Home-Spun Artists: Historical Sketches — Richard Doyle

by | Home-Spun Artists | 2 comments

Richard Doyle (1824-1883)

English illustrator Richard (Dickie) Doyle, educated at home by a tutor (a Mr. Street) and by his father John Doyle who was a leading political cartoonist during the early 19th century, followed in his father’s footsteps and was hired by the British humor magazine Punch at age nineteen.

Richard was a favorite illustrator of the Victorian era and is best known for designing the cover of Punch (which was used from 1849 until 1954) and for illustrating many children’s books. His drawings of elves and fairies were, and still are, especially popular. Richard was the uncle of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Richard’s father, who had six children besides Richard, all artistic in some way, believed that an artist should learn to draw through accurate observation and memory instead of through academic training. Mr. Doyle encouraged his children to keep abreast of current events in London by attending ceremonies, reviews, and processions, then writing about their observations and illustrating their notes.

Richard Doyle face

Then, each Sunday, the family would examine each others week’s work. Richard started a pictorial diary in 1840, when he was fifteen, and this diary Journal Kept by Richard Doyle in the Year 1840 — which includes several hundred miniature sketches and is in its original uncorrected form — can be read today.

Richard Doyle Diary Page 5 at 72dpi

In addition, John Doyle and his sons wrote weekly letters to one another (probably a requirement of the father), each illustrated with cartoon drawings. Some of these letters are held at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York. “These letters from Doyle to his father I see as a sort of apprenticeship for the younger Doyle, because he was on his way to becoming one of the best-known illustrators of the 19th century,” said Christine Nelson, the curator of literary and historical manuscripts. She said that these letters show “what manuscripts reveal about the creative process, and how they often come out of close relationships.” (quotes taken from the New York Times, May 14, 2006). In one letter, dated 1843, Richard writes his father, “I desperately depicted small devils playing all manner of games round this very page in the hope of deminishing [sic] the space for writing.”

The same year that he started his diary, Richard’s father asked him to illustrate a “History of Belgium.” Here is an excerpt from Richard’s illustrated diary. “… I am in a very critical state, working away at The History of Belgium which I must either have done by tomorrow morning or give Papa a shilling, so therefore I am working desperately, resolved not to go to bed till I have finished the illustrations…..Well now this is all very pleasant. I have won half a crown. Papa liked the illustrations which was also pleasant…”

Richard Doyle courtship cut short

1840 was also the year his father had one of Richard’s large pictures professionally printed (only fifty copies), which greatly encouraged Richard in his artistic work.

Richard Doyle princely suitor

Practical Application

What ideas from the Doyle family can we use in our homeschool?

We can use Mr. Doyle’s idea of assigning to our student the task of keeping an illustrated journal. The kind of book Dickie Doyle used to write in is not mentioned, but there are plenty of options available to us in the form of bound, blank books, both lined and unlined. Notice the scheduled Sunday shows where everyone displayed and discussed the work done that past week, including illustrated letters written to one other.

And, finally, notice the wisdom of the father in publishing, at his own expense, one of Dickie’s works. In his journal, you can read about how much this encouraged the young Dickie, and you can follow his efforts at “marketing” the copies. Today it is an easy matter for us to take one of our children’s drawings or essays down to the local print shop and have 50 copies printed. It’s money well spent.

Did you notice what else Mr. Doyle used as incentive for work completed?


  1. Christine Masloske

    He’d have to give Papa a shilling.

    Love in Christ,

    P.S. Thanks for the book! We’re all thrilled to have both of the logic books now!

  2. Richard Ahearn

    My mother insists that her mother’s line goes back to Richard Doyle. As a one time-cartoonist myself, that would be nice. But I see no record of Doyle marrying or any issue. Very confusing.



  1. “Even just a little knowledge can make a book into a physically impressive object.” | Actors Blog Part Of Skylith.com - [...] of mine, Richard Doyle. As a teenager he kept an illustrated diary and I’ve just found a recent post…

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