GEORGE DU MAURIER, THE SATIRIST OF THE VICTORIANS
A Review of His Art and Personality
T. MARTIN WOOD
With Forty-One Illustrations
London Chatto & Windus
Du Maurier worked for periodicals which buried in a back number each phase of his work as it came to an end. Thus it is that he is, unfortunately, chiefly now remembered by the last—the most accessible, but not by any means the finest—period of his work.
The present book is an attempt to correct this and to bring forward du Maurier's name again in the light of his earlier achievement.
No book on the artist, however, would be complete which omitted all reference to his literary attainment; nor would it be in order in an essay of this extent not to seek to demonstrate that connection which always exists between the life and the work of an artist of distinctive temperament. The author has endeavoured, in the chapter devoted to outlining the main incidents of du Maurier's career, to regard the feeling of his representatives that the autobiography of the novels is itself so complete and sensitive as scarcely to call at present for anything supplemental. He wishes to acknowledge the kindness of the artist's family in lending him portraits, sketch-books, and manuscript with the permission for reproduction; also of Mr. W. Lawrence Bradbury, so zealous a guardian of all that redounds to the fame of his great journal, for every kind of assistance; and of Sir Francis Burnand, du Maurier's Editor and comrade, for letters assisting him to form an impression of du Maurier in the flesh. Messrs. Smith, Elder & Co. have also been generous in allowing the reproduction of the four drawings included here, which appeared originally in the Cornhill Magazine. The author only wishes that he felt that what he has written more justified this consideration from everyone who was approached in connection with his undertaking.
I. THE WORLD OF DU MAURIER
II. THE ART OF DU MAURIER
III. DU MAURIER AS AUTHOR
IV. LIFE OF THE ARTIST
V. THE ILLUSTRATIONS
GEORGE DU MAURIER, from a Portrait in Water-colour by Himself (Frontispiece)
ILLUSTRATION FOR "RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ENGLISH GOLD-MINE": Once a Week, 1861
"THE CILICIAN PIRATES": The Cornhill, 1863
ILLUSTRATION FOR "WIVES AND DAUGHTERS": The Cornhill, 1864
ILLUSTRATION FOR "WIVES AND DAUGHTERS": The Cornhill, 1865
SKETCH FOR ABOVE
PENCIL STUDIES FROM THE ARTIST'S SKETCH-BOOK
ILLUSTRATION FOR "A LEGEND OF CAMELOT"—PART III: Punch, 1866
INITIAL LETTER FROM The Cornhill
ILLUSTRATION FOR "THE STORY OF A FEATHER": 1867
ILLUSTRATION FOR "THE STORY OF A FEATHER": 1867
"CAUTION": Punch, 1867
BERKELEY SQUARE, 5 P.M.: Punch, 1867
ILLUSTRATION FOR "ESMOND"
ILLUSTRATION FOR "THE ADVENTURES OF HARRY RICHMOND": The Cornhill, 1870
ILLUSTRATION FOR "THE ADVENTURES OF HARRY RICHMOND": The Cornhill, 1871
"PROXY": Punch's Almanack, 1874
QUEEN PRIMA-DONNA AT HOME: Punch, 1874
HONOUR WHERE HONOUR is DUE: Punch, 1880
CANON AINGER, from a Portrait in Water-colour by du Maurier
THE MUTUAL ADMIRATIONISTS: Punch, 1880
GEORGE DU MAURIER, from a Photograph
SPEED THE PARTING GUEST: Punch, 1883
SKETCH FOR INITIAL LETTER IN The Cornhill, 1883
"Sic TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI!" Punch, 1884
POST-PRANDIAL PESSIMISTS: Punch, 1892
THINGS ONE WOULD RATHER HAVE EXPRESSED DIFFERENTLY: Punch, 1893
There are also several Tailpieces, chronologically arranged
GEORGE DU MAURIER
THE WORLD OF DU MAURIER
We have in the portfolio of du Maurier the epic of the drawing-room. Many of the Victorians, including the Queen, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, seem to have viewed life from the drawing-room window. They gazed straight across the room from the English hearthrug as from undoubtedly the greatest place on earth. They were probably right. But some of this confidence has gone. Actually in these days there are people who won't own up to having a drawing-room at all. If they have a room that could possibly answer to such a description, they go out of their way to call it the library, though its only available printed matter is a Bradshaw; or the music-room, though the only music ever heard in it is when the piano is dusted.
In turning over the old volumes of Punch it is surprising how many of the points made by du Maurier in his drawings and in the legends beneath them still hold good. As a mere "joker" he was perhaps the least able of the Punch staff. His influence began when he started inventing imaginary conversations. In many cases these do not represent the discussion of topical subjects at all, but deal with social aberrations, dated only in the illustration by the costume of the time.
In these imaginary conversations he is already a novelist. They record the strokes of finesse and the subterfuges necessary to the attainment of the vain ambitions which are the preoccupation of human genius in superficial levels of Society in all ages. We realise the waste of energy and diplomacy expended to score small points in the social game. His art is a mirror to weed-like qualities of human nature which enjoy a spring-time with every generation. But it also provides a remarkable record of the effect of the sudden replacement of old by new ideals in the world which it depicted.
The rise of the merchant capitalist upon the results of industrial enterprises rendered possible through the invention and rapid perfecting of machinery, created a class who suddenly appeared in the drawing-rooms of the aristocrats as strangers. Du Maurier himself seems to join in the amazement at their intrusion. Much of this first surprise is the theme of his art. Before the death of the artist the newcomers had proved their right to be there, having shamed an Aristocracy, which had lost nearly all its natural occupations, by bringing home to it the fact that the day was over for despising men who traded instead of fighting, who achieved through barter what the brave would once have been too proud to take except by conquest. The business of the original division of human possessions by the sanguinary method was well over; it was now the merchant's day. It was plain that trade could no longer be despised, when, literally in an age of peace and inventive commerce, indolence was the only alternative to engagement in it.
Du Maurier was very tolerant to social intruders when they were pretty. He rather entered into Mrs. de Tomkyns' aims, and showed it by making her pretty. Her ends might not be the highest, but the tact and the subtlety displayed in her campaign were aristocratic in character, and he would not have her laughed at personally, though we may laugh at the topsy-turvy of a Society in which the entrance into a certain drawing-room becomes the fun reward for the perseverance of a lifetime. But du Maurier shuddered when behind this lady, distinguished in the fact of the possession of genius, he saw a multitude of the aspirateless at the door. We never lose upon the face, which showed as his through his art, the expression of well-bred resentment, yet certainly of amusement also.
During the period of du Maurier's work for Punch the actor gets his position in Society; and we see desolate gentlemen in other professions drifting about at the back of the room like ships that drag their anchor, while all the feminine blandishment of the place is concentrated on the actor. By following up his drawings we can see the whole surface of Victorian Society change in character; we can see one outrageous innovation after another solidify into what was correct.
There never was a period like the Victorian; in many respects the precedents of all older periods of Society fail to apply. In it the aristocrats believed in democracy, and resented the democrat who was practically their own creation. While the democrat held no faith with the same fervour as his belief that "whatsoever is lovely and of good report" could only be obtained by mingling with the upper classes. It was the commercial glory of the great Industrial Reign that turned the whole character of London Society upside down in du Maurier's time. It became the study of the Suburbs to model themselves on Mayfair, to imitate its "rages" and "crazes" in every shade. It is all the vanities of this emulation which du Maurier records; there is little in his art to betray the great influences Ecclesiastically, scientifically, and politically, which expressed the genius of the Victorians. His splendid Bishops are as tranquil as if the controversial Newman, and Gladstone with his Disestablishment programme, had never disturbed the air. And one fancies that politics must have bored him, so studiously does he through over thirty years avoid even a slanting glance at the events which preoccupied Mr. Punch in his cartoons. There is evidence that there was more than the policy of the Paper in this. Du Maurier was an optimist. An optimist is a man who thinks that everything is going right when it is going wrong. It requires an effort of the imagination to recall and picture the fact that in the first hour of Du Maurier's mere amusement Ruskin was adding his lachrymation to Carlyle's over a society going swiftly to Gehenna. It is the entire absence of despair, bitterness, or cynicism in his work that gives it its altogether unique place in the history of social satire. Never before was there such a lenient barb on such a well-aimed arrow.
But if his business is not with the causes which contributed to the character of English Society in his time, it is with their effects. No satirist has ever put more highly representative figures on to his stage. They are so highly representative because they conform so strictly to type. He puts a valuation upon everyone whom he introduces on his stage. He shows exactly the regard in which we are to hold them and their profession. And it is interesting, in the light of the favour with which he always treated the typical savant, to hear from his son that he was always as much interested in what was being accomplished in science as in anything else in the world. We must conclude scientists were first in his estimation as men, from the pains he was at to give them the appearance of distinction in his pictures. Then he had much regard for Generals, great Admirals, and other magnificent specimens, the Adonis, for instance, that figures almost as often, and nearly always in company with, his charming woman. This gentleman is difficult to describe. He seems too languid even for the profession of man-about-town, but his clothes are such that one would think their irreproachability could only be maintained by a life of dedication to them. Did he ever exist? Du Maurier is very subtle here. He fully appreciated the great aim of the public-school-trained man in his own time—the elaborate care with which an officer studied to conceal an enthusiasm for the profession of arms, the great air of indolence with which over-work was concealed in the other fashionable professions. As a matter of fact these beautiful priests in the temple of "good form" were splendid stoics. They would lay it down that as long as correctness of attitude was maintained nothing mattered.
The artist seems to share many of the prejudices of the older aristocrats. He makes his Jews too Jewish. He believes that they produce great artists, and as if this wasn't enough, he still holds them at arm's length. We have in his art not only the record of social innovations, but a picture of the aristocrats before the barbarian invasion. As a picture of them then his art has now its value. And yet he was not quite an aristocrat in temperament, which is a little different from being one by birth. He would have been less tolerant of the Philistines if he had been, and more Bohemian too. He made his great excursions into Bohemia, but he reached it always by a journey through the suburbs. His love of glamour and enchantment was aristocratic, but he did not keep it to the end. He loses it in later drawings. His satire, too, grows less pointed after the eighties, with an equivalent decline in the art by which it is conveyed. The poetic vein that once distinguished him from the Society he depicted tended also to disappear, as he succumbed to a process of absorption into a Society which he had once been able to observe with the freshness of a stranger. It is familiarity that blunts our sense of beauty. It is in its last phase in Punch that his drawing loses the poetry that characterised it in the seventies and eighties, and which gave his satire then such a potent stealthy influence over those for whom it was intended.
If it were possible to imagine a world without any women or children in it, du Maurier's contemporary, Keene, so far as we can judge from his art, would have got along very well in such a world. He would have missed the voluminous skirt that followed the crinoline, with its glorious opportunity for beautiful spacing of white in a drawing, more than he would have missed its wearer. But du Maurier's art is Romantic; in the background of its chivalric regard for women there is the history of the worship of the Virgin. The source of such an art would have to be sought for in the neighbourhood of Camelot. It is impossible to overlook the chivalry that will not allow him, except with pain, to make a woman ugly. He was first of all a Poet, and though it may be a man's business to put a poem on to paper, it is a woman's to create it. He was a poet put into the business of satire with sufficient wit to sustain himself there. Many a time he has to make the satire rest almost entirely with the legend at the foot of his drawing; by obscuring their legends we find that drawing after drawing has nothing to tell us but of the beauty of those involved in "the joke," and this, as we shall show further on, gives a peculiar salt, or rather sweetness, to satire from his pencil. He is a romancer. His dialogues are romances. It is the novelist and artist running side by side in the legend and the drawing, but almost independently of each other, the wit and the poet in him trying to play each other's game, that provides the contradictoriness—the charm in his pictures. The point of the "joke" seems very often a mere excuse for working off several incidents of beauty that have been perceived.
In dealing with fashion du Maurier scores with posterity. Beauty, when it really is recorded, is the one element in any transitory fashion that survives the challenge of time. It is natural for one generation to hate more than anything else in the world the fashions immediately preceding the one affected. Pointed contemporary satire has, from the very shape it must assume, an ephemeral success. It is only when something more than the mere object of the satire is involved by some grace of the satirist's genius—some response on his part to charm in the thing assailed, that the work of satire comes down from its own time with an indestructible ingredient in it.
As a record of feminine fashion du Maurier's drawings in Punch are remarkable. It must not be imagined that the history of fashion is merely the tale of dressmakers' caprice. The very language of changing ideals is the variation of the toilet. When women were restricted to an oriental extent within convention, when to be "prim" was the aim of life, no feature of dress was lacking that could put "abandonment" of any but a moral kind, out of the question. A shake of the head too quickly and the coiffure was imperilled; the movements that came within the prescribed circle of dignity within the circle of the crinoline were all of a rhythmical order. Women did not take to moving with freedom because the crinoline went out, but the crinoline went out when they took to moving with freedom. It went out simply because it was a confounded nuisance. It was a natural costume only as long as women imagined it was natural to them to be very still in demeanour. Once they began to have opinions about that matter they soon sent the crinoline on its way. The same process goes on with the fashions of wearing the hair. The Blue-stocking, constantly running her nervous fingers up her forehead into her hair, has given to Girton a style of its own, equivalent to none at all. Fashion is more sensible than most things. If it changes with a rapidity that dazzles man, is not that only because man is stupid?
To study hair-dressing in du Maurier's pictures, is to study the growth of the nineteenth-century woman's mind. The head-dress becomes more natural as woman herself becomes more natural. It becomes more Greek when she takes up the Amazon idea, and simple when she discards some of the complications of convention, always to return to elaboration in the winter when it is not easy to live the simple life after the bell goes for dinner.
When the crinoline went out the train came in; so that though woman had allowed herself more freedom, man could only walk behind her at a respectful distance with a ceremonial measure of pace. The dressmaker did not control all this; the resources of her transcendent art were strained to keep up with the march of womanhood—that was all. If we may believe du Maurier's art, the note of beauty never entirely disappeared from fashion until the aesthetic women of the eighties seemed to take in hand their own clothes. The aesthetic ladies failed, as the movement to which they attached themselves did, for beauty is something attendant upon life, arriving when it likes, going away very often when everyone is on his knees for it to remain.
When it comes to his drawings of children du Maurier is very far away from the sentimentalist of the Barrie school. He does not attempt to go through the artifice of pretended possession of the realm of the child's mind. He was of those who find the curious attractiveness of childhood in the unreality, and not, as claimed by the later school, the superior reality of the child's world. His view of the child is the affectionate, but the "Olympian" one, with its amused appreciation of the naivete and the charm of childhood's particular brand of self-possession. It is possible that his nursery scenes played some part in promoting the respect that is given to-day to the impulses of childhood, the enlightened and beautiful side of which respect after all so far outweighs the ridiculous and sentimental one. His nursery drawings contribute much of the fragrance associated with his work in Punch. He takes rank under the best definition of an artist, namely, one who can put his own values upon the things that come up for representation on his paper. By his insistence upon certain pleasant things he helped to establish them in the ideal, which, on the morrow, always tends to become the real. He was a realist only to the extent of their possibility. It gave him no pleasure whatever to enumerate, and represent over again, the many times in which the beautiful intentions of nature had gone astray. He liked to be upon the side of her successes. He constantly helped us to believe in, and to will towards the existence of such a world here on earth, as we have set our heart upon. He is not an idealist in the vague sense, for he imports no beauty merely from dreamland. Like the Greeks, he makes the possible his single ideal. In insisting upon the possibility of beauty and suppressing every reference to the monstrous story of failure which the existence of hideousness implies, once more he puts the world in debt to art after the fashion of the old masters. For after all it seems to have been left for modern artists to grow wealthy and live comfortably upon the proceeds of their own relation of the world's despair; if they are playwrights, to live most snugly upon the box-receipts of an entrapped audience unnerved for the struggle of life by their ghastly picture of life's gloom.
However splendid the art in such a case we put it well down below that art which exerts the same amount of effort in trying to sustain the will to believe in, and so to bring about the reign of things we really want.
Du Maurier's art was nearer to reality, and not farther away, in the charming side of it. Realism does not necessarily imply only the representation of the mean and the defaulting. It is perhaps because humanity so passionately desires the reign of beauty that it is inclined to doubt that art which witnesses to the dream of it as already partly true.
Although du Maurier's art in its tenderness is romantic, in its belief in the ideal and in its insistence upon type rather than individuality it is Classic. In the fact that it is so it fails in intimacy of mood—just the intimacy that is the soul of Keene's art, which descends from Rembrandt's. But this point will come up for consideration farther on. Here it only concerns us in its connection with the psychology of the people it interprets in satire. There is the psychology of individuals and the psychology of a whole society—the latter was du Maurier's theme. It is generally an obsession, a "fad," a "craze," or "fashion" that his pencil exploits. He does not with Keene laugh with an individual at another individual. His art is well-bred in its style partly through the fact of its limitations. Moreover, in "Society" individuality tends to be less evident than amongst the poorer classes, with whom eccentricity is respected. In "Society" the force of individuality now runs beneath the surface of observable varieties of costume, taking a subterranean course with an impulse to avoid everything that would give rise to comment. But the conformity of "Society" in small things is only a mask. Du Maurier's real weakness in satire was that he did not quite perceive this. He was inclined to accept appearances for realities, with the consequence that the record he transmits of late Victorian Society obscures the quite feverish genius of that age.
It has often been remarked that the comparative failure of du Maurier's successors seems the result of a difficulty in drawing "a lady" unmistakably. We can forgive much to the artist who brought the English lady, by many accounted the finest in the world, into real existence in modern comic art. We shall have to forgive him for turning into a lady every woman who was not middle-aged. Du Maurier's picture of Society was largely falsified by his inability to appreciate variety in feminine genius. But we are quite prepared to believe that his treatment of the dainty parlour-maid, for instance, helped to confirm that tradition of refinement in table service which is the pleasant feature of English home life. All the servants shown in his pictures are ladies, and this before the fashion had made any headway of engaging ladies as servants. And we cannot help feeling such delightful child-life as he represents could only have retained its characteristics under the wing of the beautiful women who nurse it in his pictures.
Both du Maurier and Keene knew the genus artist in all its varieties; and it is very interesting to contrast, and note the difference between, the "Artist" whom du Maurier brings into his society scenes and the one of Keene's drawings. In Keene's case the "artist" is generally a slouching Bohemian creature who belongs to a world of his own, and bears the stamp of "stranger" upon him in any other. But the "artist" of du Maurier, putting aside the aesthete coterie, with whom we shall deal presently, wears upon him every outward symbol of peace with the world—The world, Mayfair. He is always an "R.A."—symbol of respectability—whether du Maurier mentions it or not. With this type Art is one of the great recognised professions like The Army or The Bar. We have no curiosity as to what sort of pictures they paint. We know that their art was suitable for the Academy, therefore for the Victorian Drawing-room. We are merely amused at the solemnity of manner with which they assumed that their large-sized Christmas cards had anything to do with art at all—cards which lost the purchasers of them such enormous sums when sold again at Christie's that the shaken confidence of the public as to the worth of modern pictures has not recovered to this day.
All through this state of things, too, the really vital work of the time was left to the encouragement of those whom "Society" would then have called "outsiders," and it was just this failure on the part of the aristocracy to enlist the genius of the period on its own side that betrayed its decrepitude.
The enduring feature of du Maurier's art, that which survives in it better than its sometimes scathing commentary upon a passing "craze," is his close representation of the air with which people seek to foil each other in conversation and conceal their own trepidations. His "Social Agonies" are among the best of this series. If he does not lay stress upon individual character, he still remains the master draughtsman of a state of mind. He succeeds thus in the very field where probably all that is most important in modern art, whether of the novel or of illustration, will be found.
Behind the economy of word and gesture in the conversational method of to-day there lies the history of the long struggle of the race through volubility to refinement of expression. Du Maurier's Punch pictures take their place in the field of psychology in which the modern novel has secured its greatest results, and the best appreciation of his Punch work was written in the eighties by Mr. Henry James, the supreme master in this field; the master of suspenses that are greater than the conversations in which they happen; the explorer of twilights of consciousness in which little passions contend.
The Society du Maurier depicted held its position upon more comfortable terms than any preceding it in history. It did not have, on the one hand, to trim to a court party, or, on the other, to concede anything to the people to keep itself in power. Yet it was as swollen with pride in its position as any society has ever been. The industrial phenomena of the age had suddenly filled its pockets; and it had nothing else in the world to do but to blow itself out with pride. But a Society holding its position without an effort of some kind of its own is bound to lose in character, and the confession of all the best literature of this time was of the baffled search for the soul of the prosperous class.
For the appreciation of the artist's management of dialogue we must move for a page or two in Mrs. de Tomkyns' circle with Miss Lyon Hunter, Sir Gorgius Midas the Plutocrat, Sir Pompey Bedel (of Bedel, Flunke & Co.) the successful professional man, and the rest of the whole set, who understand each other in the freemasonry of a common ambition to get into another set.
Mamma. "Enfin, my love! We're well out of this! What a gang!!! Where shall we go next?"
Daughter. "To Lady Oscar Talbot's, Mamma."
Mamma. "She snubs one so I really can't bear it! Let us go to Mrs. Ponsonby de Tomkyns. It's just as select (except the Host and Hostess) and quite as amusing."
Daughter. "But Mrs. Tomkyns snubs one worse than Lady Oscar, Mamma!"
Mamma. "Pooh, my love! who cares for the snubs of a Mrs. Ponsonby de Tomkyns I should like to know, so long as she's clever enough to get the right people."
This is the conversation in the hall between two ladies leaving a party in one of du Maurier's most characteristic drawings. On every side there are footmen and a crowd of guests cloaking and departing. Of Mrs. Ponsonby de Tomkyns Mr. Henry James has said: "This lady is a real creation.... She is not one of the heroines of the aesthetic movement, though we may be sure she dabbles in that movement so far as it pays to do so. Mrs. Ponsonby de Tomkyns is a little of everything, in so far as anything pays. She is always on the look-out; she never misses an opportunity. She is not a specialist, for that cuts off too many opportunities, and the aesthetic people have the tort as the French say, to be specialists. No, Mrs. Ponsonby de Tomkyns is—what shall we call her?—well, she is the modern social spirit. She is prepared for everything; she is ready to take advantage of everything; she would invite Mr. Bradlaugh to dinner if she thought the Duchess would come to meet him. The Duchess is her great achievement—she never lets go of her Duchess. She is young, very nice-looking, slim, graceful, indefatigable. She tires poor Ponsonby completely out; she can keep going for hours after poor Ponsonby is reduced to stupefaction. This unfortunate husband is indeed almost stupefied. He is not, like his wife, a person of imagination. She leaves him far behind, though he is so inconvertible that if she were a less superior person he would have been a sad encumbrance. He always figures in the corner of the scenes in which she distinguishes herself, separated from her by something like the gulf that separated Caliban from Ariel. He has his hands in his pockets, his head poked forward; what is going on is quite beyond his comprehension. He vaguely wonders what his wife will do next; her manoeuvres quite transcend him. Mrs. Ponsonby de Tomkyns always succeeds. She is never at fault; she is as quick as the instinct of self-preservation. She is the little London lady who is determined to be a greater one—she pushes, gently but firmly—always pushes. At last she arrives."
We have quoted this delightful picture almost in its entirety from the essay upon du Maurier written by Mr. Henry James in the eighties to which we have referred. It describes the type of woman revealed in Mrs. de Tomkyns when we have followed her adventures up a little way in the back numbers of Punch. But, if we may be permitted the slang, the type itself is anything but "a back number." Du Maurier's work bids fair to live in the enjoyment of many generations, from the fact that its chaff, for the most part, is directed against vanities that recur in human nature. Mr. James tells us that the lady of whom we write "hesitates at nothing; she is very modern. If she doesn't take the aesthetic line more than is necessary, she finds it necessary to take it a little; for if we are to believe du Maurier, the passion for strange raiment and blue china has during the last few years made ravages in the London world." Mr. Henry James himself is one of the experts of the London world. There is almost a hint in the last sentence that he thought du Maurier's genius helped to nurse the crazes it made fun of.
Since writing this I have been told by one to whom du Maurier related the incident, that the hero of the aesthetic movement himself, Oscar Wilde, offered to sit to du Maurier for the chief character in his skit. Wilde was very young, but already master of that art of self-advertisement which he received from Byron and Disraeli, perfected, and, I think, handed on to Mr. Bernard Shaw. But such anxiety for every kind of celebrity at any cost seems to have lost the youthful genius the esteem of the great Punch artist once and for all. The representative of humorous journalism seems the one upon whom the delicate humour of the proposal was lost.
As far as du Maurier was capable of vindictiveness it was reserved for Maudle and Postlethwaite. He went out of his way to give a contemptible appearance to those who took the name of Art in vain. His only spiteful drawings are those of aesthetes. They are spiteful to the extent of the great disgust which he, the most amiable of satirists, felt for them. But still he was careful not to treat a craze which afforded him inexhaustible variations of subject matter with so much bitterness as to kill it right out. It was only towards this craze that he showed any bitterness at all, for the rest he is always amused with Society. He has none of the bitter Jeremiahlike anger against it of a Swift.
Mr. Henry James defending du Maurier from a charge of being malignant, brought against him for his ugly representation of queer people, failures, and grotesques, refused to allow that the taint of "French ferocity" of which the artist was accused, existed. But Mr. Henry James sees in du Maurier's ugly people a real specification of type, where we confess that we have felt that his "ferocity" missed the point of resemblance to type through clumsy exaggeration. One noticeable instance, however, to our mind, where the too frequent outrageousness is replaced by an exquisite study of character, is in the face of the fair authoress who, when the gallant Colonel, anxious to break the ice, and full of the fact that he has just been made a proud father, asks if she takes any interest in very young children, replies, "I loathe all children!" (January 13, 1880).
The story of children's conversation has perhaps never been told quite so charmingly as du Maurier tells it. We could quote endlessly from the admirably constructed nursery dialogues in which he does not attempt to make a joke, and in which he very carefully refrains from giving a fantastic precocity to his little characters—dialogues in which he is quite content to rely upon our sympathetic knowledge of children's way of putting things, while he rests the appeal of the drawing and legend entirely upon a naive literalness to their remarks. The charming atmosphere of the well-ordered nursery must be felt by readers, and then we can quote from the text of some of his drawings of the kind; this we shall do somewhat at random and as they come to mind.
"Are you asleep, dearest? Yes, Mamma, and the Doctor particularly said that I wasn't to be waked to take my medicine" (July 10, 1880).
"Oh, Auntie! There's your tiresome cook's been and filled my egg too full" (April 22, 1882).
Already we are seized with misgivings as to whether, with the reader very much on the look-out for the jokes, we shall be successful in making our point in claiming for du Maurier that, as much as any author who has ever written upon children, he captures "the note" of children's speeches. But anyhow we will try.
For an instance there is the delightful picture of a child clasping its mother round the knees, whilst the mother, shawled for an evening concert, bends affectionately down—
"Good Night! Good Night! my dear, sweet, pretty mamma! I like you to go out, because if you didn't you'd never come home again, you know."
The artist perhaps invented this pretty speech, but the "Good Night! Good Night! my dear, sweet, pretty mamma" is of the very spirit of the redundancy by which children hope in heaping words together to express accumulation of emotion. Du Maurier's children never make the nasty pert answers upon which, for their nearly impossible but always vulgar smartness, the providers of jokes about children for the comic papers generally depend. He is simply going on with his "novel"—The Tale of the House it might be called—when he affords us realistic glimpses of nursery conversation.
Mamma. "What is Baby crying for, Maggie?"
Maggie. "I don't know."
Mamma. "And what are you looking so indignant about?"
Maggie. "That nasty, greedy dog's been and took and eaten my punge-take!"
Mamma. "Why, I saw you eating a sponge-cake a minute ago!"
Maggie. "O—that was Baby's."
We need hardly labour the point of the "been and took and eaten" as an instance of felicity in reconstructing children's conversation, and making the verisimilitude to their grammar the charm of the reconstruction.
Ethel. "Isn't it sad, Arthur? There's the drawing-room cleared for a dance, and all the dolls ready to begin, only they've got no partners!"
Arthur. "Well, Ethel! There's the four gentlemen in my Noah's Ark; but they don't look as if they cared very much about dancing, you know!" (February 24, 1872).
Ethel. "And O, Mamma, do you know as we were coming along we saw a horrid woman with a red striped shawl drink something out of a bottle, and then hand it to some men. I'm sure she was tipsy."
Beatrice (who always looks on the best side of things). "Perhaps it was only Castor Oil, after all!"
A whispered appeal. "Mamma! Mamma! don't scold him any more, it makes the room so dark."
It is the poetry of the nursery that is to be felt throughout du Maurier's art in this vein. And how well he knows the emotions of childhood. For instance, the large drawing "Farewell to Fair Normandy" (October 2, 1880), extending across two full pages of Punch, in which the children away for their seaside holiday leave the sands for the last time in a mournful procession. The sky is dimmed with an evening cloud. Du Maurier has compressed much poetry into the scene. It has been said that "there is only one art," and this seems to be proved on great occasions by those who can command more than one art for the expression of their feelings. It is difficult to say where in this picture the artist in du Maurier gives place to the poet, as difficult as it is to say before a picture of Rossetti.
Sometimes du Maurier even depicted delightful children as the victims of the fashionable crazes that he loved to attack, and thus we are brought to another series of dialogues—as a rule though only involving the "grown-ups"—in which the legend and the type of person depicted, together, form a most valuable document of the times. There is for instance the China mania—in the following in the incipient stage:—
"O Mamma! O! O! N—N—Nurse has given me my C—C—Cod-liver Oil out of a p—p—plain white mug" (December 26, 1874).
Then the inimitable colloquies of the aesthetes—and especially the now famous one about the six-mark tea-pot.
Aesthetic Bridegroom. "It is quite consummate, is it not?"
Intense Bride. "It is, indeed! Oh, Algernon, let us live up to it!"
Also the direction, to the architect about the country house:
Fair Client. "I want it to be nice and baronial, Queen Anne and Elizabethan, and all that; kind of quaint and Nuremburgy you know—regular Old English, with French windows opening to the lawn, and Venetian blinds, and sort of Swiss balconies, and a loggia. But I'm sure you know what I mean!" (November 29, 1890).
And farther on in the Punch volumes:—
"O, Mr. Robinson, does not it ever strike you, in listening to sweet music, that the Rudiment of Potential Infinite Pain is subtly woven into the tissue of our keenest joy" (December 2, 1891).
But perhaps before closing this chapter we should give some examples of drawing-room conversation pure and simple, without reference to any sort of craze, as specimens of their author's skill. Familiarity with the artist's characters will enable the reader to appreciate the note of a shy man's agony in some, and of feminine spite in others.
Among the "Speeches to be lived down, if possible," there are these:
She. "Let me introduce you to a very charming lady, to take down to supper."
He. "A—thanks—no. I never eat supper."
"By George! I am so hungry I can't talk."
Fair Hostess (on hospitable thoughts intent). "Oh, I'm so glad!"
"Things one would rather have left unsaid":
Amiable Hostess. "What! must you go already? Really, Professor, it's too bad of this sweet young wife of yours to carry you off so early! She always does!"
Professor. "No, no, not always, Mrs. Bright. At most houses I positively have to drag her away!"
"Truths that might have been left unspoken":
Hostess. "What? haven't you brought your sisters, Mr. Jones?"
Mr. Jones. "No, they couldn't come, Mrs. Smith. The fact is, they're saving themselves for Mrs. Brown's Dance to-morrow, you know!" (January 9, 1886).
Under the heading "Feline Amenities":
Fair Hostess (to Mrs. Masham, who is looking her very best). "How-dy-do, dear? I hope you're not so tired as you look!"
Sympathetic Lady Guest. "Don't be unhappy about the rain, dear Mrs. Bounderson—it will soon be over, and your garden will be lovelier than ever."
Little Mrs. Goldmore Bounderson (who is giving her first Garden Party). "Yes; but I'm afraid it will keep my most desirable guests from coming!"
This last duologue is pure du Maurier. It is subtle.
"Feline Amenities" again:
"How kind of you to call—I'm sorry to have kept you waiting!"
"Oh, don't mention it.—I've not been at all bored! I've been trying to imagine what I should do to make this room look comfortable if it were mine!" (November 22, 1892).
The "Things one would rather have expressed otherwise" is a good series too:
The Professor (to Hostess). "Thank you so much for a most delightful evening! I shall indeed go to bed with pleasant recollections—and you will be the very last person I shall think of!"
And again, of the same series:
Fair Hostess. "Good-night, Major Jones. We're supposed to breakfast at nine, but we're not very punctual people. Indeed the later you appear to-morrow morning, the better pleased we shall all be" (May 13, 1893).
"Things one would rather have left unsaid":
He. "Yes, I know Bootle slightly, and confess I don't think much of him!"
She. "I know him a little too. He took me in to dinner a little while ago!"
He. "Ah, that's just about all he's fit for!"
The Hostess. "Dear Miss Linnet! would you—would you sing one of those charming ballads, while I go and see if supper's ready?"
The Companion. "O, don't ask me—I feel nervous. There are so many people."
The Hostess. "O, they won't listen, bless you! not one of them! Now DO!!!"
And here is a conversation that betrays the presence of one of the currents of public feeling below the smooth surface of well-bred twaddle:
In the Metropolitan Railway. "I beg your pardon, but I think I had the pleasure of meeting you in Rome last year?"
"No, I've never been nearer to Rome than St. Alban's."
"St. Alban's? Where is that?"
Some rather amusing speeches of a different character in which du Maurier assails the more obvious forms of snobbery of a class below those with whom his art was generally concerned may be given:
Among the Philistines. Grigsby. "Do you know the Joneses, Mrs. Brown?"
"No, we—er—don't care to know Business people as a rule, although my husband's in business; but then he's in the Coffee Business and they're all gentlemen in the Coffee Business, you know!"
Grigsby (who always suits himself to his company). "Really now! Why, that's more than can be said of the Army, the Navy, the Church, the Bar, or even the House of Lords! I don't wonder at your being rather exclusive!" (Punch's Almanac, 1882).
"I see your servants wear cockades now, Miss Shoddson!"
"Yes, Pa's just become a member of the Army and Navy Stores."
When du Maurier confined himself to observing and to recording he never failed for subjects. But we suppose as a concession to a section of the public he felt a leaven of mere jokes was demanded from him every year. The scene of his struggle to invent those "jokes" is one to be veiled. It is safe to say that it is his distinction to have contributed at once the best satire and the worst jokes that Punch has ever published. A black and white artist has told the writer that the Art-Editors of papers look first at the joke. The drawing is accepted or rejected on the joke. We can only be glad that this was not entirely the editorial practice on Punch in du Maurier's time. Perhaps the subjoined "joke" of du Maurier's from Punch is the worst in the world:
"I say, cousin Constance, I've found out why you always call your Mamma 'Mater.'"
"Because she's always trying to find a mate for you girls."
And yet if the drawing accompanying this joke be looked at first, it delights with its charm and distinction. Here then is a psychological fact; the drawing itself seems to the eye a poorer affair once the poor joke has been read. Having suffered in this way several times in following with admiration the pencil of du Maurier through the old volumes of Punch, we at last hit upon the plan of always covering the joke and enjoying first the picture for its own sake, only uncovering the legend when this has been thoroughly appreciated lest it should turn out to be merely a feeble joke instead of a happily-invented conversation. There are some of the drawings for jokes which we should very much like to have included with our illustrations, but the human mind being so constituted that it goes direct to the legend of an illustration, feeling "sold" if it isn't there, and the "jokes" in some of these instances being so fatal to the understanding of the atmosphere and charm of the drawing, we have had to abandon the idea of doing so. What the reader has to understand is that circumstances harnessed du Maurier to a certain business; he imported all manner of extraneous graces into it, and thus gave a determination to the character of the art of satire which it will never lose. The pages of Punch were enriched, beautified, and made more delicately human. Punch gained everything through the connection and du Maurier a stimulus in the demand for regular work. But it is not impossible to imagine circumstances which, but for this early connection with Punch, would have awakened and developed a different and perhaps profounder side of du Maurier, of which we seem to get a glimpse in the illustrations to Meredith in The Cornhill Magazine.
The famous reply of an early Editor to the usual complaint that Punch was not as good as it used to be—"No, sir, it never was"—cannot be considered to hold good in any comparison between the present period and that in which the arts of du Maurier and Keene held sway. There have been periods, there is such a one now, when the literary side of Punch has touched a high-water mark. But on the illustrative side Punch seems to be always hoping that another Keene or du Maurier will turn up. It does not seem prepared to accept work in quite another style. But there is no more chance of there ever being another Keene than of there being another Rembrandt, or of there ever being another du Maurier than another Watteau. The next genius to whom it is given to illuminate the pages of the classic journal in a style that will rival the past is not likely to arise from among those who think that there is no other view of life than that which was discovered by their immediate predecessors. By force of his genius—or, if you prefer it, of sympathy—which means the same thing—for some particular phase of life, some artist may at any moment uncover in its pages an altogether fresh kind of humour and of beauty.
Du Maurier's art covers the period when England was flushed with success. Artists in such times grow wealthy, and by their work refine their time. But in spite of the number of wealthy Academicians living upon Society in the mid-Victorian time, the influence of Art upon Society was less than at any time in history in which circumstances have been favourable to the artist.
The great wave of trade that carried the shop-keeper into the West-end drawing-room strewed also the curtains and carpets with that outrageous weed of trade design which gave to the mid-Victorian world its complexion of singular hideousness.
The aesthetic movement indicated the restlessness of some of the brighter spirits with this condition, but many of its remedies were worse than the disease. The nouveau artist-craftsman stood less chance than anybody of getting back to the secret of noble things, having forsaken the path of pure utility which, wherever it may go for a time, always leads back again to beauty. The disappearance of beauty for a time need not have been a cause of despair. Beauty will always come back if it is left alone. People had been swept off their feet with delight at what machinery could do, and they expected beauty to come out of it as a product at the same pace as everything else. It was not a mistake to expect it from any source, but from this particular source it could only come with time. There is evidence that it is on the way. And yet though the results of crude mechanical industrialism spoilt the outward appearance of the whole of the Victorian age, the earlier part at least of that time was one of marked personal refinement. We have but to look at portraits by George Richmond and others to receive a great impression of distinction. And this fact enables us to throw into clearer light the exact nature of du Maurier's work. If we seek for evidence in the old volumes of Punch for the distinction of the early Victorians we shall not find it. We shall merely conceive instead a dislike for the type of gentleman of the time. Leech and his contemporaries did nothing more for their age than to make it look ridiculous for ever. But du Maurier gives us a real impression of the Society in which he moved. His ability to satirise society while still leaving it its dignity is unique. It may be said to be his distinctive contribution to the art of graphic satire. It gave to the Anglo-Saxon school its present-day characteristic, putting upon one of the very lightest forms of art the stamp of a noble time. The point is that whilst du Maurier thus deferred to the dignity of human nature he remained a satirist, not a humorist merely, as was Keene.
THE ART OF DU MAURIER
If we wish to estimate the art of du Maurier at its full worth we must try and imagine Punch from 1863 without this art, and try for a moment to conceive the difference this absence would make to our own present knowledge of the Victorians; also to the picture always entertained of England abroad.
If we are to believe du Maurier's art England is a petticoat-governed country. The men in his pictures are often made to recede into the background of Victorian ornament merely as ornaments themselves. As for the women, the mask of manner, the pleasantness concealing every shade of uncharitableness, all the arts of the contention for social precedence—in the interpretation of this sort of thing du Maurier is often quite uncanny, but he is never ruthless.
We have noticed that when du Maurier tried to draw ugly people he often only succeeded in turning out a figure of fun. Not to be beautiful and charming is to fail of being human, seems the judgment of his pencil. This was his limitation. And another was that, whilst professing to be concerned with humanity as a whole, he nearly always broke down with types that outraged the polite standard. He was a master in the description of Bishops and Curates, Generals and Men-about-town, but he broke down when he came to "the out-sider." And, as we have already pointed out, he seldom got away from types to individuals.
In the last respect, however, we gain more perhaps than we lose. We gain a very vivid impression of the whole tone of the society in his time. And the fact of his art passing over the individual, for ever prevented it from cruelty, for to be cruel the individual must be hit. He did not satirise humanity, but Society. And his criticism was not of its members, but of its ways. Except in the case of children, he left unrevealed the individual heart that Keene so sympathetically exposed.
He made an original—and who will deny it?—a unique contribution to the history of satire, when he went to work through literalness and care for beauty in a field where nearly all previous success had rested with a sort of ruffianism. But chiefly one praises Heaven for the nurseryful of delightful children he let loose in his pages against the army of little monsters who reign as children in the Comic Press, bearing witness as they do to the unpleasant kind of mind even an artist can possess.
Though he ridiculed "Camelot," his own tradition, as we have shown, was received from the Arthurian source. His chivalry gave his satire a very delicate edge. It was infinitely more cutting in showing the misfit of vulgarity with beauty than in showing vulgarity alone.
But du Maurier's gentlemanliness narrowed his range. It forced him into putting down something preposterous instead of a true type as soon as he wished to create "a bounder." He found it impossible to get inside of a "bounder"—to be for the time a "bounder" himself. It is necessary for an artist to be able to be every character that he would create. And perhaps a satirist never wounds others so much as when he most wounds himself. Thackeray succeeded with snobbery because he had enough of it to go on with himself. We have shown the success of du Maurier with the aesthetes to go upon similar lines. The soul of satire is very often the bitterness of confession. In his very style the satirist of the aesthetes stood confessed almost as one of their number, whether he wished this to be seen or not—at least as one of the romantic school from whom they immediately descended. But he was genuine; where Postlethwaite and Maudle posed, his irritation was with the pose, the pretended preoccupation with beauty. He genuinely admired the Florentine revival, and to admire is to be jealous of those who take in vain. He wished to show up the "aesthetes" as the parasites they were, trading socially upon an inspiration too fragrant to be traded with at all.
Du Maurier, who assuredly knew what elegance was as well as any man of his time, took a great delight in pointing out to all whom it might concern, by illustration, that if there was any beauty of representation possible to him, as an artist, in depicting modern society, it was not in anything put forward in the shape of costume by the ladies of the aesthetic movement, but in the unacknowledged genius of ordinary dressmakers.
It was in his time that Philistinism met its match in Oscar Wilde, and for the first time in its history felt its self-complacency shaken. Up to that time it had been very proud of itself. With the loss of that pride it blundered, and it remained for du Maurier to show that the height of Philistinism in a Philistine is to pretend not to be a Philistine.
He had always seen what it would do present-day Londoners a world of good to see as clearly, that it is just those who affect, and who, by their lack of artistic constitution, are incapable of doing more than merely affecting, the understanding of art, who are the worst enemies it has in the world. He preferred the open Philistine. And so do we. The affectation described lends to art an artificial support which betrays those who attempt to rest any scheme for the promotion of art upon it.
But though du Maurier was not a Philistine he had the genius of respectability. His pencil could get on well with Bishops. It is easy enough to put a model into a Bishop's apron and gaiters, but that does not secure the drawing of a Bishop. It is necessary to observe that du Maurier found definite lines with his pencil for something so abstract as Broad-Churchmanship. The High-Churchman, with his perilous inclination to fervour, he was afraid of as a disturbing element, and kept him out of his drawings.
We have noted that it was du Maurier's peculiar genius to respond to "attainment" in life, even as the Greeks did, rather than to life's pathetic and romantic struggle. Du Maurier, we believe, was of opinion that if circumstances—he probably meant Editorial ones—had determined that he should apply his art to the lower classes he would have succeeded as well there as he did with Society. We prefer to believe that the Editorial instinct in the direction it gave to his work knew better. Many opportunities were afforded him for being as democratic in spirit as he liked, but he left such opportunities alone. His cab-runners run about in rain-shrunken suits that were obviously made in Savile Row; everyone of them, they are broken-down gentlemen. Coachmen, gardeners, footmen, pages, housekeepers, cooks, ladies' maids, and all those who move in the domestic circle of the upper classes he could draw, but his taste in life is a marked one, and that means it is a limited one. It is as marked as Meredith's, and it is much of the same kind; like that writer's great lady, Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson, he preferred persons "that shone in the sun." This had nothing whatever to do with qualities of the heart; it was all an aesthetic predilection. The moment his pencil touched the theme of life lived upon as gentle a plane as possible, then something was kindled at its point which betrayed the presence of genuine inspiration. The inspiration was of the same nature as Watteau's, the grace of a certain aspect of life making an aesthetic appeal. Let this attraction to what is gracious in appearance, however, be kept distinct from the effect made by the spectacle of wealth upon the snob. Those who show us the beauty in the world, enrich the world with that much of beauty.
In his Life and Letters of Charles Keene, Mr. G.S. Layard says this:—
"That Keene could have drawn the lovely be-Worthed young ladies and the splendidly proportioned and frock-coated young men with which Mr. du Maurier delights us week by week, not to speak of the god-like hero of his charming novel, I do not think anyone can doubt, had he set himself to do it, but it was part of the ineradicable Bohemianism of his character and the realistic bent of his genius that made him shun the representation of what he considered artificial and an outrage upon nature."
This, it will perhaps be admitted, is not very good art-criticism. Though in justice to its author it must be said that he did not wish to be regarded as Keene's critic as well as biographer.
An artist does not argue with himself that he will shun the representation of one particular side of life. He simply leaves it alone because he cannot help it; it does not attract him. He draws just that which interests him most and in the way in which it interests him; and exactly to the measure of his interest does his drawing possess vitality. Keene might have expressed with pungency his sense of certain things as being artificial and outrageous, but as long as his feelings towards them remained like that he could not express himself about them in any other way, certainly not in du Maurier's way—that is, with du Maurier's skill.
To the extent to which there is a glamour and a beauty in fashion du Maurier is a realist. People who only now and then become sensible of the charm in things are provoked by its strangeness in art, and call it romance, their definition for an untrue thing.
During the period of thirty-six years over which du Maurier contributed to Punch the paper took upon itself a character unlike anything that had preceded it in comic journalism; it created a tradition for itself which placed it beside The Times—the "Thunderer," as one of the institutions of this country, recognised abroad as essentially expressive of national character. English humour, like American and French, has its own flavour; it lacks the high and extravagant fantasy that is so exhilarating in America; it avoids the subtlety of France; it is essentially a laughing humour. The Englishman, who cannot stand chaff himself, always laughs at others. It is curious that while an Englishman's conventions rest upon dislike of what is odd and fantastic—precisely the two most well-known sources of humour—he yet has a sense of humour. The first aim of every Englishman is to acquire a manner of some dignity. It is the breaking down of that dignity in other people that to his eyes places them in a light that is funny.
English humour seems to find its object in physical rather than mental aspects. The very notable feature of du Maurier's work was that it refined upon the characteristics of English humour; it dealt always with people placed by an absurd speech, or an unlucky gesture, in a foolish position—a position the shy distress of which was a physical experience. Du Maurier's humour was also English in its kindness; the points that are scored against the unfortunate object of it are the points that may be scored against the laugher himself to-morrow. His pictures were a running commentary upon the refinements of our manners and upon the quick changes of moral costume that fresh situations in the social comedy demand.
One thing peculiarly fitted the artist to be the satirist of English Society—his love of the comedy of people by nature honest finding themselves only able to get through the day with decent politeness by the aid of "the lie to follow." English people, Puritan by ancestry and by inclination, are nevertheless driven into frequent subterfuge by their good nature, and having pared their language and gesture of that extravagance in expression which they despise in the foreigner, they are thrown back upon a naturalness that betrays them in delicate situations. The consequence is that it is in Anglo-Saxon Society at its best that the art of delicate fence in conversation has been brought to its highest pitch. There the clairvoyance is so great that words can be used economically in relation to the realities of life, and are consequently often adopted merely as a screen before the feelings.
We have to realise how much more than any one preceding him in graphic satire du Maurier was able to dispense with exaggeration. Nevertheless, the studied avoidance of exaggeration has not had the happiest effect as a precedent in the art of Punch. Without du Maurier's sensitive response to the whole comedy of drawing-room life the tendency has been to lapse into the merely photographic.
The similitude we have already described between du Maurier's art with the pencil and the art of the modern novel is not complete until we have extended it further in the direction of a comparison with novels of George Meredith and Henry James in particular. Like these two writers du Maurier loved comedy, and your appreciator of comedy cannot stand the presence of a "funny man." In the pages of Punch it was Leech and not du Maurier who first replaced the art of the merely "funny man." He began with the pencil the kind of art that would answer to Meredith's description of the comic muse. Throughout The Egoist, by George Meredith, a comedy in which Clara Middleton's life comes near to being tragic, the air would clear at any moment if Sir Willoughby and Clara had not both lost through over-civilisation the power of saying precisely what they mean. The book is the story of how Clara tries to find words, and of how, when she finds them, the conversational genius of Willoughby seemingly deflects them from the meaning she intends them to bear. It was in the mid-region between two people in conversation where false constructions are put by either party upon what is said that du Maurier, like Meredith himself, perceived the source of comedy was to be found.
We have already defined the drawing-room as a Victorian institution. It belonged to an age that was willing to sacrifice too much to appearances—one in which everyone seemed to live for appearances. It was a sort of stage, occupied by people in afternoon or evening costume, with even the chairs arranged, not where they were wanted, but where they made a good appearance. Oscar Wilde suggested to the Victorians that they shouldn't arrange chairs; they should let them occur. Against the false setting manners were bound to become false—good manners becoming almost synonymous with perfect insincerity. Perhaps the only thing that ever really came to life in a drawing-room was the aesthetic movement! At its worst it was what we have described it; at its best it was a sort of blind protest against the patterns of chair-covers that the eye was bound to absorb while listening to the inanities of drawing-room conversation. It is significant that the aesthetic movement was a man's movement. Until the leader of the movement appeared on the scene, the decoration of the Victorian, as distinct from the Georgian parlour, or that of every other period, was woman's business. Most of the Victorian patterns embodied naturalistic and sentimental representations of flowers. It was with the disappearance of the eighteenth-century tradition, when drawing-room decoration passed out of the hands of men, that beauty disappeared. Women took to heaping masses of drapery on to the mantelpieces which had once displayed classic proportion; on to this drapery they pinned all sorts of horrible fans. Du Maurier exposed it all, and he exposed, too, the aesthetes to whom the salvation of the appearance of a suburban drawing-room could come to mean more than anything else in life. Their fault was not confined to this. He always brought their "intensity" as a charge against them, for it is of the very genius of good manners to merely froth about things which, if taken seriously, would tend to destroy amenity.
[Illustration: Illustration for "A Legend of Camelot"—Part III.
Punch, March 17, 1866.
A little castle she drew nigh, With seven towers twelve inches high.... O Miserie!
A baby castle, all a-flame With many a flower that hath no name, O Miserie!
It had a little moat all round: A little drawbridge too she found; O Miserie!
On which there stood a stately maid, Like her in radiant locks arrayed.... O Miserie!
Save that her locks grew rank and wild, By weaver's shuttle undefiled!... O Miserie!
Who held her brush and comb, as if Her faltering hands had waxed stiff, O Miserie!
With baulkt endeavour! whence she sung A chant, the burden whereof rung: O Miserie!
"These hands have striven in vain To part These locks that won GAUWAINE His heart!"]
It is interesting, as an addition to the comparison we have drawn between Meredith and du Maurier, to note that of the illustrators to Meredith's own novels it was the latter who seemed to experience life in a mood similar to the author's. In illustrating Harry Richmond he secured the Meredithian sense of romance and of pedigree in scenes as well as people. However modern Meredith's characters were, they were all the children of old-fashioned people; within them all was the pride of the family tree, and, in the scenes in which they move, the memory of an older world. Du Maurier, too, in his art was a patrician, and when he gave up romance and took to satire pure and simple he put both beauty and dignity into the world that he described. All the time he was drawing his Society world others were working the same vein. But to him alone it seemed to be given to glimpse the splendour of it, and to suggest the link of romance that holds the present and the past together.
Let us praise that very wise Editor who, appreciating the artist's character, confined him to the art most natural to him. What has become of Editors of this kind to-day? Is not this the very genius of the art of editing—this and not the wholly fictitious "what the public wants?" Who knows what the public want but the public themselves? It is the artist who is allowed by his Editor to go his own way, who takes the public with him. If he has not the same sympathies as the public no Editorial direction will save the situation, while it will drive perhaps a fine artist away to another trade.
After the appearance of his first drawing in Punch, for more than a year du Maurier's connection with the paper seems to have been maintained by the execution of initial letters for it. Mr. W.L. Bradbury, zealous in the preservation of all records that redound to the glory of Punch, has in one or two instances had pulls taken from the wood blocks upon special paper. These special proofs show all the charm of wood engraving. In the case of the initial large C, reproduced on page 91, Mr. Bradbury's specimen shows the beautiful quality which in our own time Mr. Sturge Moore and Mr. Pissarro are at such pains to secure in engravings made for love of the art. One only wishes that the exigencies of book-production would allow us to attempt rivalry with Mr. Bradbury's specimen in our reproduction. But we see no reason why specimens of the wood-printing of du Maurier's work should not be on view in the British Museum. The "impressions" in old volumes of Punch, after the wear and tear, the opening and the shutting, and the effect of time are not an adequate record of du Maurier's skill in accommodating his art to the methods of reproduction of the period.
Moreover, du Maurier was better in securing an effect of painting than of pure line work with his pen. It is just this effect which suited the methods of engraving better than those of "process" work. And because it demanded drawing to a smaller scale, with lines closer together, the demands of engraving suited the nature of du Maurier's art better than those of "process" work.
When the modern process came in artists enlarged their drawings so as to secure delicacy of effect from the result of the reduction in printing. In such a case they really work for the sake of a result upon the printed page, and there is consequently less value to be attached to the original drawing. It generally errs on the side of coarseness. And now that a trade is driven in original drawings, artists are tempted to give the purchaser as much in the matter of size for his money as he may want. And, alas, it is true that many picture buyers do buy according to measurement, or anything else on earth rather than merit.
Du Maurier could add a reason of his own for availing himself of the opportunity to enlarge his drawings when he could, namely, that of his weak sight. But it is certainly not among the large drawings that we should look for the work that places him in the place we wish to claim for him.
It will well repay the student of du Maurier's art to look into the illustration for the novel Wives and Daughters reproduced on page 26. In this very highly finished picture the drawing of all the detail seems done with the greatest pleasure to the artist. It has not the breadth of style which du Maurier himself could admire in Keene, but the line work is intensely sympathetic throughout; there is that enjoyment in the actual touch of pen to paper which was always characteristic of Keene, which is always special to great art; which, alas, was not always characteristic of du Maurier. It is like the touch of a sympathetic musician. Du Maurier, always generous to his contemporaries, in his lecture upon art, instances the natural skill of Walker by his success with the difficulties of drawing a tall hat. But Walker himself has nothing of this kind better to show than the hat in the picture we are describing.
In the early eighties the change was made from drawing on wood to drawing on paper for Punch, the drawing being afterwards photographed on to the wood. Later, metal was made possible as a substitute for wood, and this enabled illustrations and letterpress to be printed together. The modern process of reproduction has introduced its own pleasant qualities into journalism, and because they are different in effect they do not rival the effect of wood engraving.
The modern methods reproduce the black lines of a drawing direct. But the most practised engravers cut out the whites of a drawing with their graver from between the black lines. This undoubtedly allowed the artist a closer and less restricted use of line than modern illustration shows us. If the reader examines du Maurier's illustration for The Adventures of Harry Richmond on page 106, he will be able to see at a glance how, by cutting out the whites in the multiplicity of ivy leaves, detailed drawing has been re-interpreted in the engraving with great economy.
Some of the pleasantness of the effect of lines printed from a woodcut is due to the fact that they print a more clearly cut line. The line eaten in by "process" when examined under a very strong magnifying glass proves to be a slightly jagged one. But we should rejoice that the art of reproduction for journalistic purposes is free of the laborious method of engraving, and from the sort of work that was put up by over-tired engravers when they fought their last round to lose, against the modern invention of picture reproduction.
There is no rivalry in art. All the rivalry is in the business connected with it. A wood-engraving possesses a charm of its own for those whose sense of quality is delicate enough for its appreciation. The life of this art, apart from the purpose of weekly journalism, is safe. The life of any art is safe while it commands, as wood engraving does, the production of any particular effect in a way that cannot be rivalled.
According to Mr. Joseph Pennell, the first really important modern illustrated book in which wood was substituted for metal engraving appeared in France in 1830, and this authority asserts that in England, just before the invention of photographing on wood, some of the most marvellous engravings appeared that have ever been done in the country. "It is," he writes, "with the appearance of Frederick Sandys, Rossetti, Walker, Pinwell, A. Boyd, Houghton, Small, du Maurier, Keene, Crane, Leighton, Millais, and Tenniel, with the publication of the Cornhill, Once a Week, Good Words, The Shilling Magazine, and such books as Moxon's Tennyson that the best period of English illustration begins."
"The incessant output of illustration," he continues, "killed not only the artists themselves, but the process. In its stead arose a better, truer method, a more artistic method, which we are even now only developing."
But there is another side to this question. Illustration has lost something by the uniformity of style which the modern method encourages. Keene, whose style was supposed to suffer most at the hands of the engraver, found it more difficult than anyone to accommodate his free methods to the rules that govern the results of the modern process.
It may be noted that it was about the time of the transition from working on wood to work on paper that that slavery to the model began, which, as we have pointed out, has not in the end been without an unhappy effect in the loss of spontaneity to English Illustration.
As for the art of wood engraving itself, we hope it will now have a future like that which the arts of lithography and etching are enjoying. Reproduction by process serves commercial and journalistic purposes far better. The demands of commerce formed for this art, as it once formed for lithography, a chrysalis in which it perfected itself. Reproduction by process serves commercial purposes much better than ever wood-engraving could, but while the commercial demand for it lasted, as in the case of the arts of lithography and etching, it continued to improve; like them, let us hope, destined to find beautiful wings upon its release from the cramping demands of modern printing machines, in its practice by artists for sheer love of the peculiar qualities which are its own. It has been said that wood-engravers killed their own art so far as journalism was concerned by their surrender to commerciality with its frequent demand for the ready-to-hand rather than the superior thing. But his surrender was not the fault of the engravers, but was rendered inevitable by the advent of the middleman, to whom application was made by the Press for blocks, and whose employees all engravers were practically forced into becoming, instead of being able to retain their independence and make their own terms with the Press.
In the British Museum some of the originals of du Maurier's Punch pictures may be seen. On the margins of these are the pencilled instructions of the Editor as to the scale of the reproduction, and very often pencil notes from Artist to Editor. This sort of thing—"If they have used my page for this week's number, telegraph to me as soon as you get this and I will have Social ready by 12 to-morrow (that is, if it be not too late for me.)" Or what is evidently an invitation to lunch—"Monday at 1 for light usual." The drawing where this particular note appears is of three little girls with their dolls. The legend in the artist's handwriting read as follows:—"My papa's house has got a conservatory! My papa's house has got a billiard-room! My papa's house has got a mortgage!!" This was printed with the much inferior legend: "Dolly taking her degrees (of comparison): 'My doll's wood!' My doll's composition!' 'My doll's wax!'"
Some of these British Museum original drawings still retain in pencil the price du Maurier put upon them for sale. Of the period when the artist was drawing on a large scale with a view to reduction there is one of the "Things one would rather have expressed differently" series priced at twelve guineas. It gives an indication of the profits du Maurier sometimes was able to make from the original drawing. For the sake of comment on the low evening gown the half-dozen figures in this picture are all in back view. It is rather a dull twelve-guineas-worth. And this was evidently felt, as it remained unsold. The original of the very exquisite "Res angusta domi," the beautiful drawing of the nurse by the child's bed in the children's hospital, which appeared in Punch, vol. cviii. p. 102 (1894), is only priced at "Ten guineas."
Turning over the Museum drawings one often sees the liberties with the penknife by which the artist would secure difficult effects of snow, or of light on foliage. And sometimes in the margin there are pencil studies from which figures in the illustration have been re-drawn. And nearly always not altogether rubbed out is a first wording of the legend, repeated in ink in du Maurier's pretty "hand" beneath.
In turning over these drawings one finds him doing much more than merely suggesting pattern work in such things as wall-papers. There is one floral wall-paper in particular that we find him working out which will no doubt prove an invaluable reference another day as to the sort of decoration in which the subjects of Queen Victoria preferred to live, or were forced to by their tradesmen. Photographs of du Maurier's studio which appeared in a Magazine illustrating an interview with him at the time of the "Trilby" boom, reveal the squat china jars, the leaf fans, the upholstered "cosy corner" with its row of blue plates, with which all who know their Punch are familiar, and apparently the very wall-paper to which we have just referred. It certainly is the mark of a great artist to take practically whatever is before him for treatment. The artist with the genius for "interior" subjects seems to be able to re-interpret ugliness itself very often. Du Maurier's weak eyes prevented him from bearing the strain of outdoor work. He was practically driven indoors for his subjects; and in taking what was to hand—the very environment of the kind of people his drawings describe—he showed considerable genius. He succeeded in making whole volumes of Punch into a work of criticism on the domestic art of the nineteenth century.
Among the useful skits of du Maurier was that upon the conceited young man concealing appalling ignorance with the display of a still more appalling indifference to everything. The drawing among the Print-room series—"It is always well to be well informed"—is a good instance. It reveals a ballroom with couples dancing a quadrille. A lady asks her partner: "Who's my sister's partner, vis-a-vis, with the star and riband?" He: "Oh, he—aw—he's Sir Somebody Something, who went somewhere or othaw to look after some scientific fellaw who was murdered, or something, by someone—!" The word othaw in this legend is itself pictorial. Du Maurier was like our own Max Beerbohm in this—his legends and drawings were inseparable. We find he has actually penned in the side margin of the drawing the words "othaw fellaw," we suppose as a possible variant to "scientific fellow," and in the legend the word "other" has been written over with a thickened termination—"aw." The usual first trial of the speech in pencil remains but partly obliterated by india-rubber at the top of the drawing.
In his series of "Happy Thoughts" du Maurier followed the course of the sort of rapid thought that precedes a tactful reply with real psychological skill. Take, for instance, his drawing of an artist sitting gloomily before his fire, caressed by his wife, who bends over him, saying, "You seem depressed, darling. Have you had a pleasant dinner?" Edwin: "Oh, pretty well; Bosse was in the chair, of course. He praised everybody's work this year except mine." Angelina: "Oh! I'm so glad. At last he is beginning to look upon you as his rival and his only one." The wings of tact are sympathy. This drawing appeared in Punch, vol. xcvi. p. 222 (1889); it is signed with other drawings from 89 Porchester Terrace, April '89. Drawings in the Museum collection are signed from "Stanhope Terrace," "Hampstead," "Drumnadrochit," or apparently from wherever the artist happened to be when executing the work.
Among our illustrations there is a portrait of Canon Ainger, representing the artist as a painter. Du Maurier's colour was never such that an injustice is done to it by reproducing it only by half-tone process. The interest of this portrait is in the psychological grasp of character it seems to show. The painter was in the habit of contributing interior genre scenes in water-colour to the Old Water-colour Society, of which he was made an Associate in 1881. That may be said against his painting, which may be said against the painting of so many eminent black-and-white men who have changed to the art of painting too late in the day. It shows failure to think in paint. An artist is only a great "black-and-white" artist because he thinks in that medium. Possibly, if there were no such thing as a "black-and-white" art, as we have it in journalism to-day, some of the greatest men in it would instead have been great painters. But successful transference to the one art after unusual mastery has been acquired in the other is rarely witnessed. To think in line, to see the world as resolving itself into the play of alternating lines, so to habituate thought and vision to that one aspect of everything is not the best preparation in the world for seeing it over again in another art where the element of line is not the chief incident of the impression to be created. Failure in the one art does not mean failure as an artist. Those artists who have worked in a variety of mediums with apparently equal success in each have always attained the ability to make each medium in turn express the same personal feeling. But nearly always there is in such cases that sacrifice of the inherent qualities of one or other of the mediums employed which a great virtuoso never makes.
Black-and-white men put themselves into an attitude of receptivity towards that aspect of things which suggests representation in line. Their acquired sensitiveness in this respect is expressed in the learned character of their touch in drawing. Painters cultivate a similarly receptive attitude towards nature, but lay themselves open to receive a different impression of it. We might say of du Maurier that by the time he tried to apply himself to painting he had become constitutionally a black-and-white artist. Moreover, his impaired vision compromised the more complex range of effect represented in painting in a way that it never could the simplicity of good black-and-white work. How seriously threatened du Maurier's sight was at times we may know by the reliance he put upon being read to by others. Thus only did he manage to keep his small stock of visual energy in reserve for his artistic work.