Two Modern Book Illustrators by Austin Dobson
Story type: Essay
I. KATE GREENAWAY
In the world of pictorial recollection there are many territories, the natives of which you may recognise by their characteristics as surely as Ophelia recognises her true-love by his cockle-hat and sandal shoon. There is the land of grave gestures and courteous inclinations, of dignified leave-takings and decorous greetings; where the ladies (like Richardson’s Pamela) don the most charming round-eared caps and frilled negliges; where the gentlemen sport ruffles and bag-wigs and spotless silk stockings, and invariably exhibit shapely calves above their silver shoe-buckles; where you may come in St. James’s Park upon a portly personage with a star, taking an alfresco pinch of snuff after that leisurely style in which a pinch of snuff should be taken, so as not to endanger a lace cravat or a canary-coloured vest; where you may seat yourself on a bench by Rosamond’s Pond in company with a tremulous mask who is evidently expecting the arrival of a “pretty fellow”; or happen suddenly, in a secluded side-walk, upon a damsel in muslin and a dark hat, who is hurriedly scrawling a poulet, not without obvious signs of perturbation. But whatever the denizens of this country are doing, they are always elegant and always graceful, always appropriately grouped against their fitting background of high-ceiled rooms and striped hangings, or among the urns and fish-tanks of their sombre-shrubbed gardens. This is the land of STOTHARD.
In the adjoining country there is a larger sense of colour–a fuller pulse of life. This is the region of delightful dogs and horses and domestic animals of all sorts; of crimson-faced hosts and buxom ale-wives; of the most winsome and black-eyed milkmaids and the most devoted lovers and their lasses; of the most headlong and horn-blowing huntsmen–a land where Madam Blaize forgathers with the impeccable worthy who caused the death of the Mad Dog; where John Gilpin takes the Babes in the Wood en croupe; and the bewitchingest Queen of Hearts coquets the Great Panjandrum himself “with the little round button at top”–a land, in short, of the most kindly and light-hearted fancies, of the freshest and breeziest and healthiest types–which is the land of CALDECOTT.
Finally, there is a third country, a country inhabited almost exclusively by the sweetest little child-figures that have ever been invented, in the quaintest and prettiest costumes, always happy, always gravely playful,–and nearly always playing; always set in the most attractive framework of flower-knots, or blossoming orchards, or red-roofed cottages with dormer windows. Everywhere there are green fields, and daisies, and daffodils, and pearly skies of spring, in which a kite is often flying. No children are quite like the dwellers in this land; they are so gentle, so unaffected in their affectation, so easily pleased, so trustful and so confiding. And this is GREENAWAY-land.
It is sixty years since Thomas Stothard died, and only fifteen since Randolph Caldecott closed his too brief career. And now Kate Greenaway, who loved the art of both, and in her own gentle way possessed something of the qualities of each, has herself passed away. It will rest with other pens to record her personal characteristics, and to relate the story of her life. I who write this was privileged to know her a little, and to receive from her frequent presents of her books; but I should shrink from anything approaching a description of the quiet, unpretentious, almost homely little lady, whom it was always a pleasure to meet and to talk with. If I here permit myself to recall one or two incidents of our intercourse, it is solely because they bear either upon her amiable disposition or her art. I remember that once, during a country walk in Sussex, she gave me a long account of her childhood, which I wish I could repeat in detail. But I know that she told me that she had been brought up in just such a neighbourhood of thatched roofs and “grey old gardens” as she depicts in her drawings; and that in some of the houses, it was her particular and unfailing delight to turn over ancient chests and wardrobes filled with the flowered frocks and capes of the Jane Austen period. As is well known, she corresponded frequently with Ruskin, and possessed numbers of his letters. In his latter years, it had been her practice to write to him periodically–I believe she said once a week. He had long ceased, probably from ill-health, to answer her letters; but she continued to write punctually lest he should miss the little budget of chit-chat to which he had grown accustomed. At another time–in a pleasant country-house which contained many examples of her art–and where she was putting the last touches to a delicately tinted child-angel in the margin of a Bible–I ventured to say, “Why do your children always …?” But it is needless to complete the query; the answer alone is important. She looked at me reflectively, and said, after a pause, “Because I see it so.”
1: This was written in 1902.]
Answers not dissimilar have been given before by other artists in like case. But it was this rigid fidelity to her individual vision and personal conviction which constituted her strength. There are always stupid, well-meaning busybodies in the world, who go about making question of the sonneteer why he does not attempt something epic and homicidal, or worrying the carver of cherry-stones to try his hand at a Colossus; but though they disturb and discompose, they luckily do no material harm. They did no material harm to Kate Greenaway. She yielded, no doubt, to pressure put upon her to try figures on a larger scale; to illustrate books, which was not her strong point, as it only put fetters upon her fancy; but, in the main, she courageously preserved the even tenor of her way, which was to people the artistic demesne she administered with the tiny figures which no one else could make more captivating, or clothe more adroitly. It may be doubted whether the collector will set much store by Bret Harte’s Queen of the Pirate Isle or the Pied Piper of Hamelin, suitable at first sight as is the latter, with its child-element, to her inventive idiosyncrasy. But he will revel in the dainty scenes of “Almanacks” (1883 to 1895, and 1897); in the charming Birthday Book of 1880; in Mother Goose, A Day in a Child’s Life, Little Ann, Marigold Garden and the rest, of which the grace is perennial, though the popularity for the moment may have waned.
I have an idea that Mother Goose; or, the Old Nursery Rhymes, 1881, was one of Miss Greenaway’s favourites, although it may have been displaced in her own mind by subsequent successes. Nothing can certainly be more deftly-tinted than the design of the “old woman who lived under a hill,” and peeled apples; nothing more seductive, in infantile attitude, than the little boy and girl, who, with their arms around each other, stand watching the black-cat in the plum-tree. Then there is Daffy-down-dilly, who has come up to town, with “a yellow petticoat and a green gown,” in which attire, aided by a straw hat tied under her chin, she manages to look exceedingly attractive, as she passes in front of the white house with the pink roof and the red shutters and the green palings. One of the most beautiful pictures in this gallery is the dear little “Ten-o’-clock Scholar” in his worked smock, as, trailing his blue-and-white school-bag behind him, he creeps unwillingly to his lessons at the most picturesque timbered cottage you can imagine. Another absolutely delightful portrait is that of “Little Tom Tucker,” in sky-blue suit and frilled collar, singing, with his hands behind him, as if he never could grow old. And there is not one of these little compositions that is without its charm of colour and accessory–blue plates on the dresser in the background, the parterres of a formal garden with old-fashioned flowers, quaint dwellings with their gates and grass-work, odd corners of countryside and village street, and all, generally, in the clear air or sunlight. For in this favoured Greenaway-realm, as in the island-valley of Avilion there
falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard-lawns.
To Mother Goose followed A Day in a Child’s Life, also 1881, and Little Ann, 1883. The former of these contained various songs set to music by Mr. Myles B. Foster, the organist of the Foundling Hospital, and accompanied by designs on rather a larger scale than those in Mother Goose. It also included a larger proportion of the floral decorations which were among the artist’s chief gifts. Foxgloves and buttercups, tulips and roses, are flung about the pages of the book; and there are many pictures, notably one of a little green-coated figure perched upon a five-barred gate, which repeat the triumphs of its predecessor. In Little Ann and other Poems, which is dedicated to the four children of the artist’s friend, the late Frederick Locker-Lampson, she illustrated a selection from the verses for “Infant Minds” of Jane and Ann Taylor, daughters of that Isaac Taylor of Ongar, who was first a line engraver and afterwards an Independent Minister. The dedication contains a charming row of tiny portraits of the Locker-Lampson family. These illustrations may seem to contradict what has been said as to Miss Greenaway’s ability to interpret the conceptions of others. But this particular task left her perfectly free to “go her own gait,” and to embroider the text which, in this case, was little more than a pretext for her pencil.
2: Since this paper was written, the Original Poems and Others, of Ann and Jane Taylor, with illustrations by F.D. Bedford, and a most interesting “Introduction” by Mr. E.V. Lucas, have been issued by Messrs. Wells, Gardner, Darton and Co.]
In Marigold Garden, 1885, Miss Greenaway became her own poet; and next to Mother Goose, this is probably her most important effort. The flowers are as entrancing as ever; and the verse makes one wish that the writer had written more. The “Genteel Family” and “Little Phillis” are excellent nursery pieces; and there is almost a Blake-like note about “The Sun Door.”
They saw it rise in the morning,
They saw it set at night,
And they longed to go and see it,
Ah! if they only might.
The little soft white clouds heard them,
And stepped from out of the blue;
And each laid a little child softly
Upon its bosom of dew.
And they carried them higher and higher,
And they nothing knew any more,
Until they were standing waiting,
In front of the round gold door.
And they knocked, and called, and entreated
Whoever should be within;
But all to no purpose, for no one
Would hearken to let them in.
” La rime n’est pas riche ” nor is the technique thoroughly assured; but the thought is poetical. Here is another, “In an Apple-Tree,” which reads like a child variation of that haunting “Mimnermus in Church” of the author of Ionica:–
In September, when the apples are red,
To Belinda I said,
“Would you like to go away
To Heaven, or stay
Here in this orchard full of trees
All your life? “And she said,” If you please
I’ll stay here–where I know,
And the flowers grow.”
In another vein is the bright little “Child’s Song”:–
The King and the Queen were riding
Upon a Summer’s day,
And a Blackbird flew above them,
To hear what they did say.
The King said he liked apples,
The Queen said she liked pears;
And what shall we do to the Blackbird
Who listens unawares?
But, as a rule, it must be admitted of her poetry that, while nearly always poetic in its impulse, it is often halting and inarticulate in its expression. A few words may be added in regard to the mere facts of Miss Greenaway’s career. She was born at 1 Cavendish Street, Hoxton, on the 17th March, 1846, her father being Mr. John Greenaway, a draughtsman on wood, who contributed much to the earlier issues of the Illustrated London News and Punch. Annual visits to a farm-house at Rolleston in Nottinghamshire–the country residence already referred to–nourished and confirmed her love of nature. Very early she showed a distinct bias towards colour and design of an original kind. She studied at different places, and at South Kensington. Here both she and Lady Butler “would bribe the porter to lock them in when the day’s work was done, so that they might labour on for some while more.” Her master at Kensington was Richard Burchett, who, forty years ago, was a prominent figure in the art-schools, a well instructed painter, and a teacher exceptionally equipped with all the learning of his craft. Mr. Burchett thought highly of Miss Greenaway’s abilities; and she worked under him for several years with exemplary perseverance and industry. She subsequently studied in the Slade School under Professor Legros.
Her first essays in the way of design took the form of Christmas cards, then beginning their now somewhat flagging career, and she exhibited pictures at the Dudley Gallery for some years in succession, beginning with 1868. In 1877 she contributed to the Royal Academy a water colour entitled “Musing,” and in 1889 was elected a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.
By this date, as will be gathered from what has preceded, Miss Greenaway had made her mark as a producer of children’s books, since, in addition to the volumes already specially mentioned, she had issued Under the Window (her earliest success), The Language of Flowers, Kate Greenaway’s Painting Book, The Book of Games, King Pepito and other works. Her last “Almanack,” which was published by Messrs Dent and Co., appeared in 1897. In 1891, the Fine Arts Society exhibited some 150 of her original drawings–an exhibition which was deservedly successful, and was followed by others. As Slade Professor at Oxford, Ruskin, always her fervent admirer, gave her unstinted eulogium; and in France her designs aroused the greatest admiration. The Debats had a leading article on her death; and the clever author of L’Art du Rire, M. Arsene Alexandre, who had already written appreciatively of her gifts as a ” paysagiste,” and as a ” maitresse en l’art du sourire, du jolt sourire d’enfant inginu et gaiement candide ” devoted a column in the Figaro to her merits.
3: Among other things these exhibitions revealed the great superiority of the original designs to the reproductions with which the public are familiar–excellent as these are in their way. Probably, if Miss Greenaway’s work were now repeated by the latest form of three-colour process, she would be less an “inheritor”–in this respect–“of unfulfilled renown.”]
It has been noted that, in her later years, Miss Greenaway’s popularity was scarcely maintained. It would perhaps be more exact to say that it somewhat fell off with the fickle crowd who follow a reigning fashion, and who unfortunately help to swell the units of a paying community. To the last she gave of her best; but it is the misfortune of distinctive and original work, that, while the public resents versatility in its favourites, it wearies unreasonably of what had pleased it at first–especially if the note be made tedious by imitation. Miss Greenaway’s old vogue was in some measure revived by her too-early death on the 6th November 1901; but, in any case, she is sure of attention from the connoisseur of the future. Those who collect Stothard and Caldecott (and they are many!) cannot afford to neglect either Marigold Garden or Mother Goose.
4: Since the above article appeared in the Art Journal, from which it is here substantially reproduced, Messrs. M.H, Spieimann and G.S. Layard have (1905) devoted a sumptuous and exhaustive volume to Miss Greenaway and her art. To this truly beautiful and sympathetic book I can but refer those of her admirers who are not yet acquainted with it.]
II. MR HUGH THOMSON
In virtue of certain gentle and caressing qualities of style, Douglas Jerrold conferred on one of his contributors–Miss Eliza Meteyard–the pseudonym of “Silverpen.” It is in the silver-pensive key that one would wish to write of Mr. HUGH THOMSON. There is nothing in his work of elemental strife,–of social problem,–of passion torn to tatters. He leads you by no terribile via,–over no “burning Marle.” You cannot conceive him as the illustrator of Paradise Lost, of Dante’s Inferno –even of Dore’s Wandering Jew. But when, after turning over some dozens of his designs, you take stock of your impressions, you discover that your memory is packed with pleasant fancies. You have been among “blown fields” and “flowerful closes”; you have passed quaint roadside-inns and picturesque cottages; you are familiar with the cheery, ever-changing idyll of the highway and the bustle of animal life; with horses that really gallop, and dogs that really bark; with charming male and female figures in the most attractive old-world attire; with happy laughter and artless waggeries; with a hundred intimate details of English domesticity that are pushed just far enough back to lose the hardness of their outline in a softening haze of retrospect. There has been nothing more tragic in your travels than a sprained ankle or an interrupted affair of honour; nothing more blood-curdling than a dream of a dragoon officer knocked out of his saddle by a brickbat. Your flesh has never been made to creep: but the cockles of your heart have been warmed. Mechanically, you raise your hand to lift away your optimistic spectacles. But they are not there. The optimism is in the pictures.
It must be more than a quarter of a century since Mr. Hugh Thomson, arriving from Coleraine in all the ardour of one-and-twenty, invaded the strongholds of English illustration. He came at a fortunate moment. After a few hesitating and tentative attempts upon the newspapers, he obtained an introduction to Mr. Comyns Carr, then engaged in establishing the English Illustrated Magazine for Messrs. Macmillan. His recommendation was a scrap-book of minutely elaborated designs for Vanity Fair, which he had done (like Reynolds) “out of pure idleness.” Mr. Carr, then, as always, a discriminating critic, with a keen eye to possibilities, was not slow to detect, among much artistic recollection, something more than uncertain promise; and although he had already Randolph Caldecott and Mr. Harry Furniss on his staff, he at once gave Mr. Thomson a commission for the magazine. The earliest picture from his hand which appeared was a fancy representation of the Parade at Bath for a paper in June, 1884, by the late H. D. Traill; and he also illustrated (in part) papers on Drawing Room Dances, on Cricket (by Mr. Andrew Lang), and on Covent Garden. But graphic and vividly naturalistic as were his pictures of modern life, his native bias towards imaginary eighteenth century subjects (perhaps prompted by boyish studies of Hogarth in the old Dublin Penny Magazine ), was already abundantly manifest. He promptly drifted into what was eventually to become his first illustrated book, a series of compositions from the Spectator. These were published in 1886 as a little quarto, entitled Days with Sir Roger de Coverley.
It was a “temerarious” task to attempt to revive the types which, from the days of Harrison’s Essayists, had occupied so many of the earlier illustrators. But the attempt was fully justified by its success. One has but to glance at the head-piece to the first paper, where Sir Roger and “Mr. Spectator” have alighted from the jolting, springless, heavy-wheeled old coach as the tired horses toil uphill, to recognise at once that here is an artist en pays de connaissance, who may fairly be trusted, in the best sense, to “illustrate” his subject. Whatever one’s predilections for previous presentments, it is impossible to resist Sir Roger (young, slim, and handsome), carving the perverse widow’s name upon a tree-trunk; or Sir Roger at bowls, or riding to hounds, or listening–with grave courtesy–to Will Wimble’s long-winded and circumstantial account of the taking of the historic jack. Nor is the conception less happy of that amorous fine-gentleman ancestor of the Coverleys who first made love by squeezing the hand; or of that other Knight of the Shire who so narrowly escaped being killed in the Civil Wars because he was sent out of the field upon a private message, the day before Cromwell’s “crowning mercy,”–the battle of Worcester. But the varied embodiments of these, and of Mrs. Betty Arable (“the great fortune”), of Ephraim the Quaker, and the rest, are not all. The figures are set in their fitting environment; they ride their own horses, hallo to their own dogs, and eat and drink in their own dark-panelled rooms that look out on the pleached alleys of their ancient gardens. They live and move in their own passed-away atmosphere of association; and a faithful effort has moreover been made to realise each separate scene with strict relation to its text.
All of the “Coverley” series came out in the English Illustrated. So also did the designs for the next book, the Coaching Days and Coaching Ways of Mr. Outram Tristram, 1888. Here Mr. Thomson had a topographical collaborator, Mr. Herbert Railton, who did the major part of the very effective drawings in this kind. But Mr. Thomson’s contributions may fairly be said to have exhausted the “romance” of the road. Inns and inn-yards, hosts and ostlers and chambermaids, stage-coachmen, toll-keepers, mail-coaches struggling in snow-drifts, mail-coaches held up by highwaymen, overturns, elopements, cast shoes, snapped poles, lost linch-pins,–all the episodes and moving accidents of bygone travel on the high road have abundant illustration, till the pages seem almost to reek of the stableyard, or ring with the horn.[A] And here it may be noted, as a peculiarity of Mr. Thomson’s conscientious horse-drawing, that he depicts, not the ideal, but the actual animal. His steeds are not “faultless monsters” like the Dauphin’s palfrey in Henry the Fifth. They are “all sorts and conditions” of horses; and–if truth required it–would disclose as many sand-cracks as Rocinante, or as many equine defects (from wind-gall to the bolts) as those imputed to that unhappy “Blackberry” sold by the Vicar of Wakefield at Welbridge Fair to Mr, Ephraini Jenkinson.
A: Sometimes a literary or historical picture creeps into the text. Such are “Swift and Bolingbroke at Backlebury” (p. 30); “Charles II. recognised by the Ostler” (p. 144), and “Barry Lyndon cracks a Bottle” (p. 116). Barry Lyndon with its picaresque note and Irish background, would seem an excellent contribution to the “Cranford” series. Why does not Mr. Thomson try his hand at it? He has illustrated Esmond, and the Great Haggarty Diamond.]
The Vicar of Wakefield –as it happens–was Mr. Thomson’s next enterprise; and it is, in many respects, a most memorable one. It came out in December, 1890, having occupied him for nearly two years. He took exceptional pains to study and realise the several types for himself, and to ensure correctness of costume. From the first introductory procession of the Primrose family at the head of chapter i. to the awkward merriment of the two Miss Flamboroughs at the close, there is scarcely a page which has not some stroke of quiet fun, some graceful attitude, or some ingenious contrivance in composition. Considering that from Wenham’s edition of 1780, nearly every illustrator of repute had tried his hand at Goldsmith’s masterpiece in fiction,–that he had been attempted without humour by Stothard, without lightness by Mulready,[B]–that he had been made comic by Cruikshank, and vulgarised by Rowiandson,–it was certainly to Mr. Thomson’s credit that he had approached his task with so much refinement, reverence and originality. If the book has a blemish, it is to be mentioned only because the artist, by his later practice, seems to have recognised it himself. For the purposes of process reproduction, the drawings were somewhat loaded and overworked.
B: Mulready’s illustrations of 1843 are here referred to, net his pictures.]
This was not chargeable against the next volumes to be chronicled. Mrs. Gaskell’s Cranford, 1891, and Miss Mitford’s Our Village, 1893, are still regarded by many as the artist’s happiest efforts. I say “still,” because Mr. Thomson is only now in what Victor Hugo called the youth of old age (as opposed to the old age of youth); and it would be premature to assume that a talent so alert to multiply and diversify its efforts, had already attained the summit of its achievement. But in these two books he had certain unquestionable advantages. One obviously would be, that his audience were not already preoccupied by former illustrations; and he was consequently free to invent his own personages and follow his own fertile fancy, without recalling to that implacable and Gorgonising organ, the “Public Eye,” any earlier pictorial conceptions. Another thing in his favour was, that in either case, the very definite, and not very complex types surrendered themselves readily to artistic embodiment. “It almost illustrated itself,”–he told an interviewer concerning Cranford; “the characters were so exquisitely and distinctly realised.” Every one has known some like them; and the delightful Knutsford ladies (for “Cranford” was “Knutsford”), the “Boz”–loving Captain Brown and Mr. Holbrook, Peter and his father, and even Martha the maid, with their mise en scene of card-tables and crackle-china, and pattens and reticules, are part of the memories of our childhood. The same may be said of Our Village, except that the breath of Nature blows more freely through it than through the quiet Cheshire market-town; and there is a larger preponderance of those “charming glimpses of rural life” of which Lady Ritchie speaks admiringly in her sympathetic preface. And with regard to the “bits of scenery”–as Mr. Thomson himself calls them–it may be noted that one of the Manchester papers, speaking of Cranford, praised the artist’s intimate knowledge of the locality,–a locality he had never seen. Most of his backgrounds were from sketches made on Wimbledon Common, near which–until he moved for a space to the ancient Cinque Port of Seaford in Sussex–he lived for the first years of his London life.
In strict order of time, Mr. Thomson’s next important effort should have preceded the books of Miss Mitford and Mrs. Gaskell. The novels of Jane Austen–to which we now come–if not the artist’s high-water mark, are certainly remarkable as a tour de force. To contrive some forty page illustrations for each of Miss Austen’s admirable, but–from an illustrator’s standpoint–not very palpitating productions,–with a scene usually confined to the dining-room or parlour,–with next to no animals, and with rare opportunities for landscape accessory,–was an “adventure”–in Cervantic phrase–which might well have given pause to a designer of less fertility and resource. But besides the figures there was the furniture; and acute admirers have pointed out that a nice discretion is exhibited in graduating the appointments of Longbourn and Netherfield Park,–of Rosings and Hunsford. But what is perhaps more worthy of remark is the artist’s persistent attempt to give individuality, as well as grace, to his dramatis persona;. The unspeakable Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet, the horsy Mr. John Thorpe, Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Norris, the Eltons–are all carefully discriminated. Nothing can well be better than Mr. Woodhouse, with his “almost immaterial legs” drawn securely out of the range of a too-fierce fire, chatting placidly to Miss Bates upon the merits of water-gruel; nothing more in keeping than the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, “in the very torrent, tempest, and whirlwind” of her indignation, superciliously pausing to patronise the capabilities of the Longbourn reception rooms. Not less happy is the dumbfounded astonishment of Mrs. Bennet at her toilet, when she hears–to her stupefaction–that her daughter Elizabeth is to be mistress of Pemberley and ten thousand a year. This last is a head-piece; and it may be observed, as an additional difficulty in this group of novels, that, owing to the circumstances of publication, only in one of the books. Pride and Prejudice, was Mr, Thomson free to decorate the chapters with those ingenious entetes and culs-de-lampe of which he so eminently possesses the secret.[C]
C: That eloquence of subsidiary detail, which has had so many exponents in English art from Hogarth onwards, is one of Mr. Thomson’s most striking characteristics. The reader will find it exemplified in the beautiful book-plate at page 111, which, by the courtesy of its owner, Mr. Ernest Brown, I am permitted to reproduce.]
By this time his reputation had long been firmly established. To the Jane Austen volumes succeeded other numbers of the so-called “Cranford” series, to which, in 1894, Mr. Thomson had already added, under the title of Coridon’s Song and other Verses, a fresh ingathering of old-time minstrelsy from the pages of the English Illustrated. Many of the drawings for these, though of necessity reduced for publication in book form, are in his most delightful and winning manner,–notably perhaps (if one must choose!) the martial ballad of that “Captain of Militia, Sir Bilberry Diddle,” who
–dreamt, Fame reports, that he cut all the throats
Of the French as they landed in flat-bottomed boats
–or rather were going to land any time during the Seven Years’ War. Excellent, too, are John Gay’s ambling Journey to Exeter., the Angler’s Song from Walton (which gives its name to the collection), and Fielding’s rollicking “A-hunting we will go.” Other “Cranford” books, which now followed, were James Lane Allen’s Kentucky Cardinal, 1901; Fanny Burney’s Evelina, 1903; Thackeray’s Esmond, 1905; and two of George Eliot’s novels– Scenes of Clerical Life, 1906, and Silas Marner, 1907. In 1899 Mr. Thomson had also undertaken another book for George Allen, an edition of Reade’s Peg Woffington,–a task in which he took the keenest delight, particularly in the burlesque character of Triplet. These were all in the old pen-work; but some of the designs for Silas Marner were lightly and tastefully coloured. This was a plan the author had adopted, with good effect, not only in a special edition of Cranford (1898), but for some of his original drawings which came into the market after exhibition. Nothing can be more seductive than a Hugh Thomson pen-sketch, when delicately tinted in sky-blue, rose-Du Barry, and apple-green (the vert-pomme dear–as Gautier says–to the soft moderns)–a treatment which lends them a subdued but indefinable distinction, as of old china with a pedigree, and fully justifies the amiable enthusiasm of the phrase-maker who described their inventor as the “Charles Lamb of illustration.”
From the above enumeration certain omissions have of necessity been made. Besides the books mentioned, Mr. Thomson has contrived to prepare for newspapers and magazines many closely-studied sketches of contemporary manners. Some of the best of his work in this way is to be found in the late Mrs. E.T. Cook’s Highways and Byways of London Life, 1902. For the Highways and Byways series, he has also illustrated, wholly or in part, volumes on Ireland, North Wales, Devon, Cornwall and Yorkshire. The last volume, Kent, 1907, is entirely decorated by himself. In this instance, his drawings throughout are in pencil, and he is his own topographer. It is a remarkable departure, both in manner and theme, though Mr. Thomson’s liking for landscape has always been pronounced. “I would desire above all things,” he told an interviewer, “to pass my time in painting landscape. Landscape pictures always attract me, and the grand examples, Gainsboroughs, Claudes, Cromes, and Turners, to be seen any day in our National Gallery, are a source of never-failing yearning and delight.” The original drawings for the Kent book are of great beauty; and singularly dexterous in the varied methods by which the effect is produced. The artist is now at work on the county of Surrey. It is earnest of his versatility that, in 1904, he illustrated for Messrs. Wells, Darton and Co., with conspicuous success, a modernised prose version of certain of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, as well as Tales from Maria Edgeworth, 1903; and he also executed, in 1892 and 1895,[D] some charming designs to selections from the verses of the present writer, who has long enjoyed the privilege of his friendship.
Personal traits do not come within the province of this paper, or it would be pleasant to dwell upon Mr. Thomson’s modesty, his untiring industry, and his devotion to his art. But in regard to that art, it may be observed that to characterise it solely as “packing the memory with pleasant fancies” may suffice for an exordium, but is inadequate as a final appreciation. Let me therefore note down, as they occur to me, some of his more prominent pictorial characteristics. With three of the artists mentioned in this and the preceding paper, he has obvious affinities, while, in a sense, he includes them all. If he does not excel Stothard in the gift of grace, he does in range and variety; and he more than rivals him in composition. He has not, like Miss Greenaway, endowed the art-world with a special type of childhood; but his children are always lifelike and engaging. (Compare, at a venture, the boy soldiers whom Frank Castlewood is drilling in chapter xi. of Esmond, or the delightful little fellow who is throwing up his arms in chapter ix. of Emma.) As regards dogs and horses and the rest, his colleague, Mr, Joseph Pennell, an expert critic, and a most accomplished artist, holds that he has “long since surpassed” Randolph Caldecott.[E] I doubt whether Mr. Thomson himself would concur with his eulogist in this. But he has assuredly followed Caldecott close; and in opulence of production, which–as Macaulay insisted–should always count, has naturally exceeded that gifted, but shortlived, designer. If, pursuing an ancient practice, one were to attempt to label Mr. Thomson with a special distinction apart from, and in addition to, his other merits, I should be inclined to designate him the “Master of the Vignette,”–taking that word in its primary sense as including head-pieces, tail-pieces and initial letters. In this department, no draughtsman I can call to mind has ever shown greater fertility of invention, so much playful fancy, so much grace, so much kindly humour, and such a sane and wholesome spirit of fun.
D: The Ballad of Beau Brocade, and The Story of Rosina.
E: Pen-Drawing and Pen-Draughtsmen, 2nd ed. 1894, p. 358. ]