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among his intimate friends were men of mark; such as Leigh Hunt, Douglas Jerrold, Charles Dickens, W. M. Thackeray, Clarkson Stanfield, David Roberts, and the Landseers ; he did as much for illustrative art as, perhaps, any artist of his time; and yet, amongst men whose abilities scarcely exceeded his own in the same particular walk in art, no place is to be found in any biographical dictionary, so far at least as we know, for any mention of poor, kindly, genial, Kenny Meadows.
Besides the popular illustrated periodicals of his day, in most of which his familiar initials may be recognised, Kenny Meadows was in almost universal request both amongst authors and publishers of the time. We find him in 1832 illustrating, with Isaac Robert Cruikshank, a periodical bearing the somewhat unpromising title of " The Devil in London." To an 1833 edition of “Gil Blas," illustrated by George Cruikshank, he contributed a frontispiece; and we find his hand in the following: the late J. B. Buckstone's dramas of “The Wreck Ashore,” “Victorine,” “May Queen,” “ Henriette," “Rural Felicity," " Pet of the Petticoats,” “Married Life,” “The Rake and his Pupil,” “The Christening,” “ Isabella," “Second Thoughts,” and “ The Scholar” (1835, 1836); Whitehead's “ Autobiography of Jack Ketch ” (1835); “ Heads of the People, or Portraits of the English ” (1841); Mr. S. C. Hall's “ Book of British Ballads” (1842-44); an 1842 edition of Moore's “ Lalla Rookh"; Leigh Hunt's “ Palfrey, a Love Story of Old Times " (1842); “The Illuminated Magazine” (1843); Shakespeare (1843); “Whist, its History and Practice”; “Backgammon, its History and Practice," by the same author ; “The Illustrated London Almanacks” (from 1845 upwards); Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer's “Leila,” and “Calderon" (1847); W. N. Bailey's “ Illustrated Musical Annual,” “'The Family Joe Miller, a Drawing-room Jest Book” (1848); “ Puck," (a comic serial, 1848); Laman Blanchard's “Sketches from Life” (1849); Samuel Lover's “Metrical Tales and Poems;” “The Magic of Kindness,” by the brothers Mayhew; Mrs. S. C. Hall's “ Midsummer Eve;” “Punch,” up to and including the seventh volume; and (some time afterwards) its able opponent “ The Man in the
Moon” (now exceedingly scarce).* In these and very many other works we find him associated not only with George Cruikshank, John Leech, Hablot Knight Browne, and Richard Doyle, but with artists occupying the position of Sir John Gilbert, Frank Stone, Maclise, Clarkson Stanfield, Creswick, E. M. Ward, Elmore, Frost, Sir J. Noel Paton, Frederick Goodall, Thomas Landseer, F. W. Popham, Fairholt, Harrison Weir, Redgrave, Corbould, and Stephanoff. He was a thoroughly useful man; and a thousand examples of quaint imaginings—oftentimes of graceful workmanship—might be culled from the various works and serials in which his hand may be readily recognised.
But the merits of Kenny Meadows as an illustrator of books are very unequal. His friend, Mr. Hodder, who gives us in his pleasant “ Memories" an occasional note of some of the artists with whom he was thrown in contact, says of him: “The quiet, unostentatious way in which he worked at his art, too often under the most adverse and discouraging circumstances, and the pride which he displayed when he felt he had made a 'happy hit,' was somewhat like the enthusiasm of a youth who had first attained the honour of a prize. As a draughtsman he never cared to be guided by those practical laws which regulate the academic exercise of the pictorial art; for he contended that too strict an adherence to nature only trammelled him, and he preferred relying upon the thought conveyed in his illustrations, rather than upon the mechanical correctness of his outline or perspective.” George Cruikshank showed, as we know, a tolerable contempt for nature when he undertook the delineation of a horse, a woman, or a tree ; but it was one of the conditions of his genius that it should be left free and untrammelled to follow the dictates of its own inspiration, and the quaint effect which somehow or other he managed to impart to a design which, in its details might offend the educated taste of the art critic, made us forget the contempt too often displayed for those “practical laws” to which
* There is a scarce edition of the "Bon Gaultier Ballads," which contains some unacknowledged tailpieces, etc., by Kenny Meadows; in all subsequent editions these are omitted-why, we know not.
Mr. Hodder refers. To constitute a good comic artist, not only is it necessary that he should be a good draughtsman, but certain special gifts are indispensable,--a keen sense of the ridiculous, an inherent appreciation of humour, a quick and ready invention, qualities which no amount of artificial training will bestow. They were possessed in an eminent degree by Gillray, by Cruikshank, by John Leech, but were wholly wanting to Kenny Meadows. He could draw on occasion a queer face-for that matter his faces, intentionally or otherwise, were generally queer-and an eccentric figure, and so can many persons who have a natural taste for drawing, and have learnt to handle the pencil; but the caricaturist, like the poet, nasciiur non fit, and a hundred or even a thousand queer faces or eccentric figures, without the gift of invention or originality, will not of themselves constitute the designer a comic artist. The truth is that with Kenny Meadows mannerism takes the place of genius. You will recognise his hand anywhere without the familiar “ K.M." appended to it, for all his faces are chubby (not to say puffy), and their arms and legs look for all the world as if the hand that designed them had been guided by a ruler. The delusion which led him to imagine that his “genius” would enable him to soar superior to nature is no doubt responsible in some degree for this latter eccentricity, for the artist who would be bold enough to despise the laws " which regulate the exercise of the pictorial art,” would be prepared to view Hogarth's line of beauty with like indifference and contempt.
Kenny Meadows was one of the early illustrators of Punch, and contributed moreover to the first volume some of the best of the cartoons. Good specimens of his work will be found in Young Loves to Sell, and The Speculative Mama (sic), second vol. ; in the third volume he illustrated “ Punch's Letters to His Son,” and the first of the almanacks contains six of his designs. In the fourth volume we find six of his cartoons, among them The Milk of Poor Law Kindness, and The First Tooth (the Queen and infant Prince of Wales); the doctor's legs and shoes are thoroughly characteristic of his style, and look for all the world as if they had been drawn by a ruler. The cartoon, Punch Turned Out of France in this volume is,
if we mistake not, the work of Kenny Meadows. The Christian Bayadere Worshipping the Idol Siva, has reference to the tolerance which “ John Company” wisely conceded to Hindoo religious ceremony, so long as its traditions were found consistent with the ordinary dictates of humanity. “The Story of a Feather” in this volume has five illustrations, two of which are very clever. Among the other cartoons we find The Modern Macheath (the Captain being Sir Robert Peel). The fifth volume contains eight of his illustrations, six being cartoons; among them, The Irish Frankenstein (badly imagined and atrociously drawn), The Water Drop and the Gin Drop are characterized by much poverty of invention, but the former is the best of the two. The Battle of the Alphabet (cartoon) is a better specimen of his work, although the legs and arms look as usual, as if drawn with a ruler. The sixth volume contains three of his cartoons, while the almanack of the year (1844) has several of his illustrations. To the seventh volume he contributed no less than thirty-one illustrations, some very good, one of the best being that of the two legal dogs quarrelling over a bone of litigation. Punch at the outset of his career had considerable difficulty in the selection of a graphic satirist, and one of his "right hand men” in those early days was a Mr. Henning, by whose side Kenny Meadows figures as an absolute genius. After his seventh volume, however, he met with artists better fitted to interpret his political and social views, and no trace of Meadows' useful hand appears in succeeding volumes.
In stating that the merits of Kenny Meadows as an illustrator of books are unequal, and in denying to him the possession of genius, we must not be held to imply that he was deficient of talent. An excellent example of the inequality of which we speak will be found ir. his Shakespeare (Robert Tyas, 1843), a work selected by us for the reason that it was considered by himself and his two favourable friends as his masterpiece. Although we cannot stay to notice all the strange conceptions with which he has enriched this book, we may be permitted to wonder whence he derived his preposterous ideas of Caliban, of Malvolio, of Shylock, of Juliet's nurse, of
Launce's unhappy dog, of the Egpytian Sphynx in “ Antony and Cleopatra.” The model of Shylock was evidently some “old clo'” dealer in Petticoat Lane. The figure of Armado (“Love's Labour's Lost”) is so wonderfully put together that his anatomy must sooner or later fall to pieces; the ghost of Hamlet's father is the ghost of some colossal statue, certainly not the shade of one who had worn the guise of ordinary humanity. The head of the gentle Juliet might derive benefit from the application of a bottle of invigorating hair wash. The figure of the monk in “Romeo and Juliet” literally cut out of wood, carries as much expression in its face as a lay figure; while the walls of Northampton Castle (in “King John") are so much out of the perpendicular, that the courtiers seem less concerned at finding the dead body of Arthur, than in seeking a place of shelter from the impending downfall. Henry the Eighth, although acknowledged to be a corpulent, was not, so far as we know, a deformed man; the preposterous “ beak” of Richard the Third occupies one half of his otherwise remarkably short face, and its owner (in the well-known tent scene) suffers from an attack of tetanus instead of an accession of mental terror. These eccentric realizations, in which he has succeeded in setting all the rules of drawing at defiance, are rendered the more remarkable by reason of the circumstance that the work now under consideration is interspersed with numerous charming drawings, the effect of which is wholly marred by these erratic performances. Meadows was an admirable watercolour artist, and a scarce edition of this work contains some engravings of Shakespearian heroines after his designs. The Germans fancy they understand Shakespeare better than ourselves (an amiable and complimentary weakness), and the work was favourably received in Germany, the artist's conception of Falstaff, in particular, being so highly appreciated that a bronze statuette was modelled after it, which enjoyed a large sale.
His ideas of female beauty were almost as eccentric as those of Cruikshank. A couple of beauties of the Meadows type will be found at page 3 of Henry Cockton's “Sisters ” (Nodes, 1844), where one lady is represented to us with a neck like that of a