HotFreeBooks.com
English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century. - How they Illustrated and Interpreted their Times.
by Graham Everitt
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Popular and eminently successful as this exhibition proved to be, it was undeniably rendered more popular and successful by his staunch friend Thackeray's article in the Times of 21st June, 1862:—"He is a natural truth-teller," said the humourist, "as Hogarth was before him, and indulges in as many flights of fancy. He speaks his mind out quite honestly, like a thorough Briton.... He holds Frenchmen in light esteem. A bloated 'Mossoo' walking in Leicester Square, with a huge cigar and a little hat, with 'billard' and 'estaminet' written on his flaccid face, is a favourite study with him; the unshaven jowl, the waist tied with a string, the boots which pad the Quadrant pavement, this dingy and disreputable being exercises a fascination over Mr. Punch's favourite artist. We trace, too, in his work a prejudice against the Hebrew nation, against the natives of an island much celebrated for its verdure and its wrongs; these are lamentable prejudices indeed, but what man is without his own?" Thackeray's kindly article delighted Leech; he said "it was like putting L1,000 in his pocket." The exhibition, indeed, was so splendid a success that it is said to have brought in nearly L5,000.

Those who, like ourselves, have found it necessary to examine the Punch volumes from their commencement in 1841, down to the 31st of December, 1864, cannot fail to be struck by the steady decrease in the number of cartoons which the artist annually designed and executed for the periodical. In 1857 the number contributed was 33; in 1858, 30; in 1859, 21; in 1860, 15, in 1861 the number had fallen as low as 10; while in 1862 it did not exceed 4.[156] This decrease (which is confined, be it observed, to the cartoons which he contributed to Punch) was due to failing health consequent on the strain of incessant production. Of the coming evil he himself was distinctly cognizant. It is said of him that Lord Ossington, then Speaker, once met him on the rail, and expressed to him his hope that he enjoyed in his work some of the gratification which it afforded to others. His answer was a melancholy one:—"I seem to myself to be a man who has undertaken to walk a thousand miles in a thousand hours." It was certainly not such a reply as one would exactly look for, looking only at the joyous character of the pictures he executed for Punch. He complained in 1862—the year at which we have arrived—of habitual weariness and sleeplessness, and was advised to try rest and change of air. He acted upon the suggestion, and, accompanied by his old friend Mark Lemon, proceeded in that year on a short tour to Paris, and from thence to Biarritz. Leech's pencil was not idle on this holiday, as two of his pictures will testify. The first, A Day at Biarritz, appears in the Almanack of 1863, and among the figures he has introduced into this delightful sketch is that of the grave and saturnine Louis, snapping his fingers in the highest abandon and skipping off with his friend Punch to enjoy his ocean bath. "The other," says Mr. Shirley Brooks, "is a very remarkable drawing. It represents a bull-fight as seen by a decent Christian gentleman, and for the first time since the 'brutal fray' was invented the cold-blooded barbarity and stupidity of the show is depicted without any of the flash and flattery with which it has pleased artists to treat the atrocious scene. That grim indictment of a nation professing to be civilized will be a record for many a day after the offence shall have ceased."[157]

Leech returned from this brief visit with no appreciable benefit. Charles Mackay tells us that he met him and his constant friend, Thackeray, at Evans' supper-rooms in December, 1863. "They both complained of illness, but neither of them looked ill enough to justify the belief that anything ailed them beyond a temporary indisposition, such as all of us are subject to. Leech was particularly despondent, and complained much of the annoyances to which he was subjected by the organ-grinders of London, and by the dreadful railway whistles at the stations whenever he left town. His nerves were evidently in a high state of tension, and I recommended him, not only as a source of health and amusement, but of profit, to take a voyage across the Atlantic, and pass six months in America, where he would escape the organ-grinders, street-music, and the railway-whistles, and bring back a portfolio filled with sketches of American and Yankee character. 'I am afraid,' he replied, 'that B. & E. [Bradbury & Evans] would not like it. Besides, I should not like to be absent from Punch for so long a time.' 'Nonsense,' said Thackeray, 'B. and E. would highly approve, provided you sent them sketches. I think it a good idea, and you might put five thousand pounds in your pocket by the trip. The Americans have never been truly portrayed, as you would portray them. The niggers alone would be a little fortune to you.' Leech shook his head dubiously, and I thought mournfully, and no more was said upon the subject."[158]

Nevertheless, the end of one at least of these steady friends and men of genius was drawing near with sure and rapid strides. Both were present at the anniversary of the death of the founder of the Charterhouse, "good old Thomas Sutton," on the 12th of that same month of December, 1863. At the celebration of Divine service at four o'clock, Thackeray occupied his accustomed back seat in the quaint old chapel; from thence he went to the oration in the Governor's room; and as he walked up to the orator with his contribution, the great humourist, Mr. Theodore Taylor, tells us, was received "with such hearty applause as only Carthusians can give to one who has immortalized their school."[159] At the banquet which followed he sat by the side of John Leech, who was one of the stewards, and proposed the time-honoured toast, Floreat AEternum Carthusiana Domus, in a speech which was received with three times three and one cheer more. John Leech replied to the toast of the stewards. The day is memorable as the last "Founder's Day," which either of these men—so eminently distinguished in art and letters—was ever permitted to attend.

Three days afterwards Thackeray was present at the usual weekly Punch dinner on the 15th of December, for, although he had long ceased to be a regular contributor to the periodical, he not only continued to aid the staff with his suggestion and advice, but was a constant member of the council.[160] But ever since the time he was writing "Pendennis," a dozen years before, he had been visited periodically by attacks of sickness, attended with violent retching. One of these occurred on the morning of Wednesday, the 23rd of this same month of December, and he was in great suffering all day. About midnight of that day, his mother, Mrs. Carmichael Smith,[161] who slept in the room above his own, had heard him get up and walk about; but as this was his habit when visited by these fell visitations, she was not alarmed. The man, however, was in his mortal agony; and when his valet, Charles Sargent, entered his master's chamber on the morning of Christmas Eve, and tried to arouse him, he found that he answered not, neither regarded, having passed into the slumber from which the spirit of man refuses to be awakened.

Dying Jerrold had time vouchsafed to him to whisper, "Tell the dear boys," meaning his associates in Punch, "that if I have ever wounded any of them, I've always loved them," and so he went his way. To Thackeray no such grace was given; the hands peacefully spread over the coverlet, which stirred not when Sargent bent anxiously over his master, proclaimed that true hearted noble Thackeray had gone the long journey, leaving no word of message for those who had loved him. "We talked of him," said Mr. Edmund Yates, "of how, more than any other author, he had written about what is said of men immediately after their death—of how he had written of the death-chamber, 'They shall come in here for the last time to you, my friend in motley.' We read that marvellous sermon which the week-day preacher delivered to entranced thousands over old John Sedley's dead body, and 'sadly fell our Christmas Eve.'" That same Christmas Eve, the melancholy tidings were conveyed to Mark Lemon by his sorrowing friend, John Leech. The artist was terribly affected, and told Millais of his presentiment that he also should die suddenly and soon.

In March, 1864, we notice the death of another author, whose almost unrecorded name is, nevertheless, intimately associated with that of the artist. This was Mr. R. W. Surtees, author of the sporting novels which the genius of Leech has made for ever famous. Mr. Surtees for some years practised as a London solicitor; but the death of an elder brother improved his position, and enabled him to quit a profession which he disliked, in favour of the more congenial employment of literature. Those of his works best known (he published several others) are, of course, "Handley Cross," "Sponge's Sporting Tour," "Plain or Ringlets," "Ask Mamma," and "Mr. Facey Romford's Hounds." Notwithstanding a decidedly horsey and somewhat vulgar tone,—a tone which by the way certainly did not characterize Mr. Surtees himself,—they possess a certain original humour, which will render their perusal productive of amusement. He died suddenly on the 16th of March, 1864, in his sixty-second year.

It has been the habit of the contributors to Punch, almost from the commencement of the periodical, to dine together every Wednesday. In the winter months the dinner was usually held in the front room of the first floor of the business premises of the proprietors, Messrs. Bradbury & Evans, in Bouverie Street, Whitefriars. Sometimes these dinners were held at the Bedford Hotel, Covent Garden. During the summer months it was customary to hold ten or twelve dinners at Greenwich, Richmond, Blackwall, and other places in the neighbourhood of London. On these occasions the programme (if we may so term it) of the forthcoming number was arranged and settled, papers were brought out, and the latest intelligence discussed, so as to bring the "cartoon" down to the latest, or rather one of the latest subjects of current interest. At the weekly council dinner John Leech was a faithful attendant. These meetings, indeed, "he thoroughly enjoyed, and his suggestions, not merely as to pictorial matters, but generally, were among the most valuable that were offered, as may be inferred from his large knowledge of the world, his keen sense of the ludicrous, and his hatred of injustice and cruelty."[162] One of the most regular attendants of the Punch dinners—I think that in 1864, at least, he scarcely missed one—was the most indefatigable of the literary staff, Mr. Shirley Brooks. One was held at The Bedford on the 13th of April, 1864, just about the time when Lord John Russell was setting out as our representative at the Conference, and the outcome of this particular Punch dinner, at which were present Messrs. Mark Lemon, Shirley Brooks, Tom Taylor, John Leech, and Percival Leigh, was Leech's admirable cartoon of Moses Starting for the Fair. "Let us hope," adds the pictorial satirist, in special reference to his lordship's unfortunate capacity for getting himself into a mess, that "he won't bring back a gross of green spectacles." It was one of the last of Leech's political shafts, and the subject was suggested (we have his own authority for stating it) by his friend and literary colleague, Mr. Shirley Brooks.[163]

"Clearly ill," is Mr. Brook's record of the state of John Leech's health on this same 13th of April, 1864. He no longer found pleasure in hunting, of which he had been exceedingly fond, and had even discontinued, at the order of his medical attendant, riding on horseback. He was affected with nervous irritability, the effect of incessant application. The ordinary noise of the streets—musicians, organ-grinders, street vendors, and the like—worried him beyond endurance. Long before the period at which we have arrived these annoyances had driven him from his residence in Brunswick Square to seek shelter from his enemies at No. 3, The Terrace, Kensington. His nervous irritability is manifested in the designs which he continued to draw for Punch. In one of his illustrations to vol. xlv. (1863), depicting certain familiar sea-side nuisances, he asks, "Why a couple of conceited fanatics should be allowed to disturb the repose of a Sunday afternoon by the sea-side?" and "Why the authorities at Brighton, so sensible and considerate in keeping the place free from the detestable organ grinders, should permit the terrible nuisance indicated [in the illustration] to exist?" "Fresh prawns, whiting, oysters, or watercresses," remonstrated the persecuted artist, "are capital things in their way, and we should think that the jaded man of occupation, or the invalid, would very much rather send to a respectable shop for such delicacies, than have them 'bellowed' into his ears morning, noon, and night." His illustrations of this character are so numerous that the ordinary observer would probably suppose that they were part only of a series; to the observer, however, who knew Leech, they clearly indicate the nervous irritability under which he suffered, and which was probably caused, and certainly intensified, by the nuisances of which he complained.

The state of Leech's health in May, 1864, seems to me best explained in the letter which Mark Lemon at this time wrote to Mr. Bass, in relation to his proposed bill for the regulation of street music. After showing how he himself was obliged to quit London to escape the nuisance of street music, the then editor of Punch continues: "A dear friend of mine, and one to whom the public has been indebted for more than twenty years for weekly supplies of innocent amusement, and whose name will find a place in the future history of art, has not been so fortunate. He lived in Brunswick Square, and remained there until the nervous system was so seriously affected by the continual disturbance to which he was subjected while at work, that he was compelled to abandon a most desirable home, and seek a retreat at Kensington. After expending considerable sums to make his residence convenient for his art-work,—placing double windows to the front of his house, etc.,—he is again driven from his home by the continual visitation of street bands and organ-grinders. The effect upon his health—produced, upon my honour, by the causes I have named—is so serious that he is forbidden to take horse exercise, or indulge in fast walking, as a palpitation of the heart has been produced—a form of angina pectoris, I believe—and his friends are most anxiously concerned for his safety. He is ordered to Homburg, and I know that the expatriation will entail a loss of nearly L50 a week upon him just at present.

"I am sure I need not withhold from you the name of this poor gentleman. It is Mr. John Leech.

"If those gentlemen who laugh at complaints such as this letter contains were to know what are the natural penalties of constant brain-work, they would not encourage or defend such unnecessary inflictions as street music entails upon some of the benefactors of their age. Such men are the last to interfere with the enjoyments of their poorer fellow-labourers; but they claim to be allowed to pursue their callings in peace, and to have the comfort of their homes secured to them. All they wish is to have the same immunity from the annoyances of street music as the rest of the community have from dustmen's bells, post-horns, and other unnecessary disturbances."

The terrible nature of poor Leech's sufferings will be shown by another anecdote of Dr. Mackay's. Just about this time he met Mr. F. M. Evans, one of the proprietors of Punch, and asked him how Leech was. "Very ill," was the reply; "the sufferings he endures from noise are painful to think of. I took him down into the country a little while ago to stay a week, or as much longer as he pleased, promising him that he should hear no organ-grinders there, nor railway whistles, nor firing of guns. The next morning on getting up to breakfast, I found that he had packed up his portmanteau and was ready to depart. 'I cannot stay any longer here,' he said, 'the noise drives me frantic!' 'What noise?' 'The gardener whetting his scythe. It goes through my ears like a corkscrew.' And nothing that I could say could prevail upon him to prolong his visit."

But there was no falling off in the quality of the work which Leech executed for Punch or other employers at this time; on the contrary, his drawings seemed to me marked by more than their usual excellence. Witness more especially the few etchings he lived to finish for "Mr. Facey Romford's Hounds," and the coloured etching to "Punch's Pocket Book" of the year. One of the illustrations which he designed for the 1864 edition of the "Ingoldsby Legends," and which shows us one of his stalwart servant girls drawing up the trunkless head of "St. Genulphus" from the bottom of the well, appears to me to call for special notice. I would ask the reader to observe the details of that perfectly marvellous drawing, executed with all the effect and at a fifth of the labour which George Cruikshank in his best days would have bestowed upon it. I would entreat him to mark that wicked, graceless, bald-pated old head, with its port wine nose resting on the rim of the bucket, and its wicked old eye suggestively winking unutterable things at the perplexed and astounded maiden. I would ask him to look at that drawing; to take into account the health of the genial, failing artist who designed it; and to tell me, whether in all the range of English comic art he remembers to have met with anything more intensely comical?

We find John Leech and his able coadjutor, Mr. John Tenniel, present at the Punch dinner of Wednesday, the 15th of June; but shortly afterwards he started on the journey ordered by his medical advisers, and set off for Homburg in the company of his friend, Mr. Alfred Elmore, sojourning afterwards for a time at Schwalbach. He was absent altogether about six weeks. A record in the diary to which I am indebted for so much information in relation to him tells me, under date of 10th August, "Leech has returned from Germany, but I am sorry to say I don't think he is stronger." The sole result, in fact, obtained was that his mind was amused by his visit to new scenery, while his sketch-book was filled with valuable memorials of the sojourn for future use. He was present at the Punch dinner on Wednesday, the 17th of August, and suggested to his colleagues by way of cartoon the subject of The American Juggernaut.

THE DEATH OF ROBSON.

Just at the time when Leech came back from Germany, unbenefited by the change which it was hoped would recruit his exhausted strength, a great artist in another and a different walk in art, one who had not used his genius (we will not say his opportunities, for we doubt whether they were really given him) to the best advantage, took his departure from the scene of many triumphs and greater disappointments: this was Thomas Frederick Robson, the actor. He had been so long absent from the boards, that the event failed to create the sensation which might have been expected from the sudden fall of a theatrical star of such unquestionable magnitude. Full justice has been done to his remarkable genius elsewhere; and all united in regret that a man who was so great an artist, and might have been a greater, had been prematurely lost to the theatrical world. Those who remember Robson and his marvellous powers,—the lightning-like flashes of energy he was wont to throw into his parts,—his startling transition from passion to passion,—will agree with us that, if circumstances had led him to study the higher drama, his name would probably have occupied a place side by side with the more prominent names of George Frederick Cooke, Edmund Kean, and our own Irving. The remarkable power wasted on burlesque, or thrown away in the delineation of low life character, must assuredly have made itself felt in tragedy; and the genius manifested in the mock Shylock of Robson, would have enabled him to offer a splendid presentment of the real Hebrew, and as perfect a realization of the character of Richard the Third as has ever perhaps been seen. His comedy—when opportunity was given him of displaying it—was full of true humour. He had in fact, in a remarkable degree, all the qualities of a splendid actor; but it was his peculiar misfortune that he had never a proper opportunity given him of displaying them. The fact that he was enormously popular was nothing, for many men are popular with not a tithe of the gifts or power which distinguished Robson. The favour of the "general," except in a sordid sense, is not worth much in these days. A proof of this is to be found in the fact that the name of Robson—after the lapse of twenty years—is scarcely known to the ordinary playgoer; but his genius, while he lived, was recognised by those whose applause is not easily earned, and was therefore worth the earning.

Within a week or ten days after his return from the Continent, Leech went with his family to Whitby, in the hope that the fresh Yorkshire sea air would invigorate and brace up his shattered system. Some friends were staying there at the time, and among them a young artist then comparatively new to Punch, but who has been for years past one of its leading pictorial supporters[164]—Mr. Du Maurier. During his sojourn here, I find him writing to his friends the Brookses, that if they would join him, it would induce him to prolong his stay. They went accordingly, and remained at Whitby until the artist returned to town on the 3rd of October. "Leech, when we could induce him to leave the painting in oil, to which he devoted too many hours, enjoyed the drives into the wild moors, and up and down the terrible but picturesque roads; and he was still more delighted with the rich woods, deep glades, and glorious views about Mulgrave Castle. I hoped," continues Shirley Brooks, in the touching memorial which he contributed to the Illustrated London News only a few weeks afterwards, "I hoped that good was being done; but it was very hard to stir him from his pictures, of which he declared that he must finish a great number by Christmas. It was not for want of earnest and affectionate remonstrance of those close by his side, nor lack of such remonstrance being seconded by myself and others, that he persevered in overlabour at these paintings, which he had undertaken with his usual generosity, in order to enable himself to provide a very large sum of money for the benefit of his relatives, not of his own household. It need hardly be said that he was never pressed for work by his old friend the editor of Punch." For a long time past his contribution to that periodical had not exceeded one half-page engraving each week; but at Whitby he elaborated a large sketch, originally taken at Schwalbach, which is worthy of mention as being the last of his cartoons. It will be found in vol. xlvii. (1864), and is labelled The Weinbrunnen Schwalbach, and among the company drinking the waters he has introduced the late Emperor Louis, the late King of Italy, the late Pope, and other notable political personages. The light esteem in which he held everything French is notable in this drawing. Conspicuous in the foreground are several dogs belonging to the English turnspit breed, one of which views a yapping French poodle with the most unmitigated disdain. The landscape and surroundings in this composition deserve particular attention, as they are charming examples of Leech's oft-admitted talent as a landscape artist.

In the diary I find several reminiscences of the Whitby visit, and of the walks and drives and dinners with the Leeches. Shirley Brooks and his wife drove with them to Mulgrave Castle and its "glorious woods," on the 29th of September; the former afterwards went to a concert at St. Hilda's Hall, in reference to which I find the following entry:—"Grisi, Mario, Sainton and his wife. I wrote to the latter, and went round to see them between the parts. Introduced to Grisi, who was in a vile temper, something about rooms." Shirley Brooks sent also the following characteristic account of the entertainment to the Musical World:—

"MY DEAR SIR,—

"Owls, like other quadrupeds, must have holidays, and I have flown hither. But the wind has changed, and the owl, for all his feathers, is a-cold, as the poet observes. I shall return to the Metropolis—templa quam dilecta—as Plautus might have said in his Owlowlaria, if he had liked. I never thought much of these Latin dramatists, and indeed I never would read any of their works. For that matter, the works of few dramatists are worth reading. And while on the subject, I may add, that few writings of any kind are worth reading. Herein I am at one with Thomas Carlyle, and show my admiration of what he says by absolutely declining to read his 'Frederick the Great.'

"Possibly I might not have expended the postage stamp affixed to this letter had I intended only to offer you the above interesting information. I could have given you this at the Keppell's Arms during one of those many refections which I hope to partake with you at that hostelry. But I wish to record something that may have an immediate interest. There is a hall here called St. Hilda's Hall, and it is used for public purposes. It is furnished with a large scene-like painting of Whitby, is very hot, and is near the harbour, which at low tide emitteth odours which are odious; and I think that it is always low tide.

"There was a concert in this hall in the afternoon, and also in the evening, of the Feast of S. Michael and All Angels. Two of the latter came here to sing. You know them in London as Madame Grisi and Madame Sainton-Dolby. With them came Signor Mario and M. Sainton, and also Herr M. Lutz and Mr. Patey. They all sang or played. Verily, my friend and pitcher (for thou pitchest stones deftly, as it were), it was a refreshment, yea, and a consolation, to hear their voices and their instruments. I will not give you a catalogue of their musical deeds, for I had a bill, but it was borrowed from me by a large Yorkshireman, and he was so very large that I did not like to demand it again. Nevertheless, La Diva sang "The Last Rose of Summer," a la Flotow, and made me think of many things—are they not written in the book of the Chronicles of Benjamin, whose name is Lumley? Likewise she sang something out of Faust, with il Signor, and other matters, whereof no matter—is it not enough to have seen and heard her? But commend me, (not that I need your commendation) to Madame Sainton-Dolby, inasmuch as that lady sang Handel's 'Lascia ch'o pianga,' and sang it nobly, and sang Smart's 'Lady of the Lea,' and sang Claribel's 'Maggie's Secret,' and sang it divinely. You know what M. Sainton can do with his violin, but you do not know what he cannot do with it, nor do I. Il Signor Mario put forth his powers chivalrously, and broke many hearts among the fair York roses. La Diva was dressed in white. Madame Sainton-Dolby was dressed in pink. I was dressed in a black coat, waistcoat, and trowsers, white cravat, lavender gloves, and patent leather boots, and the little boys of Whitby, unaccustomed to such splendour, cheered me as I came out, privately and alone, to dip my beak in the gascon wine, that is, in some excellent beer, in which I now drink your health.

"If you have another reporter, your own special, in the town (I saw two or three persons who looked disreputable and enthusiastic enough to be musical critics—or even dustmen), and he has kept sober and sent you a report, you need not print this. I do not care a horse's mamma whether you print it or not. But I had a delightful evening, and I do not care who knows it; in fact, I wish everybody to know it, and that is why I write to your widely circulated (and widely yawned-over) journal. You have not been over civil to me of late, which is very ungrateful. You may say, with an attempt at wit, that the owl was a baker's child, and therefore crusty. I believe that you could win the prize for the worst conundrum in any circus in Yorkshire.

Receive the assurance of my profound respect.

"Ever yours,

"WHITBY. "ZAMIEL'S OWL."

While at Whitby, a deputation from the Institute of that town waited on John Leech, to ask him to attend at a meeting and speak in promotion of the interests of their association. On that day he happened to be too ill to bear an interview with more than one of the gentlemen who composed the deputation, and was obliged in consequence to refuse the request. But the refusal gave the kindly, failing man serious disquietude, and fearing it might be thought ungracious, he forthwith sent for all his sketches of character from London and presented them to the Institute.

Fechter was the leading dramatic star of that time, and his opening night differed from the commencement of other theatrical seasons in the fact that it invariably attracted together some of the best known men in literature and art. At the opening of the Lyceum on Saturday, the 22nd of October, were present Messrs. Charles Dickens, Shirley Brooks, Hollingshead, Oxenford, Horace Mayhew, Edmund Yates, W. P. Frith, R.A., Creswick, R.A., Marcus Stone, Mr. Burnand (the present editor of Punch), and Serjeant Ballantine. "The new piece," said Mr. Yates, "was splendidly mounted, and never, even in Paris, have I seen Mr. Fechter play so perfectly."[165] The said piece was called "The King's Butterfly," and Mr. Brooks says of it that, barring the "splendid scenery," it was "rubbish" pure and simple.

The Leeches left Whitby on the 3rd of October, breaking their journey at York. The artist seemed somewhat better, and ten days after their return we find them at a party at the house of Mr. W. P. Frith, R.A., among the company being Messrs. Elmore, Creswick, Yates, George Cruikshank, Solomon Hart, and others. Between the date of this party, on Thursday the 13th, and that of the usual Punch dinner, on Wednesday the 26th of October, at which the artist was present, a visible change had, however, taken place in the appearance of John Leech. Shirley Brooks afterwards had occasion to notice that at this Punch dinner he "complained of illness and pain, and I saw that it was difficult to make him completely grasp the meaning of things that were said to him without two or three repetitions. He left early with Tom Taylor."[166] On the 28th of October, the artist himself was conscious that something was wrong. He visited Dr. Quain, who assured him that his only chance lay in complete and entire rest; and, on returning home, he wrote a note in pencil addressed to his old friend, Mr. Frederick Evans, in which he mentioned his interview with the medical man, and added that he hoped to complete a cut for which a messenger was to be sent, but that he was not sure of being able to finish it. A messenger was sent in obedience to his desire, but he returned empty-handed. We return at this point to the diary of Mr. Shirley Brooks. "I called," he says (29th of October), "at 27, Bouverie Street, and heard from Evans that he was very ill. We went off to the Terrace, Kensington. He was in bed, but no one seemed frightened, and there was a child's party—a small one. Mrs. Leech was in tears, but certainly had no reason to apprehend the worst. He would have seen us. We remained three-quarters of an hour or so, but an opiate had been given, so it was of course felt that he ought not to be disturbed. Arranged to meet Evans at three next day;" but the fatal messenger, who will call for each and every of us, had already delivered his summons, and never more (in life) were either of the friends fated to see John Leech again. "At seven o'clock that night," continues the narrator (in another place[167]), "it pleased God to release him from sufferings so severe as even to make the brave, patient, enduring man say that they were almost more than he could bear."

Mr. Evans called on Brooks the following day (Sunday, 30th October). "After hearing all he could say, I went with him to telegraph to Mark Lemon, and also to Leech's. Millais and Leigh at the door—heard much from them. Mrs. Chester came up—Charles Eaton, Mrs. Leech's brother and best friend, had come. We went in and saw him ... and the poor mother, and two of the sisters, and afterwards to the chamber of death. He looked noble in his calm; the hair and whiskers put back, gave up his fine forehead and handsome features—and the eternal stillness gave his face an elevated expression. I looked a very long time on my old friend's face. We have known one another many years, and he has been engaged with me in business as well as in pleasure. He was very kind—very good—and is in heaven, whatever that means."

London was, perhaps, more shocked at the sudden and unexpected death of John Leech than even when Thackeray was smitten. The shock radiated all over the country; for there was not a household in the land in which his name was not familiar as a household word. His personal friends were deeply affected—none more so than his attached friend, Charles Dickens. Writing at the time to Forster, in reference to his coming book, "Our Mutual Friend," he said, "I have not done my number. This death of poor Leech (I suppose) has put me out woefully. Yesterday, and the day before, I could do nothing; seemed, for the time being, to have quite lost the power; and am only by slow degrees getting back into the track to day." Mr. John Tenniel heard of the loss of his valued confrere that same Sunday, 30th October, and "was stunned at the news, totally unexpected by him."[168] A special meeting of the Punch staff was called by Mark Lemon on the following day; himself, Messrs. Percival Leigh, Shirley Brooks, F. C. Burnand, Tom Taylor, Charles Keene, H. Silver, John Tenniel,—all were present with the exception of Horace Mayhew. With the particulars of that meeting we of course have nothing to do; its melancholy character the reader may well imagine.

On Friday, the 4th of November, 1864, they laid John Leech to rest in Kensal Green Cemetery, "in the next grave but one to W[illiam] M[akepeace] T[hackeray]. When Annie Thackeray heard of the death, she [had] said to Mrs. Millais, 'How glad my father will be to meet him!' 'And he will,'" adds the friend whose note we have transcribed.[169] We take the account of his burial from Mr. Edmund Yates's impressive and touching account in the Morning Star newspaper. "The scene round the grave was a most impressive one. There, ranged round the coffin, stood the remnant of that famous body of wits who had caused the name of Punch to be famous at the ends of the earth; there, in the coffin, lay all that was earthly of him who, more than any of them, had helped to spread its renown, and to win for himself a name familiar as a household word in all our English homes. By its side stood Mark Lemon, who, for two and twenty years has presided over the weekly dinner where the good things are suggested, and the weekly sheet whereon they are inscribed; who has seen comrades fall out of the ranks in the march of life, and perish by the wayside. And such comrades! Gone the brilliant, meteoric A'Beckett; fiery, impulsive, scathing Jerrold; playfully cynical Thackeray; and now—John Leech! There stood Shirley Brooks, who since Jerrold's death has been Punch's literary mainstay; Tom Taylor, working now in other channels, but still attached to the staff; Horace Mayhew and Percival Leigh, old colleagues of the dead man; F. C. Burnand and H. Silver, the youngest of the corps; and John Tenniel, who had taken Mr. Doyle's place on his secession, and worked in thorough amity with Leech. Over the coffin bowed the handsome head of Millais in overwhelming grief. All round one caught glimpses of well-known people. There, in the front rank of the crowd, was the frank, earnest face of Charles Dickens; by him Alexander Munro, the sculptor; there a group of artists—Messrs. Creswick, O'Neil, and Elmore;[170] Messrs. Mowbray, Morris, Dallas, and W. H. Russell, of the Times. At the back of the grave, by the canopy, Mr. W. P. Frith, R.A.; near him a group of journalists—Messrs. Friswell, Halliday, Gruneison; Mr. Swain, the engraver, who had had for years the engraving of Mr. Leech's drawings; Richard Doyle; Mr. Orridge, the barrister; the Rev. C. Currey, preacher of the Charter House; Lieutenant-Colonel Wilkinson, who had had John Leech for his school-fellow and fag at Charter House; while amateur art was worthily represented by Messrs. Arthur Lewis, M. F. Halliday, and Jopling. And there, in the bright autumn sunshine, they laid him to his rest. Sir T. N. Talfourd relates that at the burial of Charles Lamb, 'the true-hearted son of Admiral Burney refused to be comforted.' It is our task to record that round the grave of John Leech there was not a dry eye, and that some of his old companions were very painfully affected. The most beautiful part of the service was read by Mr. Hole,[171] in an earnest manner, broken occasionally by convulsions of grief which he had some difficulty in repressing, while here and there among the crowd loud sobs told of hearty though humble mourners."

On the 12th of November, 1864, there appeared in the pages of the periodical he had so well served, whose pages he has permanently enriched with some of the choicest specimens of graphic satire, and with whose fortunes he had been associated from the commencement, the following touching notice from the pen of his friend, the late Shirley Brooks:—

JOHN LEECH, OBIIT OCTOBER XXIX, MDCCCLXIV, AEtat 46.

"The simplest words are best where all words are vain. Ten days ago a great artist, in the noon of life, and with his glorious mental faculties in full power, but with the shade of physical infirmity darkening upon him, took his accustomed place among friends who have this day held his pall. Some of them had been fellow-workers with him for a quarter of a century, others for fewer years; but to know him well was to love him dearly, and all in whose name these lines are written mourn as for a brother. His monument is in the volumes of which this is one sad leaf, and in a hundred works which at this hour few will remember more easily than those who have just left his grave. While society, whose every phase he has illustrated with a truth, a grace, and a tenderness heretofore unknown to satiric art, gladly and proudly takes charge of his fame, they, whose pride in the genius of a great associate was equalled by their affection for an attached friend, would leave on record that they have known no kindlier, more refined, or more generous nature than that of him who has been thus early called to his rest.

NOVEMBER THE FOURTH."

FOOTNOTES:

[156] I estimate the number of his cartoons as nearly as possible as follows:—

1842 3 1850 37 1858 30 1843 11 1851 42 1859 21 1844 42 1852 35 1860 15 1845 43 1853 32 1861 10 1846 35 1854 34 1862 4 1847 35 1855 41 1863 3 1848 38 1856 33 1864 4 1849 37 1857 33

[157] Shirley Brooks in Illustrated London News of 19th November, 1864.

[158] Charles Mackay's "Forty Years' Recollections."

[159] "Thackeray the Humourist and the Man of Letters," p. 12.

[160] MS. Diary of the late Shirley Brooks, 1st January, 1864.

[161] Died on the 18th of December, 1864, exactly within a year from the date of her son's death.

[162] Shirley Brooks in Illustrated London News of 19th November, 1864.

[163] "I suggested the cut, Moses being dressed for the Fair, Johnny Russell for the Conference." MS. Diary of the late Shirley Brooks.

[164] The first time I find mention of his name is on the 22nd of March, 1864, when the late Shirley Brooks met him at a party at Mr. Ernest Hart's, 69, Wimpole Street. Some years afterwards, he adds in a note, "Met him next at Whitby." I first meet with his name at a Punch council, 7th November, 1864: "Dumaurier first time."

[165] Mr. Yates in Morning Star.

[166] MS. Diary of Shirley Brooks: 29th October, 1864.

[167] Illustrated London News, 19th November, 1864.

[168] MS. Diary of Mr. Shirley Brooks.

[169] Ibid.

[170] H. K. Browne ("Phiz"), T. Landseer, George Cruikshank, Marcus Stone, Sir John Gilbert, and Mr. Philips, R.A., were also present.

[171] The Rev. J. Reynolds Hole, author of "A Little Tour in Ireland," to which his friend, John Leech (who accompanied him), contributed some of the most charming of his illustrations.



CHAPTER XVI.

A BOOK ILLUSTRATOR: HABLOT KNIGHT BROWNE.

In a work dealing with comic artists and caricaturists, one is somewhat puzzled to decide what place to assign to the distinguished draughtsman who died a year and a half ago. Ultimus Romanorum, the last of the great trio of designers, Cruikshank, Leech, and Browne, his career offers to us a singular paradox; for although not born a comic artist (as we shall endeavour presently to show), he executed a vast number of comic illustrations; and while, so far as we know, never guilty of a caricature in his life, the larger portion of his drawings are caricatures pure and simple.

We might cite a hundred examples of this tendency to exaggeration, but one shall suffice. In the etching wherein Miss Nickleby is introduced to her uncle's objectionable friends, Miss Nickleby as well as the "friends" are remarkable for the largeness of their heads and the flimsiness of their bodies; while the men, if not exactly like those described by Pliny, or quoted from him (without acknowledgment) by our Sir John Mandeville, are at any rate too grotesque for human beings. If humanity offers to our study in daily life a variety in form, face, and feature, comprising eccentricities as well as excellencies, such specimens, nevertheless, as poor Smike or Mr. Mantalini were never designed in its atelier.



The artist's invincible tendency to exaggeration, that is caricature (in the Johnsonian definition of the word), was observed by his friend and ally, the late Charles James Lever, who remarked with reference to his illustrations of the novel of "Jack Hinton," "Browne's sketches are as usual caricatures; they make my scenes too riotous and disorderly. The character of my books for uproarious people and incident I owe mainly to Master Phiz."[172] When Samuel Lover was sent over to Brussels by McGlashan, the publisher, to take a likeness of the novelist, he was accompanied by Browne, the object of whose visit was to confer with the author on the subject of these very illustrations. Lever was so anxious to restrain him from caricaturing his countrymen, that he even begged Browne to accompany him to Dublin for the purpose of seeing the natives, instead of the wretched specimens of Milesian humanity to be met with in London.

LACK OF VITALITY.

Another fault of this artist, which will be apparent to any one acquainted with his work, is the weakness of his outline, and the singular absence of solidity, stability, and even of vitality in his figures. There is no lack of powerful situations in Frank Smedley's novel of "Lewis Arundel," but Browne's illustrations are characterised by an utter absence of vitality, while shadow usurps the place of substantial bone and muscle. There are the usual thread-paper men in tail hats, with trousers so tightly strapped to their feet that they must go through the tedium of existence in intolerable discomfort. In one picture he shows us a fragile, attenuated man holding another fragile, attenuated man over the well of a staircase by the waistband of his trousers, a feat which, difficult of performance to a Hercules, would be absolutely beyond the power of a person so fragile, so absolutely destitute of bone and muscle, as the hero of this particular episode.

The weakness of which we now speak becomes strikingly apparent when he enables us to compare him with either of the distinguished trio to which he himself belonged. Such an opportunity offers itself in Mr. R. W. Surtees' novel of "Mr. Facey Romford's Hounds." Compare John Leech's illustration, Fresh as a Four-Year Old (the last he executed for the novelist before his firm, free hand was paralysed by death), with Hablot Knight Browne's first etching in the same book. A better subject, surely, could scarcely have been selected: the hounds have just been let out of the kennel, and in actual life would, of course, be scampering over the place in all the exuberant consciousness of canine freedom; the scene, in fact, would be redolent of life and excitement, which is wholly wanting to Browne's illustration. "Phiz," from boyhood, had been accustomed to horses, and frequently hunted with the Surrey hounds, and to this circumstance is due the facility with which he usually delineated horses in the hunting field. In the delineation of hunting scenes, however, he falls far behind John Leech, and this inferiority is strikingly manifested in the illustration to which we are now referring. If you compare the fragile men, horses, and hounds, with those in Leech's last etching, you cannot fail to be struck with the vigour and life-like reality of the latter drawing. Browne's women as a rule are delicate, fragile, consumptive-looking creatures. The one in the etching referred to is both physically weak and a bad horsewoman to boot—sitting her horse with all the ungracefulness of a sack of flour.

Another weakness of Hablot Knight Browne is a tendency to reproduce. If you look at any of his "interiors," it will be apparent to you that the men and women—the furniture and fittings—the room itself, you have seen any number of times before. Charles Chesterfield becomes Nicholas Nickleby, and Nicholas Nickleby Harry Lorrequer; and with the slightest possible rearrangement, the scenes in which these gentlemen figure from time to time are so much alike, that we are reminded for all the world of the set scenes and artificial backgrounds of a photographer's, "studio." Take "Nicholas Nickleby," by way of example: the room in which old Ralph Nickleby first finds his poor relations, does duty (with the slightest possible rearrangement) for the Yorkshire schoolmaster's room at the Saracen's Head; while a room in Kenwig's house becomes successively an apartment in Mr. Mantalini's residence, a green-room, Mr. Ralph Nickleby's office, Mr. Charles Cheeryble's room, a hairdresser's shop, and so on. The illustrations to a novel may not inaptly be compared to the scenery and characters of a drama, and a theatre furnished with such a dearth of scenery and "properties," would be a poor affair indeed. This tendency to reproduction becomes strikingly apparent wherever a romantic hero puts in an appearance. Thus, Mrs. Trollope's Charles Chesterfield in a frock coat, becomes in a tailcoat Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby; in another frock coat, Martin Chuzzlewit; while a military surtout converts him, with equal facility, into Charles Lever's Jack Hinton or Harry Lorrequer, according to the exigencies of the costume. The strange part of it is that this peculiarity is shown almost exclusively in the delineation of heroes of fiction. The imagination of the artist is evidently impressed by marked and clearly defined characters such as Squeers, Pecksniff, Gamp, Dombey, Macstinger, Quilp, or Carker, and their identity as a rule is admirably preserved. If pressed for an explanation, it is possible that Browne might have pleaded that heroes of romance present for the most part, with a few notable exceptions, a strong family likeness, being little better than dummies, introduced by their authors for the purpose of setting off personages possessed of greater force of character and decision of purpose. Be this as it may, the singular failing we refer to is certainly no mere fancy of our own. Charles Lever himself complained that in the supper scene of his second number, Lorrequer bore so striking a resemblance to his contemporary, Nicholas Nickleby; while his biographer, Mr. Fitzpatrick, observes that the identity of Harry Lorrequer is never maintained throughout the novel, that mercurial hero being alternately represented old, young, good-looking, and ugly. So much indeed was Lever impressed with the fact, that he actually besought the artist to represent O'Malley the same person throughout the book. A knowledge of Irish physiognomy was essential to any illustrator of Lever's novels, and Hablot Knight Browne was so innocent of this knowledge that the author begged him to go down to the House of Commons and study the faces of the Irish members there, as the only accessible method of obtaining the necessary insight in England.

Hypercriticism, happily, would be out of place in a work dealing with caricaturists and graphic humourists of the nineteenth century. Faults such as those the author has ventured to indicate appear to him faults indeed of a grave character; but, while conscious of defects which cannot fail to be patent to the most ordinary observer, he is conscious at the same time of the great abilities of the artist, who like those of whom he has already treated, has passed over to the ranks of "the great majority." If the scenery and properties are sometimes poor,—if there is no genius, and oftentimes a lack of decision and reality, there is on the other hand no lack of talent; and there are many designs of Hablot Knight Browne which place him in the very first rank of English book illustrators. His etching of The Goblin and the Sexton (the eccentric yew-tree notwithstanding), Mr. Pickwick in the Pound, and the very admirable little etchings which we find in that rare Paper of Tobacco by "Joseph Fume," may be favourably compared with some of the best comic illustrations of George Cruikshank himself.



"NICHOLAS NICKELBY."

Can any picture tell its story better than that first illustration to "Nicholas Nickleby," where old Ralph pays his "visit to his poor relations"? Mark the supercilious air with which the vulgar moneylender hands his hat to Nicholas, and the unveiled contempt with which he receives the attentions of poor Mrs. Nickleby and her daughter. A no less admirable illustration is the one wherein we see the Yorkshire schoolmaster nibbing his pen, whilst Snawley consigns his wretched step-sons to the tender mercies of the principal of Do-the-boys Hall. Observe the extraordinary anatomical proportions, hat and toggery, of Mr. Newman Noggs, as he stretches up to the top of the coach to hand a letter to Nicholas. Regard the nightcap and head-gear of the detestable Mrs. Squeers, as she administers matutinal brimstone and treacle to the starving pupils of Do-the-boys Hall. Mark the astonishment of Squeers and his victim, as the savage goes down under the thundering blows of Nickleby's cane. Look at the old imbecile declaring his passion for the foolish Mrs. Nickleby. Behold his knee-breeches and shorts protruding from the chimney, when his benighted intellect prompted him, at the imminent hazard of strangulation, to pay a visit to the object of his affections via that unusually circuitous route. Look at the fatal brawl between Sir Mulberry Hawk and his hopeful pupil; and rejoice at the final retributive justice which overtakes Mrs. Squeers, when she falls into the hands of her late victims, and is drenched in her turn with the loathsome brew she had so long administered to themselves.

"MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT."

Specially noteworthy is the bright little picture on the title-page, where the coach, with its spanking four-in-hand, gallops on its distant journey after depositing Martin Chuzzlewit at his destination. The guard, as he mounts up behind, watches with curious interest Pecksniff's unctuous reception of the new pupil. Nothing can well be cleverer than his realization of the Pleasant Little Family Party at Mr. Pecksniff's, where that hypocritical personage, surrounded by foes, assumes a look of persecuted benevolence, and gravely requests his daughter, when he takes his chamber candlestick that night, to remind him to be more particular in praying for Mr. Anthony Chuzzlewit, "who had done him an injustice." The Warm Reception of Mr. Pecksniff by his Venerable Friend gives us the liveliest satisfaction. If old Chuzzlewit's face is one of the "caricatures" referred to, it must be remembered that it is distorted with passion, and the fact is forgotten in the satisfaction with which we hail the detection and punishment of the whining rascal, the sting of which is envenomed by the astounding revelation that all the while he has been weaving his web of falsehood around his intended victim, he himself has been the dupe of the man he had schemed so long to hoodwink and deceive.

"THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP."

Regard again Quilp, the dwarf, and his elfin errand boy (in the "Old Curiosity Shop"), enjoying the agonies of Sampson Brass as he essays to smoke a long churchwarden. Behold Quilp upon his back taunting the large fierce dog with hideous grimaces, triumphant in the consciousness that the shortness of his chain will not permit him to advance another inch. Look at Mrs. Jarley's wax-work brigand, "with the blackest possible head and the clearest possible complexion," going his rounds in the company of little Nell, his eyes fixed on the miniature of his lady-love, and his hand pressed to his stomach instead of his heart. Behold the dwarf once more, as he entertains Sampson and his sister Sally in the ruined outhouse overlooking the river; the rain pours down on the head of the hapless attorney, who, with coat buttoned up to the chin, and evidently suffering from severe influenza, looks the picture of shivering discomfort. Although in no better plight herself, Sally rejoices in the sufferings of her brother, and as she sips her tea, her repulsive features are distorted with a hideous grin of satisfaction. Quilp, seated on his barrel beneath the only remnants of a roof, occupies a comparatively dry corner, and looks the very picture of rollicking fun and enjoyment.

"BUNSBY."

But incomparably one of the best of Browne's comic illustrations is the one in "Dombey," wherein Captain Cuttle encounters Mrs. Macstinger in charge of Bunsby, bent on rivetting matrimonial chains upon that confused and ancient mariner. Bunsby is one of the happiest of Dickens's creations; stupid as an owl, he has nevertheless an oracular mode of delivering himself, and the simple-minded Cuttle places as much reliance upon this wooden-headed sailor as the ancients did on the mysterious utterance of the Delphic Apollo. That the powerful will of Macstinger should hold himself in subjugation so long as he was under the dominion of her eye was a matter of course; but that this man of wisdom should be so easily boarded and captured by the enemy, is so absolutely beyond his simple comprehension that he scratches his head in sheer amazement. As for poor Bunsby, the cup of his humiliation is full. So far as his wooden features are capable of expression, they indicate two distinct trains of thought: a conviction that his own pretensions have been detected and exposed, and a desire to run,—an inclination repressed by the powerful clutch of his strong-minded bride, who retains his wrist in a grasp of iron. Compare the look of bewilderment on Cuttle's face with the look of mingled contempt and triumph on the features of Macstinger; and then look at poor Bunsby!

"Phiz" began etching when he was seventeen, and was in full work when he was twenty-one. It was his three drawings on the wood for Dickens's rare tract, "Sunday Under Three Heads,"[173] which introduced him first to public notice. This was intended as a protest against the cant and narrow-mindedness of the bigots whose ignorance of the sacred writings is so dense that they confound the Jewish Sabbath (i.e. the Saturday) with the English Sunday; misunderstand (which in their ignorance of Hebrew may be excusable) the directions to his own people of the Jewish law-giver,—and ignore (which is absolutely inexcusable) the dictates of common sense, and the plain directions of our Saviour and of the Gentile Apostle. The strong common sense of Charles Dickens, and of many good Christian men after him, have striven in vain to expose an error due to the narrow-mindedness of our Puritan forefathers, to whom are due also the impurities of Dryden and of the dramatic writers of the Restoration. Cant, however, has prevailed; and the English Sunday—to the delight of these fanatics, and the absolute terror of their children—remains the most unrefreshing and most doleful of the seven days of the week.

THE "JACK SHEPPARD" MANIA.

Theatrical London in 1840 was visited by an excitement second only to the "Tom and Jerry" mania of 1821. The mania of 1840, if occupying a narrower area, was more morbid in its character, and certainly not less mischievous in its results. Harrison Ainsworth had brought out his peculiar romance of "Jack Sheppard," which, resting on its own merits, might have achieved perhaps a mild popularity and done but little harm. Thanks, however, to the genius and fancy of George Cruikshank, the public became for a time Sheppard mad; the heroes presented to admiring and applauding audiences at the theatres were murderers, housebreakers, highway robbers, thieves, and their female companions. The morbid taste of the populace had in fact been thoroughly roused, a condition of things which was satirized by the artist's little-known etching of The Way to the Gallows made Easy and Pleasant, which appeared in "The New Monthly Magazine" of 1840.[174] The inventive powers of the artist were almost nil, and the rare and able etching referred to was suggested to him by John Poole, the author of "Paul Pry," to whom we are indebted for the descriptive letterpress: "At the foot of a gently sloping path strewed with flowers, stands a gibbet decorated, not with a halter, but wreaths of roses. Around it are many tombs of elegant construction, supposed to enclose the ashes of the illustrious departed. Upon one is inscribed, 'Here repose the mortal remains of the ever-famed Jerry Abershaw'; upon another, 'Sacred to the memory of Poor Johnny Greenacre.' A third is remarkable for its touching simplicity—'Alas! Poor Thurtell!' Another, somewhat more elaborate, gives us 'Burke and Hare! As they were loving friends in life, so in death are they undivided! Erected by their affectionate disciples, Bishop and May.' Besides these there are many others all bearing names of mark and fame. The whole is surrounded by a pretty arabesque composed of crowbars and other implements of burglary, pistols, knives, death's heads and cross-bones, halters, handcuffs, and fetters, ingeniously disposed and prettily intertwined with wreaths of roses."

We said at the opening of this chapter that "Phiz" was not born a comic artist. He possessed a certain amount of humour, which was evoked in the first instance by the example of Cruikshank, and his abilities and desire to emulate the greater artist have enabled him unquestionably to realize many humorous designs. It is impossible, however, to examine the numerous etchings of this draughtsman, without coming to the conclusion that he is always seen at his best when not called on to exercise his purely comic powers. Take by way of example, The Venice Glass, in Ainsworth's romance of "Crichton"; you will need no reference to the letterpress to understand it, for the artist tells his story far better than the novelist. Observe Crichton as he raises the goblet, and the poisoned wine bubbles and boils, and finally shivers the chalice into a thousand fragments; regard the agitation of Marguerite de Valois; the keen attention of Henri and his attendants. Where shall we find a finer illustration than the one in this book in which Esclairmonde is presented to Henri? The meeting of Mr. Tigg and Martin Chuzzlewit at the pawnbroker's shop is full of pathos. Look at the poor, wasted but still handsome mother waiting her turn whilst the gin-drinking laundress pawns her flat-irons to gratify her passion for the deadly drink; note the insouciance of the thoughtless musician as he twangs the guitar which he is about to pledge, though probably dependent on it for bread. Notice the pictures above,—the Bacchante pressing grapes into a wine cup,—the bailiff distraining for rent. Hablot Knight Browne has no powers which would enable us to compare him with Hogarth, and yet the grim reality of this picture Hogarth himself might almost admire.

Regard again that wondrous tailpiece at page 96 of "The Old Curiosity Shop," where Quilp, the odious dwarf, sits up all night smoking and drinking, his countenance every now and then "expanding with a grin of delight" as his patient, long-suffering wife makes some involuntary movement of restlessness or fatigue. Look at poor, wasted, shoeless Nell, as she reclines on the settee of the public-house, surrounded by sympathisers,—the kind-hearted motherly landlady administering mental and bodily solace to the motherless child,—the poor, foolish, gambling grandfather gazing into her face with wistful anxiety. Lastly, look at the ghastly corpse of old Quilp as he lies dead amid the mud and slime of the river, which, after playing with the ugly, malicious, ill-shapen thing until it was bereft of life, flung it contemptuously high and dry upon the swamps at low tide.

"DOMBEY AND SON."

"Dombey and Son" called for comparatively little exercise of Browne's comic power, and consequently we shall find in this book examples of some of his finest book etchings. The pompous London merchant, the frigid influence he exercises on those about him, the distrustful look of the nurse as she brings baby Paul into his presence, the shrinking form of little Florence as the frightened child cowers with folded hands behind her repellent father's chair, are finely depicted in the etching of The Dombey Family. In Mrs. Dombey at Home, the proud, haughty beauty chafing under the consciousness that she has been sacrificed to the wealth of the heartless merchant, takes no pains to veil the contempt she feels for the admiring men who surround her. These men (by the way) are scarcely men at all, they are all grossly exaggerated; but "Phiz," like many artists of greater pretensions, has sacrificed everything to his central figure, and the presence and bearing of the disdainful beauty makes the coup d'oeil delightful. Abstraction and Recognition is a wonderful etching; both man and horse are admirably drawn, whilst the figures scowling out of the dark entry on the passing and unconscious horseman require no reference to the letterpress. In his etching of The Dark Road, Mr. Browne developed a style of etching of which he afterwards frequently availed himself, and by which (as in "Bleak House" and "Roland Cashel") he sometimes succeeded in producing remarkable effects. It shows us a postilion driving a team of horses over a dark and dreary road bordered on either hand by dismal moorland; the streaks of the approaching dawn illuminate the edges of the landscape; the single occupant of the berlin, unable to control his agitation, stands upright, and gazes anxiously around him. So realistic is the drawing, that as we look at the flying team we may almost hear the jingle of the splinter-bars and harness as the horses rattle along the dismal road. Cruikshank, to save his life, could draw neither a horse, a tree, or a pretty woman; when he did so it was rather by accident than by design. "Phiz" (with all his faults) could draw all three, and impart to them a grace, a beauty, and a poetry peculiar to himself. Look at that etching of Carker in his Hour of Triumph, where Edith, after using the villain as a tool to revenge herself upon her husband, turns upon her miserable dupe with all the force of her superior intellect, and laughs in the face of the man she has so egregiously befooled. This really is an admirable drawing; the anger and humiliation on the face of the dumbfounded villain, who feels himself absolutely powerless in the hands of the scornful, resolute woman, are powerfully depicted. A more perfect realization of Edith Dombey it seems to us could scarcely be imagined. Leech, perhaps, might have reached the idea. He would certainly have put more breadth and solidity into the figure of Carker; but the woman he could scarcely have improved upon—I doubt if he could have matched her. As for Cruikshank, he would have given her an impossible waist, a puffy face surmounted with bandeaux of raven hair scrupulously plastered to each side of her lofty forehead; whilst Carker would have been presented to us in an uncomfortable coat, hair parted and dressed after the Cruikshankian fashion, and a pair of boots at least half a yard in length.



"BLEAK HOUSE" AND "ROLAND CASHEL."

"Bleak House" (1852-3) has been described as the most successful of "Phiz's" illustrated work; but although it contains some of the best etchings he ever designed for Charles Dickens, the rest are in truth of unequal merit. Among the best may be mentioned Consecrated Ground; The Old Man of the name of Tulkinghorn; Morning; Tom All Alone's; and the sunset scene in the Long Drawing-room at Chesney Wold. In the dreary twilight of the Ghost's Walk and of the room in which the murder was consummated we have a pair of drawings unsurpassed by any of the illustrations he executed for Charles Lever's "Roland Cashel," which last contains unquestionably the finest of his designs.

Of all his illustrators, Hablot Knight Browne was the one who best suited the requirements of Charles Dickens. A man of talent without a single idea of his own, he was found more malleable and manageable than Cruikshank, who, as we have seen, would have had a hand (if he could) not only in the illustrations, but also in the management of the story. The conditions under which "Phiz" illustrated "Pickwick" were wholly different from those which poor Seymour had endeavoured to impose upon his author. "It is due to the gentleman," says Dickens, in his preface to the "Pickwick Papers," "It is due to the gentleman whose designs accompany the letterpress, to state that the interval has been so short between the production of each number in manuscript and its appearance in print, that the greater portion of the illustrations have been executed by the artist from the author's verbal description of what he intended to write." Cruikshank would certainly not have done this, and we doubt whether John Leech would have consented to work under such conditions. But as regards Browne, the case was entirely different. He had no genius or ideas of his own, and could only work from the suggestions of others. The interest and anxiety which Dickens felt in the character of the illustrations to his novels, is shown by reference to the illustrations to "Dombey." "The points for illustration, and the enormous care required, make me," he says, "excessively anxious! The man for Dombey, if Browne could see him, the class of man to a T, is Sir A—— E——, of D——s. Great pains will be necessary with Miss Tox. The Toodle family should not be too much caricatured, because of Polly." As the story unwinds itself, he proceeds, "Browne is certainly interesting himself and taking pains;" and again, in another letter, "Browne seems to be getting on well." Still "Browne," with all his pliability, found it a hard matter to please him. He made a particular point of Paul, Mrs. Pipchin, and the cat by the fire; and the result to himself was so eminently unsatisfactory that it produced a characteristic protest. "I am really distressed by the illustration of Mrs. Pipchin and Paul. It is so frightfully and wildly wide of the mark. Good heaven! in the commonest and most literal construction of the text, it is all wrong! She is described as an old lady, and Paul's 'miniature arm-chair' is mentioned more than once. He ought to be sitting in a little arm-chair down in a corner of the fireplace, staring up at her. I can't say what pain and vexation it is to be so utterly misrepresented. I would cheerfully have given a hundred pounds to have left this illustration out of the book. He never could have got that idea of Mrs. Pipchin if he had attended to the text. Indeed, I think he does better without the text; for then the notion is made easy to him, a short description, and he can't help taking it in." This last sentence exactly describes the man: a personal description with him did more than any amount of letterpress, however lucid.

One may readily understand this almost nervous anxiety of Charles Dickens with reference to the character of his illustrations. He worked, be it remembered, under conditions entirely different to the novelist of a later date. The etched illustrations of his day formed a most important—in some cases (the works of inferior men, such as Albert Smith, for instance) by far the most important—portion of the work itself. Under the charm of the illustrations and the mode of issue, the tale was protracted to a length which would be impossible in a novel of Charles Reade or Wilkie Collins, which depends for its success upon the skill of the novelist alone. The novel issued in monthly numbers depended on two sources of attraction—the skill of the novelist and the skill of his artistic coadjutor. Dickens' requirements, however, were of so exacting a nature that they proved in the end too exacting even for the patience of the accommodating artist, and the reader will not be surprised to learn that a coolness was ultimately established between artist and author, the outcome of which was the employment of Marcus Stone and Luke Fildes on the later novels of "Our Mutual Friend" and "Edwin Drood."

Those who would find fault with Charles Dickens for the mode in which he controlled his artists quite fail to understand the man himself. Although he had no knowledge of the pencil, although he himself had no knowledge of drawing, he was nevertheless a thorough artist in heart and mind. There is scarcely a character in his books which does not show the care and thought which he bestowed upon its elaboration. Ralph Nickleby, Squeers, Smike, little Nell, Quilp, Barnaby Rudge, Steerforth, Paul Dombey, Lady Dedlock, Joe, each and all show how carefully they were elaborated; how distinctly they presented themselves to the retina of the mind of their distinguished creator. When this is borne in mind, it will be at once understood why the Mrs. Pipchin of Hablot Browne was not the Mrs. Pipchin with whose outward appearance and mental peculiarities the author himself was so intimately acquainted.

"AURIOL."

Notwithstanding the exhibition, after his death, of water-colours and other works, which took the public by surprise, Hablot Knight Browne will continue to be known to most of us as an illustrator of books, and nothing more. "Oh! I'm aweary, I'm aweary," he said himself in a letter to one of his sons, "of this illustration business." Some of these illustrations, however, are wonderfully graceful, and one in particular seems to call for special notice. It will be found in the "New Monthly Magazine" for 1845, and is undoubtedly one of the best examples of the artist's work which may be found anywhere. It represents a prisoner in a dungeon lying at the foot of a pillar, which, except in a ghastly carved work running round it of skulls and cross bones, reminds us somewhat of Bonneval's pillar at Chillon. The lights and shadows are wonderfully rendered, and the work is characterized by a softness, a beauty, and a finish only to be observed in work which took the artist's fancy. This etching is entitled, Rougemont's Device to Perplex Auriol; and Ainsworth's story which it illustrates—a peculiarly unsatisfactory one—commenced, I think, in "Ainsworth's Magazine," passed into the "New Monthly," when its author purchased that periodical in 1845, and (whether the novelist got himself into an intellectual fix or otherwise I know not) finished, I believe, eventually nowhere.

Browne indeed finds a place here more by virtue of his book illustrations than by reason of any just pretensions to be considered a graphic humourist. His comic powers appear to us more the result of education and emulation than natural gifts, and the consequence is, that in attempting to be funny, his work too often degenerates into absolute exaggeration. His excellencies must be sought for in his serious illustrations, which fall more within the province of the art critic than the scope and purpose of a work which treats of graphic satirists and comic artists of the nineteenth century. Some of his finest illustrations of a serious character will be found in the pages of the "Illuminated Magazine"; in Charles Lever's admirable story of "St. Patrick's Eve"; in the "Fortunes of Colonel Forlogh O'Brien"; in Augustus Mayhew's "Paved with Gold"; in Ainsworth's "Mervyn Clithero"; and "Revelations of London"; and above all, in Charles Lever's novel of "Roland Cashel."

Hablot Knight Browne lived to see the decline and fall of that peculiar and powerful art of book illustration which was introduced by Cruikshank; was fostered and encouraged by Charles Dickens, Charles James Lever, their imitators and contemporaries; and died, so to speak, with these distinguished men. His work in later years, as might naturally have been expected, shows a woeful decline of power; and when the suggestors from whom he derived inspiration were no longer at his back, the poverty of invention which characterized the man when left to his own devices becomes painfully apparent.

"Phiz" drew in later years for Judy and other comic papers, and it is simple justice to say that his designs are characterized by an utter absence of comic power. The true comic inspiration possessed in so wonderful a degree by Cruikshank, by John Leech, and even by Robert Seymour, he never indeed possessed. Some fifteen years before his death he suffered from incipient paralysis, and furthermore injured his thumb, which obliged him to hold his pencil between his middle and fore-fingers. Gradually this great and graceful artist dropped so far behind in the race of life that he yielded latterly to proposals to illustrate boys' literature of a very inferior class.

In addition to an absence of comic inspiration, the creative faculty of Cruikshank and Leech was wanting to Hablot Knight Browne. In order to carry out an idea, it was necessary that it should be put into his head; for leave him to himself, and he could do absolutely nothing.[175] George Cruikshank and John Leech after receiving instructions would proceed to realize them in their own way and after their own fashion; but this was not the case with Hablot Knight Browne. While he could realize the idea of another with peculiar success when the subject took his fancy, he could neither enlarge nor improve upon it, and in this lies the difference between genius and mere ability. Lacking an inherent sense of humour, he copied Cruikshank, and hence his exaggerations and failures as a comic designer; but he was ultimus Romanorum,—the last representative of the famous men whose art was fostered and encouraged by Charles Dickens, by Charles Lever, by Harrison Ainsworth, and by Richard Bentley. The services which these eminent men rendered to the novelists who like them are dead and gone can scarcely be appreciated; for we presume few will deny that their labours lent a charm, a beauty, and an interest to their works, which largely tended to promote their sale. The fortunes of "Jack Sheppard," of "The Miser's Daughter," of "The Tower of London,"—the success obtained by nearly all the stories of Ainsworth which obtained any success at all, was mainly due to the pencil of Cruikshank. The reputation of "Oliver Twist"—a morbid novel—was made in a great measure by him; but for John Leech, neither "Mr. Ledbury," "The Scattergood Family," "The Marchioness of Brinvilliers," or "Richard Savage," would have survived to our day. To him the novels of Mr. R. W. Surtees owe their entire popularity; while his genius has conferred vitality on the rubbish of A Beckett. It is curious, however, how little these facts were recognised at the time, and what little credit was given in contemporary reviews and by contemporary critics to the artists who rendered to successful novelists the priceless aid and assistance of their pencils.

How far the needle of "Phiz" contributed to the ultimate success of the great raconteur, Charles James Lever, we are in no position to state; that it proved a very large factor in that result there can be no manner of doubt. That success was not achieved immediately. Lever commenced life as a struggling country doctor, and "Harry Lorrequer," first brought out in the "Dublin University Magazine," before it appeared in illustrated shilling numbers, was almost wholly ignored by the London press, the criticisms and favourable remarks coming almost wholly from provincial journals. There was one exception by the way, a military paper, the critic of which went into such ecstacies over this sparkling military medley, that he asserted he would rather be author of "Lorrequer" than of all the "Pickwicks" or "Nicklebys" in the world. This notice (unknown to Lever) was published with the advertisements of the book, and (strange to say) gave so much annoyance to Dickens that he sent an angry reply to a civil letter which came to him shortly afterwards from the Irish novelist, and their friendly intercourse was for some years suspended in consequence.



The decline of Hablot Browne's popularity was painfully apparent to himself. Although our chapter was written long before the appearance of Mr. Kitton's pamphlet, we may be permitted to re-open it to extract from the latter the following melancholy observations which we find in a letter to his son, Dr. Browne: "I am at present on a sporting paper, supported by some high and mighty nobs; but I fear, like everything I have to do with, now a-days, it will collapse, for some of the proprietors of the paper are also shareholders, etc., etc., in the Graphotype Company, so they want to work the two together. I hate the process; it takes quite four times as long as wood, and I cannot draw and express myself with a nasty, finicking brush, and the result when printed seems to alternate between something all as black as my hat, or as hazy and faint as a worn-out plate. If on wood, I should like it well enough; as it is it spoils four days a week, leaving little time for anything else. Oh! I'm aweary, I'm aweary! of this illustration business."[176] This seems to us inexpressibly sad. We hear nothing of it in earlier days, when he was drawing the excellent designs for "Roland Cashel," for "Dombey," or for "Bleak House."

Of the works and sketches in water colour and oils exhibited in Liverpool after the artist's death, personally we have seen nothing. They took the public by surprise, for few at least of the outer world suspected that this shy, retiring illustrator of books was a persevering and accomplished water-colour artist. We ourselves were aware of the fact, and had seen some thirty original and highly characteristic sketches, some of them studies of characters in novels of Charles Dickens and Lever; all executed prior to 1846, some in Indian ink, some in crayon, a few in pencil. Among them was a small but highly finished water-colour drawing, representing a group of seven knights in full martial panoply, and a striking effect is produced by the glint of the sun on the burnished armour of the central figure. The author of a recent sketch would cite these water colours as a complete answer to those who like ourselves maintain, in no mere spirit of detraction, that the artist possessed not one particle of genius. Surely he cannot be in earnest. If so, we have only to say, that if painting subjects in oils or water colour from the thousand and one hints to be gathered from history, fiction, or every-day life, be a test of genius, the walls of every summer and winter exhibition—to say nothing of the Royal Academy—would be furnished annually with examples from end to end.

Leech died in the meridian of his fame at the early age of forty-six. Hablot Browne when he died had not only survived his talents, but his peculiarly shy and retiring nature had caused him at the age of sixty-seven to be absolutely forgotten. The famous men of letters whose works he had illustrated were dead and gone; the world of literature and of art took such small note of him that his funeral was the funeral of a private individual, and not of one who, if he did not partake in, had contributed in no considerable degree to the success of Charles Dickens and of Charles James Lever. When his passing-bell rang out upon the summer air, journalists remembered that a great artist was gone to his rest, and Punch inserted in his number of the 22nd of July, 1882, to the memory of the last of the book etchers of the nineteenth century the following graceful tribute:—

"The lamp is out that lighted up the text Of Dickens, Lever—heroes of the pen. Pickwick and Lorrequer we love, but next We place the man who made us see such men. What should we know of Martin Chuzzlewit, Stern Mr. Dombey, or Uriah Heap? Tom Burke of Ours?—Around our hearts they sit, Outliving their creators—all asleep. No sweeter gift ere fell to man than his Who gave us troops of friends—delightful Phiz.

"He is not dead! There, in the picture-book, He lives with men and women that he drew; We take him with us to the cozy nook, Where old companions we can love anew. Dear boyhood's friend! We rode with him to hounds; Lived with dear Peggotty in after years; Missed in old Ireland, where fun knew no bounds. At Dora's death we felt poor David's tears. There is no death for such a man,—he is The spirit of an unclosed book! immortal Phiz!"

FOOTNOTES:

[172] Fitzpatrick's "Life of Charles Lever."

[173] Now lately republished.

[174] And republished in "Poole's Miscellany."

[175] As I notice a similar remark in one of the obituary notices of the artist's death, I think it necessary to observe that this chapter was written while "Phiz" was yet living.

[176] Mr. Kitton's "Memoir," p. 19.



CHAPTER XVII.

A BATCH OF BOOK ILLUSTRATORS:

KENNY MEADOWS; ROBERT WILLIAM BUSS; ALFRED CROWQUILL; CHARLES H. BENNETT; W. M. THACKERAY.

In old and second-hand bookshops, and in booksellers' catalogues, may often be found a book which is gradually becoming a literary rarity. It dates from 1840, and is a curiosity in its way, not only on account of the "portraits" which adorn its pages, but as a specimen of the literary padding on which men of letters (some of them distinguished) were content to employ their talents fifty years ago. It was published by Robert Tyas, of 50, Cheapside; professed to give "Portraits of the English" of the period, but served as a means of introducing certain characteristic pictorial sketches, more or less true to nature, by Kenny Meadows, an artist whose name and reputation, although he has been dead scarcely ten years, are already forgotten. Connected with these portraits are "original essays by distinguished writers," including, amid names of lesser note, literary stars such as Douglas Jerrold, Leman Rede, Percival Leigh, Laman Blanchard, Leigh Hunt, William Howitt, and Samuel Lover. These essays, or rather letterpress descriptions, were written to the pictures, which were not drawn (as is generally supposed) in illustration of the text. The portraits are taken from almost every grade in life: from the dressmaker to the draper's assistant, and from the housekeeper to the hangman; the last, by the way, being perhaps the most characteristic sketch of the series. The best of these forty-three "pictures" is the one which faces the title-page, a gathering of the company which individually take part in this "gallery of illustration." The designs are characteristic of the artist's style, but possess little power of attraction, being destitute of any claim to originality either of conception or treatment. The artist's share of the work is by far the best part of the somewhat lugubrious entertainment, which the performances of his literary associates scarcely serve to enliven. The book, however, was a success in its day, for, if we mistake not, it was followed by a second series, is even now sought after by the "collector" (not bibliomaniac), and possesses some historical value by reason of the fact that national types, such as The Diner-out, The Stockbroker, The Lion of the Party, The Fashionable Physician (that is to say, of 1840), The Linen Draper's Assistant, The Barmaid, The Family Governess, The Postman, The Theatrical Manager, The Farmer's Daughter, and The Young Lord, no longer live and move and act their part amongst us. A change comes over the people in the course of forty years, and some years hence our grandchildren may well smile at the extraordinary monstrosities (female) who figure in the graphic satires of 1883-4.

Kenny Meadows was the son of a retired naval officer, and was born at Cardigan on the first of November, 1790. You will look in vain for any notice of him, or of his services in the cause of illustrative art, in any of the biographical dictionaries of his own or a subsequent period; and this appears to us an unaccountable omission, for he achieved in his time considerable celebrity as an artistic illustrator of books. His work will be found bound up with that of most of his artistic confreres in nearly all the illustrated periodicals of his day; he was one of the first to introduce wood-engraving among English publishers as a means of cheap and popular illustration; he was employed by the late Mr. Ingram, in the designs for the early Christmas numbers of the Illustrated London News; he will be found amongst the number of the artists who illustrated the early volumes of Punch; he was in universal request as a designer of drawings to fairy and fanciful stories; among his intimate friends were men of mark; such as Leigh Hunt, Douglas Jerrold, Charles Dickens, W. M. Thackeray, Clarkson Stanfield, David Roberts, and the Landseers; he did as much for illustrative art as, perhaps, any artist of his time; and yet, amongst men whose abilities scarcely exceeded his own in the same particular walk in art, no place is to be found in any biographical dictionary, so far at least as we know, for any mention of poor, kindly, genial, Kenny Meadows.

Besides the popular illustrated periodicals of his day, in most of which his familiar initials may be recognised, Kenny Meadows was in almost universal request both amongst authors and publishers of the time. We find him in 1832 illustrating, with Isaac Robert Cruikshank, a periodical bearing the somewhat unpromising title of "The Devil in London." To an 1833 edition of "Gil Blas," illustrated by George Cruikshank, he contributed a frontispiece; and we find his hand in the following: the late J. B. Buckstone's dramas of "The Wreck Ashore," "Victorine," "May Queen," "Henriette," "Rural Felicity," "Pet of the Petticoats," "Married Life," "The Rake and his Pupil," "The Christening," "Isabella," "Second Thoughts," and "The Scholar" (1835, 1836); Whitehead's "Autobiography of Jack Ketch" (1835); "Heads of the People, or Portraits of the English" (1841); Mr. S. C. Hall's "Book of British Ballads" (1842-44); an 1842 edition of Moore's "Lalla Rookh"; Leigh Hunt's "Palfrey, a Love Story of Old Times" (1842); "The Illuminated Magazine" (1843); Shakespeare (1843); "Whist, its History and Practice"; "Backgammon, its History and Practice," by the same author; "The Illustrated London Almanacks" (from 1845 upwards); Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer's "Leila," and "Calderon" (1847); W. N. Bailey's "Illustrated Musical Annual," "The Family Joe Miller, a Drawing-room Jest Book" (1848); "Puck," (a comic serial, 1848); Laman Blanchard's "Sketches from Life" (1849); Samuel Lover's "Metrical Tales and Poems;" "The Magic of Kindness," by the brothers Mayhew; Mrs. S. C. Hall's "Midsummer Eve;" "Punch," up to and including the seventh volume; and (some time afterwards) its able opponent "The Man in the Moon" (now exceedingly scarce).[177] In these and very many other works we find him associated not only with George Cruikshank, John Leech, Hablot Knight Browne, and Richard Doyle, but with artists occupying the position of Sir John Gilbert, Frank Stone, Maclise, Clarkson Stanfield, Creswick, E. M. Ward, Elmore, Frost, Sir J. Noel Paton, Frederick Goodall, Thomas Landseer, F. W. Popham, Fairholt, Harrison Weir, Redgrave, Corbould, and Stephanoff. He was a thoroughly useful man; and a thousand examples of quaint imaginings—oftentimes of graceful workmanship—might be culled from the various works and serials in which his hand may be readily recognised.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse