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“All the town’s a slide,
And all the men and women merely skaters,”

rhymes PUNCH in 1850 (with a nod towards the Bard), and indeed, 19th-century Londoners were keen skaters: when during a strong frost in January 1850 all the ornamental lakes in the parks of London froze, people turned out in their thousands to slide or skate along the ice. THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS talks of 12,000 people assembling in St. James’s Park alone to enjoy the wintry spell.

The Serpentine in Hyde Park was another favorite with skaters, and one of Richard Doyle’s illustration from “Manners and Customs of ye Englyshe” depicts the crush.

The Serpentyne durying a hard frosteApart from the bodies of water, the streets themselves often froze over, no doubt helped along by the many child workers out and about, who, PUNCH suggests, took joy in turning the main thoroughfares of London into giant slides:

Skating in Fleet StreetBut of course, Mr. Punch has already come up with a brilliant solution to this particular problem: “As slides in public thoroughfares, during the frost, are now ‘great facts,’ which the police officially recognise, there is only one thing to be desired, namely, that some little order should be observed on the foot-pavements, so as to make a slide a convenient  and rapid mode of transit. […] By the present system, under which slides are merely tolerated, and are only partially carried out, some of the public who are unprepared for them, keep tumbling about in a very awkward manner. A well-regulated routine of slides, under the control of the police, would be an understood accommodation for all, and order could easily be preserved by sending policemen up and down each series of slides at proper intervals.” 🙂

After all, tumbling about is not nice, as some of the PUNCH contributors know only too well: this little initial letter is “drawn from experience”:

What about your town? Has winter already come to where you live? (Frankfurt turned into a Winter Wonderland on Sunday, and we’ll probably get more snow toward the weekend.)

picture of the book, The Illustrated Letters of Richard Doyle to His Father, 1842-1843

As you know, one of my favorite 19-th century illustrators & PUNCH-men is Richard Doyle, who joined the staff of the magazine when he was just 19 years old, and who designed the iconic cover of PUNCH just a few months later. I still have very fond memories of that magical day I spent in the Victoria & Albert Museum, looking through Doyle’s sketchbooks. (YES!!!! I touched the original sketchbooks! The sketchbooks Doyle himself had touched!)

However, there is one kind of primary source related to Richard Doyle that has remained unpublished for many years and of which you can catch only occasional glimpses in books about Doyle: the illustrated letters he sent to his father in the early 1840s. These were part of the weekly challenge John Doyle set for his sons: in those letters they were to describe what they had seen and done that week. Doyle senior encouraged them to go to the theatre and attend other important cultural and political events in London.

A couple of weeks ago, I found out – quite by accident! – that for the first time ever there’s a scholarly edition of Richard Doyle’s illustrated letters (at this point, imagine me melting into a puddle of delight). So of course, I had to have that book. And, OH MY GOSH, those letters, they are wonderful! I haven’t yet had time to really delve into it, but even just browsing through it is a delight.

Doyle presents to the reader street scenes of London and also takes us into the Doyle home, where he shows us his brothers and himself hard at work at the next painting for their private Sunday exhibition. There are fantasy scenes with fairies and, of course, there plenty of little knights too – one of Doyle’s most favorite theme in those years and one that should later make his illustrations favorites with the PUNCH readership.

Picture of a page from The Illustrated Letters of Richard Doyle to His Father

The letters are whimsical and charming. Take the one from 18 September 1842, which opens with,

My Dear Papa,

The Royal game of Golf (I am not sure that I have spelt it rightly, but it is to be hoped I have), as played upon Blackheath every Saturday by a portion of the sporting residents of the neighbourhood, presents to the unsophisticated eye as remarkable an aspect as one could reasonably expect to witness. Next to the brute force of man, a hurling stick and a ball are the chief agents in this delicious game.

That Demon Punch, illustration from Doyle's letter from 17 December 1843

By December 1843, Richard Doyle was working for PUNCH and the new job is taking up much of this time – to the extent that he fears he won’t be able to finish the “Christmas things” promised to friends and family.  “On the next page,” he writes to his father on 17 December in the last letter of the collection,

you will find a representation of your son, precisely as he appeared at the moment when he gave up all hope, on Monday last, half past nine o’ clock p.m. […] The demon Punch perched upon the table, in exultation, points to the “Procession,” his “Christmas Piece.” Harlequin &c, as indicative of Christmas, weep over the little quantity of yours, a crowd of little urchins, in the foreground, by referring to the productions of former years, prove what can be done, and others in the back are plainly showing that it was not for want of paper.

As it turned out, Doyle would always find it difficult to meet deadlines (*cough* a little bit like myself…) – and it was never for want of paper!

In short, my new research book is a true delight, and I shall peruse it with much joy.

A picture of Sandra Schwab's desk with a volume of PUNCH
My creative work has currently been interrupted – most pleasantly so, I might add! – by my academic work: I have been invited to contribute an essay about a background topic (“Themes of Medievalism in Punch“) to Cengage’s new digital Punch Historical Archive. For this I have also been given access to the archive itself, and it’s – oh my gosh! – fantastic! Not only can you do full text searches across all volumes of Punch from 1841 to 1992, but to make this even better, the large cuts (= the big political cartoons) and the social cuts (=smaller cartoons) have also been indexed. *swoons*

But it gets even better: one of my friends from Liverpool John Moores University, Clare Horrocks, is transcribing the contributors’ ledgers of Punch, and her findings will be incorporated into the archive. This is really important work because for much of the nineteenth century, writing for periodicals was done either anonymously or pseudonymously. So, as was pointed out in an article in a recent issue of American Libraries, Clare’s work helps us to solve questions of authorship and attribution:

Early findings from the project have revealed articles written by William Makepeace Thackeray and P. G. Wodehouse that were previously unattributed. And while Charles Dickens himself never wrote for the magazine, his son Charles Dickens Jr. is known to have contributed a number of articles, which this project expects to uncover.

Yet as awesome as the digital archive is, in certain points it cannot replace leafing through the actual volumes: smaller illustrations like initial letters have not been indexed (and I would imagine that this would actually be a rather impossible task given the vast numbers of itty-bitty illustrations in Punch). Moreover, leafing through volumes and looking at images can reveal certain themes that you would not notice otherwise.

I found this out when I checked initial letters in different volumes from the 1850s, 60s, and 70s (in search for medieval themes, of course!) (or rather, I wanted to pinpoint when medieval themes vanished from the initial letters). And while I was leafing through the 1873 volume, looking for itty-bitty knights, I suddenly noticed an abundance of pet dogs in the social cuts.

Now, it’s not as if dogs hadn’t appeared before 1873: Mr. Punch himself, after all, is accompanied by his dog Toby; in the 1840s Richard Doyle fell into the habit of adding little Toby-ish doggies to many of his drawings; and in social cuts dealing with country sports you can often find hunting dogs. But the many, many pet dogs of 1873 is not something that you see in the 1840s. Clearly, some of the artists who worked for Punch in the 1870s must have been dog lovers.

Like George du Maurier:

a cartoon from PUNCH by George du Maurier a cartoon from PUNCH by George du Maurier(Or perhaps, he just wanted to poke fun at bourgeois ladies and their pet dogs.)

And then, there is GB, whose dogs are truly delightful:

a cartoon from PUNCH by Georgina Bowers a cartoon from PUNCH by Georgina Bowers
And do you know what else is truly delightful about GB? GB is a woman!!! The initials stand for Georgina Bowers. In his History of Punch (1895) Spielmann calls her “[b]y far the most important lady artist who ever worked for Punch […],” and continues,

Miss Bowers was a humorist, with very clear and happy notions as to what fun should be, and how it should be transferred to a picture. Her long career began in 1866, and thenceforward, working with undiminished energy, she executed hundreds of initials and vignettes as well as “socials,” devoting herself in chief part to hunting and flirting subjects.

Of course, being a woman, she had to be shown the proper way of doing illustrations for the magazine *snort*: “It was John Leech [Punch‘s chief artist] who set her on the track; Mark Lemon [Punch‘s first editor], to whom she took her drawings, encouraged her, and with help from Mr. Swain [the engraver] she progressed.” (Oh, Mr. Spielmann! *shakes head sadly*)

Georgina worked for the magazine for ten years until differences with a new editor made her resign. But she seems to have continued to work as an illustrator for many more years.

Isn’t that a lovely find?

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