Although the pecuniary reward of this early effort was small, people began to ask by whom it was executed; thus it was that his subsequently well-known mark, the leech-bottle, first came into public notice.
Specimens of these tentative efforts are of course scarce, but occasionally the reader may fall in with odd numbers of the "Comicalities," issued some half century ago by the proprietors of "Bell's Life," in which may be found specimens of his early work among impressions from the designs on wood of Kenny Meadows, "Phiz," and even Robert Seymour. Among these early efforts may also be named "The Boys' Own Series"; "Studies from Nature"; "Amateur Originals"; the "Ups and Downs of Life, or the Vicissitudes of a Swell"; and other etcetera.
When poor Seymour shot himself in 1836, the artist who was at first selected to fill his place as illustrator of "Pickwick" was Robert William Buss, who, failing however to supply the requirements of Charles Dickens, was (as we shall afterwards see) quickly discarded. Others, however, had applied to supply the place of the deceased artist, and among them were Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"), W. M. Thackeray, and John Leech; although the latter failed to secure the appointment, he appears to us of all others the one best fitted to pictorially interpret the author's creations. Thackeray was so little conscious of the bent of his own genius that he seems at this time to have had some thoughts of following the profession of an artist, but happily failed so completely that he was induced to follow up his alternative art of authorship, by which he achieved his fame and reputation. Notwithstanding his failure, his implicit faith in his own artistic powers remained unshaken to the end, in which belief he has been followed by one or two writers who might have known better.
It is not until 1840 that we find Leech had matured the style and manner which afterwards made him famous; and accordingly,
- They include also some (pirated) impressions from the designs of George Cruikshank, which set that irritable genius, as might have been expected, in a fume.