In response to:
Creating American Inequality from the March 20, 1980 issue
To the Editors:
I suspect that you would think at least twice before altering the content of a David Levine drawing before publishing it in the NYR. I cannot help feeling that Thomas Nast deserves the same respect, even though he hasn’t been in a position to defend himself for some seventy-eight years.
In the 1876 cartoon of the wolf at the schoolhouse door used to illustrate Andrew Hacker’s essay “Creating American Inequality” (March 20), presumably Nast’s horrific predator serves your purpose as an image of rampant abstract inequity. However, the caricaturist’s original aim was rather more specific, notably to oppose what he saw as an unwholesome alliance between Governor S.J. Tilden and the Catholic Church; for the diversion of public funds to sectarian schools.
Nast labeled the wolf’s collar “Democrat” and the pendant tag, “The Foreign Roman Church,” was decorated with the Papal insignia.
By the time your virtuoso of the scissors and paste pot was done with it, both inscriptions were blanked out, along with four other proclamations which messed up the simplicity of the 1980 design. (He neatly split the sign on the door—leaving “The Public-School System is the Bulwark of the American Republic,” but expunging “And for its security the application of Funds to Sectarian purposes should be forbidden—Republican Declaration”). Finishing his surgery, as a parting shot, your “editor” left Nast’s signature intact.
Passing over the aesthetic question of whether one has any right arbitrarily to destabilize an artist’s design by introducing strange great hunks of white space; I’m not sure that the passage of 104 years, and the expiration of copyright protection constitutes a license to tamper with an expression of personal opinion.
The Detroit News
July 17, 1980