[Dallas's two distinct, though both warmly personal responses to the premature death of the artist and illustrator John Leech (1817-64), best known for his contributions to the satirical weekly Punch, appeared in a daily newspaper and a monthly miscellany within a few weeks of each other. - Graham Law]

Portrait of Leech in 1854 by Sir John Everett Millais.
[Click on the image for more information.]

Death of Mr. John Leech (from The Times)

Suddenly there is a great blank among us, and the shadow of a great darkness. One of our dearest and most delightful companions, one whom not only we, but also all whose eyes will rest upon these columns must think of as in some sort a cherished companion, is taken from us. John Leech, known to the public as one of the most kindly and the most graceful humourists that ever lived, known to his friends for a peculiar gentleness and refinement of character that at first sight seemed as it were in opposition to the robustness of his judgment, and therefore took many people by surprise, died on Saturday evening at 7 o'clock. The death of Garrick was said to have eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and the death of Mr. Leech will touch many more hearts, both of this and other nations, than Garrick ever reached. Although he looked strong, he had been long a sufferer, and complained of sleeplessness; his incessant brainwork induced a peculiar irritability with which most persons have a tendency to jest rather than to sympathize. He was much affected by noise, and was literally driven from his house in Brunswick-square by street music. He hoped to get peace at Kensington, especially as he shut them out by the device of double windows; but he had no peace, and in addition to the torment of the organs he came to be afflicted at early dawn by the hammer of some small mechanic. His friends made light of it, and tried to jest with him. "You may laugh," he would say, "but I assure you it will kill me." He was so unwell that during this last summer he was obliged to go abroad, and he was forbidden to indulge in his favourite exercise of riding on horseback. He came back better in the autumn, but still he was strangely susceptible to noise, and only a fortnight ago he spoke with more than his usual earnestness, with something even of passionate entreaty in his tones about the suffering which the street organs gave him, and about the smallness of the sympathy which he received from people who have to work their brains in a mere routine. At last his sufferings have come to an end, and if any of his friends were inclined to treat them as imaginary they will now be convinced. It is not a year since he stood in tears by the grave of his schoolfellow, Thackeray, and now his friends will follow him, too, to his long home. They were schoolfellows together, they were fellow workers together in Punch; both had something even of womanly gentleness intermingled with the strength of their characters; and both were in their styles of working classical. . . . [10c]

John Leech (from Cornhill Magazine)

Nearly every home in England has lost a friend in the sudden departure of John Leech. It is not an artist of the common type who has taken leave of us. Artists great as he have gone before him, and left no void in our households. He, through the happy adaptation of his art, had made himself our familiar friend, had communed with us from week to week, had seized our passing thoughts and the fleeting images of daily occurrence, had been, as it were, present with us in all our haunts, had led and mingled in our conversation, had seen what we saw, had felt what we felt, had made merry with us by the way, had been for more than twenty years exchanging glances with us, and humouring us with thousands of bright fancies. His was an art that, in a peculiar sense, came home to our bosoms and businesses, and became part and parcel of our social life. His pictures were not to be hung at arm's length upon our walls. They came down from our walls; we had them on our tables; we kept them in our pockets; we held them in railway-carriages with the wind dashing in our faces; we got them by post in far-away country houses; we took them with the newspaper to con in the shadow of the trees; we talked of them for days; we not only talked of them, but also seemed to talk with them. We knew Briggs, we were not unacquainted with Mossoo, we joined in the laughter which Mr. Tom Noddy provoked, we adored the bevies of fair damsels, to whom our friend introduced us, and we envied Mr. Punch, who received their caresses under the mistletoe. The artist seemed to be speaking with us, and to be one of us. He made himself kin to every rank of life. He seemed to be equally at home, whether in the filthiest dens of London or in the most brilliant drawing-rooms. He was with us and among us through his art, as no man before him had been. He was a felt presence in all our assemblies, and it was the presence of a fine spirit and a most genial nature. Who is this kind and sunny companion whom we seemed to know so well, and whose death is felt almost as a personal loss by myriads that never saw his face? We all knew or seemed to know the artist we should like to know the man.

But Mr. Leech, more than any other artist, lived in his art, and carried it into the social life of his time; so that, in his case, it is impossible to distinguish between the man and his profession. It is his peculiarity as an artist, that into art he transfused his life?the life, habits, thoughts, observations of one of the best of English gentlemen, full of feeling, quick of eye, refined of taste, fond of society, delighting in all manly exercises, and moving much about the world. So much of an entire life, indeed, with its abounding activities and many-changing hues, it had never before been possible to translate into the forms of pictorial art. And thus, when any one who had the privilege of knowing Mr. Leech is asked to describe what manner of man he was, the answer is, that, literally and without a metaphor, he lives in his printed pages, and there is his portraiture. Almost everything one can say of him has been already registered by his own pencil. Not that he was an egotist, save in so far as we are all egotists in being able to speak only of or from our own experiences. From day to day, and from year to year, for nearly the quarter of a century, Mr. Leech pictured his experiences of life with infallible accuracy and with undeviating regularity, and the result is such. a memoir of his mind, such a continuous reflection of his history, as no other artist before him has been able to leave on record. Anything we can say of his private life must appear poor and tame in comparison with his own vivid reflections and sketches of the life in which he moved, of the daily round of his observations, of the people he mixed with, of the cares he sympathized with, of the follies that amused him, of the things he loved and of the things he hated. Nevertheless, the few notes which follow may have their interest, as even the most trifling remembrances of a great man are to be cherished like the relics of a saint. . . . [743-44]

Links to Related Material


[Dallas, Eneas Sweetland.] "Death of Mr. John Leech," The Times (31 October 1864): 10c-d.

[Dallas, Eneas Sweetland.] "John Leech," Cornhill Magazine 10 (December 1864): 743-60.

Created 2 February 2024