The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. IV: American
By George Horatio Derby (18231861)
A YEAR or two since, a weekly paper was started in London called the Illustrated News. It was filled with tolerably executed woodcuts, representing scenes of popular interest; and though perhaps better calculated for the nursery than the reading-room, it took very well in England, where few can read but all can understand pictures, and soon attained immense circulation. As when the inimitable London Punch attained its world-wide celebrity, supported by such writers as Thackeray, Jerrold, and Hood, would-be funny men on this side of the Atlantic attempted absurd imitationsthe Yankee Doodle, the John Donkey, etc.which as a matter of course proved miserable failures; so did the success of this illustrated affair inspire our money-loving publishers with hopes of dollars, and soon appeared from Boston, New York, and other places pictorial and illustrated newspapers, teeming with execrable and silly effusions, and filled with the most fearful wood-engravings, got up regardless of expense or anything else; the contemplation of which was enough to make an artist tear his hair and rend his garments. A Yankee named Gleason, of Boston, published the first, we believe, calling it Gleasons Pictorial (it should have been Gleasons Pickpocket) and Drawing-Room Companion. In this he presented to his unhappy subscribers views of his house in the country, and his garden, and, for aught we know, of his ox and his ass, and the stranger within his gates. A detestable invention for transferring daguerreotypes to plates for engraving, having come into notice about this time, was eagerly seized upon by Gleason for further embellishing his catchpenny publicationduplicates and uncalled-for pictures were easily obtained, and many a man has gazed in horror-stricken astonishment on the likeness of a respected friend as a Portrait of Monroe Edwards, or that of his deceased grandmother in the character of One of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. They love pictures in Yankeedom; every tin-pedler has one on his wagon, and an itinerant lecturer can always obtain an audience by sticking up a likeness of some unhappy female, with her ribs laid open in an impossible manner, for public inspection, or a hairless gentleman, with the surface of his head laid out in eligible lots duly marked and numbered. The factory girls of Lowell, the professors of Harvard, all bought the new Pictorial. (Professor Webster was reading one when Doctor Parkman called on him on the morning of the murder.) Gleasons speculation was crowned with success, and he bought himself a new cooking-stove, and erected an outbuilding on his estate, with both of which he favored the public in a new woodcut immediately.
Inspired by his success, old Feejee-Mermaid-Tom-Thumb-Woolly-Horse-Joyce-Heth-Barnum forthwith got out another illustrated weekly, with pictures far more extensive, letterpress still sillier, and engravings more miserable, if possible, than Yankee Gleasons. And then we were bored and buffeted by having incredible likenesses of Santa Anna, Queen Victoria and poor old Webster thrust beneath our nose, to that degree that we wished the respected originals had never existed, or that the art of wood-engraving had perished with that of painting on glass.
It was, therefore, with the most intense delight that we saw a notice the other day of the failure and stoppage of Barnums Illustrated News; we rejoiced thereat greatly, and we hope that it will never be revived, and that Gleason will also fail as soon as he conveniently can, and that his trashy Pictorial will perish with it.
It must not be supposed from the tenor of these remarks that we are opposed to the publication of a properly conducted and creditably executed illustrated paper. On the contrary, quite the reverse. We are passionately fond of art ourselves, and we believe that nothing can have a stronger tendency to refinement in society than presenting to the public chaste and elaborate engravings, copies of works of high artistic merit, accompanied by graphic and well-written essays. It was for the purpose of introducing a paper containing these features to our appreciative community that we have made these introductory remarks, and for the purpose of challenging comparison, and defying competition, that we have criticized so severely the imbecile and ephemeral productions mentioned above. At a vast expenditure of money, time, and labor, and after the most incredible and unheard-of exertion on our part, individually, we are at length able to present to the public an illustrated publication of unprecedented merit, containing engravings of exceeding costliness and rare beauty of design, got up on an expensive scale which never has been attempted before in this or any other country .