Punch was a British institution for well over a century. Founded in 1841, it was an irreverent weekly magazine of quips, cartoons, essays, stories and poetry, often on the politics and events of the day. Writers and artists like W. M. Thackeray, A. A. Milne, P. G. Wodehouse, Kingsley Amis, Arthur Rackham, and Ernest Shepard contributed to it. Punch folded in 1992, with its best days long past, but in its heyday it enjoyed great popular and critical acclaim. If the Daily Show writers had lived in 19th century London instead of 21st century America, they might have created something like it.
Reading it now can be a bit disorienting, partly because the writers often assume the readers are already very familiar with the contemporary headlines and goings on, and partly because the sense of what’s funny is so mercurial. What makes an 1860s London reader of Punch break out into uncontrollable laughter may be very different from what has the same effect on an 2008 Xkcd fan.
But all sorts of folks still find it of interest, whether they’re researching English history and culture, looking for long out of print literature and drawings from writers and artists they fancy, or just wanting a good read. The first 80 years or so of issues are now in the public domain. Project Gutenberg started transcribing them (including the cartoons) a few years back. Now the mass digitizers have gotten involved too, and in response to a reader’s request I’ve found and organized online copies of most of the issues up to 1922. (After that point, copyright issues get sticky.)
Here’s my listing. Enjoy. (And do tell me if you find any issues I couldn’t.)