The Diogenes of San Francisco
It's Emperor Norton Day — the 137th anniversary of the death of Emperor Norton on 8 January 1880.
In the few years before the Emperor died, the weekly San Francisco Illustrated Wasp often used the Emperor as grist for its satirical mill. But, nine days after his death, the magazine struck a note of fond-hearted veneration.
Here's the portrait of Emperor Norton that the Wasp ran on its cover of 17 January 1880:
The portrait is by George Frederick Keller (1846–1927) , who was the Wasp's lead artist for seven years — from the magazine's founding in 1876 until 1883.
Whether Keller painted his portrait of Emperor Norton in the days after the Emperor died, or if the Emperor's death provided the occasion for the Wasp to publish a work that Keller had completed earlier, we don't know.
Given the Emperor's staunch advocacy for the basic rights and fair treatment of the Chinese in San Francisco — and his repeated condemnation of violence against the Chinese — it's notable that George Frederick Keller, in particular, should have been the author of such a sensitive and sympathetic portrait.
The Wasp was no friend of the Denis Kearny faction of inflammatory rioting and thuggish physical attacks on the Chinese. But it was an anti-Chinese rag — and today Keller is regarded as having been a leading cartoonist of anti-Chinese propaganda during this period.
Keller sketched Emperor Norton in the Wasp at least three other times that we're aware of. For some time, we've been familiar with the single-tone "cameo" version of this cover portrait that illustrates Robert Ernest Cowan's essay on the Emperor that appears in the October 1923 number of the California Historical Society Quarterly (at right). But we'd never been able to determine the artist and never had seen the color original from the Wasp — so this is a wonderful find.
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On the inside front cover of the issue, the Wasp paid a different kind of tribute with its lead editorial, "Diogenes — Norton," in which the magazine draws several interesting parallels between Emperor Norton and the philosopher better known as Socrates, noting that "that which Diogenes did acrimoniously, Norton with the same end in view, always did with an innate gentleness of heart."
You can read the editorial on page 402 here.
The Wasp begins...
Two thousand two hundred and three years ago, there died in Corinth a philosopher by the name of Diogenes of Sinope, but better known as the crazy Socrates, and on Thursday last...there died suddenly in this city the Diogenes of San Francisco, better known as Emperor Norton than by his real name of Joshua Norton.
Diogenes had his monuments erected both at Sinope and Corinth, let us hope, that after the lapse of 2203 years, San Francisco will not have left her appreciation in the backward march and that she will commemorate the departure of her philosopher by a remembering stone also.
Post cineres gloria venit!
After death comes the glory.
May it be so.
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