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Letter From The Editor

July 2024
1min read

Albemarle Street in London, just a few steps away from the noise and bustle of Piccadilly, is one of those quiet backwaters of good shops like Gieves, outfitter to the Royal Navy; its main landmark is that respectable and comfortable hostelry, Brown’s Hotel. It is certainly no place to come suddenly upon a maiden in distress, let alone in deshabille. But there she was—and is, above; she was resting in the same position in a window of the Parker Gallery when we came by. The gallery is an emporium of paintings and old prints even more venerable than Goodspeed’s in Boston or the Kennedy or the Old Print Shop in New York. There was no missing her, for the painting is over six feet wide.

It turned out, as we hastened within athirst for information, that the scene is the Battle of Trafalgar, October 21, 1805. Somewhere in the distance the victorious Lord Nelson is expiring, but in the foreground we have a shipwrecked lady named Jeanette, who has been deposited in the water in this distressing condition by the blowing up of the French ship of the line Achille . History, or at least solid legend, tells us that she was a stowaway, the young bride of a matelot. The sturdy British tars who are approaching eagerly to the rescue don’t know all this yet, but everything ends decorously five days later, in true Gilbert and Sullivan style, when Jeanette’s husband is rescued too and they are reunited as prisoners of war.

While we were regretting inwardly that this scene really lay outside our American bailiwick we learned that the painter, a living Englishman named Leslie Wilcox, is in fact an enthusiast for the maritime history of our country. One thing led to another and resulted in a visit to Mr. Wilcox by one of our picture editors, Mary Dawn Earley, and the portfolio of his paintings beginning on page 20.

Collecting the pictures for this magazine, whether by such accidents as this one or by infinite pains and research, is one of the most enjoyable parts of our work. There is a kind of thrill in securing and publishing something for the first time, like the family pictures of Harriet and Calvin Stowe beginning on page 4. There are melancholy pleasures in sorting out the life of other times, with all its movement and activity, even when knowing that most of the places are altered beyond recognition, that the buildings no longer stand, and that so much of the humanity is dust. Pictures, of course, do bring back that past in some ways beyond the power of words; if you doubt it, study the Depression-era photographs on pages 41-54. Our sober colleagues on the historical quarterlies may confine their illustrations to footnotes and tables, but on this word-picture relationship we adhere to the well-known Chinese proverb.

Oliver Jensen

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