English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century/Chapter 15

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JOHN LEECH (Continued).

Giovanni. What do the dead do, uncle?—do they eat,
Hear music, go a hunting, and be merry,
As we that live?
Francesco de Medicis. No, Cuz; they sleep.
Giov. …When do they wake?
Frances. When God shall please.

Webster's White Devil; or, Vittoria Corombona (1612), Act 3.

Many of our readers will remember the exhibition at the Egyptian Hall, in 1862, of John Leech's "Sketches in Oil," the subjects being enlarged reproductions from selected examples of his minor drawings for Punch. To his friend Mark Lemon is due the credit of this idea, which was carried out after the following manner: The impression of a block in Punch being first taken on a sheet of india-rubber, was enlarged by a lithographic process; the copy thus obtained was transferred to stone, and impressions obtained on a large sheet of canvas. The result was an outline groundwork, consisting of his own lines enlarged some eight times the dimensions of the original drawing, which the artist then proceeded to fill up in colour. His knowledge of the manipulation of oil colours was, however, slight, and his first crude attempts were made under the guidance of his friend Mr. Millais. The first results can scarcely be said to be satisfactory; a kind of transparent colour was used, which allowed the coarse lines of the enlargement to be distinctly visible, and the finished production presented very much the appearance of an indifferent lithograph slightly tinted. In a short time, however, he conquered the difficulty; and, instead of allowing the thick, fatty lines of printer's ink to remain on the canvas, he removed them—particularly as regards the outlines of the face and figure—by means of turpentine. These outlines he re-drew with his own hand in a fine and delicate manner, and added a daintiness of finish, particularly in flesh colour, which greatly enhanced the value and beauty of the work. He nevertheless experienced some difficulty in reproducing in these enlargements the delicacy of touch and exactness which characterized the original drawings, and would labour all day at a detail—such as a hand in a certain position—before attaining a result which entirely satisfied himself. The catalogue of this exhibition may be cited in evidence of Leech's characteristic modesty. "These sketches," it said, "have no claim to be regarded or tested as finished pictures. It is impossible for any one to know the fact better than I do. They have no pretensions to a higher name than that I have given them—'Sketches in Oil.'"

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 £1,000 in his pocket." The exhibition, indeed, was so splendid a success that it is said to have brought in nearly £5,000.

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.[1] 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.[2]

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."[3]

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."[4] 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 Æternum 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,[5] 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,[6] 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."[7] 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.[8]

"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 £50 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[9]—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 quant 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,

"Zamiel's Owl."
While at Whity, 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.'[10] 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."[11] 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[12]), "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 tip 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 confrère that same Sunday, 30th October, and "was stunned at the news, totally unexpected by him."[13] 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.[14] 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;[15] 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 Barney 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,[16] 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:—

Obiit October xxix, MDCCCLXIV,
Ætat 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."

  1. 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
  2. Shirley Brooks in Illustrated London News of 19th November, 1864.
  3. Charles Mackay's "Forty Years' Recollections."
  4. "Thackeray the Humourist and the Man of Letters," p. 12.
  5. MS. Diary of the late Shirley Brooks, 1st January, 1864.
  6. Died on the 18th of December, 1864, exactly within a year from the date of her son's death.
  7. Shirley Brooks in Illustrated London News of 19th November, 1864.
  8. "I suggested the cut, Moses being dressed for the Fair, Johnny Russell for the Conference." MS. Diary of the late Shirley Brooks.
  9. 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."
  10. Mr. Yates in Morning Star.
  11. MS. Diary of Shirley Brooks: 29th October, 1864.
  12. Illustrated London News, 19th November, 1864.
  13. MS. Diary of Mr. Shirley Brooks.
  14. Ibid.
  15. H. K. Browne ("Phiz"), T. Landseer, George Cruikshank, Marcus Stone, Sir John Gilbert, and Mr. Philips, R.A., were also present.
  16. 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.