Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures (1904) Part 2

Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures by Albert Bigelow Paine. Published by The Macmillan Company, New York and London in 1904. 583 pages and over 425 illustrations. Available via Google Books.

This is part two of a series of posts about Paine's biography of the caricaturist Thomas Nast and research I did spurred on by reading the book. - DonkeyHotey

Giuseppe Garibaldi, Photograph taken in 1866 - PD Source Wikimedia Commons

Giuseppe Garibaldi, Photograph taken in 1866 - PD Source Wikimedia Commons

On February 15, 1860, Thomas Nast sailed to England to cover the Heenan-Sayers fight for the New York Illustrated News. American John C. Heenan, “Benicia Boy” vs. British Tom Sayers was an event of great interest to fans on both continents. The brawl lasted for forty-two rounds and was finally stopped by police. The judgment of the British was that it was a draw. Nast was accompanied to London by A.V.S. Anthony referred to in Paine's book as “the engraver.” Anthony brought the engraving blocks back to New York and completed the work on board ship. The News did not pay Nast for his work while in Europe or upon his return.

Giuseppe Garibaldi's war in pursuit of Italian Unification was a magnet Nast could not resist. He set off for Italy with promises by the London Illustrated News and the New York Illustrated News to buy his sketches. He had to borrow 20 pounds from Heenan to pay for his trip. Nast had many adventures on land and sea, in battle, captivity and celebration. Paine's narrative paints a distinctly quixotic atmosphere of these activities; riding donkey's and wearing unique costumes while involved in all manner of daring do. The illustrator established personal relationships with key actors in the Unification drama. Garibaldi became one of his three lifetime heroes along with Lincoln and Grant.

Nast was published in the London Illustrated News during this trip and for years in the future. It is not documented that he was always paid for it. In London, he worked with the engraver William Luson “W. L.” Thomas. W. L. managed Nast's illustrations and kept track of his pay while the erstwhile "Don Quixote" was off with Garibaldi. W. L. liked Nast and his work and attempted to get him to stay on.

With victory secured for Garibaldi, the twenty-year-old world traveler pointed his pencil towards home. Leaving Italy,  Nast toured Europe; visiting sites, art museums and family. He then crossed the Atlantic on the steamship "Arabia" out of Liverpool and arrived in New York harbor with pocket change in February of 1861.

Nast continued working for the failed New York Illustrated News that was being kept on life support under new management. Newly elected President Abraham Lincoln came to New York on February 19, 1861 on his way to Washington. It was there that Nast made his first sketches of his second lifetime hero. He met Lincoln for the first time at City Hall in New York by working his way through a crowd of well wishers and gawkers. The News assigned Nast to cover the remaining trip south and the inauguration. One of the stops on the way to D.C. was in Baltimore, MD. where large, unruly crowds and rumors of assassination convinced the President-elect and his team to avoid public appearances. This caution was used by detractors to paint Lincoln as a coward. They mocked him claiming that Lincoln donned a disguise consisting of a Scotch cap and plaid [coat]. Nast drew a picture based on a description of the stop by a railroad employee. This was altered by the News to include the cap and plaid.

Thomas Nast home in Morristown, NJ. PD Source: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Nast home in Morristown, NJ. PD Source: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas had been working and saving in preparation for a big event. On September 26, 1861, the day before his twenty-first birthday, he married Sarah Edwards. The couple honeymooned at Niagara Falls. The marriage was a strong one. In August of 1872 the Nast's moved from their humble home in Harlem into what was to be their long time family home in Morristown, NJ. Mr. and Mrs. Nast had four children when they moved to Morristown: a son Thomas, Jr., and three daughters Julia, Edith, and Mabel. A second son Cyril was born in 1879. All accounts of family life lead us to believe that the Nast home was a warm and stimulating place to nurture children and pursue creative activities. The family entertained many notable personalities.

Sarah Nast often modeled for her husband when he was drawing Columbia. This resulted in a good story. When Chief Justice Drake of the U. S. Court of Claims met Mrs. Nast in Washington he exclaimed, "Hail, Columbia!" Sarah Nast replied, "Why, how are you, Uncle Sam?" Mr. and Mrs. Nast enjoyed partaking in all the Christmas traditions with their children. Santa Claus was always a favorite symbol to Nast.

Frank Leslie lured Nast briefly away from the News early in 1862 with a promised salary of fifty dollars a week, but again Leslie had financial woes and had to let him go. This prompted Nast to apply for work again at Harper's, where under the patronage of Fletcher Harper, he was to work for quite some time. In 1862 Harper's dominated the market for news and with that platform, Nast began producing his most influential works.

The circulation of Harper's Weekly in 1860 was about 200,000. If you compare the approximate 5.1 million households in the U.S. in 1860 with the approximate 114 .7 million households in 2010 the equivalent circulation would be about 4.5 million. The largest circulation newspaper in the U.S. in 2012 was the Wall Street Journal with a total print and digital circulation of 2.3 million. Shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Colbert Report get under 1.7 million viewers. I offer these relative examples to suggest a frame of reference for the assertion that Harper's Weekly and Thomas Nast had a very wide reach of influence over the population.

The next post in this series will cover the period of Thomas Nast's career when he documented the Civil War, reflected the grief of Lincoln's assassination, battled corruption in Tammany Hall and more.

NEXT - Thomas Nast 3