'Punch' du Maurier from the first year of his marriage had done a considerable amount of magazine illustration. In April 1863 he made his first drawing in the 'Cornhill Magazine' for a story called the 'Cilician Pirates,' and he continued to illustrate stories for that periodical for more than twenty years. Among these were works by Miss Thackeray (Mrs. Richmond Ritchie), Mr. George Meredith, Mr. Thomas Hardy, William Black, Mrs. Oliphant, Mr. Henry James, and other writers of distinction in many cases important serials extending over many months. But there was none for whose writings he had a profounder admiration than Mrs. Gaskell. He illustrated 'Wives and Daughters' and 'Cousin Phillis' on their first appearance in the magazine (1864-6), and had already done the same service for 'Sylvia's Lovers' when published by Messrs. Smith, Elder, & Co., in book form in 1863. A particular interest belongs to du Maurier's drawings for this work, the heroine of which he dearly loved, and after whom he named his second daughter. As all readers of Mrs. Gaskell are now aware, 'Monkshaven,' the scene of the story, is identical with the favourite watering-place, Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast. Whitby was to become in later years a special haunt of du Maurier, and its ways and doings to appear in delightful fashion in 'Punch.' But in 1863 he had no personal knowledge of the place, or of its identity with Monkshaven. Happening one day to talk over the task before him with Mr. Henry Keene (brother of his friend and colleague on 'Punch,' Charles Keene), that gentleman offered to lend him some sketches he had made the year before at Whitby, which seemed fairly to resemble the descriptions of scenery in the novel. Hence it came about that the novel was illustrated, though the artist was unaware of it, from the picturesque seaport Mrs. Gaskell had in view. In 1868 du Maurier illustrated 'Esmond ' (library edition), and ten years later Thackeray's 'Ballads' (Edition deluxe), in both which will be found some of his most interesting work. But he was never quite so successful as when inventing as well as designing his subjects.
As years passed on du Maurier found less margin of time for work outside of Punch.' Moreover, a new source of income was opened to him by the application of photography to wood-engraving some thirty years since. In the days of John Leech, as afterwards with Sir John Tenniel's weekly cartoon, the artist made his finished drawing upon the block, and the original was destroyed in the cutting. By the new method the artist's drawing was photographed on to the block, and the original remained intact. Thus, after a certain date in his career on 'Punch,' du Maurier retained his original drawings, and as his reputation and popularity grew, he found a ready sale for these, exhibitions of which from time to time were held at the Fine Art Gallery in Bond Street, materially improving du Maurier's financial position. It is not superfluous to mention this circumstance, seeing that some biographical notices after his death spoke of his career almost as if it had been one of struggle and penury before the unexpected discovery at its close of another and more profitable talent. But uncertainty as to the duration of his visual powers had probably much to do with his resolve to attempt prose fiction before the darker day should arrive. He had already made an experiment in another direction by taking up water-colour painting. As early as 1880 he was practising occasionally this, to him, novel art, and produced a very successful portrait of his eldest daughter. At intervals during the years that followed he painted other portraits and five or six subject pictures, one or two of them being replicas of subjects already treated in 'Punch.' But he found that the practice necessary for this less familiar art involved too great a strain upon his solitary eye, and he pursued it no more after 1889. It was about two years later that, after discussing his chances with his loyal friend Mr. Henry James, he accepted a proposal to write a story for Messrs. Harper, the well-known firm of American publishers. The result of this offer was the romance, 'Peter Ibbetson,' partly based upon recollections of his own early life, blended with a plot turning on a fantastic theory of the sympathetic relationship of dreams. The story at once attracted attention, principally no doubt from the former of the two elements just mentioned. The record of du Maurier's own childhood in 'the forties' at Passy, the Paris suburb, to which, and to the kindly personages then surrounding him, the machinery of the tale enabled him continually to recur, constituted the real charm of the romance, the supernatural portion of which was not conducted with much art. The ample illustrations by the writer, in his most attractive style, also contributed greatly to its success, which was sufficient to induce the publishers to commission a second story, to be published in monthly instalments in the pages of 'Harper's Magazine.' The first chapters of 'Trilby' appeared in the January number for 1894.