Just a short post today as I have been a bit busy this week. I haven’t posted any guilty pleasures for a while and one of my biggest guilty pleasures of all time is the purchase, acquisition and general obsession with books. Especially crusty old leather-bound tomes…
Finding a (rare) idle moment today I was perusing my book shelf and came across a book I had almost forgotten about… Leech’s Pictures.
I picked this book up in a wonderful dusty little bookshop in Holt, a beautiful little Georgian market town in Norfolk. The bookshop is in a rickety and maze-like seventeenth century building with crampt and winding staircases that require careful navigating – especially with a pile of books in your arms! When ever I visit Holt I make a beeline for this bookshop – there are so few independent booksellers left on the High Street these days, it’s always a treat to find a real Gem like this one.
John Leech – Caricaturist
John Leech was born in London on 29th August 1817, his parents hailed from Ireland. Even as a child he was quick with his pencil and his talent was quickly recognised. He went to Charterhouse school and there became friends with William Makepeace Thackeray (famously the author of Barry Lyndon and Vanity Fair) – the two remained friends for life.
Although he had some medical training, by eighteen he had begun to focus on his art as a profession and published some comic character sketches under the name of Etchings and Sketchings by A. Pen, Esq. He then worked on a number of magazines and produced illustrations for Dickens novels such as A Christmas Carol.
He worked in Lithograph and Wood Engraving, the latter being his main method of illustration in Punch Magazine.
Mr Leech and Mr Punch
He began his long association with Punch satirical magazine in 1841 and this continued until his death in 1864. Leech’s style and technique quickly developed and by 1845 Ruskin was applauding Leech in fine style describing his work as:
Leech’s satirical sketches mainly focus on mocking the social foibles of all classes, and he was also famous for his sporting scenes. Nevertheless his illustrations also sometimes have a keener edge. Leech was not afraid to look at some of the harsher truths of life in the Mid Victorian world and he seems to have had a keen sympathy for the plight of horses.
I find the sketches to be a fascinating window onto the world of Mid Victorian Britain: its mores, its aspirations, its foibles. Leech’s pictures help, literally, to illustrate some aspects of the Victorian mindset and world view. As such, his humour can take a somewhat hierarchical, patriarchical and ultimately imperialist tone (some of the depictions of other races in particular, can appear very distasteful to the modern eye). However as an overall barometer for his era they provide a valuable social commentary. Despite these flaws, many of his sketches show a keen eye for human nature, and even after nearly 150 years the humour remains evident in many of them.
Leech’s Pictures of Life and Character from the Collection of Mr Punch
Here are a few images from my copy of Leech’s pictures, they are from his Second Series and seem to date from the 1860’s – the book has clearly been read and re-read hence some of the images are a little, shall we say, crumpled! If you click on the images they come up full size so you can read the captions.
The topics covered range from social satire, to political comments; events such as Crystal Palace Exhibition, the Crimea and sea bathing as well as a look at the social mobility of the lower classes…ENJOY
Leech, John, Pictures from Life and Character From the Collection of Mr Punch, Second Series, published c1860 by Bradbury and Evans