The Sisters. Or England and France. A Romance of Real Life.
The Sisters. Or England and France. A Romance of Real Life. The Sisters. Or England and France. A Romance of Real Life. The Sisters. Or England and France. A Romance of Real Life. The Sisters. Or England and France. A Romance of Real Life.
£950.00
London: Published at the Office of The Illustrated London News. 1844 [after 1874].

A bizarre and unique satirical defacing of Henry Cockton's novel about the differing fortunes of two sisters following their marriages. 8vo (230x140mm). pp. [ii], 258. Spine missing. Boards with borders tooled in blind and gilt with rubbing and wear. "L. Brough" stamped in gilt on upper cover. Bookplate of Lionel Brough on front pastedown. The first 30 pages are loose. The rest remain bound together. Overall the condition is poor but that is immaterial. In fact, its state adds a piquancy to the savage satire to which Cockton's dull but harmless novel, with its illustrations by Alfred Crowquill and Kenny Meadows, has been subjected. The title page has been altered to attack Cockton ("Vox Cockton est vox asini" - a reference to his best known novel, "Valentine Vox") and the illustrators: "With seventy engravings being the very worst ever designed by Kenny Meadows and Alfred Crowquill and other sketches gratuitously contributed by much cleverer artists". Each page contains in the margins copious sketches, cartoons, written asides and defacings of the original illustrations including a reworking of the frontispiece portrait of Cockton. These are done by hand in black ink and the drawings are of a high standard. They are all commentaries on the text itself and vary from the mild and charming (the chapter entitled "Life in the Country" has, as a headpiece, a drawing of a farmer and two pigs) to the frankly vicious such as the tombstone on the final page inscribed "Sacred to the Memory of John Smith who imprudently read The Sisters and never recovered the shock. Died April 2". The central conceit of this work is to reimagine The Sisters as a work so bad that it could have been written only by someone verging on madness. One of blank preliminary pages has an imagined letter from the dead Cockton to Tom Taylor who was, among other things, the editor of Punch. It is sent from the "Sanitarium" of Fiddler's Green. The work (described as a "Revised and Improved Edition") is dedicated to Samuel Warren who was a lawyer and, from 1859-77, the Master in Lunacy, appointed to oversee mental asylums. On this dedication page is a list of names of the illustrators of this "Improved Edition". There are nineteen names, six of them "Brough" including the L. Brough whose book this was. Lionel (1836-1909) was an actor, writer and comedian. His brothers Robert, William and John Cargill, all writers, are also on this list as are the names J. Portch, Edw. Draper and C.H. Bennett. These men were all founder members of the Savage Club which first met in 1857 at the Crown Tavern, Vinegar Yard, Drury Lane. This was a Bohemian group of writers, actors and artists to which, later, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain belonged. The Club still exists. There is nothing to indicate that this work was done under the official auspices of the Club but the fact that so many of the contributors were members (or connected with members) suggests a unified purpose to the project which is borne out by the coherence and consistency of the drawings and commentary. There is no date but we have assumed that it must have been done after the deaths of Cockton, Meadows and Crowquill which would date it to no earlier than 1874. Why Cockton (who was a sad and luckless figure) and his illustrators should have been the target of such harsh treatment is unclear but this extraordinary work is a fascinating example of Victorian humour and satire which veers anarchically from the touching and childlike to the, well, the Savage.