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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque


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Doctor Syntax Sketching the Lake: Thomas Rowlandson, in The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (image by Tony Simpkins, 2009)




I'll make a tour -- and then I'll write it.

You well know what my pen can do,

And I'll employ my pencil too: --

I'll ride and write, and sketch and print,

And thus create a real mint;

I'll prose it here, I'll verse it there,

And picturesque it everywhere.

I'll do what all have done before;

I think I shall -- and somewhat more.

At Doctor Pompous give a look;

He made his fortune by a book:

And if my volume does not beat it,

When I return, I'll fry and eat it.




Doctor Syntax Drawing From Nature; "The Doctor now, with genius big, / First drew a cow, and next a pig": Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

Doctor Syntax pursued by a bull: “Syntax, still trembling with affright, ,/ Clung to the tree with all his might'": Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

Doctor Syntax at a card party: “The comely pair by whom he sat, / A lady cheerful in her chat": Thomas Rowlandson, in The Tour of Doctot Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe,Vol. III, The Third Tour ol Doctor Syntax in Search of a Wife, 1821 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

Doctor Syntax leading a lady to the entrance of a grand mansion: “For while he sojourns he will be / The object of all courtesy": Thomas Rowlandson, in The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, Vol. !!, The Second Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of Consolation, 1820 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

Doctor Syntax taking wine with a lady in a drawing room, while the daughter of his hostess and her lover exchange caresses on a rustic seat under the verandah: Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

Doctor Syntax unable to pull up at the Land's End -- is fearful of being carried to the World's End: Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

Doctor Syntax thrown off his horse while hunting: “Your sport, my lord, I cannot take, / For I must go and hunt a lake" : Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)


Doctor Syntax gazing at some ruins; a man and boy in attendance: “But now, alas! no more remains / Than will reward the painters' pains": Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)



Doctor Syntax in the Jail; a young fellow and three dogs on the left
: Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

Boarding a Man-of-War: a boat load of people awaiting their turn to ascend a rope ladder, on which a gentleman of the party (Doctor Syntax) is fixed in rather an uncomfortable position: Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)



Doctor Syntax frightened by the appearance of a large fish having a form resembling that of a whale; his companion and some fishwives are also greatly alarmed, and a few of them lie sprawling on the ground.
Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

A lady repulsing with the poker her guests, consisting of eight gentlemen, among whom is the doctor; her dog by her side appears to be equally pugnacious: Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

Doctor Syntax riding and chatting with a lady, under an avenue of trees; a footman behind them: Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

Doctor Syntax playing at cards with a young lady; an old wooden-legged officer seated near, apparently not in the best of tempers; three other young ladies seated on the sofa take much interest in the game: Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

Doctor Syntax gently opens the door of a garret, and is horrified to find a "woman of the pavé" reclining back in her chair dead; a dog is seen on the left playing with her wig: Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

Doctor Syntax skating and saluting three ladies who stand on the bank of the frozen river: Thomas Rowlandson, design for The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (Rev. Alexander Dyce Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

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Doctor Syntax Preaching: Thomas Rowlandson, in The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque: A Poem by William Combe, 1812 (image by Tony Simpkins, 2009)


BOOKSELLER.


"I wish to know, Sir, what you mean,

By kicking up, Sir, such a scene?

And who you are, Sir, and your name,

And on what errand here you came?"


SYNTAX.


"My errand was to bid you look

With care and candour on this Book;

And tell me whether you think fit

To buy, or print, or publish it?

The subject which the work contains

Is Art and Nature's fair domains;

'Tis form'd the curious to allure; --

In short, good-man, it is a Tour..."



This post dedicated to Artur

Quotations from The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque, text by William Combe, watercolours by Thomas Rowlandson, published by R. Ackermann, London, 1812

7 comments:

phaneronoemikon said...

Aaah. There is none bete'er, bessen, letter, essen, the lesson is, the eating was, session wis. feptiptu faz. phizdonsi daz.

Dr. Syntax is graphiptutiptutontowahumti alala.

Julia said...

This looks so funny. What's better than English humour?

I read in the preface that Rowlandson did the illustrations first. Only later, Combe added a narrative in verse. The result of the combination between text and image was also a game.

How many times we do something similar, don't we, Tom?

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

'Tis an excellent tale here, my dear Sir, an excellent tale. I am especially taken by that image of the good Doctor Syntax unable to pull up at the Land's End -- fearful of being carried to the World's End. . . .


12.29

orange edge of sun rising below shadowed
branches, white half moon above branches
in foreground, sound of waves in channel

is present in the world, is
said that with things

because in itself, material,
end without the means

grey-white clouds reflected in channel,
pelican flapping across toward horizon

TC said...

Lanny, you are, for sure and certain, the original Doctor Syntax.

And that, good Sir, is that.


Yes, Julia, these games we play with image and text, who ever knows which comes first, the picture or the word... but yes, I think in the case of Doctor Syntax, the great draughtsman Rowlandson came up with many, many sketches (most of the watercolours I've shown were not actually printed), and Combe's text came later.

The project began sometime around 1809, and continued as long as the market lasted and the collaborators remained alive... which was not all that long, in fact.

Rowlandson was a dissolute if brilliant fellow of bountiful artistic energy who was always in need of money, and so he flourished with all the work that came his way from the enterprising German businessman Rudolf Ackermann, whose printmaking and engraving shop on the The Strand became the principal source of aquatint prints for the burgeoning middle-class purchasing audience of London.

William Combe was a fallen gentleman with a soiled reputation who eventually died in prison, but again, the market bubble in "The Picturesque" (a genre then quite fashionable, as the display-currency of "views" and "tours" was at its zenith), together with his own poetic industry and the demand created by Ackermann, extracted from him three entire volumes of versified Syntactical Travels.

Art and artists, machine and its parts,

because in itself, material,
end without the means

Thanks for the interest, I have been encouraged to dip bit further this morning into Rowlandson's work on the

Microcosm of London.

abadguide said...

A magnificent presentation, Tom. I don't know how you do it. I couldn't find anything of this quality when I was looking, a few weeks ago.

Artur.

TC said...

Artur,

It sounds as though we may well have trod a few of the same digital back alleys on the trail of the good Doctor.

Scattered here and there in the deep and time-consuming archival lockers one may discover scanned and in some cases retouched versions of the original aquatints of the first Tour, as well as a few from the two later Tours, some of them hand coloured by TR himself. (Indeed I have the seventh edition of the first Tour, and the colours still look pretty good.)

However, much of what one finds on the net -- like that extremely fine example to which you posted the link -- has been put up there by commercial print houses. Their objective in thus using p.d. images, of course, is not the sharing of joy but the harvesting of lucre. Thus reproducing their versions, though of course they no more own the work than you or I do, is often a chancy affair, dependent on the whims of these soi-disant proprietors of what are, again, actually p.d. images. Hardly worth the potential bother, I've always felt. And then too, usually, a few (hundred, sometimes) extra hours, in pursuit of something better in the free area, does indeed turn up just that, I've discovered (he gasped).

But Rowlandson did a bewildering number of sketches for the project, many more than Ackermann was finally able to use. (By the by, in case you've missed it, I did this wee bit on Ackermann's Microcosm, today.) And these first-round sketches, often hastily executed, are line drawings with water colours laid on. They are, when seen in comparison with the aquatint plates that Ackermann used in the very popular prints and books, surprisingly more delicate and fine. So I elected to represent these rather than the aquatints actually used in the books, for the most part.

It's interesting to consider possible comparisons -- a dealer nowadays hiring someone to do satiric knockoffs of extremely popular and highly valued work (specifically, in this case, William Gilpin's Tours), and the satires turning out to have a higher quality and ultimately a higher value (both commercial and aesthetic) than the "originals".

Rowlandson is to me a profligate genius of the first water, virtually tossing off that great bounty of amazing work. In some quarters, of course, it is the hundreds of "pornographic" pieces that maintain his "reputation". But they are of course of a piece with a much more various whole. His sketchings-from-life of the lives of each of the several classes of his day are for me essential information about an epoch that may have left no more penetrating representation of itself. He loved gambling and good living and had he not squandered his aunt's legacy, early on, we'd probably have none of this work. So much for the benefits of clean living.

(By the way it has just occurred to me that in a year in which I have experienced more than my share of accidents and received very little assistance in any of these cases from the ministrations of the medical profession, perhaps there may be some cosmic force at work in my having done, this year, at least two posts featuring doctors falling off horses.) (I hope it's only the two.)

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Thanks for turning up yet another treasure here -- Doctor Syntax I mean, whose adventures haven't heretofore been known to us, save for one print (bestowed upon me years ago by my mother, in commemoration I recall upon the completion of Campion: On Song. . . .