LEECH, JOHN (1817-1864), English caricaturist, was born in London on Aug. 29, 1817. His father, an Irishman, was the landlord of the London Coffee House on Ludgate Hill, "a man," on the testimony of those who knew him, "of fine culture, a pro found Shakespearian, and a thorough gentleman." From his father Leech inherited his artistic bent, which was evident in his early childhood. He was educated at Charterhouse, where Thackeray, his lifelong friend, was his schoolfellow, and at sixteen he began to study medicine at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. He was then placed under a Mr. Whittle, an eccentric practitioner, the original of "Rawkins" in Albert Smith's Adventures of Mr. Led bury, and afterwards under John Cockle; but he drifted into the artistic profession. He was eighteen when his first designs were published, a quarto of four pages, entitled Etchings and Sketchings by A. Pen, Esq., comic character studies from the London streets. Then he drew some political lithographs, did rough sketches for Bell's Life, produced an exceedingly popular parody on Mul ready's postal envelope, and, on the death of Seymour, applied unsuccessfully to illustrate the Pickwick Papers. In 1840 Leech began his contributions to the magazines with a series of etchings in Bentley's Miscellany. With Cruikshank he executed designs for the Ingoldsby Legends and Stanley Thorn, and much of his work at this time is reminiscent of Cruikshank.
In 1845 Leech illustrated St. Giles and St. James in Douglas Jerrold's newly started Shilling Magazine, with plates more vigorous and accomplished than those in Bentley, but it is in subjects of a somewhat later date, and especially in those lightly etched and meant to be printed with colour, that we see the artist's best powers with the needle and the acid. Among such of his designs are four charming plates to Dickens's Christmas Carol (1844), the broadly humorous etchings in the Comic History of England (1847-1848), and the still finer illustrations to the Comic History of Rome (1852)-which last, particularly in its minor woodcuts, shows some exquisitely graceful touches. Among other noteworthy etchings are those in Young Master Troublesome or Master Jacky's Holidays, and the frontispiece to Hints on Life, or How to Rise in Society (1845)-a series of minute subjects linked gracefully together by coils of smoke, illustrating the various ranks and conditions of men, one of them-the doctor by his patient's bedside-almost equalling in vivacity and precision the best of Cruikshank's similar scenes. Then in the 'fifties we have the numerous etchings of sporting scenes, contributed, together with woodcuts, to the Handley Cross novels.
Turning to Leech's lithographic work, we have in 1841, the Portraits of the Children of the Mobility, an important series dealing with the humorous and pathetic aspects of London street Arabs. The lining itself has not the freedom which we find in some of Leech's other lithographs, notably in the Fly Leaves, published at the Punch office, and in the subject of the nuptial couch of the Caudles, which also appeared, in woodcut form, as a political cartoon, with Mrs. Caudle, personated by Brougham, disturbing by untimely loquacity the slumbers of the lord chan cellor, whose haggard cheek rests on the woolsack for pillow. Leech was most prolific and individual in his work for wood engraving. Among the earlier of such designs are the illustrations to the Comic English and Latin Grammars (1840), to Written Caricatures (1841), to Hood's Comic Annual (1842), and to Albert Smith's Wassail Bowl (1843), subjects mainly of a small vignette size, transcribed with the best skill of such woodcutters as Orrin Smith, and not, like the larger and later Punch illustra tions, cut at speed by several engravers working at once on the subdivided block. Leech's connection with Punch began in 1841, and lasted till his death on Oct. 29, 1864; it resulted in the production of the best-known and most admirable of his designs.
Leech's first contribution appeared in the issue of August 7, a full-page illustration-entitled "Foreign Affairs"-of character studies from the neighbourhood of Leicester Square. His cartoons deal at first mainly with social subjects, and are rough and imper fect in execution, but gradually their method gains in power and their subjects become distinctly political, and by 1849 the artist is strong enough to produce the splendidly humorous na tional personification which appears in "Disraeli Measuring the British Lion." About 1845 we have the first of that long series of half-page and quarter-page pictures of life and manners, executed with a hand as gentle as it was skilful. In addition to his work for the weekly issue of Punch, Leech contributed largely to the Punch almanacks and pocket-books, to Once a Week from 1859 till 1862, to the Illustrated London News, where some of his largest and best sporting scenes appeared, and to innumerable novels and miscellaneous volumes. Of these A Little Tour in Ire land (1859) is noticeable as showing the artist's treatment of pure landscape.
In 1862 Leech held an exhibition of some of his Punch draw ings, enlarged by a mechanical process, and coloured in oils by himself, with the assistance of his friend, J. E. Millais.
Biographies of Leech have been written by John Brown (1882), and Frith (1891).