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While at Whity, a deputation from the Institute of that town waited on John Leech, to ask him to attend at a meeting and speak in promotion of the interests of their association. On that day he happened to be too ill to bear an interview with more than one of the gentlemen who composed the deputation, and was obliged in consequence to refuse the request. But the refusal gave the kindly, failing man serious disquietude, and fearing it might be thought ungracious, he forthwith sent for all his sketches of character from London and presented them to the Institute.
Fechter was the leading dramatic star of that time, and his opening night differed from the commencement of other theatrical seasons in the fact that it invariably attracted together some of the best known men in literature and art. At the opening of the Lyceum on Saturday, the 22nd of October, were present Messrs. Charles Dickens, Shirley Brooks, Hollingshead, Oxenford, Horace Mayhew, Edmund Yates, W. P. Frith, R.A., Creswick, R.A., Marcus Stone, Mr. Burnand (the present editor of Punch), and Serjeant Ballantine. “The new piece," said Mr. Yates, “was splendidly mounted, and never, even in Paris, have I seen Mr. Fechter play so perfectly.:'* The said piece was called “The King's Butterfly," and Mr. Brooks says of it that, barring the “ splendid scenery,” it was “rubbish " pure and simple.
The Leeches left Whitby on the 3rd of October, breaking their journey at York. The artist seemed somewhat better, and ten days after their return we find them at a party at the house of Mr. W. P. Frith, R.A., among the company being Messrs. Elmore, Creswick, Yates, George Cruikshank, Solomon Hart, and others. Between the date of this party, on Thursday the 13th, and that of the usual Punch dinner, on Wednesday the 26th of October, at which the artist was present, a visible change had, however, taken place in the appearance of John Leech. Shirley Brooks afterwards had occasion to notice that at this Punch dinner he "complained of illness and pain, and I saw that it was difficult to
• Mr. Yates in Morning Star.
make him completely grasp the meaning of things that were said to him without two or three repetitions. He left early with Tom Taylor." * On the 28th of October, the artist himself was conscious that something was wrong. He visited Dr. Quain, who assured him that his only chance lay in complete and entire rest; and, on returning home, he wrote a note in pencil addressed to his old friend, Mr. Frederick Evans, in which he mentioned his interview with the medical man, and added that he hoped to complete a cut for which a messenger was to be sent, but that he was not sure of being able to finish it. A messenger was sent in obedience to his desire, but he returned empty-handed. We return at this point to the diary of Mr. Shirley Brooks. “I called," he says (29th of October), “at 27, Bouverie Street, and heard from Evans that he was very ill. We went off to the Terrace, Kensington. He was in bed, but no one seemed frightened, and there was a child's party -a small one. Mrs. Leech was in tears, but certainly had no reason to apprehend the worst. He would have seen us. We remained three-quarters of an hour or so, but an opiate had been given, so it was of course felt that he ought not to be disturbed. Arranged to meet Evans at three next day;” but the fatal messenger, who will call for each and every of us, had already delivered his summons, and never more (in life) were either of the friends fated to see John Leech again. “At seven o'clock that night,” continues the narrator (in another place +), “it pleased God to release him from sufferings so severe as even to make the brave, patient, enduring man say that they were almost more than he could bear."
Mr. Evans called on Brooks the following day (Sunday, 30th October). “After hearing all he could say, I went with him to telegraph to Mark Lemon, and also to Leech's. Millais and Leigh at the door-heard much from them. Mrs. Chester came upCharles Eaton, Mrs. Leech's brother and best friend, had come. We went in and saw him ... and the poor mother, and two of the sisters, and afterwards to the chamber of death. He looked
• MS. Diary of Shirley Brooks : 29th October, 1864.
noble in his calm; the hair and whiskers put back, gave up his fine forehead and handsome features—and the eternal stillness gave his face an elevated expression. I looked a very long time on my old friend's face. We have known one another many years, and he has been engaged with me in business as well as in pleasure. He was very kind--very good-and is in heaven, whatever that means.”
London was, perhaps, more shocked at the sudden and unexpected death of John Leech than even when Thackeray was smitten. The shock radiated all over the country; for there was not a household in the land in which his name was not familiar as a household word. His personal friends were deeply affected—none more so than his attached friend, Charles Dickens. Writing at the time to Forster, in reference to his coming book, “Our Mutual Friend,” he said, “I have not done my number. This death of poor Leech (I suppose) has put me out woefully. Yesterday, and the day before, I could do nothing; seemed, for the time being, to have quite lost the power; and am only by slow degrees getting back into the track to day.” Mr. John Tenniel heard of the loss of his valued confrère that same Sunday, 30th October, and “was stunned at the news, totally unexpected by him.”* A special meeting of the Punch staff was called by Mark Lemon on the following day; himself, Messrs. Percival Leigh, Shirley Brooks, F. C. Burnand, Tom Taylor, Charles Keene, H. Silver, John Tenniel, -all were present with the exception of Horace Mayhew. With the particulars of that meeting we of course have nothing to do; its melancholy character the reader may well imagine.
On Friday, the 4th of November, 1864, they laid John Leech to rest in Kensal Green Cemetery, “in the next grave but one to W[illiam] M[akepeace] T[hackeray). When Annie Thackeray heard of the death, she [had] said to Mrs. Millais, “How glad my father will be to meet hin!'“And he will,'” adds the friend whose note we have transcribed.+ We take the account of his burial from Mr. Edmund Yates's impressive and touching account in the Morning
Star newspaper. “The scene round the grave was a most impressive one. There, ranged round the coffin, stood the remnant of that famous body of wits who had caused the name of Punch to be famous at the ends of the earth; there, in the coffin, lay all that was earthly of him who, more than any of them, had helped to spread its renown, and to win for himself a name familiar as a household word in all our English homes. By its side stood Mark Lemon, who, for two and twenty years has presided over the weekly dinner where the good things are suggested, and the weekly sheet whereon they are inscribed; who has seen comrades fall out of the ranks in the march of life, and perish by the wayside. And such comrades! Gone the brilliant, meteoric A'Beckett; fiery, impulsive, scathing Jerrold; playfully cynical Thackeray; and now—John Leech! There stood Shirley Brooks, who since Jerrold's death has been Punch's literary mainstay; Tom Taylor, working now in other channels, but still attached to the staff; Horace Mayhew and Percival Leigh, old colleagues of the dead man; F. C. Burnand and H. Silver, the youngest of the corps; and John Tenniel, who had taken Mr. Doyle's place on his secession, and worked in thorough amity with Leech. Over the coffin bowed the handsome head of Millais in overwhelming grief. All round one caught glimpses of well-known people. There, in the front rank of the crowd, was the frank, earnest face of Charles Dickens; by him Alexander Munro, the sculptor ; there a group of artists-- Messrs. Creswick, O'Neil, and Elmore ;* Messrs. Mowbray, Morris, Dallas, and W. H. Russell, of the Times. At the back of the grave, by the canopy, Mr. W. P. Frith, R.A.; near him a group of journalists—Messrs. Friswell, Halliday, Gruneison ; Mr. Swain, the engraver, who had had for years the engraving of Mr. Leech's drawings ; Richard Doyle ; Mr. Orridge, the barrister ; the Rev. C. Currey, preacher of the Charter House ; Lieutenant-Colonel Wilkinson, who had had John Leech for his school-fellow and fag at Charter House ; while amateur art was worthily represented by Messrs. Arthur Lewis, M. F. Halliday, and
* H. K. Browne (“Phiz "), T. Landseer, George Cruikshank, Marcus Stone, Sir John Gilbert, and Mr. Philips, R. A., were also present.
Jopling. And there, in the bright autumn sunshine, they laid him to his rest. Sir T. N. Talsourd relates that at the burial of Charles Lamb, the true-hearted son of Admiral Burney refused to be comforted.' It is our task to record that round the grave of John Leech there was not a dry eye, and that some of his old companions were very painfully affected. The most beautiful part of the service was read by Mr. Hole,* in an earnest manner, broken occasionally by convulsions of grief which he had some difficulty in repressing, while here and there among the crowd loud sobs told of hearty though humble mourners.”
On the 12th of November, 1864, there appeared in the pages of the periodical he had so well served, whose pages he has permanently enriched with some of the choicest specimens of graphic satire, and with whose fortunes he had been associated from the commencement, the following touching notice from the pen of his friend, the late Shirley Brooks :
“The simplest words are best where all words are vain. Ten days ago a great artist, in the noon of life, and with his glorious mental faculties in full power, but with the shade of physical infirmity darkening upon him, took his accustomed place among friends who have this day held his pall. Some of them had been fellow. workers with him for a quarter of a century, others for fewer years; but to know him well was to love him dearly, and all in whose name these lines are written mourn as for a brother. His monument is in the volumes of which this is one sad leaf, and in a hundred works which at this hour few will remember more easily than those who have just left his grave. While society, whose every phase he has
• The Rev. J. Reynolds Hole, author of "A Little Tour in Ireland," to which his friend, John Leech (who accompanied him), contributed some of the most charming of his illustrations.