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W. M. THACKERAY.
You knew his power, his satire keen but fair,
The last verse alludes to Kate Terry's approaching marriage :
“Last, but not least, in your dear love and ours,
There is a head we'd crown with all our flowers.
By this performance, a second which took place at Manchester on the 29th of July, and the efforts of Shirley Brooks and the members of the committee, a large sum was raised.
The Punch volumes, prior to his withdrawal from its pages, are interspersed with numerous mirth-provoking drawings on wood by the late Mr. THACKERAY. Probably the best of these will be found in the “Novels by Eminent Hands," in one of which (in amusing burlesque of Phiz's spirited title-page to “Charles O'Malley”) we see the hero flying over the heads of the French army. Charles Lever was nervously sensitive to ridicule, and, although he laughed at and enjoyed the clever jeux d'esprit in which “Phil Fogarty,” “Harry Jolly-cur,” “Harry Rollicker,” etc., put in their respective appearances, he declared nevertheless, with evident vexation, that he himself might just as well retire from business altogether. This, indeed, he proceeded to do; and although we miss from that time the rattling heroes of the Frank Webber and Charles O'Malley school, we are indebted to Thackeray for the striking proof which Charles Lever was thus enabled to afford us of the versatility of a genius which enabled him to change front and alter his style with manifest advantage to his literary reputation.
The fact of his waiting upon Dickens at his chambers in Furnival's Inn“ with two or three drawings in his hand, which strange to say he did not find suitable” for “Pickwick,” has been told so often that there is no occasion for repeating it again ; but the circumstances under which he seems to have sought the interview not being, so far as we know, stated anywhere, we shall now proceed to relate them, Thackeray was in London when Seymour shot himself in 1836. The death of the latter caused a vacancy in the post of illustrator to "Figaro in London,” which at that time Seymour was illustrating as well as “ Pickwick,” and such vacancy was supplied by Thackeray, who, I think, continued to illustrate it until the paper died a natural death. His designs for “Figaro in London ” were drawn in pen and ink on paper, and transferred to the wood by the engravers, Messrs. Branstone and Wright, and the remuneration he received for them was very trifling, at most a few shillings each. It was probably this circumstance which put into his head the idea of illustrating “ Pickwick.” From what we know of the graphic abilities of Thackeray and the fastidious requirements of Dickens, we may readily understand why the post rendered vacant by Seymour's suicide was given to an abler artist.
We wish that from a work dealing with comic art in the nineteenth century the name of Mr. Thackeray might be omitted; for no notice of him, however short, would be just or complete which failed to refer to his book illustrations. To do this we must separate Thackeray the artist from Thackeray the man of letters. Regarding him simply in the character of illustrator of the novels of W. M. Thackeray, we are bound in justice to the memory of that great and sterling humourist, to say that he has undertaken a task which is manifestly beyond his powers. While Thackeray with his pen could most effectively describe a fascinating woman, like Becky Sharp, the illusion vanishes the moment his artist essays to draw her portrait with his pencil. While Thackeray's women are pretty and fascinating, well dressed and accomplished, the artist's women on the contrary are hideous; their waists commence somewhere in the region of their knees; and their clothes look as if they had been
piled on their back with a pitchfork. The same remarks apply to the men'; while the originals are witty or clever, handsome or welldressed, those presented to us by the artist are destitute of calf, and their limbs so curiously constructed that the free use of them as nature intended would be a matter of utter impossibility. Those defects are the more noticeable because the artist has shown in his admirable essays on George Cruikshank and John Leech how thoroughly he was alive to the possession of artistic genius in others.
The admiration which we have for Thackeray the man of letters, and the way in which we have already expressed that admiration, render it unlikely that the drift of these remarks will be misunderstood. While rejoicing that the admirable tales and satires of the humourist are uninjured by illustrations which are altogether unworthy of them, we venture to suggest how much better the result might have been had the latter been entrusted, as in the case of “The Newcomes," to other hands, and the artist contented himself with the initial letters and designs on wood with which his writings are pleasantly interspersed. We have seen it somewhere stated (we think in the volume entitled “Thackerayana ") that the author's rapid facility of sketching was the one great impediment to his attainment of excellence in illustrative art. Some of his designs indeed bear on their face evidence of the rapidity with which they were thrown off; but no satisfactory explanation appears to be possible of his contempt for what Mr. Hodder has termed the “practical laws which regulate the academic exercise of the pictorial art,” and his apparent ignorance of the art of balancing his figures so as to enable them to stand upright, to walk straight, or to move their limbs with the grace and freedom assigned to them by nature. One of the designs to “The Virginians” shows a horseman, who in the letterpress is described as crossing a bridge at full gallop, whereas in the picture both man and horse will inevitably leap over the parapet into the river below. Nothing could possibly avert the catastrophe, and the effect thus produced is due, not to the manifest carelessness and haste with which the sketch is thrown off, but to a palpable defect in the artistic powers of the designer himself. Yet in the face of defects so patent and so palpable we have found it gravely stated, “ The world which is loth to admit high excellence in more than one direction, has never fitly recognised Thackeray's great gift as a comic draftsman. Here [i.e. in a work edited by his daughter] he will be found advantageously represented; inferior, it is true to the unjustly neglected Hablot Browne ('Phiz'), but often equalling if not sometimes surpassing the greatly over-rated John Leech.”
Ay! “ the world is loth to admit high excellence in more than one direction," and experience has taught it that few men, however gifted, are capable of exercising two different arts with an equal measure of success. Thackeray was both a genius and an artist, but the world has long recognised the fact that the former manifested itself only when he laid down the pencil and took up the pen. If called on to prove his incapacity to illustrate his own work, we will refer the reader to his admirable novel of “Vanity Fair.” The time selected for the story is the early part of the present century; and on the plea that he had “not the heart to disfigure his heroes and heroines” by the correct but "hideous” costumes of the period, Thackeray has actually habited these men and women of 1815 in the dress of 1848! Cruikshank, Leech, “ Phiz," or Doyle, it is unnecessary to say, would have been guiltless of such an absurdity; and the difficulty in which the gifted author found himself, and the confession of his inability to cope with it, afford the clearest possible evidence of his utter incapacity to illustrate the story itself. If any further proof be wanted, look at the designs themselves. Captain Dobbin would be laughed out of any European military service; such a guardsman as Rawdon Crawley could find no place in her Majesty's guards; “Jemima” (at p. 7), “ Miss Sharp in the schoolroom ” (p. 80), the children waiting on Miss Crawley (p. 89), the figures in the fencing scene (p. 207), “The Family Party at Brighton," “Gloriana” trying her fascinations on the major, “Jos” (at p. 569), and “Becky's second appearance as Clytemnestra," without meaning to be so, are caricatures pure and simple; and yet these are