This rare large quarto is delightful fun, with four hand-colored lithograph plates (imprinted 12 November 1840) each with multiple figures for a total of forty-six illustrations, from John Leech’s 1840 satire with text by Percival Leigh.
The armorial bookplates of George William Mercer Henderson on front paste-down and the Duke of Gloucester on front endleaf indicate this was once housed in the private libraries of the haute monde. One wonders if they appreciated this book for the satire or the sartorial splendor.
“…The French fashion plates created the right spring-board for this satire; the French caricaturist Gavarni was a fashion illustrator for Le Journal des Gens du Monde, 1831, so that the humour and accuracy in costume caricature often went together. Leech was very quick to spot this and produced in 1840, a witty explosion of designs entitled The Fiddle Faddle Fashion Book and Beau Monde A La Francaise containing “numerous Highly-Coloured Figures of Lady-Like Gentlemen”. The text was by his friend Leigh and the engraved plates showed a sort of unisex costume where dandies in ringlets and waisted coats actually appeared like women!… The early Victorian period was the scene for great beauty in female dress and male costume was neither as drab nor as dreary as is often supposed. Early on in his career… he produced The Fiddle-Faddle Fashion Book and the early lithographs pay great attention to both the dandy and the fashionable lady. Leech’s acutely observant eye was always watching out for the over-fastidious, the superfinely frivolous, so that he could engage their foibles with his pencil. Fiddle-Faddle was done under the influence of [George] Cruikshank, and particularly under that side of Cruikshank that had created the Monstrosities plates of the late ‘twenties. Leech’s approach to fashion was therefore tinged with Regency satire but more liberally diluted with straightforward Victorian incredulity and disapproval! His attitude to caricaturing fashion can be seen very clearly if one looks closely at Leech himself as the fashionable man.” Simon Houfe. John Leech and the Victorian Scene, pp. 39 & 139.
Here Leech skewers foppery, dandyism, and the eccentricities of “fashionable boobies” that are feminizing men in London and Paris, while Leigh takes comic aim at contemporary literary absurdities “consisting mainly of a thrilling story of brigand life, the blood-curdling tenor of which may be imagined from the title, Grabalotti the Bandit; or, The Emerald Monster of the Deep Dell” (Frith); a parody of the popular novels of fashionable life, and more.
“It was one of Leech’s special delights to caricature the absurd fashions of the day in dress, language, manners and literature” (Field).
John Leech (29 August 1817 – 29 October 1864) was a British caricaturist and illustrator. He was best known for his work for Punch, a humorous magazine for a broad middle-class audience, combining verbal and graphic political satire with light social comedy. Leech was a hard-working and meticulous illustrator whose images suited the tone of the publication. During his time at Punch he produced some three-thousand drawings and in the process, he gave us ‘the cartoon’ as we know it today. Prior to Leech, cartoons were not called cartoons. They were simply thought of as humorous drawings. His social observations, whether highlighting the plight of the poor and forgotten; or the daily humour of family life and leisure in Victorian England, formed the tone and set the standard globally of how readers identified Punch magazine (and Great Britain) and what the English aspired to be. Beautifully detailed images in the tradition of Hogarth and Gustav Doré show a great affection for his subjects and a celebration of the Victorian Era.
Percival Leigh was a satirist, initially educated for the medical profession at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London where he became friends with the illustrator John Leech. He and Leech found their real calling in comic literature, and they banded together in 1840 to produce three books: The Comic Latin Grammar, The Comic English Grammar, and The Fiddle-Faddle Fashion Book. Leigh and Leech were recruited to Punch on its formation in 1841 and Leigh went on to become its deputy editor under Mark Lemon.
John Leech, His Life and Work
William Powell Frith