Keene’s illustrations in black and white for the novels appearing in Once a Week were produced in a period of technical change. Photographing ‘onto the block’ was gaining ground around 1860, but many artists continued to work in the traditional manner. This involved drawing directly onto the wooden surface, or placing drawings in the hands of the engravers, who pasted the image onto the boxwood.

How an artist proceeded is clearly evidenced by surviving material. If drawings survive, then it is usually the case that photographic transfer was used, preserving the design on paper; if nothing survives, then drawing on the block or pasting it on the block are likelier to have been used, so destroying the original image when the block was engraved. There are no known drawings for any of Keene’s illustrations for the fictions discussed here, so it quite likely that the images for these novels were produced using one the two non-photographic techniques.

Keene probably drew directly onto the block, a process universally regarded as one of the most difficult skills to master. As an apprentice he was indentured to Edward Whymper and his company of engravers, and it was here, according to G. S. Layard, that he learned this most ‘irksome’ of tasks. The end result, however, was the development of an exactitude and technical expertise that are also associated with the book illustrations of Frederick Sandys and George Du Maurier. As Layard continues, Keene’s training at Whymper’s ‘strengthened his capacity for taking infinite pains’ (p.12).

That emphasis on producing the best possible result is further embodied in the survival of several proofs and at least one, for Verner’s Pride, is annotated with revisions for the engraver to improve the image. This is part of Harold Hartley Collection in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and other proofs for Evan Harrington and A Good Fight are preserved in The British Museum and The Victoria and Albert Museum, London. All would have been checked and changed under the artist’s perfectionist eye; like George Pinwell and so many of his contemporaries, Keene exercised a powerful and demanding influence over the quality of his published work.

Works cited and sources of information

Cooke, Simon. Illustrated Periodicals of the 1860s: Contexts and Collaborations. Pinner: PLA; London: The British Library; Newcastle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2010.

Brothers Dalziel, The. A Record of Work, 1840–1890. 1901; new ed. London: Batsford, 1978.

Goldman, Paul. Victorian Illustration: the Pre-Raphaelites, the Idyllic School and the High Victorians. Aldershot: Scolar, 1996; new ed. London: Lund Humphries, 2004.

Houfe, Simon. The Work of Charles Samuel Keene. Aldershot: Scolar, 1995.

Layard, G. S. The Life and Letters of Charles Samuel Keene. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1892.

[Lucas, Samuel]. ‘Illustrated Books.’ The Times. 24 January 1858: 10.

[Lucas, Samuel]. ‘More Gift Books.’ The Times. 2 January 1865: 12.

Muir, Percy. Victorian Illustration. London: Batsford, 1971.

Pantazzi, Sybille. ‘Author and Illustrator: Images in Confrontation’. Victorian Periodicals Newsletter 9:2 (June 1976): 39–49.

Pennell, Joseph. Pen Drawing and Pen Draughtsmen. London: Macmillan, 1897.

Ray, Gordon. The Illustrator and the Book in England from 1790 to 1914. New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1976.

Reid, Forrest. Illustrators of the Eighteen Sixties. 1928; rpt. New York: Dover, 1975.

White, Gleeson. English Illustration: The Sixties, 1855 –70. London: Constable, 1897.

Last modified 7 May 2014