A couple of years ago, I bought a book entitled The Coasts of Illusion, written by a certain Clark B. Firestone, published by Harper Brothers Publishers, New York & London, in 1924.
It is a curiously inspired book, given that it seems to be only time that the author ventured into the genre; his other writing consisting principally of travel books. The book itself is entertaining and knowledgeable, but most of all, and this was a surprise, it is illustrated. In all, there are seventeen illustrations: eight are reproductions of period paintings or photographs, the remaining nine are illustrations done by Ruth Hambidge.
Naturally, once the book opened on one of those eight illustrations, I immediately went to the title page, where her name figures with the mention
With Drawings by
Of course, from there, straight to an Internet search, which yielded practically nothing initially (aside from Google’s helpful hint that I might have meant Ruth Hamblin). A bit more digging, though, did uncover several titles that she illustrated. There are certainly more.
Palace Playtime (in the Pinafore Palace Series) by Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith, published by Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, New York, in 1923. The book contains poems by Kate Greenaway, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Mapes Dodge, Laurence Alma Tadema.
In the same Pinafore Palace Series: Nursery Nonsense, by Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith, also published in 1923 or 1924.
Baby’s Friend and Nursery Heroes and Heroines, by Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith, published by Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, New York, 1923
Baby’s Plays and Journeys, by Satis N. Coleman & Alice G. Thorn, 1923
Singing Time: A Book of Songs for Little Children, by Satis N. Coleman & Alice G. Thorn, published by the John Day Company, New York, 1929.
The Candy Box, by Anna Bird Stewart, published by Robert M. McBride & Company, New York, in 1929. Collection of children’s poems about candy, illustrated in black and white, 57 pages.
Children Are Like That, by C. Madeleine Dixon, published by the John Day Company, New York, in 1930. (It is part of a slightly disquieting series of books with titles ending in “…Are Like That” concerning, to name a few: Men, The Japanese, Jews, The English…)
The Gingerbread Man and Other Songs of the Children’s Story-Book Friends, by Satis N. Coleman, published by The John Day Company, New York, in 1931
A selection of books containing Ruth Hambidge’s illustrations
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In its December 29th issue, the New York weekly The Saturday Review of Literature (est. 1924), published the following review:
A MAP OF CHILDREN EVERYWHERE
By RUTH HAMBIDGE. Day. 1929.
Since small children are both ignorant and uncensorious they will doubtless be delighted with this map with its attractive coloring and profusion of small figures scattered over the face of the globe. Their elders, however, may very probably take amiss, despite the publishers’ explanatory comment, the exaggerations and distortions of the map. No impressions are more tenacious than those formed in early youth, as anyone will attest who has gone through life subconsciously checking off the reality of geographical knowledge against the mental images formed in childhood. Deliberately to shrink the waters about Europe so as to make it appear a ferry ride from Greece to Alexandria, for instance, seems to us an entirely mistaken scheme. So, too, does it seem to us strange to make Switzerland, the country of Heidi, barren of all child life—as are also New Zealand and Madagascar—and Italy inhabited solely by a small boy perpetually strumming on a guitar. In them- selves the figures presented are vivacious and attractive, even though in one of the dairy sections of the United States a youngster of about four years of age towers above the cow against which he leans. And, judiciously supplemented with a parent’s comments, there is, to be sure, much information to be derived from Miss Hambidge’s map. But it needs such supplementing. Otherwise it were best to regard it merely as designed for amusement and not for instruction at all.
Ruth Hambidge seems to have worked almost exclusively for New York publishers. Whether this places her in New York or environs is only speculation (as “Miss Hambidge” might – or not – conceivably be taken as an indication she was unmarried in 1929). Had she met the authors she illustrated: Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856 –1923), the author of the bestseller Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and tireless militant for children’s rights; her sister Nora Archibald Smith, also a prolific children’s author; Satis Narona Coleman (1878-1961) a pioneer in music instruction for children; songwriter and composer Alice G. Thorn (nee Green); educator and children’s book author Anna Bird Stewart, or Claire Madeleine Dixon? No other detail of her life emerged.
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This is where the detective episode really starts. Amazon.com lists a reprint of a book called “Enchanted Acre: Adventures in Backyard Farming, 1935, by Gove Hambidge and Ruth Hambidge. The August 10, 1964 issue of the Monterey Peninsula Herald states, in the obituary of a certain Graeme D. Hambidge, that “In addition to his wife, he leaves a sister, Mrs. Ruth Hambidge Camp of Huntington, Long Island, N.Y.; and a brother, Gove Hambidge of Kensington, Md.” From there, the Scarsdale Examiner, in the column The Children’s Bookshelf of March 9, 1934, provides another clue: “‘Old Mother Wiggle Waggle’ which dates back to 1870, is among the play songs in this book. No group of songs for little children would be complete without those of Mrs. Satis Coleman, illustrated by Mrs. Ruth Hambidge Camp.” This leads to a possible date of birth: 1893, and death: 1986. And to a potential spouse: Kenneth F. Camp (b. Aug. 4, 1897, d. Aug. 7, 1963), married 15 September 1921, in Queens… and that is about as far as I am willing to go without taking out subscriptions to ancestry tracing sites. An acceptable biography of Ruth Hambidge will have to wait for a real illustration historian.
It is doubtful whether she might have encountered Firestone, who had, by the time Coasts of Illusion was published in 1924, moved back to his native Ohio (he was born in Lisbon on September 10th, 1869) as the editorial writer for The Cincinnati Star-Times. (He became associate editor in 1930, until his retirement in 1954.) His other titles include Sycamore Shores (1936) relating river journeys in the Middle West; Bubbling Waters (1938), walking tours in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee; Journey to Japan (1940) and a popular title called Flowing South (1941), the account of extensive travels on the Missouri and the Mississippi. Later in his life, he penned three volumes of poetry, The Winding Road (1937), Tower Window (1949) and The Yesterdays (1953). He died in Cincinnati on June 3rd, 1957.
Left: Dust jacket of the The Coasts of Illusion. Right: The book cover.
Left: Ruth Hambidge’s design for the endpapers. Right: Title page
A review published in the London weekly The Spectator on January 24th, 1926 describes The Coasts of Illusion in these terms:
“In The Coasts of Illusion (Harpers) Mr. Clark B. Firestone has produced an extraordinarily interesting and thorough work on the ” travel tales which have been told in good faith from the earliest dawn of history to the middle of the nineteenth century “; ” veracious stories ” of crocodile tears, mermaids, hippogrifs, unicorns, dragons, dog-headed men, monkey-tailed men, one-eyed men, ” men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders,” men who could blanket the upper parts of their bodies with their ears,” men formed like eels, who ” are harmless unless provoked. They will `stand bolt upright for hours together, gazing on the boyes at their sportes, never offring to hurt any of them.’ ” Mr. Firestone comments : ” Perhaps two-score of these imaginary tribes are better documented, and not so long ago were better known, than most of the tribes of real men and women upon the earth.” As an extreme contrast to this book comes Sir William Bragg’s Concerning the Nature of Things (Bell), which reminds us by the first lecture (on the atom) how much we can know that no eye-witness can ever testify to. These are Sir William’s now famous Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution in 1923-24 ; they give entrancing accounts of the atom, of gases, liquids, and crystals. Many people would put Telepathy and Clairvoyance, by Herr Rudolf Tischner (Began Paul), somewhere between the two book but honest researchers like Herr Tischner have suffered gravely from a pig-headed scepticism more absurd than the warmest credulity. He quotes, for example, a striking argument of Dr. Kispert : ” We must reject this clairvoyance which is supposed to occur, as it is only possible to give a semblance of clairvoyance when you have previous know- ledge of the facts. The man who has no previous knowledge of the facts has no clairvoyant faculty.” This book seems to be written with fairness and in a scientific temper.”
The reviewer does not mention the illustrations. So, in the end, I’m not left with a great deal, just an intriguing near encounter with an illustrator who remains something of a mirage. Hopefully she will not remain so, her work deserves to be catalogued and rediscovered. Above all, a person: a face, a family, a few important dates, might be added to the name.
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In the meantime, I’ll do that review myself.
“The talented American illustrator Ruth Hambidge has graced the pages of Mr. Firestone’s book with illustrations reminiscent of Charles de Sousy Ricketts, Edmund J. Sullivan or Edmund Dulac, embodied by a bold spontaneity of line and sweeping penmanship that enhances the romance of the text. Rather than choosing a more pedestrian, historical approach, Miss Hambidge seizes the allegorical. Spanish explorers, searching for cities of gold and fountains of youth, owe more to Keats’ “Silent, upon a peak in Darien” than to any historian’s account. In the same spirit, she depicts the legendary Upas –Tree, the marvelous plant described by Mandeville, upon which grow lambs, and the unattainable isles and mountainous heights of legend. Her flights of fancy cast in a poor light the photographs and historical paintings the publisher has seen fit to include in the same volume. We look forward to seeing her talents applied to the innumerable myths the world might offer to her imagination.”
Left: A Voyage to These Strangely Peopled Countries of the World’s Yesterdays Would be a Voyage Along the Bays, Gulfs, and Promontories of the Human Mind in Its States of Dream. Illustration facing page 2. Centre: According to Tradition, a Putrid Stream Flows from the Roots of the Tree and the Vapors Thereof Kill. Illustration facing page 24. Right: In Cadilhe There Growth a Manner of Fruit, and Men Find Within a Little Beast as Though it Were a Lamb Without Wool. Illustration facing page 58
Left: The First People Engaged in Such Cosmic Adventures as Warfare Against Stone Giants. Illustration facing page 116. Centre: Men Feared Them, as Embodying the Loneliness of Waste Places. Illustration facing page 128. Right: The Steeps Overhead Seemed Fit Abode for Giants and Dwarfs and Griffins – for Cities of Enchantment. Illustration facing page 206
Left: The Enchanted Woods of Romance with Their Goblin Glooms and Talking Trees Faded from the Minds of Men. Illustration facing page 216. Centre: In Islands Men Placed Their Ideal States… To Reach Felicity One Must Cross Water. Illustration facing page 254. Right: The Things of the Spirit Animated Spain in Some of the Quests It Followed Beside the Still Waters of the Lakes of Dream. Illustration facing page 314
Next newsletter will be dedicated another amazing and almost as equally forgotten female illustrator. I’ll leave you the surprise.
 Like many purchases of old and out-of-print books, the titles emerge from the bibliographies of other old and out-of-print books.
 The John Day Company was a New York publishing firm that specialized in illustrated fiction and current affairs books and pamphlets from 1926-1968. It was founded by Richard J. Walsh in 1926 and named after John Day, the Elizabethan printer. Walsh was the editor and second husband of Pearl S. Buck. The John Day Company was sold to the Thomas Y. Crowell Co. in 1974. (Thank you Wikipedia.)