28 DECEMBER 1861, Page 15

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TuE advent of Christmas is hailed by the illustrated papers with a number of thoughtless and coarsely-executed engravings, devoted chiefly to the glorification of eating and drinking. Their appearance is as pertinacious and scarcely less annoying than the frequent calls for Christmas-boxes on the 27th. The season has its festivities, and artists and engravers doubtless find considerable pleasure and profit in inflicting boredom on a large portion of their fellow-creatures. The present year's supply is larger in quantity than usual, but not equal to the average standard of merit established in former times. 'The drawings of fat cattle, which, from their sameness, suggest the idea that they are kept permanently in stock, and annually re- christened, give place the following week to highly-imaginative Christ- mas subjects, and the Illustrated News, the Illustrated Times, and the Queen vie with each other in giving the largest amount of woodcuts, invested with the slightest possible amount of interest. There are few engravings in the Christmas numbers of the papers named that one would care to keep, still fewer that dwell in the memory a moment after they have been looked at. The same plan is evident in all— there must be one or two full-page landscapes, two or three figure subjects illustrative of tales—while the majority are devoted to• social amusements and the pleasures of the table. The landscape draughtsman cannot conceive Christmas independent of snow—rare as has been that accompaniment with us of late years—nor can the figure draughtsman get rid of the clatter of knives and forks. With the view possibly of exciting the appetites of its readers, the Illus- trated 1Yetes gives a sticky and highly-coloured print after Mr. Lance's "Burgomaster's Dessert," as a supplement. The pro- prietors of this paper, by the way, have frequently announced their intention of greatly improving the art department, but few evidences of that laudable determination have as yet been apparent. If the truth is to be spoken, it must be confessed that the generality of the drawings in the Illustrated News are very inferior to what they 'were years ago, and anybody who will take the trouble of comparing the sketches of the American war, now issued from week to week, with those of the Crimean campaign or the French Revolution in 1.88, will find the balance of merit very much in favour of the latter. Even this present Christmas number is inferior to one issued some years ago containing drawings by Gavarni, Penguilly, and other French artists. Our illustrated papers might well take a lesson from their French rival L'Illustration, and I am, glad to see that one of them, the Illustrated Times, does occasionally borrow one of the engravings that have already ap- peared in that artistically conducted journal. On this side the Channel, we are too anxious for quantity and keeping up as nearly as possible with the date of the events we attempt to illustrate. The consequence is that neither artist nor engraver has sufficient time allowed to do himself justice, and is compelled to produce work of which he is doubtless often ashamed. Messrs. Mason and Slidell are captured on board the Trent one week, and it is impera- tively necessary that we "illustrate" the event the next. Our omni- present artist is set to work against time, and the result is in most cases an utterly 'unreliable representation and an utterly worthless drawing. In the Christmas drawings of the week, the Queen seems, on the whole, to compete very successfully with its longer-established rivals. A desire for originality is more evident, and the determina- tion to infuse new blood (in an artistic sense) into the paper, argues well for its future success. Many of the cuts are bad, and those by Mr. Arthur Hughes are ludicrously weak. The twelve drawings of "The Year in Society," by kiss Florence and Miss Ada Claxton, show that those young ladies are improving, but I must protest against the evident appropriation of a figure from one of Mr.. Keene's drawings, as shown in "Society Masquerading," where the Puritan lady to the left is taken, line for line, from one of that artist's Once a .Week illustrations. The gem of the paper will he found in the four "Christmas Dreams;" drawn by Mr. C. H. Bennett, which are marked- by great originality of conception, con. siderable fancy; and a: Certain firm " sarcastic humour. There is a 'dream of " pudding.," a dream of "matrimony," a "piggy" dream, and "a doggy" dream. To describe them all in detail would far ex- ceed the limits of this article, so I content myself with one which will give the reader some idea of the method of treatment employed in the whole. In the "dream of matrimony," a young lady in a spoon-shaped bonnet has fallen asleep over her prayer-book. The sharp point of the bonnet changes into a wisp of hair, the "curtain' of the same becomes the furred collar of a goose- looking alderman holding a heavy money-bag; the alderman changes into a goose, the goose into a duck of a rifleman—the son, probably, of the alderman; then come a pair of ducks—the volunteer and the lady billing and cooing; they are next shown as a pair of dead ducks; the Prayer Book changes into a jewel-case, then into a pork-pie hat, and again into a game pie ; the money-bag, which looks fat and con- tented in the aldermame hand, has a great gap in it When held in the lady's ; the coin falls out, and becomes a crying face dropping numerous tears ; the face gradually elongates and turns into the flame of a candle which burns wastefully, and now the candle is burning at both ends, and is at last put out by an extinguisher sur- mounted with a death's head. In this quaint but thoughtful way does Mr. Bennett read a homily on the folly of finery and extrava- gance of living: there is an under-current of wisdom running through all his fancies, and the reader will find an equal amount of food for

reflection if he will spend a few minutes in deciphering the artist's meaning in the three other dreams.

Mr. H. K. Browne is the very antithesis of Mr. Bennett, and it must be confessed that we have had nearly enough of illustrations by "Pins," which are only in place when appended in the form of etchings to Mr. Dickens's works. 'There is no denying Mr. Browne's clevei- ness ; but he is so meretricious, so wholly given to caricature, not based upon careful observation of nature, that in the present day, when some amount of truth at least is necessary to secure an a-"ist respect, he is left far behind men with less ability, perhaps, but gra der conscientiousness than hesses. Most people begin to weary also of Mr. Alfred Crowquirsweork. His drawing of "What I Saw in the Fire," in the Illustrated London News, is a mere jumble of the most obvious caricature, without point or meaning. Few will care for the somewhat vulgar drawingsby Mr. Huard, in the same journal; and it is to be regretted that Mr. Duncan should be enabled to spare time from his charming water-colour drawings in order to make so unsatisfactory a sketch as that of the two vapid boys waiting for the "Christmas Coach." The Illustrated Times like the Illustrated News, avails itself of the services of Mr. H. K. Browne; but its most curious cut is one by Mr. Woods, entitled "A. Christmas Dinner in the Forecastle of the Pembroke Man-of-war," by which it would appear that that vessel is manned by sailors with such great simi- larity of feature that one is undistinguishable from another.

"'The blessed Christmas-tide" brings with it its illustrated books as well as papers, and Messrs. Bell and Daldv publish a reissue of "Christmas with the Poets," a collection of songs, carols, and de- scriptive verses, illustrated by Mr. Birket Foster. It is some years since this work first made its appeara,nce, and it is therefore hardly necessary to say that the illustrations are inferior to those which have lately come from the artist. They are tinted in grey and brown, en- graved in the best manner by Vizetelly, and being surrounded by gilt floral borders, have altogether a very dainty look. When amateurs showed their productions to Sir Joshua Reynolds, he was in the habit of saying" Pretty, pretty!" thus escaping the awkward task of honest criticism, and pleasing those who sought his opinion by the bestowal of an epithet which vanity would turn into a compli- ment. "Pretty, pretty," is the fittest praise for these early drawings of Mr. Fostees; they are admirably fitted for young ladies' albums, or for the adornment of a drawing-room table, but they are in no wise either strong, or good art. The volume is handsomely got up in a binding of white gold and crimson, and otherwise adorned, by a coloured frontispiece and gilt initial letters. Paper and printing ape of the best quality, and the selections of songs, &a., have been made with care and judgment. DRY POINT.