Social Pictorial Satire
George du Maurier
Produced by Ben Courtney, Keith M. Eckrich and the PG Online
SOCIAL PICTORIAL SATIRE
[Frontispiece: Mr. and Mrs. Candle.
From the original drawing by JOHN LEECH. In the possession of JOHN
KENDRICK BANGS. Esq. The lower portion has never before been
SOCIAL PICTORIAL SATIRE.
_By_ GEORGE DU MAURIER,
_Author of "Trilby" "The Martian" &c._
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
_Mr. and Mrs. Caudle_
_"In the Bay of Biscay O"_
_A Specimen of Pluck_
_One of Mr. Briggs's Adventures in the Highlands_
_Thank Goodness! Fly-fishing has begun!_
_"The jolly little Street Arabs"_
_Doing a little Business_
_A Tolerably Broad Hint_
_The Snowstorm, Jan. 2, 1867_
_Waiting for the Landlord!_
_A Stroke of Business_
_"None o' your Larks"_
_An Affront to the Service_
_"Not up to his Business"_
_George du Maurier_
_The New Society Craze_
_A Pictorial Puzzle_
_Refinements of Modern Speech_
_"Reading without Tears"_
_The Height of Impropriety_
_Things one would wish to have expressed differently_
SOCIAL PICTORIAL SATIRE
It is my purpose to speak of the craft to which I have devoted the
best years of my life, the craft of portraying, by means of little
pen-and-ink strokes, lines, and scratches, a small portion of the
world in which we live; such social and domestic incidents as lend
themselves to humorous or satirical treatment; the illustrated
criticism of life, of the life of our time and country, in its lighter
The fact that I have spent so many years in the practice of this craft
does not of itself, I am well aware, entitle me to lay down the law
about it; the mere exercise of an art so patent to all, so easily
understanded of the people, does not give one any special insight into
its simple mysteries, beyond a certain perception and appreciation of
the technical means by which it is produced--unless one is gifted with
the critical faculty, a gift apart, to the possession of which I make
There are two kinds of critics of such work as ours. First there is
the wide public for whom we work and by whom we are paid; "who lives
to please must please to live"; and who lives by drawing for a comic
periodical must manage to please the greater number. The judgment of
this critic, though often sound, is not infallible; but his verdict
for the time being is final, and by it we, who live by our wits and
from hand to mouth, must either stand or fall.
The other critic is the expert, our fellow-craftsman, who has learned
by initiation, apprenticeship, and long practice the simple secrets of
our common trade. He is not quite infallible either, and is apt to
concern himself more about the manner than the matter of our
performance; nor is he of immediate importance, since with the public
on our side we can do without him for a while, and flourish like a
green bay-tree in spite of his artistic disapproval of our work; but
he is not to be despised, for he is some years in advance of that
other critic, the public, who may, and probably will, come round to
his way of thinking in time.
The first of these two critics is typified by Moliere's famous cook,
who must have been a singularly honest, independent, and intelligent
person, since he chose in all cases to abide by her decision, and not
with an altogether unsatisfactory result to Mankind! Such cooks are
not to be found in these days--certainly not in England; but he is an
unlucky craftsman who does not possess some such natural critics in
his family, his home, or near it--mother, sister, friend, wife, or
child--who will look over his shoulder at his little sketch, and say:
"Tommy [or Papa, or Grandpapa, as the case may be], that person you've
just drawn doesn't look quite natural," or:
"That lady is not properly dressed for the person you want her to
be--those hats are not worn this year," and so forth and so forth.
When you have thoroughly satisfied this household critic, then is the
time to show some handy brother-craftsman your amended work, and
listen gratefully when he suggests that you should put a tone on this
wall, and a tree, or something, in the left middle distance to balance
the composition, and raise or depress the horizon-line to get a better
effect of perspective.
In speaking of some of my fellow-artists on _Punch_, and of their
work, I shall try and bring both these critical methods into
play--promising, however, once for all, that such criticism on my part
is simply the expression of my individual taste or fancy, the taste or
fancy of one who by no means pretends to the unerring acumen of
Moliere's cook, on the one hand, and who feels himself by no means
infallible in his judgment of purely technical matters, on the other.
I can only admire and say why, or why I don't; and if I fail in making
you admire and disadmire with me, it will most likely be my fault as
well as my misfortune.
I had originally proposed to treat of Richard Doyle, John Leech, and
Charles Keene--and finally of myself, since that I should speak of
myself was rather insisted upon by those who procured me the honour of
speaking at all. I find, however, that there is so much to say about
Leech and Keene that I have thought it better to sacrifice Richard
Doyle, who belongs to a remoter period, and whose work, exquisite as
it is of its kind, is so much slighter than theirs, and fills so much
less of the public eye; for his connection with _Punch_ did not last
long. Moreover, personally I knew less of him: just enough to find
that to know was to love him--a happy peculiarity he shared with his
two great collaborators on _Punch_.
_John Leech_! What a name that was to conjure with, and is still!
I cannot find words to express what it represented to me of pure
unmixed delight in my youth and boyhood, long before I ever dreamed of
being an artist myself! It stands out of the path with such names as
Dickens, Dumas, Byron--not indeed that I am claiming for him an equal
rank with those immortals, who wielded a weapon so much more potent
than a mere caricaturist's pencil! But if an artist's fame is to be
measured by the mere quantity and quality of the pleasure he has
given, what pinnacle is too high for John Leech!
Other men have drawn better; deeper, grander, nobler, more poetical
themes have employed more accomplished pencils, even in black and
white; but for making one _glad_, I can think of no one to beat him.
To be an apparently hopeless invalid at Christmas-time in some dreary,
deserted, dismal little Flemish town, and to receive _Punch's Almanac_
(for 1858, let us say) from some good-natured friend in England--that
is a thing not to be forgotten! I little dreamed then that I should
come to London again, and meet John Leech and become his friend; that
I should be, alas! the last man to shake hands with him before his
death (as I believe I was), and find myself among the officially
invited mourners by his grave; and, finally, that I should inherit,
and fill for so many years (however indifferently), that half-page in
_Punch_ opposite the political cartoon, and which I had loved so well
when he was the artist!
Well, I recovered from a long and distressing ailment of my sight
which had been pronounced incurable, and came to England, where I was
introduced to Charles Keene, with whom I quickly became intimate, and
it was he who presented me to Leech one night at one of Mr. Arthur
Lewis's smoking concerts, in the winter of 1860. I remember feeling
somewhat nervous lest he should take me for a foreigner on account of
my name, and rather unnecessarily went out of my way to assure him
that I was rather more English than John Bull himself. It didn't
matter in the least; I have no doubt he saw through it all: he was
kindness and courtesy itself; and I experienced to the full that
emotion so delightful to a young hero-worshipper in meeting face to
face a world-wide celebrity whom he has long worshipped at a distance.
In the words of Lord Tennyson:
"I was rapt
By all the sweet and sudden passion of youth
Towards greatness in its elder...."
But it so happened at just this particular period of his artistic
career and of mine that he no longer shone as a solitary star of the
first magnitude in my little firmament of pictorial social satire. A
new impulse had been given to the art of drawing on wood, a new school
had been founded, and new methods--to draw straight from nature
instead of trusting to memory and imagination--had been the artistic
order of the day. Men and women, horses and dogs, landscapes and
seascapes, all one can make pictures of, even chairs and tables and
teacups and saucers, must be studied from the life--from the
still-life, if you will--by whoever aspired to draw on wood; even
angels and demons and cherubs and centaurs and mermaids must be
closely imitated from nature--or at least as much of them as could be
got from the living model.
_Once a Week_ had just appeared, and _The Cornhill Magazine_. Sir John
Millais and Sir Frederick Leighton were then drawing on wood just like
the ordinary mortals; Frederick Walker had just started on his brief
but splendid career; Frederick Sandys had burst on the black-and-white
world like a meteor; and Charles Keene, who was illustrating the
_Cloister and the Hearth_ in the intervals of his _Punch_ work, had,
after long and patient labour, attained that consummate mastery of
line and effect in wood draughtsmanship that will be for ever
associated with his name; and his work in _Punch_, if only by virtue
of its extraordinary technical ability, made Leech's by contrast
appear slight and almost amateurish in spite of its ease and boldness.
So that with all my admiration for Leech it was at the feet of Charles
Keene that I found myself sitting; besides which we were much together
in those days, talking endless shop, taking long walks, riding side by
side on the knife-boards of omnibuses, dining at cheap restaurants,
making music at each other's studios. His personal charm was great, as
great in its way as Leech's; he was democratic and so was I, as one is
bound to be when one is impecunious and the world is one's oyster to
open with the fragile point of a lead-pencil. His bohemian world was
mine--and I found it a very good world and very much to my taste--a
clear, honest, wholesome, innocent, intellectual, and most industrious
British bohemia, with lots of tobacco, lots of good music, plenty of
talk about literature and art, and not too much victuals or drink.
Many of its denizens, that were, have become Royal Academicians or
have risen to fame in other ways; some have had to take a back seat in
life; surprisingly few have gone to the bad.
This world, naturally, was not Leech's; if it had ever been, I doubt;
his bohemia, if he ever had lived in one, had been the bohemia of
medicine, not of art, and he seemed to us then to be living on social
heights of fame and sport and aristocratic splendour where none of us
dreamed of seeking him--and he did not seek us. We hated and despised
the bloated aristocracy, just as he hated and despised foreigners
without knowing much about them; and the aristocracy, to do it
justice, did not pester us with its obtrusive advances. But I never
heard Leech spoken of otherwise in bohemia than with affectionate
admiration, although many of us seemed to think that his best work was
done. Indeed, his work was becoming somewhat fitful in quality, and
already showed occasional signs of haste and illness and fatigue; his
fun was less genial and happy, though he drew more vigorously than
ever, and now and again surprised us by surpassing himself, as in his
series of Briggs in the Highlands a-chasing the deer.
All that was thirty years ago and more. I may say at once that I have
reconsidered the opinion I formed of John Leech at that time. Leech,
it is true, is by no means the one bright particular star, but he has
recovered much of his lost first magnitude: if he shines more by what
he has to say than by his manner of saying it, I have come to think
that that is the best thing of the two to shine by, if you cannot
shine by both; and I find that his manner was absolutely what it
should have been for his purpose and his time--neither more nor less;
he had so much to say and of a kind so delightful that I have no time
to pick holes in his mode of expression, which at its best has
satisfied far more discriminating experts than I; besides which, the
methods of printing and engraving have wonderfully improved since his
day. He drew straight on the wood block, with a lead-pencil; his
delicate grey lines had to be translated into the uncompromising
coarse black lines of printers' ink--a ruinous process; and what his
work lost in this way is only to be estimated by those who know. True,
his mode of expression was not equal to Keene's--I never knew any that
was, in England, or even approached it--but that, as Mr. Rudyard
Kipling says, is another story.
The story that I will tell now is that of my brief acquaintance with
Leech, which began in 1860, and which I had not many opportunities of
improving till I met him at Whitby in the autumn of 1864--a memorable
autumn for me, since I used to forgather with him every day, and have
long walks and talks with him--and dined with him once or twice at the
lodgings where he was staying with his wife and son and daughter--all
of whom are now dead. He was the most sympathetic, engaging, and
attractive person I ever met; not funny at all in conversation, or
ever wishing to be--except now and then for a capital story, which he
told in perfection.
[Illustration: JOHN LEECH.]
The keynote of his character, socially, seemed to be self-effacement,
high-bred courtesy, never-failing consideration for others. He was the
most charming companion conceivable, having intimately known so many
important and celebrated people, and liking to speak of them; but one
would never have guessed from anything he ever looked or said that he
had made a whole nation, male and female, gentle and simple, old and
young, laugh as it had never laughed before or since for a quarter of
He was tall, thin, and graceful, extremely handsome, of the higher
Irish type; with dark hair and whiskers and complexion, and very light
greyish-blue eyes; but the expression of his face was habitually sad,
even when he smiled. In dress, bearing, manner, and aspect, he was the
very type of the well-bred English gentleman and man of the world and
good society; I never met any one to beat him in that peculiar
distinction of form, which, I think, has reached its highest European
development in this country. I am told the Orientals are still our
superiors in deportment. But the natural man in him was still the
best. Thackeray and Sir John Millais, not bad judges, and men with
many friends, have both said that they personally loved John Leech
better than any man they ever knew.
At this time he was painting in oil, and on an enlarged scale, some of
his more specially popular sketches in _Punch_, and very anxious to
succeed with them, but nervously diffident of success with them, even
with [Greek: hoi polloi]. He was not at his happiest in these efforts;
and there was something pathetic in his earnestness and perseverance
in attempting a thing so many can do, but which he could not do for
want of a better training; while he could do the inimitable so easily.
I came back to town before Leech, and did not see him again until the
following October. On Saturday afternoon, the 28th, I called at his
house, No. 6 The Terrace, Kensington, with a very elaborate drawing in
pencil by myself, which I presented to him as a souvenir, and with
which he seemed much pleased.
He was already working at the _Punch Almanac_ for '65, at a window on
the second floor overlooking the street. (I have often gazed up at it
since.) He seemed very ill, so sad and depressed that I could scarcely
speak to him for sheer sympathy; I felt he would never get through the
labour of that almanac, and left him with the most melancholy
Monday morning the papers announced his death on Sunday, October 29th,
from angina pectoris, the very morning after I had seen him.
I was invited by Messrs. Bradbury and Evans, the publishers of
_Punch_, to the funeral, which took place at Kensal Green. It was the
most touching sight imaginable. The grave was near Thackeray's, who
had died the year before. There were crowds of people, Charles Dickens
among them; Canon Hole, a great friend of Leech's, and who has written
most affectionately about him, read the service; and when the coffin
was lowered into the grave, John Millais burst into tears and loud
sobs, setting an example that was followed all round; we all forgot
our manhood and cried like women! I can recall no funeral in my time
where simple grief and affection have been so openly and spontaneously
displayed by so many strangers as well as friends--not even in France,
where people are more demonstrative than here. No burial in
Westminster Abbey that I have ever seen ever gave such an impression
of universal honour, love, and regret.
"Whom the gods love die young." He was only forty-six!
I was then invited to join the _Punch_ staff and take Leech's empty
chair at the weekly dinner--and bidden to cut my initials on the
table, by his; his monogram as it was carved by him is J.L. under a
leech in a bottle, dated 1854; and close by on the same board are the
I flatter myself that convivially, at least, my small D.M., carved in
impenetrable oak, will go down to posterity in rather distinguished
If ever there was a square English hole, and a square English peg to
fit it, that hole was _Punch_, and that peg was John Leech. He was
John Bull himself, but John Bull refined and civilised--John Bull
polite, modest, gentle--full of self-respect and self-restraint, and
with all the bully softened out of him; manly first and gentlemanly
after, but very soon after; more at home perhaps in the club, the
drawing-room, and the hunting-field, in Piccadilly and the Park, than
in the farm or shop or market-place; a normal Englishman of the upper
middle class, with but one thing abnormal about him, viz., his genius,
which was of the kind to give the greater pleasure to the greater
number--and yet delight the most fastidious of his day--and I think of
ours. One must be very ultra-aesthetic, even now, not to feel his
He was all of a piece, and moved and worked with absolute ease,
freedom, and certainty, within the limits nature had assigned him--and
his field was a very large one. He saw and represented the whole
panorama of life that came within his immediate ken with an unwavering
consistency, from first to last; from a broadly humorous, though
mostly sympathetic point of view that never changed--a very delightful
point of view, if not the highest conceivable.
Hand and eye worked with brain in singular harmony, and all three
improved together contemporaneously, with a parallelism most
interesting to note, as one goes through the long series of his social
pictures from the beginning.
He has no doubts or hesitations--no bewildering subtleties--no seeking
from twelve to fourteen o'clock--either in his ideas or technique,
which very soon becomes an excellent technique, thoroughly suited to
his ideas--rapid, bold, spirited, full of colour, breadth, and
movement--troubling itself little about details that will not help the
telling of his story--for before everything else he has his story to
tell, and it must either make you laugh or lightly charm you--and he
tells it in the quickest, simplest, down-rightest pencil strokes,
although it is often a complicated story!
For there are not only the funny people and the pretty people acting
out their little drama in the foreground--there is the scene in which
they act, and the middle distance, and the background beyond, and the
sky itself; beautiful rough landscapes and seascapes and skyscapes,
winds and weathers, boisterous or sunny seas, rain and storm and
cloud--all the poetry of nature, that he feels most acutely while his
little people are being so unconsciously droll in the midst of it all.
He is a king of impressionists, and his impression becomes ours on the
spot--never to be forgotten! It is all so quick and fresh and strong,
so simple, pat, and complete, so direct from mother Nature herself! It
has about it the quality of inevitableness--those are the very people
who would have acted and spoken in just that manner, and we meet them
every day--the expression of the face, the movement and gesture, in
anger, terror, dismay, scorn, conceit, tenderness, elation,
triumph.... Whatever the mood, they could not have looked or acted
otherwise--it is life itself. An optimistic life in which joyousness
prevails, and the very woes and discomfitures are broadly comical to
us who look on--like some one who has sea-sickness, or a headache
after a Greenwich banquet--which are about the most tragic things he
has dealt with.
(I am speaking of his purely social sketches. For in his admirable
large cuts, political and otherwise serious, his satire is often
bitter and biting indeed; and his tragedy almost Hogarthian.)
Like many true humorists, he was of a melancholy temperament, and no
doubt felt attracted by all that was mirthful and bright, and in happy
contrast to his habitual mood. Seldom if ever does a drop of his inner
sadness ooze out through his pencil-point--and never a drop of gall;
and I do not remember one cynical touch in his whole series.
In his tastes and habits he was by nature aristocratic; he liked the
society of those who were well dressed, well bred and refined like
himself, and perhaps a trifle conventional; he conformed quite
spontaneously and without effort to upper-class British ideal of his
time, and had its likes and dislikes. But his strongest predilections
of all are common to the British race: his love of home, his love of
sport, his love of the horse and the hound--especially his love of the
pretty woman--the pretty woman of the normal, wholesome English type.
This charming creature so dear to us all pervades his show from
beginning to end--she is a creation of his, and he thoroughly loves
her, and draws her again and again with a fondness that is half
lover-like and half paternal--her buxom figure, her merry bright eyes
and fresh complexion and flowing ringlets, and pursed-up lips like
Cupid's bow. Nor is he ever tired of displaying her feet and ankles
(and a little more) in gales of wind on cliff and pier and parade, or
climbing the Malvern Hills. When she puts on goloshes it nearly breaks
his heart, and he would fly to other climes! He revels in her
infantile pouts and jealousies and heart-burnings and butterfly
delights and lisping mischiefs; her mild, innocent flirtations with
beautiful young swells, whose cares are equally light.
She is a darling, and he constantly calls her so to her face. Her
favourite seaside nook becomes the mermaid's haunt; her back hair
flies and dries in the wind, and disturbs the peace of the too
susceptible Punch. She is a little amazon _pour rire_, and rides
across country, and drives (even a hansom sometimes, with a pair of
magnificent young whiskerandoes smoking their costly cigars inside);
she is a toxophilite, and her arrow sticks, for it is barbed with
innocent seduction, and her bull's-eye is the soft military heart. She
wears a cricket-cap and breaks Aunt Sally's nose seven times; she puts
her pretty little foot upon the croquet-ball--and croquet'd you are
completely! With what glee she would have rinked and tennised if he
had lived a little longer!
[Illustration: "IN THE BAY OF BISCANY O"
The Last Sweet Thing in Hats and Walking-Sticks.--_Punch_, September
She is light of heart, and perhaps a little of head! Her worst trouble
is when the captain gives the wing of the fowl to some other darling
who might be her twin-sister; her most terrible nightmare is when she
dreams that great stupid Captain Sprawler upsets a dish of trifle over
her new lace dress with the blue satin slip; but next morning she is
herself again, and rides in the Row, and stops to speak with that
great stupid Captain Sprawler, who is very nice to look at, whose back
is very beautiful, and who sprawls most gracefully over the railings,
and pays her those delightful, absurd compliments about her and her
horse "being such a capital pair," while, as a foil to so much grace
and splendour, a poor little snub-nosed, ill-dressed, ill-conditioned
dwarf of a snob looks on, sucking the top of his cheap cane in abject
admiration and hopeless envy! Then she pats and kisses the nice soft
nose of Cornet Flinders's hunter, which is "deucedly aggravating for
Cornet Flinders, you know"--but when that noble sportsman is frozen
out and cannot hunt, she plays scratch-cradle with him in the boudoir
of her father's country house, or pitches chocolate into his mouth
from the oak landing; and she lets him fasten the skates on to her
pretty feet. Happy cornet! And she plays billiards with her handsome
cousin--a guardsman at least--and informs him that she is just
eighteen to his love--and stands under the mistletoe and asks this
enviable relation of hers to show her what the garroter's hug is like;
and when he proceeds to do so she calls out in distress because his
pointed waxed moustache has scratched her pretty cheek; and when Mr.
Punch is there, at dinner, she and a sister darling pull crackers
across his August white waistcoat, and scream in pretty terror at the
explosion; to that worthy's excessive jubilation, for Mr. Punch is
Leech himself, and nothing she does can ever be amiss in his eyes!
Sometimes, indeed, she is seriously transfixed herself, and bids Mr.
Tongs, the hairdresser, cut off a long lock of her hair where it will
not be missed---and she looks so lovely under the smart of Cupid's
arrow that we are frantically jealous of the irresistible warrior for
whom the jetty tress is destined. In short, she is innocence and
liveliness and health incarnate--a human kitten.
When she marries the gilded youth with the ambrosial whiskers, their
honeymooning is like playing at being married, their heartless
billings and cooings are enchanting to see. She will have no
troubles--Leech will take good care of that; her matrimonial tiffs
will be of the slightest; hers will be a well-regulated household; the
course of her conjugal love will run smooth in spite of her little
indiscretions--for, like Bluebeard's wife, she can be curious at
times, and coax and wheedle to know the mysteries of Freemasonry, and
cry because Edwin will not reveal the secret of Mr. Percy, the
horse-tamer; and how Edwin can resist such an appeal is more than we
can understand! But soon they will have a large family, and live happy
ever after, and by the time their eldest-born is thirteen years old,
the darling of fourteen years back will be a regular materfamilias,
stout, matronly, and rather severe; and Edwin will be fat, bald, and
middle-aged, and bring home a bundle of asparagus and a nice new
perambulator to celebrate the wedding-day!
And he loves her brothers and cousins, military or otherwise, just as
dearly, and makes them equally beautiful to the eye, with those lovely
drooping whiskers that used to fall and brush their bosoms, their
smartly waistcoated bosoms, a quarter of a century ago! He dresses
them even better than the darlings, and has none but the kindliest and
gentlest satire for their little vanities and conceits--for they have
no real vices, these charming youths, beyond smoking too much and
betting a little and getting gracefully tipsy at race-meetings and
Greenwich dinners--and sometimes running into debt with their tailors,
I suppose! And then how boldly they ride to hounds, and how splendidly
they fight in the Crimea! how lightly they dance at home! How healthy,
good-humoured, and manly they are, with all their vagaries of dress
and jewellery and accent! It is easy to forgive them if they give the
whole of their minds to their white neckties, or are dejected because
they have lost the little gridiron off their chatelaine, or lose all
presence of mind when a smut settles on their noses, and turn faint at
the sight of Mrs. Gamp's umbrella!
And next to these enviable beings he loves and reveres the sportsman.
One is made to feel that the true sportsman, whether he shoots or
hunts or fishes, is an August being, as he ought to be in Great
Britain, and Leech has done him full justice with his pencil. He is no
subject for flippant satire; so there he sits his horse, or stalks
through his turnip-field, or handles his rod like a god! Handsome,
well-appointed from top to toe, aristocratic to the finger-tips--a
most impressive figure, the despair of foreigners, the envy of all
outsiders at home (including the present lecturer)!
[Illustration: A SPECIMEN OF PLUCK
RUGGLES. "Hold hard, Master George. It's too wide, and uncommon deep!"
MASTER GEORGE. "All right, Ruggles! We can both _swim_!"--_Punch_.]
He has never been painted like this before! What splendid lords and
squires, fat or lean, hook-nosed or eagle-eyed, well tanned by sun and
wind, in faultless kit, on priceless mounts! How redolent they are of
health and wealth, and the secure consciousness of high social
position--of the cool business-like self-importance that sits so well
on those who are knowing in the noblest pursuit that can ever employ
the energies and engross the mind of a well-born Briton; for they can
ride almost as well as their grooms, these mighty hunters before the
Lord, and know the country almost as well as the huntsman himself! And
what sons and grandsons and granddaughters are growing up round them,
on delightful ponies no gate, hedge, or brook can dismay--nothing but
the hard high-road!
It is a glorious, exhilarating scene, with the beautiful wintry
landscape stretching away to the cloudy November sky, and the lords
and ladies gay, and the hounds, and the frosty-faced, short-tempered
old huntsman, the very perfection of his kind; and the poor cockney
snobs on their hired screws, and the meek clod-hopping labourers
looking on excited and bewildered, happy for a moment at beholding so
much happiness in their betters.
[Illustration: ONE OF MR. BRIGG'S ADVENTURES IN THE HIGHLANDS
After aiming for a Quarter of and Hour Mr. B. fires both of his
Barrels--and--misses!!!! Tableau--The Forester's Anguish--_Punch_,
To have seen these sketches of the hunting-field is to have been there
in person. It is almost the only hunting that I ever had--and probably
ever shall have--and I am almost content that it should be so! It is
so much easier and simpler to draw for _Punch_ than to drive across
country! And then, as a set-off to all this successful achievement,
this pride and pomp and circumstance of glorious sport, we have the
immortal and ever-beloved figure of Mr. Briggs, whom I look upon as
Leech's masterpiece--the example above all others of the most humorous
and good-natured satire that was ever penned or pencilled. The more
ridiculous he is the more we love him; he is more winning and
sympathetic than even Mr. Pickwick himself, and I almost think a
greater creation! Besides, it took two to make Mr. Pickwick, the
author and the artist, whereas Mr. Briggs issued fully equipped from
the brain of Leech alone!
Not indeed that all unauthorised gallopers after the fox find
forgiveness in the eyes of Leech. Woe to the vulgar little cockney
snob who dares to obtrude his ugly mug and his big cigar and his
hired, broken-winded rip on these hallowed and thrice-happy
hunting-grounds!--an earthenware pot among vessels of brass; the
punishment shall be made to fit the crime; better if he fell off and
his horse rolled over him than that he should dress and ride and look
like that! For the pain of broken bones is easier to bear than the
scorn of a true British sportsman!
[Illustration: THANK GOODNESS! FLY-FISHING HAS BEGUN!
MILLER. "Don't they really, perhaps they'll bite better towards the
cool of the evening, they mostly do."--_Punch_, 1857.]
Then there are the fishermen who never catch any fish, but whom no
stress of weather can daunt or distress. There they sit or stand with
the wind blowing or the rain soaking, in dark landscapes with ruffled
streams and ominous clouds, and swaying trees that turn up the whites
of their leaves--one almost hears the wind rush through them. One
almost forgets the comical little forlorn figure who gives such point
to all the angry turbulence of nature in the impression produced by
the _mise en scene_ itself--an impression so happily, so vividly
suggested by a few rapid, instructive pencil strokes and thumb smudges
that it haunts the memory like a dream.
He loves such open-air scenes so sincerely, he knows so well how to
express and communicate the perennial charm they have for him, that
the veriest bookworm becomes a sportsman through sheer sympathy--by
the mere fact of looking at them.
And how many people and things he loves that most of us love!--it
would take all night to enumerate them--the good authoritative pater-
and materfamilias; the delightful little girls; the charming cheeky
school-boys; the jolly little street Arabs, who fill old gentlemen's
letter-boxes with oyster-shells and gooseberry-skins; the cabmen, the
busmen; the policemen with the old-fashioned chimney-pot hat; the old
bathing-women, and Jack-ashores, and jolly old tars--his British tar
is irresistible, whether he is hooking a sixty-four pounder out of the
Black Sea, or riding a Turk, or drinking tea instead of grog and
complaining of its strength! There seems to be hardly a mirthful
corner of English life that Leech has not seen and loved and painted
in this singularly genial and optimistic manner.
[Illustration: "THE JOLLY LITTLE STREET ARABS"
From the original drawing for _Punch_ in possession of John Kendrick
His loves are many and his hates are few--but he is a good hater all
the same. He hates Mawworm and Stiggins, and so do we. He hates the
foreigner--whom he does not know, as heartily as Thackeray does, who
seems to know him so well--with a hatred that seems to me a little
unjust, perhaps: all France is not in Leicester Square; many Frenchmen
can dress and ride, drive and shoot as well as anybody; and they began
to use the tub very soon after we did--a dozen years or so,
perhaps--say after the _coup d'etat_ in 1851.
Then he hates with a deadly hatred all who make music in the street or
next door--and preach in the crossways and bawl their wares on the
parade. What would he have said of the Salvation Army? He is haunted
by the bark of his neighbour's dog, by the crow of his neighbour's
Cochin China cock; he cannot even bear his neighbour to have his
chimney swept; and as for the Christmas waits--we all remember _that_
tragic picture! This exaggerated aversion to noises became a disease
with him, and possibly hastened his end.
Among his pet hates we must not forget the gorgeous flunky and the
guzzling alderman, the leering old fop, the rascally book-maker, the
sweating Jew tradesman, and the poor little snob (the 'Arry of his
day) who tries vainly to grow a moustache, and wears such a shocking
bad hat, and iron heels to his shoes, and shuns the Park during the
riots for fear of being pelted for a "haristocrat," and whose
punishment I think is almost in excess of his misdemeanor. To succeed
in over-dressing one's self (as his swells did occasionally without
marring their beauty) is almost as ignominious as to fail; and when
the failure comes from want of means, there is also almost a pathetic
side to it.
[Illustration: DOING A LITTLE BUSINESS
OLD EQUESTRIAN. "Well, but--you're not the boy I left my horse with!"
BOY. "No, sir; I jist spekilated, and bought 'im of t'other boy for a
And he is a little bit hard on old frumps, with fat ankles and scraggy
bosoms and red noses--but anyhow we are made to laugh--_quod erat
demonstrandum_. We also know that he has a strong objection to cold
mutton for dinner, and much prefers a whitebait banquet at Greenwich,
or a nice well-ordered repast at the Star and Garter. So do we.
And the only thing he feared is the horse. Nimrod as he is, and the
happiest illustrator of the hunting-field that ever was, he seems for
ever haunted by a terror of the heels of that noble animal he drew so
well--and I thoroughly sympathise with him!
In all the series the chief note is joyousness, high spirits, the
pleasure of being alive. There is no _Weltschmerz_ in his happy world,
where all is for the best--no hankering after the moon, no discontent
with the present order of things. Only one little lady discovers that
the world is hollow, and her doll is stuffed with bran; only one
gorgeous swell has exhausted the possibilities of this life, and finds
out that he is at loss for a new sensation. So what does he do? Cut
his throat? Go and shoot big game in Africa? No; he visits the top of
the Monument on a rainy day, or invites his brother-swells to a Punch
and Judy show in his rooms, or rides to Whitechapel and back on an
omnibus with a bag of periwinkles, and picks them out with a pin!
Even when his humour is at its broadest, and he revels in almost
pantomimic fun, he never loses sight of truth and nature--never
strikes a false or uncertain note. Robinson goes to an evening party
with a spiked knuckle-duster in his pocket and sits down. Jones digs
an elderly party called Smith in the back with the point of his
umbrella, under the impression that it is his friend Brown. A charming
little street Arab prints the soles of his muddy feet on a smart old
gentleman's white evening waistcoat.
Tompkyns writes Henrietta on the stands under two hearts transfixed by
an arrow, and his wife, whose name is Matilda, catches him in the act.
An old gentleman, maddened by a bluebottle, smashes all his furniture
and breaks every window-pane but one--where the bluebottle is. And in
all these scenes one does not know which is the most irresistible, the
most inimitable--the mere drollery or the dramatic truth of gesture
and facial expression.
The way in which every-day people really behave in absurd situations
and under comically trying circumstances is quite funny enough for
him; and if he exaggerates a little and goes beyond the absolute prose
of life in the direction of caricature, he never deviates a
hair's-breadth from the groove human nature has laid down. There is
exaggeration, but no distortion. The most wildly funny people are low
comedians of the highest order, whose fun is never forced and never
fails; they found themselves on fact, and only burlesque what they
have seen in actual life--they never evolve their fun from the depths
of their inner consciousness; and in this naturalness, for me, lies
the greatness of Leech. There is nearly always a tenderness in the
laughter he excites, born of the touch of nature that makes the whole
[Illustration: A TOLERABLY BROAD HINT
"Oh, I beg your pardon, sir, but you didn't say as we were to pull up
anywhere, did you, sir?"--_Punch_, 1859.]
Where most of all he gives us a sense of the exuberant joyousness and
buoyancy of life is in the sketches of the seaside--the newly
discovered joys of which had then not become commonplace to people of
the middle class. The good old seaside has grown rather stale by this
time--the very children of to-day dig and paddle in a half-perfunctory
sort of fashion, with a certain stolidity, and are in strange contrast
to those highly elate and enchanting little romps that fill his
Indeed, nothing seems so jolly, nothing seems so funny, now, as when
Leech was drawing for _Punch_. The gaiety of one nation at least has
been eclipsed by his death. Is it merely that there is no such light
humorist to see and draw for us in a frolicsome spirit all the fun and
the jollity? Is it because some of us have grown old? Or is it that
the British people themselves have changed and gone back to their old
way of taking their pleasure sadly?
Everything is so different, somehow; the very girls themselves have
grown a head taller, and look serious, stately, and dignified, like
Olympian goddesses, even when they are dancing and playing
I for one should no more dream of calling them the darlings than I
should dare to kiss them under the mistletoe, were I ever so splendid
a young captain. Indeed I am too prostrate in admiration--I can only
suck the top of my stick and gaze in jealous ecstasy, like one of
Leech's little snobs. They are no longer pretty as their grandmothers
were--whom Leech drew so well in the old days! They are _beautiful_!
And then they are so cultivated, and _know_ such a lot--of books, of
art, of science, of politics, and theology--of the world the flesh,
and the devil. They actually think for themselves; they have broken
loose and jumped over the ring-fence; they have taken to the water,
these lovely chicks, and swim like ducklings, to the dismay of those
good old cocks and hens, their grandparents! And my love of them is
tinged with awe, as was Leech's love of that mighty, beautiful, but
most uncertain quadruped, the thoroughbred horse--for, like him, when
they are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad, they
are horrid. We have changed other things as well: the swell has become
the masher, and is a terrible dull dog; the poor little snob has
blossomed into a blatant 'Arry, and no longer wears impossible hats
and iron heels to his boots; he has risen in the social scale, and
holds his own without fear or favour in the Park and everywhere else.
To be taken for a haristocrat is his dream!--even if he be pelted for
it. In his higher developments he becomes a "bounder," and bounds away
in most respectable West End ball-rooms. He is the only person with
any high spirits left--perhaps that is why high spirits have gone out
of fashion, like boxing the watch and wrenching off door-knockers!
And the snob of our day is quite a different person, more likely than
not to be found hobnobbing with dukes and duchesses--as irreproachable
in dress and demeanour as Leech himself. Thackeray discovered and
christened him for us long ago; and he is related to most of us, and
moves in the best society. He has even ceased to brag of his intimacy
with the great, they have become so commonplace to him; and if he
swaggers at all, it is about his acquaintance with some popular actor
or comic vocalist whom he is privileged to call by his christian-name.
And those splendid old grandees of high rank, so imposing of aspect,
so crushing to us poor mortals by mere virtue not of their wealth and
title alone, but of their high-bred distinction of feature and
bearing--to which Leech did such ample justice--what has become of
They are like the snows of yester-year! They have gone the way of
their beautiful chariots with the elaborate armorial bearings and the
tasselled hammercloth, the bewigged, cocked-hatted coachman, and the
two gorgeous flunkies hanging on behind. Sir Gorgeous Midas has beaten
the dukes in mere gorgeousness, flunkies and all--burlesqued the
vulgar side of them, and unconsciously shamed it out of existence;
made swagger and ostentation unpopular by his own evil
example--actually improved the manners of the great by sheer mimicry
of their defects. He has married his sons and his daughters to them
and spoiled the noble curve of those lovely noses that Leech drew so
well, and brought them down a peg in many ways, and given them a new
lease of life; and he has enabled us to discover that they are not of
such different clay from ourselves after all. All the old slavish
formulae of deference and respect--"Your Grace," "Your Ladyship," "My
Lord"--that used to run so glibly off our tongues whenever we had a
chance, are now left to servants and shopkeepers; and my slight
experience of them, for one, is that they do not want to be toadied a
bit, and that they are very polite, well-bred, and most agreeable
If we may judge of our modern aristocracy by that very slender
fragment of our contemporary fiction, mostly American, that still
thinks it worth writing about, our young noble of to-day is the most
good-humoured, tolerant, simple-hearted, simple-minded,
unsophisticated creature alive--thinking nothing of his
honours--prostrate under the little foot of some fair Yankee, who is
just as likely as not to jilt him for some transatlantic painter not
yet known to fame.
Compare this unpretending youth to one of Bulwer's heroes, or
Disraeli's, or even Thackeray's! And his simple old duke of a father
and his dowdy old duchess of a mother are almost as devoid of swagger
as himself; they seem to apologise for their very existence, if we may
trust these American chroniclers who seem to know them so well; and I
really think we no longer care to hear and read about them quite so
much as we did--unless it be in the society papers!
But all these past manners and customs that some of us can remember so
well--all these obsolete people, from the heavily whiskered swell to
the policeman with the leather-bound chimney-pot hat, from good pater-
and mater-familias who were actually looked up to and obeyed by their
children, to the croquet-playing darlings in the pork-pie hats and
huge crinolines--all survive and will survive for many a year in John
Leech's "Pictures of Life and Character."
Except for a certain gentleness, kindliness, and self-effacing modesty
common to both, and which made them appear almost angelic in the eyes
of many who knew them, it would be difficult to imagine a greater
contrast to Leech than Charles Keene.
Charles Keene was absolutely unconventional, and even almost
eccentric. He dressed more with a view to artistic picturesqueness
than to fashion, and despised gloves and chimney-pot hats, and black
coats and broadcloth generally.
[Illustration: CHARLES KEENE
From a photograph by Elliott and Fry, London.]
Scotch tweed was good enough for him in town and country alike. Though
a Tory in politics, he was democratic in his tastes and habits. He
liked to smoke his short black pipe on the tops of omnibuses; he liked
to lay and light his own fire and cook his mutton-chop upon it. He had
a passion for music and a beautiful voice, and sang with a singular
pathos and charm, but he preferred the sound of his bagpipes to that
of his own singing, and thought that you must prefer it too!
He was for ever sketching in pen and ink, indoors and out--he used at
one time to carry a little ink-bottle at his buttonhole, and steel
pens in his waistcoat-pocket, and thus equipped he would sketch
whatever took his fancy in his walks abroad--houses, 'busses, cabs,
people--bits of street and square, scaffoldings, hoardings with
advertisements--sea, river, moor, lake, and mountain--what has he not
sketched with that masterly pen that had already been so carefully
trained by long and arduous practice in a life-school? His heart was
in his work from first to last; beyond his bagpipes and his old books
(for he was a passionate reader), he seemed to have no other hobby.
His facility in sketching became phenomenal, as also his knowledge of
what to put in and what to leave out, so that the effect he aimed at
should be secured in perfection and with the smallest appearance of
Among his other gifts he had a physical gift of inestimable value for
such work as ours--namely, a splendid hand--a large, muscular,
well-shaped, and most workman-like hand, whose long deft fingers could
move with equal ease and certainty in all directions. I have seen it
at work--and it was a pleasure to watch its acrobatic dexterity, its
unerring precision of touch. It could draw with nonchalant facility
parallel straight lines, or curved, of just the right thickness and
distance from each other--almost as regular as if they had been drawn
with ruler or compass--almost, but not _quite_. The quiteness would
have made them mechanical, and robbed them of their charm of human
handicraft. A cunning and obedient slave, this wonderful hand, for
which no command from the head could come amiss--a slave, moreover,
that had most thoroughly learned its business by long apprenticeship
to one especial trade, like the head and like the eye that guided it.
Leech, no doubt, had a good natural hand, that swept about with
enviable freedom and boldness, but for want of early discipline it
could not execute these miracles of skill; and the commands that came
from the head also lacked the preciseness which results from patiently
acquired and well-digested knowledge, so that Mr. Hand was apt now and
then to zigzag a little on its own account--in backgrounds, on floors
and walls, under chairs and tables, whenever a little tone was felt to
be desirable--sometimes in the shading of coats and trousers and
But it never took a liberty with a human face or a horse's head; and
whenever it went a little astray you could always read between the
lines and know exactly what it meant.
There is no difficulty in reading between Keene's lines; every one of
them has its unmistakable definite intimation; every one is the right
line in the right place!
We must remember that there are no such things as lines in nature.
Whether we use them to represent a human profile, the depth of a
shadow, the darkness of a cloak or a thunder-cloud, they are mere
conventional symbols. They were invented a long time ago, by a
distinguished sportsman who was also a heaven-born amateur artist--the
John Leech of his day--who engraved for us (from life) the picture of
mammoth on one of its own tusks.
And we have accepted them ever since as the cheapest and simplest way
of interpreting in black and white for the wood-engraver the shapes
and shadows and colours of nature. They may be scratchy, feeble, and
uncertain, or firm and bold--thick and thin--straight, curved,
parallel, or irregular--cross-hatched once, twice, a dozen times, at
any angle--every artist has his own way of getting his effect. But
some ways are better than others, and I think Keene's is the firmest,
loosest, simplest, and best way that ever was, and--the most difficult
to imitate. His mere pen-strokes have, for the expert, a beauty and an
interest quite apart from the thing they are made to depict, whether
he uses them as mere outlines to express the shape of things animate
or inanimate, even such shapeless, irregular things as the stones on a
sea-beach--or in combination to suggest the tone and colour of a
dress-coat, or a drunkard's nose, of a cab or omnibus--of a distant
mountain with miles of atmosphere between it and the figures in the
[Illustration: THE SNOWSTORM, JAN. 2, 1867
CABBY (_petulantly--the Cabbies even lose their tempers_). "It's no
use your a-calling o' me, Sir! Got such a Job with these 'ere Two
as'll last me a Fortnight!!"--_Punch_, January 19, 1867.]
His lines are as few as can be--he is most economical in this respect
and loves to leave as much white paper as he can; but one feels in his
best work that one line more or one line less would impair the
perfection of the whole--that of all the many directions, curves, and
thicknesses they might have taken he has inevitably hit upon just the
right one. He has beaten all previous records in this respect--in this
country, at least. I heard a celebrated French painter say: "He is a
great man, your Charles Keene; he take a pen and ink and a bit of
paper, and wiz a half-dozen strokes he know 'ow to frame a gust of
wind!" I think myself that Leech could frame a gust of wind as
effectually as Keene, by the sheer force of his untaught natural
instinct--of his genius; but not with the deftness--this economy of
material--this certainty of execution--this consummate knowledge of
To borrow a simile from music, there are certain tunes so fresh and
sweet and pretty that they please at once and for ever, like "Home,
Sweet Home," or "The Last Rose of Summer"; they go straight to the
heart of the multitude, however slight the accompaniment--a few simple
chords--they hardly want an accompaniment at all.
Leech's art seems to me of just such a happy kind; he draws--I mean he
scores like an amateur who has not made a very profound study of
harmony, and sings his pretty song to his simple accompaniment with so
sweet and true a natural voice that we are charmed. It is the magic of
nature, whereas Keene is a very Sebastian Bach in his counterpoint.
There is nothing of the amateur about him; his knowledge of harmony in
black and white is complete and thorough; mere consummate scoring has
become to him a second nature; each separate note of his voice reveals
the long training of the professional singer; and if his tunes are
less obviously sweet and his voice less naturally winning and
sympathetic than Leech's, his aesthetic achievement is all the
greater. It is to his brother-artists rather than to the public at
large that his most successful appeal is made--but with an intensity
that can only be gained by those who have tried in vain to do what he
has done, and who thereby know how difficult it is. His real magic is
that of art.
This perhaps accounts for the unmistakable fact that Leech's
popularity has been so much greater than Keene's, and I believe is
still. Leech's little melodies of the pencil (to continue the parallel
with the sister art) are like Volkslieder--national airs--and more
directly reach the national heart. Transplant them to other lands that
have pencil Volkslieder of their own (though none, I think, comparable
to his for fun and sweetness and simplicity) and they fail to please
as much, while their mere artistic qualities are not such as to find
favour among foreign experts, whereas Keene actually gains by such a
process. He is as much admired by the artists of France and Germany as
by our own--if not more. For some of his shortcomings--such as his
lack of feeling for English female beauty, his want of perception,
perhaps his disdain, of certain little eternal traits and conventions
and differences that stamp the various grades of our social
hierarchy--do not strike them, and nothing interferes with their
complete appreciation of his craftsmanship.
[Illustration: WAITING FOR THE LANDLORD!
RIBBONMAN (_getting impatient_). "Bedad, they ought to be here be this
toime! Sure, Tiriace, I hope the ould gintleman hasn't mit wid an
accidint!!!"--_Punch_, July 27, 1878.]
Perhaps, also, Leech's frequent verification of our manly British
pluck and honesty, and proficiency in sport, and wholesomeness and
cleanliness of body and mind, our general physical beauty and
distinction, and his patriotic tendency to contrast our exclusive
possession of these delightful gifts with the deplorable absence of
them in any country but our own, may fail to enlist the sympathies of
the benighted foreigner.
Whereas there is not much to humiliate the most touchy French or
German reader of _Punch_, or excite his envy, in Charles Keene's
portraiture of our race. He is impartial and detached, and the most
rabid Anglophobe may frankly admire him without losing his
self-esteem. The English lower middle class and people, that Keene has
depicted with such judicial freedom from either prejudice or
pre-possession, have many virtues; but they are not especially
conspicuous for much vivacity or charm of aspect or gainliness of
demeanour; and he has not gone out of his way to idealise them.
Also, he seldom if ever gibes at those who have not been able to
resist the temptations (as Mr. Gilbert would say) of belonging to
Thus in absolute craftsmanship and technical skill, in the ease and
beauty of his line, his knowledge of effect, his complete mastery over
the material means at his disposal, Charles Keene seems to me as
superior to Leech as Leech is to him in grace, in human naturalness
and geniality of humour, in accurate observation of life, in keenness
of social perception, and especially in width of range.
[Illustration: A STROKE OF BUSINESS
VILLAGE HAMPDEN (_"who with dauntless breast" has undertaken for
sixpence to keep off the other boys_). "If any of yer wants to see
what we're a Paintin' of it's a 'Alfpenny a 'Ead, but you marn't make
no Remarks."--_Punch_, May 4, 1867.]
The little actors on Leech's stage are nearly all of them every-day
people--types one is constantly meeting. High or low, tipsy or sober,
vulgar or refined, pleasant or the reverse, we knew them all before
Leech ever drew them; and our recognition of them on his page is full
of delight at meeting old familiar friends and seeing them made fun of
for our amusement.
Whereas a great many of Keene's middle-class protagonists are peculiar
and exceptional, and much of their humour lies in their eccentricity,
they are characters themselves, rather than types of English
characters. Are they really observed and drawn from life, do they
really exist just as they are, or are they partly evolved from the
depths of an inner consciousness that is not quite satisfied with life
just as it is?
[Illustration: "NONE O' YOUR LARKS"
GIGANTIC NAVVY: "Let's walk between yer, Gents; folks 'll think you've
took up a Deserter."--_Punch_, October 19, 1861.]
They are often comic, with their exquisitely drawn faces so full of
subtlety--intensely comic! Their enormous perplexities about nothing,
their utter guilelessness, their innocence of the wicked world and its
ways, make them engaging sometimes in spite of a certain ungainliness
of gesture, dress, and general behaviour that belongs to them, and
which delighted Charles Keene, who was the reverse of ungainly, just
as the oft-recurring tipsiness of his old gentlemen delighted him,
though he was the most abstemious of men. I am now speaking of his
middle-class people--those wonderful philistines of either sex; those
elaborately capped and corpulent old ladies; those
muttonchop-whiskered, middle-aged gentlemen with long upper lips and
florid complexions, receding chins, noses almost horizontal in their
prominence; those artless damsels who trouble themselves so little
about the latest fashions; those feeble-minded, hirsute swells with
the sloping shoulders and the broad hips and the little hats cocked on
one side; those unkempt, unspoiled, unspotted from the world brothers
of the brush, who take in their own milk, and so complacently ignore
all the rotten conventionalism of our over-civilised existence.
When he takes his subjects from the classes beneath these, he is, if
not quite so funny, at his best, I think. His costermongers and
policemen, his omnibus drivers and conductors and cabbies, are
inimitable studies; and as for his 'busses and cabs, I really cannot
find words to express my admiration of them. In these, as in his
street scenes and landscapes, he is unapproached and unapproachable.
Nor must we forget his canny Scotsmen, his Irish labourers and
peasants, his splendid English navvies, and least of all his
volunteers--he and Leech might be called the pillars of the Volunteer
movement, from the manner, so true, so sympathetic, and so humorous,
in which they have immortalised its beginning.
[Illustration: AN AFFRONT TO THE SERVICE
OMNIBUS DRIVER (_to Coster_). "Now then, Irish! pull a one side, will
you? What are you gaping at? Did you never see a Milisher man before?"
_A disgustingly ignorant observation in the opinion of young Longslip,
Lieutenant in Her Majesty's Fusileer Guards_--_Punch_, March 7, 1863.]
Charles Keene is seldom a satirist. His nature was too tolerant and
too sweet for hate, and that makes him a bad and somewhat perfunctory
hater. He tries to hate 'Arry, but he can't, for he draws an ideal
'Arry that surely never was, and thus his shaft misses the mark:
compare his 'Arry to one of Leech's snobs, for instance! He tries to
hate the haw-haw swell, and is equally unsuccessful. When you hate and
can draw, you can draw what you hate down to its minutest
details--better, perhaps, than what you love--so that whoever runs and
reads and looks at your pictures hates with you.
Who ever hated a personage of Keene's beyond that feeble kind of
aversion that comes from mere uncongeniality, a slightly offended
social taste, or prejudice? One feels a mere indulgent and
half-humorous disdain, but no hate. On the other hand, I do not think
that we love his personages very much--we stand too much outside his
eccentric world for sympathy. From the pencil of this most lovable
man, with his unrivalled power of expressing all he saw and thought, I
cannot recall many lovable characters of either sex or any age. Here
and there a good-natured cabby, a jolly navvy, a simple-minded
flautist or bagpiper, or a little street Arab, like the small boy who
pointed out the jail doctor to his pal and said, "That's my medical
Whereas Leech's pages teem with winning, graceful, lovable types, and
here and there a hateful one to give relief.
But, somehow, one liked the man who drew these strange people, even
without knowing him; when you knew him you loved him very much--so
much that no room was left in you for envy of his unattainable mastery
in his art. For of this there can be no doubt--no greater or more
finished master in black and white has devoted his life to the
illustration of the manners and humours of his time; and if Leech is
even greater than he--and I for one am inclined to think he is--it is
not as an artist, but as a student and observer of human nature, as a
master of the light, humorous, superficial criticism of life.
[Illustration: "NOT UP TO HIS BUSINESS"
CROSS BUS DRIVER. "Now why didn't you take that there party?"
CONDUCTOR: "Said they wouldn't go."
CROSS BUS DRIVER. "_Said_ THEY wouldn't go? THEY said they wouldn't
go? Why, what do you suppose you're put there for? You call that
conductin' a buss. Oh! THEY wouldn't go! I like that, &c., &c."--
_Punch_, September 1, 1860.]
Charles Keene died of general atrophy on January 4, 1891. It was
inexpressibly pathetic to see how patiently, how resignedly he wasted
away; he retained his unalterable sweetness to the last.
His handsome, dark-skinned face, so strongly lined and full of
character; his mild and magnificent light-grey eyes, that reminded one
of a St. Bernard's; his tall, straight, slender aspect, that reminded
one of Don Quixote; his simplicity of speech and character; his love
of humour, and the wonderful smile that lit up his face when he heard
a good story, and the still more wonderful wink of his left eye when
he told one--all these will remain strongly impressed on the minds of
those who ever met him.
I attended his funeral as I had attended Leech's twenty-six years
before; Canon Ainger, a common friend of us both, performed the
service. It was a bitterly cold day, which accounted for the
sparseness of the mourners compared to the crowd that was present on
the former occasion; but bearing in mind that all those present were
either relations or old friends, all of them with the strongest and
deepest personal regard for the friend we had lost, the attendance
seemed very large indeed; and all of us, I think, in our affectionate
remembrance of one of the most singularly sweet-natured,
sweet-tempered, and simple-hearted men that ever lived, forgot for the
time that a very great artist was being laid to his rest.
[Illustration: GEORGE DU MAURIER
From an unpublished photograph by Fradelle and Young, London.]
And now, in fulfilment of my contract, I must speak of myself--a
difficult and not very grateful task. One's self is a person about
whom one knows too much and too little--about whom we can never hit a
happy medium. Sometimes one rates one's self too high, sometimes (but
less frequently) too low, according to the state of our digestion, our
spirits, our pocket, or even the weather!
In the present instance I will say all the good of myself I can
decently, and leave all the rating to you. It is inevitable, however
unfortunate it may be for me, that I should be compared with my two
great predecessors, Leech and Keene, whom I have just been comparing
to each other.
When John Leech's mantle fell from his shoulders it was found that the
garment was ample to clothe the nakedness of more than one successor.
John Tenniel had already, it is true, replaced him for several years
as the political cartoonist of _Punch_. How admirably he has always
filled that post, then and ever since, and how great his fame is, I
need not speak of here. Linley Sambourne and Harry Furniss, so
different from each other and from Tenniel, have also, since then,
brought their great originality and their unrivalled skill to the
political illustrations of _Punch_--Sambourne to the illustration of
many other things in it besides, but which do not strictly belong to
the present subject.
I am here concerned with the social illustrators alone, and, besides,
only with those who have made the sketches of social subjects in
_Punch_ the principal business of their lives. For very many artists,
from Sir John Millais, Sir John Gilbert, Frederick Walker, and
Randolph Caldecott downward, have contributed to that fortunate
periodical at one time or another, and not a few distinguished
Miss Georgina Bowers, Mr. Corbould, and others have continued the
fox-hunting tradition, and provided those scenes which have become a
necessity to the sporting readers of _Punch_.
To Charles Keene was fairly left that part of the succession that was
most to his taste--the treatment of life in the street and the open
country, in the shops and parlours of the lower middle class, and the
homes of the people.
And to me were allotted the social and domestic dramas, the nursery,
the school-room, the dining and drawing rooms, and croquet-lawns of
the more or less well-to-do.
I was particularly told not to try to be broadly funny, but to
undertake the light and graceful business, like a _jeune premier_. I
was, in short, to be the tenor, or rather the tenorino, of that little
company for which Mr. Punch beats time with his immortal baton, and to
warble in black and white such melodies as I could evolve from my
contemplations of the gentler aspect of English life, while Keene,
with his magnificent, highly trained basso, sang the comic songs.
We all became specialised, so to speak, and divided Leech's vast
domain among us.
We kicked a little at first, I remember, and whenever (to continue the
musical simile) I could get in a comic song, or what I thought one, or
some queer fantastic ditty about impossible birds and beasts and
fishes and what not, I did not let the opportunity slip; while Keene,
who had a very fine falsetto on the top of his chest register, would
now and then warble, pianissimo, some little ballad of the
drawing-room or nursery.
Illustration: FELINE AMENITIES
But gradually we settled into our respective grooves, and I have grown
to like my little groove very much, narrow though it be--a poor thing,
but mine own!
"I_wish_ you hadn't asked Captain Wareham, Lizzie. Horrid man! I can't
"Dear me, Charlotte--isn't the world big enough for you both?"
"Yes; but your little Dining-room _isn't_!"--_Punch_, February 16,
Moreover, certain physical disabilities that I have the misfortune to
labour under make it difficult for me to study and sketch the lusty
things in the open air and sunshine. My sight, besides being defective
in many ways, is so sensitive that I cannot face the common light of
day without glasses thickly rimmed with wire gauze, so that sketching
out of doors is often to me a difficult and distressing performance.
That is also partly why I am not a sportsman and a delineator of
I mention this infirmity not as an excuse for my shortcomings and
failures--for them there is no excuse--but as a reason why I have
abstained from the treatment of so much that is so popular,
delightful, and exhilarating in English country life. If there had
been no Charles Keene (a terrible supposition both for _Punch_ and its
readers), I should have done my best to illustrate the lower walks and
phases of London existence, which attracts me as much as any other. It
is just as easy to draw a costermonger or a washerwoman as it is a
gentleman or lady--perhaps a little easier--but it is by no means so
easy to draw them as Keene did! And to draw a cab or an omnibus after
him (though I have sometimes been obliged to do so) is almost tempting
If there had been no Charles Keene, I might, perhaps, with practice,
have become a funny man myself--though I do not suppose that my fun
would have ever been of the broadest.
Before I became an artist I was considered particularly good at
caricaturing my friends, who always foresaw for me more than one
change of profession, and _Punch_ as the final goal of my wanderings
in search of a career. For it was originally intended that I should be
a man of science.
Dr. Williamson, the eminent chemist and professor of chemistry, told
me not long ago that he remembers caricatures that I drew, now forty
years back, when I was studying under him at the Laboratory of
Chemistry at University College, and that he and other grave and
reverend professors were hugely tickled by them at the time. Indeed,
he remembers nothing else about me, except that I promised to be a
very bad chemist.
I was a very bad chemist indeed, but not for long! As soon as I was
free to do as I pleased, I threw up test-tubes and crucibles and went
back to Paris, where I was born and brought up, and studied to become
an artist in M. Gleyre's studio. Then I went to Antwerp, where there
is a famous school of painting, and where I had no less a person than
Mr. Alma-Tadema as a fellow-student. It was all delightful, but
misfortune befell me, and I lost the sight of one eye--perhaps it was
the eye with which I used to do the funny caricatures; it was a very
good eye, much the better of the two, and the other has not improved
by having to do a double share of the work.
And then in time I came to England and drew for _Punch_, thus
fulfilling the early prophecy of my friends and fellow-students at
University College--though not quite in the sense they anticipated.
[Illustration: THE NEW SOCIETY CRAZE
THE NEW GOVERNESS (_through her pretty nose_). "Waall--I come right
slick away from Ne'York City, an' I ain't had much time for foolin'
around in Europe--you bet! So I can't fix up your Gals in the Eu-
ropean languages, no-how!"
BELGRAVIAN MAMMA: (_who knows there's a Duke or two still left in the
Matrimonial Market_). "Oh, that's of no consequence. I want my
Daughters to aquire the American Accent in all its purity--and the
Idioms, and all that. Now I'm sure _you_ will do _admirably_!"--
_Punch_, December 1, 1888.]
I will not attempt a description of my work--it is so recent and has
been so widely circulated that it should be unnecessary to do so. If
you do not remember it, it is that it is not worth remembering; if you
do, I can only entreat you to be to my faults a little blind, and to
my virtues very kind!
I have always tried as honestly and truthfully as lies in me to serve
up to the readers of _Punch_ whatever I have culled with the bodily
eye, after cooking it a little in the brain. My raw material requires
more elaborate working than Leech's. He dealt more in flowers and
fruits and roots, if I may express myself so figuratively--from the
lordly pineapple and lovely rose, down to the humble daisy and savory
radish. _I_ deal in vegetables, I suppose. Little that I ever find
seems to me fit for the table just as I see it; moreover, by dishing
it up raw I should offend many people and make many enemies, and
deserve to do so. I cook my green pease, asparagus, French beans,
Brussels sprouts, German sauerkraut, and even a truffle now and then,
so carefully that you would never recognise them as they were when I
first picked them in the social garden. And they do not recognise
themselves! Or even each other!
And I do my best to dish them up in good, artistic style. Oh that I
could arrange for you a truffle with all that culinary skill that
Charles Keene brought to the mere boiling of a carrot or a potato! He
is the _cordon bleu_ par excellence. The people I meet seem to me more
interesting than funny--so interesting that I am well content to draw
them as I see them, after just a little arrangement and a very
transparent disguise--and without any attempt at caricature. The
better-looking they are, the more my pencil loves them, and I feel
more inclined to exaggerate in this direction than in any other.
Sam Weller, if you recollect, was fond of "pootiness and wirtue." I
_so_ agree with him! I adore them both, especially in women and
children. I only wish that the wirtue was as easy to draw as the
But indeed for me--speaking as an artist, and also, perhaps, a little
bit as a man--pootiness is almost a wirtue in itself. I don't think I
shall ever weary of trying to depict it, from its dawn in the toddling
infant to its decline and setting and long twilight in the beautiful
old woman, who has known how to grow old gradually. I like to surround
it with chivalrous and stalwart manhood; and it is a standing
grievance to me that I have to clothe all this masculine escort in
coats and trousers and chimney-pot hats; worse than all, in the
evening dress of the period!--that I cannot surround my divinity with
a guard of honour more worthily arrayed!
Thus, of all my little piebald puppets, the one I value the most is my
pretty woman. I am as fond of her as Leech was of his; of whom,
by-the-way, she is the granddaughter! This is not artistic vanity; it
is pure paternal affection, and by no means prevents me from seeing
her faults; it only prevents me from seeing them as clearly as you do!
Please be not very severe on her, for her grandmother's sake. Words
fail me to express how much I loved her grandmother, who wore a
cricket-cap and broke Aunt Sally's nose seven times.
[Illustration: A PICTORIAL PUZZLE
TENOR WARBLER (_with passionate emphasis on the first word of each
"_Me-e-e-e-e-e-t_ me once again, M-e-e-e-e-t me once aga-a-ain--"
_Why does the Cat suddenly jump off the Hearth-rug, rush to the Door,
and make frantic Endeavors to get out_?--_Punch_.]
Will my pretty woman ever be all I wish her to be? All she ought to
be? I fear not! On the mantelpiece in my studio at home there stands a
certain lady. She is but lightly clad, and what simple garment she
wears is not in the fashion of our day. How well I know her! Almost
thoroughly by this time--for she has been the silent companion of my
work for thirty years! She has lost both her arms and one of her feet,
which I deplore; and also the tip of her nose, but that has been made
She is only three feet high, or thereabouts, and quite two thousand
years old, or more; but she is ever young--
"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety!"
and a very giantess in beauty. For she is a reduction in plaster of
the famous statue at the Louvre.
They call her the Venus of Milo, or Melos! It is a calumny--a libel.
She is no Venus, except in good looks; and if she errs at all, it is
on the side of austerity. She is not only pootiness but wirtue
incarnate (if one can be incarnate in marble), from the crown of her
lovely head to the sole of her remaining foot--a very beautiful foot,
though by no means a small one--it has never worn a high-heel shoe!
Like all the best of its kind, and its kind the best, she never sates
nor palls, and the more I look at her the more I see to love and
worship--and, alas! the more dissatisfied I feel--not indeed with the
living beauty, ripe and real, that I see about and around--mere life
is such a beauty in itself that no stone ideal can ever hope to match
it! But dissatisfied with the means at my command to do the living
beauty justice--a little bit of paper, a steel pen, and a bottle of
ink--and, alas! fingers and an eye less skilled than they would have
been if I had gone straight to a school of art instead of a laboratory
And now for social pictorial satire considered as a fine art.
They who have practised it hitherto, from Hogarth downward, have not
been many--you can count their names on your fingers! And the wide
popularity they have won may be due as much to their scarcity as to
the interest we all take in having the mirror held up to ourselves--to
the malicious pleasure we all feel at seeing our neighbours held up to
gentle ridicule or well-merited reproof; most of all, perhaps, to the
realistic charm that lies in all true representation of the social
aspects with which we are most familiar, ugly as these are often apt
to be, with our chimney-pot hats, and trousers that unfit us, it
seems, for serious and elaborate pictorial treatment at the hands of
the foremost painters of our own times--except when we sit to them for
our portraits; then they have willy-nilly to make the best of us, just
as we are!
[Illustration: REFINEMENTS OF MODERN SPEECH
(SCENE--_A Drawing-room in "Passionate Brompton_.")
FAIR AESTHETIC (_suddenly, and in deepest tones to Smith, who has just
been introduced to take her in to Dinner_).
"Are you Intense?"--_Punch_, June 14, 1879.]
The plays and novels that succeed the most are those which treat of
the life of our own day; not so the costly pictures we hang upon our
walls. We do not care to have continually before our eyes elaborate
representations of the life we lead every day and all day long; we
like best that which rather takes us out of it--romantic or graceful
episodes of another time or clime, when men wore prettier clothes than
they do now--well-imagined, well-painted scenes from classic
lore--historical subjects--subjects selected from our splendid
literature and what not; or, if we want modern subjects, we prefer
scenes chosen from a humble sphere, which is not that of those who can
afford to buy pictures--the toilers of the earth--the toilers of the
sea--pathetic scenes from the inexhaustible annals of the poor; or
else, again, landscapes and seascapes--things that bring a whiff of
nature into our feverish and artificial existence--that are in direct
contrast to it.
And even with these beautiful things, how often the charm wears away
with the novelty of possession! How often and how soon the lovely
picture, like its frame, becomes just as a piece of wall-furniture, in
which we take a pride, certainly, and which we should certainly miss
if it were taken away--but which we grow to look at with the pathetic
indifference of habit--if not, indeed, with aversion!
Chairs and tables minister to our physical comforts, and we cannot do
without them. But pictures have not this practical hold upon us; the
sense to which they appeal is not always on the alert; yet there they
are hanging on the wall, morning, noon, and night, unchanged,
unchangeable--the same arrested movement--the same expression of
face--the same seas and trees and moors and forests and rivers and
mountains--the very waves are as eternal as the hills!
Music will leave off when it is not wanted--at least it ought to! The
book is shut, the newspaper thrown aside. Not so the beautiful
picture; it is like a perennial nosegay, for ever exhaling its perfume
for noses that have long ceased to smell it!
But little pictures in black and white, of little every-day people
like ourselves, by some great little artist who knows life well and
has the means at his command to express his knowledge in this easy,
simple manner, can be taken up and thrown down like the book or
newspaper. They are even easier to read and understand. They are
within the reach of the meanest capacity, the humblest education, the
most slender purse. They come to us weekly, let us say, in cheap
periodicals. They are preserved and bound up in volumes, to be taken
down and looked at when so disposed. The child grows to love them
before he knows how to read; fifty years hence he will love them
still, if only for the pleasure they gave him as a child. He will soon
know them by heart, and yet go to them again and again; and if they
are good, he will always find new beauties and added interest as he
himself grows in taste and culture; and how much of that taste and
culture he will owe to them, who can say?
Nothing sticks so well in the young mind as a little picture one can
hold close to the eyes like a book--not even a song or poem--for in
the case of most young people the memory of the eye is better than
that of the ear--its power of assimilating more rapid and more keen.
And then there is the immense variety, the number!
[Illustration: "READING WITHOUT TEARS"
TEACHER. "And what comes after S, Jack?"
TEACHER. "And what Comes after T?"
PUPIL. "For all that we have Received," &c., &c.--_Punch_, February
Our pictorial satirist taking the greatest pains, doing his very best,
can produce, say, a hundred of these little pictures in a twelvemonth,
while his elder brother of the brush bestows an equal labour and an
equal time on one important canvas, which will take another
twelvemonth to engrave, perhaps, for the benefit of those fortunate
enough to be able to afford the costly engraving of that one priceless
work of art, which only one millionaire can possess at a time. Happy
millionaire! happy painter--just as likely as not to become a
millionaire himself! And this elder brother of the brush will be the
first to acknowledge his little brother's greatness--if the little
brother's work be well done. You should hear how the first painters of
our time, here and abroad, express themselves about Charles Keene!
They do not speak of him as a little brother, I tell you, but a very
big brother indeed.
Thackeray, for me, and many others, the greatest novelist, satirist,
humorist of our time, where so many have been great, is said to have
at the beginning of his career wished to illustrate the books of
others--Charles Dickens's, I believe, for one. Fortunately, perhaps,
for us and for him, and perhaps for Dickens, he did not succeed; he
lived to write books of his own, and to illustrate them himself; and
it is generally admitted that his illustrations, clever as they are,
were not up to the mark of his writings.
It was not his natural mode of expression--and I doubt if any amount
of training and study would have made it a successful mode: the love
of the thing does not necessarily carry the power to do it. That he
loved it he has shown us in many ways, and also that he was always
practising it. Most of my hearers will remember his beautiful ballad
of "The Pen and the Album"--
"I am my master's faithful old gold pen.
I've served him three long years, and drawn since then
Thousands of funny women and droll men ..."
[Illustration: THE HEIGHT OF IMPROPRIETY
MISS GRUNDISON, JUNIOR. "There goes Lucy Holyroyd, all alone in a Boat
with young Snipson as usual. So impudent of them!"
HER ELDER SISTER. "Yes; how shocking if they were Upset and Drowned--
without a Chaperon, you know!"--_Punch_, August 8, 1891.]
Now conceive--it is not an impossible conception--that the marvellous
gift of expression that he was to possess in words had been changed by
some fairy at his birth into an equal gift of expression by means of
the pencil, and that he had cultivated the gift as assiduously as he
cultivated the other, and finally that he had exercised it as
sedulously through life, bestowing on innumerable little pictures in
black and white all the wit and wisdom, the wide culture, the deep
knowledge of the world and of the human heart, all the satire, the
tenderness, the drollery, and last, but not least, that incomparable
perfection of style that we find in all or most that he has
written--what a pictorial record that would be!
Think of it--a collection of little wood-cuts or etchings, with each
its appropriate legend--a series of small pictures equal in volume and
in value to the whole of Thackeray's literary work! Think of the
laughter and the tears from old and young, rich and poor, and from the
thousands who have not the intelligence or the culture to appreciate
great books, or lack time or inclination to read them.
All there was in the heart and mind of Thackeray, expressed through a
medium so simple and direct that even a child could be made to feel
it, or a chimney-sweep! For where need we draw the line? We are only
Now I am quite content with Thackeray as he is--a writer of books,
whose loss to literature could not be compensated by any gain to the
gentle art of drawing little figures in black and white--"thousands of
funny women and droll men." All I wish to point out--in these days
when drawing is pressed into the service of daily journalism, and with
such success that there will soon be as many journalists with the
pencil as with the pen--is this, that the career of the future social
pictorial satirist is full of splendid possibilities undreamed-of yet.
It is a kind of hybrid profession still in its infancy--hardly
recognised as a profession at all--something halfway between
literature and art--yet potentially combining all that is best and
most essential in both, and appealing as effectively as either to some
of our strongest needs and most natural instincts.
It has no school as yet; its methods are tentative, and its few
masters have been pretty much self-taught. But I think that a method
and a school will evolve themselves by degrees--are perhaps evolving
The quality of black and white illustrations of modern life is
immeasurably higher than it was thirty or forty years ago--its average
and artistic quality--and it is getting higher day by day. The number
of youths who can draw beautifully is quite appalling; one would think
they had learned to draw before learning to read and write. Why
Well, all we want, for my little dream to be realised, is that among
these precocious wielders of the pencil there should arise here a
Dickens, there a Thackeray, there a George Eliot or an Anthony
Trollope, who, finding quite early in life that he can draw as easily
as other men can spell, that he can express himself, and all that he
hears and sees and feels, more easily, more completely, in that way
than in any other, will devote himself heart and soul to that form of
expression--as I and others have tried to do--but with advantages of
nature, circumstances, and education that have been denied to us!
[Illustration: THINGS ONE WOULD WISH TO HAVE EXPRESSED DIFFERENTLY
HE. "The fact is I never get any wild fowl shooting--never!"
SHE. "Oh, then you ought to come down to our Neighborhood in the
Winter. It would just suit you, there are such a lot of Geese about--
a--a--I mean _Wild_ Geese of course!"--_Punch_, November 21, 1891.]
Hogarth seems to have come nearer to this ideal pictorial satirist
than any of his successors in _Punch_ and elsewhere. For he was not
merely a light humorist and a genial caricaturist; he dealt also in
pathos and terror, in tragic passion and sorrow and crime; he often
strikes chords of too deep a tone for the pages of a comic periodical.
But the extent of his productiveness was limited by the method of his
production; he was a great painter in oils, and each of his life
scenes is an important and elaborate picture, which, moreover, he
engraved himself at great cost of time and labour, after the original
time and labour spent in painting it. It is by these engravings, far
more than by his pictures, that he is so widely known.
It is quite possible to conceive a little sketchy woodcut no larger
than a cut in _Punch_, and drawn by a master like Charles Keene, or
the German Adolf Menzel, giving us all the essence of any picture by
Hogarth even more effectively, more agreeably, than any of Hogarth's
most finished engravings. And if this had been Hogarth's method of
work, instead of some fifty or sixty of those immortal designs we
should have had some five or six thousand! Almost a library!
So much for the great pictorial satirist of the future--of the near
future, let us hope--that I have been trying to evolve from my inner
consciousness. May some of us live to see him!
Back to Full Books