Every June around the halfway point, when all my teacher friends are finishing up their wonderful end-of-year projects, I end up checking out a lot of art and writing done by people under four feet tall. Maybe I’m just a soft touch, but I find most of it to be fresh and full of genuinely good energy. There’s something invigorating about all the kids’ art pouring forth this month.
So in that spirit, take a look at the awesomeness of Gerrish’s Amusing History of John Carty, by 8-year-old Frederic Gerrish. He was the editor and sole proprietor of his own paper, The Lantern of Portand, Maine, which ran from 1853-59, and this was his lead-off feature. The John Carty in question is 13 years old and “his father’s best boy.” He sets off to make his fortune with $10 in hand, buys a gun and a powder horn, shoots and cooks a deer (“He ate a hearty breakfast & he gave his dog a good breakfast too”), rescues a lamb, and meets up with a number of Indians—some nicer than others.
There’s something very reassuring about how little this kind of children’s story has changed over the years—the fantasy of being a bit older and a bit stronger and striking off on one’s own, parentless and resourceful, never seems to get old. The details will vary, and your young 21st-century protagonists may not be quite as well-acquainted with skinning and cooking a deer as John Carty. But the intrepid daydream is much the same, and the painstaking penciled lettering, and the illustrations that are strong on the dog and the Indians but can’t quite be bothered when it comes to depicting trees.
By the time Frederic was 12, he had developed some real style. The Lantern of 1857—“an Independent Magazine Devoted to Sketches, Fun, &c. &c. Published Semi-Occasionally”—is a handsome publication indeed. By this point he had taken on a coeditor, one Master Bailey, and the table of contents included stories, advice, puzzles, something titled “Modern Syntax,” and more. The rebuses are sophisticated and the illustrations quite excellent. It’s not hard to imagine Gerrish and Bailey bent over a table some rainy afternoon, tongues in the corners of mouths, passing papers back and forth and discussing the order of the articles in all great seriousness.
The journal’s run ended in 1859, when Frederic would have been 14. Maybe girls became more interesting than journalism, or sports. That would also have been when his studies began in earnest. According to the Maine Historical Society
Frederic H. Gerrish (1845-1920), was born in Portland and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1866. He was a physician and surgeon at Maine General Hospital. He introduced antiseptic surgery into northern New England. He was the first surgeon in the area to do an appendectomy and the first to do a hysterectomy.
And he was a handsome man, besides.
Bless you, Internet, for assuring me so promptly that my young friend Frederic didn’t fall with the First Maine Heavy Artillery, or fade away farming some rocky patch of New England, and that he did indeed lead a life of wonder and discovery. I can only hope the same for all these wonderful kids from Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx whose crazy creative work has wormed its way into my affections this month.
(Thanks to Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities for posting this. If you want to read the Lantern’s fine feature “The Lonely Pollywog of the Mill-Pond; or the Sanguinary Tadpole: A Drama,” though, you’ll have to go to Yale’s Beinecke Library and see for yourself.)