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The Life And Death Of Thomas Nast
HIS GRANDSON RECALLS:
October 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 6
This change has done me good in spite of everything. It is true there is a great deal of fever in this place, but I hope I shall escape it. They look at me and say “Well, you have not blue eyes. You are more like a native, and you are too old to catch it.” What a blessing to be old. One is going to the next world soon, anyway, so one is exempt. For the first time I feel glad that I am old.
Everything very quiet. The so-called “best people” have made their exits on account of the yellow fever. The steamers do not stop here. They go on south. That alarms these people still more.…
Every day from two to four cases of yellow fever. Nearly all fatal. The Germans have the hardest time.…
I can save more money now as I don’t have dinner at night any more. At first I had to, I was so hungry.…
Now that steamers had ceased to call at the port of Guayaquil because of the yellow fever scare, there was little for the American consul to do. His job involved representing his government in all matters of trade; and when there was no trade, time hung heavily on his hands.
Well, well, what with painting, when I am able to do it (it dries so slowly), and what with the Encyclopeadia Britannica I manage to kill time. I have been reading it steadily and enjoy it very much. Knowledge is a great thing, but what a nuisance to find out how little we know, no matter how long we live and how much we study.
Your letter just came. You may say that you have nothing to write about, but write anything, even about the October days, the turning of the leaves. It makes me homesick, but I’d rather be homesick than have any other kind of sickness. Most of the people here look as if they were already dead.…
Then followed reports of several friends and associates who had succumbed to the fever.
And then came what was probably the saddest letter of all, dated November 21, 1902: You say the money arrived safely and it is in the bank. Just think of it! Bills paid, and money, real money, in the bank again.… And so Mr. T____ thinks I should get leave of absence from a place where I am making money? No, I must stick it out, no matter what takes place. I do think I am making an impression, too, on the State Department. They have sent no complaints at all, and they may promote me, at least I hope so—and leave of absence would cost too much. I must stick. Now my job is all right, if we only get a little money ahead.…
How pitiful to think of the famous artist at sixty-two, hoping to make good on his four-thousand-dollar-a-year job so that he would be promoted.
I am anxious to hear from you—something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day.
There was but one letter after this, a brief note on Sunday, November 30. The following day he complained of a little nausea, and by Saturday doctors pronounced his case as the fever in its worst form. On Sunday, December 7, he died, far from home and loved ones.
In his roll-top desk in the Morristown house was found the prophetic sketch made before his departure for Ecuador. It was a picture of his drawing materials, with his pencil and pen tied with black ribbon.