Titlepages of Punch. Left to right: (1) Punch as Dionysius worshipped by nymphs and at least one drum-playing satyr. (2) Triumphant Re-eection of Mr. Punch — Member for Everywhere. (3) Punch as St. George slaying the Dragon.

The title of the famous magazine of Victorian humour, Punch, is probably short for Punchinello, adapted from the Neapolitan dialectal "polecenella," a young turkey cock, to the hooked bill of which the hooked nose of Punch's mask in the Commedia del Arte bears some resemblance.

One evening at the beginning of June, 1841 Mark Lemon and Henry Mayhew, met at the Edinburgh Castle in the Strand, London, to discuss the possibility of starting a new comic journal. Lemon and Mayhew were both reforming liberals and the plan was to combine humour and political comment. Others invited to the original meeting included Douglas Jerrold, a journalist with the reputation for campaigning against poverty, and John Leech, a medical student whose drawings had impressed Lemon. During the meeting at the Edinburgh Castle, someone remarked that a humourous magazine, like good punch, needed lemon. Mayhew, remarked "A capital idea! Let's call the paper 'Punch'."

Mark Lemon and Henry Mayhew found three other men to help finance the magazine, the printer, Joseph Last, the engraver, Ebenezer Landells and Stirling Coyne. Lemon and Mayhew recruited a team of young journalists and artists. Douglas Jerrold was probably the most important journalist on the magazine, but other writers who contributed included Shirley Brooks, William Wills and William Makepeace Thackeray. As well as John Leech, who was with the magazine from the start, Richard Doyle and Archibald Henning produced the drawings. (http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Jpunch.htm)

Thus, Punch, or the London Charivari , the famous illustrated magazine of humour, was founded by journalists Henry Mayhew (1812-87), Joseph Stirling Coyne (1803-68), and Mark Lemon (1809-7) in 1841 (first number published on 17 July). At first, a strongly radical journal, it gradually mellowed in outlook over the 1850s. One or two such comic papers had already appeared in London in the 1830s, notably Figaro in London (1831-9), edited first by Gilbert Abbott à Beckett, and then by Henry Mayhew, and Punchinello (1832) illustrated by George Cruikshank. Early imitators of Figaro were Mark Lemon's Punch in London and Thomas Hood's annual Comic Offering . Meantime, in Paris, Philippon's Charivari was all the rage, so it occurred to Ebenezer Landells, a draughtsman and wood-engraver, that a similar illustrated paper might do well in London. He submitted the idea to the popular journalist Henry Mayhew, who in turn enlisted the support of Mark Lemon, the well-known humourist, journalist, and dramatist.

In December 1842, owing to financial difficulties (although early numbers of Punch sold 6,000 copies a week, sales of at least 10,000 were needed to cover costs), the firm of Bradbury and Evans, both printers and publishers, acquired the magazine. The firm made the most of its capital investment in presses and types by printing both Punch and the novels of Dickens and Thackeray. Under its first editor, Lemon, Punch provided an outlet for comic writers such as Thackeray and such comic artists as John Leech, Richard Doyle, John Tenniel, Charles Keene (whose first drawing appeared in 1851, and who joined the staff in 1860), and George Du Maurier (who began contributing in 1860, and joined the staff in 1864), all of whom were also noted book illustrators. Other cartoonists who worked for Punch during this period included Harry Furniss, Linley Sambourne, Francis Carruthers Gould, and Phil May. This group usually referred to itself as "The Punch Brotherhood," although to outsiders they were "those Punch people."

In the 1840s a number of them were closely associated with Charles Dickens, who abandoned Chapman and Hall for Bradbury and Evans, the publishers of Punch, after they failed to secure him 1,000 clear on the December 1843, publication of A Christmas Carol. The magazine's artists were closely associated with the subsequent Christmas Books, John Leech being the principal illustrator for each of succeeding four. Furthermore, Mark Lemon, John Leech, Henry Mayhew, Douglas Jerrold, and Gilbert à Beckett played alongside Dickens in such amateur productions as Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour (1844). With Dickens the Brotherhood shared what were regarded as "radical" sentiments, including cynicism about government and a genuine concern about the welfare of the working poor.

Employers who treated their workers badly were also condemned. In 1843 Punch Magazine published Thomas Hood's poem "The Song of the Shirt." This powerful indictment of capitalism was supported by cartoons such as "Capital and Labour" and "Cheap Clothing", by John Leech, that illustrated the growth of inequality that was taking place in Britain during the 1840s. The magazine also campaigned against the Corn Laws, the 1834 Poor Law and reform of parliament. although Punch Magazine supported Moral Force Chartists it was totally opposed to those such as Feargus O'Connor who advocated the use of force to obtain the vote. [http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Jpunch.htm]

although there were still some social and political campaigns that Mark Lemon did support, such as a reduction in the hours of shopworkers and attacks on the the bungling of the Crimean War, after 1850, the magazine began more and more to reflect the conservative views of that the growing portion of the British middle class that were the Punch readership.

Though comic monthlies such as William Harrison Ainsworth's Ainsworth's Magazine (1842-54) and various Christmas annuals continued to appear, Punch reigned supreme in the category of humorous journals. Its satire often had a political subject, such as the Second Reform Bill (1866-7) and parliamentary debates concerning Irish Home Rule in the 1880s. The journal not only attacked such politicians as Prime Ministers Sir Robert Peel and Benjamin Disraeli, but even royalty; on one occasion, the journal pointed out that while Prince Albert's annual stipend was 30,000, the total amount spent on educating the poor in England was only 10,000. The only serious threat to Punch was Fun, which featured the humour of W. S. Gilbert.

After Lemon's death in 1870, the editorship passed to Shirley Brooks; in 1874, he in turn was replaced by a Scot, the radical dramatist Tom Taylor, author of some hundred pieces for the stage, including a protest against the penal system, The Ticket of Leave Man (1863), and, perhaps of more significance to Americans, Our American Cousin (1858), the comedy that President Lincoln was watching on the night of Good Friday, 14 April, 1865, when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater in Washington, D. C. In 1880, F. C. Burnand took over from Taylor, his twenty-seven year tenure marking a pronounced decline in the magazine's radical sentiments. The remaining editors were Owen Seamen (1906-1932), E. V. Knox (1932-1949), Cyril Bird (1949-1952) and Malcolm Muggeridge (1953-1957).

In the twentieth century Punch Magazine employed Britain's top cartoonists including F. H. Townsend, Frank Reynolds, Bernard Partridge, Alexander Boyd, Sidney Sime, Henry M. Brock, Cyril Bird, H. M. Bateman, Jack B. Yeats, Leonard Raven-Hill, George Stampa, Frederick Pegram, Lewis Baumer, George Belcher, George Morrow, Edmund Sullivan, Bert Thomas, James Dowd, F. G. Lewin, A. Wallis Mills, David Low and Leslie Illingworth. [http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Jpunch.htm]

According to The Oxford Companion to English Literature , From 1864 to 1956, the magazine used the famous cover drawing designed by Richard Doyle, when Muggeridge decided the journal needed a new look and had a different design, usually featuring Punch and his dog, Toby, each week. but retaining the original Doyle drawing at the top of the Charivari page.


Victorian Periodicals

Last modified 21 February 2011