Monday, 16 April 2007

Take a Tour with Dr Syntax

Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) was one of the pioneers of comics, though he wouldn’t have recognised the term. This engraving of 1784, which satirises the coalition government of Charles James Fox (the Fox) and Lord North (the Badger), is a fully formed comic strip, with sequential images divided into panels, and using even word balloons.

(Scanned from George Perry and Alan Aldridge The Penguin Book of Comics: A Slight History, Penguin Books, 1967, revised 1971, reprinted with new introduction 1989)

Among Rowlandson’s most popular works were his picture stories about his recurring character Dr Syntax, Dr Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1812), The Second Tour of Dr Syntax, in Search of Consolation (1820) and The Third Tour of Dr Syntax, in Search of a Wife (1821). These were bound sequences of full-page engravings, 31 of them in the first book, 24 in each of the others, with accompanying verses by Dr William Combe.

I had seen the occasional Dr Syntax plate, but recently came across a site that has the whole lot of them in small scans. Bill Bennett used to trade in antique prints under the name Postaprint, but has now retired. However, he has left his reference pages on-line, including the plates from those three books, plus Rowlandson’s The History of Johnny Quae Genus. The verses aren't included.

Typically, one plate matches one incident in the tour, so the effect is of an illustrated book. Occasionally, however, there are elements of sequential art, as in these two successive plates showing Syntax ambushed and tied up by highwaymen.

These two scans come from the Postaprint site, which is well worth a look.

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