The Buccaneer Was a Picturesque Fellow
March 5, 2014 | by Merle Johnson
The author and illustrator Howard Pyle was born today in 1853. These illustrations are from Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates, a 1921 compilation of his famous pirate stories; its preface is reprinted below.
Pirates, Buccaneers, Marooners, those cruel but picturesque sea wolves who once infested the Spanish Main, all live in present-day conceptions in great degree as drawn by the pen and pencil of Howard Pyle.
Pyle, artist-author, living in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, had the fine faculty of transposing himself into any chosen period of history and making its people flesh and blood again—not just historical puppets. His characters were sketched with both words and picture; with both words and picture he ranks as a master, with a rich personality which makes his work individual and attractive in either medium.
He was one of the founders of present-day American illustration, and his pupils and grand-pupils pervade that field to-day. While he bore no such important part in the world of letters, his stories are modern in treatment, and yet widely read. His range included historical treatises concerning his favorite Pirates (Quaker though he was); fiction, with the same Pirates as principals; Americanized version of Old World fairy tales; boy stories of the Middle Ages, still best sellers to growing lads; stories of the occult, such as In Tenebras and To the Soil of the Earth, which, if newly published, would be hailed as contributions to our latest cult.
In all these fields Pyle’s work may be equaled, surpassed, save in one. It is improbable that anyone else will ever bring his combination of interest and talent to the depiction of these old-time Pirates, any more than there could be a second Remington to paint the now extinct Indians and gun-fighters of the Great West.
Important and interesting to the student of history, the adventure-lover, and the artist, as they are, these Pirate stories and pictures have been scattered through many magazines and books. Here, in this volume, they are gathered together for the first time, perhaps not just as Mr. Pyle would have done, but with a completeness and appreciation of the real value of the material which the author’s modesty might not have permitted.