Tag Archives: Hugh Thomson

Thomson and Shakespeare: scheming wives and foolish men

I think I can be pretty certain that this is the last in the series of posts about illustrations to Shakespeare which I began last year and from my point of view at least it’s pleasing to end on another volume with pictures by my favourite illustrator of the period, Hugh Thomson. No magic in this one, although there are some bogus fairies, no fantasy woodlands or mythical islands just a town near London, and some desperate housewives. Desperate to have some fun anyway.

I’ve seen many of these pictures online in one form or another so why have I acquired my own copy of the book, scanned the pictures and created this post when I usually have some unique or rare pictures to show? Well partly because I love Hugh Thomson’s work and want to share my enthusiasm. It’s still worth pointing out as I did the very first time I wrote about him that his work is both of its period, the later 19th and early 20th century, and as modern as a graphic novel. Thomson takes care with historical accuracy in costume (as far as he was able) but in the costumes he puts modern people, as in the image above. I never imagined the merry wives as young particularly but the story makes more sense if they are relatively young and sexy rather than matronly and comedic.

(I don’t want to go far off topic here but this also applies to works like Pride and Prejudice.  In adaptations, Mrs Bennett is often played as old when in all likelihood she is meant to be about 40, and as attractive as her daughters. John Mullan points this out in his book “What matters in Jane Austen?”. Thomson himself succumbs to the temptation to portray her as a strictly comic figure in his illustrations to the book).

As we can see here, Anne Page is just a teenager, with a mother in early middle age, quite suitable for Falstaff’s misguided attentions. The letters go out.

And are received by the two wives, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford ,who don’t believe a word.

 

They go about their business, being seen about and about and looking good, among other things.

The boy Robin, supposedly Falstaff’s protégé, provides some comedy mileage.

And has some funny scenes of his own.

 

There is a bit bit of comic wooing.

And some more serious chatting up.

I love the way the dog echoes the posture of the young would-be lover, slouching just like the lanky youth.

Below Mistress Page looks after Robin in the street.

 

Everyone knows the story of Falstaff hiding in the laundry basket and ending up in the river. I used the pictures of that in a previous post so I won’t repeat them here but there’s a second trick on the portly knight.

A fruitless search of the basket.

And Falstaff in a poor  disguise as an female relative is beaten from the house by Mr Ford.

There is a final trick on Falstaff where Anne lures him into the woods with some of the town children pretending to be fairies.

 

This is part of her own scheme to avoid an unwanted suitor and hook up with the young fellow she really likes. Falstaff falls for the bogus fairy trick but is finally let in on the jape.

He sees the joke and there is an amicable ending. They’re all friends again. The no-hope suitor has to walk away without his intended, but he was only a sub-plot anyway, and Anne Page had her own ideas about the ending.

Postscript

Falstaff of course had returned by public demand. I will be back next week. Hugh Thomson will also be back at some point. I haven’t finished with him yet.

This was my backup post, in case the ones we were working on didn’t come together, and one of them didn’t. Hence the slightly sketchy commentary. Fortunately Thomson does most of the work. A few ideas are bubbling up and with any luck one of them will emerge next week.


Thomson and Goldsmith

Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve developed something of an obsession with the Irish artist and book illustrator Hugh Thomson and I’ve featured his work in a large number of posts since I first came across the 1903 edition of Fanny Burney’s novel Evelina and was fascinated by the illustrations. Since then we’ve looked at some of his “big books” – Quality Street, the Admirable Crichton (JM Barrie), School for Scandal (Sheridan), As you like it (Shakespeare), as well as the Highways and Byways series (London), and his illustrations to the poetry of his friend Austin Dobson. As a fan of his work I’ve graduated from looking through the Library’s collection, borrowing books from my colleagues at Westminster and even buying a few (relatively) cheap editions on Ebay. This post won’t be  the last time you’ll hear about Thomson but the book featured today is the last of the “big books” that I really wanted to see. It’s the 1905 edition of Oliver Goldsmith’s celebrated comedy “She stoops to conquer”.

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Kate and Constance, protagonists of the main story and the sub plot respectively. “Tell me Constance, how do I look this evening?” How Kate looks is one of the themes of the play. She dresses modestly to please her father, fashionably to please herself and she adopts the dress and persona of a maid to win the heart of Mr Marlow, her father’s choice of husband.

Marlow is a little diffident with young women of his own class but rather more relaxed with women he perceives to be lower class. Here is Kate with Mr Hardcastle.

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“Well my dear I see you have changed your dress as I bid you.”

Below, she asks for the maid Pimple’s view of the outfit.

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“Tell me Pimple, how do you like my present dress?” Note the bundle of keys to indicate her role as housekeeper.

As a fashionable young lady her attitude to Mr Marlow is quite combative and he seems a little intimidated.

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“You were about to observe, Sir?”

He loosens up when he thinks she is a maid.

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“(I) never saw such a sprightly malicious eye.”

I should add that her stepbrother Tony Lumpkin has convinced Marlow and his friend Hastings that they are staying at an inn when they come to the Hardcastle house. Kate is playing up to this, even though she thinks Tony is an idiot. (Which he is.)

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His mother intends that he should marry Kate’s friend Constance but he prefers the barmaid at the local inn where he carouses with some low companions. (That may be her serving the drinks.)

Mr Marlow’s behaviour gets a little out of hand.

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And there are, inevitably, tears shed.

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“By Heavens she weeps”. Mr Marlow learns his lesson.

Tony takes some stick from Constance.

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But he does help her to get together with the man she loves, Marlow’s friend Hastings, after a subterfuge over some jewelry, leaving himself unencumbered by his mother’s expectations.

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The confusion over the house is resolved by the arrival of Marlow’s father.

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Kate and Marlow are in love.

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So it all works out. This is a comedy of manners so you can expect a pleasant denouement. I can’t help wondering about how it would look if it was staged in the costumes of a later era, when Mr Marlow’s  liking for a woman dressed as a maid would have different connotations, but don’t let me drag 21st century tropes into this. Let’s leave them in an idyllic, idealised version of the 18th century, courtesy of the 20th century eye of Hugh Thomson. It’s fitting that we should come back to the home of Evelina. It was probably Thomson’s favourite period, and it seemed to be much liked by his contemporaries.

020a-a3s1-keep-up-the-spirit-of-the-place

 

Hugh Thomson himself was not entirely happy with the finished book. He was “bitterly disappointed with the way in which the prints have been killed by the colouring and strength of the border framing them.”   (One reason why I always crop pictures, but the plates look fine to me.) The critics didn’t really notice: “it was clearly ordained from the beginning of time that Goldsmith’s comedy should be illustrated by Mr Hugh Thomson.” and “in the whole of his career Hugh Thomson’s art was never more advanced and developed than at the present time.”

I can’t leave out this picture, another of Thomson’s  favourite subjects, young women moping around, this time with a book.

015a-a2s1-i-have-seen-her-and-sister-cry-over-a-book-for-an-hour-together

“I have seen her and sister cry over a book for an hour together”

Postscript

Oddly enough I can remember studying this one at school. I recall nothing of the lessons except a class read through. This was usually an embarrassing moment in an all boys school and relieved at not getting one of the female roles I momentarily threw off my usual diffidence and read the character of the servant Diggory in my impression of the voice of Arthur Mullard (anyone remember him?) to a certain amount of amusement from my classmates and weary tolerance from the English teacher.

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You’ve already seen a number of links to other posts featuring Thomson’s work. There’s just one more for you which overlaps with this one and several others but it has enough unrepeated images to interest the completists. As I said I can’t promise this is the last of Thomson (if I ever buy a copy of his version of the Merry Wives of Windsor you can be sure of seeing that one), but it’s very nearly the end. Of course there’s still Cranford, Peg Woffington, Scenes from Clerical Life, not to mention all of Jane Austen’s novels. And Goldsmith’s novel The Vicar of Wakefield. I was hoping to have a look at Norma Clarke’s new book “Brothers of the quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street” before publishing this post but the library hasn’t got it yet and I’m waiting for some more information on the post I originally intended for this week so Mr Thomson has jumped in to help out

One of the pleasures of writing a blog is to follow the things that interest you as far as you can in the hope that readers will also be interested. You can’t hope to make other people interested in a topic without being interested in it yourself. Expect a flurry of posts about book illustration in the near future but If you’re not as fascinated by the subject as I am don’t worry. plenty of other things will be coming along soon. That’s why I enjoy my day job. You never know what questions you will be asked today.


Thomson and Shakespeare: into the woods

We had a look recently at a Shakespeare comedy through the eyes of W Heath Robinson and saw a dark and fantastic view of the play. This week we’re back in lighter territory with Hugh Thomson’s illustrations for As you like it. (1909)

The play is another of those stories where the heroine takes on a male identity. There is even more confusion and a greater number of frustrated lovers in the play than in Twelfth Night and at the end Rosalind gathers them all together like a drawing room detective not to name the killer but to marry them: herself and Orlando, her best friend Celia and Orlando’s brother Oliver, a pair called Phebe and Silvius and the clown/fool Touchstone with a girl called Audrey. It all takes place in the Forest of Arden, a sort of rural paradise setting, and although there is some actual danger and threat from time to time the story has plenty of scope for Thomson’s favourite subjects and places: attractive young women, foolish young men in a rural setting.

At the start of the play he depicts a kind of classical / medieval scene with several pictures of Rosalind and Celia. Here they join the crowd watching the wrestling.

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The two friends wear ethereal / angelic robes (Celia is the dark haired one) and they live in some kind of ornamental garden. Italian gardens were already familiar to contemporary British and American readers. The novelist Edith Wharton had written a book about them with photographs and illustrations by the artist Maxfield Parrish (1904). We saw some of those big urns in the post about Twelfth Night.

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Rosamund and Celia look particularly attractive in this picture as they bid farewell to Orlando. Rosalind is about to be banished and Celia to accompany her into the Forest of Arden. They opt to change their clothes and adopt new identities as they go on the lam, into the woods.

Here they are in their disguises with Touchstone, the clown/fool of the play, looking already tired out by the exertions of their flight. “O Jupiter, how weary are my spirits.”(Rosalind)

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And disheveled, in a bohemian sort of way. Celia looks like she could stroll down any 21st century street without causing any time paradoxes. (Actually, according to this article in the Guardian she’s right on trend.)

Thomson was pretty good at depicting characters who are tired, exhausted or just lazing around. (Don’t take my word for it. Look back at some of the other Thomson posts. He loves to draw people resting. As below)

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The shagged out trio are observed by the local animal life.

Below, being tired has shaded into some serious sleeping overlooked by some supernatural characters. Thomson illustrates the line spoken by Rosalind: “Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold.” as she decides to become a man for the purposes of their journey.

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Thomson used nymphs, cherubs, satyrs and others in his pictures, especially in the decorative black and white drawings. I’ve put a group of those together.

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In this picture we’re back in that ornamental garden, to illustrate a line from a speech by Jacques. (“If ladies be but young and fair they have the gift to know it.” ) Compare this with Robinson’s pond/fountain in Twelfth Night.

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Still in the woods there is time for some clandestine sneaking around as Rosalind and Celia spot Orlando.

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And then emerge to have a bit of fun with him. Rosalind:”I will speak to him like a saucy lackey and under that habit play the knave with him.”

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Now here are some of the other members of the cast: barefoot Audrey, another wild child, having some goat problems in a picture reminiscent of some of Thomson’s illustrations for the Admirable Crichton (a 20th century look at social identities, among other things).

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And the lovely Phebe, tending to a sizeable flock of sheep. As I may have said before, Thomson was essentially a rural artist, and he loved the chance to depict country life.

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I particularly like the sheep keeping an eye on one of its lambs.

As often happens Phebe falls in love with Rosalind-as-a-boy, scorning Silvius, who is love with her. The sheep find all this quite confusing.

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Below we’re back to the diaphanous gowns with a confused bit of symbolism.

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Rosalind says speaking of the depth of her love for Orlando “..that same wicked bastard of Venus that was begot of thought, conceived of spleen and born of madness, that blind rascally boy that abuses everyone’s eyes because his own are out, let him be judge how deep I am in love.”

As usual, Thomson has wandered off from the main thrust of the plot in the last section of the play. (He’s not the only artist who does this. Is it a kind of “no spoilers” policy, or has he lost interest?). Touchstone calls upon two pages belonging to the exiled Duke. “Come sit, sit, and a song”. His own intended, Audrey sits with them.

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The song they sing is a well known one: “It was a lover and his lass…”

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Like Robinson, Thomson ends with a clown’s song. He declines the opportunity to show us the goddess Hymen who officiates at the multi-character wedding.

It’s a good picture but I wasn’t satisfied with it as a finale. So I saved this final colour plate for you from the first act. Imagine Rosalind and Celia, still best friends, back in the decorative grounds of that villa wearing their white robes and still looking pretty decorative themselves.

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So that’s our end. And here is the title page, where mischievous minor supernatural entities, one rural and one a bit more urban, meet for a closing tune.

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Postscript

I think that “As you like it” is one of Thomson’s most successful projects. There are 40 colour prints in all in the book so it’s well worth having a look at.

The second part of the title of this post is of course a reference to the Buffy episode where she breaks up with Riley, rather than the Sondheim musical.

Thomson’s work on the Merry Wives of Windsor is also pretty good. You can see a few of the pictures here.

We never got around to mentioning “All the world’s a stage” etc. But then Thomson didn’t choose to illustrate it either.

I’m resolved to leave Thomson alone for a couple of months. We may return to Shakespeare. But I have set aside some pictures from another Thomson book for a near Christmas post


Thomson and Sheridan

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The 1911 edition of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s A School for Scandal  was one of the first of a series of classics illustrated by Hugh Thomson  in a larger format. Preceded by the Merry Wives of Windsor (1910), it was followed by She stoops to conquer (1912) [pictures from both here] , Quality Street (1913) and the Admirable Crichton (1914). Although intermittently troubled by illness during this period Thomson had hit a sweet spot, and was peaking in his art.

School for Scandal took Thomson back to his favourite time and place, 18th century London, which he had explored before in his illustrations to Fanny Burney’s Evelina. This time he was back in colour:

002a frontispiece Lady Teazle

This picture of Lady Teazle disembarking from a sedan chair caused a minor controversy when it was suggested by a reader that the custom on arrival was for the attendants to lift up the hinged lid of the chair to accommodate tall hairstyles, big wigs and hats. Thomson responded that Lady Teazle,” a very impulsive young woman, stooped and issued in one movement as soon as the chair was set down.” And furthermore, he was well aware of the hinged roofs, as shown in this 1892 illustration to Austin Dobson’s The Ballad of Beau Brocade.

The old sedan chair from the Ballad of BB

The earlier work looks sketchy by comparison with the subtle depiction of costume and facial expression in the later book.

006a strong tea and scandal

Thomson had come into his “comic” style. By which I mean his graphic style, light and comedic, reminiscent of a comic strip or a modern graphic novel. The Edwardian version of the 18th century, the antique filtered through the modern. (Just as steampunk style filters Edwardian and Victorian fashion and design through a 21st century sensiblity.)

Or whatever you like. Maybe they’re just entertaining illustrations, and Thomson had found his favourite subject matter. Attractive young women, ridiculous young men with a smattering of eccentric older players, all of them better dressed than they have a right to be, in an accurate but romantic version of period fashion.

021 But I leave my character behind me - Copy

The School for Scandal is a play of course, not a novel like Evelina so I couldn’t quite ignore the actual story (there was a nagging feeling that I’d seen it performed once at the National Theatre but that could have been some other play of the period featuring fops and gossips,) although I did let most of it sink into the background. All I really needed to know, courtesy of Thomson, was that it featured sneaking around on dark staircases,

009 So I slipped out and ran hither - Copy

a bit of public hilarity,

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some cardplay (an innocent young woman up against a practised and probably unscrupulous player-

020 Maria sits down to piquet - Copy

She looks like she’s holding too many cards to manage. You can’t make out the cards in his hand but he’s got a dozen of them. It’s piquet of course, a game I’ve only ever read about.),

some polite  flirtation (with a bit of fan work),

025a There - my note of hand will do as well

and a little reminiscence about days gone by.

026 Sophy laughed at me for thinking of marrying - Copy

Note the lapdog on the sofa compared with the more robust spaniel in this picture.

Thomson  often illustrates things that aren’t actually in the action, like this:

014 Fairly quarrelled before the bells had done ringingA great portrait of a bit of early marital discord worked up from a couple of sentences. It’s a flashback in fact, pretty cinematic for 1911.

He can also do the stagey farce stuff.

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Lady Teazle hiding behind a screen illustrated with maps.

032 Lady Teazle - couldn't I steal off - Copy

Peeping out, trying to sneak away unobserved.

034 One day when I called here - Copy

Getting caught in flagrante. Look at that arm behind her.

035 Lady Teazle, by all that's wonderful - Copy

Unsuccessfully attempting to brazen it out, feeling ashamed.

038 See, she is in tears

Tears before bedtime,

and finally some kind of resolution, bidding a farewell to the school for scandal.

041 Make my respects to the scandalous college - Copy

I’ve noticed that the illustrations aren’t as frequent as the book enters the final stretch, something I’ve observed before. Thomson had great respect for the authors of the works he illustrated. (J M Barrie certainly appreciated Thomson’s work –“I delighted particularly in his pictures for Quality Street, and it is the figures he created that I see in that street now, with himself walking among them, uuderstanding them better than the people of today, perhaps understood better by them.” ) But I suspect that the creation of a lively and entertaining set of images was his main purpose. As I’ve said before, for this reader the pictures are what matters most. They tell a perfectly good story by themselves.

 

Postscript

I don’t have to thank anyone for providing a copy of the book this time. I bought a relatively cheap copy, a bit tatty, but complete. Thomson’s versions of As you like it and She stoops to conquer aren’t quite so easy to get. But I’m on the lookout. I like my obsessions.

Next week with any luck we should be back in living memory with a set of photos curated by my colleague Isabel.

Does this design remind you of the images on the lower part of the screens?

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Oh, and Lady Teazle didn’t get to do the prologue. Here she is now.

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Oh, that’s a long speech, Lady T. Maybe next time…


Thomson’s guide to London

Now the weather is warmer and we’re in the serious summer, we can relax a little and revisit an old friend, the artist and illustrator Hugh Thomson. Along with his annual “big books” with colour pictures, a couple of which we’ve already looked at, he also had some regular jobs which kept the wolf from the door. One of those was the Highways and Byways series. These were travel books of British counties, informative but chatty, written and illustrated by a variety of authors and artists. Thomson worked on several books in the series but the one of most interest to us is Highways and Byways of London, published in 1902 with a text by Mrs E T Cook (Emily Constance actually, don’t know where the T came from.). Some of the illustrations were by the leading engraver F L  Griggs, who tended to do the sober pictures of streets and churches. Thomson concentrated on the life of London and particularly its people.

Here’s a typical London scene, someone giving some directions.

Sightseers

Third left, second right, You can’t miss it. Thomson captures the confidence of the policeman, the confusion of the older man and the anxiousness of the mother and daughter attempting to follow the complex instructions.

They might be forgiven for taking the tube instead.

An Underground Station

Except that it looks a bit frantic down there. This is clearly one of London’s defining characteristics as Thomson saw it. In his London there seems to be quite a bit of rushing about.

The Hansom

The picture is called The Hansom, but the focus is on the brisk young woman who is threatening to overtake the horse drawn carriage.

The other main theme for Thomson is fashion. In an interview with Raymond Blathwayt in 1901 he said: “I think the last two years rival the costume of Gainsborough’s time. For the book on which I am now at work I went up to the Row several times to make sketches, and I said to a friend: why doesn’t some big painter make a picture of this? Women catching up their gowns just as Japanese women do and wearing Gainsborough hats; why, they are full of charm, and if properly grouped, such a picture would make a great sensation.”

Thomson’s favourite period for women’s dress was the 18th century, and perhaps the early 19th (which you can see in other posts here and here) He had come to admire contemporary fashion almost as much. See some pictures of the Row later.

Below, a pair of fashionable young women cast a sidelong glance at an older lady walking a tiny dog.

Crossing at Piccadilly Circus

 

Below, another pair in fashionable outfits at the front of the crowd at a popular exhibition.(No timed entry in those days by the looks of it.)

At the Royal Academy

Another good spot for seeing the latest trends was Regent Street. This group are crowded around the windows of one of the high class establishments. (Compare it with one of the pictures featuring Regent Street in this post about Yoshio Markino.)

I wonder what the woman at the rear of the group is looking at? Something going on in a first floor window?

In Regent Street - Copy

I originally intended, as I have with other travel books, to  quote relevant passages from the text. But although the Royal Academy picture is placed in a section on London galleries, the author doesn’t mention it at all. You get the impression that author and artist weren’t exactly working closely together. Thomson seems to have followed his own interests in selecting subjects. Literary London was clearly one of those.

In the Charing Cross Road

A group of book fanatics are clustered around a shop in the Charing Cross Road, the southern end I think, opposite Leicester Square station. Charing Cross Road was one of the first places I visited regularly when I came to live in London and apart from the clothes this scene is quite recognizable. I can pinpoint it almost exactly in my memory.  Of course in 1973 very few young women had to gather up their skirts to get past a gathering of enthusiasts.

Male book lovers are also in the majority in this picture of a railway bookstall.

A Railway Bookstall

The lone woman looks on as if faintly amused by the concentration of the book-buyers. The bookstall was one of the key features of a large station. Literacy had increased in the last decades of the 19th century and the appetite for literature, high and low, had grown enormously. Even today, nothing beats a book for whiling away the time on a train journey whether short or long. Thomson continues his look at London’s readers in one of the circulating libraries.

Mudie's

At Mudie’s, one of the leading subscription libraries the female customers seem to be in the majority, examining the latest titles and discussing the finer points of modern literature. A messenger boy is carrying two armfuls of books, coming in or going out and a gentleman is looking at a set of books – a four volume novel? In the background a library assistant ascends a rolling set of steps in search of some particular volume.

Thomson also covered some staider pursuits, such as al fresco dining in Kensington Gardens.

Tea in Kensington Gardens

A little further east in Hyde Park things were a little more athletic.

Rotten Row 2

The woman in the foreground seems quite determined to avoid the attentions of the man raising his hat. Perhaps she’s in a race with her friend, whose horse is also galloping. The dark coloured horse seems as determined as his rider. Perhaps he wants to attract the attention of the filly.

Of course, for others, the horse is just a comfortable place to sit while engaged in polite conversation.

Rotten Row

Conversation could also be had indoors. The busy establishment below is one of the tea rooms of the Aerated Bread Company. The name comes from the industrialized baking process developed in the 1860s as an alternative to fermentation with yeast. The Company opened a chain of tea rooms second only in size to J Lyons. These were know as places where respectable women could go by themselves or in groups without any men to accompany them. Although there are plenty in this picture

An aerated bread shop

 

The ABC tearooms, according to Wikipedia, have made many appearances in literature from Dracula to Agatha Christie. The name survived as far as the 1980s. (I can remember a baker’s shop bearing the name in the 1970s, on Camden Road.)

The family in the first picture could always of course have taken the bus. This driver looks like an obliging fellow, ready for a casual chat with his passengers on the upper deck.

Bus Driver

Downstairs the conductor is collecting fares. He signals the number of coins required to the old gentleman groping for change in his deep pocket.

Inside

Meanwhile a book-loving lady is opening her purse, her latest purchases (or loans) wrapped up neatly on her lap.

The bus might be crowded but it would get you home in style.

At the end of a long day, getting home again might be the best part. This Bank Holiday couple look exhausted after their day’s outing.

The return, Bank Holiday

Thomson does what he does best – catching nuances of expression and details of clothing. You can easily imagine this couple’s life, he a clerk in the City, she at home with their daughter in their first home together, part of an emerging lower middle class engaging in new leisure activities, wearing their Sunday best.

They make me feel tired, so I’ll put my feet up now and look forward to the next Thomson post which will be in a couple of weeks or so and will take us back to the same era as the first Thomson book I wrote about.

Postscript

I’ve looked at a few other examples of Thomson’s work in the Highways and Byways series. The volume on Kent (1907) is typical. The drawings are much sketchier than his London pictures, and much more concerned with depicting the rural settings. Thomson was at heart a country boy, and a lover of rural scenes. The London pictures are more in line with his work for novels and plays, of which we have seen many, and hope to see more.

Now as soon as I wrote those words I thought I’d better check some others, other than Kent. F L Griggs did some on his own but Thomson often worked with other artists such as Joseph Penniel. In the North Wales (1893) and Devon and Cornwall (1897) volumes I found a few character based illustrations. So here’s a bonus picture from the Devon and Cornwall volume, depicting a rare move into the realm of the fantastic with a folk tale about a man who encounters a mermaid on the beach.

H and B in Devon and Cornwall p276

Thomson did a few fairy tale books in his career. Perhaps he should have done more.

 


Illustrating Austin – Hugh Thomson and Bernard Partridge

Henry Austin Dobson was one of those indefatigable literary men with which the 19th and early 20th centuries abound. I first came across him as the man who seemed to write all the introductions to the books I was looking at and who seemed to know everyone on the literary scene of his day. The first pieces I read were his introductions to the 1903 edition of Fanny Burney’s Evelina and the 1902 version of the Old Court Suburb, Leigh Hunt’s history of Kensington. I warmed to him and his many introductions partly because as I’ve said elsewhere I am an inveterate reader of introductions (sometimes ignoring the actual text).

His day job was as a civil servant in the Board of Trade, and his career progressed successfully. But he also found time to be a prolific biographer, a poet and an all purpose man of letters. He was the leading figure in a small group of poets who were introducing the verse forms of French poets such as Francois Villon into English. His main interest was the 18th century both in his poetry – The Ballad of Beau Brocade, the Story of Rosina – and his biographies – Henry Fielding, Richard Steele, Oliver Goldsmith, Horace Walpole, Samuel Richardson, Fanny Burney, Thomas Bewick, William Hogarth. Those last two indicate that he was just as interested in the artists of the 18th century as the literary figures.  He was a friend and supporter of an artist we’re quite familiar with by now, Hugh Thomson.  But this post, which features illustrations to two editions of Dobson’s poetry also features the work of another leading book illustrator, Bernard Partridge.

Ninette I feel so sad

Partridge has a heavier style with a more serious tone but the subject matter is not too different. Well dressed young women moping about are still a feature which he shared with Dobson and Thomson. So, more 18th century ennui. Proverbs in Porcelain and other poems was published in 1893. It’s more of a set of short verse dramas than poems. In fact most of Dobson’s poems tell stories, which is why they are so suitable for illustrating.

“The Ballad a la Mode” has two cousins flirting with each other. The Baron reads a poem to the Countess about a maiden missing out on love.

But there's some sequel - Copy

Which is sad, but afterwards the course of true love runs smooth for the two languid aristos.

perfidy - from Ballad a la mode - Copy

 

In “The cap that fits” a trio of toffs elegantly slag off some female passer by.

Not young I think

Hortense: Not young I think,
Armande: And faded too :-
Quite faded! Monsieur, what say you?

The cap that fitsHe tells them. Wittily, of course.

In “The secrets of the heart” the two pensive young women in the first picture, Ninette and Ninon, wonder about their future loves. Ninette remembers a sad nun from her school days. Dobson of course liked a nun as we saw in a previous post although in this time the idea/image of the nun in a full habit had more iconic force than it would today. There was something both romantic and in some cases sinister about the cloistered life.

She was so pious and so good,
With such sad eyes beneath her hood,
And such poor little feet, – all bare!
Her name was Eugenie La Fere.
She used to tell us,- moonlight nights,-
When I was at the Carmelites.

When I was at the Carmelites

And on the title page Cupid does a bit of moping himself.

The secrets of the heart - Copy

 

The Story of Rosina and other verses was published a couple of years later in 1895 and reunited Dobson with Hugh Thomson.

The title poem is about the painter Francois Boucher falling in love with his model, the eponymous Rosina.

There are more 18th century settings, including Thomson’s own version of moping by the window.

She then must have looked, as I
Look now, across the level rye, –
Past Church and Manor- house, and seen,
As now I see, the village green,
The bridge, and Walton’s river – she
Whose old world name was “Dorothy”.

dorothy frontispiece

But Thomson and Dobson also have some contemporary poetic narratives. An Autumn Idyll is one of them, although the title illustration makes a classical allusion featuring some nymphs and a satyr who look more like late Victorian teenagers.

Rosina 004

The poem itself is about some modern inhabitants of the river.

Rosina 004 - Copy

Three men, in this case Lawrence, Frank and Jack, with a boat pulled up at a shaded landing spot.

Here, where the beech-nuts drop among the grasses,
Push the boat in, and throw the rope ashore,
Jack, hand me out the claret and the glasses;
Here let us sit. We landed here before.

Once settled, unlike Jerome’s three men, they each recite or sing about a woman.

Dark-haired is mine, with breezy ripples swining
Loose as a vine branch blowing in the morn;
Eyes like the morning, mouth for ever singing,
Blithe as a bird new risen from the corn.

At her feet - autuman idyll - Comp

Better the twilight and the cheery chatting-
Better the dim forgotten garden-seat,
Where on may lie, and watch the fingers tatting,
Lounging with Bran or Bevis at her feet.

You can see photos of the Victorian boating scene in this post, and see what Mortimer Menpes made of it here .

“A dialogue withPlato” is another modern tale.

Dialogue with Plato - right

The hard working scholar is interrupted by a young lady of his acquaintance leaning in throughthe window to distract him with a question.

Dialogue with Plato

She succeeds in luring him out for a walk in the woods, which is something he’d far rather be doing anyway, so both of them are happy and Plato can be put aside for another day.

“Love in winter” provides Thomson with a chance to present another of his charming young women.

Rosina 011

“Bright-eyed Bella”  wrapped up against the cold.

And there’s a sundial

Rosina 012

And a lady.

Rosina 012 - Copy

I have to say that much of Dobson’s poetry seems inconsequential in comparison with what I know of other era of poetry, but these volumes place it in a picturesque and pleasant setting, courtesy of two masters of illustration.

double

Postscript

There will be one more post based on a book with an introduction by Austin Dobson this year but these two artists will not be involved. It will be close to Christmas.


Thomson’s miscellany

Since I first encountered the art of Hugh Thomson in the 1903 edition of Frances  Burney’s Evelina I’ve been looking for more of his artwork both online and in the books in our basement stores. Just as with Yoshio Markino there is a treasure trove of material waiting to be discovered when you first encounter a book illustrator.

In Thomson’s case the fascination lies both in the images themselves and the way they recall half-remembered illustrations from children’s books. As a child I moved from Muffin the Mule to Winnie the Pooh to books on Greek and Roman myths to Marvel comics. Thomson’s illustrations seem to me to be half way between classic book illustrators like Rackham and Greenaway and the great artists in the comics, both British and American.

I found several books illustrated wholly or partly by him: the two J M Barrie plays I’ve written about (here and here), the Highways and Byways of London (part of a travel series – he was involved with several others), poetry by his friend Austin Dobson: Rosina, and others, the Mrs Gaskell novel Cranfield and the illustrations he did for the Jane Austen novels.  (I  bought a reprint of his heavily illustrated edition of Pride and Prejudice, well worth checking out) And finally (for now) there was of course the 1931 biography of Thomson by M H Spielmann and Walter Jerrold.

Thomson was born in 1860 in Coleraine in Ireland but spent a large portion of his life in and around London. He died in Wandsworth in 1920. For most of his career he was a prolific and successful artist. The rest of this post is a selection of some of the work I have come across.

One of his late commissions, published posthumously was a set of coloured pictures for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s the Scarlett Letter, a historical novel about a woman condemned to wear the letter A on her clothes for conceiving a child out of wedlock.

Hester Prynne fron the Scarlett Letter

Hester Prynne while “standing on the pillory scaffold recalls ‘her own face, glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating all the interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it'”. Below she wears the A for adultery:

hester prynne in the scarlett letter

In 1912 he worked on Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 comedy She stoops to conquer. We’ve already seen Thomson had a particular liking for 18th century settings .

she stoops 006

The play is a tangled story of impersonations, misunderstandings and intrigue over marriage and inheritance. As in Evelina, Thomson captures how we imagine the life and manners of a pre-photographic period. (Thomson studied the history of costume to ensure accuracy).

Below, Kate adopts the dress of a housekeepert.

018-a3s1-tell-me-pimple-how-do-you-like-ny-present-dress

Which all ends in tears, by the looks of it.

she stoops 003 - Copy

But never mind. There’s flirting:

She stoops to

And dancing of course, before the play has run its course.

Keep up the spirit of the place.

“She stoops” was Thomson’s “big book” for the autumn. The next year he did Quality Street after a lunch with J M Barrie who described the pictures as “quite delightful” and Thomson, after his death as “a man who drew affection at first sight.”

Still in the 18th century, Thomson’s pictures for Austin Dobson’s the Ballad of Beau Brocade (1892) – one of several books by Dobson which he illustrated.

The old sedan chair from the Ballad of BB

Some comedy business with a sedan chair,

Ballad of beau brocade 02

and a then a carriage,

Ballad of Beau Brocade 02 (2)

After which the young lady needed a bit of lazing around, nodding off in the window seat. William Pitcher singled this picture out for praise noting “with what exquisite lightness and conviction has HT touched in the effect of the short muslin blinds blowing out of (the) window”.

Thomson also worked on Dobson’s collection the Story of Rosina and other verses (1895)

Rosina 005

“Harp-prest bosoms” – a fascinating image. This period  was one where Thomson was frequently sought after by publishers. One asked him to do Washington Irving’s Old Christmas but he thought he couldn’t better Randolph Caldecott’s version.

Rosina 010

Nuns on the trail of a magpie. Why not? (Black and white – did you see what he did there?)

A late piece of work, from 1915, not published at the time:

Caleb Plummer and his blind daughter from the Cricket on the hearth

Caleb Plummer and his blind daughter Bertha from Dickens’s Christmas novella The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)

After Dickens, then Shakespeare. Thomson shows the Merry Wives of Windsor in mischievous good form. (1910).

merry wives 03

Tricking Falstaff into the laundry…

merry wives

and into the water.

merry wives 05

That’s all for now. We’ll see Hugh Thomson again. There are still the London pictures and the Austen books, and all the scenes of rural life. But we’ll leave him for the moment.

It was a great period for book illustrators and there are amazing things to be found in the stores of public libraries and online.

Postscript

As I’m writing it’s another bank holiday, just as when I wrote about Thomson and Fanny Burney’s Evelina. This time a wet one, but still conducive to reading and writing and posting lots of pictures. One more:

Rosalind andCelia Copy

This wasn’t going to be this week’s post – it was going to be next week’s, but I haven’t quite finished the one which will now be next week’s. I was writing two posts over the weekend and got engrossed in the biography.


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