English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century/Chapter 18
CONTEMPORARIES OF JOHN LEECH: RICHARD DOYLE AND JOHN TENNIEL.
We gather from the article in "The Month" which followed his death, and to which we have to acknowledge materials of which we have availed ourselves in the revision of the present chapter, that Richard Doyle's first work was The Eglinton Tournament, or the Days of Chivalry Revived, which was published when he was only fifteen years old. Three years later he produced A Grand Historical, Allegorical, and Classical Procession, a humorous pageant which the same authority tells us combined "a curious medley of men and women who played a prominent part on the world's stage, bringing out into good-humoured relief the characteristic peculiarities of each." Apart from his talent, it was no doubt the fact of his being his father's son—the son of John Doyle, the once famous and eminent HB—which first attracted the attention of the promoters of Punch, and he was only nineteen when, in 1843, he was taken on the regular pictorial staff of that periodical. It was to the cheery, delightful pencil of Richard Doyle that the paper owed much of the popularity which it subsequently achieved.
"It was from his father that he not only inherited his artistic talent, but received, and that almost exclusively, his artistic training." The writer in "The Month" goes on to tell us that John Doyle would not allow his son "to draw from models; his plan was to teach the boy to observe with watchful eye the leading features of the object before him, and then some little time after reproduce them from memory as nearly as he could. … He had no regular training in academy or school of art; he painted in the studio of no master save his father; and it is curious to see how his genius overleapt what would have been serious disadvantages to an ordinary man. … He attached himself to no school; he was not familiar, strange to say, with the masterpieces of foreign artists. He had never been in Paris, or Rome, or Vienna." It will be well for the reader to bear this in mind, because Doyle is one of the few book illustrators or etchers whom the professional art critic has condescended to notice, and it will enable him the better to understand and appreciate the soundness of his criticism. No one, we are told, owed less than Richard Doyle "did to those who had gone before him; and if this rendered his works less elaborate and conventional, it gave them a freshness and originality which might have been hampered if he had been forced into conformity with the accepted canons of the professional studio." The writer of the article from which we have quoted would seem to have read what Mr. Hodder has told us respecting his friend Kenny Meadows, for the following is certainly not new to us: "He was not a self-taught artist, for he was trained by one who had a genius kin to his own, but he was an artist who had never forced himself into the observance of those mechanical rules and canons which to ordinary men are necessary to their correct painting (just as rules of grammar are necessary to correct writing), but hamper and trammel the man of genius, who has in himself the fount whence such rules proceed, and instinctively follows them in the spirit, though not in the letter. So far as they will forward the end he has in view, and no farther." It will be seen by the above that the kindly writer gives Doyle credit for genius, and we who are strictly impartial will cheerfully admit that if he had not positive genius,—which we somewhat doubt,—he was certainly one of the most genial and graceful of comic designers.
It was Punch's practice during the earlier years of his career to produce a new cover with each succeeding volume. Richard Doyle, however, signalized his accession by the contribution of a wrapper which was considered too good to be thrown aside at the expiration of a few months. The well known and admirable design was stereotyped, and still forms, with certain modifications, the permanent cover of Punch's weekly series.
Specially worthy of note amongst his Punch designs may be mentioned The Napoleon of Peace (Louis Philippe), and The Land of Liberty, "recommended to the consideration of Brother Jonathan." In the latter, allusion is made to the Mexican war, rifle duelling and rowdyism, repudiation, Lynch law, and the then but no longer "peculiar institution." These will be found in the thirteenth volume, with a design of great excellence, Punch's Vision at Stratford-on-Avon, supposed to occur in the house of Shakespeare.
A new English (?) party had been growing up and gradually forcing itself into English politics. This was the Peace-at-any-price party, the members of which, oblivious of the fact that the best preservative of peace is to be found in a perpetual state of readiness for war, erased from their minds all remembrance of the position won for the nation by our glorious army and navy, and ruled that national honour and national obligations must now be considered subordinate to the interests of peace, trade, and commerce. Conspicuous among these men of the new school was Mr. Cobden, an able, earnest, but (so far as our foreign policy was concerned) thoroughly mistaken enthusiast. He figures as "Peace" in Doyle's cartoon of John Bull between Peace and War (i.e. the Duke of Wellington). In Gentlemen, make your Game while the Ball is Rolling (1848), the best cartoon ever designed by Richard Doyle, the various European monarchs are engaged at roulette under the auspices of Punch himself. The ball is the world, and the edges of the board are respectively inscribed, "Reform," "Progress," "Republicanism," "Equality," "Constitutional Government," "Anarchy," and "Liberalism." Bomba of Naples having staked a large sum, he and other monarchs follow the erratic movements of the ball with absorbing attention. In the background may be seen the then Queen of Spain and Louis Philippe, who, having staked their all and lost, are just leaving the apartment. Another, following up the same subject, is the political sea serpent of "Revolution" suddenly appearing above the surface of the sea and upsetting, one after another, the cockle-shell boats in which the various European sovereigns are endeavouring to get to shore. The writer in the Catholic "Month" points out the fact that "this picture was drawn in the earlier part of the year, before the Roman revolution, and the Holy Father was still riding safely unharmed by the monster which is working havoc in France and Germany, and Austria and Spain." In The Citizen of the World we find a capital skit upon the "admirable Crichton" delusion which made my Lord Brougham fancy himself in every character he chose to assume, or on any subject to which he condescended to give his attention, facile princeps. Here we find him figuring in turn as an English Lord Chancellor, a German student, a French subject, a French National Guard, an American citizen, a Bedouin Arab, a Carmelite monk, a Chinese mandarin, an Osmanli, a red Indian, a Scottish shepherd, and by the unmistakable nose and self-complacent smirk on his countenance, it is clear that in each and every character Henry Lord Brougham feels himself thoroughly at home. The Sleeping Beauty is a clever composition. "Beauty," by the way, is Lord John Russell, and amongst the sleeping attendants may be recognised the Duke of Wellington, Benjamin Disraeli, Colonel Sibthorpe, and Lord William Bentinck; while the ever indispensable Brougham of course puts in an appearance, this time in the character of a jester.
Richard Doyle, as we have seen, was young when he joined the ranks of the Punch staff. Young men are apt to "dream dreams," and one of Richard Doyle's was in truth a charming one. In Ireland: a Dream of the Future, he shows us our Queen gazing into the depths of an Irish lake, wherein she beholds prosperous towns, smiling fields, a contented peasantry, flourishing homesteads, a land flowing with milk and honey. On the opposite bank sit in dreary solitude a starving cottier and his family. This was Richard Doyle's dream in 1849. He did not live to wake to the reality of 1884: half a dozen "Gladstone" bags filled with American dynamite, the property of subjects of a republic who allows her mongrel murderers to plot the deaths of thousands of the people of a friendly nation without lifting a hand or a finger to restrain them. A home government too weak to pass a law which would stop these outrages by hanging these foreign miscreants as high as Haman. These formed no part of course of the young artist's dream. He delighted in sunshine. The year 1850 was memorable for the repeal of the window tax, one of the most extraordinary impositions which ever crossed the inventive mind of a Chancellor of the Exchequer. "Hollo! old fellow," says a workman to his family, hailing the unwonted appearance of the sunbeams in their dark and dreary apartment, "Hollo! old fellow; we're glad to see you here."
Among the numerous illustrations which Doyle designed for Punch, probably the most original were the series entitled "Manners and Customs of ye Englishe," which, under the title of "Bird's-eye Views of English Society," he afterwards continued in the Cornhill Magazine in a more elaborate form. The "Manners and Customs" form a curious record of the doings of the period, and remind us of "Sam Cowell" and the cider cellars, the Jenny Lind mania, Julien and his famous band, Astleys, the Derby day, and many of the forgotten scenes and follies in which some of us may have mingled in days gone by. They are very clever so far as they go; but none of them, as the writer in "The Month" would have us believe, are at all "worthy of" or in any way remind us of "Hogarth" (why are all the writers on comic art immediately reminded of Hogarth?). "Each face in one of these pictures—A Prospecte of Exeter Hall, showynge a Christian Gentleman denouncynge ye Pope," says the same writer—"deserves a careful study, and tells the tale of bigotry, prejudice, and gaping credulity which has made Exeter Hall a bye-word among men." Although we agree with the writer on this subject, we would at the same time take leave to remind him that the Catholics are singularly fortunate in England compared with the religious freedom or tolerance enjoyed by Protestants in Catholic countries—in Italy for instance, or in Spain. As for "bigotry," let him look only at Catholic France during the reign of priestcraft there, where an actor of the position of Talma, writing with reference to a proposed monument to his English brother, John Kemble, could add by way of shameful contrast, "Je serai trop heureux ici si les pretres me laissent une tombe dans mon jardin!"
When we first completed this chapter, and while the artist was yet living, we deemed it better to say as little as possible in reference to the conscientious motives which induced him to throw up his lucrative position on Punch, and with it the whole of his splendid prospects in comic art; and this course we had decided to follow after Richard Doyle had been removed from us by death. As, however, the Catholic organ has entered fully into the subject, not only is every cause for further reticence removed, but by being placed in a position to understand causes and motives, we are enabled to do justice to the memory of this most generous and unselfish of men.
The Catholics have cause to feel satisfied with the results of what the benighted Protestants of England are apt to term the "Papal Aggression." The conduct of the latter in relation to this portentous event is thus described by "The Month":—"In 1850 the Catholic Hierarchy was established in England, and the Protestant public raved and stormed and talked bigoted nonsense without end respecting this new invasion. Parliament passed the futile and obsolete Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, and Punch took up the popular cry. Cardinal Wiseman was represented as 'tree'd' by the Papal bull, and comic verses and personal ridicule was lavished on the Pope, the new hierarchy, and Catholics generally.
"Doyle remonstrated, but received answer that, as he had been allowed to turn Exeter Hall and its doings into ridicule, it was only fair that his own opinions should have their turn. But those who used this argument little knew, and could scarcely be expected to know, the difference between the devotion of supernatural faith and the bigotry of a self-chosen creed. Doyle was anything but narrow or over-scrupulous. It was not any of the cartoons which was the immediate occasion of the step that he took, nor was it (as some of the notices of him have intimated) any mere personal attachment to Cardinal Wiseman. 'I don't mind,' he said, 'as long as you keep to the political and personal side of the matter, but doctrines you must not attack.' Douglas Jerrold and Thackeray were not likely to appreciate this reversal of the general sentiment, which resents personal attack above all else. 'Look at the Times,' they argued; 'its language has been most violent, but the Catholic writers on its staff do not for that reason resign. They understand, and the world at large understands, that the individual contributor is not responsible for the opinions expressed by other contributors in articles with which he has nothing to do.' 'That is very well in the Times,' was Doyle's answer, 'but not in Punch. For the Times is a monarchy [we believe these were his very words], whereas Punch is a republic.' So, when a week or so later an article, attributed to Jerrold himself, jeeringly advised the Pope to 'feed his flock on the wafers of the Vatican,' it was too much for Doyle. Dignified protest was not sufficient now. To be any longer identified with a paper which could use such language was intolerable to the faithful soul. To ply his skilful fingers and busy inventive brain in behalf of those who scoffed at the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar was out of the question. His connection with Punch must cease. But is he bound in conscience to throw away a good income and congenial work, because there were expressed opinions different from his own in a paper in which, republic though it was, solidarity was scarcely possible? Who would expect that in a comic journal each and all of the contributors should agree with each and every sentiment expressed? Never mind; whatever Richard Doyle might have been strictly bound to do, generosity at least urged him to make the sacrifice—the sacrifice of his career, of his future success it may be. At least he could show that Catholic belief was no empty superstition, no set of mere traditional observances, which sat lightly on the man of culture, even if in his heart he accepted them at all. So he wrote to resign his connection with Punch, stating the reasons plainly and simply. This was in 1850, after he had been contributing for more than six years. Now he must simply start afresh, in consequence of what his Protestant friends regarded as an ecclesiastical crotchet. He must turn aside from the path of worldly success; he must give up all for conscience' sake. But as the Daily Telegraph remarks, in an article respecting him that does it honour, 'He made a wise and prudent choice. The loss was ours, not his; and, apart from the claims of his genius to admiration, such conduct at the critical moment of a career will never cease to command respect.'"
Passing by (as we may afford to do) the assertion that we Protestants "raved and stormed and talked bigoted nonsense without end respecting this new invasion," and the somewhat unnecessary boast that Lord John Russell's Ecclesiastical Titles Bill has been suffered to become a "futile and obsolete" measure, we would recognise the value of the writer's remarks as establishing in the clearest possible manner the perfect honesty and unselfishness of the motives which induced the artist to resign his connection with Punch, and to throw up the chances of an assured and brilliant future. We think however, that the value of his statement does not end here. We may here acknowledge that, while admitting the perfect purity and disinterestedness of Doyle's motives, we ourselves never thoroughly understood them until we had read the article from which we have quoted. We had taken into consideration the fact that when he took this decided step he was but twenty-five years of age, and we suspected (let us honestly own it) that other influences might have been at work independent of the artist himself, of which we as Protestants must always remain ignorant. There are grounds on which Protestant and Catholic writers may meet one another even in connection with religious questions; and although a "bigoted" Protestant, I am glad to admit that the writer's clear and lucid statement has removed an impression that was absolutely without foundation.
With respect, however, to the ultimate consequences of this decisive step, the Catholic writer and ourselves are wholly at variance. "We are inclined to believe," continues the former, "that apart from the respect he earned by his noble sacrifice, Mr. Doyle achieved a higher reputation in consequence of his retirement from comic journalism, than if he had continued to employ his pencil in its services all his life through. It is true that his name was not, towards the end of his life, so familiar to the popular mind of England as was that of John Leech at the end of his career, and as that of Du Maurier at the present time, but the work which he did in his later life was more lasting and more world-wide. Punch is an English periodical; you must be an Englishman to understand the allusions. The humour is essentially and almost exclusively English; it would never attain any great popularity in other English-speaking nations, in spite of its undoubted claim to be the first comic journal in the world. If Doyle had confined himself to the pages of Punch, or directed his energies mainly to the weekly issue of some design in its numerous columns, the limnings of his pencil would scarcely be known outside of England, whereas all over the continent of America, and in the English colonies, the old Colonel Newcome, and the Marquis of Farintosh, Lady Kew, and Trotty Veck meet us with their familiar faces as we turn over the Transatlantic editions of Thackeray and Dickens, not to mention the exquisite paintings, of which we shall have more to say presently, exhibited in the Grosvenor Gallery, and to be found in many a country mansion as a lasting memorial of Dicky Doyle." Does the writer seriously mean to tell us that Doyle could not illustrate Thackeray and Dickens at the same time and side by side with his illustrations for Punch or any other serial of a satirical character? Granted that Punch is a periodical appealing to English tastes and sympathies, yet it was through the introduction obtained by means of its pages that the artist probably obtained employment upon the very works to which the writer refers, and upon which (as he claims) his reputation will rest.
Nor do we, nor can we, admit that, out of the circle of his co-religionists, or the still narrower circle of educated unbiassed minds, Doyle reaped much respect by the "noble sacrifice" of which the writer speaks. English prejudice looks with special coldness on conscientious motives it does not understand, and with which it can have but little sympathy. Doyle was a man of purer motives and finer sympathies than George Cruikshank; but the same insular prejudice which conduced to the ruin of George Cruikshank, wrecked the future prospects of an artist almost as original in some respects as the more brilliant George. From the moment that Doyle retired from Punch, English fanaticism and English prejudice persisted in regarding him as a supporter of the "Papal aggression," and he permanently lost from that moment the ground which his talent and his reputation had so honourably won for him. From the moment he deemed it his duty to retire from the circle of literary and artistic wits and humourists with whom he was then associated, he took himself practically out of the range of comic art, and the public ceased to trouble itself about him, although it had lost (in the expressive language of Mr. Thackeray) "the graceful pencil, the harmless wit, the charming fancy," of one of the most genial and promising of English graphic satirists of the modern time. Before he left Punch he had executed for the periodical upwards of five hundred illustrations, of which nearly eighty are cartoons.
But Richard Doyle manifested the honesty of purpose which was a part of his noble nature by other sacrifices than his retirement from Punch. From the friendly hand which has strewn flowers upon his grave, we learn that at one time he was offered a handsome income to draw for a periodical started some years ago, but declined the engagement because he disapproved of the principles of those by whom it was conducted. "At another he had a similar offer made him by a distinguished statesman on behalf of a political journal, in which the work would have been light and the remuneration excellent." He was offered his own terms to illustrate an edition of Swift's humorous works; but here too he refused, because he did not admire the morality of the witty Dean of St. Patrick's. "In these and other cases like them, religion, virtue, high principle, carried the day against interests which would have proved too much for any but a man of Doyle's noble and lofty character." His biographer points out the fact that all this while he had to look to his pencil for bread, and denies the statement, made by one of the leading newspapers at the time of his death, that during the latter part of his life he was independent of his profession.
In one set of illustrations, now very scarce and little known, Doyle has shown that he possessed eminent powers as a caricaturist. We have a set of lithographs before us, entitled, "Rejected Cartoons," a sort of pictorial "Rejected Addresses," supposed to be intended for the then new Houses of Parliament, some of them caricatures of the works of living artists—Maclise, Pugin, etc., whose styles are closely imitated and most amusingly burlesqued. Some of them are irresistibly droll, such as King Alfred sending the Danes into a Profound Slumber with the Sleepy Notes of his Harp; "Canute reproving the Flattery of his Courtiers;" The Faces of King John and his Barons at the Signing of Magna Charta; Perkin Warbeck in the Stocks; The Meeting of Francis and Harry in the Field of the Cloth of Gold, etc. Few people with whom the touch of Richard Doyle is perfectly familiar would recognise his hand in these amazing and amusing cartoons. We met with them at a bookstall twenty years ago, unconscious until lately that they were due to his pencil.
The once celebrated "Adventures of Brown, Jones, and Robinson" would alone secure for this artist an eminent position amongst the number of English comic designers. Graphically relating the experiences of the most ordinary class of continental tourists, they cannot fail to bring to the recollection even of the most commonplace traveller some of the experiences which may have actually happened to himself. Doyle of course enlarges on these experiences as his fancy and imagination suggest; but after all, there is little which might not have actually befallen any ordinary English travellers such as this unlucky trio. The episode of "Jones's Portmanteau undergoing the ordeal of Search" at Cologne; The scene at the "Speise-Saal" Hotel; The Jewish "Quarter of the City of Frankfort, and what they saw there"; The Gambling Scene at Baden: The Descent of the St. Gothard; The Academia at Venice; will appeal to the actual experiences of nearly every continental tourist; and notwithstanding its extravagant drollery, little Browne's adventure at Verona is sufficiently possible to remind one of personal vicissitudes encountered off the track or on the frontiers, which might almost match the experiences of this personally uninteresting little sketcher.Besides Punch, Mr. Doyle's hand will be found in the following: "The Fairy Ring," Leigh Hunt's "Jar of Honey," Professor Ruskin's "King of the Golden River," Montalba's "Fairy Tales from all Nations," "Jack and the Giants," "The Cornhill Magazine," "Pictures from the Elf World," "The Bon Gaultier Ballads," Thackeray's "Rebecca and Rowena," Charles Dickens's "Battle of Life," "The Family Joe Miller," Mr. Tom Hughes' "Scouring of the White Horse," "Pictures of Extra Articles and Visitors to the Exhibition," Laurence Oliphant's "Piccadilly," "Puck on Pegasus," Planche's "Old Fairy Tales," À Beckett's "Almanack of the Month," "London Society," and Mr. Thackeray's "Newcomes." Writing of this last, Mr. Hamerton says, "I never regretted the hard necessity which forbids an art critic to shut his eyes to artistic shortcomings more heartily than I do now in speaking of Richard Doyle. Considered as commentaries on human character, his etchings are so full of wit and intelligence, so bright with playful satire and manly relish of life, that I scarcely know how to write sentences with a touch at once light enough and keen enough to describe them"; and then the critic goes on to expose the glaring faults which characterize Mr. Doyle's performances from a purely artistic point of view, his feeble attempts of light, his undeveloped "sense of the nature of material," and his absence of imitative study. It is somewhat singular that whilst Mr. Hamerton is silent on the subject of the book etchings of Leech and Phiz, he should have selected for criticism those of Doyle, who never intended to claim for these sketches the dignity of etchings. The critic, however,
Richard Doyle.]["Brown, Jones & Robinson," 1855.
Robinson (solo): "I stood in Venice—," etc. Jones and Brown, having heard something like it before, have walked on a little way.
[Face p. 392.
The closing scenes in the life of this most amiable and unselfish of artists we give in the singularly graceful words of his Catholic biographer: "In the autumn of last year (1883), Mr. Doyle spent some time in North Devon, and while there painted a picture of Lynton churchyard. The view is taken at a distance of some ten or fifteen yards to the south-west of the church, and is looking in an easterly direction. In front of the picture one sees far down below the blue waters of the Bristol Channel, while behind the picturesque little church nestles among the trees. In the churchyard an old man is mowing down the long grass amid the graves, while two or three little children scatter flowers on one of them. This picture was unfinished at the time of his death. A strange coincidence that he should have chosen such a scene for his last picture, when, as far as man can judge, he had no sort of reason for thinking that death was so near; stranger still, that on his return home he chose for the sketch a black frame, as if to clothe it in the garb of mourning for its maker. There it remains on his easel, unfinished still, as if to tell of one cut off so suddenly, not indeed in the summer of life, but in a mellow autumn, which seemed to give promise of many years of good work still to be done. But the time had come when the little sprites who peopled his dreams of earth, were to be exchanged for the angel forms who were to welcome the faithful servant to his reward in heaven. On the 10th of December, as he was preparing to return from the Athenæum club, Mr. Doyle was struck down by apoplexy. An ambulance was procured, and he was carried home. He never regained the power of speech, and it is doubtful whether he was ever again conscious, though the priest who anointed him for his journey from thence to heaven thought that he detected some traces of a joyful acquiescence in the rite. The next morning, in the home where the last years had been spent in quiet peaceful pursuit of the art he passionately loved, his simple, innocent, loyal soul passed away from earth to heaven."
It will be admitted that Mr. Tenniel joined the ranks of the graphic satirists at the commencement of troublous times. The nations of Europe, with the exception of England, whose slumbers still remained unbroken, were all more or less awake. Prussia, insufficiently avenged (as she herself considered) at Waterloo for the unendurable humiliations which Napoleon had heaped upon her after Jena, had been unostentatiously preparing for another deadly struggle with France, and perfecting the most admirable military machinery of modern times. Russia, under Nicholas, a thorough soldier in theory, had an army so elaborately over-drilled that when the time came it was found practically useless for the purposes of actual warfare. The sleep of England was suddenly awakened by the war with Russia, and afterwards by the revolt of her Indian mercenaries. The Russian was to be followed by a war between France and Austria; the enfranchisement of Italy from the Alps to the Adriatic; the fratricidal struggle between Prussia and Austria, and the rending asunder within six weeks of the famous Germanic Confederation of the Rhine. It is a somewhat singular coincidence that immediately before the commencement of these troubles the great Duke of Wellington died, an event commemorated by two remarkable cartoons of Tenniel, the first of which is entitled September XIV. MDCCCLII. (the day of the great soldier's death), and the other, The Duke's Bequest—for the most Worthy.
The year 1853 opened the eyes of those of us who fancied that war was a thing of the past, and that the reign of Universal Peace had begun. Not only was Turkey at war with Russia, but had given her a tremendous thrashing at Oltenitza, an event alluded to in the artist's cartoon of A Bear with a Sore Head. One of the best of his satires of the same year depicts Aberdeen as he appeared in The Unpopular Act of the Courier of St. Petersburg, wherein the premier attempts the risky feat of driving a team of unmanageable horses. The features of the nervous athlete betray much anxiety; the two fiery leaders, Russia and Turkey, prove wholly beyond his control; while Austria, unsettled by their bad example, is much disposed to be troublesome.
Matters went from bad to worse in 1854. England was not only thoroughly aroused but angry, not only with her enemies, but with the foolish people who had preached peace to her when there was no peace; and, in What it has Come to, we find my Lord Aberdeen vainly trying to hold in the British lion, whose ire has been roused by the Russian bear, who is seen scampering off in the distance. Away goes the lion, with his tail as stiff as a poker and every hair of his mane erect, dragging after him the frightened premier, who exclaims, in the extremity of his terror, that he can hold him no longer and is bound "to let him go." The Russian war showed our singular unreadiness for warfare. Just at its close we had provided ourselves with a fleet of vessels of light draught capable of floating in the shallows which surrounded the Russian fortifications, which, had they been ready at the time they were wanted, might have proved of incalculable service. Britannia disconsolately eyes these gun-boats from the summit of her cliffs. "Ah!" she sighs, "if you'd been only hatched a year ago, what might have come out of your shells!"
Close upon the heels of the Russian war followed the mutiny of our Indian levies. So closely did one event follow the other, that those who have watched and learnt with reason to distrust the odious and insidious policy of Russia towards this country, considered the coincidence a more than singular one. The Franco-Austrian war came next; and the war wave passed onwards to America, where the Northern and Southern states were speedily engaged in fratricidal and deadly strife. Peace, driven from land to land, found no resting place for the sole of her foot, and the artist shows her to us, seated disconsolately pondering over these untoward matters and her own unhappy condition on the breech of a garrison gun.
Punch's low estimate of the character and abilities of the Emperor Louis is patent throughout those of Tenniel's satires in which he puts in an appearance. In 1853 he takes us to an International Poultry Show (in obvious reference to the Boulogne catastrophe) where, amid a variety of eagles—the American eagle, the Prussian eagle—the double-headed Austrian and Russian eagles—we find a wretched nondescript, half eagle half barn door fowl, labelled the "French eagle." Victoria (a royal visitor) remarks to her astonished companion, "We have nothing of that sort, Mr. Punch; but should there be a lion show, we can send a specimen!!" The approaching marriage of the French Emperor is alluded to in the cartoon of The Eagle in Love, in which the present ex-Empress (then Comtesse de Teba), whose likeness by the way is far from happy, is represented as cutting his talons. The air of mystery which was a part of his character, and was not so well understood in those days as it afterwards came to be, not unnaturally misled Mr. Tenniel, for in his satire, Playing with Edged Tools, we behold him studying (of all things in the world) a model of the guillotine, an instrument of terror to which those of the Bonaparte family who profess to be guided by the policy of the great Napoleon, must always entertain the greatest possible aversion.
Punch not only looked upon the third Napoleon as a treacherous man, but also as a dangerous and inconvenient neighbour. In the cartoon labelled, An Unpleasant Neighbour (1859), we see him in the act of placing outside his firework shop a flaming advertisement, whereon we read in the largest possible type, "Blaze of Triumph! Roman Candles!—Italian Fire!" His neighbour, John Bull, proprietor of "The Roast Beef House" next door, rushes out in a very excited state, "Here have I got," says he, "to pay double insurance, all along of your confounded fireworks!" The next cartoon shows us Louis, alias "Monsieur Walker," after he has closed his establishment and chalked up, "The Business to be disposed of," while incredulous John places his finger to his nose as Louis assures him, "Ah, friend Johnny! I close my shop entirely to please you!" In The Congress Quadrille, Louis vainly essays to make himself agreeable to Miss Britannia (a good example of the artist's handsome women)—"Voulez-vous danser, Mad'moiselle?" says Louis. Britannia, however, having been his partner on more than one memorable occasion, had had quite enough of him and his peculiar style of dancing. "Thanks,—no!" she languidly replies, thinking doubtless of her experiences of the Russian quadrille—of the Chinese country dance, etc., etc. "I'm not sure of the figure—and know nothing of the Finale."
Mr. Tenniel's art training before he joined the Punch staff, combined with his undoubted genius, renders him unquestionably one of the most versatile of modern designers. His satire is something quite apart from his caricature, and the former is characterized by a strong dramatic element particularly noticeable in serious illustrations, such as his designs to "The Pythagorean," in the second volume of "Once a Week." In caricature he resumes in a measure the manner of the older caricaturists, without retaining a trace of their vulgarity, and a good example will be found in his cartoon of What Nicholas heard in the Shell (1854), in which the features and salient points of the figure are intensely overdrawn. His caricature pure and simple seems to us always inferior to his satirical power; as fine examples of the latter we may mention: The British Lion Smells a Rat (an angry lion sniffing at a door, in allusion to the conference which followed the fall of Sebastopol); The British Lion's Vengeance on the Bengal Tiger, which chronicles the ghastly massacre of Cawnpore; Bright the Peace Maker (1860), in which Punch testifies his indignation at the manner in which Mr. Bright endeavoured to create a popular feeling against the House of Lords; Poland's Chain Shot (1863), a stirring and powerful composition, wherein Poland, gallantly struggling once more for freedom, breaks her chains and fiercely rams them into a cannon; Humble Pie at the Foreign Office (1863), and Teucer Assailed by Hector is Protected by the Shield of Ajax (1864), in which Lord John Russell is the subject of satire; and The False Start and Out of the Race (the same year), in the first of which Palmerston endeavours to restrain the leaning of Gladstone towards democracy, the last showing the result of his inattention to the starter's warning. In all these and a host of other admirable satires, the superior art training of Mr. Tenniel is seconded by his strong dramatic power, and above all by his unquestionable genius. It would be a poor compliment to him to deny that he had his failings—which indeed of the admirable satirists who preceded him had not? His failings, when they do occur, are perhaps more noticeable on account of his style and the mode in which he frequently drapes his figures. We have heard it objected to him, for instance, that the beauty of his female figures is occasionally marred by the somewhat disproportionate size of their feet, and this charge seems to us sustainable. Mr. Tenniel displays rare excellence in the drawing of animals—an excellence peculiarly noteworthy in such cartoons as The British Lion Smells a Rat, and The British Lion's Vengeance on the Bengal Tiger.
Embracing a period of only fourteen years, from 1851 to 1864, during which time he worked side by side with his friend and colleague, John Leech, on the pages of Punch, our notice of the cartoons of John Tenniel must necessarily be short. During the last three years of his life, when, as we have seen, the strength of the artist who had been on the pictorial staff from the commencement had been gradually failing, the execution of the weekly cartoons had fallen almost entirely upon Mr. Tenniel. As fellow-labourers, constantly associated on the same periodical, we are enabled to compare their individual merits. The conclusion we have arrived at is as follows: That as a political satirist, Tenniel is the best of the two; while as a delineator of English habits, manners, eccentricities, and peculiarities, Leech finds no equal. After 1864, when the artistic friendship and partnership (so to speak) of these gifted men was dissolved by the untimely death of John Leech, it would be beyond the declared scope and purpose of this work to follow Mr. Tenniel further. Unlike the caricaturists who preceded him, many of whom relied on humour, more or less forced, for the success of their productions, the cartoons of John Tenniel are oftentimes distinguished by a gravity and sternness of purpose which, combined with their artistic excellence, appeals forcibly to the imagination. Unfortunately, as in the case of those of John Leech, these truly admirable examples of nineteenth century satire, apart from the Punch volumes themselves—owing to the material on which they are impressed and the process to which the original drawings are subjected—are practically valueless by the side of an indifferent caricature torn from the scurrilous and worthless pages of "The Scourge" or "The Meteor."
To the persons who charge this artist with want of humour, his cartoon of Britannia Discovering the Source of the Nile—probably the most comical picture in the whole of the Punch volumes—will afford the most conclusive answer, as will also the quaint and mirth-provoking little pictures which he designed for "Alice in Wonderland," its sequel, "Through the Looking-glass," and the 1864 edition of the "Ingoldsby Legends." One of these last, by the way, so closely resembles a scarce design of John Leech's in the "New Monthly," that the coincidence will strike any one who has an opportunity of comparing the two together. During the fourteen years that Mr. Tenniel was a fellow-worker with the late John Leech, he contributed to the pages of Punch about 1,400 designs, of which upwards of 400 are cartoons. We believe we are correct in stating that all these illustrations, and his subsequent and contemporary designs, were drawn at once upon the wood block, not a single preliminary sketch having been made.
Here, in accordance with the plan which we designed when we sat down to write this work, we bring our labours to a close. If we have omitted all mention of two very excellent and talented artists, Messrs. Charles Keene and George Du Maurier, it is not from any lack of appreciation, but because one of them at least began his labours just about the period when those of John Leech were drawing to a close, while the reputation of both were made after their distinguished contemporary was laid to his rest. The merits of both these able men and of those now following after them must be left to be dealt with by another chronicler. Although, as we remarked in our opening chapter, the wood engraver has rung the knell of English caricature, with such clever men as Colonel Seccombe, Mr. Proctor, Mr. Randolph Caldicott, Mr. F. Barnard, the present George Cruikshank, Mr. Chasemore, and others whose names do not at present occur to us, there is happily no prospect of a decline in the art of English graphic satire.
- The present chapter was written before the artist's death; but I have to acknowledge the great assistance I have derived in its revision from the authority indicated.
- The Month, a Catholic Magazine, No. 237 (March, 1884), p 315.
- Ibid., page 317.
- One of these (and a very effective one) was the work of the present Sir John Gilbert.
- Hamerton's "Etching and Etchers."
- William Hazlitt on "The Fine Arts," p. 51.
- An excellent burlesque of the Emperor's theatrical declarations.