comic history : royal bedding of madcap laughs

The Victorians seemed to have an avaricious relationship with history. They simultaneously were involved in the creation of it and when taking a respite from this burden of civilizing humanity they were reading it; endlessly and for the authors quite profitably. When the thunderous prose and majestic perspectives faltered, readers without reluctance would pick up “The Comic History of England”. It was removed from the bawdy, completely un-repressed caricature that marked the Georgian period from Rowlandson and Gillray in particular, but “Comic History” was pretty acceptable fare though toned down and sanitized from the previous era.

""William the Conqueror inspecting the volunteers previous to the invasion of England." Hand-colored steel engraving by John Leech. William, in armor and on horseback, inspects a motley crew of men. " image:

Comic History was written by Thomas a Beckett and illustrated by John Leech, both of whom were members of the original staff of Punch. Beckett’s text is pretty hammy to swallow but Leech’s hand-colored etchings are enduringly charming and humorous.

"This book was a collaboration between Leech and a fellow Punch staffer, the writer Gilbert A'Beckett. The text is full of puns and humor, and Leech finds ample room for satire and humor in the follies and foibles of history. He seems especially drawn to royal personages, as shown by the image of Henry VIII "monk hunting" at left. In addition to the colored plates, numerous black and white wood engravings appear throughout the text. " image:

“When he was only three, he was discovered by Flaxman, who had called on his parents, seated on his mother’s knee, drawing with much gravity. The sculptor pronounced his sketch to be wonderful, adding, “Do not let him be cramped with lessons in drawing; let his genius follow its own bent; he will astonish the world”–an advice which was strictly followed. A mail-coach, done when he was six years old, is already full of surprising vigour and variety in its galloping horses. Leech was educated at Charterhouse, where Thackeray, his lifelong friend, was his schoolfellow, and at sixteen he began to study for the medical profession at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he won praise for the accuracy and beauty of his anatomical drawings. He was then placed under a Mr Whittle, an eccentric practitioner, the original of “Rawkins” in Albert Smith’s Adventures of Mr Ledbury, and afterwards under Dr John Cockle; but gradually the true bent of the youth’s mind asserted itself, and he drifted into the artistic profession.” Read More:


---In 1845, Leech illustrated the new Shilling Magazine. His work for this magazine was especially designed to be printed in color, a novelty at the time. Leech's work now became more original and during this period he reached his full artistic potential. Around this time, Leech was also commissioned to illustrated several works by Charles Dickens, which are regarded as some of his best works. Some of his most successful works are four magnificent illustrations for the story "A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens, the designs for the Comic History of England (1847-1848)---

Thackeray: … there was not an artist in England whose work was so well known or who was as popular as John Leech.He ridiculed the foibles of the day, instituting such a campaign against spirit-rappings and bloomerism, that his caricatures are said to have actually had an effect on the public’s reception of these fads and innovations. In comparing his work to that of his contemporaries, the outstanding qualities are not far to seek. Truth, simplicity, homeliness in its broadest meaning, handled with a brilliant sense of proportion and line. The somewhat sinister power of Cruikshank and the clever satire of Tenniel may be lacking but what Leech has to offer us is a rare gift, a friendliness of spirit that laughs with, and not at, the world it is caricaturing, and it was in this that his great power undoubtedly lay. He seems to have depended less on his imagination than upon his quiet and unusual power of observation and sense of the ridiculous combined. He turned every amusing situation to account. Many a humorous situation would have passed unnoticed but for him, and the result is to give us a most entertaining and accurate picture of the times. Read More: a

Coronation of King Henry IV ( From the best authorities ) ---Like Hogarth he was a true humorist, a student of human life, though he observed humanity mainly in its whimsical aspects,:"Hitting all he saw with shafts:With gentle satire, kin to charity, :That harmed not."The earnestness and gravity of moral purpose which is so constant a note in the work of Hogarth is indeed far less characteristic of Leech, but there are touches of pathos and of tragedy in such of the "Punch" designs as the "Poor Man's Friend" (1845), and "General FĂ©vrier turned Traitor" (1855), and in "The Queen of the Arena" in the first volume of "Once a Week", which are sufficient to prove that more solemn powers, for which his daily work afforded no scope, lay dormant in their artist. The purity and manliness of Leech's own character are impressed on his art. We find in it little of the exaggeration and grotesqueness, and none of the fierce political enthusiasm, of which the designs of James Gillray are so full. Compared with that of his great contemporary George Cruikshank, his work is restricted both in compass of subject and in artistic more: image:

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