The following article is taken from the November 2011 edition of the Caldecott Sketch magazine which Keith Wright also edited for the Randolph Caldecott Society. It is reproduced here because it contains a lot of interesting information about Harry Furniss the illustrator of the two Sylvie and Bruno books.
Harry Furniss - caricaturist, artist, raconteur 1854 - 1925
Harry Furniss illustrated two books for Lewis Carroll, ‘Sylvie and Bruno’ published in 1889 and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded published in 1893. His relationship with Lewis Carroll is explored by Carrollians who in general give Furniss what is euphemistically called a bad press. The two books are greatly flawed as works for children but Carrollians see them as containing coded messages about Lewis Carroll’s life and opinions. None of the assertions about the books contain much credence but Furniss’s role in tackling them and in enduring the trials and tribulations arising from dealing with a pedantic Oxford don are often portrayed to Furniss’s disadvantage. The truth about Harry Furniss is not easy to ascertain but there is no doubt his image is not correctly portrayed by Carrollians! He worked with Caldecott on Punch from 1880 - 1886 and stated once that he tried to copy Caldecott’s style on one occasion..
Harry Furniss was born in Wexford town, Ireland, on 26th March 1854. Wexford town, also the name of the county, is in the south east corner of Ireland which in those days was included in the United Kingdom. The town was, and still is, a town of narrow streets which in those days was fronted by the quays as Wexford was a busy port in the mid 1850’s. James Furniss, Harry’s father, had come over from England to oversee the installation of gas works in Wexford and elsewhere and he brought with him his second wife Cornelia Isabella Mackenzie.
James Furniss is said by some accounts to be a Yorkshireman and by others to be a Derbyshire man and those who know their borders are aware that only the population of one town claim to have a foot in both these counties and that is Sheffield in the south of Yorkshire. In fact the Furniss family name is well rooted in the border areas between these counties still and Harry’s father was born in Hathersage in Derbyshire, ten miles from Sheffield. Harry describes his father as a typical John Bull Englishman and gives this picture of him in one of his books. Finding the details of the Furniss family in Ireland is not easy. As most researchers know, the census returns for Ireland were not always kept and even some of those records that were kept were destroyed in the fire at the record office in Dublin in 1922..
Harry attributed his artistic bent to his mother, Isabella Mackenzie (left) who was of Scots decent but was from Newcastle on Tyne. She was a portrait painter of miniatures. Harry’s maternal grandfather, who came to Newcastle as a child aged three, was very influential in the topology field writing many books including one about his adopted town which is a masterpiece in description. Harry says that he had no allegiance to any of the races having been born in Ireland of an English father and a Scottish mother and then married a lady of Welsh descent. As with everything Harry says you need to proceed with caution on his artistic bent. Harry was a caricaturist and this involves exaggeration of aspects of a subject to produce a false but recognisable image, often even a manufactured image bearing little relationship to reality. Harry unfortunately did not only practice this trait in his art he did so in his writings especially so when it came to himself!
Harry’s parents married by special licence at St. Martins in the Fields on the 23rd of August 1845. The groom was by then a resident of the parish of St. Iberish in Wexford and the bride was from the officiating vicar’s parish. The licence was issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Howely (1766-1848) who was the man who went in 1837 to inform Queen Victoria that she was Queen following the death of her uncle. William Harry Furniss was born at Wexford nine years later in 1854.
When Harry was ten, in 1864, the family moved to Dublin. Wexford had in 1798 witnessed a massacre of protestants by Catholics so some 40+ years later James Furniss was taking quite a risk in being there. However, according to Harry in his book ‘Confessions of a Caricaturist Vol 1’ the Furniss family were well liked in Wexford and when leaving received accolades from the locals. Bearing in mind Harry’s tendency to exaggerate this may or may not be true but to where the truth lies is not known. The departure from Wexford happened before the rail lines reached there so it was not an easy trip to do the 140 miles or so up the east coast of Ireland to the capital city. In Dublin he went to school at what is now the Wesley College. This was founded in October 1845 and as the name would suggest it was a Methodist school. It features George Bernard Shaw among its former pupils as well as Harry Furniss. Harry’s father died in 1880 at 53 South Richmond Street, Dublin and it is quite likely that this was also the house Harry lived in as a school boy although this cannot be proven. The property is a four story terraced house in an area about half a mile from Dublin Castle. It was a similar distance to the Wesley College in St. Stephen’s Green where at the age of twelve he attended school.
Despite the school being a Wesleyan school Harry was not a Methodist and he points this out in his books. He had an artistic leaning at school and he started a magazine at school which was the Schoolboys Punch. He makes no secret about the fact that he started the magazine to curry favour with the headmaster and the ploy worked so successfully that Harry attributes his choice of profession to the caricature he did of his headmaster. Equally Harry blamed his propensity towards the comically ridiculous on his diet of ‘frivolous nursery literature’ (1) which took him away from the more serious considerations of art! In the same book he records having few recollections before his teenage years so they must have been very memorable comics.
After his schooldays were over Harry worked in Dublin as a clerk for a wood engraver. He took up wood engraving himself in his mid teens and continued to do this until he was nineteen when the realisation that engravers and artists were two separate entities dawned upon him. This period did however teach him how to draw for an engraver.
When he was about sixteen Harry was asked to contribute to the magazine Zozimus, run by the Sullivan Brothers in Dublin. Zozimus was a weekly publication produced from May 1870 until August 1872 - it was named after the nickname of the blind ballad singer and poet Michael Moran (1794 - 1846) who lived all his life in Dublin. The chief artist was John Fergus O’Hea who was an Irish political cartoonist. In 1872 O’Hea moved to London and contributed to an Irish run magazine but this only lasted a few issues. Harry was in the thick of Irish politics at this time but despite this he was to later on reject Irish Nationalism.
In 1873 Harry came over to London, to the land of his parents as he describes it. This was true about his parentage but his experiences in Ireland had made him into a confirmed unionist. He did not arrive completely unversed in the London scene, some time before he came he had met Tom Taylor, editor of Punch who had advised him to draw Ireland in the ‘raw’, which he did before coming to England and found the experience somewhat unsettling.
In July 1873 Harry arrived in England and took up residence at Thavies Inn on Holborn a quarter of a mile from Fleet Street. The inn was on the site of one of the Inns of Chancery, one of the first to be built and one of the first to be disbanded. The building Harry lodged in has gone but the name still survives on the building which occupies the site where it used to be. He says that he had saved in Ireland sufficient to keep him for a year in London but that once editors returned from their summer holidays he received commissions which kept coming in ever afterwards. Whether this is a true assessment of Harry’s progress is hard to judge because of his tendency to exaggerate his image in his books. However, he did stay on in London and he did appear to prosper.
Harry records his first contract in London as being with Miss Florence Marryat who edited the magazine London Society, this was a commission which he felt very grateful to receive. By 1876 he was doing drawings for the London Illustrated News as well as submitting work to other papers including two in Ireland, one called Ireland’s Eye and another called Yorick. Ireland’s Eye being an island in Dublin Bay after which the paper was named.
The Irish publications were overtly political magazines and were anti unionist, whether Furniss, who was living by then in London, appreciated what O’Hea, who was by then back in Ireland, was doing at the time is debatable, he was only just over twenty. Both magazines folded in a short period of time. Notwithstanding the politics Harry must have felt secure enough by 1877 to afford to get married and during 1877, in the Strand, he married Marianne Rogers. Later on Harry claimed Marianne was of Welsh descent, however, the records show that her parents and all her siblings were born in London. Marian lived in Hanover Street, St. Martins, her father was the manager of a felt company. Harry and his bride were in their early twenties at the time.
In 1880 Harry was invited by Francis Burnand to contribute to Punch. He had already contributed to The Graphic, so he would know of the work of Randolph Caldecott who was also a contributor to that magazine although a scan through the Graphic of early 1878 does not reveal any illustrations by Harry Furniss. Many illustrations of public figures in the Graphic are unsigned but whether any of these are by Furniss is debatable. The Graphic was of course a weekly newspaper at that time, it depended heavily upon its foreign illustrations and did not concentrate on a satirical look at life in Westminster as did Punch. Caricature played no role in the Graphics output and when the Graphic published its preliminary daily edition at the end of 1889 Harry Furniss was not shown on on the list of artists although Caldecott was there despite his death three years beforehand. The first edition of the Daily Graphic was published on the fourth of January 1890. The omission of Furniss could be simply that he was never a staff member, he was just a contributor.
Later, in his book Harry writes about meeting Caldecott:-
‘An artist for whose work I have the greatest admiration was the late Randolph Caldecott, and the only occasion on which I had the pleasure of meeting him was of a semi-theatrical kind. It was at one of the "Artists' Tableaux ' which were given in London some years ago. In those produced in Piccadilly I took no part, and the entertainment to which I refer was held at the Mansion House. At the last moment, in order to complete one of the pictures, a portly Dutchman was required, and a telegram was despatched to me to enquire whether I would represent the character. A dress, which was not a very good fit, was provided for me by the costumier of the show, and with the aid of a little padding, a good deal of rouge, a long clay pipe, and a bottle of schnapps, I managed to look something like the inflated Hollander I was representing, in the centre of the group, where I was supposed to be looking on at a game of bowls. Caldecott , who was placed at a w i n d o w flirting with the maids of the Queen, was attired in a graceful costume of the most faultless description, surmounted by a magnificent hat with a sweeping brim and splendid feathers, upon which he had expended no little pains and money. My head-gear consisted of a very insignificant stage property hat, but as I was not intended to contribute an element of beauty to the picture, that didn't matter. The tableau was arranged by Mr. E. A. Abbey, and when taking his last look round before the curtain was raised, his artistic eye detected that more black was required in the centre. While we were thus in our allotted positions, and straining every nerve to remain perfectly rigid - an ordeal which, by the way, I never wish to go through again, as I had hard work to restrain myself from breaking out into a Highland fling or an Irish jig, or calling out "Boo I" to the audience to relieve my pent-up feelings—Mr. Abbey suddenly seized the superb hat on Caldecott's head, which the latter had had specially made, and in which he really fancied himself, handed it to me, and to Caldecott's horror, and almost before he was conscious that he had been made ridiculous by the wretched remnant which had been sent from Bow Street for me, the curtain was rung up.’
Nobody who knows of Caldecott could ever imagine him ever being offended by the wearing a silly hat or even losing a hat! Caldecott was always laughing at himself yet Harry failed to spot, or failed to report, the true Caldecott reaction to any absurdity. The event obviously happened, the hats were exchanged but after that, as ever, Harry skews the analysis of the situation to suit himself. Harry later on in this period mentions carrying out some drawings in Caldecott style. These are not identified but it would be fair to say that Harry was not capable of emulating Caldecott’s style. Beatrix Potter tried that and failed - Caldecott was the master of the illustration and his caricatures bore more of a resemblance to reality than Harry was able to achieve. Their work was too dissimilar for him ever to achieve Caldecott’s high standard.
In 1880 Harry’s father died in Ireland in his house in Richmond Street Dublin. Harry was the youngest son of his second family (1); so had little to do with the arrangements. His mother moved back to England after her husband’s death and took a house at 28 Weighton Road, Anerley, near Croydon. This is in south east London now but in those days it was where the countryside started. Harry never mentions his mother and father in his books apart from at the start of his first volume of Confessions of a Caricaturist.
In 1884 Harry was appointed to the staff of Punch, however, this did not mean he received a salary, he was still paid per piece. What it did mean was work on a regular themed commission. By then Harry had a growing family to support, Frank was born in 1878, Dorothy was born in 1879, Lawrence in 1882 and Guy in 1889. The family lived at 10 St. Georges Square in Marylebone in the early 1880’s. One of his commissions was the Puzzle Headed People where he drew prominent people with scarcely disguised identification!
In January 1883 Lewis Carroll(Charles Dodgson) wrote to Randolph Caldecott asking if he would do some drawings for him. On February 4th Caldecott wrote back to say he was deeply engaged at that time. The story which eventually became Sylvie & Bruno was in Lewis Carroll’s mind at that time and in March 1885 he wrote to Harry Furniss who accepted the commission to draw the pictures for the story. Harry had illustrated books before this but not for such a demanding author. Harry says that John Tenniel, who had illustrated the Alice books, told him that he would not take more than a week of Lewis Carroll’s control behaviour. Whether this tells more about Harry Furniss or Lewis Carroll is hard to say because the story only emanates from Harry’s Furniss’s writings and he cannot be taken as a reliably accurate source! Dodgson met Harry Furniss and his wife for the first time on 13th April 1885, he also met Furniss’s mother and Dorothy Furniss, his daughter who was aged 5 at the time(1); having been born on 23rd December 1879.
During the time Harry was beginning the drawings for Sylvie and Bruno Lewis Carroll suggested various children as models for Sylvie and for Bruno but according to Harry he used his own children for the roles without telling Dodgson. Harry professed to be shocked by Dodgson’s thoughts that Sylvie etc. should wear no clothes but recognised that Mrs. Grundy would never allow it. This, written over ten years after the event is quite odd as Harry was friendly with Charles Burton Barber (1845-1894) who used his own daughters as models and photographed them without their clothes, giving copies to Charles Dodgson.(2) Harry wrote an appreciation of Barber’s works in the book ‘The Works of Charles Barber’ published in 1896. Most artists draw from life and Harry was no exception, perhaps his views (3) are coloured by the fact that he had too many encounters with Dodgson during which he lost face. This is not to say there was no cooperation between author and illustrator but that years later the Dodgson logical mind still grated with Harry Furniss and Harry was doing what he always did - slinging a few barbed comments about!
Harry Furniss was however very realistic about Sylvie and Bruno, he wrote in his Confessions volume 1 page 102 that the book was written for a specific purpose and writes :-
‘For this very reason it is not an artistic triumph as the two 'Alice' books undoubtedly are ; it is on a lower literary level, there is no unity in the story. But from a higher standpoint, that of the Christian and the philanthropist, the book is the best thing he ever wrote.’
Harry was of course right, Sylvie and Bruno never achieved literary success, it is poured over now by scholars, trying to unravel its meaning but without much success, and it is ignored by nearly everyone else. Sylvie is too sweet, Bruno is too irritating and the plot appears to be leading nowhere. Harry did however do his bit as an illustrator, as the image to the left shows and he is congratulated on his images which were often produced under much stress when he was doing other work for Punch etc. at the same time.
Harry could not resist a joke and he parodied the work of several Royal Academy artists and set up an exhibition in 1887 to which he invited them:
Harry’s standing commission in Punch in the late 1880’s
At the same time Harry was also producing his weekly tilt on life in Parliament (left) and he added his Puzzle Heads to that in 1889. His ‘Interiors and Exteriors’ are in too much detail for 21st century taste but obviously they must have gone down well with the Victorians who would of course appreciate the jokes much better knowing the situations behind the images. He drew Gladstone with a big collar (right) which Gladstone never wore but which everyone though he did because of Harry. Some politicians, such as Disraeli were keen to be caricatured others were not. Harry had the remarkable ability to draw an image of a politician using a sketch pad in his pocket. He mentions this several times in his writings and if it is true, which presumably it is, then it was a powerful tool. Despite his two 1902 volumes entitled ‘Confessions of a Caricaturist’ Harry says he was an artist first and a caricaturist by default. This may have been the case but to everyone else he was better known as Harry Furniss caricaturist.
In 1891, at the census, Harry was living in London near Regents Park, at 23 St.Edmund’s Terrace. Ford Maddox Brown lived at No. 1, Wm. Rossetti at No. 3 and round the corner in Titchfield Road lived Charles Burton Barber. It was around this time that he took a house in Hastings - he says because of his wife’s health. He mentions in his book ‘Harry Furniss at Home’ that where he went on the south coast, not naming the town - but it was Hastings, was very boring out of season. In 1892 he made his first trip to the USA travelling alone on the liner ‘Teutonic’ from Liverpool to New York sailing on the 6th of April 1892. The illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s two books of Sylvie and Bruno were off his hands, and his work at Punch was continuing.
The New York Times in April 1892 reports:
‘The Lotos Club gave a dinner last night to Harry Furniss of London ‘Punch’ and a jollier evening has hardly been spent at the club.’ Harry played to the crowd as he was becoming accustomed to doing saying at the end ‘But I will say that since I have been here I have lived in a perfect blizzard of hospitality!’ In May the New York Herald of 24th May reports another interview with Harry. It was again another triumph as Harry expounded his views on the USA and did so at the expense of the English politicians who he derided for what we would now call their red tape attitudes. His caricatures of politicians were obviously well known in the USA as was his attitude towards the Royal Academy, referring to his parody of the Royal Academy paintings which he had carried out in 1887. Harry produced some sketches which went with this interview one of which was labelled ‘Lika-Joka Americanised’ and the interviewer concluded by saying ‘With this threat (to parody the artists again) our interview ended, and sadly I took my leave of this now thoroughly Americanised Lika Joko.’
In January 1893 Harry was exhibiting his drawings in that ‘boring’ seaside town, Hastings! He was increasingly becoming attracted to being a speaker as the Hastings News says ‘the popular local personality Harry Furniss put on a two day performance’ etc. So despite what Harry says in his books he was being thought of as a resident of Hastings, so much so that the Hastings News was able to report in its 8th March edition of 1893 that Harry was the main speaker at a meeting called by the mayor to gather support for a golf club. Also in 1893 came a fracas of sorts with a politician. Accounts vary but Harry says that an Irish politician, who did not like Harry caricaturing him as a gorilla, technically assaulted him in the Houses of Parliament. Nothing came of it but nevertheless it must have been a trying time for Harry despite his bravado years later when he wrote up the account in his book. Also on November 20th 1893 his mother in Weighton Road Anerley died - probate was granted to Harry in January 1894 with effects valued at £2,225.
This legacy, of an uncertain amount, meant that Harry was in possession of at least a year’s salary and possibly much more. Another fracas occurred in 1894, this time within ‘Punch’ where Harry was working. Punch management sold a sketch by Harry to be used as an advert by Pears soap (left) without consulting Harry about it. Here again, as with everything accounts vary but Harry writing in his ‘At Home’ states that his view was that Punch was at fault. Harry therefore left Punch and started up a magazine of his own called ‘Lika Joko’ which was to rival Punch.
The first edition (right) went out in October 1894 and sales were good. Harry had done his editing carefully, he was not the only contributor, as is often thought, but he was the main contributor. The title appears to be a disaster but it was not of his own making as it was Burnand, editor of Punch who had suggested it! Also, Harry had used the name himself in his interview in the USA. The truth about Harry’s departure from Punch is most likely that Harry wanted to start his own magazine and the Pears soap advert, which was also in his first edition of Lika Joko, was his excuse for leaving.
The magazine soon folded and so did other magazines which Harry tried, he lost a great deal of money and some reputation but from then on he concentrated on book illustration some of which are in the list below:-
Harry Furniss - his own books plus those he illustrated.
1885 Romps in Town printed by Edmund Evans.
1887 Royal Academy. An Artistic Joke.
1887 The Incompleat Angler.
1889 Sylvie & Bruno for Lewis Carroll
1889 MP’s in Session.
1890 Perfevid – the career of Ninian Jamieson
1890 Badminton Library – Golf illustrated by Harry and Thmas Hodge.
1893 Sylvie & Bruno concluded for Lewis Carroll.
1894 The Works of Charles Burton Barber.
1895 Wallypus of Why.
1896 How’s That – a century of Grace.
1897 Pen & Pencil in Parliament.
1899 Australian Sketches Made on Tour.
1902 Confessions of a Caricaturist. Vol. 1
1902 Confessions of a Caricaturist. Vol. 2.
1904 Harry Furniss at Home.
1909 Did Illustrations of Alice in Wonderland for Arthur Mee’s Encyclopaedia
1910 Charles Dickens Library. Illustrated works.
1910 William Makepeace Thackeray Illustrated works.
1912 How and Why I illustrated Thackeray.
1919 My Bohemian Days.
1923 Some Victorian Women.
1924 Some Victorian Men.
This is by no means a complete list of Harry’s books but it does show that Harry’s change of career continued for the rest of his life.
In 1896 Harry travelled to the USA once again, this time on the ‘Germanic’ leaving Liverpool on 22nd October and travelling alone. In February 1897 the Philadelphia Inquirer published an interview ‘A Chat with Harry Furniss’ He mentions his ability to sketch people unaware and of course he said he was talking to an American General about it previously. Harry liked name dropping!
In his interview Harry mentions not liking the USA’s precocious children and the interviewer says that there is no comparable draughtsmen in the USA. Harry also mentions that his daughter Dorothy, who he says is sixteen but who was actually seventeen when the interview went out in February 1897, had already illustrated two books in her own right. He also complains that the audiences in the USA are so slow at taking a joke.
Harry travelled to Australia in 1898 and published a book on his experiences there. In 1912 he was back in the USA, this time travelling with Dorothy on the ‘Lusitania’ leaving Liverpool on 18th March 1912. The New York Times published a list of ‘Notables on the Lusitania and Harry was mentioned ‘Another passenger is Harry Furniss, the artist and playwright, who is accompanied by his daughter Dorothy. He goes to new York to superintend the production of a number of plays he has written specially for the new invention of Thomas A. Edison, by which the characters are not only reproduced by cinematograph but are made to talk at the same time. Mr. Furniss calls it a wonderful invention, which will produce a revolution in cinematograph pictures and also be of tremendous educational value. Mr. Furniss expects to be in New ~York a month, and said it will be a change from illustrating Dickens and Thackeray. This is his third visit to America.’ Here again Harry ‘blows his own trumpet’ but in this case he can perhaps be forgiven as he was looking for sales for his books!
Harry’s mainly unreported connection with the film industry and his insight about it’s potential for the future is remarkable. He even starred in a film himself - it was about sketching the great actress Ellen Terry. He is shown going into her house, the camera then shows him sketching Miss Terry in close up and finally he comes out of the house and goes off waving his hat towards the door. Miss Terry is not shown at any time so once again it could be one of Harry’s caricatures, an exaggeration. (Search for Winchelsea and its surroundings to view the clip on line.)
Harry died at his house, 8 High Wickham Hastings, on 14th January 1925, his effects were assessed at £2,566. His widow, who he never mentions except in the dedication to his book ‘Some Victorian Women’ as ‘To my wife - the best of them all’ lived on in their house at Hastings until 31st December 1937. Dorothy, his artistically minded daughter lived until 1944. She had become a book illustrator in her own right, she died one week after her 65th birthday, she remained unmarried.
Harry Furniss and his ‘copying’ of Caldecott etc.
This is a difficult area to explore , as it was with Beatrix Potter, however the only Furniss illustrations which appear to even remotely fit the bill are those in his 1885 books ‘Romps in the Town’ or ‘Romps by the Seaside.
Compare the drawing, Romp, by Harry Furniss with The Effects of Snow by Caldecott and judge for yourself whether Harry achieved a fair copy of Caldecott’s style.
How Caldecott would have drawn Sylvie and Bruno is also speculation but no doubt Sylvie would have looked very different to how Harry portrayed her if Lewis Carroll had let him! How Harry Furniss would have drawn ‘Alice’ is not open to speculation as he did do drawings of ‘Alice’ one of which is reproduced here. Alice has been drawn by many artists since Tenniel did his drawings. A Caldecott ‘Alice’ would have been quite a different thing as Caldecott had a magic touch. Unfortunately Caldecott never did a sketch of the story book Alice.
(1) The Diaries of Lewis Carroll April 1885 vol. 7 page 186
(2) The Diaries of Lewis Carroll. May 30th 1885 - vol. 7 page 204
(3) Confessions of a Cariacturist Vol 1 page 102 Published 1902..