A Few Words about Ferdinand Earle
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A FEW WORDS ABOUT FERDINAND EARLE
By Leonard D. Abbott.
DURING the past month the yellow press of America has fairly shrieked with the name of Ferdinand Earle, and his private affairs have been discussed from one end of the country to the other. The hubbub has all been due to the fact that he has separated from his wife and child, and openly avows his love for another woman. For this heinous offense against conventional morals he has endured a kind of crucifixion. He has been mobbed by his fellow-townsmen at Monroe, satirized by cartoonists, and viciously attacked by editorial writers. The press has done everything in its power to foster the impression that he is a monster in human form. But those of us who know him intimately know that he is a singularly gifted and pure-spirited man.
The first time I met Ferdinand Earle was at Normandie-by-the-Sea. He had been painting by moonlight. The palette was still in his hand, and he showed me, with pride, an exquisite little picture that he had just finished.
Later, when I visited him at his home in Monroe, I found that he had studied under Whistler and Bouguereau, in Paris, and was an artist of great talent. He is also a poet and a musician.
I have known many remarkable men, but none more remarkable than Ferdinand Earle. He might pose for a Christ—his head is so noble—and people in the street turn to look at him as he passes. His physique does not belie his temperament. One could not be with him an hour without feeling the heroic, the exalted, in his character. He is as gentle and sincere as a child.
His home at Monroe represents a unique experiment in romantic living. Up on a hill-top, two miles beyond the village, he built his eyrie. It is a landmark for miles around, wih its red roof and boulder-walls. It has some of the traits of a Moorish house, and a balcony or corridor runs under the eaves, commanding superb views over the whole countryside. I have memories of rising at dawn and looking out from that wonder-castle over a landscape veiled by drifting clouds.
The studio in which he works is a spacious room, hung with Oriental tapestries and decorated by trophies from Venice, Egypt and Spain. One of the upper rooms is devoted to Rembrandt; another to the Japanese master, Hokusai; and Michel Angelo’s sibyls and seers flank the stairway. It is an inspiration merely to pass through that house.
When I first met Earle he needed something essential. He himself could not have told what it was. He had money, talent, all that the world counts good fortune. He had traveled in many lands. But he was intellectually isolated and restless. He had no vital relation to the world of men. In a word, he lacked a social philosophy. His was too great a nature to rest content with the average artist’s narrow life. He felt it a degradation to paint for rich men and to cater to bourgeois tastes. I lent him the books of Morris, Carpenter, Gorki, Wilde. He was already a worshiper of Shelley, Whitman and Wagner. He became a Socialist almost before I realized what had happened.
Earle never does anything by halves. When he embraced Socialism he went into it heart and soul. He suggested a public meeting in his studio. I gladly cooperated, and invited John Spargo to come out from New York as the speaker. The meeting was a great success, and I shall never forget the sight of those village store-keepers and farmers and workingmen, with their wives and daughters, listening to the Socialist gospel in that strange and beautiful environment.
A few months later we arranged a second meeting in the village. The chief speakers were J. G. Phelps Stokes and Rose Pastor Stokes. For days in advance Earle scoured the countryside, distributing circulars. He wrote a revolutionary poem for the occasion and set it to music of his own composing. He also painted a number of posters and had them displayed in the stores. One of them is still in my possession, showing the heraldangels of Socialism blowing their trumpets over benighted Monroe. The meeting was attended by hundreds of people, and stirred the whole country.
Earle had married while in France. His wife was a woman of the Gallic type, graceful and delicate, and for a while they seemed well matched. They had one baby, a sunny little fellow. But as the years passed, there developed a more and more marked incompatibility between the two. Earle was difficult to live with, because of his changing moods and ultra-sensitiveness, and Mrs. Earle had never grown accustomed to America. It always seemed to her a strange country; and she was rather lonely and unhappy. They began to talk of a separation.
During the course of a journey to Europe Earle met a woman who drew him to her as a magnet—a woman in whose companionship he seemed to “find” himself more completely than in that of any other being he had ever known. She shared his every ideal and appealed to all that was highest in him. He wrote to his wife, telling her of his new friend and his new happiness—why should he not?—and Mrs. Earle welcomed the situation as affording a way of release for herself.
With childlike candor Earle brought his new friend to his young wife. The two women cordially and genuinely liked one another. For a few days the three lived amicably under one roof—and why should they not? But Mrs. Earle no longer cared to remain in America. Her desire now was to return as quickly as possible to her parents in Paris, and to take her boy with her. Earle is a loving father, and he could not bear to be separated from his child. But he holds that in times of separation the child belongs to the mother. Many conflicting emotions mingled in his farewell greeting to his wife and boy, as he sped them on their way across the ocean. It was his wish, he said, that they might often meet again, and he hoped that the boy would return to America, if only for a visit, when he grew older. He made ample financial provision for both mother and boy.
It was on the day before the sailing that the mad whirlwind of notoriety burst over the heads of Earle and his two woman-friends. Little did they realize, these three child-people, these three honest. souls, what a demoniac beast the American newspaper is!
The storm has almost spent itself. Earle has been tormented, and people seem to feel that conventional morality has had another glorious vindication. But I, for my part, can only wonder at the spiritual temper of an age that sets the stamp of its approval on coarse and sordid money-grubbers and that crucifies men like Ferdinand Earle.
Leonard D. Abbott, “A Few Words about Ferdinand Earle,” Mother Earth 2, no. 8 (October 1907): 344-347.