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Punch is for the family that constitutes its high value.
The family is, after all, the people ; and a satirical
sheet which holds up the mirror to this institution
can hardly fail to be instructive. " Yes, if it hold the
mirror up impartially," we can imagine the foreign critic
to rejoin ; " but in these matters the British carica-
turist is not to be trusted. He slurs over a great
deal he omits a great deal more. He must, above
all things, be proper ; and there is a whole side of
life which, in spite of his Juvenalian pretensions, he
never touches at all." We must allow the foreign
critic his supposed retort, without taking space to
answer back we may imagine him to be a bit of a
" naturalist " and admit that it is perhaps because
they are obliged to be proper that Leech and Du
Maurier give us, on the whole, such a cleanly, healthy,
friendly picture of English manners. Such sustained
and inveterate propriety is in itself a great force ; it
takes in a good deal, as well as leaves out. The
general impression that we derive from the long series
of Punch is a very cheerful and favourable one ; it
speaks of a vigorous, good-humoured, much-civilised


people. The good -humour is, perhaps, the most
striking point not only the good -humour of the
artist who represents the scene, but that of the figures
engaged in it. The difference is remarkable in this
respect between Punch and the French comic papers.
The wonderful Cham, who for so many years contri-
buted to those sheets, had an extraordinary sense of
the ludicrous and a boundless stock of facetious
invention. He was strangely expressive ; he could
place a figure before you, in the most violent action,
with half a dozen strokes of his pencil. But his
people were like wild-cats and scorpions. The temper
of the French bourgeoisie, as represented by Cham, is
a thing to make one take to one's heels. They per-
petually tear and rend each other, show their teeth
and their claws, kick each other down-stairs, and
pitch each other from windows. All this is in the
highest degree farcical and grotesque ; but at bottom
it is almost horrible. (It must be admitted that
Cham and his wonderful colleague, Daumier, are
much more horrible than Gavariii, who was admirably
real, and at the same time capable of beauty and
grace. Gravarni's women are charming; those of
Cham and Daumier are monsters.) There is nothing,
or almost nothing, of the horrible in Punch. The
author of these remarks has a friend whom he has
heard more than once maintain the too-ingenious
thesis that the caricatures of Cham prove the French
to be a cruel people ; the same induction could, at
least, never be made, even in an equal spirit of


paradox, from the genial pages of Punch. " If Punch is
never horrible, it is because Punch is always super-
ficial, for life is full of the horrible" so we may
imagine our naturalistic objector to go on. However
this may be, Punch is fortunate in having fallen on so
smooth a surface. English life, as depicted by Leech
and Du Maurier, and by that admirable Charles
Keene the best -humoured perhaps of the three,
whose talent is so great that we have always
wondered why it is not more comprehensive is a
compound of several very wholesome tastes : the love
of the country, the love of action, the love of a harm-
less joke within the limits of due reverence, the love
of sport, of horses and dogs, of family life, of children,
of horticulture. With this there are a few other
tastes of a less innocent kind the love of ardent
spirits, for instance, or of punching people's heads
or even the love of a lord. In Leech's drawings,
country life plays a great part; his landscapes, in
their extreme sketchiness, are often admirable. He
gave in a few strokes the look of the hunting-field
in winter the dark damp slopes, the black dense
hedges, the low thick sky. He was very general ;
he touched on everything, sooner or later ; but he
enjoyed his sporting subjects more than anything
else. In this he was thoroughly English. No close
observer of that people can fail to perceive that the
love of sport is the thing that binds them most
closely together, and in which they have the greatest
number of feelings in common. Leech depicted, with


infinite vividness, the accidents of the chase and of
the fishing -season ; and his treatment of the horse
in especial contributed greatly to his popularity. He
understood the animal, he knew him intimately, he
loved him ; and he drew him as if he knew how to
ride as well as to draw. The English forgive a great
deal to those who ride well ; and this is doubtless
why the badness of some of the sporting subjects
that have appeared in Punch since Leech's death has
been tolerated : the artist has been presumed to have
a good seat. Leech never made a mistake ; he did
well whatever he did ; and it must be remembered
that for many years he furnished the political cartoon
to Punch, as well as the smaller drawings. He was
always amusing, always full of sense and point, always
intensely English. His foreigner is always an inferior
animal his Frenchman is the Frenchman of Leicester
Square, the Frenchman whom the Exhibition of 1851
revealed to the people of London. His point is per-
fectly perceptible it is never unduly fine. His
children are models of ruddy, chubby, shy yet sturdy
British babyhood ; and nothing could be nicer than his
young women. The English maiden, in Leech, is
emphatically a nice girl; modest and fresh, simple
and blooming, and destined evidently for use as much
as for ornament. In those early days to which we
referred at the beginning of this article we were
deeply in love with the young ladies of Leech, and
we have never ceased to admire the simple art with
which he made these hastily designed creatures con-


form unerringly to the English type. They have
English eyes and English cheeks, English figures,
English hands and feet, English ringlets, English
petticoats. Leech was extremely observant, but he
had not a strong imagination ; he had a sufficient,
but not a high sense of beauty; his ideal of the
beautiful had nothing of the unattainable ; it was
simply a resume of the fresh faces he saw about him.
The great thing, however, was that he was a natural,
though not in the least an analytic or an exact,
draughtsman ; his little figures live and move ; many
of his little scenes are stamped on the memory. I
have spoken of his representations of the country,
but his town-pictures are numerous and capital. He
knew his London, and his sketches of the good people
of that metropolis are as happy as his episodes in the
drawing-room and the hunting-field. He was admir-
ably broad and free ; and no one in his line has had
more than he the knack of giving what is called a
general effect. He conveys at times the look of the
London streets the colour, the temperature, the
damp blackness. He does the winter weather to
perfection. Long before I had seen it I was
acquainted, through his sketches, with the aspect
of Baker Street in December. Out of such a multi-
tude of illustrations it is difficult to choose ; the two
volumes of Sketches of Life and Character, transferred
from Punch, are a real museum. But I recall, for
instance, the simple little sketch of the worthy man
up to his neck in bed on a January morning, to


whom, on the other side of the door, the prompt
housemaid, with her hammer in her hand, announces
that " I have just broken the ice in your bath, sir."
The black cold dawn, the very smell of the early
chill, that raw sootiness of the London winter air, the
red nose of the housemaid, the unfashionable street
seen through the window impart a peculiar vivid-
ness to the small inky-looking woodcut.

We have said too much about Leech, however,
and the purpose of these remarks is not to com-
memorate his work. Punch, for the last fifteen years,
has been, artistically speaking, George du Maurier.
(We ought, perhaps, before this, to have said that
none of our observations are to be taken as applying
to the letterpress of the comic journal, which has prob-
ably never been fully appreciated in America.) It
has employed other talents than his notably Charles
Keene, who is as broad, as jovial, as English (half his
jokes are against Scotchmen) as Leech, but whose sense
of the beautiful, the delicate, is inferior even to Leech's.
But for a great many people, certainly in America,
Du Maurier has long been, as I say, the successor of
Leech, the embodiment of the pictorial spirit of
Punch. Shut up in the narrow limits of black and
white, without space, without colour, without the
larger opportunities, Du Maurier has nevertheless
established himself as an exquisite talent and a
genuine artist. He is not so much of a laugher as
Leech he deals in the smile rather than the laugh
but he is a much deeper observer, and he carries


his drawing infinitely further. He has not Leech's
animal spirits ; a want of boyishness, a tendency to
reflection, to lowness of tone, as his own Postleth-
waite would say, is perhaps his limitation. But
his seriousness if he he too serious is that of the
satirist as distinguished from the simple joker; and
if he reflects, he does so in the literal sense of the
word holds up a singularly polished and lucid
mirror to the drama of English society. More than
twenty years ago, when he began to draw in Once a
Week that not very long-lived periodical which set
out on its career with a high pictorial standard it
was apparent that the careful young artist who
finished his designs very highly and signed them
with a French name, stood very much upon his own
feet The earliest things of his that we know have
the quality which has made him distinguished to-day
the union of a great sense of beauty with a great
sense of reality. It was apparent from the first that
this was not a simple and uniform talent, but a gift
that had sprung from a combination of sources. It
is important to remember, in speaking of Du Maurier
who is one of the pillars of the British journal par
excellence that he has French blood in his veins.
George du Maurier, as we understand his history,
was born in England, of a French father and an
English mother, but was removed to France in his
early years and educated according to the customs
of that country. Later, however, he returned to
England ; and it would not be difficult for a careful


student of his drawings to guess that England is the
land of his predilection. He has drawn a great many
French figures, but he has drawn them as one who
knows them rather than as one who loves them. He
has perhaps been, as the phrase is, a little hard upon
the French ; at any rate, he has been decidedly easy
for the English. The latter are assuredly a very
handsome race ; but if we were to construct an
image of them from the large majority of Du Maurier's
drawings we should see before us a people of gods
and goddesses. This does not alter the fact that
there is a very Gallic element in some of Du Maurier's
gifts his fineness of perception, his remarkable power
of specifying types, his taste, his grace, his lightness,
a certain refinement of art. It is hard to imagine
that a talent so remarkable should not have given
early evidences ; but in spite of such evidences Du
Maurier was, on the threshold of manhood, persuaded
by those to whom it was his duty to listen to turn
his attention, as Mrs. Micawber says, to chemistry.
He pursued this science without enthusiasm, though
he had for some time a laboratory of his own. Before
long, however, the laboratory was converted into a
studio. His talent insisted on its liberty, and he
committed himself to the plastic. He studied this
charming element in Paris, at Diisseldorf ; he began
to work in London. This period of his life was
marked by a great calamity, which has left its trace
on his career and his work, and which it is needful
to mention in order to speak with any fairness of


these things. Abruptly, without a warning, his eye-
sight partly forsook him, and his activity was cruelly
threatened. It is a great pleasure, in alluding to
this catastrophe, to be able to speak of it as a signal
example of difficulty vanquished. George du Maurier
was condemned to many dark days, at the end of
which he learned that he should have to carry on his
task for the rest of his life with less than half a man's
portion of the sense most valuable to the artist. The
beautiful work that he has produced in such abund-
ance for so many years has been achieved under
restrictions of vision which might well have made
any work impossible. It is permitted, accordingly,
to imagine that if the artist had had the usual
resources, we should not at the present moment have
to consider him simply as an accomplished draughts-
man in black and white. It is impossible to look at
many of his drawings without perceiving that they
are full of the art of the painter, and that the form
they have taken, charming as it has been, is arbitrary
and inadequate.

John Leech died on 27th October 1864, and the
first sketches in Punch that we recognise as Du
Maurier's appeared in that year. The very earliest
that we have detected belong, indeed, to 5th Decem-
ber 1863. These beginnings are slight and sketchy
head-pieces and vignettes ; the first regular " picture"
(with a legend beneath it) that we remember is of
the date of llth June 1864. It represents a tipsy
waiter (or college servant) on a staircase, where he


has smashed a trayfnl of crockery. We perceive
nothing else of importance for some time after this,
but suddenly his hand appears again in force, and
from the summer of 1 865 its appearances are frequent.
The finish and delicacy, the real elegance of these
early drawings, are extreme : the hand was already
the hand of a brilliant executant. No such manner
as this had hitherto been seen in Punch. By the
time one had recognised that it was not a happy
accident, but an accomplished habit, it had become
the great feature, the "attraction," of the comic
journal. Punch had never before suspected that it
was so artistic; had never taken itself, in such
matters, so seriously. Much the larger part of Du
Maurier's work has been done for Punch, but he has
designed as well many illustrations for books. The
most charming of these perhaps are the drawings he
executed in 1868 for a new edition of Thackeray's
Esmond, which had been preceded several years
before by a set of designs for Mrs. GaskelPs Wives
and Daughters, first ushered into the world as a serial
in the Cornhill. To the Cornhill for many years Du
Maurier has every month contributed an illustration ;
he has reproduced every possible situation that is
likely to be encountered in the English novel of
manners ; he has interpreted pictorially innumer-
able flirtations, wooings, philanderings, rupture's.
The interest of the English novel of manners is
frequently the interest of the usual ; the situations
presented to the artist are apt to lack superficial


strangeness. A lady and gentleman sitting in a
drawing-room, a lady and a gentleman going out to
walk, a sad young woman watching at a sick-bed, a
handsome young man lighting a cigarette this is
the range of incident through which the designer is
called upon to move. But in these drawing-room
and flower-garden episodes the artist is thoroughly
at home; he accepts of course the material that is
given him, but we fancy him much more easily re-
presenting quiet, harmonious things than depicting
deeds of violence. It is a noticeable fact that in
Punch, where he has his liberty, he very seldom repre-
sents such deeds. His occasional departures from
this habit are of a sportive and fantastic sort, in
which he ceases to pretend to be real : like the
dream of the timorous Jenkins (15th February 1868),
who sees himself hurled to destruction by a colossal
foreshortened cab-horse. Du Maurier's fantastic
we speak of the extreme manifestations of it is
always admirable, ingenious, unexpected, pictorial ;
so much so, that we have often wondered that he
should not have cultivated this vein more largely.
As a general thing, however, in these excursions into
the impossible it is some charming impossibility that
he offers us a picture of some happy contrivance
which would make life more diverting : such as the
playing of lawn-tennis on skates (on a lawn of ice),
or the faculty on the part of young men on bicycles
of carrying their sweethearts behind them on a
pillion. We recommend the reader to turn to Punch's


Almanac for 1865, in which two brilliant full-page
illustrations represent the "Probable Results of the
Acclimatisation Society." Nothing could be fuller
of delicate fancy and of pictorial facility than this
prophecy of the domestication in the London streets,
and by the Serpentine of innumerable strange beasts
giraffes, ostriches, zebras, kangaroos, hippopotami,
elephants, lions, panthers. Speaking of strange
beasts, the strangest of all perhaps is the wonderful
big dog who has figured of late years in Du Maurier's
drawings, and who has probably passed with many
persons as a kind of pictorial caprice. He is de-
picted as of such super- canine proportions, quite
overshadowing and dwarfing the amiable family to
whom he is represented as belonging, that he might
be supposed to be another illustration of the artist's
turn for the heroic in the graceful. But, as it
happens, he is not an invention, but a portrait the
portrait of a magnificent original, a literally gigantic
St. Bernard, the property of the artist the biggest,
the handsomest, the most benignant of all domesti-
cated shaggy things.

We think we are safe in saying that those ruder
forms of incongruity which as a general thing con-
stitute the stock-in-trade of the caricaturist fail to
commend themselves to this particular satirist He
is too fond of the beautiful his great passion is for
the lovely ; not for what is called ideal beauty, which
is usually a matter of not very successful guess-work,
but for loveliness observed in the life and manners


around him, and reproduced with a generous desire
to represent it as usual. The French express a
certain difference better than we ; they talk of those
who see en beau and those who see en laid. Du
Maurier is as highly developed an example as we
could desire of the former tendency just as Cham
and Daumier are examples of the latter ; just, too, if
we may venture to select instances from the staff of
Punch, as Charles Keene and Linley Sambourne are
examples of the latter. Du Maurier can see ugliness
wonderfully well when he has a strong motive for look-
ing for it, as witness so many of the figures in his
crusade against the "aesthetic" movement. Who
could be uglier than Maudle and Postlethwaite
and all the other apparitions from " passionate
Brompton " ? Who could have more bulging fore-
heads, more protuberant eyes, more retreating
jaws, more sloping shoulders, more objectionable
hair, more of the signs generally of personal
debility ? To say, as we said just now, that Du
Maurier carries his specification of types very far is
to say mainly that he defines with peculiar com-
pleteness his queer people, his failures, his grotesques.
But it strikes us that it is just this vivid and
affectionate appreciation of beauty that makes him
do such justice to the eccentrics. We have heard his
ugly creations called malignant compared (to their
disadvantage) with similar figures in Leech. Leech,
it was said, is always good-natured and jovial, even
in the excesses of caricature ; whereas his successor


(with a much greater brilliancy of execution) betrays,
in dealing with the oddities of the human family, a
taint of " French ferocity." We think the discrimina-
tion fallacious ; and it is only because we do not
believe Du Maurier's reputation for amiability to be
really in danger that we do not hasten to defend
him from the charge of ferocity French or English.
The fact is he attempts discriminations that Leech never
dreamt of. Leech's characterisations are all simple,
whereas Du Maurier's are extremely complicated.
He would like every one to be tall and straight and
fair, to have a well-cut mouth and chin, a well-poised
head, well-shaped legs, an air of nobleness, of happy
development. He perceives, however, that nature
plays us some dreadful tricks, and he measures her
departure from these beautiful conditions with ex-
treme displeasure. He regrets it with all the force
of his appreciation of the beautiful, and he feels the
strongest desire to indicate the culpability of the
aberration. He has an artistic aesthetic need to
make ugly people as ugly as they are ; he holds that
such serious facts should not be superficially treated.
And then, besides that, his fancy finds a real enter-
tainment in the completeness, in the perfection, of
certain forms of facial queerness. No one has
rendered like Du Maurier the ridiculous little people
who crop up in the interstices of that huge and com-
plicated London world. We have no such finished
types as these in America. If the English find us all
a little odd, oddity, in American society, never ripens


and rounds itself off so perfectly as in some of these
products of a richer tradition. All those English
terms of characterisation which exist in America at
the most only as precarious exotics, but which are on
every one's lips in England the snob, the cad, the
prig, the duffer Du Maurier has given us a thousand
times the figure they belong to. No one has done
the " duffer " so well ; there are a hundred variations
of the countenance of Mr. McJoseph, the gentleman
commemorated in Punch on the 19th August 1876 ;
or the even happier physiognomy of the other gentle-
man who on the 2d November 1872 says to a lady
that he " never feels safe from the British snob till
he is south of the Danube," and to whom the lady
retorts, " And what do the South Danubians say 1 "
This personage is in profile : his face is fat, complacent,
cautious ; his hair and whiskers have as many curves
and flourishes as the signature of a writing-master ; he
is an incarnation of certain familiar elements of Eng-
lish life " the great middle class," the Philistinism,
the absence of irony, the smugness and literalism.
Du Maurier is full of soft irony : he has that infusion
of it which is indispensable to an artistic nature, and
we may add that in this respect he seems to us more
French than English. This quality has helped him
immensely to find material in the so-called aesthetic
movement of the last few years. None of his duffers
have been so good as his aesthetic duffers. But of
this episode we must wait a little to speak. The
point that, for the moment, we wished to make is,


that he has a peculiar perception of the look of
breeding, of race ; and that, left to himself, as it
were, he would ask nothing better than to make it
the prerogative of all his characters. Only he is not
left to himself. For, looking about into the world
he perceives Sir Gorgius Midas and Mr. McJoseph,
and the whole multitude of the vulgar who have not
been cultivated like orchids and race-horses. But his
extreme inclination to give his figures the benefit of
the supposition that most people have the feelings of
gentlemen makes him, as we began by saying, a very
happy interpreter of those frequent works of fiction
of which the action goes on for the most part in the
drawing-room of the British country house. Every
drawing-room, unfortunately, is not a home of the
graces ; but for the artist, given such an apartment,
a group of quiet, well-shaped people is more or less
implied. The "fashionable novel," as it flourished
about 1830, is no more ; and its extinction is not to
be regretted. We believe it was rarely accompanied
with illustrations ; but if it were to be revived Du
Maurier would be the man to make the pictures
the pictures of people rather slim and still, with
long necks and limbs so straight that they look stiff,
who might be treated with the amount of derision
justified (if the fashionable novel of 1830 is to be
believed) by their passion for talking bad French.

We have been looking over the accumulations of
Punch for the last twenty years, and Du Maurier's
work, which during this long period is remarkably

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Online LibraryHenry JamesPartial portraits → online text (page 20 of 24)