Homer was not inclined at any time to talk about himself, but one evening, in a reminiscent mood, he gave me a brief record of his early career. He said that his father was not able to help him, being rather unfortunate in business matters. The choice of lithography as a profession was in some measure the result of mere coincidence. His father read in a Boston paper an advertisement for an apprentice in a lithographing shop. The advertiser happened to be an old acquaintance of his father’s and that had some sentimental influence with him. His father said, “That’s the very thing for you, Winslow.” The boy had always shown a liking for drawing. He was promptly entered as an apprentice in the lithographing shop. The usual terms were three hundred dollars to be paid the master for the first year. The next two years the student was to receive five dollars a week. However, one hundred dollars instead of three hundred were accepted for the first year’s instruction, in view of the aptitude shown in his sketches.
He served the three years and about the only incident he mentioned was the fact that he made a large oval portrait for some business or political purpose, doing one portrait each day for a considerable time. “The price received for each portrait by the proprietor,” he said, “was thirty-five dollars, while I meanwhile received five dollars per week.” At the end of the three years he quit the lithographing business for good, and as he said, “never again worked for wages.” He remarked with some pathos in his voice that while other boys were enjoying boyish play, he had his nose to the grindstone from eight in the morning until six in the evening, and that about his only recreation was an occasional hour’s fishing in the early morning on his way to the shop. He said he would get up early, fish an hour, and then push his rod under some bushes to await another time.
He was, as I remember, eighteen when he entered the lithographing shop and consequently twenty-one when he opened a studio in Boston with the purpose of making drawings for the illustrated papers. He remarked that the Harpers were always very kind, taking all the drawings he made, and paying him at the rate of one hundred dollars for a full-page drawing. At the opening of the Civil War, he found much demand for his drawings and at one time left the city to make war sketches. The price was to be twenty-five dollars for each page sketch on paper, the drawing on boxwood to be made at the magazine office. This worked out only moderately well, because the paper frequently reduced his sketches, placing four on a page and paying twenty-five dollars for the four, whereas he had expected a hundred dollars.
One of the last drawings he made was Snap the Whip. For some reason which I do not now remember, it was badly reproduced, or the transaction was unsatisfactory, and he did not make many more, turning his attention thereafter to painting.