English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century/Chapter 16
A BOOK ILLUSTRATOR: HABLOT KNIGHT BROWNE.
In a work dealing with comic artists and caricaturists, one is somewhat puzzled to decide what place to assign to the distinguished draughtsman who died a year and a half ago. Ultimus Romanorum, the last of the great trio of designers, Cruikshank, Leech, and Browne, his career offers to us a singular paradox; for although not born a comic artist (as we shall endeavour presently to show), he executed a vast number of comic illustrations; and while, so far as we know, never guilty of a caricature in his life, the larger portion of his drawings are caricatures pure and simple.
We might cite a hundred examples of this tendency to exaggeration, but one shall suffice. In the etching wherein Miss Nickleby is introduced to her uncle's objectionable friends, Miss Nickleby as well as the "friends" are remarkable for the largeness of their heads and the flimsiness of their bodies; while the men, if not exactly like those described by Pliny, or quoted from him (without acknowledgment) by our Sir John Mandeville, are at any rate too grotesque for human beings. If humanity offers to our study in daily life a variety in form, face, and feature, comprising eccentricities as well as excellencies, such specimens, nevertheless, as poor Smike or Mr. Mantalini were never designed in its atelier.The artist's invincible tendency to exaggeration, that is caricature (in the Johnsonian definition of the word), was observed by his friend and ally, the late Charles James Lever, who remarked with reference to his illustrations of the novel of "Jack Hinton," "Browne's sketches are as usual caricatures; they make my scenes too riotous and disorderly. The character of my books for uproarious people and incident I owe mainly to Master Phiz." When Samuel Lover was sent over to Brussels by McGlashan, the publisher, to take a likeness of the novelist, he was accompanied by Browne, the object of whose visit was to confer with the author on the subject of these very illustrations. Lever was so anxious to restrain him from caricaturing his countrymen, that he even begged Browne to accompany him to Dublin for the purpose of seeing the natives, instead of the wretched specimens of Milesian humanity to be met with in London.
Lack of Vitality.Another fault of this artist, which will be apparent to any one acquainted with his work, is the weakness of his outline, and the singular absence of solidity, stability, and even of vitality in his figures. There is no lack of powerful situations in Frank Smedley's novel of "Lewis Arundel," but Browne's illustrations are characterised by an utter absence of vitality, while shadow usurps the place of substantial bone and muscle. There are the usual thread-paper men in tall hats, with trousers so tightly strapped to their feet that they must go through the tedium of existence in intolerable discomfort. In one picture he shows us a fragile, attenuated man holding another fragile, attenuated man over the well of a staircase by the waistband of his trousers, a feat which, difficult of performance to a Hercules, would be absolutely beyond the power of a person so fragile, so absolutely destitute of bone and muscle, as the hero of this particular episode.
The weakness of which we now speak becomes strikingly apparent when he enables us to compare him with either of the distinguished trio to which he himself belonged. Such an opportunity offers itself in Mr. have been selected: the hounds have just been let out of the kennel, and in actual life would, of course, be scampering over the place in all the exuberant consciousness of canine freedom; the scene, in fact, would be redolent of life and excitement, which is wholly wanting to Browne's illustration. "Phiz," from boyhood, had been accustomed to horses, and frequently hunted with the Surrey hounds, and to this circumstance is due the facility with which he usually delineated horses in the hunting field. In the delineation of hunting scenes, however, he falls far behind John Leech, and this inferiority is strikingly manifested in the illustration to which we are now referring. If you compare the fragile men, horses, and hounds, with those in Leech's last etching, you cannot fail to be struck with the vigour and life-like reality of the latter drawing. Browne's women as a rule are delicate, fragile, consumptive-looking creatures. The one in the etching referred to is both physically weak and a bad horsewoman to boot—sitting her horse with all the ungracefulness of a sack of flour.novel of "Mr. Facey Romford's Hounds." Compare John Leech's illustration, Fresh as a Four-Year Old (the last he executed for the novelist before his firm, free hand was paralysed by death), with Hablot Knight Browne's first etching in the same book. A better subject, surely, could scarcely
Another weakness of Hablot Knight Browne is a tendency to reproduce. If you look at any of his "interiors," it will be apparent to you that the men and women—the furniture and fittings—the room itself, you have seen any number of times before. Charles Chesterfield becomes Nicholas Nickleby, and Nicholas Nickleby Harry Lorrequer; and with the slightest possible rearrangement, the scenes in which these gentlemen figure from time to time are so much alike, that we are reminded for all the world of the set scenes and artificial backgrounds of a photographer's "studio." Take "Nicholas Nickleby," by way of example: the room in which old Ralph Nickleby first finds his poor relations, does duty (with the slightest possible rearrangement) for the Yorkshire schoolmaster's room at the Saracen's Head; while a room in Kenwig's house becomes successively an apartment in Mr. Mantalini's residence, a green-room, Mr. Ralph Nickleby's office, Mr. Charles Cheeryble's room, a hairdresser's shop, and so on. The illustrations to a novel may not inaptly be compared to the scenery and characters of a drama, and a theatre furnished with such a dearth of scenery and "properties," would he a poor affair indeed. This tendency to reproduction becomes strikingly apparent wherever a romantic hero puts in an appearance. Thus, Mrs. Trollope's Charles Chesterfield in a frock coat, becomes in a tailcoat Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby; in another frock coat, Martin Chuzzlewit; while a military surtout converts him, with equal facility, into Charles Lever's Jack Hinton or Harry Lorrequer, according to the exigencies of the costume. The strange part of it is that this peculiarity is shown almost exclusively in the delineation of heroes of fiction. The imagination of the artist is evidently impressed by marked and clearly defined characters such as Squeers, Pecksniff, Gamp, Dombey, Macstinger, Quilp, or Carker, and their identity as a rule is admirably preserved. If pressed for an explanation, it is possible that Browne might have pleaded that heroes of romance present for the most part, with a few notable exceptions, a strong family likeness, being little better than dummies, introduced by their authors for the purpose of setting off personages possessed of greater force of character and decision of purpose. Be this as it may, the singular failing we refer to is certainly no mere fancy of our own. Charles Lever himself complained that in the supper scene of his second number, Lorrequer bore so striking a resemblance to his contemporary, Nicholas Nickleby; while his biographer, Mr. Fitzpatrick, observes that the identity of Harry Lorrequer is never maintained throughout the novel, that mercurial hero being alternately represented old, young, good-looking, and ugly. So much indeed was Lever impressed with the fact, that he actually besought the artist to represent O'Malley the same person throughout the book. A knowledge of Irish physiognomy was essential to any illustrator of Lever's novels, and Hablot Knight Browne was so innocent of this knowledge that the author begged him to go down to the House of Commons and study the faces of the Irish members there, as the only accessible method of obtaining the necessary insight in England.
Hypercriticism, happily, would be out of place in a work dealing with caricaturists and graphic humourists of the nineteenth century. Faults such as those the author has ventured to indicate appear to him faults indeed of a grave character; but, while conscious of defects which cannot fail to be patent to the most ordinary observer, he is conscious at the same time of the great abilities of the artist, who like those of whom he has already treated, has passed over to the ranks of "the great majority." If the scenery and properties are sometimes poor,—if there is no genius, and oftentimes a lack of decision and reality, there is on the other hand no lack of talent; and there are many designs of Hablot Knight Browne which place him in the very first rank of English book illustrators. His etching of The Goblin and the Sexton (the eccentric yew-tree notwithstanding), Mr. Pickwick in the Pound, and the very admirable little etchings which we find in that rare Paper of Tobacco by "Joseph Fume," may be favourably compared with some of the best comic illustrations of George Cruikshank himself."Nicholas Nickleby."Can any picture tell its story better than that first illustration to "Nicholas Nickleby," where old Ralph pays his "visit to his poor relations"? Mark the supercilious air with which the vulgar moneylender hands his hat to Nicholas, and the unveiled contempt with which he receives the attentions of poor Mrs. Nickleby and her daughter. A no less admirable illustration is the one wherein we see the Yorkshire schoolmaster nibbing his pen, whilst Snawley consigns his wretched step-sons to the tender mercies of the principal of Do-the-boys Hall. Observe the extraordinary anatomical proportions, hat and toggery, of Mr. Newman Noggs, as he stretches up to the top of the coach to hand a letter to Nicholas. Regard the nightcap and head-gear of the detestable Mrs. Squeers, as she administers matutinal brimstone and treacle to the starving pupils of Do-the-boys Hall. Mark the astonishment of Squeers and his victim, as the savage goes down under the thundering blows of Nickleby's cane. Look at the old imbecile declaring his passion for the foolish Mrs. Nickleby. Behold his knee-breeches and shorts protruding from the chimney, when his benighted intellect prompted him, at the imminent hazard of strangulation, to pay a visit to the object of his affections via that unusually circuitous route. Look at the fatal brawl between Sir Mulberry Hawk and his hopeful pupil; and rejoice at the final retributive
Phiz.]["Master Humphrey's Clock," 1840–1.
DICK SWIVELLER AND THE LODGER.
[Face p. 340.
"MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT.Specially noteworthy is the bright little picture on the title-page, where the coach, with its spanking four-in-hand, gallops on its distant journey after depositing Martin Chuzzlewit at his destination. The guard, as he mounts up behind, watches with curious interest Pecksniff's unctuous reception of the new pupil. Nothing can well be cleverer than his realization of the Pleasant Little Family Party at Mr. Pecksniff's, where that hypocritical personage, surrounded by foes, assumes a look of persecuted benevolence, and gravely requests his daughter, when he takes his chamber candlestick that night, to remind him to be more particular in praying for Mr. Anthony Chuzzlewit, "who had done him an injustice." The Warm Reception of Mr. Pecksniff by his Venerable Friend gives us the liveliest satisfaction. If old Chuzzlewit's face is one of the "caricatures" referred to, it must be remembered that it is distorted with passion, and the fact is forgotten in the satisfaction with which we hail the detection and punishment of the whining rascal, the sting of which is envenomed by the astounding revelation that all the while he has been weaving his web of falsehood around his intended victim, he himself has been the dupe of the man he had schemed so long to hoodwink and deceive.
"THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP.Regard again Quilp, the dwarf, and his elfin errand boy (in the "Old Curiosity Shop"), enjoying the agonies of Sampson Brass as he essays to smoke a long churchwarden. Behold Quilp upon his back taunting the large fierce dog with hideous grimaces, triumphant in the consciousness that the shortness of his chain will not permit him to advance another inch. Look at Mrs. Jarley's wax-work brigand. "with the blackest possible head and the clearest possible complexion," going his rounds in the company of little Nell, his eyes fixed on the miniature of his lady-love, and his hand pressed to his stomach instead of his heart. Behold the dwarf once more, as he entertains Sampson and his sister Sally in the ruined outhouse overlooking the river; the rain pours down on the head of the hapless attorney, who, with coat buttoned up to the chin, and evidently suffering from severe influenza, looks the picture of shivering discomfort. Although in no better plight herself, Sally rejoices in the sufferings of her brother, and as she sips her tea, her repulsive features are distorted with a hideous grin of satisfaction. Quilp, seated on his barrel beneath the only remnants of a roof, occupies a comparatively dry corner, and looks the very picture of rollicking fun and enjoyment.
But incomparably one of the best of Browne's comic illustrations is the one in "Dombey," wherein Captain Cuttle encounters Mrs. Macstinger in charge of Bunsby, bent on rivetting matrimonial chains upon that confused and ancient mariner. "Bunsby."Bunsby is one of the happiest of Dickens's creations; stupid as an owl, he has nevertheless an oracular mode of delivering himself, and the simple-minded Cuttle places as much reliance upon this wooden-headed sailor as the ancients did on the mysterious utterance of the Delphic Apollo. That the powerful will of Macstinger should hold himself in subjugation so long as he was under the dominion of her eye was a matter of course; but that this man of wisdom should be so easily boarded and captured by the enemy, is so absolutely beyond his simple comprehension that he scratches his head in sheer amazement. As for poor Bunsby, the cup of his humiliation is full. So far as his wooden features are capable of expression, they indicate two distinct trains of thought: a conviction that his own pretensions have been detected and exposed, and a desire to run, an inclination repressed by the powerful clutch of his strong-minded bride, who retains his wrist in a grasp of iron. Compare the look of bewilderment on Cuttle's face with the look of mingled contempt and triumph on the features of Macstinger; and then look at poor Bunsby!
"Phiz" began etching when he was seventeen, and was in full work when he was twenty-one. It was his three drawings on the wood for Dickens's rare tract, "Sunday Under Three Heads," which introduced him first to public notice. This was intended as a protest against the cant and narrow-mindedness of the bigots whose ignorance of the sacred writings is so dense that they confound the Jewish Sabbath (i.e. the Saturday) with the English Sunday; misunderstand (which in their ignorance of Hebrew may be excusable) the directions to his own people of the Jewish law-giver,—and ignore (which is absolutely inexcusable) the dictates of common sense, and the plain directions of our Saviour and of the Gentile Apostle. The strong common sense of Charles Dickens, and of many good Christian men after him, have striven in vain to expose an error due to the narrow-mindedness of our Puritan forefathers, to whom are due also the impurities of Dryden and of the dramatic writers of the Restoration. Cant, however, has prevailed; and the English Sunday—to the delight of these fanatics, and the absolute terror of their children—remains the most unrefreshing and most doleful of the seven days of the week.
The "Jack Sheppard" Mania.Theatrical London in 1840 was visited by an excitement second only to the "Tom and Jerry" mania of 1821. The mania of 1840, if occupying a narrower area, was more morbid in its character, and certainly not less mischievous in its results. Harrison Ainsworth had brought out his peculiar romance of "Jack Sheppard," which, resting on its own merits, might have achieved perhaps a mild popularity and done but little harm. Thanks, however, to the genius and fancy of George Cruikshank, the public became for a time Sheppard mad; the heroes presented to admiring and applauding audiences at the theatres were murderers, housebreakers, highway robbers, thieves, and their female companions. The morbid taste of the populace had in fact been thoroughly roused, a condition of things which was satirized by the artist's little-known etching of The Way to the Gallows made Easy and Pleasant, which appeared in "The New Monthly Magazine" of 1840. The inventive powers of the artist were almost nil, and the rare and able etching referred to was suggested to him by John Poole, the author of "Paul Pry," to whom we are indebted for the descriptive letterpress: "At the foot of a gently sloping path strewed with flowers, stands a gibbet decorated, not with a halter, but wreaths of roses. Around it are many tombs of elegant construction, supposed to enclose the ashes of the illustrious departed. Upon one is inscribed, 'Here repose the mortal remains of the ever-famed Jerry Abershaw'; upon another, 'Sacred to the memory of Poor Johnny Greenacre.' A third is remarkable for its touching simplicity—'Alas! Poor Thurtell!' Another, somewhat more elaborate, gives us 'Burke and Hare! As they were loving friends in life, so in death are they undivided! Erected by their affectionate disciples, Bishop and May.' Besides these there are many others all bearing names of mark and fame. The whole is surrounded by a pretty arabesque composed of crowbars and other implements of burglary, pistols, knives, death's heads and cross-bones, halters, handcuffs, and fetters, ingeniously disposed and prettily intertwined with wreaths of roses."
We said at the opening of this chapter that "Phiz" was not born a comic artist. He possessed a certain amount of humour, which was evoked in the first instance by the example of Cruikshank, and his abilities and desire to emulate the greater artist have enabled him unquestionably to realize many humorous designs. It is impossible, however, to examine the numerous etchings of this draughtsman, without coming to the conclusion that he is always seen at his best when not called on to exercise his purely comic powers. Take by way of example, The Venice Glass, in Ainsworth's romance of "Crichton"; you will need no reference to the letterpress to understand it, for the artist tells his story far better than the novelist. Observe Crichton as he raises the goblet, and the poisoned wine bubbles and boils, and finally shivers the chalice into a thousand fragments; regard the agitation of Marguerite de Valois; the keen attention of Henri and his attendants. Where shall we find a finer illustration than the one in this book in which Esclairmonde is presented to Henri? The meeting of Mr. Tigg and Martin Chuzzlewit at the pawnbroker's shop is full of pathos. Look at the poor, wasted but still handsome mother waiting her turn whilst the gin-drinking laundress pawns her flat-irons to gratify her passion for the deadly drink; note the insouciance of the thoughtless musician as he twangs the guitar which he is about to pledge, though probably dependent on it for bread. Notice the pictures above,—the Bacchante pressing grapes into a wine cup,—the bailiff distraining for rent. Hablot Knight Browne has no powers which would enable us to compare him with Hogarth, and yet the grim reality of this picture Hogarth himself might almost admire.
Regard again that wondrous tailpiece at page 96 of "The Old Curiosity Shop" where Quilp, the odious dwarf, sits up all night smoking and drinking, his countenance every now and then "expanding with a grin of delight" as his patient; long-suffering wife makes some involuntary movement of restlessness or fatigue. Look at poor, wasted, shoeless Nell, as she reclines on the settee of the public -house, surrounded by sympathisers,—the kind-hearted motherly landlady administering mental and bodily solace to the motherless child,—the poor, foolish, gambling grandfather gazing into her face with wistful anxiety. Lastly, look at the ghastly corpse of old Quilp as he lies dead amid the mud and slime of the river, which, after playing with the ugly, malicious, ill-shapen thing until it was bereft of life, flung it contemptuously high and dry upon the swamps at low tide."Dombey and Son.""Dombey and Son" called for comparatively little exercise of Browne's comic power, and consequently we shall find in this book examples of some of his finest book etchings. The pompous London merchant, the frigid influence he exercises on those about him, the distrustful look of the nurse as she brings baby Paul into his presence, the shrinking form of little Florence as the frightened child cowers with folded hands behind her repellent father's chair, are finely depicted in the etching of The Dombey Family, In Mrs. Dombey at Home, the proud, haughty beauty chafing under the consciousness that she has been sacrificed to the wealth of the heartless merchant, takes no pains to veil the contempt she feels for the admiring men who surround her. These men (by the way) are scarcely men at all, they are all grossly exaggerated; but "Phiz," like many artists of greater pretensions, has sacrificed everything to his central figure, and the presence and bearing of the disdainful beauty makes the coup d'œil delightful. Abstraction and Recognition is a wonderful etching; both man and horse are admirably drawn, whilst the figures scowling out of the dark entry on the passing and unconscious horseman require no reference to the letterpress. In his etching of The Dark Road, Mr. Browne developed a style of etching of which he afterwards frequently availed himself, and by which (as in "Bleak House" and "Roland Cashel") he sometimes succeeded in producing remarkable effects. It shows us a postilion driving a team of horses over a dark and dreary road bordered on either hand by dismal moorland; the streaks of the approaching dawn illuminate the edges of the landscape; the single occupant of the berlin, unable to control his agitation, stands upright, and gazes anxiously around him. So realistic is the drawing, that as we look at the flying team we may almost hear the jingle of the splinter-bars and harness as the horses rattle along the dismal road. Cruikshank, to save his life, could draw neither a horse, a tree, or a pretty woman; when he did so it was rather by accident than by design. "Phiz" (with all his faults) could draw all three, and impart to them a grace, a beauty, and a poetry peculiar to himself. Look at that etching of Carker in his Hour of Triumph, where Edith, after using the villain as a tool to revenge herself upon her husband, turns upon her miserable dupe with all the force of her superior intellect, and laughs in the face of the man she has so egregiously befooled. This really is an admirable drawing; the anger and humiliation on the face of the dumbfounded villain, who feels himself absolutely powerless in the hands of the scornful, resolute woman, are powerfully depicted. A more perfect realization of Edith Dombey it seems to us could scarcely be imagined. Leech, perhaps, might have reached the idea. He would certainly have put more breadth and solidity into the figure of Carker; but the woman he could scarcely have improved upon—I doubt if he could have matched her. As for Cruikshank, he would have given her an impossible waist, a puffy face surmounted with bandeaux of raven hair scrupulously plastered to each side of her lofty forehead; whilst Carker would have been presented to us in an uncomfortable coat, hair parted and dressed after the Cruikshankian fashion, and a pair of boots at least half a yard in length.
"Bleak House" and "Roland Cashel.""Bleak House" (1852-3) has been described as the most successful of "Phiz's" illustrated work; but although it contains some of the best etchings he ever designed for Charles Dickens, the rest are in truth of unequal merit. Among the best may be mentioned Consecrated Ground; The Old Man of the name of Tulkinghorn; Morning; Tom All Alone's; and the sunset scene in the Long Drawing-room at Chesney Wold. In the dreary twilight of the Ghost's Walk and of the room in which the murder was consummated we have a pair of drawings unsurpassed by any of the illustrations he executed for Charles Lever's "Roland Cashel," which last contains unquestionably the finest of his designs.
Of all his illustrators, Hablot Knight Browne was the one who best suited the requirements of Charles Dickens. A man of talent without a single idea of his own, he was found more malleable and manageable than Cruikshank, who, as we have seen, would have had a hand (if he could) not only in the illustrations, but also in the management of the story. The conditions under which "Phiz" illustrated "Pickwick" were wholly different from those which poor Seymour had endeavoured to impose upon his author. "It is due to the gentleman," says Dickens, in his preface to the "Pickwick Papers," "It is due to the gentleman whose designs accompany the letterpress, to state that the interval has been so short between the production of each number in manuscript and its appearance in print, that the greater portion of the illustrations have been executed by the artist from the author's verbal description of what he intended to write" Cruikshank would certainly not have done this, and we doubt whether John Leech would have consented to work under such conditions. But as regards Browne, the case was entirely different. He had no genius or ideas of his own, and could only work from the suggestions of others. The interest and anxiety which Dickens felt in the character of the illustrations to his novels, is shown by reference to the illustrations to "Dombey." "The points for illustration, and the enormous care required, make me," he says, "excessively anxious! The man for Dombey, if Browne could see him, the class of man to a T, is Sir A—— E——, of D——s. Great pains will be necessary with Miss Tox. The Toodle family should not be too much caricatured, because of Polly." As the story unwinds itself, he proceeds, "Browne is certainly interesting himself and taking pains;" and again, in another letter, "Browne seems to be getting on well." Still "Browne," with all his pliability, found it a hard matter to please him. He made a particular point of Paul, Mrs. Pipchin, and the cat by the fire; and the result to himself was so eminently unsatisfactory that it produced a characteristic protest. "I am really distressed by the illustration of Mrs. Pipchin and Paul. It is so frightfully and wildly wide of the mark. Good heaven! in the commonest and most literal construction of the text, it is all wrong! She is described as an old lady, and Paul's 'miniature armchair' is mentioned more than once. He ought to be sitting in a little arm-chair down in a corner of the fireplace, staring up at her. I can't say what pain and vexation it is to be so utterly misrepresented. I would cheerfully have given a hundred pounds to have left this illustration out of the book. He never could have got that idea of Mrs. Pipchin if he had attended to the text. Indeed, I think he does better without the text; for then the notion is made easy to him, a short description, and he can't help taking it in." This last sentence exactly describes the man: a personal description with him did more than any amount of letterpress, however lucid.
One may readily understand this almost nervous anxiety of Charles Dickens with reference to the character of his illustrations. He worked, be it remembered, under conditions entirely different to the novelist of a later date. The etched illustrations of his day formed a most important—in some cases (the works, of inferior men, such as Albert Smith, for instance) by far the most important—portion of the work itself. Under the charm of the illustrations and the mode of issue, the tale was protracted to a length which would be impossible in a novel of Charles Reade or Wilkie Collins, which depends for its success upon the skill of the novelist alone. The novel issued in monthly numbers depended on two sources of attraction—the skill of the novelist and the skill of his artistic coadjutor. Dickens' requirements, however, were of so exacting a nature that they proved in the end too exacting even for the patience of the accommodating artist, and the reader will not be surprised to learn that a coolness was ultimately established between artist and author, the outcome of which was the employment of Marcus Stone and Luke Fildes on the later novels of "Our Mutual Friend" and "Edwin Drood."
Those who would find fault with Charles Dickens for the mode in which he controlled his artists quite fail to understand the man himself. Although he had no knowledge of the pencil, although he himself had no knowledge of drawing, he was nevertheless a thorough artist in heart and mind. There is scarcely a character in his books which does not show the care and thought which he bestowed upon, its elaboration. Ralph Nickleby, Squeers, Smike, little Nell, Quilp, Barnaby Rudge, Steerforth, Paul Dombey, Lady Dedlock, Joe, each and all show how carefully they were elaborated; how distinctly they presented themselves to the retina of the mind of their distinguished creator. When this is borne in mind, it will be at once understood why the Mrs. Pipchin of Hablot Browne was not the Mrs. Pipchin with whose outward appearance and mental peculiarities the author himself was so intimately acquainted.
"Auriol."Notwithstanding the exhibition, after his death, of water-colours and other works, which took the public by surprise, Hablot Knight Browne will continue to be known to most of us as an illustrator of books, and nothing more. "Oh! I'm aweary, I'm aweary," he said himself in a letter to one of his sons, "of this illustration business." Some of these illustrations, however, are wonderfully graceful, and one in particular seems to call for special notice. It will be found in the "New Monthly Magazine" for 1845, and is undoubtedly one of the best examples of the artist's work which may be found anywhere. It represents a prisoner in a dungeon lying at the foot of a pillar, which, except in a ghastly carved work running round it of skulls and cross bones, reminds us somewhat of Bonneval's pillar at Chillon. The lights and shadows are wonderfully rendered, and the work is characterized by a softness, a beauty, and a finish only to be observed in work which took the artist's fancy. This etching is entitled, Rougemont's Device to Perplex Auriol; and Ainsworth's story which it illustrates—a peculiarly unsatisfactory one—commenced, I think, in "Ainsworth's Magazine," passed into the "New Monthly," when its author purchased that periodical in 1845, and (whether the novelist got himself into an intellectual fix or otherwise I know not) finished, I believe, eventually nowhere.
Browne indeed finds a place here more by virtue of his book illustrations than by reason of any just pretensions to be considered a graphic humourist. His comic powers appear to us more the result of education and emulation than natural gifts, and the consequence is, that in attempting to be funny, his work too often degenerates into absolute exaggeration. His excellencies must be sought for in his serious illustrations, which fall more within the province of the art critic than the scope and purpose of a work which treats of graphic satirists and comic artists of the nineteenth century. Some of his finest illustrations of a serious character will be found in the pages of the "Illuminated Magazine"; in Charles Lever's admirable story of "St. Patrick's Eve"; in the "Fortunes of Colonel Forlogh O'Brien"; in Augustus Mayhew's "Paved with Gold"; in Ainsworth's "Mervyn Clithero"; and "Revelations of London"; and above all, in Charles Lever's novel of "Roland Cashel."
Hablot Knight Browne lived to see the decline and fall of that peculiar and powerful art of book illustration which was introduced by Cruikshank; was fostered and encouraged by Charles Dickens, Charles James Lever, their imitators and contemporaries; and died, so to speak, with these distinguished men. His work in later years, as might naturally have been expected, shows a woeful decline of power; and when the suggestors from whom he derived inspiration were no longer at his back, the poverty of invention which characterized the man when left to his own devices becomes painfully apparent.
"Phiz" drew in later years for Judy and other comic papers, and it is simple justice to say that his designs are characterized by an utter absence of comic power. The true comic inspiration possessed in so wonderful a degree by Cruikshank, by John Leech, and even by Robert Seymour, he never indeed possessed. Some fifteen years before his death he suffered from incipient paralysis, and furthermore injured his thumb, which obliged him to hold his pencil between his middle and fore-fingers. Gradually this great and graceful artist dropped so far behind in the race of life that he yielded latterly to proposals to illustrate boys' literature of a very inferior class.
In addition to an absence of comic inspiration, the creative faculty of Cruikshank and Leech was wanting to Hablot Knight Browne. In order to carry out an idea, it was necessary that it should be put into his head; for leave him to himself, and he could do absolutely nothing. George Cruikshank and John Leech after receiving instructions would proceed to realize them in their own way and after their own fashion; but this was not the case with Hablot Knight Browne. While he could realize the idea of another with peculiar success when the subject took his fancy, he could neither enlarge nor improve upon it, and in this lies the difference between genius and mere ability. Lacking an inherent sense of humour, he copied Cruikshank, and hence his exaggerations and failures as a comic designer; but he was ultimus Romanorum,—the last representative of the famous men whose art was fostered and encouraged by Charles Dickens, by Charles Lever, by Harrison Ainsworth, and by Richard Bentley. The services which these eminent men rendered to the novelists who like them are dead and gone can scarcely be appreciated; for we presume few will deny that their labours lent a charm, a beauty, and an interest to their works, which largely tended to promote their sale. The fortunes of "Jack Sheppard," of "The Miser's Daughter," of "The Tower of London,"—the success obtained by nearly all the stories of Ainsworth which obtained any success at all, was mainly due to the pencil of Cruikshank. The reputation of "Oliver Twist" a morbid novel was made in a great measure by him; but for John Leech, neither "Mr. Ledbury," "The Scattergood Family, "The Marchioness of Brinvilliers," or "Richard Savage," would have survived to our day. To him the novels of Mr. R. W. Surtees owe their entire popularity; while his genius has conferred vitality on the rubbish of À Beckett. It is curious, however, how little these facts were recognised at the time, and what little credit was given in contemporary reviews and by contemporary critics to the artists who rendered to successful novelists the priceless aid and assistance of their pencils.
How far the needle of "Phiz" contributed to the ultimate success of the great raconteur, Charles James Lever, we are in no position to state; that it proved a very large factor in that result there can be no manner of doubt. That success was not achieved immediately. Lever commenced life as a struggling country doctor, and "Harry Lorrequer," first brought out in the "Dublin University Magazine," before it appeared in illustrated shilling numbers, was almost wholly ignored by the London press, the criticisms and favourable remarks coming almost wholly from provincial journals. There was one exception by the way, a military paper, the critic of which went into such ecstacies over this sparkling military medley, that he asserted he would rather be author of "Lorrequer" than of all the "Pickwicks" or "Nicklebys" in the world. This notice (unknown to Lever) was published with the advertisements of the book, and (strange to say) gave so much annoyance to Dickens that he sent an angry reply to a civil letter which came to him shortly afterwards from the Irish novelist, and their friendly intercourse was for some years suspended in consequence.The decline of Hablot Browne's popularity was painfully apparent to himself. Although our chapter was written long before the appearance of Mr. Kitten's pamphlet, we may be permitted to re-open it to extract from the latter the following melancholy observations which we find in a letter to his son, Dr. Browne: "I am at present on a sporting paper, supported by some high and mighty nobs; but I fear, like everything I have to do with, now a-days, it will collapse, for some of the proprietors of the paper are also shareholders, etc., etc., in the Graphotype Company, so they want to work the two together. I hate the process; it takes quite four times as long as wood, and I cannot draw and express myself with a nasty, finicking brush, and the result when printed seems to alternate between something all as black as my hat, or as hazy and faint as a worn-out plate. If on wood, I should like it well enough; as it is it spoils four days a week, leaving little time for anything else. Oh! I'm aweary, I'm aweary! of this illustration business."  This seems to us inexpressibly sad. We hear nothing of it in earlier days, when he was drawing the excellent designs for "Roland Cashel," for "Dombey," or for "Bleak House."
Of the works and sketches in water colour and oils exhibited in Liverpool after the artist's death, personally we have seen nothing. They took the public by surprise, for few at least of the outer world suspected that this shy, retiring illustrator of books was a persevering and accomplished water-colour artist. We ourselves were aware of the fact, and had seen some thirty original and highly characteristic sketches, some of them studies of characters in novels of Charles Dickens and Lever; all executed prior to 1846, some in Indian ink, some in crayon, a few in pencil. Among them was a small but highly finished water-colour drawing, representing a group of seven knights in full martial panoply, and a striking effect is produced by the glint of the sun on the burnished armour of the central figure. The author of a recent sketch would cite these water colours as a complete answer to those who like ourselves maintain, in no mere spirit of detraction, that the artist possessed not one particle of genius. Surely he cannot be in earnest. If so, we have only to say, that if painting subjects in oils or water colour from the thousand and one hints to be gathered from history, fiction, or every-day life, be a test of genius, the walls of every summer and winter exhibition—to say nothing of the Royal Academy would be furnished annually with examples from end to end.
Leech died in the meridian of his fame at the early age of forty-six. Hablot Browne when he died had not only survived his talents, but his peculiarly shy and retiring nature had caused him at the age of sixty-seven to be absolutely forgotten. The famous men of letters whose works he had illustrated were dead and gone; the world of literature and of art took such small note of him that his funeral was the funeral of a private individual, and not of one who, if he did not partake in, had contributed in no considerable degree to the success of Charles Dickens and of Charles James Lever. When his passing-bell rang out upon the summer air, journalists remembered that a great artist was gone to his rest, and Punch inserted in his number of the 22nd of July, 1882, to the memory of the last of the book etchers of the nineteenth century the following graceful tribute:—
"The lamp is out that lighted up the text
Of Dickens, Lever—heroes of the pen.
Pickwick and Lorrequer we love, but next
We place the man who made us see such men.
What should we know of Martin Chuzzlewit,
Stern Mr. Dombey, or Uriah Heap?
Tom Burke of Ours? Around our hearts they sit,
Outliving their creators—all asleep.
No sweeter gift ere fell to man than his
Who gave us troops of friends—delightful Phiz.
"He is not dead! There, in the picture-book,
He lives with men and women that he drew;
We take him with us to the cozy nook,
Where old companions we can love anew.
Dear boyhood's friend! We rode with him to hounds;
Lived with dear Peggotty in after years;
Missed in old Ireland, where fun knew no bounds.
At Dora's death we felt poor David's tears.
There is no death for such a man,—he is
The spirit of an unclosed book! immortal Phiz:"
A BATCH OF BOOK ILLUSTRATORS:
KENNY MEADOWS; ROBERT WILLIAM BUSS; ALFRED CROWQUILL; CHARLES H. BENNETT; W. M. THACKERAY.
In old and second-hand bookshops, and in booksellers' catalogues, may often be found a book which is gradually becoming a literary rarity. It dates from 1840. and is a curiosity in its way, not only on account of the "portraits" which adorn its pages, but as a specimen of the literary padding on which men of letters (some of them distinguished) were content to employ their talents fifty years ago. It was published by Robert Tyas, of 50, Cheapside; professed to give "Portraits of the English" of the period, but served as a means of introducing certain characteristic pictorial sketches, more or less true to nature, by Kenny Meadows, an artist whose name and reputation, although he has been dead scarcely ten years, are already forgotten. Connected with these portraits are "original essays by distinguished writers," including, amid names of lesser note, literary stars such as Douglas Jerrold, Leman Rede, Percival Leigh, Laman Blanchard, Leigh Hunt, William Howitt, and Samuel Lover. These essays, or rather letterpress descriptions, were written to the pictures, which were not drawn (as is generally supposed) in illustration of the text. The portraits are taken from almost every grade in life: from the dressmaker to the draper's assistant, and from the housekeeper to the hangman; the last, by the way, being perhaps the most characteristic sketch of the series. The best of these forty-three "pictures" is the one which faces the title-page, a gathering of the company which individually take part in this "gallery of illustration." The designs are characteristic of the artist's style, but possess little power of attraction, being destitute of any claim to originality either of conception or treatment The artist's share of the work is by far the best part of the somewhat lugubrious entertainment, which the performances of his literary associates scarcely serve to enliven. The book, however, was a success in its day, for, if we mistake not, it was followed by a second series, is even now sought after by the "collector" (not bibliomaniac), and possesses some historical value by reason of the fact that national types, such as The Diner-out, The Stockbroker, The Lion of the Party, The Fashionable Physician (that is to say, of 1840), The Linen Drapers Assistant, The Barmaid, The Family Governess, The Postman, The Theatrical Manager, The Farmer's Daughter, and The Young Lord, no longer live and move and act their part amongst us. A change comes over the people in the course of forty years, and some years hence our grandchildren may well smile at the extraordinary monstrosities (female) who figure in the graphic satires of 1883–4.
Kenny Meadows was the son of a retired naval officer, and was born at Cardigan on the first of November, 1790. You will look in vain for any notice of him, or of his services in the cause of illustrative art, in any of the biographical dictionaries of his own or a subsequent period; and this appears to us an unaccountable omission, for he achieved in his time considerable celebrity as an artistic illustrator of books. His work will be found bound up with that of most of his artistic confrères in nearly all the illustrated periodicals of his day; he was one of the first to introduce wood-engraving among English publishers as a means of cheap and popular illustration; he was employed by the late Mr. Ingram, in the designs for the early Christmas numbers of the Illustrated London News; he will be found amongst the number of the artists who illustrated the early volumes of Punch; he was in universal request as a designer of drawings to fairy and fanciful stories; among his intimate friends were men of mark; such as Leigh Hunt, Douglas Jerrold, Charles Dickens, W. M. Thackeray, Clarkson Stanfield, David Roberts, and the Landseers; he did as much for illustrative art as, perhaps, any artist of his time; and yet, amongst men whose abilities scarcely exceeded his own in the same particular walk in art, no place is to be found in any biographical dictionary, so far at least as we know, for any mention of poor, kindly, genial, Kenny Meadows.
Besides the popular illustrated periodicals of his day, in most of which his familiar initials may be recognised, Kenny Meadows was in almost universal request both amongst authors and publishers of the time. We find him in 1832 illustrating, with Isaac Robert Cruikshank, a periodical bearing the somewhat unpromising title of "The Devil in London." To an 1833 edition of "Gil Blas," illustrated by George Cruikshank, he contributed a frontispiece; and we find his hand in the following: the late J. B. Buckstone's dramas of "The Wreck Ashore," "Victorine," "May Queen," "Henriette," "Rural Felicity," "Pet of the Petticoats," "Married Life," "The Rake and his Pupil," "The Christening," "Isabella," "Second Thoughts," and "The Scholar" (1835, 1836); Whitehead's "Autobiography of Jack Ketch" (1835); "Heads of the People, or Portraits of the English" (1841); Mr. S. C. Hall's "Book of British Ballads" (1842-44); an 1842 edition of Moore's "Lalla Rookh"; Leigh Hunt's "Palfrey, a Love Story of Old Times" (1842); "The Illuminated Magazine" (1843); Shakespeare (1843); "Whist, its History and Practice"; "Backgammon, its History and Practice," by the same author; "The Illustrated London Almanacks" (from 1845 upwards); Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer's "Leila," and "Calderon" (1847); W. N. Bailey's "Illustrated Musical Annual," "The Family Joe Miller, a Drawing-room Jest Book" (1848); "Puck," (a comic serial, 1848); Laman Blanchard's "Sketches from Life" (1849); Samuel Lover's " Metrical Tales and Poems;" "The Magic of Kindness," by the brothers Mayhew; Mrs. S. C. Hall's "Midsummer Eve;" "Punch," up to and including the seventh volume; and (some time afterwards) its able opponent "The Man in the Moon" (now exceedingly scarce). In these and very many other works we find him associated not only with George Cruikshank, John Leech, Hablot Knight Browne, and Richard Doyle, but with artists occupying the position of Sir John Gilbert, Frank Stone, Maclise, Clarkson Stanfield, Creswick, E. M. Ward, Elmore, Frost, Sir J, Noel Paton, Frederick Goodall, Thomas Landseer, F. W. Popham, Fairholt, Harrison Weir, Redgrave, Corbould, and Stephanoff. He was a thoroughly useful man; and a thousand examples of quaint imaginings —oftentimes of graceful workmanship—might be culled from the various works and serials in which his hand may be readily recognised.
But the merits of Kenny Meadows as an illustrator of books are very unequal. His friend, Mr. Hodder, who gives us in his pleasant "Memories" an occasional note of some of the artists with whom he was thrown in contact, says of him: "The quiet, unostentatious way in which he worked at his art, too often under the most adverse and discouraging circumstances, and the pride which he displayed when he felt he had made a 'happy hit,' was somewhat like the enthusiasm of a youth who had first attained the honour of a prize. As a draughtsman he never cared to be guided by those practical laws which regulate the academic exercise of 'the pictorial art; for he contended that too strict an adherence to nature only trammelled him, and he preferred relying upon the thought conveyed in his illustrations, rather than upon the mechanical correctness of his outline or perspective." George Cruikshank showed, as we know, a tolerable contempt for nature when he undertook the delineation of a horse, a woman, or a tree; but it was one of the conditions of his genius that it should be left free and untrammelled to follow the dictates of its own inspiration, and the quaint effect which somehow or other he managed to impart to a design which, in its details might offend the educated taste of the art critic, made us forget the contempt too often displayed for those "practical laws" to which Mr. Hodder refers. To constitute a good comic artist, not only is it necessary that he should be a good draughtsman, but certain special gifts are indispensable,—a keen sense of the ridiculous, an inherent appreciation of humour, a quick and ready invention, qualities which no amount of artificial training will bestow. They were possessed in an eminent degree by Gillray, by Cruikshank, by John Leech, but were wholly wanting to Kenny Meadows. He could draw on occasion a queer face—for that matter his faces, intentionally or otherwise, were generally queer and an eccentric figure, and so can many persons who have a natural taste for drawing, and have learnt to handle the pencil; but the caricaturist, like the poet, nasciiur non fit, and a hundred or even a thousand queer faces or eccentric figures, without the gift of invention or originality, will not of themselves constitute the designer a comic artist. The truth is that with Kenny Meadows mannerism takes the place of genius. You will recognise his hand anywhere without the familiar " K.M." appended to it, for all his faces are chubby (not to say puffy), and their arms and legs look for all the world as if the hand that designed them had been guided by a ruler. The delusion which led him to imagine that his "genius" would enable him to soar superior to nature is no doubt responsible in some degree for this latter eccentricity, for the artist who would be bold enough to despise the laws "which regulate the exercise of the pictorial art," would be prepared to view Hogarth's line of beauty with like indifference and contempt.
Kenny Meadows was one of the early illustrators of Punch, and contributed moreover to the first volume some of the best of the cartoons. Good specimens of his work will be found in Young Loves to Sell, and The Speculative Mama (sic), second vol.; in the third volume he illustrated "Punch's Letters to His Son," and the first of the almanacks contains six of his designs. In the fourth volume we find six of his cartoons, among them The Milk of Poor Law Kindness, and The First Tooth (the Queen and infant Prince of Wales); the doctor's legs and shoes are thoroughly characteristic of his style, and look for all the world as if they had been drawn by a ruler. The cartoon Punch Turned Out of France in this volume is, if we mistake not, the work of Kenny Meadows. The Christian Bayadere Worshipping the Idol Siva, has reference to the tolerance which " John Company " wisely conceded to Hindoo religious ceremony, so long as its traditions were found consistent with the ordinary dictates of humanity. "The Story of a Feather" in this volume has five illustrations, two of which are very clever. Among the other cartoons we find The Modern Macheath (the Captain being Sir Robert Peel). The fifth volume contains eight of his illustrations, six being cartoons; among them, The Irish Frankenstein (badly imagined and atrociously drawn), The Water Drop and the Gin Drop are characterized by much poverty of invention, but the former is the best of the two. The Battle of the Alphabet (cartoon) is a better specimen of his work, although the legs and arms look as usual, as if drawn with a ruler. The sixth volume contains three of his cartoons, while the almanack of the year (1844) has several of his illustrations. To the seventh volume he contributed no less than thirty-one illustrations, some very good, one of the best being that of the two legal dogs quarrelling over a bone of litigation. Punch at the outset of his career had considerable difficulty in the selection of a graphic satirist, and one of his "right hand men" in those early days was a Mr. Henning, by whose side Kenny Meadows figures as an absolute genius. After his seventh volume, however, he met with artists better fitted to interpret his political and social views, and no trace of Meadows' useful hand appears in succeeding volumes.
In stating that the merits of Kenny Meadows as an illustrator of books are unequal, and in denying to him the possession of genius, we must not be held to imply that he was deficient of talent. An excellent example of the inequality of which we speak will be found it. his Shakespeare (Robert Tyas, 1843), a work selected by us for the reason that it was considered by himself and his two favourable friends as his masterpiece. Although we cannot stay to notice all the strange conceptions with which he has enriched this book, we may be permitted to wonder whence he derived his preposterous ideas of Caliban, of Malvolio, of Shylock, of Juliet's nurse, of Launce's unhappy dog, of the Egpytian Sphynx in "Antony and Cleopatra." The model of Shylock was evidently some "old clo'" dealer in Petticoat Lane. The figure of Armado ("Love's Labour's Lost") is so wonderfully put together that his anatomy must sooner or later fall to pieces; the ghost of Hamlet's father is the ghost of some colossal statue, certainly not the shade of one who had worn the guise of ordinary humanity. The head of the gentle Juliet might derive benefit from the application of a bottle of invigorating hair wash. The figure of the monk in "Romeo and Juliet" literally cut out of wood, carries as much expression in its face as a lay figure; while the walls of Northampton Castle (in "King John") are so much out of the perpendicular, that the courtiers seem less concerned at finding the dead body of Arthur, than in seeking a place of shelter from the impending downfall. Henry the Eighth, although acknowledged to be a corpulent, was not, so far as we know, a deformed man; the preposterous "beak" of Richard the Third occupies one half of his otherwise remarkably short face, and its owner (in the well-known tent scene) suffers from an attack of tetanus instead of an accession of mental terror. These eccentric realizations, in which he has succeeded in setting all the rules of drawing at defiance, are rendered the more remarkable by reason of the circumstance that the work now under consideration is interspersed with numerous charming drawings, the effect of which is wholly marred by these erratic performances. Meadows was an admirable watercolour artist, and a scarce edition of this work contains some engravings of Shakespearian heroines after his designs. The Germans fancy they understand Shakespeare better than ourselves (an amiable and complimentary weakness), and the work was favourably received in Germany, the artist's conception of Falstaff, in particular, being so highly appreciated that a bronze statuette was modelled after it, which enjoyed a large sale.
His ideas of female beauty were almost as eccentric as those of Cruikshank. A couple of beauties of the Meadows type will be found at page 3 of Henry Cockton's "Sisters" (Nodes, 1844), where one lady is represented to us with a neck like that of a giraffe, whilst her sister beauty is sensibly inconvenienced by a lock of hair which has strayed into her eye, a favourite device, by the way, of the artist. This book, now scarce (in the illustration of which he was assisted by Alfred Crowquill), is adorned with a portrait on steel, after a painting by Childe, in which the author is presented to us in a white waistcoat and dress coat, with a pen in his hand, leading us to the inference that his clumsily constructed novels (one of which—"Valentine Vox," thanks perhaps to the illustrator, Onwhyn—still holds its ground) were written in evening costume.
But notwithstanding these failures, Kenny Meadows has happily left behind him work of a very much better kind. His Christmas pictures in particular are impressed with the kindly, genial humour which characterized the man; the "Illuminated Magazine," a scarce and valuable work, contains sixty-three very fine specimens of his pencillings, including the illustrations to his friend Douglas Jerrold's "Chronicles of Clovernook," admirable in every respect, probably the finest designs he ever executed. The wood engravings in this charming serial have probably never been surpassed; we seldom see woodcuts in these days which equal the splendid workmanship of E. Landells. After the third volume, the "Illuminated Magazine" passed into other hands, and although Kenny Meadows continued its mainstay for a time, the rest of the excellent artists left, and the literary matter visibly declined.
To the famous "Gallery of Comicalities" Kenny Meadows contributed Sketches from Lavater and Phisogs of the Traders of London. During the last decade of his life his services in the cause of illustrative art were rewarded and recognised by a pension from the Civil List of £80 per annum. Like George Cruikshank he remained hale and vigorous to the last, proud of his age, and fond of asserting there was "life in the old dog yet." That this was no idle boast may be inferred from the fact that within a few months of his death he was engaged in painting a subject from his favourite Shakespeare. At the time of his death (in August, 1874) he had almost completed his eighty-fifth year.
* * * * * *
In hunting up materials for the present work, we have come at various times upon editions (specimens, perhaps, might be the better word) of the "Pickwick Papers," which will possess an interest in the eyes of the collector. The first issue, in the original green sporting covers designed by Seymour, is of course exceedingly scarce; we have never indeed seen a perfect copy, which would probably be worth some ten pounds, while the same edition bound may be purchased at prices varying from twenty-four shillings to three guineas, according to the condition of the volume. An Australian edition was published at Launceston, Van Dieman's Land, in 1838, with plates after "Phiz" by "Tiz," facsimiles on stone of the earliest issue of the parts in England. At a West of England bookseller's we met with a first edition bound up with etchings by Onwhyn, "Peter Palette," and others. Then there are the twenty-four etchings from remarkably clever original drawings by Mr. F. W. Pailthorpe in illustration of scenes in "Pickwick," of which the proofs before letters were published at three guineas; and lastly, there is the rare first edition, containing; all the plates by Seymour and "Phiz," supplemented by the two "suppressed" etchings, which are credited (wrongly) to the hand of Buss.
Among the etchers of book illustration after 1836, we may name Robert William Buss, whose etchings will be found in Mrs. Trollope's "Widow Married" (a sequel to her "Widow Barnaby"), which made its appearance in the "New Monthly Magazine" of 1839, and whose hand will also be found in Marryat's "Peter Simple," "Jacob Faithful," Harrison Ainsworth's "Court of King James II.," etc.. Although his designs lack the genius, the artistic power, the finish and the comic invention of Leech or Cruikshank, they show nevertheless that as an etcher and designer he was possessed of exceptional talent and ability. The first experience, however, of this able artist as an etcher was peculiarly unfortunate and vexatious.
When poor Seymour shot himself in 1836, the draughtsman first called in to supply his place was Robert William Buss. He had been recommended to Messrs. Chapman and Hall by John Jackson, the wood-engraver, but does not seem at that time to have had any practical experience of etching, as he himself explained to the member of the firm who called upon him. Mr. Buss, in fact, was decidedly indisposed to undertake the work, being then engaged on a picture he was preparing for exhibition, and he undertook it only after considerable pressure. He immediately began to practise the various operations of etching and biting in, and produced a plate with which the publishers expressed themselves satisfied. Two subjects were then selected for illustration, The Cricket Match, and The Fat Boy Watching Mr. Tupman and Miss Wardle. When, however, Mr. Buss began to etch them on the plate, he found, having had little or no experience in laying his ground, that it holed up under the etching point; and as time was precious, he placed the plates in the hands of an experienced engraver to be etched and bitten in. Had opportunity been given him, his son (from whom we take this account) tells us he would have cancelled these plates and issued fresh ones of his own etching. Designs were prepared by him for the following number, when he received an intimation that the work of illustrating the "Pickwick Papers" had been placed in other hands. The illustrations referred to were suppressed, and the collectors who are so anxious to secure an edition with the two "Buss plates," will be pleased to learn that,
- Fitzpatrick's "Life of Charles Lever."
- Now lately republished.
- And republished in "Poole's Miscellany."
- As I notice a similar remark in one of the obituary notices of the artist's death, I think it necessary to observe that this chapter was written while "Phiz" was yet living.
- Mr. Kitton's "Memoir," p. 19.
- There is a scarce edition of the "Bon Gaultier Ballads," which contains some unacknowledged tailpieces, etc., by Kenny Meadows; in all subsequent editions these are omitted—why, we know not.
- So great was the scarcity of good engravers in 1880, that in September of that year the proprietors of the Graphic newspaper acknowledged the difficulty they experienced in obtaining the assistance of high-class engravers, and stated their intention to found a school of engraving on wood. Specimens of a new style of illustration have lately come from America, which appear in illustrated serials; some are good, but the majority, notwithstanding the song of praise with which they were first received, are nothing less than abominable.
- Onwhyn's name occurs frequently in illustrative literature. He etched a set of designs for "Pickwick" and "Nicholas Nickleby;" for Mr. Henry Cockton's "George St. Julian," and a translation of Eugene Sue's "Mysteries of Paris." He is well known as the illustrator of "Valentine Vox," "Fanny the Little Milliner," and other works. Some of his best designs will be found in Mrs. Trollope's "Michael Armstrong." He occasionally displays some ability, but his performances are very unequal.