Everyone knows of Heath Robinson's crazy inventions. They have never appealed to me. I don't know why. So it came as something of a shock a few years ago to be introduced to his early work. I was reading Nicolas McDowell's piece about where he takes his inspiration from in designing and producing books in the Bibliography of The Old Stile Press in the Twentieth Century. In this essay Nicolas reproduces, on a large full page, this illustration above which the half-title to Act IV of A Midsummer Night's Dream (Constable, London, 1913) and speaks of how, even as a small child, he was held entranced by its pure black and white. I was equally entranced and began to discover that as a proponent of black and white illustration Heath Robinson was a master, every bit as good as Beardsley or any of the other Nineties illustrators, if not better. The Midsummer Night's Dream illustration in particular I think is a masterpiece of exact balance and simplicity and the creation of drama through shape. I have been able, since then, to look through the signed, limited edition of this title that Constable released at the same time and it is simply a beautiful book with illustrations that almost spill ink off the pages.
I was intrigued therefore recently to review the illustrations Robinson did for Kingsley's The Water Babies, also for Constable and only a year later. Among them I found this image below, strangely redolent of the Act IV title. Personally I think the earlier one remains the better image but it was interesting to find this as a comparison.
I'll be posting some more of the illustrations from The Water Babies in due course.