“Punch, or The London Charivari,” was more than just a weekly magazine; it was an institution of humor and satire that left an indelible mark on British culture. Founded in 1841 by Henry Mayhew and Ebenezer Landells, this publication became a cornerstone of British satire and political commentary. The magazine’s influence spanned the British Empire and played a crucial role in coining the term “cartoon” in its modern sense. For over 160 years, it was a mainstay in British households, entertaining and enlightening readers. This article delves into the rich history of “Punch,” exploring its origins, key contributors, and its lasting impact on the world of satire and humor.
Punch, or The London Charivari
|Categories||Politics, culture, humour, satire|
|Founder(s)||Henry Mayhew, Ebenezer Landells|
|First issue||17 July 1841|
Instance of: Satirical magazine
Location: United Kingdom
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Publication date: 17 July 1841 (1841–2002)
Dissolved, abolished or demolished date: 2002
Punch, or The London Charivari was a British weekly magazine of humour and satire established in 1841 by Henry Mayhew and wood-engraver Ebenezer Landells. Historically, it was most influential in the 1840s and 1850s when it helped to coin the term “cartoon” in its modern sense as a humorous illustration. From 1850, John Tenniel was the chief cartoon artist at the magazine for over 50 years.
Punch was founded on 17 July 1841 by Henry Mayhew and wood-engraver Ebenezer Landells, on an initial investment of £25. It was jointly edited by Mayhew and Mark Lemon. It was subtitled The London Charivari in homage to Charles Philipon’s French satirical humor magazine Le Charivari. Reflecting their satiric and humorous intent, the two editors took for their name and masthead the anarchic glove puppet, Mr. Punch, of Punch and Judy; the name also referred to a joke made early on about one of the magazine’s first editors, Lemon, that “punch is nothing without lemon.”
Mayhew ceased to be the joint editor in 1842 and became “suggestor in chief” until he severed his connection in 1845. The magazine initially struggled for readers, except for an 1842 “Almanack” issue which shocked its creators by selling 90,000 copies. In December 1842, due to financial difficulties, the magazine was sold to Bradbury and Evans, both printers and publishers.
The Birth of a Satirical Icon
Punch debuted on July 17, 1841, as a joint venture between Henry Mayhew and wood-engraver Ebenezer Landells. Its subtitle, “The London Charivari,” was a nod to Charles Philipon’s French satirical humor magazine, “Le Charivari.” The magazine’s name was inspired by Mr. Punch, the anarchic glove puppet from the traditional puppet show “Punch and Judy.” The name also humorously alluded to an early jest about one of the magazine’s first editors, Mark Lemon, suggesting that “punch is nothing without lemon.”
While the magazine initially struggled to find a readership, it witnessed a turning point in 1842 with an “Almanack” issue that sold a staggering 90,000 copies, surprising its creators. Due to financial difficulties, Punch was sold to Bradbury and Evans in December 1842, who were also the publishers for literary giants like Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray.
The Birth of “Cartoon”
The term “cartoon” was first used in 1843 within the pages of Punch. At the time, the British Houses of Parliament were considering the decoration of murals, and “cartoons” for these murals were displayed to the public. The term “cartoon” originally referred to a finished preliminary sketch on a large piece of cardboard (cartone in Italian). Punch humorously appropriated this term to refer to its political cartoons, and it quickly gained widespread use.
Artistry and “The Punch Brotherhood”
Throughout its history, Punch featured an array of talented artists and illustrators. The magazine’s cover design evolved, with Richard Doyle designing the iconic masthead in 1849. The group of artists who published in Punch during the 1840s and 1850s became known as “The Punch Brotherhood.” This distinguished group included John Leech, Richard Doyle, John Tenniel, and Charles Keene. Notably, Charles Dickens, a literary giant of his time, also joined Bradbury and Evans after leaving Chapman and Hall in 1843.
Helen Hoppner Coode deserves special mention as Punch‘s first female contributor, contributing nineteen drawings to the magazine.
Liberal Competition and Readership
In the 1860s and 1870s, Punch faced competition from the liberal journal “Fun.” However, after about 1874, Fun‘s fortunes declined. The two journals had “round tables” competing at Evans’s café in London.
After initial financial struggles, Punch became a staple in British drawing rooms. Its sophisticated humor and absence of offensive material set it apart from the satirical press of the time. Notably, even The Times and the Sunday paper News of the World used excerpts from Punch as column fillers, offering the magazine valuable publicity. This helped establish Punch as a reputable humor source, a privilege no other comic publication enjoyed.
Influential and Enduring
As the decades passed, Punch continued to gain readers and popularity throughout the 1840s and 1850s. It became a household name, capturing the attention of luminaries such as Elizabeth Barrett, Robert Browning, Queen Victoria, and Charles Dickens. The magazine contributed several phrases to the English language, including “The Crystal Palace” and the “Curate’s Egg.”
Some of the most enduring British humor classics were first serialized in Punch, including “The Diary of a Nobody” and “1066 and All That.” The magazine’s artistic roster featured names like Harry Furniss, Linley Sambourne, Francis Carruthers Gould, and Phil May.
Circulation peaked in 1947–1948 at 175,000 to 184,000, but sales declined steadily after that, leading to the magazine’s closure in 2002.
Punch Around the World
Punch‘s influence wasn’t limited to the United Kingdom. The experience of Britons in British colonies, especially in India, profoundly impacted Punch and its iconography. For instance, John Tenniel’s cartoons on the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny contributed to the magazine’s popularity. India was frequently caricatured in Punch and served as an essential source of knowledge about the subcontinent for British readers.
The legacy of Punch extended globally, with imitators and adaptations in various countries, including Canada, Australia, Japan, China, and India. These regional adaptations further underscored this iconic magazine’s international appeal and reach.
The Revival and Demise
After a brief period of closure, Punch was relaunched in 1996 by businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed. This revival was intended to challenge “Private Eye,” a publication criticizing Al-Fayed. However, this resurrection failed to achieve profitability, and in May 2002, the magazine ceased publication again. Reports suggested a loss of £16 million over the six years of publication, with only 6,000 subscribers at the end.
The resurrection of Punch took a different approach, notably omitting the clownish character Punchinello from its covers. Instead, the magazine featured a photograph of a boxing glove, signaling its intent to redefine “punch” in the sense of a boxing blow.
Legacy and Preservation
In 2004, the British Library acquired many of Punch‘s archives, including the famous Punch table. This long, oval table had been a part of the magazine’s offices since around 1855. It bears the carved initials of the magazine’s writers, artists, and editors, along with six invited “strangers,” such as James Thurber and Charles III. Notably, Mark Twain declined the invitation, as the table already bore the carved initials of William Makepeace Thackeray.
Punch, or The London Charivari was much more than a satirical magazine. It was a cultural touchstone that influenced humor, political commentary, and art for over a century. From its humble beginnings in 1841 to its eventual closure in 2002, Punch made an indelible mark on British and global culture. It introduced the term “cartoon” into the modern lexicon and gave birth to timeless British humor classics. Its legacy lives on in the archives of the British Library and in the hearts of those who remember its wit and insight.
Punch remains an enduring testament to the power of satire and humor in shaping public discourse and entertaining the masses.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About “Punch, or The London Charivari”
1. What is “Punch, or The London Charivari”?
“Punch, or The London Charivari,” was a British weekly magazine focusing on humor and satire. It was established in 1841 and played a significant role in British humor and satire for many years.
2. Who founded “Punch, or The London Charivari”?
The magazine was founded by Henry Mayhew and wood-engraver Ebenezer Landells in 1841.
3. When was the first issue of “Punch, or The London Charivari” published?
The first issue of “Punch, or The London Charivari,” was published on July 17, 1841.
4. When did “Punch, or The London Charivari” cease publication?
The magazine had a long history, but it closed in 2002, marking the end of its publication.
5. What was the significance of “Punch, or The London Charivari,” in the 1840s and 1850s?
During the 1840s and 1850s, “Punch” played a crucial role in coining the term “cartoon” in its modern sense as a humorous illustration. It was particularly influential during this period.
6. Who was the chief cartoon artist at “Punch” from 1850 onwards?
From 1850, John Tenniel served as the chief cartoon artist at “Punch” for over 50 years.
7. Why did “Punch” close in 1992, and when was it revived?
“Punch” experienced a decline in circulation after the 1940s, leading to its closure in 1992. It was later revived in 1996 but eventually closed again in 2002.
8. What is the origin of the name “Punch” in the magazine’s title?
The name “Punch” was inspired by the anarchic glove puppet, Mr. Punch, from the traditional puppet show “Punch and Judy.” The name also humorously referred to one of the magazine’s first editors, Mark Lemon.
9. When was “cartoon” first used in “Punch”?
The term “cartoon” to refer to comic drawings was first used in “Punch” in 1843 when the Houses of Parliament were to be decorated with murals. The popularity of “Punch” cartoons helped popularize this term.
10. How did “Punch” influence British literature and culture?
“Punch” had a wide readership, including notable figures like Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, and Queen Victoria. It contributed phrases to the English language and serialized classics like the Diary of a Nobody and 1066 and All That.
11. What was the circulation of “Punch” in its heyday?
Circulation of “Punch” broke the 100,000 mark around 1910 and peaked at 175,000 to 184,000 in 1947-1948. However, sales declined steadily after that.
12. How did “Punch” relate to British colonies, especially India?
“Punch” was widely famous throughout the British Empire and frequently caricatured India. John Tenniel’s cartoons about the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny contributed to its popularity in India and provided insights into the subcontinent for British readers.
13. What happened to the archives of “Punch”?
In 2004, the British Library acquired much of the archives of “Punch,” including the Punch table. The Punch table was used for staff meetings and bears the initials of the magazine’s writers and editors.
14. Who were some notable editors and cartoonists associated with “Punch”?
15. Did “Punch” have international influence?
“Punch” had a significant international influence, with imitators and similar publications in various countries, including Canada, Australia, Japan, and China. It inspired humor magazines and publications worldwide.
16. Was “Punch” mentioned in any literary works?
“Punch” and its founder, Henry Mayhew, were mentioned in Terry Pratchett’s non-Discworld novel, “Dodger.”
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