You must all know how happy it makes me to receive the first medal ever given to a picture book for children, and one that bears the name of so beloved an illustrator as Caldecott. When you think that not many years ago the illustrators of children's books were as anonymous as sculptors are now at the unveiling of their own statues, you will realize how much has been done for illustration. We also hear a great deal about how much illustration has done for children's books, thanks to such people as Frederick Melcher, Anne Carroll Moore and Bertha Mahony, and no one cries " Hear! Hear! " more loudly and enthusiastically than the illustrators. It makes us feel so virtuous! For of course it is really our pleasure to draw, and, since those of us who have Puritan ancestry feel guiltily sure that all self-indulgence is sinful, we are only too relieved to find such a praiseworthy excuse for doing it. And it is especially pleasant to be encouraged in this delightful way to go on drawing.
I can't help wishing that just now all of you were animals. Of course technically you are, but if only I could look down into a sea of furry faces, I would know better what to say. If only your ears were the movable kind that cock forward or prick to attention, I would know what kind of sounds to make - soothing murmurs if you grew restless, little chirruping noises if your heads began to droop and your eyes to close. But what sort of sounds to pour into immobile human ears, about that I am not so sure. For drawing animals is a solitary, silent occupation, which, if persisted in too long, leads to speechlessness. A dangerous one, for what good would an illustrator be if he couldn't make a speech? An occupation in which one treads gently, moves slowly for fear of sending a timid, untamed model back to the woods or to the far corners of its cage, its fur shaking and heaving over a madly beating heart.
In such an illustrator's studio, what conversation there is is strictly one-sided, except for an occasional squeal of protest from a model prodded too often into the semblance of a position taken spontaneously just once. And on the illustrator's side also it is limited and repetitive to a pitiful degree, consisting almost entirely of such ejaculations and pleas as, " Hold still! Please hold still! Just for one little minute! For a second then! That's it! Oh dear! " Not that such conversation is of the slightest use except as a safety valve. Happily there are recesses, with nibbles of graham crackers and rubbing behind the ears. And sometimes the model actually grows a little fond of his tormentor, and the illustrator always grows fond of the model. But you expect more variety of thought from me than " Hold still! " And I wouldn't dare rub your ears. I don't know that I have even the equivalent of a graham cracker to offer you.
There is something soporific to man and beast alike about posing. Let the artist's victim sit still for even a few minutes, staring at a given point, and his face begins to open in a series of yawns. And for the artist to find himself continually confronted by the open countenance of even the handsomest - or perhaps especially of the handsomest - of models is something of a shock. Even a suppressed yawn does amazing and unflattering things to the human face, and the elasticity of all the features becomes something at which to wonder.
But animals, when they pose, make no bones about their sleepiness. In fact their bones seem to turn to water. Stand them up, and, like a child in a tantrum, they don't stay stood up. The little lamb who lived in our studio all one summer learned what posing meant, and more than earned her milk. For my sister modeled her, my mother painted her, and I drew her, and she knew perfectly what was expected of her. Sheep are not as silly as they are reputed to be, and she did her valiant best. She was a good little lamb. But no matter how giddily she had been gamboling, the moment she was asked to pose, her eyes began to close, her head to droop until her soft, woolly chin came to rest on a mercifully proffered arm, and there, eyes shut, chin propped, she swayed drunkenly from side to side until she went to sleep on her feet and her legs crumpled under her.
Just now my model is a baby flying squirrel. Since he has posed from the time he was pink and blind and completely hairless though I hasten to add for the S. P. C. A. that those early poses could only have been measured by seconds - he ought by now to be an experienced model. But he too goes to sleep on the job. And his cradle is, most inconveniently, my left hand! Until deprived of it, I never realized how much I used it while drawing. But in his semi- nude state, it was the best substitute I could give him during the cold spring days for his mother's body which, with outstretched arms, she spread over them all like a soft, warm robe. Before he could see, my hand was an accepted part of his environment. With the opening of his eyes, it became the one familiar refuge in a new and frightening world, and he clung to it like a shipwrecked mariner to a spar. Since only when sleeping is he quiet, I am glad to give up the use of one hand. But settle down for a nap he never does until he has twirled around and around within my half-closed fingers like a little round top - but a top, warm, pulsating, and exquisitely furred - ending up invariably in just the wrong position - for me, at least. He seems quite satisfied with it. But if I have started to draw his right side, it is his left that is uppermost. If I want to see the shape of his nose, he is sleeping on it, or has wrapped his tail tightly around his head. And if I try gently to turn him over without awakening him, his eyes pop open and he starts his twirling all over again.
It is dangerous to grow too fond of one's models, for then one can hardly bear to part with them. And if one draws many animals, the studio soon begins to qualify as a zoo, and the artist as a keeper. And keepers have little time to draw. Fortunately almost all of our wild models are transients. Their brief posing ended, they go back to their woods and fields, no matter how much we may hate to see them whisk or fly out of our lives. That we are fond of them is no excuse for keeping untamed creatures confined. We may, through ignorance or carelessness, so easily love them to death. One of my little friends was enchanted by the delicate, waxen red efts that wander through the damp summer woods. She picked them up, oh so gently, and she built them a mossy house. But it never occurred to her to feed them, and day by day they shriveled and shriveled and shriveled.
" A Robin Redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage . . .
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain doth tear;
A skylark wounded on the wing
Doth make a cherub cease to sing . . .
Kill not the moth nor butterfly,
For the last judgment draweth nigh. "
And these are only a few of the Blake lines.
If one is known to be fond of animals, all the maimed and dying creatures in the neighborhood are brought to one's door. But that Pippin, the young robin, came to stay with us was my fault. It was I who rescued him, somewhat tardily, alas, from the cat. For weeks he hopped about the studio with his broken wing bound up with adhesive tape. There were certain disadvantages connected with his stay. One of the greatest was the number of worms he ate. By the time he could perch on the rafters, I had a great respect for the industry and endurance of a mother robin. Do you know that that young bird could hold as many as eighteen angleworms a day?
At that time we had a maid who would very obligingly go out and dig worms for Pippin. One very hot day she came in with her face scarlet.
" Oh," we said, " you shouldn't have gotten so hot!
" I know," she replied, " but I was getting such beautiful worms I couldn't bear to leave them! "
I have often wondered whether the life of that one robin balanced the lives of all those worms.
Yes, it is dangerous to love your models too much. On the other hand, unless you do, no one will love your pictures of them. I don't mean this in any esoteric or mystical way. I don't claim that you set into motion a force which flows between yourself and your public. That, too, may be so for all I know, but what I mean is something quite concrete. For a person who does not love what he is drawing, whatever it may be, children or animals, or anything else, will not draw them convincingly, and that, simply because he will not bother to look at them long enough really to see them. What we love, we gloat over and feast our eyes upon. And when we look again and again at any living creature, we cannot help but perceive its subtlety of line, its exquisite patterning and all its unbelievable intricacy and beauty. The artist who draws what he does not love, draws from a superficial concept. But the one who loves what he draws is very humbly trying to translate into an alien medium life itself, and it is his joy and his pain that he knows that life to be matchless.
No one, I think, is more convinced of the unity of all life than the artist, who sits before its different phases so long and silently, seeing them in a great intimacy. He not only beholds the flower, but he feels the life that, even while he draws, unfolds the petals, senses the force that pushes new leaves from the ground. He traces a network of veins in leaf and flower akin to the veining which shows under his own skin. He knows that under the microscope it is hard to tell which veins are plant and which animal, and whether that is sap or blood flowing so steadily through those channels. In that deep silence in which drawings are made, he so projects himself into the personality of any living model before him, that he becomes strangely identified with it. He not only feels himself a brother to this creature whose atoms are held together by the same mysterious force or vibration, not only feels the same life surging through them both, but, such is his intensity of interest, he becomes that creature. Or, as the eastern philosophers put it, he " sees all creatures in himself, himself in all creatures."
I wonder if we don't too often forget how new this natural world is to children, how fresh and unjaded their interest in it? Of course, we authors and illustrators are up against tremendous competition in trying to market our wares. No wonder we sometimes strive desperately to attract with novelty the attention of publishers who are adults and of a buying public which is also adult. But to the child himself our most novel invention is not more strange -and wonderful than the living creatures of this world, and our most vivid imagination can devise nothing more enthralling than all their ways. But Thomas Traherne said it much better three hundred years ago.
" All appeared new, and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful.... The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and the stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things. The Men! 0 what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! And young men glittering and sparkling angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die; but all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places. Eternity was manifest in the Light of the Day, and something infinite behind everything appeared: which talked with my expectation and moved my desire.
" Children feel a natural kinship with all living things. It is we adults who alienate them. When they reach out to touch the brightly colored bug or caterpillar, it is the mothers who cry, " Step on it! " When they stretch out their hands to a dog, it is the mothers who shriek, " Look out! He'll bite you! "' It was not the dog who frightened the child, but the mother who yanked it back, sobbing with a new terror.
Perhaps in Animals of the Bible I have taken a liberty in introducing children into the picture of the family dogs. But I felt sure that, though no children were mentioned in the text, where the dogs were, even in those ancient days, there the children would be also, and helping them to more crumbs than those which normally fell from their master's table. For there is a special link in all ages between children and animals, and this is, of course, why there are so many animal stories written for them.
It never occurred to me to make a book of the animal stories of the Bible. It was Helen Dean Fish who for several years cherished that plan in secret, and when she chose me to illustrate it, I was very proud. I think that when I was little, I would have liked such a book. Whether or not I would have liked my own pictures for it, I can't begin to say. I don't even know whether I would like them now if I could look at them dispassionately, for, sad to say, one never can. But of all the stories in the Bible, those about animals were then my favorites. Repeated conferences with my editor while the book was being made, however, have convinced me that I must have been a ferocious child, for those stories that were my special delight then are much too dreadful to be given to children of the present day. Who would have believed that those young beings whose weekly fare is the animated cartoon in which great wolves with wide open mouths and dripping jowls tower in relentless pursuit like the nightmare creatures of delirium until they blot out all else and engulf at last even the beholder - who would have believed that those children would blanch at the story of Elisha's two she-bears?
Nevertheless my editor was firm and I had to draw instead the bear which David slew, and draw him chasing a lamb. Then I was as sorry for the lamb as she was for the rude children who jeered at the prophet's bald head, and sorrier yet for the bear, which she didn't understand at all. I don't think she is sure yet that I really do like children and like them just as much as I like animals, perhaps because they act very much the same, and I see little difference between them.
Neither might I draw the Gadarene swine, though time and time again I then ran headlong down that steep place with them until the waters closed over my head. Nor might I draw Samson's foxes with the burning brands tied between their tails, though that also was one of my dreadful favorites. Still, if that story would have prompted even one small boy to try that trick on the neighborhood cats or dogs, I am glad we left it out. For my concern as a child was not for the good standing corn, and the vineyard and the olives, but only for the foxes lest they could not loose themselves from the firebrands and so perished in the flaming grain.
I wish that I had found the scapegoat when I was a child. I know that I would have rejoiced with him that it was his lot to be let go in the wilderness. For there seems to have been no Kindness to Animals Week in those ancient days. Though the pages of the Bible are filled with casual references to beasts as possessions, as food, as victims for sacrifice, I can remember no one who objected to any mistreatment of them except the angel who stood in Balaam's path and asked, " Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? " " and, of course, the vocal ass herself! And only in the book of Job are they seen as creatures in their own right. No present-day naturalist could describe an animal more minutely than leviathan is there presented, scale by scale, and surely none could portray one with such grandeur. " He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: He maketh the sea like a pot of ointment.... By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning."
It was lucky that the description was so detailed, for no leviathan visited our shores to pose for me. That, according to the reasoning of a certain English publisher, would have been an excellent reason for leaving him out of our book, for this publisher gave as his excuse for not bringing my Who Goes There? out in England, that they have no chipmunks in that country! Neither, except in zoos and circuses, have we any lions or elephants, and few can boast of having peered into the countenance of leviathan. Still, if the Bible and so many of our good sea captains claim that sea serpents do exist, who are we to doubt it? And if publishers were not always in such a hurry for drawings, and there were no such things as publication dates, I suppose I might still be sitting, pencil in hand, on the seashore hoping for a glimpse of " that great serpent of the deep."
Not all - by any means - of my favorite stories were left out of this book. In fact, most of them are in, including that of Elijah and the ravens. But not until I sat down before some caged ravens in the zoo did I realize that they have brains of a more than birdlike sort, and that that is probably why they were chosen above other birds to feed Elijah in the wilderness. For there they were, whiling away the hours of their confinement by playing with anything they could find in their cage, tossing and twirling and carrying about with them sticks and snippets of paper and, cherished above all, a bit of chain which, when they were through playing, they carefully tucked under some old straw for safe keeping. They eyed me wisely, too, and answered when spoken to. Perhaps Elijah was not, after all, too lonely in the wilderness.
For the sake of the child that I was, who wanted the foxes to escape the fire, and who hoped that the hungry lions would be fed, though not with Daniel, and for the sake of all other children who love and cherish animals - and are there many who don't? I am glad that we ended the book with the prophecy of Isaiah: "
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
"And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
" And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.
"They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."