The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Book illustrations Part 6

Steel engravings of a very fine quality were a special feature of The Keepsake, The Book of Beauty, and other , Annuals' which flourished in the second half of the century. They also formed the raison d'etre of many volumes of 'Tours' and' Scenes,' such as Tombleson's Views of the Rhine and Tillotson's Beauties of English Scenery.

Among English books illustrated with metal engravings Sir John Harington's version of Orlando Furio8o (1591) containing forty-six full-page pictures is one of the best examples of that period. During the seventeenth century pictorial illustrations were used very sparingly in this country, and the popular engravers, among whom were Elstracke, Marshall, Faithorne, and Hollar, were largely occupied upon title pages and portraits. The succeeding period produced nothing in England corresponding to the delicate engravings of the French livres a vignettes, which are the outstanding feature of eighteenthcentury book illustration. Hogarth's genius impressed itself on the native art, while French influence found expression in Gravelot's work, such as the plates to the Pamela of 1742. In another direction activity in antiquarian, architectural, and topographical research resulted in the production of many large volumes on these subjects illustrated with fine engraved plates. In the latter part of the century Thomas Stothard, a prolific book illustrator of inventive fancy, was busy with plates for Robinson Crusoe, Clarissa Harlowe, Tristram Shandy, and many other English classics.

Woodcuts had continued to be used occasionally in chap-books and other forms of popular literature; but, as they were generally either battered and hardworn veterans of an earlier age or debased copies of old cuts, they contributed nothing to the survival of the art, which remained under a cloud until its revival at the hands of Thomas Bewick, whose illustrated editions of Gay's Fables (1779), Select Fables (1784), and General History of Quadrupeds (1790) mark a new era in book illustration. The fresh life which the genius of Bewick and his followers infused into their art was more in the nature of a new development than a mere revival. New methods and principles were introduced, and henceforth we speak of the craft as 'wood engraving' in place of the old term 'woodcutting.' The great technical skill and delicacy of effect which the wood engravers attained brought their art once more into favor and raised it to the position of a distinctively English school of illustration.

In the nineteenth century the use of illustrations in books of every kind greatly increased. Although wood engraving was the principal process employed, all the other methods of pictorial reproduction continued in use, their number being augmented early in the century by the introduction of lithography. This new art, in which the design is either drawn upon or transferred to the face of a specially prepared stone which forms the printing surface, was for some time very popular, though it was carried to finer perfection in France than in this country. Soon after 1830 the field for wood engraving was enlarged by the use of illustrations in weekly journals, and additional importance was given to this movement by the founding of the Illustrated London News in 1842.




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