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spondents, is here supposed to have received a lecter.” A second skit shows us a critic examining a picture representing “the death of À Beckett, Archbishop of Cant.” A figure in armour, with its vizor down (obviously intended for the artist) is depicted in the act of cutting at the “archbishop" with a sword, the blade of which is inscribed “debts due.” His first blow has severed the mitre labelled “assumption," and the pastoral staff, inscribed "impudence," with which the victim vainly endeavours to defend himself. “Don't," says À Beckett, as he falls prostrate amid a heap of “spoilt paper," among which we recognise, “Figaro,” “The Thief,” “The Wag,” and other periodicals with which his name was associated. “Don't cut at me 'our own inimitable, our illustrious, our talented;' pray don't give me any more cuts ; think how many I have had and not paid you for already :” a hand indicates the ways to the Insolvent Court."
"Figaro,” after the retirement of À Beckett, passed into the editorial hands of Mr. H. Mayhew, and conscious of the injury which the defection of Seymour had done to the undertaking, he lost no time in opening negotiations with a view to his return. In this he experienced little difficulty, for Seymour was glad to avail himself of the opportunity of giving to the public the most convincing proof which could have been adduced of the falsity of the libels which had been published by the retiring and discomfited editor. The fourth volume commenced 3rd of January, and from that time until his death (in 1836) he continued to illustrate the paper. Mayhew announces his return after the following curious fashion : “The generous Seymour, with a patriotic ardour unequalled since the days of Curtius, has abandoned all selfish considerations, and yielded to our request for his country's sake. Again he wields the satiric pencil, and corruption trembles to its very base. His first peace - offering to “Figaro in London,' is the rich etching (woodcut] our readers now gaze upon with laughing eyes.” Constant references of a laudatory kind are made to him in succeeding numbers.
The woodcuts after Seymour's designs, which appear in “Figaro
in London,” are too small and unimportant to justify the title which the editor gives them of “caricatures ;” and relating to political matters which at that time were far more efficiently chronicled by the pencil of H. B., they have lost any interest which they once might have commanded. The most interesting illustrations which Seymour contributed to "Figaro,” are the brief series of theatrical portraits, which are not only clever but evidently excellent likenesses.
It was not only in the case of “Figaro in London " that the slanders of A Beckett recoiled upon his own head. That gentleman in 1832 had started a sort of rival to Hood's “Comic Annual,” under the title of the “Comic Magazine.” It was cheaper in price than the former publication, and contained an amazing number of amusing cuts of the punning order, after Seymour's designs. After the quarrel with À Beckett, the artist withdrew his assistance from its pages, and the illustrations show a fearful falling off after 1833. Many of the wretched designs which follow bear the signature of “Dank," and so destitute are they of merit that the “embellishments” (as they are termed) for 1834, are altogether below criticism.
At the opening of the present chapter we said that Robert Seymour was almost a genius. Genius, however, he never absolutely touched; he was destitute of the inventive faculties which distinguished John Leech, and lacked the vivid imagination which enabled George Cruikshank to realize any idea which occurred to him, whether comical, grave, realistic, or terrible. His talents as an artist, though undoubtedly great, ran in a narrow groove, and their bent is shown by the well-known “Humorous Sketches," and the less known but far more admirable designs which he executed for the “Comic Magazine.” He always had a fancy for depicting and satirizing cockneys and cockney subjects, and had conceived the by no means new or ambitious idea of producing a series of such pictures with an appropriate letterpress to be furnished by a literary coadjutor, whose work, however, was to be subservient to his own. The idea was not perhaps a very definite one, but the pictorial part of the work was commenced, and four plates actually etched at the time the artist was retained to execute the illustrations to the “ Book
ORIGIN OF “ PICKWICK."
of Christmas.” Out of this undeveloped idea, and out of the four apparently unimportant drawings to which we have alluded, was destined to evolve the strange and melancholy story which will be associated for all time with the mirth-inspiring novel of the “Pickwick Papers.”
The difficulty at the outset was to find an author to carry out the artist's idea, indefinite as it was. In this direction there was in 1836, a very embarras de richesses, for, if comic artists were few, there was on the other hand no lack of humourists of the highest order of merit. Theodore Hook, Clark (the author of “Three Courses and a Dessert") ---probably many others were suggested by the publishers who were taken into consultation by Seymour; but all were rejected. He himself seems to have inclined towards Mayhew, with whom it will be recollected he was associated at this time on “Figaro in London.” The man of all others most fitted to carry out the artist's own idea seems to us to have been John Poole, one of the most original of English humourists, whose productions, now forgotten, are worth searching for in the pages of the “New Monthly” and other periodical publications of a past day. It is a singular fact, too, that on the first appearance of the “Pickwick Papers,” the authorship was by many ascribed to this very man. In the end, Mr. Chapman, of the firm of Chapman & Hall, introduced the artist to one of the most unlikely men for his own purpose that could possibly have been selected,—the man, as we have already seen, of all others the least fitted and the least disposed to act the part of William Coombe to Seymour's character of Thomas Rowlandson.
At this time Charles Dickens was reporter on the staff of a newspaper ; he had written a book which, although successful, had created no very intense excitement; he was moreover a young man, and consequently plastic, and fifteen pounds a month would be a small fortune to him ; so at least argued the artist and his friends. How little they understood the resolute, self-reliant character of this unknown writer! The result was altogether different from anything they expected. Author and artist differed at the outset as to the form the narrative should take ; but the man with the strongest
power of mind and will took his stand from the first, and Charles Dickens made it a condition of his retainer that the illustrations should grow out of the text, instead of the latter being suggested (as Seymour desired) by the illustrations, and the artist had reluctantly to give way. No one can doubt that the author was right. By way however of a concession, and of meeting Seymour's original idea as far as practicable, he introduced the absurd character of Winkle, the cockney sportsman. The mode of publication followed was the artist's own suggestion, who, desiring the widest possible circulation, insisted on the work being published in monthly numbers at a shilling. Thus it was that “Pickwick” came to be written.
We are not called on in this place to discuss the merits of “Pickwick”; to compare Charles Dickens with the writers who had immediately preceded him; to enlarge upon the comic vein which he discovered and made so peculiarly his own; to show the influence which his humour exercised upon the literature of the next quarter of a century; to contrast such humour with his wonderful power of pathos ; to marshal the shades of true-hearted, noble Nell, unhappy Smike, little Paul Dombey, world-abandoned Joe, and compare them with the Wellers—father and son, Mr. Jingle, Tracy Tupman, Bob Sawyer, and the spectacled but essentially owlish founder of the “Pickwick Club." All this we fancy has been done in another place; our task is altogether of a simpler character. We have to trace the connection which subsisted between the artist and author; to show how this book—the creation of a writer in the spring-time of his genius—the essence of fun, the unfailing source of merriment to countless readers past, present, and to come, came to be associated with the memory of a terrible and still incomprehensible tragedy.
We have seen that, contrary to his own wishes, Seymour had yielded to Charles Dickens' suggestion, or rather condition, that the illustrations should grow out of the text ; but he does not seem to have abandoned (so far as we can judge) all idea of having a hand in the management of the story, and he never for one instant contemplated interference on the part of the author with any one of his own designs. If we are to believe his friends (and their testimony
seems to us distinctly valuable in this place), he was extremely angry at the introduction into the plot of the “Stroller's Tale,” and we may therefore fancy the spirit in which he would receive Charles Dickens' intimation, conveyed to him in the same manner that he afterwards communicated to Cruikshank his disapproval of the last etching in “Oliver Twist,” that he objected to that etching “as not quite his (Dickens'] idea ;” that he wished “ to have it as complete as possible, and would feel personally obliged if he would make another drawing." The letter (on the whole a kindly one) has been set out elsewhere, * and there is no occasion to repeat it here. What other causes of irritation existed will never be known. All that is still known is, that he executed a fresh design and handed it over to Dickens at the time appointed; that he went home and destroyed nearly all the correspondence relating to the subject of “Pickwick"; that he executed a drawing for a wood-engraver named John Jackson, and delivered it himself on the evening of the 20th of April, 1836; that he then returned to his house in King Street, Islington, and committed self-destruction. He left behind him an unfinished drawing for “Figaro in London," which afterwards appeared in the state in which it was found) in the pages of that periodical.
Various reasons have been assigned for this rash act, all more or less contradictory. According to some he was a man of equable temperament; while others, who knew him personally, have told us that he was nervous and subject to terrible fits of depression. Some would trace the act to his quarrel with A Beckett; but this is simply absurd, seeing that it had occurred some two years before. We need not, as it seems to us, travel out of our course to seek the real cause, which was probably due to over-work. His energies had been tasked to the utmost to keep pace with the supply which his
* See Forster's “Life of Dickens.”
| In one account of Seymour's death the name of the engraver is given as Starling. This is a mistake. The engraving (probably one of the best the anfortunate artist ever executed) represents a sailor captain of Charles the First's time, showing a casket of pearls to a lady of remarkable beauty.