Priceless Legacy of Artist Buried in Pauper's Grave; Illustrator for Horror Master Edgar Allen Poe Died Penniless

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), July 18, 2002 | Go to article overview

Priceless Legacy of Artist Buried in Pauper's Grave; Illustrator for Horror Master Edgar Allen Poe Died Penniless


Byline: David Charters

THEY laid his body beside 14 other paupers in the ground beneath a sycamore tree.

He hadn't been much of a burden for the pall-bearers. For ``Little Chalkie'' died in the workhouse from starvation, aged 29.

And the scattering of mourners on that July morning in 1887 didn't know they were burying a genius, whose illustrations for a chilling poem are now regarded as among the best in the horror tradition.

But James William Carling never saw his paintings hang in a great hall, as a book will soon reveal.

Even so, he deserves a place in Liverpool's bid to be the European Capital of Culture.

In fact, James was more used to seeing his work lost under the rain and the rub of careless shoes on the pavements of his native Liverpool.

He was born in poverty on New Year's Eve, 1857, to Rose and Henry Carling in Addison Street, in the heart of the ``Irish Quarter''.

Henry was a blacking maker and the singer of ballads which he composed himself, like his father before him. So there was talent in the home, but Rose died young.

Her place was taken by another women of whom James later wrote: ``Starved by a stepmother of very unusual disposition, I sallied out in the world like Jack of the fairy tales to seek my fortune, and a living as well, at the ripe old age of five.''

The ironic tone is a little reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem The Raven, published in New York to rapturous reviews in 1845, would inspire James to his finest work.

Before that, there was a long apprenticeship on the streets of Liverpool. With his older brothers, Willy, Johnny and Henry, James became a street artist, competing for crusts with the pinched tribe of urchins who danced, sang, juggled, scraped violins, recited or simply died.

James amused crowds in Ranelagh Street with caricatures of prizefighters. These were drawn with crayons and paints given to him by his brother Johnny.

The boys were artists, but they were also tough, moving from pitch to pitch to avoid beatings from the Peelers, who thought they should not be seen by respectable folk.

James specialised in turning out likenesses of the great figures from recent history in seconds - Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington. But, as he couldn't read or write, he had to call out their names.

In 1865, he was arrested as a beggar while chalking on Lime Street to raise money for the Christmas festivities.

He was sentenced to six years at St George's Industrial School, Liverpool, where the headmaster, Father James Nugent, fostered the boy's love of art, literature and drama. …

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