"Substance and Shadow. — Drawn by John Leech." Punch; Or, The London Charivari (15 July 1843, p. 23): 17.7 cm high by 24.3 cm wide. [Click twice on image to enlarge it.]

Original Editorial Accompanying "Cartoon, No. I"

There are many silly, dissatisfied people in this country, who are continually urging upon Ministers the propriety of considering the wants of the pauper population, under the impression that it is as laudable to feed men as to shelter horses.

To meet the views of such unreasonable people, the Government would have to put its hand into the money-box. We would ask how the Chancellor of the Exchequer can be required to commit such an act of folly, knowing, as we do, that the balance of the budget was triflingly against him, and that he has such righteous and paramount claims upon him as the Duke of Cumberland's income, the Duchess of Mecklenburg Strelitz's pin-money, and the builder's little account for the Royal Stables.

We conceive that the Ministers have adopted the very best means to silence this unwarrantable outcry. They have considerably determined that as they cannot afford to give hungry nakedness the substance which it covets, at least it shall have the shadow.

The poor ask for bread, and the philanthropy of the State accords — an exhibition. [22]

The editorial contains a number of contemporary allusions to fiscally irresponsible public policies, such as Parliament's maintaining a foreign prince — Ernest August, Duke of Cumberland and fifth son of George the Third — at an annual pension of twenty-one thousand pounds, and agreeing to Cumberland request that the Government contribute some two thousand pounds towards the marriage of his twenty-one-year-old daughter (Princess Augusta of Cambridge) to her elderly first cousin, Friedrich Wilhelm, later Grand Duke of Mecklenburg Strelitz (1860-1904), at Buckingham Palace on 28 June 1843. [15 July 1843, p. 22]


Published on Saturdays, the only recreational day of the week for the labouring classes, Punch; or, The London Charivari in the early 1840s under the editorship of dramatist and journalist Mark Lemon was a force for social change — and critique of government policy. Through editorial comment and the weekly Mr. Punch's Big Cut, inaugurated on 15 July 1843 with John Leech's Cartoon, No. 1 — Substance and Shadow, the magazine of political and social satire excoriated heartless employers and socially irresponsible politicians. It was outspoken on issues that even other liberal journals such as The Illustrated London News were reluctant to examine, such as the issue of "Teetotalism," which it advocated in Kenny Meadows' satirical cartoons on the consequences of too much gin and too little water in the companion pieces The Water Drop and The Gin Drop (1843). In its 23 December 1843 issue Lemon published anonymously the scathing indictment of shoddy labour-management practices, Thomas Hood's "The Song of the Shirt," in a full-page spread with elaborate Christmas border. Similar exposes of the dire consequences of unbridled capitalism were cartoons such as R. J. Hammerton's Capital and Labour, and others like Cheap Clothing in which the journal's leading cartoonist, John Leech, highlighted the growth of social and economic inequality in the Great Britain of the Hungry Forties. The magazine also targetted for reform the Corn Laws, the 1834 Poor Law, and parliamentary reform. In sympathy with the Moral Force Chartists, Lemon nevertheless savagely satirized those public figures such as Feargus O'Connor who advocated the use of force to obtain the vote for the disenfranchised. Later it would champion the cause of the North in the American Civil War and Italian reunification under the leadership of Garibaldi.

Half of those attending the Westminster Hall Exhibition in Leech's cartoon are street children. The artist's focal character is the urchin in the cast-off, oversized adult cast-off coat (left of centre) who is curiously examining a portrait of an aristocratic boy of about his own age — the "shadow" of the poor boy's "substance." While the urchin is barefoot, the foppish aristocrat rides a hobbyhorse; while the effeminate boy in the portrait wears a large, eighteenth-century hat with a decorative plume, the street boy who anticipates Leech's Ignorance in Dickens's A Christmas Carol (19 December 1843) has only tousled hair. The picture, aimed at the middle-class purchaser of Punch; or, The London Charivari, involves the consumer of the illustration seeing him- or herself as the viewer of the cartoons in the gallery, and therefore identifying himself with the legion of urban poor in the Hungry Forties.

John Leech's Cartoon, No. I — Substance and Shadow" (15 July 1843) focuses on the reactions of the male and female waifs in the Parliamentary Picture-Gallery. The anti-establish cartoonist vigorously satirizes the insensitivity of the British government at the height of the Hungry Forties. Paupers in rags, many of them disabled and all of them apparently starving, bemusedly inspect the picture-gallery in Westminster Hall opened by the government so that it could showcase the "high society" cartoons (large-scale sketches for murals) with which it intended to decorate a foyer in the reconstructed Parliament Buildings. The commentary on the facing page underscores the irony of the governmental competition and the crowds who have paid a shilling each to enter the gallery: "The poor ask for bread, and the philanthropy of the State accords — an exhibition" (22). The poor, of course, will never have the opportunity, implies Leech, to scrutinize these paintings since they cannot not possibly afford the price of admission.

In fact, the exhibition to which the Leech political cartoon alludes was a government-sponsored competition involving one hundred and fifty painters vying for ten prizes. Paintings exhibited (unlike the fatuous society compositions in Leech's full-page graphic satire) had to be on subjects associated with British history, Spenser, Shakespeare, or Milton. Crowds attending the exhibition from 3 July through 15 July 1843 averaged 1,800 per day, each person paying an entrance fee of a shilling. Even larger crowds occurred when the entrance fee was waived, but on Saturdays (the only day on which the working-class might have attended the exhibit) the fee was maintained. Basing his inset paintings upon pictures that were exhibited at the Royal Academy earlier in 1843, Leech has omitted serious subjects and shown smaller-scale paintings than were actually allowed by the rules of competition: "no less than ten and no more than fifteen feet in their longest dimension," and the figures life-sized. The savage satire involves the halt, the lame, and the young uncomprehendingly confronting establishmentarian images that have little or no meaning for them.

In satirising the meaningless of such "upper crust" art to the common man Leech and Punch have coined a new term, "cartoon," by changing the meaning of an existing word, for until this moment in the summer of 1843 a "cartoon" meant a large-scale line sketch that would be transferred to the plaster on a wall or ceiling as the initial part of the painting of a fresco mural. After the disastrous fire of 16 October 1834, the government created the Pictorial Arts Competition to encourage artists to submit preliminary studies so that a panel of experts could select the historical and literary subjects for the new murals to decorate the corridors of Westminster Hall. Thus, after the appearance of the series in Punch in 1843, the term "cartoon" came to imply pictorial satire, and ultimately any sort of humorous drawing.

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"Substance and Shadow" (15 July 1843): The Predecessor of "Ignorance and Want."

A significant percentage of John Leech's drawings for London periodicals dealt with political issues. Like the editors of Punch, Mark Lemon and Henry Mayhew, Leech held fairly radical views. Between 1842 and 1845 he produced a series of cartoons such as "Cheap Clothing," and "The Agricultural Question," all of which question the morality of the capitalist system. In the cartoon "Substance and Shadow" (15 July 1843), the first "cartoon" (a full-page satirical commentary in graphic form that leads off the weekly issue as "Mr. Punch's Big Cut") John Leech criticised artists for ignoring social issues such as poverty. It can be compared to Hammerton's "Capital and Labour," mentioned above, which pillories the unthinking leisure classes for enjoying the warmth of their coal fires in England's damp winter without giving a thought to the sufferings of the miners who made such fires and such ease possible.​​

Scanned image and text Philip V. Allingham [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.] Courtesy of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

Last modified 5 May 2014