THACKERAY'S SKETCHES AND FRAGMENTS.*
HERE we have a ghinea quarto an inch thick, containing a mass of smooth and spotless paper, and therein embedded some frag- mentary sketches, graphic and autographic, by the hand of Thackeray. A short preface by his daughter sets forth as the main object of the publication a desire to show some of her father's later drawings, as more adequately representing his gift than certain slight caricatures and imitations of his early school and college days which were contained in a book published not long ago, and which did not give a fair example of his feeling for art. We are not quite sure how far the evidence of the " drawings "now published (" broken bits and fragments," they are more modestly and appropriately called in the next sentence) is thought likely to strengthen his title to artistic rank ; but we must confess that we see nothing in them to alter the estimate that we, or, we pre- sume, most other people, had already formed of Thackeray's talent in this direction. They have the same merits and the same de- fects as had the many sketches which he himself made public, and these certainly did not entitle our great humourist to any considerable rank as a graphic artist. In the earlier portion of his life, thinking to make Art his business, he went, as his daughter here tells us, from Weimar to Paris, and there studied under Bonington. But he must have made very slight progress in technical training, when he gave up the painter's art and took to journalism, confining his pencil-work to the illustra- tion of his own writings with the humorous designs familiar to all novel-readers of a certain age. It is as that of an amateur only that we find his name included in that excellent work of reference, the Dictionary of Artists of the English School, by the now lamented Mr. Samuel Redgrave, who describes his designs as " crude, poorly drawn," and having " little pretensions to art."
Having thus, out of our regard for Art in general (" Art with a great A," as Thackeray would himself have styled it), eased our conscience so far, we are left free to admit that there is for us a delightful charm in many of his sketches, even when at their crudest. If his pencil remained that of an amateur, notwithstanding his art-schooling, it also retained the bloom and unconventional freshness which are often lost by professionals of all kinds, in their endeavours after technical pro- ficiency. We have not even to forgive his bad drawing. It no more affects the sentiment of what is expressed than bad writing would, provided it were legible. There is a transparent simplicity in his caricaturing which, besides being a special charm in itself, discloses the basis of the keen observation upon which it is founded ; and its subjective character is as marked as are the tone and spirit of his writings. Nobody ever looked upon his vignettes as works of art, but everybody with a sense of humour must have felt that theirs did not need for its expression more correct drawing or a better-disciplined hand.
Much of Thackeray's work, both with pen and pencil, was of a kind which enabled him, with the happiest effect, to use one in aid of the other. If an author be enough of an artist to illustrate his own works, it is natural to expect that the necessary unity of motive will enhance his power of expression, as the literary and the graphic images support and react upon each other. It is true that the dual talent can be of little service (where indeed it is rarest) in the most complete forms. of composition. Where, for example, these two descriptive languages are employed together in an elaborate work of fiction, the greater the degree of realistic finish given to the one, the more difficult is it to make the other its proper complement. Either the one or the other
• Vas Orphan of Pimlico; and other Sketches, Fragments, and Drawings. By William Makepeace Thackeray, with some Notes by Anne Isabella Thaekeray. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.
takes a decidedly inferior place, and may well be dispensed with, or they become two conflicting attempts to express the same thing. Thus in the more important of Thackeray's self-illustrated novels he entered into competition with himself in a twofold de- lineation of character, and his pencil was so completely distanced by his pen, that it had finally to retire discomfited from the field. But it is not so with literary productions of a more abstract or ideal nature, or of that light, sketchy kind which forms so large a part of Thackeray's miscellaneous works. Here the vignettes help out the text, touching the same chord, and accompanying the melody, without seeking to repeat all its notes. In some of the Christmas books, it is hard to say which is the principal and which the accessory, the letter-press or the pictures.
Feeling, as everybody does who draws for the Press, that his designs were wont to lose spirit in their " various transmigrations of wood and steel, and engraver's toil and printer's ink," Thackeray endeavoured at one time to find some autographic pro- cess which could bring them before the public just as they came from his pencil ; or rather, perhaps, from a certain " faithful old Gold Pen," whose praises he sang in some album-verses, and whose serviceable condition, " after five years of constant use," and the making of " many hundred drawings," lie gratefully re- corded. It was with this gold pen, as Miss Thackeray informs us, that most of the pages of interwoven pictorial and written matter were executed ; and we can easily understand how, with his peculiar gifts, he must have rejoiced in an instrument which facilitated this double power of jotting down and illustrating the fancies that flowed from his teeming brain. In caricatures, where spontaneity is everything, a special bond of union seems to exist between the drawing itself and a written character in the legend that accompanies it. For example, comic dialogue has much less effect in a printed foot-note than when it streams or curls from the speaker's lips like tobacco-smoke, and settles into labels, quaintly outlined to suit the composition. This manner of speaking has gone out since woodcuts took the place of etchings, for in the latter manner of engraving it was much favoured by the facility afforded of drawing and writing with one and the same implement. The laughable extravagan- cies which used to be put upon paper by the late M. Topffer, of Geneva, were notable examples of the value of this same unity and combination. His adventures of Messrs. Jabot, Cripin, Vieuxbois, &c., and the original Voyages en Zigzag, are probably scarce books now, but a comparison of them with the lighter illustrated sketches of Thackeray's would show not a few points of resemblance. At any rate, there would seem to have been a field of grotesque art specially suited to Thackeray's talent in this kind of comic fiction, lying midway between drawing and writing, if he could only have found suit- able means of reproduction. Autotype and photolithography were not invented in his day, and Miss Thackeray tells us that the experiments he made once or twice with the above object came to nothing. It was probably in the course of these experi- ments that, to our knowledge, he tried the anastatic process of printing. The present writer happens to have had in his pos- session for upwards of twenty years an octavo page of such printing, evidently transferred from an original in Thackeray's handwriting; and headed " Professor T. M. Wigglesworth's Remarks on Anastatic Printing." Therein he describes his want, and what then seemed to supply it, in the following playful and characteristic style :-
"When that famous Turk Cogia Hassan Alhabbal found the diamond in the fish's belly, he could not have been better pleased than I am at the discovery of the Anastatic Ink. For, writing a legible hand, and possessing a fertile, ingenious, and flippant turn of mind, it will be my pleasure to communicate with people conversationally, as it were, and in this easy manner to say, draw, and write things which are not grave enough to be pat in a book, and yet had better be said than not, if they are amusing, for one can't have in this world, which is so full of stupid and pompous people, too much good-humour, and easy, confidential talk."
"And then, supposing," as he says, " the Anastasia to be a veri- table anastasia," the Professor proceeds to speculate on the fortune he may thereby be enabled to leave to the little Wigglesworths, and winds up with a pictorial tail-piece, representing a tribe of children engaged in cuddling purses and bank-notes and apron- f als of gold. Moreover, a sketch at the beginning depicts the delight of Cogia Hassan at finding his wonderful jeweL This humorous effusion has also an obvious connection with the little burlesque novel which gives its name to the present volume, and therein affords a fresh example of a favourite device of the great writer's in his works of fiction. He was never tired of inter- weaving relationships between the personages in his several tales,
so as to make -them all appear to move in the same little world of Vanity Fair. Thus our Professor, who dates his paper from Clapham Rise, was doubtless of the same family as the Rev
Clement Wigglesworth, of Clapham Chapel of Ease, father of Maria Theresa Wigglesworth, many years governess in the nobility's families, and authoress of Posies of Poesy, Thoughts on the Use of the Globes, &c., and last, not least, The 'Orphan of Pimlico.
We abstain from disclosing the harrowing details of this romance of fashionable life, and of its tragic denouement, here most graphically depicted. Suffice it to say that, though shorter, it might worthily take its place with the capital series of burlesque "Prize Novels " which Thackeray wrote for Punch. Proceeding with the contents of the volume, we come next to the germ of an abortive Christmas book, meant to contain drawings of historic incidents, accompanied by descriptive verses and morals applic- able to modern times. King Alfred burns the cakes, and Queen Bess dances to amuse the Court, the latter a very comic figure indeed. A few pages further on, the Virgin Queen appears again, this time in a tender scene from Alexandre Dumas' Romance in Forty Volumes, La Jeunesse d'Elizabeth, and in com- pany with an equally illustrious person :—
"The lady sat in her bower • the poet was at her feet. The fairest scene of all England was stretched around ; Greenwich, with the count- less navies of England ; St. Paul's, with its dome ; the Tower of London ; the Monument on Fish Street Hill; Cantorbery, with its laughing hills,. —behind the mountains of Scotland. ' Yon know my name, 'tis Williams ; but how shall I call you ?' he said. She stooped down, she kissed him on his monumental forehead. ' Call me Betsi, she said."
A satirical sample of a kind of old-fashioned comedy now happily extinct, and an inimitable study of a grim Scotch audience endea-
vouring to imbibe the humour of one of Mr. Thackeray's lec- tures, are, we think, the best things in the remaining pages. But it must be confessed that they also contain a great many scraps which, interesting though they may be as evidence of the way in which the great humourist amused his leisure hours, were scarcely worth reproducing. If they must be published, they ought at least to have been made presentable to the eye by some sort of artistic grouping on the pages. But there is, with an ample expenditure of blank cartridge, a sad want of taste in the arrangement ; and this deprives the volume of that sort of ele- gant glory which belongs to the "beautiful quarto page where a neat rivulet of text meanders through a meadow of margin."
The last five plates contain a portion of a pack of cards ornamented with fanciful and grotesque designs. The idea of these cartes de fantaisie, if not quite as old as the hills, is at least of some antiquity. Mr. Chatto says, in his learned book on playing-cards, that there were German ones of the fifteenth cen- tury, with figures, quadrupeds, birds, and foliage, by way of orna-
ment, in addition to the pips. An annual series of "Card Almanacks " were published at Tubingen early in the present century, and others afterwards in Germany, among which a Frankfort four of clubs, in 1815, had an illustration of Burger's, Leonore upon it, the clubs being crosses in the churchyard. Of this class are some of the best of Thackeray's,—one, for example, being a scene of Macbeth, Banquo and the Witches, made out of
the seven of clubs, the aforesaid persons accounting for five out of the seven, and the remaining two being appropriated to Macbeth's little dog, and a pair of bellows to blow the cauldron fire- Others are equally ingenious, and in these cards the drawing is- neater than anywhere else in the book.
We rejoice to recognise in some of the vignettes the charming appreciation of the ways of children which Thackeray always showed where he introduced them in his sketches. Mr. Sidney Colvin lately wrote a book to set forth the delightful way in which English artists, particularly Blake, Stothard, and Flax- man, have treated children in their designs. When we look at this dear little one saying its prayers, this small marquis doing his dancing, and this minute omnibus-cad mocking his father, in his cry of "City, city!" and remember other sketches of the like nature, we cannot help thinking that, amateur and caricaturist as he was, a supplemental chapter in Mr. Colvin's book might well be given to William Makepeace Thackeray.