25 OCTOBER 1940, Page 18

Sad Pleasures

THE popularity of Punch is one of the best examples of the English taking their pleasures sadly. The Janes, Angelas and Georges who romp so decently and interminably through the pages of Punch are all here with their aunts and uncles, whose funny names must surely be wearing thin. even with those who delight in the comic possibilities of onomatopoeia. Here and there a tired note of whimsy creeps in, or some cautious jibe at a Government service or the social order. But of wit as a weapon or irony as a prophylactic' there is hardly a glimmer. Punch is unique. Its prestige is enviable, its potentialities enormous. But to what purpose are these qualities directed? Apart from a resolute intention to be above all things funny, and where that is not possible, to be whimsical, I can detect no positive or even negative aims. As a means to an end, whether to defend or attack, to inspire, persuade or provoke, humour has wide and subtle powers. As an end in itself it usually becomes a brittle and emasculated thing. Tedium in this " Pick " is relieved, so far as I am concerned, only by the drawings. And as though even these might seem in danger of too blatant cynicism, the best are so reduced as to obscure their merits.

After something more than a decade of graphic mediocrity that must have caused a collective rotation in the tombs of Doyle, Leech, Keene, Phil May, and others on whose work the Punch tradition largely rests, there are signs once more that a vein of illustration which is intrinsically comic, and not merely so by suggestion or auto-suggestion, is returning to its pages. Though slight in genre as in execution, such drawings as those of Fougasse, Anton, Crum, Mervyn Wilson, Pont and Hewitt comment with sharp absurdity on the fatuities of our existence. The outlook and approach of these artists differ widely, of course, though not fundamentally, from those of Punch's earlier draughtsmen. The technique of illustration is subject to repro- ductive and fashionable influences, and is simpler, besides being more formal than in the 'eighties. These are modifications suit- able to the present day, which calls for no marked profundity in social satire. But in this book the dead-weight of the Janes and Georges, as well as of the inevitable Whiffins, Bollusters, Smack- boddys, Witherspoons and other rib-splitting personalities, will be a severe trial to readers appreciative of wit as understood and interpreted by Pope, Byron or the Sitwells (a name, surely, good