Back to Top

Tag Archives: Punch

“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?

This week, I’m going to start with:


This Saturday is the #FallBackInTime event on Twitter, Facebook, and what not, where your favorite romance authors (and we hope, you, too!) will post a selfie with their first or favorite historical romance novel. And so far, my selfies all ended up looking really dreadful. (More suitable for Halloween, really…)

Selfies are, of course, nothing new. Back in the day before smartphones & cameras they were called self-portraits (and they tended to look fab!) (oh well, but then we typcially only get to see the self-portraits of, you know, real artists instead of those done by amateurs). Some of them are very serious (and done in oil), others are far more cheeky – and naturally, self-portraits by the artists of Punch tend to fall into the latter category.

One of my favorite staff portraits in the magazine itself is the border for the preface to volume 7 from 1844. It was done by Richard Doyle and shows the writers and artists bringing their offerings to Mr. Punch:

Selfie from British magazine Punch
Between Mr. Punch and Toby, his dog, you can see Mark Lemon, the editor, and (I think) one of the publishers, while behind Toby the artists and writers are queuing and waiting to hand over their work. The short guy at the front is probably John Leech, followed by Thackeray (tall + curls + small, round spectacles = super-easy to recognize!) and, at the far end of the queue, by Dicky Doyle himself, holding a gigantic pencil.

Kinda cute, isn’t it?

Well, the same cannot be said about my own selfies, I’m afraid, even though I have a smartphone with a camera and don’t even have to sketch my portrait. But…


Sandra Schwab's Horrible Selfie No. 1
The second attempt turned out even worse:

Sandra Schwab's Horrible Selfie No 3
And the third attempt… At least I managed to keep my eyes open. That’s progress, right???

Sandra Schwab's Horrible Selfie No 2
But still not particularly, er, nice. *sigh*

So I’m coming to you, hoping that you might have some tips for me how to improve my selfie-taking skills before this weekend so that I won’t end up traumatizing the rest of the world with my truly bad selfies. HALP!!!!!

And, of course, I hope you’ll join us on Saturday for the #FallBackInTime event and post your own selfies with historicals that you particularly enjoyed or that started your love affair with the genre. 🙂

Punch Dinner in 1895

Punch Dinner in 1895

An important aspect of Allan’s Miscellany, the fictional magazine in my new series, is the weekly staff dinner on Wednesday nights. The dinner will be first mentioned in the second volume, where (unlike in The Bride Prize) the staff of Allan’s actually consists of more than two people. This is the relevant snippet:

In the courtyard of Allan and Sons, the lanterns had already been lit Jack saw, as he strode towards the stars that led to the open upper gallery. When he pushed open the door at the end of the short passage, warm, mellow light spilled from the room, and Jack was greeted by the sounds of male voices and laughter.

This was ‘the Den,’ the editorial office of Allan’s Miscellany, whereat the large table dominating the room, a magazine was fashioned week after week, where flame-haired William MacNeil ruled his crew of writers and artists with an iron fist. It was here that the staff assembled on Wednesday nights to discuss the next issue over an opulent dinner sponsored by their publisher. After all, Uncle Allan had argued, Fraser’s had a dinner and Punch had a weekly dinner, too — and what was good enough for them was certainly good enough for Allan’s!

As you can see from this snippet, not just my inner history geek, but also my somewhat obsessive love for Punch are coming to the fore again. The aspect of community is something I find extremely fascinating about the history of nineteenth-century periodicals in general and the history of Punch in particular. Community was as important to Victorian writers as it is to writers today — or perhaps even more so: in some cases the very survival of a writer / artist and his family depended on the charity of his colleagues. Dickens, for example, often organised amateur theatricals for the benefit of a colleague or his family.

But also in their normal everyday lives and their work, community and personal relationships were important to the journalists of the time. One editor had the habit of leafing through rivaling periodicals, and whenever he saw a negative review of a friend’s book or a negative article about a friend, he would immediately insert a passionate rebuttal into his own magazine. Dickens broke with Bradbury & Evans, his publishers, because Punch (also published by Bradbury & Evans) had refused to print his open letter to the public, in which Dickens explained the reasons for his separation from his wife.

For some magazines, the communal factor became relevant even when producing the magazine: as mentioned in the snippet above, the inner staff of Punch met for weekly dinners (on Wednesday nights, of course *g*), where they discussed the topic and motif for the next issue’s large cut, the central one-page political cartoon. The Punch dinners were legendary; in a way, they were one of the most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in London: you could only attend upon invitation from the editor.

Below you can see an idealized depiction of the Punch Table from the 1890s, with Francis Burnand (editor from 1880-1890) on the left, making the toast of the evening. To his right sits Sir John Tenniel, who illustrated Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books and had become a member of the staff of Punch in 1850. Dominating the background is a sculpture of Mr. Punch himself, and on the walls you can see portraits and busts of late staff members (e.g., the portrait of Mark Lemon, the first editor, is on the left; the bust on the left is Thackeray and the bust on the right is John Leech, the artist).

Punch Table 1891

Punch Table 1891

In my series, I use the weekly dinners to introduce readers to the staff of Allan’s, to depict the sense of community that binds these men together, and to show the development of the magazine: as the magazine grows in importance, so do the numbers of writers and artists. The dinners are also a great opportunity for me to plant Easter eggs and running jokes like Matthew Clark’s whoopee cushion. The following is another snippet from Falling for a Scoundrel, the second volume in the series (aka the WIP I was supposed to finish by the end of May *cue in manic laughter*)

“Jack! There you are!” Matthew Clark — theatre and literature — shouted. “You won’t believe what I’ve found in that curiosity shop I told you about!”

Behind him Lawrence Pelham, comic artist, emphatically shook his head. Do not ask! he voiced silently.

“It’s the most splendid thing!”

Gervase Carlton, who covered general news as Mr. Copperwit, smirked. “Knowing our Matt, I say he’ll inflict that thing upon us for years to come.”

“Thing?” Jack echoed, his brows raised. Having shed his heavy coat, he sank down onto his chair — which bleated like a dying goat.

Jack jerked upright, his hand on the knife he carried hidden at his side.

Matt grinned delightedly. “See? You’ve found it! It’s a whoopee cushion. Isn’t it the most splendid thing?”

Taking a deep breath, Jack let his hand fall to his side and reminded himself that his colleague couldn’t possibly know how close his precious new whoopee cushion had come to being separated from its whoopee forevermore.

~ Sandy

Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By