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JOHN LEECH (Continued).
Giovanni. What do the dead do, uncle?--do they eat,
Hear music, go a hunting, and be merry,
As we that live?
Webster's White Devil; or, Vittoria Corombona (1612), Act z.
MÀNy of our readers will remember the exhibition at the Egyptian Hall, in 1862, of John Leech's “Sketches in Oil,” the subjects being enlarged reproductions from selected examples of his minor drawings for Punch. To his friend Mark Lemon is due the credit of this idea, which was carried out aster the following manner :-The impression of a block in Punch being first taken on a sheet of indiarubber, was enlarged by a lithographic process; the copy thus obtained was transferred to stone, and impressions obtained on a large sheet of canvas. The result was an outline groundwork, consisting of his own lines enlarged some eight times the dimensions of the original drawing, which the artist then proceeded to fill up in colour. His knowledge of the manipulation of oil colours was, however, slight, and his first crude attempts were made under the guidance of his friend Mr. Millais. The first results can scarcely be said to be satisfactory; a kind of transparent colour was used, which allowed the coarse lines of the enlargement to be distinctly visible, and the finished production presented very much the appearance of an indifferent lithograph slightly tinted. In a short time, however, he conquered the difficulty; and, instead of allowing the thick, fatly lines of printer's ink to remain on the canvas, he removed them particularly as regards the outlines of the face and figure—by means of turpentine. These outlines he re-drew with his own hand in a fine and delicate manner, and added a daintiness of finish, particularly in flesh colour, which greatly enhanced the value and beauty of the work. He nevertheless experienced some difficulty in reproducing in these enlargements the delicacy of touch and exactness which characterized the original drawings, and would labour all day at a detail —such as a hand in a certain positionbefore attaining a result which entirely satisfied himself. The catalogue of this exhibition may be cited in evidence of Leech's characteristic modesty. “These sketches,” it said, " have no claim to be regarded or tested as finished pictures. It is impossible for any one to know the fact better than I do. They have no pretensions to a higher name than that I have given them—“Sketches in Oil.'"
Popular and eminently successful as this exhibition proved to be, it was undeniably rendered more popular and successful by his staunch friend Thackeray's article in the Times of 21st June, 1862 :“He is a natural truth-teller,” said the humourist, “as Hogarth was before him, and indulges in as many flights of fancy. He speaks his mind out quite honestly, like a thorough Briton.... He holds Frenchmen in light esteem. A bloated “Mossoo' walking in Leicester Square, with a huge cigar and a little hat, with billard' and “estaminet' written on his flaccid face, is a favourite study with him ; the unshaven jowl, the waist tied with a string, the boots which pad the Quadrant pavement, this dingy and disreputable being exercises a fascination over Mr. Punch's favourite artist. We trace, too, in his work a prejudice against the Hebrew nation, against the natives of an island much celebrated for its verdure and its wrongs; these are lamentable prejudices indeed, but what man is without his own ?" Thackeray's kindly article delighted Leech; he said “it was like putting £1,000 in his pocket." The exhibition, indeed, was so splendid a success that it is said to have brought in nearly £5,000.
GRADUAL DECREASE OF STRENGTII.
Those who, like ourselves, have found it necessary to examine the Punch volumes from their commencement in 1841, down to the 31st of December, 1864, cannot fail to be struck by the steady decrease in the number of cartoons which the artist annually designed and executed for the periodical. In 1857 the number contributed was 33 ; in 1858, 30; in 1859, 21; in 1860, 15, in 1861 the number had fallen as low as 10 ; while in 1862 it did not exceed 4.* This decrease (which is confined, be it observed, to the cartoons which he contributed to Punch) was due to failing health consequent on the strain of incessant production. Of the coming evil he himself was distinctly cognizant. It is said of him that Lord Ossington, then Speaker, once met him on the rail, and expressed to him his hope that he enjoyed in his work some of the gratification which it afforded to others. His answer was a melancholy one :-“I seem to myself to be a man who has undertaken to walk a thousand miles in a thousand hours.” It was certainly not such a reply as one would exactly look for, looking only at the joyous character of the pictures he executed for Punch. He complained in 1862--the year at which we have arrived-of habitual weariness and sleeplessness, and was advised to try rest and change of air. He acted upon the suggestion, and, accompanied by his old friend Mark Lemon, proceeded in thạt year on a short tour to Paris, and from thence to Biarritz. Leech's pencil was not idle on this holiday, as two of his pictures will testify. The first, A Day at Biarritz, appears in the Almanack of 1863, and among the figures he has introduced into this delightful sketch is that of the grave and saturnine Louis, snapping his fingers in the highest abandon and
• I estimate the number of his cartoons as nearly as possible as follows :1842 3 | 1850
37 | 1858 1843 ... | 1851 ... ... ...
1859 ... ... ... 1844
1852 ... ... ... 35 1860 ... ... ... 1845
1853 ... ... ... 32 1861 1846 1854
1862 1847 1855
1864 37 | 1857
skipping off with his friend Punch to enjoy his ocean bath. “The other,” says Mr. Shirley Brooks, "is a very remarkable drawing. It represents a bull-fight as seen by a decent Christian gentleman, and for the first time since the brutal fray' was invented the coldblooded barbarity and stupidity of the show is depicted without any of the flash and flattery with which it has pleased artists to treat the atrocious scene. That grim indictment of a nation professing to be civilized will be a record for many a day after the offence shall have ceased. *
Leech returned from this brief visit with no appreciable benefit Charles Mackay tells us that he met him and his constant friend, Thackeray, at Evans' supper-rooms in December, 1863. “They both complained of illness, but neither of them looked ill enough to justify the belief that anything ailed them beyond a temporary indisposition, such as all of us are subject to. Leech was particularly despondent, and complained much of the annoyances to which he was subjected by the organ-grinders of London, and by the dreadful railway whistles at the stations whenever he left town. His nerves were evidently in a high state of tension, and I recommended him, not only as a source of health and amusement, but of profit, to take a voyage across the Atlantic, and pass six months in America, where he would escape the organ-grinders, street-music, and the railway-whistles, and bring back a portfolio filled with sketches of American and Yankee character. 'I am afraid,' he replied, that B. & E. [Bradbury & Evans] would not like it. Besides, I should not like to be absent from Punch for so long a time. “Nonsense,' said Thackeray, ‘B. and E. would highly ap. prove, provided you sent them sketches. I think it a good idea, and you might put five thousand pounds in your pocket by the trip. The Americans have never been truly portrayed, as you would portray them. The niggers alone would be a little fortune to you.' Leech shook his head dubiously, and I thought mournfully, and no more was said upon the subject.” +
* Shirley Brooks in Illustrated London News of 1912 November, 1864.
Charles Mackay's "Forty Years' Recollections."
Nevertheless, the end of one at least of these steady friends and men of genius was drawing near with sure and rapid strides. Both were present at the anniversary of the death of the founder of the Charterhouse, “good old Thomas Sutton," on the 12th of that same month of December, 1863. At the celebration of Divine service at four o'clock, Thackeray occupied his accustomed back seat in the quaint old chapel ; from thence he went to the oration in the Governor's room; and as he walked up to the orator with his contribution, the great humourist, Mr. Theodore Taylor, tells us, was received “with such hearty applause as only Carthusians can give to one who has immortalized their school.” * At the banquet which followed he sat by the side of John Leech, who was one of the stewards, and proposed the time-honoured toast, Floreat Æternum Carthusiana Domus, in a speech which was received with three times three and one cheer more. John Leech replied to the toast of the stewards. The day is memorable as the last “ Founder's Day," which either of these men—so eminently distinguished in art and letters—was ever permitted to attend.
Three days afterwards Thackeray was present at the usual weekly Punch dinner on the 15th of December, for, although he had long ceased to be a regular contributor to the periodical, he not only continued to aid the staff with his suggestion and advice, but was a constant member of the council.t But ever since the time he was writing “Pendennis," a dozen years before, he had been visited periodically by attacks of sickness, attended with violent retching. One of these occurred on the morning of Wednesday, the 23rd of this same month of December, and he was in great suffering all day. About midnight of that day, his mother, Mrs. Carmichael Smith, who slept in the room above his own, had heard him get up and walk about; but as this was his habit when visited by these fell visitations, she was not alarmed. The man,
• “Thackeray the Humourist and the Man of Letters," p. 12. † MS. Diary of the late Shirley Brooks, ist Jannary, 1864.
Died on the 18th of December, 1864, exactly within a year from the date of her son's death.