Students and lovers of Victoriana, we have a treat for you. The 1873 book above, Cartoon Portraits and Biographical Sketches of Men of the Day, offers caricatures of forty-nine prominent men, and one woman, of the 19th century, some of them less-than-famous now and some still veritable giants of their respective fields.
Accompanied by lively biographies, the portraits were all drawn by illustrator Frederick Waddy, who is perhaps best known for the drawing on page six of a white-bearded Charles Darwin (above) entitled “Natural Selection”—often reproduced in color and found hanging on the office walls of biology teachers. Darwin appears second in Cartoon Portraits, preceded only by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton of “It was a dark and stormy night” fame.
In addition to professor’s offices, you may also encounter some of Waddy’s work at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In his time, Waddy was one of the foremost caricaturists of the day—an important position in periodical publishing before the advent of cheaply mass-reproducible photography. All of the portraits originally appeared in a magazine called Once a Week, founded in a split between Charles Dickens and his publisher Bradbury and Evans, who started the journal with editor Samuel Lucas in 1859 to compete with Dickens’ All the Year Round. Once a Week ran until 1880, publishing pieces on history and current affairs and occasional poems by Tennyson, Swinburne, Dante Rossetti and others. Its popularity was buoyed by Waddy’s drawings and the detailed illustrations of several other graphic artists. Above, see Mark Twain riding his celebrated jumping frog, and just below, poet and critic Matthew Arnold does a high-wire act between two trapezes labelled “Poetry” and “Philosophy.” Twain’s portrait is titled “American Humour”— and he is the only American in the series—and Arnold’s is called “Sweetness and Light.”
Though the book’s title promises only “Men of the Day,” it does include one woman, Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (below, simply titled “M.D.”), the first Englishwoman to officially work as a physician. Her biographical sketch begins with a long and somewhat tortuous historical defense for female doctors, stating that “social prejudices are almost as hard to eradicate as those of religion. It was not till quite lately that the feeling against woman’s rights as regard education was successfully combated.” Once a Week was a progressive-leaning magazine, its editor a noted abolitionist, and it regularly published the work of women writers like Harriet Martineau, Isabella Blagden, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, though one wonders why they didn’t warrant caricatures as well.
Below, see Waddy’s portrait of central African explorer Henry Morton Stanley, standing twice the height of the native African next to him. It’s a fitting image of colonial ego, though the scene may be drawn after a photo of Stanley with his adopted son Kalulu. The title refers to his search for—and famous exclamation upon discovering—Scottish missionary David Livingstone. All in all, Cartoon Portraits gives us a fascinating look at Victorian visual media and a representative sample of the most popular literary, scientific, and political figures in England during the middle of the century. While the names of Waddy and his fellow comic artists are hardly remembered now, the authors of The Smiling Muse: Victoriana in the Comic Press assert that in their day, “they were the ones who had their fingers on the pulse of what we now call the ‘popular culture’ of the time.” See The Public Domain Review for more highlights from the book.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.
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