The Library (Lang)/Chapter 4
Modern English book-illustration—to which the present chapter is restricted -has no long or doubtful history, since to find its first beginnings, it is needless to go farther back than the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Not that "illustrated" books of a certain class were by any means unknown before that period. On the contrary, for many years previously, literature had boasted its "sculptures" of be-wigged and be-laurelled "worthies," its "prospects" and "land-skips," its phenomenal monsters and its "curious antiques." But, despite the couplet in the "Dunciad" respecting books where
" . . . the pictures for the page atone,
And Quarles is saved by beauties not his own;" -
illustrations, in which the designer attempted the actual delineation of scenes or occurrences in the text, were certainly not common when Pope wrote, nor were they for some time afterwards either very numerous or very noteworthy. There are Hogarth's engravings to "Hudibras" and "Don Quixote;" there are the designs of his crony Frank Hayman to Theobald's "Shakespeare," to Milton, to Pope, to Cervantes; there are Pine's "Horace" and Sturt's "Prayer- Book" (in both of which text and ornament were alike engraved); there are the historical and topographical drawings of Sandby, Wale, and others; and yet—notwithstanding all these—it is with Bewick's cuts to Gay's "Fables" in 1779, and Stothard's plates to Harrison's "Novelist's Magazine" in 1780, that book-illustration by imaginative compositions really begins to flourish in England. Those little masterpieces of the Newcastle artist brought about a revival of wood-engraving which continues to this day; but engraving upon metal, as a means of decorating books, practically came to an end with the "Annuals" of thirty years ago. It will therefore be well to speak first of illustrations upon copper and steel.
Stothard, Blake, and Flaxman are the names that come freshest to memory in this connection. For a period of fifty years Stothard stands pre-eminent in illustrated literature. Measuring time by poets, he may be said to have lent something of his fancy and amenity to most of the writers from Cowper to Rogers. As a draughtsman he is undoubtedly weak: his figures are often limp and invertebrate, and his type of beauty insipid. Still, regarded as groups, the majority of his designs are exquisite, and he possessed one all-pervading and un-English quality—the quality of grace. This is his dominant note. Nothing can be more seductive than the suave flow of his line, his feeling for costume, his gentle and chastened humour. Many of his women and children are models of purity and innocence. But he works at ease only within the limits of his special powers; he is happier in the pastoral and domestic than the heroic and supernatural, and his style is better fitted to the formal salutations of "Clarissa" and "Sir Charles Grandison," than the rough horse-play of "Peregrine Pickle." Where Rowlandson would have revelled, Stothard would be awkward and constrained; where Blake would give us a new sensation, Stothard would be poor and mechanical. Nevertheless the gifts he possessed were thoroughly recognised in his own day, and brought him, if not riches, at least competence and honour. It is said that more than three thousand of his drawings have been engraved, and they are scattered through a hundred publications. Those to the "Pilgrim's Progress" and the poems of Rogers are commonly spoken of as his best, though he never excelled some of the old-fashioned plates (with their pretty borders in the style of Gravelot and the Frenchmen) to Richardson's novels, and such forgotten "classics" as "Joe Thompson", "Jessamy," "Betsy Thoughtless," and one or two others in Harrison's very miscellaneous collection.
Stothard was fortunate in his engravers. Besides James Heath, his best interpreter, Schiavonetti, Sharp, Finden, the Cookes, Bartolozzi, most of the fashionable translators into copper were busily employed upon his inventions. Among the rest was an artist of powers far greater than his own, although scarcely so happy in turning them to profitable account. The genius of William Blake was not a marketable commodity in the same way as Stothard's talent. The one caught the trick of the time with his facile elegance; the other scorned to make any concessions, either in conception or execution, to the mere popularity of prettiness.
"Give pensions to the learned pig,
Or the hare playing on a tabor;
Anglus can never see perfection
But in the journeyman's labour," -
he wrote in one of those rough-hewn and bitter epigrams of his. Yet the work that was then so lukewarmly received—if, indeed, it can be said to have been received at all—is at present far more sought after than Stothard's, and the prices now given for the "Songs of Innocence and Experience," the "Inventions to the Book of Job," and even "The Grave," would have brought affluence to the struggling artist, who (as Cromek taunted him) was frequently "reduced so low as to be obliged to live on half a guinea a week." Not that this was entirely the fault of his contemporaries. Blake was a visionary, and an untuneable man; and, like others who work for the select public of all ages, he could not always escape the consequence that the select public of his own, however willing, were scarcely numerous enough to support him. His most individual works are the "Songs of Innocence," 1789, and the "Songs of Experience," 1794. These, afterwards united in one volume, were unique in their method of production; indeed, they do not perhaps strictly come within the category of what is generally understood to be copperplate engraving. The drawings were outlined and the songs written upon the metal with some liquid that resisted the action of acid, and the remainder of the surface of the plate was eaten away with aqua-fortis, leaving the design in bold relief, like a rude stereotype. This was then printed off in the predominant tone— blue, brown, or yellow, as the case might be—and delicately tinted by the artist in a prismatic and ethereal fashion peculiarly his own. Stitched and bound in boards by Mrs. Blake, a certain number of these leaflets—twenty-seven in the case of the first issue—made up a tiny octavo of a wholly exceptional kind. Words indeed fail to exactly describe the flower-like beauty—the fascination of these "fairy missals," in which, it has been finely said, "the thrilling music of the verse, and the gentle bedazzlement of the lines and colours so intermingle, that the mind hangs in a pleasant uncertainty as to whether it is a picture that is singing, or a song which has newly budded and blossomed into colour and form." The accompanying woodcut, after one of the illustrations to the "Songs of Innocence," gives some indication of the general composition, but it can convey no hint of the gorgeous purple, and crimson, and orange of the original.
Of the "Illustrations to the Book of Job," 1826, there are excellent reduced facsimiles by the recently-discovered photo-intaglio process, in the new edition of Gilchrist's "Life." The originals were engraved by Blake himself in his strong decisive fashion, and they are his best work. A kind of deisidaimonia—a sacred awe— falls upon one in turning over these wonderful productions of the artist's declining years and failing hand.
"Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view,
That stand upon the threshold of the new,"
sings Waller; and it is almost possible to believe for a moment that their creator was (as he said) "under the direction of messengers from Heaven." But his designs for Blair's "Grave," 1808, popularised by the burin of Schiavonetti, attracted greater attention at the time of publication; and, being less rare, they are even now perhaps better known than the others. The facsimile here given is from the latter book. The worn old man, the trustful woman, and the guileless child are sleeping peacefully; but the king with his sceptre, and the warrior with his hand on his sword-hilt, lie open-eyed, waiting the summons of the trumpet. One cannot help fancying that the artist's long vigils among the Abbey tombs, during his apprenticeship to James Basire, must have been present to his mind when he selected this impressive monumental subject.
To one of Blake's few friends—to the "dear Sculptor of Eternity," as he wrote to Flaxman from Felpham—the world is indebted for some notable book illustrations. Whether the greatest writers—the Homers, the Shakespeares, the Dantes—can ever be "illustrated" without loss may fairly be questioned. At all events, the showy dexterities of the Dores and Gilberts prove nothing to the contrary. But now and then there comes to the graphic interpretation of a great author an artist either so reverential, or so strongly sympathetic at some given point, that, in default of any relation more narrowly intimate, we at once accept his conceptions as the best attainable. In this class are Flaxman's outlines to Homer and AEschylus. Flaxman was not a Hellenist as men are Hellenists to- day. Nevertheless, his Roman studies had saturated him with the spirit of antique beauty, and by his grand knowledge of the nude, his calm, his restraint, he is such an illustrator of Homer as is not likely to arise again. For who—with all our added knowledge of classical antiquity—who, of our modern artists, could hope to rival such thoroughly Greek compositions as the ball-play of Nausicaa in the "Odyssey," or that lovely group from AEschylus of the tender- hearted, womanly Oceanides, cowering like flowers beaten by the storm under the terrible anger of Zeus? In our day Flaxman's drawings would have been reproduced by some of the modern facsimile processes, and the gain would have been great. As it is, something is lost by their transference to copper, even though the translators be Piroli and Blake. Blake, in fact, did more than he is usually credited with, for (beside the acknowledged and later "Hesiod," 1817) he really engraved the whole of the "Odyssey," Piroli's plates having been lost on the voyage to England. The name of the Roman artist, nevertheless, appears on the title-page (1793). But Blake was too original to be a successful copyist of other men's work, and to appreciate the full value of Flaxman's drawings, they should be studied in the collections at University College, the Royal Academy, and elsewhere.
Flaxman and Blake had few imitators. But a host of clever designers, such as Cipriani, Angelica Kauffmann, Westall, Uwins, Smirke, Burney, Corbould, Dodd, and others, vied with the popular Stothard in "embellishing" the endless "Poets," "novelists," and "essayists" of our forefathers. Some of these, and most of the recognised artists of the period, lent their aid to that boldly- planned but unhappily-executed "Shakespeare" of Boydell,—"black and ghastly gallery of murky Opies, glum Northcotes, straddling Fuselis," as Thackeray calls it. They are certainly not enlivening- -those cumbrous "atlas" folios of 1803-5, and they helped to ruin the worthy alderman. Even courtly Sir Joshua is clearly ill at ease among the pushing Hamiltons and Mortimers; and, were it not for the whimsical discovery that Westall's "Ghost of Caesar" strangely resembles Mr. Gladstone, there would be no resting-place for the modern student of these dismal masterpieces. The truth is, Reynolds excepted, there were no contemporary painters strong enough for the task, and the honours of the enterprise belong almost exclusively to Smirke's "Seven Ages" and one or two plates from the lighter comedies. The great "Bible" of Macklin, a rival and even more incongruous publication, upon which some of the same designers were employed, has fallen into completer oblivion. A rather better fate attended another book of this class, which, although belonging to a later period, may be briefly referred to here. The "Milton" of John Martin has distinct individuality, and some of the needful qualities of imagination. Nevertheless, posterity has practically decided that scenic grandeur and sombre effects alone are not a sufficient pictorial equipment for the varied story of "Paradise Lost."
It is to Boydell of the Shakespeare gallery that we owe the "Liber Veritatis" of Claude, engraved by Richard Earlom; and indirectly, since rivalry of Claude prompted the attempt, the famous "Liber Studiorum" of Turner. Neither of these, however—which, like the "Rivers of France" and the "Picturesque Views in England and Wales" of the latter artist, are collections of engravings rather than illustrated books—belongs to the present purpose. But Turner's name may fitly serve to introduce those once familiar "Annuals" and "Keepsakes," that, beginning in 1823 with Ackermann's "Forget-me- Not," enjoyed a popularity of more than thirty years. Their general characteristics have been pleasantly satirised in Thackeray's account of the elegant miscellany of Bacon the publisher, to which Mr. Arthur Pendennis contributed his pretty poem of "The Church Porch." His editress, it will be remembered, was the Lady Violet Lebas, and his colleagues the Honourable Percy Popjoy, Lord Dodo, and the gifted Bedwin Sands, whose "Eastern Ghazuls" lent so special a distinction to the volume in watered-silk binding. The talented authors, it is true, were in most cases under the disadvantage of having to write to the plates of the talented artists, a practice which even now is not extinct, though it is scarcely considered favourable to literary merit. And the real "Annuals" were no exception to the rule. As a matter of fact, their general literary merit was not obtrusive, although, of course, they sometimes contained work which afterwards became famous. They are now so completely forgotten and out of date, that one scarcely expects to find that Wordsworth, Coleridge, Macaulay, and Southey, were among the occasional contributors. Lamb's beautiful "Album verses" appeared in the "Bijou," Scott's "Bonnie Dundee" in the "Christmas Box," and Tennyson's "St. Agnes' Eve" in the "Keepsake." But the plates were, after all, the leading attraction. These, prepared for the most part under the superintendence of the younger Heath, and executed on the steel which by this time had supplanted the old "coppers," were supplied by, or were "after," almost every contemporary artist of note. Stothard, now growing old and past his prime, Turner, Etty, Stanfield, Leslie, Roberts, Danby, Maclise, Lawrence, Cattermole, and numbers of others, found profitable labour in this fashionable field until 1856, when the last of the "Annuals" disappeared, driven from the market by the rapid development of wood engraving. About a million, it is roughly estimated, was squandered in producing them.
In connection with the "Annuals" must be mentioned two illustrated books which were in all probability suggested by them—the "Poems" and "Italy" of Rogers. The designs to these are chiefly by Turner and Stothard, although there are a few by Prout and others. Stothard's have been already referred to; Turner's are almost universally held to be the most successful of his many vignettes. It has been truly said—in a recent excellent life of this artist —that it would be difficult to find in the whole of his works two really greater than the "Alps at Daybreak," and the "Datur Hora Quieti," in the former of these volumes. Almost equally beautiful are the "Valombre Falls" and "Tornaro's misty brow." Of the "Italy" set Mr. Ruskin writes:- "They are entirely exquisite; poetical in the highest and purest sense, exemplary and delightful beyond all praise." To such words it is not possible to add much. But it is pretty clear that the poetical vitality of Rogers was secured by these well-timed illustrations, over which he is admitted by his nephew Mr. Sharpe to have spent about 7000 pounds, and far larger sums have been named by good authorities. The artist received from fifteen to twenty guineas for each of the drawings; the engravers (Goodall, Miller, Wallis, Smith, and others), sixty guineas a plate. The "Poems" and the "Italy," in the original issues of 1830 and 1834, are still precious to collectors, and are likely to remain so. Turner also illustrated Scott, Milton, Campbell, and Byron; but this series of designs has not received equal commendation from his greatest eulogist, who declares them to be "much more laboured, and more or less artificial and unequal." Among the numerous imitations directly induced by the Rogers books was the "Lyrics of the Heart," by Alaric Attila Watts, a forgotten versifier and sometime editor of "Annuals," but it did not meet with similar success.
Many illustrated works, originating in the perfection and opportunities of engraving on metal, are necessarily unnoticed in this rapid summary. As far, however, as book-illustration is concerned, copper and steel plate engraving may be held to have gone out of fashion with the "Annuals." It is still, indeed, to be found lingering in that mine of modern art-books—the "Art Journal;" and, not so very long ago, it made a sumptuous and fugitive reappearance in Dore's "Idylls of the King," Birket Foster's "Hood," and one or two other imposing volumes. But it was badly injured by modern wood-engraving; it has since been crippled for life by photography; and it is more than probable that the present rapid rise of modern etching will give it the coup de grace.
By the end of the seventeenth century the art of engraving on wood had fallen into disuse. Writing circa 1770, Horace Walpole goes so far as to say that it "never was executed in any perfection in England;" and, speaking afterwards of Papillon's "Traite de la Gravure," 1766, he takes occasion to doubt if that author would ever "persuade the world to return to wooden cuts." Nevertheless, with Bewick, a few years later, wood-engraving took a fresh departure so conspicuous that it amounts to a revival. In what this consisted it is clearly impossible to show here with any sufficiency of detail; but between the method of the old wood-cutters who reproduced the drawings of Durer, and the method of the Newcastle artist, there are two marked and well-defined differences. One of these is a difference in the preparation of the wood and the tool employed. The old wood-cutters carved their designs with knives and chisels on strips of wood sawn lengthwise—that is to say, upon the PLANK; Bewick used a graver, and worked upon slices of box or pear cut across the grain,—that is to say upon the END of the wood. The other difference, of which Bewick is said to have been the inventor, is less easy to describe. It consisted in the employment of what is technically known as "white line." In all antecedent wood-cutting the cutter had simply cleared away those portions of the block left bare by the design, so that the design remained in relief to be printed from like type. Using the smooth box block as a uniform surface from which, if covered with printing ink, a uniformly black impression might be obtained, Bewick, by cutting white lines across it at greater or lesser intervals, produced gradations of shade, from the absolute black of the block to the lightest tints. The general result of this method was to give a greater depth of colouring and variety to the engraving, but its advantages may perhaps be best understood by a glance at the background of the "Woodcock" on the following page.
Bewick's first work of any importance was the Gay's "Fables" of 1779. In 1784 he did another series of "Select Fables." Neither of these books, however, can be compared with the "General History of Quadrupeds," 1790, and the "British Land and Water Birds," 1797 and 1804. The illustrations to the "Quadrupeds" are in many instances excellent, and large additions were made to them in subsequent issues. But in this collection Bewick laboured to a great extent under the disadvantage of representing animals with which he was familiar only through the medium of stuffed specimens or incorrect drawings. In the "British Birds," on the contrary, his facilities for study from the life were greater, and his success was consequently more complete. Indeed, it may be safely affirmed that of all the engravers of the present century, none have excelled Bewick for beauty of black and white, for skilful rendering of plumage and foliage, and for fidelity of detail and accessory. The "Woodcock" (here given), the "Partridge," the "Owl," the "Yellow- Hammer," the "Yellow-Bunting," the "Willow-Wren," are popular examples of these qualities. But there are a hundred others nearly as good.
Among sundry conventional decorations after the old German fashion in the first edition of the "Quadrupeds," there are a fair number of those famous tail-pieces which, to a good many people, constitute Bewick's chief claim to immortality. That it is not easy to imitate them is plain from the failure of Branston's attempts, and from the inferior character of those by John Thompson in Yarrell's "Fishes." The genius of Bewick was, in fact, entirely individual and particular. He had the humour of a Hogarth in little, as well as some of his special characteristics,—notably his faculty of telling a story by suggestive detail. An instance may be taken at random from vol. I. of the "Birds." A man, whose wig and hat have fallen off, lies asleep with open mouth under some bushes. He is manifestly drunk, and the date "4 June," on a neighbouring stone, gives us the reason and occasion of his catastrophe. He has been too loyally celebrating the birthday of his majesty King George III. Another of Bewick's gifts is his wonderful skill in foreshadowing a tragedy. Take as an example, this truly appalling incident from the "Quadrupeds." The tottering child, whose nurse is seen in the background, has strayed into the meadow, and is pulling at the tail of a vicious-looking colt, with back-turned eye and lifted heel. Down the garden-steps the mother hurries headlong; but she can hardly be in time. And of all this—sufficient, one would say, for a fairly-sized canvas—the artist has managed to give a vivid impression in a block of three inches by two! Then, again, like Hogarth once more, he rejoices in multiplications of dilemma. What, for instance, can be more comically pathetic than the head-piece to the "Contents" in vol. I. of the "Birds"? The old horse has been seized with an invincible fit of stubbornness. The day is both windy and rainy. The rider has broken his stick and lost his hat; but he is too much encumbered with his cackling and excited stock to dare to dismount. Nothing can help him but a Deus ex machina,—of whom there is no sign.
Besides his humour, Bewick has a delightfully rustic side, of which Hogarth gives but little indication. From the starved ewe in the snow nibbling forlornly at a worn-out broom, to the cow which has broken through the rail to reach the running water, there are numberless designs which reveal that faithful lover of the field and hillside, who, as he said, "would rather be herding sheep on Mickle bank top" than remain in London to be made premier of England. He loved the country and the country-life; and he drew them as one who loved them. It is this rural quality which helps to give such a lasting freshness to his quaint and picturesque fancies; and it is this which will continue to preserve their popularity, even if they should cease to be valued for their wealth of whimsical invention.
In referring to these masterpieces of Bewick's, it must not be forgotten that he had the aid of some clever assistants. His younger brother John was not without talent, as is clear from his work for Somervile's "Chace," 1796, and that highly edifying book, the "Blossoms of Morality." Many of the tail-pieces to the "Water Birds" were designed by Robert Johnson, who also did most of the illustrations to Bewick's "Fables" of 1818, which were engraved by Temple and Harvey, two other pupils. Another pupil was Charlton Nesbit, an excellent engraver, who was employed upon the "Birds," and did good work in Ackermann's "Religious Emblems" of 1808, and the second series of Northcote's "Fables." But by far the largest portion of the tail-pieces in the second volume of the "Birds" was engraved by Luke Clennell, a very skilful but unfortunate artist, who ultimately became insane. To him we owe the woodcuts, after Stothard's charming sketches, to the Rogers volume of 1810, an edition preceding those already mentioned as illustrated with steel- plates, and containing some of the artist's happiest pictures of children and amorini. Many of these little groups would make admirable designs for gems, if indeed they are not already derived from them, since one at least is an obvious copy of a well-known sardonyx—("The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche.") This volume, generally known by the name of the "Firebrand" edition, is highly prized by collectors; and, as intelligent renderings of pen and ink, there is little better than these engravings of Clennell's. Finally, among others of Bewick's pupils, must be mentioned William Harvey, who survived to 1866. It has been already stated that he engraved part of the illustrations to Bewick's "Fables," but his best known block is the large one of Haydon's "Death of Dentatus." Soon after this he relinquished wood-engraving in favour of design, and for a long period was one of the most fertile and popular of book-illustrators. His style, however, is unpleasantly mannered; and it is sufficient to make mention of his masterpiece, the "Arabian Nights" of Lane, the illustrations to which, produced under the supervision of the translator, are said to be so accurate as to give the appropriate turbans for every hour of the day. They show considerable freedom of invention and a large fund of Orientalism.
Harvey came to London in 1817; Clennell had preceded him by some years; and Nesbit lived there for a considerable time. What distinguishes these pupils of Bewick especially is, that they were artists as well as engravers, capable of producing the designs they engraved. The "London School" of engravers, on the contrary, were mostly engravers, who depended upon others for their designs. The foremost of these was Robert Branston, a skilful renderer of human figures and indoor scenes. He worked in rivalry with Bewick and Nesbit; but he excelled neither, while he fell far behind the former. John Thompson, one of the very best of modern English engravers on wood, was Branston's pupil. His range was of the widest, and he succeeded as well in engraving fishes and birds for Yarrell and Walton's "Angler," as in illustrations to Moliere and "Hudibras." He was, besides, a clever draughtsman, though he worked chiefly from the designs of Thurston and others. One of the most successful of his illustrated books is the "Vicar of Wakefield," after Mulready, whose simplicity and homely feeling were well suited to Goldsmith's style. Another excellent engraver of this date is Samuel Williams. There is an edition of Thomson's "Seasons," with cuts both drawn and engraved by him, which is well worthy of attention, and (like Thompson and Branston) he was very skilful in reproducing the designs of Cruikshank. Some of his best work in this way is to be found in Clarke's "Three Courses and a Dessert," published by Vizetelly in 1830.
From this time forth, however, one hears less of the engraver and more of the artist. The establishment of the "Penny Magazine" in 1832, and the multifarious publications of Charles Knight, gave an extraordinary impetus to wood-engraving. Ten years later came "Punch," and the "Illustrated London News," which further increased its popularity. Artists of eminence began to draw on or for the block, as they had drawn, and were still drawing, for the "Annuals." In 1842-6 was issued the great "Abbotsford" edition of the "Waverley Novels," which, besides 120 plates, contained nearly 2000 wood- engravings; and with the "Book of British Ballads," 1843, edited by Mr. S. C. Hall, arose that long series of illustrated Christmas books, which gradually supplanted the "Annuals," and made familiar the names of Gilbert, Birket Foster, Harrison Weir, John Absolon, and a crowd of others. The poems of Longfellow, Montgomery, Burns, "Barry Cornwall," Poe, Miss Ingelow, were all successively "illustrated." Besides these, there were numerous selections, such as Willmott's "Poets of the Nineteenth Century," Wills's "Poets' Wit and Humour," and so forth. But the field here grows too wide to be dealt with in detail, and it is impossible to do more than mention a few of the books most prominent for merit or originality. Amongst these there is the "Shakespeare" of Sir John Gilbert. Regarded as an interpretative edition of the great dramatist, this is little more than a brilliant tour de force; but it is nevertheless infinitely superior to the earlier efforts of Kenny Meadows in 1843, and also to the fancy designs of Harvey in Knight's "Pictorial Shakespeare." The "Illustrated Tennyson" of 1858 is also a remarkable production. The Laureate, almost more than any other, requires a variety of illustrators; and here, for his idylls, he had Mulready and Millais, and for his romances Rossetti and Holman Hunt. His "Princess" was afterwards illustrated by Maclise, and his "Enoch Arden" by Arthur Hughes; but neither of these can be said to be wholly adequate. The "Lalla Rookh" of John Tenniel, 1860, albeit somewhat stiff and cold, after this artist's fashion, is a superb collection of carefully studied oriental designs. With these may be classed the illustrations to Aytoun's "Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers," by Sir Noel Paton, which have the same finished qualities of composition and the same academic hardness. Several good editions of the "Pilgrim's Progress" have appeared,—notably those of C. H. Bennett, J. D. Watson, and G. H. Thomas. Other books are Millais's "Parables of our Lord," Leighton's "Romola," Walker's "Philip" and "Denis Duval," the "Don Quixote," "Dante," "La Fontaine" and other works of Dore, Dalziel's "Arabian Nights," Leighton's "Lyra Germanica" and "Moral Emblems," and the "Spiritual Conceits" of W. Harry Rogers. These are some only of the number, which does not include books like Mrs. Hugh Blackburn's "British Birds," Wolf's "Wild Animals," Wise's "New Forest," Linton's "Lake Country," Wood's "Natural History," and many more. Nor does it take in the various illustrated periodicals which have multiplied so freely since, in 1859, "Once a Week" first began to attract and train such younger draughtsmen as Sandys, Lawless, Pinwell, Houghton, Morten, and Paul Grey, some of whose best work in this way has been revived in the edition of Thornbury's "Ballads and Songs," recently published by Chatto and Windus. Ten years later came the "Graphic," offering still wider opportunities to wood-cut art, and bringing with it a fresh school of artists. Herkomer, Fildes, Small, Green, Barnard, Barnes, Crane, Caldecott, Hopkins, and others,—quos nunc perscribere longum est—have contributed good work to this popular rival of the older, but still vigorous, "Illustrated." And now again, another promising serial, the "Magazine of Art," affords a supplementary field to modern refinements and younger energies.
Not a few of the artists named in the preceding paragraph have also earned distinction in separate branches of the pictorial art, and specially in that of humorous design,—a department which has always been so richly recruited in this country that it deserves more than a passing mention. From the days of Hogarth onwards there has been an almost unbroken series of humorous draughtsmen, who, both on wood and metal, play a distinguished part in our illustrated literature. Rowlandson, one of the earliest, was a caricaturist of inexhaustible facility, and an artist who scarcely did justice to his own powers. He illustrated several books, but he is chiefly remembered in this way by his plates to Combe's "Three Tours of Dr. Syntax." Gillray, his contemporary, whose bias was political rather than social, is said to have illustrated "The Deserted Village" in his youth; but he is not famous as a book-illustrator. Another of the early men was Bunbury, whom "quality"-loving Mr. Walpole calls "the second Hogarth, and first imitator who ever fully equalled his original (!);" but whose prints to "Tristram Shandy," are nevertheless completely forgotten, while, if he be remembered at all, it is by the plate of "The Long Minuet," and the vulgar "Directions to Bad Horsemen." With the first years of the century, however, appears the great master of modern humorists, whose long life ended only a few years since, "the veteran George Cruikshank"—as his admirers were wont to style him. He indeed may justly be compared to Hogarth, since, in tragic power and intensity he occasionally comes nearer to him than any artist of our time. It is manifestly impossible to mention here all the more important efforts of this indefatigable worker, from those far-away days when he caricatured "Boney" and championed Queen Caroline, to that final frontispiece for "The Rose and the Lily"—"designed and etched (according to the inscription) by George Cruikshank, age 83;" but the plates to the "Points of Humour," to Grimm's "Goblins," to "Oliver Twist," "Jack Sheppard," Maxwell's "Irish Rebellion," and the "Table Book," are sufficiently favourable and varied specimens of his skill with the needle, while the woodcuts to "Three Courses and a Dessert," one of which is here given, are equally good examples of his work on the block. The "Triumph of Cupid," which begins the "Table Book," is an excellent instance of his lavish wealth of fancy, and it contains beside, one—nay more than one—of the many portraits of the artist. He is shown en robe de chambre, smoking (this was before his regenerate days!) in front of a blazing fire, with a pet spaniel on his knee. In the cloud which curls from his lips is a motley procession of sailors, sweeps, jockeys, Greenwich pensioners, Jew clothesmen, flunkies, and others more illustrious, chained to the chariot wheels of Cupid, who, preceded by cherubic acolytes and banner-bearers, winds round the top of the picture towards an altar of Hymen on the table. When, by the aid of a pocket-glass, one has mastered these swarming figures, as well as those in the foreground, it gradually dawns upon one that all the furniture is strangely vitalised. Masks laugh round the border of the tablecloth, the markings of the mantelpiece resolve themselves into rows of madly- racing figures, the tongs leers in a degage and cavalier way at the artist, the shovel and poker grin in sympathy; there are faces in the smoke, in the fire, in the fireplace,—the very fender itself is a ring of fantastic creatures who jubilantly hem in the ashes. And it is not only in the grotesque and fanciful that Cruikshank excels; he is master of the strange, the supernatural, and the terrible. In range of character (the comparison is probably a hackneyed one), both by his gifts and his limitations, he resembles Dickens; and had he illustrated more of that writer's works the resemblance would probably have been more evident. In "Oliver Twist," for example, where Dickens is strong, Cruikshank is strong; where Dickens is weak, he is weak too. His Fagin, his Bill Sikes, his Bumble, and their following, are on a level with Dickens's conceptions; his Monk and Rose Maylie are as poor as the originals. But as the defects of Dickens are overbalanced by his merits, so Cruikshank's strength is far in excess of his weakness. It is not to his melodramatic heroes or wasp-waisted heroines that we must look for his triumphs; it is to his delineations, from the moralist's point of view, of vulgarity and vice,—of the "rank life of towns," with all its squalid tragedy and comedy. Here he finds his strongest ground, and possibly, notwithstanding his powers as a comic artist and caricaturist, his loftiest claim to recollection.
Cruikshank was employed on two only of Dickens's books—"Oliver Twist" and the "Sketches by Boz." The great majority of them were illustrated by Hablot K. Browne, an artist who followed the ill-fated Seymour on the "Pickwick Papers." To "Phiz," as he is popularly called, we are indebted for our pictorial ideas of Sam Weller, Mrs. Gamp, Captain Cuttle, and most of the author's characters, down to the "Tale of Two Cities." "Phiz" also illustrated a great many of Lever's novels, for which his skill in hunting and other Lever-like scenes especially qualified him.
With the name of Richard Doyle we come to the first of a group of artists whose main work was, or is still, done for the time-honoured miscellany of Mr. Punch. So familiar an object is "Punch" upon our tables, that one is sometimes apt to forget how unfailing, and how good on the whole, is the work we take so complacently as a matter of course. And of this good work, in the earlier days, a large proportion was done by Mr. Doyle. He is still living, although he has long ceased to gladden those sprightly pages. But it was to "Punch" that he contributed his masterpiece, the "Manners and Customs of ye Englyshe," a series of outlines illustrating social life in 1849, and cleverly commented by a shadowy "Mr. Pips," a sort of fetch or double of the bustling and garrulous old Caroline diarist. In these captivating pictures the life of thirty years ago is indeed, as the title-page has it, "drawn from ye quick." We see the Molesworths and Cantilupes of the day parading the Park; we watch Brougham fretting at a hearing in the Lords, or Peel holding forth to the Commons (where the Irish members are already obstructive); we squeeze in at the Haymarket to listen to Jenny Lind, or we run down the river to Greenwich Fair, and visit "Mr. Richardson, his show." Many years after, in the "Bird's Eye Views of Society," which appeared in the early numbers of the "Cornhill Magazine," Mr. Doyle returned to this attractive theme. But the later designs were more elaborate, and not equally fortunate. They bear the same relationship to Mr. Pips's pictorial chronicle, as the laboured "Temperance Fairy Tales" of Cruikshank's old age bear to the little-worked Grimm's "Goblins" of his youth. So hazardous is the attempt to repeat an old success! Nevertheless, many of the initial letters to the "Bird's Eye Views" are in the artist's best and most frolicsome manner. "The Foreign Tour of Brown, Jones, and Robinson" is another of his happy thoughts for "Punch;" and some of his most popular designs are to be found in Thackeray's "Newcomes," where his satire and fancy seem thoroughly suited to his text. He has also illustrated Locker's well-known "London Lyrics," Ruskin's "King of the Golden River," and Hughes's "Scouring of the White Horse," from which last the initial at the beginning of this chapter has been borrowed. His latest important effort was the series of drawings called "In Fairy Land," to which Mr. William Allingham contributed the verses.
In speaking of the "Newcomes," one is reminded that its illustrious author was himself a "Punch" artist, and would probably have been a designer alone, had it not been decreed "that he should paint in colours which will never crack and never need restoration." Everyone knows the story of the rejected illustrator of "Pickwick," whom that and other rebuffs drove permanently to letters. To his death, however, he clung fondly to his pencil. In technique he never attained to certainty or strength, and his genius was too quick and creative—perhaps also too desultory—for finished work, while he was always indifferent to costume and accessory. But many of his sketches for "Vanity Fair," for "Pendennis," for "The Virginians," for "The Rose and the Ring," the Christmas books, and the posthumously published "Orphan of Pimlico," have a vigour of impromptu, and a happy suggestiveness which is better than correct drawing. Often the realisation is almost photographic. Look, for example, at the portrait in "Pendennis" of the dilapidated Major as he crawls downstairs in the dawn after the ball at Gaunt House, and then listen to the inimitable context: "That admirable and devoted Major above all,—who had been for hours by Lady Clavering's side ministering to her and feeding her body with everything that was nice, and her ear with everything that was sweet and flattering—oh! what an object he was! The rings round his eyes were of the colour of bistre; those orbs themselves were like the plovers' eggs whereof Lady Clavering and Blanche had each tasted; the wrinkles in his old face were furrowed in deep gashes; and a silver stubble, like an elderly morning dew, was glittering on his chin, and alongside the dyed whiskers, now limp and out of curl." A good deal of this—that fine touch in italics especially—could not possibly be rendered in black and white, and yet how much is indicated, and how thoroughly the whole is felt! One turns to the woodcut from the words, and back again to the words from the woodcut with ever-increasing gratification. Then again, Thackeray's little initial letters are charmingly arch and playful. They seem to throw a shy side-light upon the text, giving, as it were, an additional and confidential hint of the working of the author's mind. To those who, with the present writer, love every tiny scratch and quirk and flourish of the Master's hand, these small but priceless memorials are far beyond the frigid appraising of academics and schools of art.
After Doyle and Thackeray come a couple of well-known artists—John Leech and John Tenniel. The latter still lives (may he long live!) to delight and instruct us. Of the former, whose genial and manly "Pictures of Life and Character" are in every home where good- humoured raillery is prized and appreciated, it is scarcely necessary to speak. Who does not remember the splendid languid swells, the bright-eyed rosy girls ("with no nonsense about them!") in pork pie hats and crinolines, the superlative "Jeames's," the hairy "Mossoos," the music-grinding Italian desperadoes whom their kind creator hated so? And then the intrepidity of "Mr. Briggs," the Roman rule of "Paterfamilias," the vagaries of the "Rising Generation!" There are things in this gallery over which the severest misanthrope must chuckle—they are simply irresistible. Let any one take, say that smallest sketch of the hapless mortal who has turned on the hot water in the bath and cannot turn it off again, and see if he is able to restrain his laughter. In this one gift of producing instant mirth Leech is almost alone. It would be easy to assail his manner and his skill, but for sheer fun, for the invention of downright humorous situation, he is unapproached, except by Cruikshank. He did a few illustrations to Dickens's Christmas books; but his best-known book-illustrations properly so called are to "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the "Comic Histories" of A'Beckett, the "Little Tour in Ireland," and certain sporting novels by the late Mr. Surtees. Tenniel now confines himself almost exclusively to the weekly cartoons with which his name is popularly associated. But years ago he used to invent the most daintily fanciful initial letters; and many of his admirers prefer the serio- grotesque designs of "Punch's Pocket-Book," "Alice in Wonderland," and "Through the Looking-Glass," to the always correctly-drawn but sometimes stiffly-conceived cartoons. What, for example, could be more delightful than the picture, in "Alice in Wonderland," of the "Mad Tea Party?" Observe the hopelessly distraught expression of the March hare, and the eager incoherence of the hatter! A little further on the pair are trying to squeeze the dormouse into the teapot; and a few pages back the blue caterpillar is discovered smoking his hookah on the top of a mushroom. He was exactly three inches long, says the veracious chronicle, but what a dignity!—what an oriental flexibility of gesture! Speaking of animals, it must not be forgotten that Tenniel is a master in this line. His "British Lion," in particular, is a most imposing quadruped, and so often in request that it is not necessary to go back to the famous cartoons on the Indian mutiny to seek for examples of that magnificent presence. As a specimen of the artist's treatment of the lesser felidae, the reader's attention is invited to this charming little kitten from "Through the Looking-Glass."
Mr. Tenniel is a link between Leech and the younger school of "Punch" artists, of whom Mr. George du Maurier, Mr. Linley Sambourne, and Mr. Charles Keene are the most illustrious. The first is nearly as popular as Leech, and is certainly a greater favourite with cultivated audiences. He is not so much a humorist as a satirist of the Thackeray type,—unsparing in his denunciation of shams, affectations, and flimsy pretences of all kinds. A master of composition and accomplished draughtsman, he excels in the delineation of "society"—its bishops, its "professional beauties" and "aesthetes," its nouveaux riches, its distinguished foreigners,- -while now and then (but not too often) he lets us know that if he chose he could be equally happy in depicting the lowest classes. There was a bar-room scene not long ago in "Punch" which gave the clearest evidence of this. Some of those for whom no good thing is good enough complain, it is said, that he lacks variety—that he is too constant to one type of feminine beauty. But any one who will be at the pains to study a group of conventional "society" faces from any of his "At Homes" or "Musical Parties" will speedily discover that they are really very subtly diversified and contrasted. For a case in point, take the decorously sympathetic group round the sensitive German musician, who is "veeping" over one of his own compositions. Or follow the titter running round that amused assembly to whom the tenor warbler is singing "Me-e-e-et me once again," with such passionate emphasis that the domestic cat mistakes it for a well-known area cry. As for his ladies, it may perhaps be conceded that his type is a little persistent. Still it is a type so refined, so graceful, so attractive altogether, that in the jarring of less well-favoured realities it is an advantage to have it always before our eyes as a standard to which we can appeal. Mr. du Maurier is a fertile book-illustrator, whose hand is frequently seen in the "Cornhill," and elsewhere. Some of his best work of this kind is in Douglas Jerrold's "Story of a Feather," in Thackeray's "Ballads," and the large edition of the "Ingoldsby Legends," to which Leech, Tenniel, and Cruikshank also contributed. One of his prettiest compositions is the group here reproduced from "Punch's Almanack" for 1877. The talent of his colleague, Mr. Linley Sambourne, may fairly be styled unique. It is difficult to compare it with anything in its way, except some of the happier efforts of the late Mr. Charles Bennett, to which, nevertheless, it is greatly superior in execution. To this clever artist's invention everything seems to present itself with a train of fantastic accessory so whimsically inexhaustible that it almost overpowers one with its prodigality. Each fresh examination of his designs discloses something overlooked or unexpected. Let the reader study for a moment the famous "Birds of a Feather" of 1875, or that ingenious skit of 1877 upon the rival Grosvenor Gallery and Academy, in which the late President of the latter is shown as the proudest of peacocks, the eyes of whose tail are portraits of Royal Academicians, and whose body-feathers are paint brushes and shillings of admission. Mr. Sambourne is excellent, too, at adaptations of popular pictures,—witness the more than happy parodies of Herrman's "A Bout d'Arguments," and "Une Bonne Histoire." His book-illustrations have been comparatively few, those to Burnand's laughable burlesque of "Sandford and Merton" being among the best. Rumour asserts that he is at present engaged upon Kingsley's "Water Babies," a subject which might almost be supposed to have been created for his pencil. There are indications, it may be added, that Mr. Sambourne's talents are by no means limited to the domain in which for the present he chooses to exercise them, and it is not impossible that he may hereafter take high rank as a cartoonist. Mr. Charles Keene, a selection from whose sketches has recently been issued under the title of "Our People," is unrivalled in certain bourgeois, military, and provincial types. No one can draw a volunteer, a monthly nurse, a Scotchman, an "ancient mariner" of the watering-place species, with such absolutely humorous verisimilitude. Personages, too, in whose eyes—to use Mr. Swiveller's euphemism—"the sun has shone too strongly," find in Mr. Keene a merciless satirist of their "pleasant vices." Like Leech, he has also a remarkable power of indicating a landscape background with the fewest possible touches. His book- illustrations have been .mainly confined to magazines and novels. Those in "Once a Week" to a "Good Fight," the tale subsequently elaborated by Charles Reade into the "Cloister and the Hearth," present some good specimens of his earlier work. One of these, in which the dwarf of the story is seen climbing up a wall with a lantern at his back, will probably be remembered by many.
After the "Punch" school there are other lesser luminaries. Mr. W. S. Gilbert's drawings to his own inimitable "Bab Ballads" have a perverse drollery which is quite in keeping with that erratic text. Mr. F. Barnard, whose exceptional talents have not been sufficiently recognised, is a master of certain phases of strongly marked character, and, like Mr. Charles Green, has contributed some excellent sketches to the "Household Edition" of Dickens. Mr. Sullivan of "Fun," whose grotesque studies of the "British Tradesman" and "Workman" have recently been republished, has abounding vis comica, but he has hitherto done little in the way of illustrating books. For minute pictorial stocktaking and photographic retention of detail, Mr. Sullivan's artistic memory may almost be compared to the wonderful literary memory of Mr. Sala. Mr. John Proctor, who some years ago (in "Will o' the Wisp") seemed likely to rival Tenniel as a cartoonist, has not been very active in this way; while Mr. Matthew Morgan, the clever artist of the "Tomahawk," has transferred his services to the United States. Of Mr. Bowcher of "Judy," and various other professedly humorous designers, space permits no further mention.
There remains, however, one popular branch of book-illustration, which has attracted the talents of some of the most skilful and original of modern draughtsmen, i.e. the embellishment of children's books. From the days when Mulready drew the old "Butterfly's Ball" and "Peacock at Home" of our youth, to those of the delightfully Blake-like fancies of E. V. B., whose "Child's Play" has recently been re-published for the delectation of a new generation of admirers, this has always been a popular and profitable employment; but of late years it has been raised to the level of a fine art. Mr. H. S. Marks, Mr. J. D. Watson, Mr. Walter Crane, have produced specimens of nursery literature which, for refinement of colouring and beauty of ornament, cannot easily be surpassed. The equipments of the last named, especially, are of a very high order. He began as a landscapist on wood; he now chiefly devotes himself to the figure; and he seems to have the decorative art at his fingers' ends as a natural gift. Such work as "King Luckieboy's Party" was a revelation in the way of toy books, while the "Baby's Opera" and "Baby's Bouquet" are petits chefs d'oeuvre, of which the sagacious collector will do well to secure copies, not for his nursery, but his library. Nor can his "Mrs. Mundi at Home" be neglected by the curious in quaint and graceful invention. Another book—the "Under the Window" of Miss Kate Greenaway—comes within the same category. Since Stothard, no one has given us such a clear-eyed, soft-faced, happy-hearted childhood; or so poetically "apprehended" the coy reticences, the simplicities, and the small solemnities of little people. Added to this, the old-world costume in which she usually elects to clothe her characters, lends an arch piquancy of contrast to their innocent rites and ceremonies. Her taste in tinting, too, is very sweet and spring-like; and there is a fresh, pure fragrance about all her pictures as of new-gathered nosegays; or, perhaps, looking to the fashions that she favours, it would be better to say "bow-pots." But the latest "good genius" of this branch of book-illustrating is Mr. Randolph Caldecott, a designer assuredly of the very first order. There is a spontaneity of fun, an unforced invention about everything he does, that is infinitely entertaining. Other artists draw to amuse us; Mr. Caldecott seems to draw to amuse himself,—and this is his charm. One feels that he must have chuckled inwardly as he puffed the cheeks of his "Jovial Huntsmen;" or sketched that inimitably complacent dog in the "House that Jack Built;" or exhibited the exploits of the immortal "train- band captain" of "famous London town." This last is his masterpiece. Cowper himself must have rejoiced at it,—and Lady Austen. There are two sketches in this book—they occupy the concluding pages—which are especially fascinating. On one, John Gilpin, in a forlorn and flaccid condition, is helped into the house by the sympathising (and very attractive) Betty; on the other he has donned his slippers, refreshed his inner man with a cordial, and over the heaving shoulder of his "spouse," who lies dissolved upon his martial bosom, he is taking the spectators into his confidence with a wink worthy of the late Mr. Buckstone. Nothing more genuine, more heartily laughable, than this set of designs has appeared in our day. And Mr. Caldecott has few limitations. Not only does he draw human nature admirably, but he draws animals and landscapes equally well, so one may praise him without reserve. Though not children's books, mention should here be made of his "Bracebridge Hall," and "Old Christmas," the illustrations to which are the nearest approach to that beau-ideal, perfect sympathy between the artist and the author, with which the writer is acquainted. The cut on page 173 is from the former of these works.
Many of the books above mentioned are printed in colours by various processes, and they are not always engraved on wood. But—to close the account of modern wood-engraving—some brief reference must be made to what is styled the "new American School," as exhibited for the most part in "Scribner's" and other Transatlantic magazines. Authorities, it is reported, shake their heads over these performances. "C'est magnifique, mais ce nest pas la gravure," they whisper. Into the matter in dispute, it is perhaps presumptuous for an "atechnic" to adventure himself. But to the outsider it would certainly seem as if the chief ground of complaint is that the new comers do not play the game according to the old rules, and that this (alleged) irregular mode of procedure tends to lessen the status of the engraver as an artist. False or true, this, it may fairly be advanced, has nothing whatever to do with the matter, as far, at least, as the public are concerned. For them the question is, simply and solely—What is the result obtained? The new school, availing themselves largely of the assistance of photography, are able to dispense, in a great measure, with the old tedious method of drawing on the block, and to leave the artist to choose what medium he prefers for his design—be it oil, water-colour, or black and white—concerning themselves only to reproduce its characteristics on the wood. This is, of course, a deviation from the method of Bewick. But would Bewick have adhered to his method in these days? Even in his last hours he was seeking for new processes. What we want is to get nearest to the artist himself with the least amount of interpretation or intermediation on the part of the engraver. Is engraving on copper to be reproduced, we want a facsimile if possible, and not a rendering into something which is supposed to be the orthodox utterance of wood-engraving. Take, for example, the copy of Schiavonetti's engraving of Blake's Death's Door in "Scribner's Magazine" for June 1880, or the cut from the same source at page 131 of this book. These are faithful line for line transcriptions, as far as wood can give them, of the original copper-plates; and, this being the case, it is not to be wondered at that the public, who, for a few pence can have practical facsimiles of Blake, of Cruikshank, or of Whistler, are loud in their appreciation of the "new American School." Nor are its successes confined to reproduction in facsimile. Those who look at the exquisite illustrations, in the same periodical, to the "Tile Club at Play," to Roe's "Success with Small Fruits," and Harris's "Insects Injurious to Vegetation,"—to say nothing of the selected specimens in the recently issued "Portfolios"—will see that the latest comers can hold their own on all fields with any school that has gone before.
Besides copperplate and wood, there are many processes which have been and are still employed for book-illustrations, although the brief limits of this chapter make any account of them impossible. Lithography was at one time very popular, and, in books like Roberts's "Holy Land," exceedingly effective. The "Etching Club" issued a number of books circa 1841-52; and most of the work of "Phiz" and Cruikshank was done with the needle. It is probable that, as we have already seen, the impetus given to modern etching by Messrs. Hamerton, Seymour Haden, and Whistler, will lead to a specific revival of etching as a means of book-illustration. Already beautiful etchings have for some time appeared in "L'Art," the "Portfolio," and the "Etcher;" and at least one book of poems has been entirely illustrated in this way,—the poems of Mr. W. Bell Scott. For reproducing old engravings, maps, drawings, and the like, it is not too much to say that we shall never get anything much closer than the facsimiles of M. Amand-Durand and the Typographic Etching and Autotype Companies. But further improvements will probably have to be made before these can compete commercially with wood-engraving as practised by the "new American School."
"Of making many books," 'twais said,
"There is no end;" and who thereon
The ever-running ink doth shed
But probes the words of Solomon:
Wherefore we now, for colophon,
From London's city drear and dark,
In the year Eighteen Eight-One,
Reprint them at the press of Clark.
- This chapter was written by [[Author:Austin Dobson|]].—DP
- The recent Winter Exhibition of the Old Masters (1881) contained a fine display of Flaxman's drawings, a large number of which belonged to Mr. F. T. Palgrave.
- By Mr. Cosmo Monkhouse.
- These words were written before the "Art Journal" had published its programme for 1881. From this it appears that the present editor fully recognises the necessity for calling in the assistance of the needle.
- The example, here copied on the wood by M. Lacour, is a very successful reproduction of Clennell's style.
- He also illustrated the "Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi." But this was simply "edited" by "Boz."
- The reader will observe that this volume is indebted to Mr. Crane for its beautiful frontispiece.
- Since this paragraph was first written an interesting paper on the illustrations in "Scribner," from the pen of Mr. J. Comyns Carr, has appeared in "L'Art."