The Strand Magazine/Volume 4/Issue 20/Grandfather's Picture-Books
N considering the picture-books belonging to the grandfathers of the young and old among us, we are much indebted to Messrs. Field and Tuer for permission to reproduce a number of examples from their "1,000 Quaint Cuts from Books of Other Days."
|The cow eats Tom Thumb.
|He is soused in the furmety.
|He rides on the butterfly.
|He is killed by the spider.
Here, to begin with, is a set of pictures illustrating the marvellous history of Tom Thumb. First there is a very respectable cut representing that critical moment of the hero's history when he was taken up in a mouthful of grass by a cow. Then we have him astride of his faithful butterfly, sailing gaily over houses, fields, and trees. Comparing the butterfly with the adjacent tree, it would seem to be about as big as a large crocodile, with wings rather larger than a church door. Then we have the furmety bowl accident. It is pleasing to observe, in this picture, the architecture of the period of King Arthur, according to the artist. Rows of brick houses, with severely rectangular doors and windows, appear to have been in fashion, while a magnified bedpost stood at the head of a flight of steps. In the fourth picture we have the last sad adventure, when the deadly breath of the wicked spider put an end to the doughty deeds, the butterflyings, and the paste-wallowings of good Sir Thomas. Observe the terrifying expression of the spider's face (he is a rare kind of spider, by the bye, with a monkey's head), and the extraordinary action whereby he essays "cut one," which Sir Thomas is to receive on his shield. A spider who can go through the broadsword exercise is as great a wonder as Sir Thomas himself.
Next we have Jack the Giant Killer. From the first cut grandfather gathered his ideas as to how the first of Jack's famous exploits—that with Cormoran—was accomplished. Observe the dark lantern in the corner—quite up to date, you see, although Jack was, like Sir Thomas, a contemporary of King Arthur. Then we have Jack tackling Blunderbore and his brother, strangling them with a rope tied to his window frame, trampling all over their heads and shoulders and cutting off their heads like anything, while they lean limply on their clubs. The next two cuts tell us all about
|JACK KILLS CORMORAN.
|HE SHOWS THE GIANT A TRICK.
|HE STRANGLES THE GIANTS.
|THE GIANT AND HIS PRISONERS.
|HE SLICES OFF THE GIANT'S NOSE.
the Welsh Giant. First he is pounding away (quite reckless of his own bed-linen) at the supposed Jack, who is represented in the story by a billet of wood, and in the picture by what looks like a school bell-tower, or a patent chimney-pot. With so much light in the room as the picture shows, however, the giant must have had a good deal of cold tea for supper to mistake the chimney-pot for Jack, or to fail to notice that artful person standing in the lightest corner. Next the wicked Welsh Giant is committing involuntary suicide in his rash attempt to play "follow-my-leader" in the porridge-bag trick. That long white thing hanging out of the hole in the giant's waistcoat is not his shirt, as might be supposed, but blood, which seems to have frozen into a tall heap. Note, too, the delicate way in which the giant's nationality is suggested, by a leek tastefully worn in the hair. In the last two pictures Jack appears in his invisible cloak, and everybody must admire the boldness with which the artist has grappled with the difficulty of representing a man made invisible in a picture. The recipe is a simple one—draw him rather larger than usual, more clearly, and blacker; especially make the invisible cloak as black and as visible as possible, and there you are. In the last of these pictures, Jack is slashing off the nose of one of his customers. It is a very fine and large nose, of the sort that you buy for a penny at a fair. The giant appears to be making a wild attempt to catch it, although that would seem scarcely wise, for he certainly looks a deal handsomer without it.
Here is rather an earlier picture, from a book of nursery rhymes. The legend runs
Oh dear! what can the matter be?
Two little boys are up in the apple tree!
Which probably contains a great deal of reason, since there is so little rhyme. It is a beautiful apple tree, and it would seem very wrong to disturb all those symmetrical apples, growing so regularly in order, each in its proper place. However, the grave young gentlemen in tail-coats and kneebreeches are careful to preserve the general regularity of the scene by shaking off all the apples uniformly with the stalks upward.
This picture, of a not very well fed gentleman riding a not very well fed horse past a sign-post with nothing on it, appears over the famous couplet
Ride a cock-horse
We print it here chiefly as throwing some light upon the interesting question as to exactly what species of animal a "cock-horse" is. It may be as well to mention that in the first of the Tom Thumb pictures, already referred to, the quadruped there depicted is by many supposed to be a hen cow.
The two little boys, who are represented in another book as playing shuttlecock near a precipice and a flower-pot, are delightful specimens of the sort of boy familiar in the pages of old goody-goody books, with frilled collars, and puffy trousers buttoned on to very short jackets. They haven't a great deal of room for their game, what with the precipice and the flower-pot, and a bee-hive, about the size of a decent cottage, close against one player's back. That boy is really in a dangerous position. It would be so easy accidentally to hit the hive, whereupon there would probably ensue a sally of infuriated bees about the size of pigeons (judging from the hive), who would set upon, murder, sting and devour boys, battledores, flower-pot, precipice and all.
From another of grandfather's picture-books comes a series of spirited pictures setting forth certain awful examples of children who meddled with fire. There is a sameness about these instructive catastrophes, as well as a certain want of preliminary detail. Boy with frilled collar and his trousers on fire throws up his arms before fireplace and shouts. Little girl with dress on fire throws up her arms in front of fireplace and shouts. Another little girl with ditto ditto, does
Played with ditto in front of ditto and dittoes. Small child (sex uncertain) with a cheerful fire in nightshirt shouts in front of fireplace and throws up arms. The girls (assuming it to be a boy in the nightshirt) are the more clearly distinguished by the addition in each case of a woman with white apron, mob cap, and outstretched arms, and a kettle on the hob—embellishments denied to the boys, who have to take their chance as best they can with two fenders, a set of fireirons, and a wooden chair between them. The similarity of the two girls' adventures is relieved slightly by the introduction in one case of a cat with stiff legs, galloping, with much prudence, away from the disaster. But there is a complete and irredeemable uniformity about the whole set in one respect—there is no suggested cause for the accidents, unless the boys and girls have deliberately shoved their clothes into the fire, in order to make an instructive warning for grandfather's picture-book. It is noticeable that the artist has had some difficulty in setting fire to the first boy's trousers with a proper and natural effect, owing to the awkwardness of the garments for the purpose. The girls' skirts are infinitely better suited to the experiment. The title to the series of pictures is spread out among them, and ends with the substitution of a significant hieroglyphic for the word "fire," consisting of certain very fierce flames in a setting of very solid smoke, arising from the combustion of nothing whatever.
We have already mentioned the goody-goody books of grandfather's time, with solemn pictures of virtuous elders in high coat collars and swallow-tails, and more or less virtuous youths in concertina hats and puffy white trousers. The adventures of Tommy Merton, Harry Sandford, and the respectable Mr. Barlow in the many editions in which the book was printed, were the occasion of many such pictures, and the first half of this century was greatly distinguished by the immense number of serious little books issued with cuts wherein blameless and omniscient tutors lectured solemn little boys on things in general. Here is a cut from one of these, wherein the worthy tutor, whose thighbone extends down two-thirds of his leg, points to a very solid-looking speckled rainbow with one hand, and with the other urges forward his pupil to make a closer examination.
Then we have a picture of a scene on the ice, whereon one boy has come a cropper. Now, the identity of that boy is rather doubtful. He can scarcely be the good boy who wouldn't play truant to go and slide, or he wouldn't have come a cropper, even had he been on the ice at all. On the other hand, he can't be the bad boy who insisted on doing these wicked things, or he would have fallen clean through the ice and been drowned. Perhaps he is a reformed bad boy who came on the ice to warn the others. This seems more likely, since he appears to have only one leg; he probably lost the other through climbing after birds' nests on Sunday, or something of that sort, and then reformed. One can't get much fun, you know, with only one leg left, so may as well reform as not.
In the early days an artist often had to draw a thing which he had never seen. We have here the effort of one of these gentlemen who evidently had never seen an elephant, and built the face up as well as he could from a human standpoint, with the trunk on the chin. We won't be personal, but we believe we have seen a portrait very like this in some of the papers.
We have, in the next picture, an opportunity of inspecting the interior of a boys' school of the last century end. Note the little three-cornered hats hung above the scholars' heads, and the portentous array of heavy books over the head of the learned master, in his wig and gown. He opens his palm as though for the benefit of a small boy's ears, but, as there is no small boy sufficiently near it, perhaps he is only indulging in the pleasures of anticipation. The view from the window is particularly interesting. The three regular sugar-loat trees, of the herring-bone species, growing exactly to the same height, and each exactly filling the width of one window-pane in the vision, without encroaching upon the others, offer a beautiful lesson in order and harmony among neighbours.
A specimen of quite a different class is seen in the representation of Polyphemus, at the entrance to his cave, with cloak, staff, and Pandean pipes. The bold, free drawing of the King of the Cyclops is of the school of Blake, but there are points in the execution which diminish the probability of of its being Blake's actual work.
A contrast to this is seen in the queer little cut in which a woman is either drying the tears of a little girl or punching her in the eye. It is from one of the goody books, and the absence of much of the right side of the girl's face seems rather to point to punching than tear drying.
Another queer little wood-cut is a mere copy of an inn sign, which was rather popular in old days—the "Bull and of an Mouth." It is a very magnificent mouth, at which the bull appears rather scared, as well he may. He seems to be considering the advisability of going in, but doesn't feel quite safe in venturing. This is one of the instances of the corruption of the title older sign. Originally it was the "Boulogne Mouth," and referred to the mouth of Boulogne Harbour, being adopted as an inn sign in commemoration of the taking of Boulogne in the reign of Henry VIII. The "Goat and Compasses" (originally "God Encompasses Us") is a similar case.
One woodcut from grandfather's picture-book (or was this from grandmother's?) gives us some information about the inside of a shop in the days when ladies wore their waists just under their armpits. The polite shopman, in a wig, shows a piece of ribbon to the two ladies in big bonnets. The transaction is very similar one to those of to-day, but we get a glimpse of the old square-paned shop window; and the cut is rather crude and quaint.
There was a device in some of these picture-books of dividing a space into little squares, and filling each of these little squares with a representation of some object, with its name printed over it. The intention, of course, was instruction—the little grandfather would become familiar with the outline of the object while learning to spell the name; a sort of early kindergarten lesson, in fact. Here is a block of a dozen such little squares, with the illustrations all very clear and unmistakable, except the oyster, which looks rather like a tortoise (but might be a hedgehog), and Job, who might be Pontius Pilate or Nebuchadnezzar. It is to be observed that over Job's head a crown is placed, so that something is done to compensate him for his troubles, even in grandfather's picture-book. The temple is evidently intended for Dr. Parker's on the Viaduct before the tower was built, and the side spaces are filled in with trees in order to avoid advertising the adjoining establishments. Next door to the temple is a very fine trumpet, with a hearthrug hanging on it, and just below the trumpet is a hat, of the fashion worn by grandfather's father. A bow is generously thrown in with the violin, although not in the specification, and the relative proportions of the different objects are striking. Thus the moth is a great deal bigger than the temple, and the oyster is as large as Job's head.
The "Cries of London" were favourite subjects with the compilers of these books. We reproduce a cut of a gingerbread seller. Gingerbread, by the bye, seems to have become quite a thing of the past, and nothing remains to us of it but these pictures, and the proverb about rubbing the gilt off it. This particular cut is actually a portrait—a portrait of the most famous of all the gingerbread sellers, "Tiddy-doll." He is represented in Hogarth's print of the execution of the "Idle Apprentice," selling gingerbread to the crowd. He was a great character in his way, and dressed tremendously in gold-laced clothes of a very fine sort; so that, being a handsome old fellow, and tall, he attracted notice everywhere. Nobody knew his name, and he had that of "Tiddy-doll" from the song-burden with which he interspersed his patter, thus: "Mary, Mary, where are you now, Mary? I live, when at home, at the second house in Little Ball-street, two steps underground, with a wiskum riskum, and a why-not. My shop is on the second floor back, with a brass knocker at the door. Here's your nice gingerbread, your spice gingerbread, all ready to melt in your mouth like a red-hot brick-bat. Ti-tiddy ti-ti, ti-tiddy ti-ti, titiddy ti-ti, tiddy doll-loll." His nickname has survived to the present day in the proverbial expression, "You're quite tiddy-doll," or "Tiddy-fol-loll," addressed to a brilliantly attired person.
The lady with cucumbers on a barrow was invariably present in these "cries." Here the cucumbers might very well be oysters, or sausages, or anything else. The knife-grinder is even more interesting. His machine is of a kind quite unknown to mortal eye nowadays. One doesn't quite see how the grindstone is driven, or, indeed, quite where the grindstone is, but no doubt it is all right, or the worthy tradesman wouldn't look so happy.
Anybody who is doubtful as to the exact appearance of a hobgoblin, a witch, or a fairy may be satisfied by a glance at the next three blocks. When a hobgoblin wishes to attend to his correspondence, he doesn't sit before a table in the ordinary way, but has a hole made in the table and hangs his legs through it. This is simple and economical, although it would seem to be a little awkward, particularly with a table having only two legs. Most of the hobgoblins appear to be fitted out with every convenience for personal enjoyment, including wings, tails, stings, &c., although one unfortunate has to be content with a very large head and a fowl's legs and no trunk or arms.
The witches are quite conventional. It is a little surprising however, to learn that a witch has to whip her broomstick to make it go; and one wonders why a flying cat has any need for swinging a great besom about in the air. The moon is in eclipse, as is proper at times of witchery, but the stars are all right, and, if anything, rather bigger than usual. One often hears theatrical people speak of a "thin house." The house on the right-hand side of the picture appears to be one of these.
The fairies are rather better dressed than one might expect. Frock coats and breeches are really quite respectable. The ladies wear steeple-crowned hats and laced bodices, which leads to the supposition that they are Welsh fairies. A convenient door is neatly let into an adjoining mole-hill for the fairies to go in and out of, and a toadstool stands handy for refreshments between the dances. The moon seems, on the whole, rather astonished, which is really quite excusable in the circumstances.
We have found a delightful study of animals—apparently cows and calves in a shed. Observe their piercing eyes, all turned upon the astonished spectator. This may mean fury, or it may mean blindness, or something else, but it looks most like hunger. The shed is built upon the trunks of four trees which have failed in their legitimate business, after growing, with great consideration, exactly at the four corners of a rectangle. Only the roof and two sides of the building have been built (what of is doubtful), in order that the stock may stare at us from the other sides.
Of course, some of grandfather's picture-books were books of fables—Æsop's, and translations and abridgments of La Fontaine's. We are able to find room for two illustrations from one of these books. First we have "Hercules and the Waggoner." Three rather small horses, driven tandem fashion, have succeeded in fixing a very long, low-tilted waggon in a ditch. The waggoner, who may possibly be completely dressed, and wearing a smock, but whose costume looks uncommonly like a shirt and nothing else, calls on Hercules to overcome the difficulty for him; although presumably there must be people at hand in the very extraordinary houses just over the bridge. Hercules, who doesn't look quite so well as when we last saw him, and is reduced to a most insignificant club, appears on one of those feather-bed clouds usually employed on similar occasions. To speak more exactly, he appears to be slipping off, and threatening serious damage to the roof just below him. Hercules, it will be observed, was a very large person, as one might expect.
Then there is the shepherd boy who cried "Wolf!" There are four animals in the picture, and anybody can see at once which is the wolf, because he is biting the countenance of one of the others, which lies on the ground; otherwise it would be difficult. The shepherd seems to be rather enjoying the fun, to judge by the gratified look on his face, and the gladsome expressions of his legs and arms as he hops cheerfully in the lefthand corner. Baronial castles and mountains, assorted, make an effective background.
Our little collection would scarcely be complete without something representative of the legend of Jack and the Beanstalk. One of the old books yields us a very instructive picture, wherein we learn many things. First, that the beanstalk was about ten feet high at most; this judging by the height of Jack's mother, who is coming after him with a broom and a dog in a highly vigorous and gymnastic manner, without stopping to open the garden-gate. The castle at the top of the stalk, too, would seem to have been about the size of a fairly large mantelpiece clock, and the giant—who could almost go into Jack's pocket—looks uncommonly like the little weather-prophet who pops out of the old-fashioned barometer. All this, however, may be intended as an effort to conform to the rules of perspective; but still, one would like to know a little more about the internal arrangements of that cottage. Consider it. The head of the front door reaches to the eaves, and is then none too high for the passage of Jack's energetic parent. Still, by cutting a piece out of the thatch a window is provided to light an upper floor; an upper floor about a foot or so high, and barely big enough, it would seem, to accommodate that insignificant giant of the castle. If that large black thing at the foot of the stalk be one of the five seeds, one need wonder no longer at the size of the plant, but at the ability of Jack to carry the seeds home.
Finally, as a tailpiece, we print Noah's Ark as it appeared in grandfather's picture-book. It appears, as nearly as ascertainable from the portholes, to have been about a twenty-eight-gun ship, exclusive of bow and stern chasers, of which there are no clear indications. The upper part, it will be observed, consisted of a neat cricket pavilion. Grandfather's picture-book amused and taught many good men in their childhood. Perhaps the few fragments of it which are here presented may not altogether fail in one of these objects today.