Charles Dickens John Leech Biography & Facts
John Leech (29 August 1817 – 29 October 1864) was a British caricaturist and illustrator. He was best known for his work for Punch, a humorous magazine for a broad middle-class audience, combining verbal and graphic political satire with light social comedy. Leech catered to contemporary prejudices, such as anti-Americanism and antisemitism and supported acceptable social reforms. Leech's critical yet humorous cartoons on the Crimean War helped shape public attitudes toward heroism, warfare, and Britons' role in the world.Leech also enjoys fame as the first illustrator of Charles Dickens' 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. He was furthermore a pioneer in comics, creating the recurring character Mr. Briggs and some sequential illustrated gags.
John Leech was born in London. His father, a native of Ireland, was the landlord of the London Coffee House on Ludgate Hill, "a man", on the testimony of those who knew him, "of fine culture, a profound Shakespearian, and a thorough gentleman." His mother was descended from the family of Richard Bentley. Like his father. Leech was skillful at drawing with a pencil, which he began doing at a very early age. When he was only three, he was discovered by John Flaxman, who was visiting, seated on his mother's knee, drawing with much gravity. The sculptor admired his sketch, adding, "Do not let him be cramped with lessons in drawing; let his genius follow its own bent; he will astonish the world"—advice which was followed. A mail-coach, done when he was six years old, is already full of surprising vigour and variety in its galloping horses. Leech was educated at Charterhouse School, where William Makepeace Thackeray, his lifelong friend, was a fellow pupil, and at sixteen he began to study for the medical profession at St Bartholomew's Hospital, where he won praise for the accuracy and beauty of his anatomical drawings. He was then placed under a Mr Whittle, an eccentric practitioner, the original of "Rawkins" in Albert Smith's Adventures of Mr Ledbury, and afterwards under Dr John Cockle; but gradually he drifted into the artistic profession. His nickname also being "Blicky" stuck with him during his life, along with being famous.
He was eighteen when his first designs were published, a quarto of four pages, entitled Etchings and Sketchings by A. Pen, Esq., comic character studies from the London streets. Then he drew some political lithographs, did rough sketches for Bell's Life, produced a popular parody on Mulready's postal envelope, and, on the death of Dickens illustrator Robert Seymour in 1836, unsuccessfully submitted his renderings to illustrate The Pickwick Papers.
In 1840 Leech began his contributions to the magazines with a series of etchings in Bentley's Miscellany, where George Cruikshank had published his plates to Jack Sheppard and Oliver Twist, and was illustrating Guy Fawkes in feebler fashion.
In company with the elder master Leech designed for the Ingoldsby Legends and Stanley Thorn, and until 1847 produced many independent series of etchings. These were not his best work; their technique is imperfect and we never feel that they express the artist's individuality, the Richard Savage plates, for instance, being strongly reminiscent of Cruikshank, and The Dance at Stamford Hall of Hablot Browne.
In 1845 Leech illustrated St Giles and St James in Douglas William Jerrold's new Shilling Magazine, with plates more vigorous and accomplished than those in Bentley, but it is in subjects of a somewhat later date, and especially in those lightly etched and meant to be printed with colour, that we see the artist's best powers with the needle and acid.
Among such of his designs are four charming plates to Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (1843), the broadly humorous etchings in the Comic History of England (1847–1848), and the still finer illustrations to The Comic History of Rome (1851)—which last, particularly in its minor woodcuts, shows some exquisitely graceful touches, as witness the fair faces that rise from the surging water in Cloelia and her Companions Escaping from the Etruscan Camp.
Among his other etchings are those in Young Master Troublesome or Master Jacky's Holidays, and the frontispiece to Hints on Life, or How to Rise in Society (1845)—a series of minute subjects linked gracefully together by coils of smoke, illustrating the various ranks and conditions of men, one of them—the doctor by his patient's bedside—almost equalling in vivacity and precision the best of Cruikshank's similar scenes.
Then in the 1850s come the numerous etchings of sporting scenes, contributed, together with woodcuts, to the Handley Cross novels by Robert Smith Surtees.
Leech's lithographic work includes the 1841 Portraits of the Children of the Mobility, an important series dealing with the humorous and pathetic aspects of London street "Arabs", which were afterwards so often and so effectively to employ the artist's pencil. Amid all the squalor which they depict, they are full of individual beauties in the delicate or touching expression of a face, in the graceful turn of a limb. The book is scarce in its original form, but in 1875 two reproductions of the outline sketches for the designs were published—a lithographic issue of the whole series, and a finer photographic transcript of six of the subjects, which is more valuable than even the finished illustrations of 1841, in which the added light and shade is frequently spotty and ineffective, arid the lining itself has not the freedom which we find in some of Leech's other lithographs, notably in the fly leaves, published at the Punch office, and in the inimitable subject of the nuptial couch of the Caudles, which also appeared, in woodcut form, as a political cartoon, with Mrs Caudle, personated by Brougham, disturbing by untimely loquacity the slumbers of the lord chancellor, whose haggard cheek rests on the woolsack for pillow.
It was in work for the wood-engravers that Leech was most prolific and individual. Among the earlier of such designs are the illustrations to the Comic English and Latin Grammars (1840), to Written Caricatures (1841), to Hood's Comic Annual, (1842), and to Albert Smith's Wassail Bowl (1843), subjects mainly of a small vignette size, transcribed with the best skill of such woodcutters as Orrin Smith, and not, like the larger and later Punch illustrations, cut at speed by several engravers working at once on the subdivided block.
It was in 1841 that Leech's connection with Punch began, a connection which subsisted until his death, and resulted in the production of the best-known and most admirable of his designs. His first contribution appeared in the issue of 7 August, a full-page illustration—entitled Foreign Affairs of character studies from the neighbourhood of Leicester Square. His cartoons deal at first mainly with social subjects, and are rough and imperfect in exe.... Discover the Charles Dickens John Leech popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Charles Dickens John Leech books.