What is that makes a row of collected Punch magazines so dull a prospect? One strong element must be the dominance of John Tenniel, later knighted for his tendancy to tedium. His firmness of drawing is no great counter weight. His hatching is monotonous and much of the subsidiary drawing careless. His style often feels like a mere continuance of earlier graphic modes, John Gilbert for instance (also knighted). His standard figures are generated without reflection or renewal - Britannia, John Bull, The Indian Lion, The Turkish Turkey, the American Eagle, the Irish Thug .... oh Lord it goes on.


But I always do pick out volumes from a run of collected Punch magazines on the "Well - you never know..." principle. I am a sucker and a Punch Flicker. And sure enough in this representative display above, you can find a telling and sly picture of Disraeli's poliotical tactics as a conjuring trick. To represent Bismarck's dilemmas in War, Tenniel was driven to something new in the way of a graphic analogy, a huge bulbous and inflating bag full of.... wind? malign presences? or what. It is a magnificent visualisation of the struggle to keep control, and the helplessness of the participants as the Eastern front bulges under his grasp. Is he the only cartoonist who is NEVER funny?

For Tenniel at his worst, at his most insecure, I am loading some illustrations to poetry books, to demonstrate his cloddish sense of romance and feeling.