Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Doyle, Richard
DOYLE, RICHARD (1824–1883), artist and caricaturist, second son of John Doyle [q. v.], was born in London in September 1824. He was educated at home. From his childhood he was accustomed to use his pencil, his instructor being his father. The teaching of the elder Doyle seems to have had for its chief objects the encouraging of a habit of close observation and a ceaseless study of nature. One result of this treatment was that his son, at a very early age, became a designer of exceptional originality. His first published work was 'The Eglinton Tournament; or, the Days of Chivalry revived,' produced in his fifteenth year. But a more remarkable effort belonging to this date is a manuscript 'Journal' which he kept in 1840, and which is now in the print room in the British Museum. Since the artist's death it has been issued (1886) in facsimile, with an interesting introduction by Mr. J. Hungerford Pollen; but those who wish to study this really unique effort must consult the original, the brilliancy and beauty of which but faintly appear in the copy. As the work of a boy of between fifteen and sixteen, this volume is a marvel of fresh and unfettered invention. Most of the artist's more charming qualities are prefigured in its pages; his elves, his ogres, his fantastic combats, and his freakish fun-making are all represented in it; and it may be doubted whether, in some respects, he ever excelled these 'first sprightly runnings' of his fancy. Two years later he published another example of the tournament class, 'A Grand Historical, Allegorical, and Classical Procession,' further described by one of his biographers as 'a humourous pageant ... of men and women who played a prominent part on the world's stage, bringing out into good-humoured relief the characteristic peculiarities of each.' In 1841 'Punch' was established, and in 1843 Doyle, then only nineteen, became one of its regular contributors. He began with some theatrical sketches, but presently was allowed to choose his own subject, and to give full rein to his faculty for playfully graceful en-têtes, borderings, initial letters, and tail-pieces. In a short time he went on to supply cartoons, and, like the rest, to record his pictorial impressions of Bentinck and Russell, Brougham and Disraeli. One of his most fortunate devices for 'Punch' was its cover. This, at first, had from time to time been varied, but the popularity of Doyle's design secured its permanence, and the philosopher of Fleet Street, with his dog Toby, still continues to appear weekly as he depicted them more than forty years ago. During 1849 he contributed to 'Punch' one of his best works, the 'Manners and Customs of ye Englyshe, drawn from ye Quick by Richard Doyle,' a series of designs in conventional outline, cleverly annotated by Percival Leigh under the guise of 'Mr. Pips,' a sort of latter-day fetch or survival of the Caroline diarist and secretary to the admiralty. In these pages, often closely crowded with minute figures, and admirable in their archly exaggerated drollery, we seem to live again in the England of Lablache and Jenny Lind, of Jullien's concerts and Richardson's show, of 'Sam Hall' and the Cider Cellars, of cricketers in stove-pipe hats, and a hundred things which have gone the way of 'last year's snows.' Some ten or twelve years afterwards Doyle returned to this field in the 'Bird'seye Views of Society,' which he contributed to the 'Cornhill Magazine' in 1861-3, during Thackeray's editorship. But the later compositions, albeit more ambitious, have not the simple charm of the earlier designs.
In 1850 Doyle's connection with 'Punch' terminated in consequence of scruples wholly honourable to himself. By creed he was a devout Roman catholic, and, as such, naturally found himself out of sympathy with the attacks made by 'Punch' at this time upon papal aggression. He therefore resigned his position on the staff. It is no secret now that 'through the violent opinions which he [Mr. Punch] expressed regarding the Roman catholic hierarchy, he lost the invaluable services, the graceful pencil, the harmless wit, the charming fancy of Mr. Doyle.' So wrote Thackeray (Quarterly Review, December 1854), who himself, he tells us in the same place, resigned his own functions upon the periodical because of Punch's hostility to the emperor of the French. To Doyle this step for conscience' sake meant no small sacrifice, but it was strictly in accordance with the integrity of principle which, on another occasion, prompted him to decline to illustrate, upon his own terms, the works of Swift, whose morality he did not approve. After his secession from 'Punch' he never again appeared as a contributor to a humorous paper, and henceforth his work was mainly that of a book illustrator and water-colour artist. One of the earliest volumes he illustrated at this date was Thackeray's 'Rebecca and Rowena,' 1850. This was followed in 1851 by Ruskin's 'King of the Golden River,' and in 1854 he completed for Messrs. Bradbury & Evans the highly popular 'Foreign Tour of Brown, Jones, and Robinson,' some instalments of which had appeared in 'Punch' before he ceased to contribute to its pages. In 1853-5 he illustrated with great sympathy and, as regards certain of the types, with exceptional success, 'The Newcomes' of Thackeray, for the monthly parts of which he produced a most effective cover. In 1859 came Mr. Thomas Hughes's 'Scouring of the White Horse,' in 1864 the already mentioned 'Bird's-eye Views of Society,' and in 1865 'An Old Fairy Tale' (i.e. 'The Sleeping Beauty'), retold in the verse of J. R. Planché. In 1870 followed 'In Fairy Land,' a series of elfin scenes, the verses for which were written by Mr. William Allingham. In 1886 the same illustrations were employed for 'The Princess Nobody' of Mr. Andrew Lang. The 'London Lyrics' of Mr. Frederick Locker (now Mr. Locker-Lampson), Leigh Hunt's 'Jar of Honey from Mount Hybla, the 'Bon Gaultier Ballads' of Aytoun and Martin, the'Piccadilly' of Lawrence Oliphant, 1870, were also illustrated wholly or in part by Doyle, and he supplied some of the cuts to Pennell's 'Puck on Pegasus' and Dickens's 'Battle of Life.' Much of the later portion of Doyle's career was, however, devoted to water-colour painting, which he often managed to invest with a haunting and an unearthly beauty peculiarly his own. 'His favourite topic was wild scenery of heather and woodland, the unrivalled beauties of Devon, and the bleak hills of Wales.' These scenes he frequently peopled with the inhabitants of his imagination, the elves and fays and gnomes and pixies in whom his soul delighted. Many examples of his skill in this way were exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1885. At South Kensington there are three characteristic water-colour paintings, 'The Witch's Home' (two), 1875, and 'The Manners and Customs of Monkeys,' 1877: while one of the largest, latest, and most important of his efforts in this way, a composition of several hundred figures, entitled 'The Triumphant Entry, a Fairy Pageant,' is (with many elaborate drawings and pen-and-ink designs) preserved in the National Gallery of Ireland. At the British Museum,besides the diary mentioned above, are a number of miscellaneous skerches, including portraits of Thackeray, Tennyson, and M. J. Higgins (' acob Omnium'); and there are also several of his sketch-books, &c., in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. On 10 Dec. 1883 Doyle was struck down by apoplexy as he was quitting the Athenæum Club, and he died on the following morning. He left behind him the memory of a singularly sweet and noble type of English gentleman, and of an artist of 'most excellent fancy'—the kindliest of pictorial satirists, the most sportive and frolicsome of designers, the most graceful and sympathetic of the limners of fairyland. In Oberon's court he would at once have been appointed sergeant-painter.
[Everitt's English Caricaturists, 1886, pp. 381-94; The Month, March 1884; works in the British Museum.