A very merry Christmas to all of our readers! For this Christmas Eve illustration post we picked a lovely little book from the heart of Victorian London: Thomas Hervey’s The book of Christmas illustrated by Robert Seymour. This book was published at the height of the Victorian revival of the Christmas holiday, a tradition of holiday book releases which continues today! Hervey described the mid-19th century holiday publishing scene thusly in his preface:
“Amongst the number of elegant publications which issue from the press, at this festival period of the year, — and are prepared for the express amusement of this particular season, — it is matter of some surprise that no one of them should have undertaken to illustrate the festival itself, and give some account of the season which they are so designed to embellish.”
In his preface Hervey surely refers to his long tracts on the history of the holidays and why British people celebrated them the way that they do, however his mention of an undertaking to “illustrate the festival itself” is also helped in this book by Robert Seymour’s wonderful illustrative plates. Seymour began producing illustrations for books by the 1820s and by the 1830s was a good friend and in equal demand to George Cruikshank. Seymour’s final work was his illustrations for Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers.
Seymour’s illustrations for Hervey’s The book of Christmas provide a lovely cross-section of holiday scenes from the 19th century: from the happy Christmas dinner scene to the grumpy (and probably hung-over) New Year’s Day well-wishers, from the Baronial hall to a riotous scene of St Distaff’s Day and scenes of Christmas markets and pantomimes. We’ve provided all of Seymour’s illustrations below and hope they bring some cheer to you this Christmas!
A very happy holidays from the Special Collections team at the University of St Andrews Library!