Robert Seymour (illustrator)

Robert Seymour (illustrator)

Robert Seymour (1798-1836), (Charles Dickens) illustrator and caricaturist.


Robert Seymour was born in Somerset in 1798, second son of Henry Seymour and Elizabeth Bishop. Soon after moving to London Henry Seymour died, leaving his wife, two sons and daughter impoverished. In 1827 his mother died, he married his cousin Jane Holmes; having two children Robert and Jane. Robert Seymour died on 20th April 1836.

Early Training

After his father died, Robert Seymour was then apprenticed as a pattern-drawer to a Mr. Vaughan of Duke Street, Smithfield, London. Influenced by painter Joseph Severn RA, during frequent visits to his uncle Thomas Holmes of Hoxton, Roberts’s ambition to be a professional painter, was achieved at the age of 24, when in 1822, his painting of a scene from Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, with over 100 figures, was exhibited at the Royal Academy. He was also commissioned to illustrate the works of; Shakespeare; Milton; Cervantes; Wordsworth; Also innumerable Portraits; Miniatures; Landscapes &c. As can be seen in two Sketchbooks; Windsor; Eaton; Figure Studies; Portraits at the Victoria and Albert Museum. After rejection of his second Royal Academy submission, continuing to oil-paint and mastering techniques of copper engraving, began illustrating books for a living.

Early Illustrating

From 1822-27, Seymour produced designs for a wide range of subjects including; poetry; melodramas; children’s stories; topographical and scientific works. A steady supply of such work enabled him to live comfortably and enjoy his library, fishing and shooting expeditions with his friends; Lacey the publisher, and the illustrator George Cruickshank. In 1827, the year of his mother’s death and his marriage, Robert Seymour’s publishers; Knight and Lacey were made bankrupt, owing Seymour a considerable amount of money.

Etching and Engraving

In 1827, Seymour then found steady employment when his etchings and engravings were accepted by the publisher; Thomas McLean. Learning to etch on the newly fashionable steel-plates, Seymour then first began to specialise in caricatures, and other humorous subjects. In 1830, having mastered the art of etching, Seymour then lithographed separate prints and book illustrations; he was then invited by McLean to produce the 1830 caricature magazine called the “Looking Glass”, as etched throughout by William Heath. For which, Seymour produced four large lithographed sheets of illustrations, usually drawn several to a page, every month for the following six years, until his death in 1836.

Conflicts with Figaro

In 1831, Seymour began work for a new magazine called ‘Figaro in London,’ (pre-Punch) producing 300 humorous drawings and political caricatures to accompany the mundane, political topics of the day, texts of Gilbert A’Beckett (1811-56). This cheap weekly reflected the clever but abusive character of the owner and Editor; A’Beckett, a friend of Charles Dickens, and the publisher of George Cruickshank; who, in 1827, argued against Seymour’s parody of his work and nom-de-plume of Shortshanks. A’Beckett later in 1834 insulted Seymour by replacing him with Cruickshank’s brother. This partnership lasted until 1834, when A’Beckett suffered a heavy financial loss and refused to pay Seymour. A’Beckett then launched a public media campaign cruelly libelling Seymour who resigned, only returning when Henry Mayhew replaced A’Beckett as Figaro editor. This humiliating public smear, was attributed as a cause for the coroner’s suicide verdict. ["Pictorial Pickwickiania" .. see External Links]

Popular Pre-eminent Illustrator

Nevertheless, Seymour was now established as pre-eminent an illustrator as George Cruickshank, and as one of the greatest artists since the days of Hogarth, predicted by Sir Richard Phillips, that if he lived, he would become President of the Royal Academy. In 1834, at the height of his prosperity, independently, Seymour launched a new series of lithographs; Sketches by Seymour (1834-36) all depicting expeditions of over-equipped and under-trained Cockneys, pursuing cats, birds and stray pigs on foot and on horseback, as experienced in his 1827 fishing and shooting expeditions, with his friend Cruickshank.

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club

Continuing these popular themes, Seymour produced such etchings to Edward Chapman of Chapman and Hall, depicting the activities of a sporting club. Edward Chapman agreed that the work should be issued in monthly parts, with descriptive text by Charles Dickens (1812-70). The first part of the new work ‘The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club’ (aka-The Pickwick Papers or Pickwick) appeared, but before the second edition of the Pickwick Papers was completed, on 20th April 1836, the illustrator Robert Seymour 38 was dead. Records state; Robert Seymour was shot and killed with a fowling piece in his summer-house behind his home in Liverpool Road, Islington. The coroner’s inquest, held two days later on 22nd April 1836, attributed the cause of death as “Temporary Insanity,” a euphemism for suicide, due to the cruel laws of that time, in which the verdict "felo de se" deprived Robert Seymour of a religious burial and his family of all his estate, and consequently denying any attributed royalties, due to his widow Jane Seymour; "per se." ["Pictorial Pickwickiania" .. see External Links]

The Seymour Controversy

The incidents leading up to Seymour’s death showed those 24 hours earlier, Seymour had called at Dickens family home where they discussed the artwork for the chapter on the dying clown story. They had a few drinks (grog) then argued, after which Seymour left. On the day of his death, Chapman had returned "The Dying Clown" artwork and arranged to meet Seymour later that evening. Dickens and Edward Chapmans statements of the incident, (albeit without explanation of how they knew?) state that Seymour worked on the new plates well into that night, and was found shot the next day. Dickens statement, among others, mentions that he read about the incident in the morning papers.

When Chapman re-issued the, by now best seller Pickwick Papers in book form, he now included a disclaimer statement from Dickens stating; "Mr. Seymour never originated or suggested an incident, a phrase, or a word to be found in this book. Mr. Seymour died when only twenty-four pages of this book were published, and when assuredly not forty-eight were written;" that "“All of the input from the artist was in response to the words that had already been written;”" In continuation of the A’Beckett smears; "“that he took his own life through jealousy, as it was well known that Seymour’s sanity had been questioned.”" However, “The Pickwickians in Wardle’s Kitchen”, by Robert Seymour, illustrating the episode depicted on page 50 - ("3 months after he died") - demonstrably contradicts Dickens disclaimer. Although this “Seymour Controversy” cruelly deprived Seymour of his estate and entitled royalties, it also launched the illustrious career of the, at that time, unknown Boz. ["Pictorial Pickwickiania" .. see External Links]

Pickwick Illustrations by Robert Seymour.

*Mr. Pickwick addresses the Club.
*The Pugnacious Cabman.
*The Sagacious Dog.
*Dr. Slammers Defiance of Jingle.
*The Dying Clown.
*Mr. Pickwick in Chase of his Hat.
*Mr. Winkle Soothes the Refractory Steed.
*The Pickwickians in Wardle’s Kitchen.
* &/c

eymour Artworks and Book Illustrations

*Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. (Royal Academy; 1821):
*Figaro in London. (300 illustrations):
*Bells Life in London:
*Hoods Comic Almanacs:
*The Looking Glass. (1830-36):
*The History of Enfield. (2 vols; 1823):
*Public Characters of all Nations. (3 vols; 1823):
*Le Diable Boiteux. (1824):
*My Uncle Timothy. (1825):
*Snatches from Oblivion:
*The March of Intellect. (1829):
*W.A.R: a Masque.
*Vagaries in the Quest of the Wild and Wonderful:
*The Heiress:
*The Omnibus:
*Seymour’s Sporting Sketches:
*The Book of Christmas.(36 designs):
*New Readings. (1830-35):
*Journal of a Landsman from Portsmouth to Lisbon. (1831):
*Maxims and Hints for an Angler. (1833):
*The Comic Album. (The Bloomsbury Christening; Dickens) (1834):
*The Squib Annual of Poetry, Politics, and Personalities. (1835-36):
*Humorous Sketches. (1834-36):
*Sketches by Seymour. (1834-36):
*Library of Fiction:
*The Nimrod Club. (1835-36):
*The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. (1836):

Royal Academy

Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. Royal Academy (1822). by Robert Seymour.

":"The Christians deterred by the terrors of enchantment,::"from felling timber to construct their machines of annoyance." :::"And three succeeding days the boldest warriors, urged by thirst of praise,"::::"Assayed the dreary wood, but struck with dread",:::::"Each knight by turns the threat’ning terror fled".""

: [Jerusalem Delivered, Book 13th.]

Jane Seymour to Charles Dickens

"His conduct calls to mind the lines put into Satan's mind by Milton"."

":"Get Riches first, get Wealth, and Treasure heap,::"Not difficult, if thou hearken to me:":::"Riches are mine, Fortune is in my hand;"::::"They whom I favour thrive in Wealth amain,":::::"While Virtue, Valour, Wisdom sit in want."

:(Paradise Regained.)

Obituary Notices

"“The success of the Pickwick Papers was due more to the artists pencil than the author’s pen; it is not generally known that the poor Seymour conceived the characters of Sam Weller and Pickwick before a line of the work was written"." [The Sun. 1836] . ["Pictorial Pickwichiania" .. see External Links]

"“Seymour first furnished the idea of Pickwick Papers. Mr. Dickens wrote the first numbers to his plates. / Seymour was one of the greatest artists since the days of Hogarth" (1697-1764). [Franklins Miscellany. 1836] . ["Pictorial Pickwickiania" .. see External Links]

"The head of the production of two clever artists…the one, a long established favourite; the other, Mr. Seymour, a gentleman of far superior talent. Mr. Seymour will have the management of all future volumes, so far as the engravings are concerned"." [Odd Volume. 1836] . ["Pictorial Pickwickiania" .. see External Links]

Ref list

*"Pictorial Pickwickiania" by Joseph Grego.

Further references

*"The Origin of the Pickwick Papers." by Jane Seymour.
*Dickens and his Illustrators. by ............
*D.N.B. by Michael Heseltine.
*Dickens House Museum. Archives (Verifications and letters by Curators 2 & 3)
*Joseph Grego Estate auction catalogue; "Joseph Grego's personal Negatives". (BM &c provenances)
*British Museum. Indexed (hard-copy) file references.
*British Library. Indexed (hard-copy) file references.
*Edward McDermott (C19th: Grego associate)
*Stephen Mowbray McDermott (C21st: Grego Negatives &c)


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