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novel issued in monthly numbers depended on two sources of attraction—the skill of the novelist and the skill of his artistic coadjutor. Dickens' requirements, however, were of so exacting a nature that they proved in the end too exacting even for the patience of the accommodating artist, and the reader will not be surprised to learn that a coolness was ultimately established between artist and author, the outcome of which was the employment of Marcus Stone and Luke Fildes on the later novels of “Our Mutual Friend” and “Edvin Drood."
Those who would find fault with Charles Dickens for the mode in which he controlled his artists quite fail to understand the man himself. Although he had no knowledge of the pencil, although lie himself had no knowledge of drawing, he was nevertheless a thorough artist in heart and mind. There is scarcely a character in his books which does not show the care and thought which he bestowed upon, its elaboration. Ralph Nickleby, Squeers, Smike, little Nell, Quilp, Barnaby Rudge, Steerforth, Paul Dombey, Lady Dedlock, Joe, each and all show how carefully they were elaborated; how distinctly they presented themselves to the retina of the mind of their distinguished creator. When this is borne in mind, it will be at once understood why the Mrs. Pipchin of Hablot Browne was not the Mrs. Pipchin with whose outward appearance and mental peculiarities the author himself was so intimately acquainted.
Notwithstanding the exhibition, after his death, of water-colours and other works, which took the public by surprise, Hablot Knight Browne will continue to be known to most of us as an illustrator of books, and nothing more. “Oh! I'm aweary, I'm aweary," he said himself in a letter to one of his sons, “ of this illustration business.” Some of these illustrations, however, are wonderfully graceful, and one in particular seems to call for special notice. It will be found in the “New Monthly Magazine'' for 1845, and is undoubtedly one of the best examples of the artist's work which may be found anywhere. It represents a prisoner in a dungeon lying at the foot of a pillar, which, except in a ghastly carved work running round it of skulls and cross bones, reminds us somewhat of Bonneval's pillar at
Chillon. The lights and shadows are wonderfully rendered, and the work is characterized by a softness, a beauty, and a finish only to be observed in work which took the artist's fancy. This etching is entitled, Rougemont's Device to Perplex Auriol; and Ainsworth's story which it illustrates—a peculiarly unsatisfactory one--commenced, I think, in “Ainsworth's Magazine," passed into the “New Monthly," when its author purchased that periodical in 1845, and (whether the novelist got himself into an intellectual fix or otherwise I know not) finished, I believe, eventually nowhere.
Browne indeed finds a place here more by virtue of his book illustrations than by reason of any just pretensions to be considered a graphic humourist. His comic powers appear to us more the result of education and emulation than natural gifts, and the consequence is, that in attempting to be funny, his work too often degenerates into absolute exaggeration. His excellencies must be sought for in his serious illustrations, which fall more within the province of the art critic than the scope and purpose of a work which treats of graphic satirists and comic artists of the nineteenth century. Some of his finest illustrations of a serious character will be found in the pages of the “Illuminated Magazine”; in Charles Lever's admirable story of “St. Patrick's Eve”; in the "Fortunes of Colonel Forlogh O'Brien”; in Augustus Mayhew's “ Paved with Gold”; in Ainsworth's “Mervyn Clithero"; and “Revelations of London ”; and above all, in Charles Lever's novel of “Roland Cashel.”
Hablot Knight Browne lived to see the decline and fall of that peculiar and powerful art of book illustration which was introduced by Cruikshank; was fostered and encouraged by Charles Dickens, Charles James Lever, their imitators and contemporaries; and died, so to speak, with these distinguished men. His work in later years, as might naturally have been expected, shows a woeful decline of power; and when the suggestors from whom he derived inspiration were no longer at his back, the poverty of invention which characterized the man when left to his own devices becomes painfully apparent.
“Phiz” drew in later years for Judy and other comic papers, and it is simple justice to say that his designs are characterized by an utter absence of comic power. The true comic inspiration possessed in so wonderful a degree by Cruikshank, by John Leech, and even by Robert Seymour, he never indeed possessed. Some fifteen years before his death he suffered from incipient paralysis, and furthermore injured his thumb, which obliged him to hold his pencil between his middle and fore-fingers. Gradually this great and graceful artist dropped so far behind in the race of life that he yielded latterly to proposals to illustrate boys' literature of a very inferior class.
In addition to an absence of comic inspiration, the creative faculty of Cruikshank and Leech was wanting to Hablot Knight Browne. In order to carry out an idea, it was necessary that it should be put into his head; for leave him to himself, and he could do absolutely nothing. * George Cruikshank and John Leech after receiving instructions would proceed to realize them in their own way and after their own fashion ; but this was not the case with Hablot Knight Browne. While he could realize the idea of another with peculiar success when the subject took his fancy, he could neither enlarge nor improve upon it, and in this lies the difference between genius and mere ability. Lacking an inherent sense of humour, he copied Cruikshank, and hence his exaggerations and failures as a comic designer; but he was ultimus Romanorum,—the last representative of the famous men whose art was fostered and encouraged by Charles Dickens, by Charles Lever, by Harrison Ainsworth, and by Richard Bentley. The services which these eminent men rendered to the novelists who like them are dead and gone can scarcely be appreciated; for we presume few will deny that their labours lent a charm, a beauty, and an interest to their works, which largely tended to promote their sale. The fortunes of " Jack Sheppard,” of “ The Miser's Daughter," of " The Tower of London,"—the success obtained by nearly all the stories of Ainsworth which obtained any success at all, was mainly due to the pencil of Cruikshank. The reputation of “ Oliver Twist”-a morbid novel—was made in a great measure by him ; but for John Leech, neither“ Mr. Ledbury,” “The Scattergood Family, “The Marchioness of Brinvilliers,” or “ Richard Savage,” would have survived to our day. To him the novels of Mr. R. W. Surtees owe their entire popularity; while his genius has conferred vitality on the rubbish of À Beckett. It is curious, however, how little these facts were recognised at the time, and what little credit was given in contemporary reviews and by contemporary critics to the artists who rendered to successful novelists the priceless aid and assistance of their pencils.
* As I notice a similar remark in one of the obituary notices of the artist's death, I think it necessary to observe that this chapter was written while “ Phiz" was yet living.
How far the needle of “ Phiz” contributed to the ultimate success of the great raconteur, Charles James Lever, we are in no position to state ; that it proved a very large factor in that result there can be no manner of doubt. That success was not achieved immediately. Lever commenced life as a struggling country doctor, and “Harry Lorrequer,” first brought out in the “Dublin University Magazine," before it appeared in illustrated shilling numbers, was almost wholly ignored by the London press, the criticisms and favourable remarks coming almost wholly from provincial journals. There was one exception by the way, a military paper, the critic of which went into such ecstacies over this sparkling military medley, that he asserted he would rather be author of “ Lorrequer” than of all the “Pickwicks or “Nicklebys” in the world. This notice (unknown to Lever) was published with the advertisements of the book, and (strange to say) gave so much annoyance to Dickens that he sent an angry reply to a civil letter which came to him shortly afterwards from the Irish novelist, and their friendly intercourse was for some years suspended in consequence.
The decline of Hablot Browne's popularity was painfully apparent to himself. Although our chapter was written long before the appearance of Mr. Kitton's pamphlet, we may be permitted to re-open it to extract from the latter the following melancholy observations which we find in a letter to his son, Dr. Browne : “I am at present on a