The cheap tailor and his workmen by Leech (detail) by John Leech
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.
Image by Simon Finch Books, Holt
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, public domain image via Wikimedia
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
Mr Punch, himself
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:
“admittedly the finest definition and natural history of the classes of our society, the kindest and subtlest analysis of its foibles, the tenderest flattery of its pretty and well-bred ways”
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
My copy of Leech’s Pictures c1860’s
Frontispiece of Leech’s Pictures
Latest from Paris
The cheap tailor and his workmen
A Very Bad Way
‘You look quite wretched Frank’
‘Wretched, my boy! You may imagine how wretched I am when I tell you I don’t even care how my Twowsers are made!’
Managing Mama. ‘My goodness Ellen, how pale you look, for goodness’ sake bite your lips and rub your cheeks.’
Seaside – the bathing hour
New cricketing dress to protect all England against the present swift bowling.
Servantgalism. ‘Ousemaid from town ‘is Hann Jenkins at home?’
Suburban cook: ‘no; she has just gone to her milliners’
‘ousemaid ‘then give her my card, please, and tell her I ‘ope she got home safely from the ball’
dropped something madam?
The parliamentary female
The railway engine and the foxhunter – a prospective sketch
A country ball
The Beard and Moustache movement
Railway Guard ‘Now Ma’am, is this your luggage?’
Old lady (Who concludes she is attacked by brigands) ‘Oh yes! Gentlemen, it’s mine Take it-take all I have! But spare, oh, spare our lives!’
Further illustrations of the mining districts
First polite native: Who’s ‘im Bill?’
Second ditto ‘A stranger!’
First ditto ”eave a brick at ‘im’
Police wear beards and moustaches, panic among the street boys
Comments on the effectiveness of table tapping
The British Weather
New Christmas game for fox-hunters during a long frost.
Scene on the English coast
What a shame
Young lady (inclining to embonpoint). ‘I shall want him again this afternoond – from two to four!’
The Great exhibition at Crystal Palace emptied the theatres
An early example of Goth fashion?
The Crimean War
‘Well, Jack. Here’s good news from home. We’re to have a medal’
That’s very kind. Maybe one of these days we’ll have a coat to stick it on!’
A hint for the horseguards.
Showing how all the weight of our heavies might be preserved, and more fairly adjusted.
The peril of keeping ones gloves in ones hat.
Leech, John, Pictures from Life and Character From the Collection of Mr Punch, Second Series, published c1860 by Bradbury and Evans