Water Babies – A Classic Book for Kids
Water Babies was for decades one of the most popular children’s books in the world, but like many works, inspired by contemporary discoveries and consequent changes, eventually felt out of favor. Charles Kingsley wrote it full of enthusiasm caused by Darwin’s Origin of Species and criticism of child’s labor, so common in Victorian England. The story, although beautifully told, is also full of prejudices, which definitely helped to decrease its popularity at the turn of 19th into 20th century and subsequent decades.
Nevertheless we are still dealing with a classic which will continue to inspire artists all over the world, there is, for instance an action movie with a killer shark in 1978 or an adaptation in form of radio play where a child trafficking is discussed in 2013.
We have already actually presented some of the finest illustrations in our opening post with Jessie Wilcox Smith’s vision of Water Babies, but this time we’ll dig a bit deeper. Let’s start with the first edition in 1863 where two illustrations by Joseph Noel Paton (1821-1901):
Same illustrations were of course reprinted in later editions, which were often illustrated with more images. Next eight vignettes are interesting for their inclusion of first letters into pictures. This of course origins in decorative initials, popular from times of handwritten scripts.
Why eight vignettes? One for each chapter of the book of course!
As you can imagine illustrating such huge hit brought certain prestige for artists who were involved in later editions of Water Babies and next set of illustrations is made by another giant of his time.
Edward Linley Sambourne (1844 – 1910) made almost one hundred black and white illustrations for 1885 edition. I will present all of them, but first few words about this artist:
He was a cartoonist and worked for Punch for full four decades, being its leading illustrator in the final decade of his work. Among other works he illustrated The Real Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe, The Modern Arabian Nights and Poems Of Edgar Allan Poe. Water Babies was published by A. L. Burt and reprinted several times. Just like at Paton’s work, I decided to leave first words in all eight chapters to give you a chance to admire decorated initials by which Linley Sanbourne was best known for some time. In first years at Punch decorated first letters were actually his major occupation!
Let’s check the illustrations!
Next illustrator of Water Babies is Warwick Goble (1862-1943), already presented with his view on the most popular fairy tales. This time we’ll check his work for Macmillan & Co. in London. This edition of Kingsle’y masterpiece from 1908 starts with two versions of cover, following by sixteen color illustrations. Yes, all are public domain!
Adorable, isn’t it? In few days I’ll add another set of illustrations by one more illustrator. Cheers!