Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/175

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Du Maurier
Du Maurier

'make it your task to show us the Beautiful.' Probably at that moment Mark Lemon hardly guessed what would prove the range and variety of du Maurier's humour. For a while, at least, he did not seek his subjects mainly in the drawing-rooms of the fashionable world. A sense of the grotesque, and of a field for caricature in the animal world, afforded him opportunity for all sorts of humorous invention, and the abundance and excellence of his work in 'Punch's Almanack' for 1865 must have been a surprise even to those who knew him best. Meantime a new talent was declaring itself.

In January 1865 appeared in 'Punch' some delightful verses in Cockney French, 'L'Onglay à Parry.' The possession of a talent both for verse and prose (and he was all his life a constant and discursive reader) had indeed a distinct influence from the first on his development as a humorous artist. These gifts, however, remained as yet all but unknown to the general reader. But his colleagues on 'Punch' knew them well, and more than one editor under whom he served urged him to take a writer's salary and be on the literary as well as on the artistic staff. It was known also to his friends that he found comfort in the knowledge that, if his only working eye should ever fail him, he had a second talent to which he might have recourse for a livelihood. A paper contributed by him to 'Once a Week,' as early as 1860, on the subject of a so-called gold mine in Devonshire which he was sent down as analyst to report upon, and in which, to the dismay of the directors, he could detect no trace of gold, displays much of the humour and ease of style which he was to exhibit thirty years later in 'Peter Ibbetson.' For verse, both sentimental and humorous, his gift was no less marked ; and very early in his association with 'Punch' he contributed an admirable parody on the ballad style of William Morris [q. v. Suppl.] in his 'Legend of Camelot,' illustrated by himself in happy imitation of the pre-Raffaelites. And in the meanwhile the pains he took in composing the 'Legends' to his drawings had no small share (as he told the present writer) in training him for the writing of dialogue in the prose romances of his later years.

In 1867 du Maurier with his wife and young children removed to Earl's Terrace, Kensington; in 1870 to Church Row, Hampstead ; and in 1874 to New Grove House, also in Hampstead, somewhat nearer to the Heath, which remained their home for twenty years. During all this time his work for 'Punch' was that to which his most constant attention was given; and by degrees, as his friendships multiplied, and with them the range of his observation of London society widened, he became more and more the satirist of the fashionable and artistic world, in which character he is perhaps best remembered. This was a field hitherto all but unworked in the pages of 'Punch.' Leech had dealt in the main with the classes below this—the honest bourgeoisie—Mr. Briggs and his like, such as had mainly commended itself to Dickens and his school. Du Maurier's master in satire was rather Thackeray, from whom, no doubt, he derived his fondness for exposing the hypocrisies of society. The insincerities of fashion, whether in social or artistic circles, suggested hundreds of du Maurier's drawings, and he was never happier than when he was exposing the unworthy struggles of the nouveau riche for social recognition, or the extravagances of the aesthetic or literary pretender. But in taking this line he was never contented with the effect to be produced by the mere pungency of his satire or the humour of the situation. The public were little aware of the amount of thought, pains, and work bestowed by him even upon some essentially trivial subject. He drew always from the living model he studied with the utmost minuteness all changes of fashion in dress, and in the household appointments of modern luxury, making his long career in 'Punch' of the greatest value to future students of the manners and customs of English society during the last quarter of the nineteenth century ; and, combined with this fastidious attention to detail, he never forgot Mark Lemon's injunction to attract and charm by his sense and love of the beautiful. There never were so many lovely women, handsome men, engaging children in society at any one moment as du Maurier's drawings would lead us to suppose. But the consciousness of this fact did not trouble him. If objectors had hinted that they did not meet such in London drawing-rooms, he would have replied with Turner on a like occasion, 'Ah ! but don't you wish you could?' His love of children and his knowledge of all their winning ways and occasional foibles gave a special character to all his work. Nor were these studied merely for the purposes of his calling. Himself a devoted husband and father, and one who loved home life more than any other he knew outside it, he lived habitually among those sights and sounds and incidents of which he discerned the pathetic and humorous sides, and which he rejoiced to perpetuate by his art.

In addition to his weekly work in