Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Scarce Scenes From a 19th C. Courtship & Marriage

by Stephen J. Gertz

Marriage is a wonderful institution. 
But who wants to live in an institution?
 - Groucho Marx

Young cupid held a council, by lover's vows he swore
He'd hold up for example, a pair of lovers more;
By lovers' vows he swore it, young Charles in love should fall,
and so arranged that very night that he should meet the ravish'd sight
of Julia at a ball.

Thus begins A New Matrimonial Ladder, a gentle satire published c. 1853 on the progress of love at first sight toward nuptials, the chains of matrimony, later disillusion, reproach and estrangement, followed by reconciliation and happiness ever after.


Eighteen hand-colored engravings illustrate fifty-five quatrains on the courtship and marriage of Julia and Charles, a young lady and gentleman in the mood for love, pronto.


Little is known about its writer, Edward Concanen, beyond that OCLC records five books authored by him, all, as here, issued by Read & Co., a London second-tier publisher who partnered with Ackermann, the great color-plate book and print publisher.


Of the book's illustrator, however, we know quite a bit.

"Thomas Onwhyn (1814–1886), illustrator, was born in Clerkenwell, London, the eldest son of Joseph Onwhyn, a bookseller and newsagent at 3 Catherine Street, the Strand, London, and his wife, Fanny...


"Thomas Onwhyn came to public notice by his contribution of a series of ‘illegitimate’ illustrations to works by Charles Dickens. He executed twenty-one of the whole series of thirty-two plates to The Pickwick Papers, which were issued in eight (though intended to be in ten) monthly parts by E. Grattan, 51 Paternoster Row, London, in 1837; they are for the most part signed with the pseudonym Samuel Weller, but some bear Onwhyn's initials. 


"From June 1838 to October 1839 Grattan issued a series of forty etchings by Onwhyn, illustrating Nicholas Nickleby. In a letter of 13 July 1838 Dickens referred to ‘the singular Vileness of the Illustrations’ (Letters of Charles Dickens, 1.414). He objected to piracy but not to imitation and was friendly with Charles Selby, the author of Maximums and Specimens of William Muggins (1841), which was also illustrated by Onwhyn (ibid., 2.332). After his death an additional set of illustrations to The Pickwick Papers made by Onwhyn in 1847 was discovered and they were published in 1893 by Albert Jackson of Great Portland Street, London.


"Onwhyn's most lasting contribution was to the ephemeral end of the book trade in the 1840s and 1850s, illustrating the comic side of everyday life. Undertaken for shadowy publishers such as Rock Bros and Payne, and Kershaw & Son, he produced a score of pull-out or panorama books, coloured and plain, lithographed or etched for the popular market. Satirizing tourism, teetotalism, and fashion, they included Etiquette Illustrated (1849), A New Matrimonial Ladder (c.1850), What I Saw at the World's Fair (1851), Mr and Mrs Brown's Visit to the Exhibition (1851), A Glass of Grog Drawn from the Bottle … (1853), Cupid's Crinoline (1858), Nothing to Wear (1858), and Scenes on the Sands (c.1860).


"He signed his work T. O., O., or with the pseudonym Peter Palette, as in Peter Palette's Tales and Pictures in Short Words for Young Folks (1856). He sometimes etched the designs of others—for example, Oakleigh, or, The Minor of Great Expectations by W. H. Holmes (1843). He was an indifferent draughtsman but showed real humour in his designs. His talent was somewhat overshadowed by those of his most eminent contemporaries such as George Cruikshank and Hablot K. Browne (Phiz). Onwhyn, who also drew views of scenery for guidebooks and illustrated six novels by Henry Cockton, abandoned artistic work, becoming a newsagent for the last twenty or thirty years of his life" Simon Houfe, Oxford DNB).


The engraver of the plates, Charles Hunt, flourished during the 1830s-1860s as a renowned aquatint engraver and etcher of sporting prints, Engen's Dictionary of Victorian Engravers, Print Publishers and Their Works devoting a full page to Hunt and his oeuvre.


There is some question regarding the correct date of publication. A penciled note to the title page of the copy before me declares 1853; the English Catalog of Books suggests 1840-1849; the DNB c. 1850; COPAC notes the copy at Oxford c. 1860. We throw out the ECB low of 1840; it is far too early. The 1853 date feels just right.


The New Matrimonial Ladder is quite rare, with OCLC/KVK recording only six copies in institutional holdings worldwide. ABPC notes only one copy at auction within the last thirty-seven years, in 2004.

Matrimonial Ladder! Or Such things are.
Drawn by M. E. Esqr. Engrav'd by G. Hunt.
London: Thos. McLean, 26 Haymarket, n.d. [1825].

A new matrimonial ladder implies an old one and, indeed, approximately twenty-five years earlier, in 1825, Matrimonial Ladder!, by M. E. (Michael Egerton), was issued featuring hand-colored aquatints illustrating the very same stages of courtship and marriage that Concanen and Onwhyn would later interpret in their New Matrimonial Ladder: "Admiration," "Flirtation," "Approbation,"  "Declaration," "Hesitation," "Agitation," "Acceptation," "Solemnization," "Possession," "Rumination," "Alteration," "Alteration," "Irritation," "Disputation," "Desperation," "Detestation," "Separation," and "Reconciliation."

Tailpiece - New Matrimonial Ladder.

All's Well That Ends Well
Look Before You Leap

 A 21st century reinterpretation of Matrimonial Ladder would have to include modern rungs not found in these earlier editions: "Online Dating," "The Hook-Up," "Cyber-marriage," "Break-up by Text Message," "Divorce Court," "Bitter Child Custody Case Played Out In Public," "Revenge Porn," "Mutual Murder For Hire" followed by "Copping a Plea" and finally "Burying the Hatchet," the whole saga posted on YouTube for viral distribution.

CONCANEN, Edward. ONWHYN, Thomas (illustrator). A New Matrimonial Ladder. With Twenty Illustrations, Designed by Onwhyn - Engraved by Charles Hunt. London: Read & Co… Ackermann & Co., n.d. [1849-1860].

First edition. Quarto (10 1/2 x 7 3/4 in; 268 x 198 mm). Unpaginated. Twenty hand-colored  plates, including extra title and tailpiece, heightened with gum arabic, with fifty accompanying verses.

Not in Tooley or Abbey.

English Catalog of Books, Vol. 1, p. 161.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

You can read the complete text of The New Matrimonial Ladder here.

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