulse towards art, and nature as its inspiration, he
steadily pursued that ideal, “not disobedient to the heavenly vision,’
until, in spite of the warnings of the would-be wise, and the carpings
of the would-be critical, he won for himself a recognition of his
genius and the love and thanks of multitudes whose lives he had enriched
and exalted by his work. He accomplished what he set out to do; and I
say his victorious life is in that respect a blessing to us, as showing
for our encouragement, in these days of change and failure, that a man
may still be lord of his circumstances, and, as in the affairs of the
heart, so also in the affairs of business, may win and wear his first

“But some men gain their victories at heavy cost, and bear always the
scars of the conflict. Not so he. His was a harmonious, happy life,
attuned to love and beauty and peace, and aflame with joy. And for this
reason it was a fruitful and helpful life. There was no power wasted in
friction or in blind resistance. He breasted waves of difficulty like a
strong, exultant swimmer cleaving his way through the opposing element.
Like some gay knight of chivalry, he went into battle with a song. And
whithersoever he came--handsome, eager, sympathetic, debonair--he was
the bringer of gladness.

“Because he wrought in an atmosphere of joy, his life was peculiarly
fruitful and helpful. The record of what he accomplished is indeed
amazing. I do not hesitate to say that only a happy man could do so much
so well. And that same joyous spirit made him a welcome guest at every
fireside and in every heart. What a delightful companion he was! How
many thousands who never saw his face have nevertheless found in his
pictures and his books that bright companionship! Is there anything
which the world needs so deeply or welcomes so heartily as such a
messenger of hope and cheer?

“In another respect this life was a boon to us. It was a simple and
sincere life, frankly and fully expressive of character. Many good and
dear people are so reserved or so disguised that their nearest friends
do not know them truly. And when we meet them, some day, in the land
where we shall know as we are known, we shall have to make acquaintance
with them anew, on the basis of the revelation of their real selves. But
some there are, whose lives express their souls. Heaven can only make
more radiant in them the features that we know already. Will Gibson will
be ‘Our Will’ forever, as he is ours to-day, though death has clothed
the dear face in the strange, new ‘light that never was on land or sea.’
God be thanked for a transparent life!

“But transparent does not mean shallow. This life was deep and strong,
because it was a life of all-embracing love and sympathy, and carried
the volume and energy of that spirit, receiving also in return, to swell
its own current, the tributary recognition of a wider realm than that of
the human race. We indeed loved him, as he loved us; but there are many,
thank God! of whom so much can be said. The same principle is exhibited
by few in their relations to the non-human world of life; and when we
see its manifestations, we are astonished or incredulous. I could tell
you many stories of the magnetic attraction which this true lover
exerted over wild creatures.

“I remember that once, when Dr. Lyman Abbott was visiting him here in
Washington, he pointed out a little brown bird in a tree, just over his
head, and while he talked, in his own charming enthusiastic way, about
the markings of its plumage, reached up into the tree, took the bird
from the bough, held it in his hand to illustrate his impromptu lecture,
and then replaced it, unharmed and unaffrighted, upon its shady perch.

“Perhaps that bird, dwelling near his home, knew him already. But there
could be no such explanation of the incident which occurred far from
here, when Mr. Gibson, sitting with friends on a hotel piazza, called
their attention to a humming-bird, hovering over the flowers before
them, and saying, ‘Would you like to see him nearer?’ put out his hand,
and the little creature, who would scarcely light on a blossom, rested
upon the finger of his new friend, and submitted to the inspection of
human eyes. Mr. Gibson was himself amazed at this proof of spontaneous

“He used to tell, with a sort of thankful awe, how one day, in Brooklyn,
he went through crowded, noisy streets to register his name as a voter,
in one of those barren, unattractive places which are ordinarily rented
by the State for this temporary purpose; and how, as he stood there in a
group of men, waiting for his turn, a white dove flew in from the
street, circled round the dingy room, alighted upon his shoulder,
received with murmuring delight his caresses, and then flew out. No one
knew whence it came or whither it went.

“And he told also, how once he went into the Brooklyn Library, to
examine a colored plate, representing a certain butterfly, which he
wished to reproduce in illustration of an article; and how, as he stood
with the book open before him, in the dim little corner-alcove which
used to be the office of his friend Mr. Bardwell, the librarian, a
butterfly of that very species fluttered around the great hall into the
alcove, and, hovering above his head, dropped at last upon the book, and
folded its wings by the side of its own pictures.

“We smile at such coincidences; but the fact that they happen over and
over again to one man suggests a coincidence beyond a mere accident--a
coincidence of life with life and love with answering love. Indeed, what
do we know of these wild creatures that surround us, and seem to be
drawn so easily to some of us? What have we done to lead us to know
them? We ignore them, or we chase and trap and slay them, or we imprison
them and play with them for our own amusement. How would it be if we
truly and unselfishly loved them?

“The apostle represents the whole creation as groaning and travailing in
pain, waiting for some new manifestation of the human children of God.
And the last word of our Master bids us go into all the world and tell
the glad tidings, not merely to every man, but to ‘every creature.’ Is
there not, then, an evangel of joy for those humbler companions of
mankind? When men shall have advanced so far as to cease hating and
oppressing one another, may they not still advance to a true sympathy
with all living things? And would not that make indeed a new heaven and
a new earth, populous with friendships? Of such a joyous consummation,
men like our brother whose life we celebrate to-day are prophets and
forerunners. Thank God for them!

“And they may also encourage us to stimulate a love of nature in our
growing children. We, who have formed our habits of human exclusiveness,
cannot say to ourselves in momentary enthusiasm, ‘Let us be as Will
Gibson was! Let us begin at once to cultivate the acquaintance of all
living things!’ We have outgrown the art. We stand embarrassed in the
presence of a squirrel or a bird, and, far from knowing how to attract
it, are fain to be satisfied if, by doing nothing at all, we avoid
scaring it. But our children, rightly encouraged, may develop
unsuspected powers of sympathy. In the great blessing which Mr.
Gibson’s work conferred upon us all, the dear old Master of the Gunnery,
who cherished into flame the spark of his first inspiration, lived, and
still lives, to see the reward of his own loving labors.

“But in another and yet higher aspect, this life was a precious gift to
us by virtue of its strong support to our faith in immortality. If all
men died in old age, and by slow decay of strength and faculty, it might
be hard to imagine the new birth and new beginning which should
rejuvenate them. But when a vigorous, full life is withdrawn from our
sight in the prime of its power, the very momentum of it carries our
faith forward with it. It is like an arrow, shot towards the forest by a
strong-armed archer. Has it ceased to move because, in swift mid-flight,
it enters the shadow and we suddenly lose sight of it?

“‘The avalanche that has slid a mile will not stop for a tombstone!’

“Still another hint of immortality--and a truer one--is given by the
character developed in earthly life. Science, it is true, affords us, as
yet, no demonstration of a future life. Perhaps we shall always rest for
that truth, as we do to-day, upon the word of our Lord, who went and
came so easily between the two chambers of the Father’s house. Yet
science has done much in these later times to illuminate His
declaration. It has hinted to us a God, patient and tender through the
ages of ages, carrying the world upon His bosom and nursing its slow
growth, from stage to stage, through crystal, cell, and soul, that He
might at last fill the spaces immeasurable with loving and beloved human
souls, as dear companions of Himself. He cannot afford, it seems to us,
to destroy perpetually the fairest fruits of this long preparation. They
have lain upon His heart and felt the pulse-beat of the Universe. He is
no Arabian tyrant, to slay them one by one, every morning. Having loved
His own, He loves them to the end, and beyond the seeming end--for love
is immortality. Our brother, who knew and loved every one of God’s trees
on these hills of Washington,--shall he not have access to the Trees of
Life, that grow by the River of Life? Shall his spirit, attuned already
to the divine harmonies of earth, be dumb amid the songs of heaven? Nay;
such completed souls declare the Life Eternal, echoing to us the
Master’s word of hope: ‘I live; and because I live, ye shall live also!’

“For this life of his was already a life with God. You will not
misunderstand me, if I say little of that part of his religious
experience which is common to all believers, or of that part of his work
which we technically call Christian work. It is not because I undervalue
repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, or communion and co-operation with
His visible church on earth. Still less is it because I need to make
out, in

[Illustration: _Gibson’s Grave_

_Washington Cemetery_]

behalf of one who found his religion in nature and science and art, a
claim to be considered as religious in some exceptional and peculiar
way. I could dwell on Mr. Gibson’s earnest labors as a member of our
Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, as an officer of one of our
mission-schools, as a leader of its prayer-meetings, and as a hearty
supporter of all its social and religious enterprises.

“Nor shall I speak of what he was to his dearest, in the household. Some
of us are better at home than abroad; some of us are less attractive to
those who know us best. I can only say of him, that his bright, warm,
transparent nature was the same inside his house as out of it; only,
they who knew him best received more radiance and inspiration than
others. I bid them join in our thanksgiving most heartily, who have been
most highly blest. Every stone in this beautiful dwelling, every picture
on its walls, every fairer picture seen through its windows, bears
perpetual witness of his presence and influence. And in more real and
immediate truth, his spirit abides and will abide here. I know it was
said, ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.’ But that was said
in the old, old days, before the light celestial had broken through the
valley of the shadow of death. Now we hear a Voice, saying, ‘Not as the
world giveth, give I. What I give, I take not away!’

“But turning from these views, without underrating them, I wish to
emphasize, in addition to his love and service in church and home, Mr.
Gibson’s peculiar communion with God in nature.

“Years ago, his studio here in Washington was in the same house with the
study of Mr. Turner, then pastor of the church. It was a happy
association for both, and gave rise to many a mutual confidence. And
yesterday, talking over with me the experience of those days, Mr. Turner
spoke a deep, true word when he said, ‘I always felt concerning Mr.
Gibson that he walked with God.’

“We are accustomed to think of those saints whose communion is close
with God that they sit and meditate, or kneel and pray, or in some way
withdraw themselves from distracting sights and sounds, in order to be
alone in the Divine presence. Perhaps we do not conceive of walking with
God as one would walk with the owner of a great estate, and hear him
tell what he had done or meant to do with this field or that. We forget,
perhaps, that God is in His world, and that whoso would keep company
with Him must find Him there.

“It was of Enoch that it was first said, ‘He walked with God’; and in
the ‘Book of Enoch,’ which was so popular a book in the time of Christ,
and is quoted in the New Testament, the patriarch is in fact represented
as guided by God upon a journey through the universe. It was thus that
our friend walked with God.

    “He walked, the friend of every life
    In flower or insect, beast or bird;
    He knew their pleasure and their strife
    Their sorrows shared, their secrets heard.

    “Bending their leafy diadems,
    The trees to him a welcome breathed;
    The blossoms on a thousand stems
    To him their deepest hearts unsheathed.

    “The bright-eyed squirrel showed him where
    Its highway ran along the fence,
    And, inly glad to see him there,
    Fled, not too far, in shy pretence.

    “The tilting songster on the bough,
    The callow nestling in its place,
    With quick perception learned to know
    This lover of their hunted race.

    “Around him, like an angel throng,
    The countless host of gauzy things,
    With airy flight and murmurous song
    Unfurled the glories of their wings.

    “For the world’s life within him thrilled;
    And every earthly path he trod
    To his responsive soul was filled
    With works and ways and words of God.

    “Then spake a dearer voice: ‘My son,
    A life yet wider shalt thou see;
    Leave these fair hills of Washington
    And walk on fairer hills with Me!’

“Amen! So may we walk with God!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Other tributes were no less appreciative, and may serve as side-lights
upon his inner and personal life. They show how he impressed many men
and many minds, in various and yet concurrent ways. Mr. Clarence
Deming, speaking to the friends and graduates of the “Gunnery” school,
emphasized the traits in which he was a type of the best forces
inherited from his early training.

“And so to-night it is not Gibson the writer, Gibson the nature-lover
and nature-hunter, and Gibson the artist, whom we should be recalling,
so much as Gibson the man; and the thought persistently comes back to me
over and over again that he was our greatest Gunnery boy, not merely in
reputation before the world, not by virtue of pen and brush, but by the
fact that he was the perfect and consummate product of the old Gunnery
scheme of education, and a kind of analogue of Mr. Gunn himself. If
there was one thing sought by Mr. Gunn most strenuously it was the
seeding in a boy of those qualities which in him, as man, should fruit
into that grandest trait expressed in the English tongue by the word
_character_. It is a subtle term, hard to define and to expound. I can,
perhaps, call it the power in man compounded by nerve force, habit, and
conscience which makes him fearlessly righteous and sets him among his
fellow-men in organized society as a living and forceful influence, ever
active for things good.

“Now, I repeat, it is on that phase of Gibson’s personality and life
work that I love to think, and to recall him as our loftiest incarnation
of Gunnery character. He, perhaps, lacked the initiative force of Mr.
Gunn, but when it came to the test of principle not even our old master
surpassed the pupil. Do you remember how outspoken Gibson was when it
came to any question of wrong? Do you recall how no form of trickery or
meanness, either in individual conduct or in public life, failed to meet
his contempt and his scorn? What one of us, in that life of his, passed,
so much of it, in this community, can put the finger on one questionable
word or act? When we can pay such tribute to a departed friend, I care
not what his genius may have been, how far and wide his fame may have
blown, or how long the mere work of hand and brain may endure, he has
builded a monument set firmer than granite or marble in the service of
his generation, and of the generations to come.

“That strong character of Gibson revealed itself to me in many ways. In
politics, for example, his path and my own on national questions often
diverged. Yet in talks with him on that subject, most impressive was the
revelation of his bed-rock sincerity of conviction; and never did that
conviction fail to be enthused with the profoundest patriotism of
motive. Take a somewhat narrower civic question, that of municipal
reform, a theme as to which by the nature of personal vocation I have
heard many men and met many and varied views. But never have I found a
man who discussed that topic more intelligently, more broadly, and more
often striking the keynote of progress than Gibson, whom the public and
not a few friends, doubtless, have associated only with the hunt for
nature’s secrets in the flower, the leaf, and the marvels of insect

“Or let us take one other outward expression of that strong public
character of his. It was a primal _motif_ in such a man to love the
simplicities, and you will all remember as one vivid phase of it his
intense desire to preserve the sweet and unaffected community life which
has so long marked this village. He had seen how the wave of fashion and
of assertive and ostentatious wealth had overcast those New England
towns for which nature had done most, and how the supreme triumph of the
French modiste, the babble of the four-o’clock tea, and the vanities of
so-called ‘good’ society had come to satirize the summer charms of
mountain and river and vale. Hence that aggressive desire of his,
expressed alike in word and act, to conserve in their old simplicity and
freedom the customs which we as Gunnery boys enjoyed in this gracious
village. Though he be dead, that example and precept of his yet appeal
to us.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Many years ago it was my good fortune to be present in Westminster
Chapter House at a meeting to open a fund for a memorial to Dean
Stanley. Among the speakers was James Russell Lowell, then our minister
at St. James’s, and he referred to an epitaph in a Boston churchyard as
descriptive of Dean Stanley’s character. That epitaph was simply, ‘He
was so pleasant.’ Many times have I reflected how well that idea
described one large side of Gibson’s nature. ‘He was so pleasant,’ so
jocund, so genial, so appreciative of humor. One outward token of the
trait familiar to us all was his quick grasp of the funny things to be
found in this rural New England of ours. We know--and by ‘we’ I mean
especially those of us in middle life or beyond--what a wealth of oddity
in phrase and habit our country New Englanders have amassed. Time was
when each Yankee village had its quaint and curious characters, but now,
with education and contact with the world, they are dying away, and the
next generation will see few or none save as they survive in literature.
In personal forms Gibson rescued from oblivion many of those characters
who went into his books, but the draft was small on his collection of
Yankee epigram and oddity which never reached the types. I can see him
in memory now, with his rich gift of mimicry, repeating the bucolic
joke, or, may be, in smiling silence listening at the post-office as the
country sage expounds his original views from the bema of the

“Of Gibson’s sweet home life, of his love of wife and family, of his
kind hospitality, of his sacred personal friendships, it is not for me
to speak in detail here. Suffice it to say that they rounded out with
rare and beautiful symmetry that splendid life of his as artist, writer,
prose-poet, investigator, good citizen, and _man_. In this village of
his love, so endeared to him as summer home, and from which, as a
Gunnery boy, he drew so much of moral inspiration and strength, no vain
words of mine need voice him, nor can language of tongue or pen measure
the void which he has left behind. Washington, indeed, is not the same
with Gibson gone, and has but the sad boon of still clasping him,
mother-like, on the green slope which looks off to the valley of the
sunset shadows which he loved so well. We miss, yet meet him, in every
nook, in the waving tree-tops, the swaying flower by the rippling
stream, in the butterfly that flits by in the sunlight. How well with
trifling verbal change do those lines of Whittier fit our loss:

    “‘But still we wait with ear and eye
     For something gone which should be nigh,
     A loss in all familiar things,
     In flower that blooms and bird that sings.

           *       *       *       *       *

     And while in life’s late afternoon,
       Where cool and long the shadows grow,
     We walk to meet the night that soon
       Shall shape and shadow overflow,
     We cannot feel that thou art far,
       Since near at need the angels are;
     And when the sunset gates unbar,
       Shall we not see thee waiting stand,
     And, white against the evening star,
       The welcome of thy beckoning hand?’”

President Almon Gunnison, of St. Lawrence University, speaking out of a
long and intimate acquaintance in Brooklyn, wrote of him, a few weeks
after his death:

“There have been few men of larger manhood than this poet-artist, this
seer and interpreter of nature. He was open-minded and trustful as a
child. He loved everything that was manly, and his sense of right was an
instinct and a passion. He was tolerant in faith and scorned all
narrowness. Reverent, worshipful, a lover of God and man. Not since
Gilbert White of Selborne died has there lived one who more minutely
discerned nature, and never has there been one more dowried to interpret
her. Thoreau had equal skill of vision and perhaps larger grace of
literary expression. Burroughs has the same order of discernment, and a
like art to make nature interpret her lessons in her own words. But
Gibson was poet and artist too; he could sing the song of the daisy with
almost the melody of Burns, and could with his deft pencil depict the
highway of the squirrel so cleverly that one could hear the echoes of
its steps, and picture the hues of the flowers so that one could almost
smell the fragrance of their blossoms. He was the most versatile of men.
He was a stranger to no form of art. With pencil and with brush, with
every form of pigment, he was the master, and with the candle’s smoke he
made weird pictures which startled admiration. He was skilled in every
mechanical device. He had most curious charts with cunning contrivances,
strings and pulleys, by which he illustrated the fertilization of
plants, and would shoot the pollen and would have curious insects flying
in the air, to show how nature provided for the perpetuation of her
growths. His studio was a museum of the mechanics of art, and had he
chosen he could have excelled in many lines of inventive skill. He loved
Nature in all her variant moods and forms. There was no flower that he
could not call by name, and not a weed held the secret of its life
inviolate from him. He could answer ‘Yes’ to the poet’s question, ‘Canst
thou name the birds without a gun?’; he could go into the forest and the
birds would come at his caressing call; he could see into the very heart
of every flower, and could write the flora of every State. He loved
Nature, too, in her larger forms. The mountains awed and the sea
thrilled him with their immensities. He could set the song of the brook
to music, and write out the melody of rivers in his symphonies. How well
do we remember his telling us of the book which he would sometime make,
but which, alas! he never made. It should be the biography of the water
drop, and with pencil and with words he would tell the story of the
water in its passage from the clouds to the sea.

“He would picture the clouds and the mists, the mountain-tops arresting
the fogs and condensing them with its ledges; the little springs which
run among the hills, the river’s cradle among the rocks, the tiny brook
descending over the desolation of the heights, the brooklet entering the
forest, the mossy coverts, the fern-covered banks, the shadowing trees,
the twisting, turning stream, winding downward amidst tawny rocks,
jumping over cataracts and falls, then emerging into the lower pasture
slopes, with cattle drinking at its banks, and then the meadows with
great sweeping branches of overhanging trees, the vexing wheels of
mills, the larger and larger river, and then the city with its grime,
and beyond, the sea, with its mighty ships sailing to far Cathay. And
how his wondrous eyes, which had the luminousness but never the passion
of the flame, used to glow as he talked of Nature and of the secrets
that she told him and of the apostleship he held to make the great world
see and love Nature with something of his idolatry. He kept the gladness
of his youth and was never won away from the paths in which his boyish
feet had strayed. That wondrous picture-making period of boyhood ever
held his soul in thrall. He lived in the city, for he was the busiest
worker among men, but the roots of his heart were tangled with the
grasses of the sunlit pastures where his youth had been. When the sun’s
rays lengthened over the noisy city, with the swiftness of the arrow’s
flight from a Tartar’s bow he sought the old scenes, and there at length
when favoring fortune came, he built his home, and when death wanted
him she sought him there, and there she found him.”

The minute prepared for the Century Club of New York City was more than
a perfunctory record, and witnesses to the high esteem in which the
members held him:

“WILLIAM HAMILTON GIBSON, distinguished alike as an artist, an author,
and an illustrator, had risen by unwonted industry, native talent, and a
tireless enthusiasm to a high place in the esteem of the lovers of
nature and the admirers of true art. He was recognized as an artist with
the pen as well as with the pencil, and entitled to a place among those
enthusiastic naturalists who have the skill in words to impart their
enthusiasm. His ‘Highways and Byways,’ ‘Pastoral Days,’ the ‘Heart of
the White Mountains,’ ‘Nature’s Serial Story,’ ‘Camp Life in the Woods,’
‘Trapping and Trap Making,’ ‘Happy Hunting Grounds,’ and many other
books, all illustrated by himself, showed his scientific exactitude and
his artistic quality. His illustrated article in the last number of
‘Harper’s Magazine’ seems like a farewell message from him in another
world. He was also a noted water-colorist, and, in later years, a
popular lecturer on natural history.

“His facility of expression and ingenious illustration of his subject by
his crayon and mechanical appliances instructed and entertained his
audiences, and no man had appeared in this field since Agassiz with such
success as met him. There was a charm in his personality from the
earnestness and kindliness of his nature, and the number of those who
mourn his early death is not confined to his personal friends alone.

“Pleasant and unfading memories mingle with our regrets at parting with
those whose names are recorded here. They were men without exception
worthy, true, and of good report. May we not say, as their survivors,
and conscious of our failings--

      “‘Our lives are albums written through,
        With good or ill, with false or true,
        And as the blessed angels turn
        The pages of our years,
        God grant they read the good with smiles
        And blot the ill with tears.’

                   “HENRY E. HOWLAND,

      “NEW YORK, _January 9th, 1897_.”

Other phases of his versatile spirit are noted by Mr. Alexander Black:

“I first met Mr. Gibson at the Authors Club in the old rooms on
Twenty-fourth Street. At that time he was a regular attendant at the
meetings, and he remained among the faithful until his lectures began.
Thereafter he came, I fancy, whenever he was free to come, and found a
stimulating enjoyment in meeting his fellow-craftsmen, literary and
artistic, with whom at all times he had a hearty frankness of cordiality
that made him an always-welcome figure in this singularly democratic
group. At times I found him pulling at a ‘long Tom,’ generally, as he
put it, ‘in self-defense,’ for we hovered in a deep fog of smoke. After
I myself had been elected to the Club (in 1888) we met regularly in this
literary aerie, and endured in common the recurrent jest inflicted upon
those who, at two A.M., still had to make a homeward journey to
Brooklyn,--an infliction which fell lightly upon me when I had his
company to the Bridge, and could hear him talk of the flowers and their
insect visitors, or the current movements of art.

“I believe he always retained an affectionate feeling for the
Twenty-fourth Street quarters of the Club, where we smoked, ate the
Captain’s salad, told stories (Gibson not a poor contributor), seldom
talked shop, and certainly never were literary; where we met Lowell,
Stedman, Boyesen, Eggleston, Grant White, Godwin, Stoddard, Conway,
Jefferson, Riley, Kipling, Mitchell, Hay, St. Gaudens--it would be a
long and an interesting list. Mr. Gibson’s genius and personality alike
attracted to him the attention of the choicest spirits in a gathering of
this kind. He always had a fine fund of that quality which belongs to
genius--which is in itself a genius--a quality of youthful enjoyment in
the simpler pleasures. I remember the contagious gusto with which, on a
certain memorable Watch Night, he told the company a ghost story that
came to its crisis in a materialized ghost of his own making which he
had concealed under his coat. The hoax recalls some of his fun at
Washington village, where his astonishing mummy with a message from the
past will long be a droll tradition, and where there is a lively
recollection of his dashing horsemanship on a wonderful steed with a
feather-duster tail!

“I heard him lecture at Washington village and shared in the delight of
an audience whose youngest members he held quite as closely as their
elders. Indeed, I never have known in any department of science or of
art an enthusiast who could convey, with an utter absence of academic
formality, so rich and delightful a fund of information and suggestion.
To me he was always the ideal interpreter of nature. There was no hint
of book covers between. He did not turn to and from his theme at any
time. It was part of his life--and plainly a pleasant, unstrenuous part
of it. In the woods, in his garden, on the quiet porch overlooking the
hillside sumac, he spoke of a discovery in a petal or in the habits of a
beetle with that charming undidactic delight of one who assumes that all
must have a common pleasure in these phases of natural life.

“As an artist he was quite as free from personal mannerisms or
eccentricities. When I first visited his studio on Montague street,
Brooklyn, he talked as he worked--the picture was an illustration to one
of his magazine papers,--and afterwards turned to his portfolio, quite
without the effect of entertaining me, but always with a companionly
frankness and simplicity that made him at all times the most attractive
of hosts. I remember his house studio on Lincoln Place by but two
visits, and I had no greater acquaintance with the little crib at the
foot of the Washington lawn. I think I liked the dishevelled workshop at
Washington best of all.

“Mr. Gibson never permitted the very handsome things that were said of
his writings to disturb his relation to his artistic ideals. ‘I am an
artist,’ he said to me when this subject came up between us, and
profound as was his affection for plant and insect life, it was as an
artist that he looked across the leaping lines of this Washington
country; it was as an artist that he labored to transmit with his brush
the flame colors of autumn or the lustrous prophecies of spring. The
healthy ideals of his art and the hearty simplicity of his nature are to
be read in the unmannerish charm of his pictures.

“Once or twice we met on the trains in the course of our lecturing work.
He had stories to tell me of his own experiences--of hardship, of
accident, of humorous incident. Once his voice left him so completely
that he was obliged to make a momentary exit after a pantomimic apology
to the audience. On the whole I think that he greatly enjoyed his
lectures. Certainly they were inspiringly memorable to those who were
privileged to hear them.

“When I recall him in his own home and in mine, I have before me a
splendidly strong head and figure. I hear his strong healthy laugh. I
see his broad shoulders turned to me as he sits at the piano playing the
‘Largo’ with a full singing volume of tone. His ear was so keen and
sympathetic that he could express without knowledge of notes even the
subtler harmonies of a fragment like the ‘Largo,’ and his playing always
had the fascination that is present in the interpretations of those who
truly love music, and who find in an instrument a companion to whom they
may go in any mood with certainty of response.

“The news of his death brought to me a shock and a sense of bereavement
deeper and more lasting than any I had known for many years. Here,
surely, was a fine spirit, a lover of life and of art, and an exponent
of all that is sanest and sweetest in both.”

It was four years after his death that the Alumni and friends of the
“Gunnery” school completed a memorial of Gibson which for fitness and
significance is one of the most successful in America. On the left of
the road, as one climbs the long hill from the railroad station to
Washington Green, nearly at the top of the slope, there stands a large
boulder, a little back from the highway. Here it was determined to place
a bronze medallion in bas-relief, which should aim to suggest the man
and commemorate his relation to the little town which he so loved and
which so loved him.

The report of Mr. E. K. Rossiter, made to the Alumni Association, tells
the interesting story of the inception and completion of this loving
task, whose results will be an enduring memorial of this inspiring life.

“You have undoubtedly all heard of that ideal committee composed of
three persons--one dead, one in Europe, and one left at home to do as he
pleased. But my parallel, if I draw one at all, must soon end, for
though Mr. Van Ingen is to-day on the other side of the water, the other
two members, Dr. Lyman Abbott and Dr. Ludlow, are very much alive--as
proof of it, I would refer you to the weekly issue of the ‘Outlook’ or
beg you to attend one of the good Doctor’s sermons at Orange.

“We have acted, it is true, at arm’s length from each other and our work
has been accomplished, strange as it may seem, without so much as once
meeting as a committee of the whole. We have, however, been in frequent
correspondence and from the beginning there has been nothing but a
unanimity of feeling. It was Dr. Ludlow, I believe, who first

[Illustration: _The Bronze Memorial_]

suggested that this Memorial take the form of a bas-relief. He keenly
appreciated the fact, as did we all, that Gibson had conferred, through
his work, an unusual distinction upon our little town and having stood,
as he quoted from Oliver Wendell Holmes, next to Thoreau in his
appreciative portrayal of nature it was not only fitting but incumbent
upon us that he should be remembered in some enduring way--in some way
that would enable those coming after to know the manner of man he was to
us. Therefore when Mrs. Van Ingen pointed to a huge boulder at the lower
end of the Cemetery nestling among the trees he loved so well, there
seemed nothing further to debate beyond securing a sculptor.

“In this matter it was deemed essential that we should find one who knew
our friend. For while an artistic success might readily be obtained by a
score of men, we were aware that that indefinable something--that
quickening spirit animating a man’s whole being and constituting his
personality--was likely to be in a measure lost without the immediate
contact which artists seek. It was just here that our good fortune
became again manifest; for our covetousness was rewarded by finding in
Mr. Bush-Brown the sculptor of our search. Behind him stood the personal
knowledge, and, what was equally fortunate, a most excellent photograph
by Smales. I cannot regard this snap-shot picture other than a portion
of our rare good luck, for it gives us Gibson as we knew him--in his
out-of-door garb, and in the very act, too, of his devotion to nature.
It has enabled the modeler to produce a likeness, which I believe future
generations must instinctively feel as good--just as we of to-day
looking at the engraving of Shakespeare in the original folio edition of
his works instinctively feel it is scarcely more than a travesty of the
poet, that man of infinite fancy and wit. But since Shakespeare’s time,
the graphic arts of expression, more particularly of engraving have
progressed to such a degree of perfection that it is quite possible now
to attain to the subtlest degree of an artist’s thought. Likewise in
sculpture is this attainable--so much so that we shall to-day be able to
read in the unveiled bronze the individual characteristics of the one
whom we would portray.

“I was pleased in looking at the Medallion last week to discover a
butterfly hovering over the convolvulus vine so accurately preserved and
so gracefully worked into the composition--because as you will remember
this was the emblem of immortality with the Greeks--a most appropriate
symbol, too, in this instance; for when you come to think of it, Gibson
was in spirit a good deal of an old Greek himself. He was one in his
joyousness, in his large and passionate appreciation of out-of-door
life, and more than all in his love of the beautiful. Beauty of form and
color as he saw it in nature was a sort of visible divinity--a palpable
happiness, heaven come down to earth; he viewed it in the conception of
Gautier, the French poet--as an all-pervading yet delicate mantle let
down by God to cover the nakedness of the world for the delight of his
children. Of this mantle he always found enough to clothe his pictures
with poetic truth, nay, more, for into the fine vesture of his thought
he frequently wove a scientific fact of such intrinsic value as to win
renown as a naturalist.

“Other boys will leave this Gunnery and we hope win as distinguished
laurels as did Gibson; for is it not, as James Russell Lowell has said
of Harvard, all but impossible to rub up against these walls without
taking away something that no other institution can give? But be this as
it may, it is not probable that there will soon be found among the
Alumni a man of such rare versatility. The combination of his gifts has
been recognized far beyond the confines of this little hamlet; but
because it was here that he began his life’s work, here ended it, here
that he made his home, and here that the mortal part of him lies near
us, it seems particularly appropriate we should erect an enduring
memorial to his worth. For how few of us who have dipped into his books
or followed him in our walks but can repeat the words of the blind man
of old, who in the ecstasy of a new vision cried ‘Whereas I was blind
now I see.’”


    Who Nature loves by Nature is beloved.
      She makes him gentle, and she keeps him fair;
      By woods and waters where her treasures are
    Within his hand she lays a hand ungloved.
    For him no stream is stopped, no mountain moved,
      No bird-song hushed, nor any branch made bare;
      Useless the archer’s shaft, the fowler’s snare;
    Nor for his feet is any pathway grooved.
    So Gibson lived and wrote, and drew and dreamed,
      Whose sun too early dropped adown the west,
    Whose every day with purest visions teemed,
      That gave another’s day a fresher zest;
    And like dear Nature’s self he often seemed
      To draw no lines twixt labor, play and rest.
              ROSSITER JOHNSON.




     “The Complete American Trapper.” New York. James Miller, 1876.
     Republished in 1878 by Bradley & Co. Republished in 1880 by Harper
     and Brothers, under the title, “Camp Life in the Woods, and the
     Tricks of Trapping and Trap-Making.”

     “Pastoral Days; or, Memories of a New England Year.” New York.
     Harper and Brothers, 1880.

     “Highways and Byways; or, Saunterings in New England.” New York.
     Harper and Brothers, 1882.

     “Happy Hunting Grounds: A Tribute to the Woods and Fields.” New
     York. Harper and Brothers, 1886.

     “Strolls by Starlight and Sunshine.” New York. Harper and Brothers,

     “Sharp Eyes: A Rambler’s Calendar of Fifty-two Weeks among Insects,
     Birds and Flowers.” New York. Harper and Brothers, 1891.

     “Our Edible Mushrooms and Toadstools and How to Distinguish Them.”
     New York. Harper and Brothers, 1895.

     “Eye Spy: Afield with Nature among Flowers and Animate Things.” New
     York. Harper and Brothers, 1897.

     “My Studio Neighbors.” New York. Harper and Brothers, 1897.


     It is impossible to trace or to enumerate the anonymous and
     fugitive articles scattered through the periodicals and other
     publications from 1872. The same is true of illustrations. Gibson’s
     extraordinary productiveness and industry enabled him to furnish a
     vast amount of material to many publishers. Among the more
     important works which he illustrated, wholly or in part, the
     following may be named:

“The American Agriculturist.”

“Hearth and Home.”

“Appleton’s Encyclopedia” (Botanical Drawings).

“Picturesque America.”

“Success with Small Fruits,” E. P. Roe.

“In Berkshire with the Wild Flowers,” Elaine and Dora Goodale.

The Heart of the White Mountains,” S. A. Drake.

“The Master of the Gunnery.”

“Nature’s Serial Story,” E. P. Roe.

“The Pictorial Longfellow.”

“Sketches in the South,” Charles Dudley Warner and Rebecca Harding

       *       *       *       *       *

Books for the Country

illustrations in photogravure from original photographs by ARTHUR SCOTT.
8º, gilt top, $4.50. Popular edition, illustrated, 8º, $2.50.

“The book on the whole is a sane and sympathetic tribute to nature, a
tribute that is much enhanced by the accompanying beautiful
photographs.”--_Chicago Tribune._

=LANDSCAPE GARDENING.= Notes and Suggestions on Lawns and Lawn-Planting,
Laying out and Arrangement of Country Places, Large and Small Parks,
etc. By SAMUEL PARSONS, Jr., Ex-Superintendent of Parks, New York City.
With nearly 200 illustrations. Large 8º, $3.50.

“Mr. Parsons proves himself a master of his art as a landscape gardener,
and this superb book should be studied by all who are concerned in the
making of parks in other cities,”--_Philadelphia Bulletin._

=LAWNS AND GARDENS.= How to Beautify the Home Lot, the Pleasure Ground,
and Garden. By N. JÖNSSON-ROSE, of the Department of Public Parks, New
York City. With 172 plans and illustrations. Large 8º, gilt top, $3.50.

“Mr. Jönsson-Rose has prepared a treatise which will prove of genuine
value to the large and increasing number of those who take a personal
interest in their home grounds. It does not aim above the intelligence
or æsthetic sense of the ordinary American citizen who has never given
any thought to planting and to whom some of the profounder principles of
garden-art make no convincing appeal.”--_Garden and Forest._

=ORNAMENTAL SHRUBS.= For Garden, Lawn, and Park Planting. By LUCIUS D.
DAVIS. With over 100 illustrations. 8º, $3.50.

“Mr. Davis writes with authority upon his chosen theme.... The book is
full of information upon the subject of which it treats, and contains
many suggestions that will prove helpful.”--_N. Y. Times._

and in the classification of specimen leaves of the trees of
Northeastern America. By CHARLES S. NEWHALL. Illustrated. 8º, $2.00.

“The idea of the book is so good and so simple as to recommend itself at
a glance to everybody who cares to know our trees or to make for any
purpose a collection of their leaves.”--_N. Y. Critic._

=THE WONDERS OF PLANT LIFE.= By Mrs. S. B. HERRICK. Fully illustrated.
16º, $1.50.

“A dainty volume ... opens up a whole world of fascination ... full of
information.”--_Boston Advertiser._

=THE HOME LIFE OF WILD BIRDS.= A new method of the study and photography
of birds. By FRANCIS H. HERRICK. With 141 illustrations from life. 4º,
net, $2.50.

Mr. Herrick has perfected an invention that brings the birds beneath his
eye, and beneath the eye of his camera, in a way hitherto unheard of. At
an actual distance of about 2 feet from the nest, the author and his
camera stand. From that point of vantage they watch and record every
movement of the bird family.

=OUR INSECT FRIENDS AND FOES.= How to Collect, Preserve and Study Them. By
BELLE S. CRAGIN. With over 250 illustrations. 8º, $1.75

“Although primarily intended for boys and girls, it can hardly fail to
enlist the aid of the older members of the family; and for the amateur
collector of all ages who has all the requisite enthusiasm but lacks a
practical knowledge of the art of preserving specimens, it should
receive a warm welcome.”--_Commercial Advertiser._


“The book, which is handsomely illustrated, is designed for young
readers, relating some of the most curious facts of natural history in a
singularly pleasant and instructive manner.”--_N. Y. Tribune._

=BIRD STUDIES.= An account of the Land Birds of Eastern North America. By
WILLIAM E.D. SCOTT. With 166 illustrations from original photographs.
Quarto, leather back, gilt top, in a box, _net_, $5.00.

“A book of first class importance.... Mr. Scott has been a field
naturalist for upwards of thirty years, and few persons have a more
intimate acquaintance than he with bird life. His work will take
high rank for scientific accuracy and we trust it may prove
successful.”--_London Speaker._

=WILD FLOWERS OF THE NORTHEASTERN STATES.= Drawn and carefully described
from life, without undue use of scientific nomenclature, by ELLEN MILLER
and MARGARET C. WHITING. With 308 illustrations the size of life. 8º,
_net_, $3.00.

“Anybody who can read English can use the work and make his
identifications, and, in the case of some of the flowers, the drawings
alone furnish all that is necessary.... The descriptions are as good of
their kind as the drawings are of theirs.”--_N. Y. Times._

illustrated. 8º, $1.75.

“This volume is beautifully printed on beautiful paper, and has a list
of 116 illustrations calculated to explain the text. It has a mine of
precious information, such as is seldom gathered within the covers of
such a volume.”--_Baltimore Farmer._

illustrated. 8º, $1.75.

“The work is that of the true scientist, artistically presented in a
popular form to an appreciative class of readers.”--_The Churchman._

illustrations made from tracings of the leaves of the various trees. 8º,

“We believe this is the most complete and handsome volume of its kind,
and on account of its completeness and the readiness with which it
imparts information that everybody needs and few possess, it is
invaluable.”--_Binghamton Republican._

G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS, 27 & 29 West 23d St., New York

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