English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century. - How they Illustrated and Interpreted their Times.
by Graham Everitt
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

On the 4th of December, 1818, the number of convicts lying under sentence of death in his Majesty's gaol of Newgate, amounted to no less than sixty, of whom ten were females; probably not three of these unfortunate beings would have been hung now-a-days. Under the Draconian laws, however, then in force, people were hung in scores for passing forged one-pound Bank of England notes; and this barbarous state of things, disgraceful to a Christian country, led to the famous and telling satire of the Bank Restriction Note, one of the very few which seem to have escaped oblivion, and which, having been repeated and reproduced in all the latest essays which have been written on him, calls for no extra description from ourselves. It is said to have had the effect desired, and that "no man or woman was ever hanged after this for passing forged one-pound Bank of England notes."


In 1819 we have one of George Cruikshank's severe and telling attacks upon the Prince Regent, in Sales by Auction, or Provident Children disposing of their Deceased Mother's Effects for the Benefit of the Creditors (*), in which he shows us the prince knocking down (in his character of auctioneer) his dead mother's old hats, gowns, and clothing, and begging the bystanders to bid liberally. At the foot of the rostrum lie sundry snuff-boxes and pots, labelled "Queen's Mixture" and "Prince's Mixture" (in allusion to the old queen's habits), "Strasburg" (in reference to her German tastes and nationality), together with her old china tea-set.

This year is remarkable for producing perhaps the most ambitious and admirable allegory which the artist ever designed; it bears the title of Old Thirty-nine Shaking Hands with his Good Brother the Pope of Italy, or Covering Up versus Sealing the Bible. Old Thirty-nine (an English bishop) stands on a pile of volumes labelled, "Never-out-ism," "Ante-biblism," "Never-the-same-ism," etc., whilst the pope, standing on the opposite side on a mass of books bearing similar suggestive titles, shakes hands with his "good brother." By the pope's side we find the devil busily engaged in sealing up the Bible. Behind him stands the Temple of Mammon, surrounded by a crowd of reverend worshippers. Two fiends standing by the side of "Old Thirty-nine" make preparations for a bonfire, to which sundry bundles labelled, "Articles of Faith," "Athanasian Creed," "Catechism," "Liturgies," "Nicene Creed," and so on, will contribute materials. Out of a building in the rear, inscribed, "National School for Thirty-niners only," issues a procession of ecclesiastics and beadles carrying banners. In the foreground stands the figure of "Divine Truth," surrounded by little children, and perusing the pages of the "Holy Bible," held for that purpose by an angel. A roughly executed affair in two compartments, Preachee and Floggee Too, satirizes certain clerical magistrates who, while preaching mercy and forgiveness in the pulpit, distinguish themselves by the severity of their sentences for minor offences on the magisterial bench. The titles of other subjects of the year are: The Hobby Horse Dealer; Johnny Bull and his Forged Notes, or Rags and Ruin in the Paper Currency; Smoke Jack, the Alarmist, Extinguishing the Second Great Fire of London; Love, Law, and Physic (*); The Sailor's Progress (six subjects); Dandies in France, or Le Restorateur (*); A Match for the King's Plate; The Belle Alliance, or the Female Reformers of Blackburn (*); Voila t'on mort; and Royal Red Bengal Tiger (etched from the designs of other artists); Irish Decency (two caricatures); Giant Grumbo and the Black Dwarf, or Lord G—— and the Printers Devil; and Our Tough old Ship Steered Safely into Harbour maugre Sharks of the Day (*).

An unsigned caricature, published by Fores on the 15th of May, 1819, appears to me to be due to the hand of George Cruikshank. It bears the title of The Dandy Tailor Planning a New Hungry Dress, and would appear to have reference to some contemplated introduction of foreign mercenaries into the English service. The tailor, while stitching a military jacket, sings a song of which the following is a verse,—

"A tailor there was, and he lived in a stall, Which served him for palace, for kitchen, and hall. No coin in his pocket, no nous in his pate, No ambition has he, nor no wish to be great. Derry down, down, down, derry down!"

A foreigner enters in military costume, introducing two foreign mercenaries. "Dese men," he says, "will teach you de proper vay to make de Hungarian soldats. I did bring dem expres'. Observe des grands mustaches. No more English soldats." A military figure in jack boots, standing by the side of the tailor, holds the "goose" in readiness for his master's use. The Prince Regent, especially as George the Fourth, was fond of inventing new military costumes, and Mr. Greville describes him in 1829 (the year before his death) as "employed in devising a new dress for the guards;" but by the mitre at his back, and the reference to his impecunious position, I should take this "tailor" to be intended for the Duke of York.


Ah! sure such a pair was never seen, so justly formed to meet by nature! (*) represents a couple of pears, in which we recognise likenesses of George the Fourth and Queen Caroline, the features of the king being expressive of strong disgust. After Lord Liverpool had decided not to send the "Bill of Pains and Penalties" to the Commons, for the reason stated in a previous chapter, the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council of the City of London distinguished themselves by presenting, on the 10th of December, an address to their "most gracious sovereign," complaining of things in general, and of public expenditure in particular, the real cause of complaint, however, being "the alleged criminality" which, as the petitioners stated, had been "falsely ascribed" to the queen. This address, which was conceived in the worst possible taste, concluded with the following outrageous prayer: "We therefore humbly pray your Majesty to dismiss from your presence and councils for ever those ministers whose pernicious measures have so long endangered the throne, undermined the constitution, and blighted the prosperity of the nation." Now, only fancy any Corporation of London in our time signalizing itself by presenting a petition to "Her Most Gracious Majesty," complaining of the measures of Lord Beaconsfield or Mr. Gladstone, and praying her to dismiss them from her councils! The king returned the following answer: "It has been with the most painful feelings that I have heard the sentiments contained in the address and petition now presented to me by the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council of the City of London. Whatever may be the motives of those by whom it is brought forward, its evident tendency is to inflame the passions and mislead the judgment of the unwary and less enlightened part of my subjects, and thus to aggravate all the difficulties with which we have to contend." This episode suggested to George one of the most admirable of his caricatures: A Scene in the New Farce as performed at the Royalty Theatre. The corpulent monarch, in the character and costume of Henry the Eighth, is receiving a number of deputations from all parts of England, Scotland, and Ireland, bearing petitions praying him to dismiss his ministry, the members of which stand on each side of the throne, one of the number being habited as a jester. This exceedingly rare plate carries on it the following explanation: "King Henry VIII. being petitioned to dismiss his ministers and council by the citizens of London and many boroughs, to relieve his oppressed subjects, made the citizens this sagacious reply: 'We, with all our cabinet, think it strange that ye who be but brutes and inexpert folk, should tell us who be and who be not fit for our council.'"


Another of George Cruikshank's rare and valuable contributions to the Queen Caroline series of pictorial satires is labelled The Royal Rushlight, which many people (among them the Chancellor and corpulent George) are vainly endeavouring to blow out. By way (it may be) of contrast, this excellent satire has appended to it the following miserable doggerel,—

"Cook, coachee, men and maids, very nearly all in buff, Came and swore in their lives they never met with such a light; And each of the family by turns had a puff At the little farthing rushlight. But none of the family could blow out the rushlight."


With the year 1821 came the closing scene in the drama of Caroline's unhappy but singularly undignified career. On the occasion of the king's coronation she had applied to Lord Liverpool, desiring to be informed what arrangements had been made for her convenience, and who were appointed her attendants at the approaching ceremony. An answer was returned that, "it was a right of the Crown to give or withhold the order for her Majesty's coronation, and that his Majesty would be advised not to give any directions for her participation in the arrangements;" but with the obstinacy of purpose which was so fatal a blemish in her character, and which seems to have been the primary cause of all her misfortunes, she insisted on her right, and declared moreover her firm intention of attending the ceremony. A respectful but peremptory reply was returned, reasserting the legal prerogative of the Crown, and announcing that the former intimation must be understood as amounting to a prohibition of her attendance. She was however so ill-advised as to present herself early on the morning of the day (the 19th of July) at the doors of the Abbey of Westminster. The door-keepers refused to allow her to enter as queen; and she was forced to submit to the mortification of having to retire without having succeeded (as it was her evident intention to have done) in marring the arrangements for the splendid ceremony. By this time the enthusiasm in her favour had greatly evaporated, and she was received even coldly by her friends the assembled mob. The mortification proved fatal to her; very shortly afterwards she was taken ill, and died in less than three weeks after the unnecessary mortification to which she had thus insisted on exposing herself.

It is probable that if the wishes of her executors had been allowed to be carried out, the unfortunate woman would have been carried to her grave in peace. She had directed that her remains should, three days after her death, be carried to Brunswick for interment; and had Lord Liverpool been wise, he would have left the executors to carry out the arrangements after their own fashion. Unfortunately, the Government decided to take the arrangements into their own hands, and to lay down the route (the shortest) by which the mournful procession should proceed to Harwich. No fault can be found with the arrangements themselves, which were intended to pay the greatest respect to the memory of the deceased; but the cautions they took brought about the very result they were anxious to avoid, and at once revived all the slumbering sympathies of the mob in favour of the unhappy queen. A squabble took place at the outset, Dr. Lushington, as one of the executors, protesting against the removal of the corpse; but, escorted by squadrons of Horse-guards Blue, the procession left Brandenburg House at eight o'clock in the morning of the 15th of August, in a drizzling rain. The cavalcade reached Kensington in solemn order; but on arriving at the Gravel Pits, and attempting to turn off to the left, its progress was instantly blocked by wagons and carts placed across the road, while a body of men formed across the streets twenty deep and evinced every disposition to dispute the passage. A severe conflict took place between them and the constables, several on both sides being hurt. For an hour and a half the procession waited for orders, and at length it moved towards London. On reaching Kensington Gore a squadron of the Life Guards, with a magistrate at their head, tried in vain to open the park gates, the crowd vociferating in the meantime, "To the city! the city!" On reaching Hyde Park Corner, the gate there was found barricaded with carts, and the procession then moved on to Park Lane, which being also blocked up, it turned back hastily and entered Hyde Park, through which it proceeded at a trot, the soldiers having cleared away the obstacles at the gate. On reaching Cumberland Gate, it was found closed by the populace, and in the conflict which ensued the park wall was thrown down by the pressure of the crowd, who hurled the stones at the soldiers, in return for the use the latter had made of their sabres in clearing the passage. Many of the military and their horses were hurt; and some of the soldiers, irritated by their rough usage, resorted to their pistols and carbines, and two persons (Richard Honey, a carpenter, and George Francis, a bricklayer) were unfortunately killed, and others wounded. The Edgeware Road was blockaded, but quickly cleared, and the procession moved on till it arrived at the turnpike gate near the top of Tottenham Court Road. There the mob made so determined a stand that further opposition was deemed unadvisable, and the popular will being at length acceded to, the cavalcade forthwith took its way into the city. Every street through which a turn could have been made in order to enter the New Road or the City Road was found barricaded. As the funeral passed through the city, the Oxford Blues doing duty there, who had not participated in the outrage, were cordially greeted by the populace on either side of the street. The inquests on the bodies of the dead men lasted for a considerable period. In the case of Francis, a verdict of "wilful murder against a life guardsman unknown" was returned; whilst in that of Honey, the verdict was manslaughter against the officers and men of the first regiment of Life Guards on duty at the time. This event is recorded by George in a caricature entitled, The Manslaughter Men, or a Horse Laugh at the Law of the Land,—two ghostly gory figures rising from their graves, which are respectively inscribed, "Verdict, wilful murder," and "Verdict, manslaughter"; a group of life guardsmen grin and point at the body, and one of them jeeringly remarks, "Shake not thy bloody locks at me; ye cannot say who did it." Another satire on the same subject bears the title of The Horse Chancellor obtaining a Verdict, or Killing no Murder.

Other subjects of this year are the following: And when Ahitophel saw that his Counsel was not followed, he Saddled his Ass, and arose and went and Hanged himself; O! O! there's a Minister of the Gospel; The Royal Extinguisher, or the King of Brobdingnag and the Liliputians (etched after the design of Isaac Robert). Six subjects, La Diligence and La Doriane, Venus de Medici and Mer de Glace, Visit to Vesuvius and Forum Boarium, and Nosing the Nob at Ramsgate, a coarsely executed satire aimed at his Majesty and his eccentric subject, Alderman Sir William Curtis.


Sir William Curtis, alderman, trader, and formerly member for the city, is one of the most prominent figures in the satires of his time. Making every allowance for caricature drawing, the likeness must have been on the whole a faithful though an exaggerated one; for in all the numerous comical sketches in which he makes an appearance, we never fail to recognise his ruby nose and ponderous figure. We have already seen him figuring by way of ludicrous contrast with Claude Ambroise Seurat, the "living skeleton," and we shall now find him associated by the caricaturists with no less a person than the king himself. When his majesty, in 1822, paid his visit to Scotland, and by way of compliment to the country and her traditions assumed the "garb of old Gael," Alderman Sir William Curtis, who followed his sovereign at a respectful distance, out of compliment to the country, her traditions, "his most gracious majesty," and himself, put his own corpulent form into fancy costume, and likewise donned the Highland garb. The absurdly ludicrous result is told us by Lockhart. "The king at his first levee diverted many, and delighted Scott by appearing in the full Highland garb—the same brilliant Stewart tartans, so-called, in which certainly no Stewart, except Prince Charles, had ever before presented himself in the saloons of Holyrood. His majesty's Celtic toilette had been carefully watched and assisted by the gallant Laird of Garth, who was not a little proud of the result of his dexterous manipulations of the rough plaid, and pronounced the king 'a vara pretty man.' And he did look a most stately and imposing person in that beautiful dress; but his satisfaction therein was cruelly disturbed when he discovered, towering and blazing among and above the genuine Glengarries and Macleods and MacGregors, a figure even more portly than his own, equipped from a sudden impulse of loyal ardour in an equally complete set of the self-same conspicuous Stewart tartans:—

'He caught Sir William Curtis in a kilt— While throng'd the chiefs of every Highland clan To hail their brother, Vich Ian Alderman.'[80]

In truth this portentous apparition cast an air of ridicule and caricature over the whole of Sir Walter's celtified pageantry. A sharp little bailie from Aberdeen, who had previously made acquaintance with the worthy Guildhall baronet, and tasted the turtle soup of his voluptuous yacht, tortured him as he sailed down the long gallery of Holyrood, by suggesting that after all his costume was not quite perfect. Sir William, who had been rigged out, as the auctioneer's advertisements say, 'regardless of expense,' exclaimed that he must be mistaken, begged he would explain his criticism, and, as he spoke, threw a glance of admiration on his skene dhu (black knife), which, like a true 'warrior and hunter of deer,' he wore stuck into one of his garters. 'Oo ay! Oo ay!' quoth the Aberdonian; 'the knife's a' right, mon—but faar's your speen?' (where's your spoon?) Such was Scott's story; but whether he 'gave it a cocked hat and walking cane,' in the hope of restoring the king's good humour, so grievously shaken by this heroical doppel ganger, it is not very necessary to inquire."[81]

Which indeed of the absurd pair looked the most ridiculous it would be hard to say: a great-grandson of George the Second in the Highland garb of "Bonnie Prince Charlie," was perhaps as absurd an anachronism as a fat cockney alderman in the same fancy costume. Our friends the caricaturists were fully alive to these puerilities. An anonymous caricature of the day celebrates the ludicrous event in a satire entitled, Equipt for a Northern Visit, which represents the fat king and the fat alderman in kilts, the point of the pictorial epigram lying in the fact that the corpulent king recommends his corpulent subject to lay aside the costume as unbecoming to a man of his proportions. George has several pictorial satires on the same fertile theme; one of these, Bonnie Willie, depicts the huge man in Highland garb. A rare and most amusing caricature shows us the supposed unfortunate Results of this Northern Excursion. The fat king and his fat subject have caught the northern complaint vulgarly termed the "Scottish fiddle," and are vigorously going through the traditionary process of rubbing themselves against the post, blessing the while his grace the Duke of Argyle. An English acquaintance, not unnaturally afraid of infection, refuses the alderman's proffered hand.

A caricature of altogether another kind commemorates a raid made by the Bow Street officers on the numerous gaming establishments of 1822. It is called, Cribbage, Shuffling, Whist, and a Round Game, is divided into six compartments, and is most humorously and admirably treated. The principal performers are the knaves of cards. One of the compartments shows us the knaves on the treadmill, which is marked "Fortune's Wheel;" while in another a knave is undergoing the discipline of the "cat," and calling out at every stroke "E. O.! E. O.! E. O.!"[82]


Sir Richard Westmacott's statue of Achilles was executed in 1822. The nude, undraped colossal figure, which was subscribed for by the ladies of England in honour of the Duke of Wellington and his soldiers, was the occasion of numerous contemporary satires—most of them (in those plain-spoken days) of the broadest possible character. One of the most indelicate (*) (drawn by the artist from the sketch or suggestion of another) gives a burlesque front and back view of the figure, which is surrounded by a number of people (principally ladies), among whom we recognise a caricature likeness of the "Dook." The inscription runs as follows: "To Arthur a Bradley, and his jolly companions every one, this brazen image of Patrick O'Killus, Esq., is inscribed by their countrywomen."[83] Besides the foregoing, we meet this year with A Lollipop-Ally Campagne and Brandy Ball (*); Premium, Par, and Discount; Showing-off—Bang up—Prime (*); and A Sailor's description of a Chase and Capture (*).


A large proportion of his satires for 1823 are aimed at Louis the Eighteenth's Spanish expedition, the object of which we have already related. One of these shows us France the great Nation driven by the North into the South; in another, Ferdinand the Seventh and the Duc d'Angouleme figure respectively as a Spanish Mule and a French Jackass; A French Hilt on a Spanish Rapier, is likewise dedicated to the Duc d'Angouleme; another shows us Old Bumblehead the 18th trying on Napoleon's Boots; a fifth is entitled, A Hint to the Blind and Foolish, or the Bourbon Dynasty in Danger; while a sixth shows us Louis the Fat troubled with Nightmare and Dreams of Terror. In all these caricatures, the figure of Napoleon, already sleeping his last sleep at St. Helena—the place of his exile and of his grave—is represented by way of contrast to the unwieldly and incompetent Bourbon. Another caricature, the point of which I fail to see, bears the title of The Tables Turn'd, or the Devil Outwitted and Cruelly Punished,—a Scene on the Portsmouth Treadmill; this last, though said to be "designed by an amateur," and "etched by G. Ck.," is unquestionably all his own.


Drilling One-tenth of the Military in the Manual Exercise, and Saint Shela (two subjects), have reference to the Tenth Hussars and Battier scandal, mentioned in a previous chapter;[84] other subjects of 1824 are: Parisian Luxury (a man being shaved in a bath); Preparing for a Duel; and The Ostend Packet in a Squall; all etched by George from the designs of other artists. The mania for joint-stock companies in 1825, was scarcely equalled by the speculation mania which inaugurated the passing in our own time of the "Limited Liability Act." In 1824 and the beginning of 1825, two hundred and seventy-six companies had been projected, of which the aggregate capital (on paper only) represented L174,114,050. Thirty-three of these were established for the construction of canals and docks, forty-eight of railroads, forty-two for the supply of gas, six of milk, and eight of water, four for the working of coal, and thirty-four of metal mines; twenty new insurance companies were started, twenty-three banks, twelve navigation and packet companies, three fisheries, two for boring tunnels under the Thames, three for the embellishment and improvement of the metropolis, two for sea-water baths, and the rest for miscellaneous purposes; it is a somewhat significant fact that two only had for their object the establishment of newspapers. Notwithstanding the manifest absurdity of many of these projects, the shares of several—especially of the mining adventurers in South America—rose to enormous premiums. Among the last may be mentioned those of the Real del Monte, the price of which, between the 10th of December and the 11th of January, rose from L550 to L1350, and the United Mexican during the same period from L35 to L1550. On these last shares only L10 had been paid, and on the former only L70. Speaking of this mania, the Rev. T. F. Dibdin (in his "Reminiscences") says, "If it did not partake of the name, it had certainly all the wild characteristics of the South Sea Bubble. To-day you had only to put your name down to a share or shares in the Rio de la Plata or other South American mines, and to-morrow a supplicant purchaser would give you fifty per cent. for every share taken. The old were bewitched ... the young were in ecstasies. Everybody made a rush for the city. A new world of wealth had been discovered. It was only to ask and have." George Cruikshank refers to this state of things in a caricature called, A Scene in the Farce of Lofty Projects, as Performed with great success for the benefit and amusement of John Bull. Besides these, he gives us The Four Mr. Prices (High Price, Low Price, Full Price, and Half Price).

I can assign no date to Waiting on the Ladies; The Death of the Property Tax, or Thirty-seven Mortal Wounds for Ministers and the Inquisitorial Commissioners; or to The Court at Brighton, a la Chinese, one of the most admirable of the whole series. In this last, the fat prince habited as a mandarin, is seated on a sofa between the Princess Charlotte and an enormously fat woman, probably intended for the Marchioness of Conyngham. He is handing to a Chinese official a paper inscribed "Instructions for Lord Amhurst, to get fresh patterns of Chinese deformities to finish the decorations of Pavilion G. P. R." A specimen of regency taste and sympathies stands on a pedestal in the form of the Hottentot Venus, while a statuette of the fat prince himself, habited in a red coat, white waistcoat, yellow inexpressibles, and silk stockings, is labelled the "British Adonis." The princess recommends her papa to order the officer to bring her over "a Chinaman, instead of getting her a husband among our German cousins." A variety of miscellaneous articles are strewn about the floor, among them a box containing the Regent's wigs and whiskers, a treatise on "The Art of making Punch," the indispensable hamper of champagne, and a pair of curling irons; while no one will fail to recognise the interior of the Brighton Pavilion as the scene where this admirable satire is laid. Another undated satire remains to be noticed: it represents a young man in a boat with three young women, one of them of considerable personal attractions, that is to say from a Cruikshankian point of view, and evidently a likeness. On the shore stands another young woman and her child, whom the young spark has evidently left behind him. In the stern of the boat is a hamper of wine and a goblet fashioned out of a skull; a noseless man rows the boat, while three sailors in an adjoining vessel make ribald observations in reference to the young man's female companions. By the star on his coat, the turned-down collar, profile, and the arrangement of the hair, we take it that the person thus satirized is Lord Byron. Any doubts we may have on the subject seem removed by the words of the song he is supposed to be singing while waving his hat to the disconsolate woman on the shore:—

"All my faults perchance thou knowest, All my madness none can know."

And the concluding stanza:—

"Fare thee well! thus disunited, Torn from every nearer tie, Seared in heart, and lone, and blighted, More than this I scarce can die"!!

The foregoing contains a list and description of some of George Cruikshank's graphic satires, many of which we have reason to believe will be entirely new to the great majority of our readers. They support the description given of him by Lockhart at the opening of our chapter: "People consider him as a clever, sharp caricaturist, and nothing more—a free-handed, comical young fellow, who will do anything he is paid for, and who is quite content to dine off the proceeds of a 'George IV.' to-day, and those of a 'Hone,' or a 'Cobbett,' to-morrow." It must be remembered that these represent but a branch of his work; and that while content to design a satire as elaborate and as admirable as any which owe their origin to the hand of Gillray, or to dash off a rough and carelessly executed caricature, he was equally ready to etch the work of an inferior artist, or even of an amateur; to execute a drawing on wood for a ballad, or for one of the numerous political hits of the day, whether on the loyal or the popular side mattered but little to him; to do anything, in fact (to use the words of Lockhart), that "was suggested or thrown in his way." It is barely possible that the very imperfect series we have given may astonish those who have hitherto regarded George Cruikshank only as an illustrator of books, and supposed that, with the exception of the woodcuts for Hone's various jeux d'esprits, and the rough work which appears in "The Satirist," "The Scourge," and publications of a similar character, he executed but few pictorial satires. A perfect set of impressions from his caricatures probably does not exist; if it did it would command a high price indeed. We have seen a set of about seventy plates advertised by one enterprising bookseller at the price of seventy pounds. The specimens we have cited (exclusive of two from "The Scourge") 128 in number, were published between the years 1808 and 1825, by G. and H. Humphrey, S. Fairburn, Thomas Tegg, Ackermann, M. Jones, J. Fairburn, J. Dolby, W. Hone, S. W. Fores, A. Bengo, J. Sidebotham, S. Knight, and J. Johnstone. If to the foregoing we add the plates in "Cruikshankiana"—twenty-six in number, thirty in "The Scourge," six in "Fashion," nine in "The Satirist," and eight in the "Loyalists' Magazine," we get seventy-nine more, making a sum total of over two hundred in all. How many more have escaped notice—how many have disappeared for ever from public notice without a chance of recovery or revival—it would be, perhaps, impossible to say; for even George himself was sometimes at fault, when the long-forgotten work of his early years was presented to him for recognition or acknowledgment.


[66] Alluding to the "Life in London."

[67] This certainly was not true; both Gillray and Rowlandson were draughtsmen and artists of exceptionable ability.

[68] The article from which this is quoted is variously assigned to Professor Wilson and Lockhart; it matters little which. Meanwhile, we must have a name, let it be Lockhart's.

[69] The editor of "The Scourge" was one Jack Mitford. He received a classical education, was originally in the navy, and fought under Hood and Nelson. Besides "The Scourge," he edited "The Bon Ton" magazine, and "Quizzical Gazette," and was author of a sea song once popular, "The King is a true British Sailor." He was an irreclaimable drunkard, thought only of the necessities of the hour, and slept in the fields when his finances would not admit of payment of a twopenny lodging in St. Giles's. His largest work was "Johnny Newcome in the Navy," for which the publisher gave him the generous remuneration of a shilling a day till he finished it. He died in St. Giles's workhouse in 1831.

[70] The reader may remember that Napoleon once contracted a skin disease from taking up a weapon which had been wielded by a dead artilleryman, which gave him trouble at various periods of his life. It may be that this suggested the subject.

[71] See the "Declaration of the Powers," from which we have already quoted.

[72] "Narrative of Captain Maitland," p. 109.

[73] The Regent's selfish nature and expensive habits may be judged by the following extract from the Greville Memoirs. Under date of 1830, Mr. Greville writes: "Sefton gave me an account of the dinner in St. George's Hall on the King's [William IV.] birthday, which was magnificent, excellent, and well served. Bridge came down with the plate, and was hid during the dinner behind the great wine-cooler, which weighs 7,000 ounces, and he told Sefton afterwards that the plate in the room was worth L200,000. There is another service of plate which was not used at all. The king has made it all over to the crown. All this plate was ordered by the late king, and never used; his delight was ordering what the public had to pay for."—Greville Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 42.

[74] See Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Earl of Elgin's Collection ... of Marbles ("Annual Reg.," 1816, p. 447).

[75] See Chapter III. (1817).

[76] The idea of the letterpress description (a very long one), from which the above is an extract, is borrowed of course from Dr. Arbuthnot.

[77] See Chapter III. (1817).

[78] See Chapter III. (1817).

[79] She was fond of adopting children, and it was proved that she had adopted a daughter of the man Bergami.

[80] Byron's "Age of Bronze."

[81] Lockhart's "Life of Scott," vol. v. p. 203.

[82] "E. O." was another name for roulette, and forms the subject of one of Rowlandson's early and best caricatures.

[83] The following are the words of the original inscription: "To Arthur, Duke of Wellington, and his brave companions in arms, this statue of Achilles, cast from cannon taken in the battles of Salamanca, Vitoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo, is inscribed by their countrywomen."

[84] See Chapter IV.




Those who have studied the work of George Cruikshank from its commencement to its close (and those only can be said to have done so who are familiar with the satires described in the previous chapter), cannot fail to be struck with the alterations which took place in his style at different periods of the career we have already been considering. George Cruikshank's peculiar style and manner, which enable us to recognise his work at a glance, was the outcome of a very slow and gradual process of development. In the first instance he closely copied Gillray, but soon acquired a manner of his own, blending the two styles after a fashion which is both interesting and amusing to follow. Soon, however, the style of the master was discontinued, and gradually the artist began to discover that the bent of his genius lay in altogether another direction. Unlike Thomas Rowlandson, the moment Cruikshank became an illustrator of books, he realized the fact that the style adapted to graphic satire was unsuitable for the purposes of this branch of art, and thenceforth he adopted a style differing from anything which had gone before. The revolution thus accomplished (a singular proof of the genius of the man) was effected without effort, and is strikingly manifest in an early book illustration representing the execution of Madame Tiquet and her accomplice, in 1699. The design to which we refer, which we believe is rare and little known, was engraved by H. R. Cook, from a design by the artist for the frontispiece to a collection of narratives by Cecil, "printed for Hone," in 1819, and stands by virtue of its force and character apart from most of the book illustrations of the period. From the moment that the new style was adopted, the artist's services were brought into requisition for the purposes of book illustration; and from the time work of this kind began to come in, he relaxed and afterwards discontinued the practice of caricature. It is as an etcher and designer of book illustrations we shall henceforth have to consider him, and in this character one of his famous illustrations to "Greenwich Hospital" will be found superior to the whole series of Rowlandson's careless overdrawn designs to the three "Tours" of Syntax put together.

This alteration in the man's style after he took to book illustration is known only to those familiar with his early caricatures. If you take, for instance, the etching of St. Swithin's Chapel, of the "Sketch Book," or The Gin Shop in the "Scraps and Sketches"[85] (we are speaking of course of the early coloured impressions), and show them together with any two of the caricatures we have named to a person who had never before seen either, we will venture to say that he would pronounce them without hesitation to be executed by entirely different hands.


After Lockhart's statement that George Cruikshank was capable of designing an Annunciation, a Beatification, or an Apotheosis, we must accept his assertion that he "understood the [human] figure completely" with a certain amount of reservation. Perhaps he did; and if he did, he certainly played some extraordinary tricks with the "figure" aforesaid. The truth is, that we forget the artist's weaknesses, many and glaring as they are, in the lustre of his unexampled genius. The Times, in an otherwise laudatory article which it published after his death, remarked that "there was not a single beautiful face or figure probably in the whole range of Cruikshank's work." Now, although this is not entirely true, there is at least so much of truth in it that we may admit that the cases in which he has produced a pretty face or figure are very few and far between, and even those cases seem rather to have been the result of accident than of design. There is no getting over the fact that George's ideas of female beauty were, to say the least of them, peculiar: his women are fearfully and wonderfully made; they are horse-faced; their eyebrows are black and strongly marked; their hair is plastered to the sides of their faces, and meet bobs of hair at the back of their heads; their waists are as thin as their necks; and they all bear a strong family likeness to one another. The Times assertion is happily, however, so broad that it is easy to traverse and contradict it. George's handsome women are so few, that it is difficult at the moment to say where any of them may be found. I know at least of one amazingly handsome one—the London Barrow Woman in Hone's "Every-Day Book." Some pretty servant girls will be found in the etching of The Sergeant Introducing his Dutch Wife to his Friends in "St. James's, or the Court of Queen Anne," and I will undertake to point out at least half a dozen pretty faces in the course of illustrations to "The Miser's Daughter"; but after all, these are only exceptions to the general rule; and it may be safely conceded that as a delineator of female beauty, George could not hold a candle to John Leech, to John Tenniel, or even to his own brother, Isaac Robert.


As for the celebrated Cruikshankian steed, I give him up at once as an utterly irreclaimable and unmanageable brute. Thackeray, writing in 1840, said, that "though our artist does not draw horses very scientifically, to use the phrase of the atelier; he feels them very keenly, and his queer animals, after one is used to them, answer quite as well as better." Even on this subject, however, the ablest critics have contradicted each other. George Augustus Sala tells us that the artist "could draw the ordinary nag of real life well enough," and cites by way of example the very horses of the celebrated Deaf Postilion, in "Three Courses and a Dessert," which Thackeray had previously held up to well-merited execration. He goes on to tell us that when George "essayed to portray a charger or a hunter, or a lady's hack, or even a pair of carriage horses, the result was the most grotesque of failures. The noble animal has, I apprehend, forty-four 'points,' technically speaking, and from the muzzle to the spavin-place, from the crest to the withers, from the root of the dock to the fetlock, George was wrong in them all. His fiery steed bore an equal resemblance to a Suffolk punch with the head of a griffin and the legs of an antelope, and that traditionary cockhorse on which the lady was supposed to ride to Banbury Cross with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes."[86] His peculiarities notwithstanding, George himself was in no wise conscious of them, and never hesitated to introduce "the fiery untamed" into any scene—battle or otherwise—in which the services of the eccentric animal might be turned to account. We find him assisting Washington in his triumphal journey to the capitol; astonishing the French squares in the character of a Mameluke charger at the Battle of the Pyramids; and leaping into the lake along with "Herne the Hunter," that peculiar creation of the late Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, on which supernatural occasion he comes out, as might have been expected, with peculiar force and vigour.

Thackeray, moreover, says of his trees, that they were decidedly original, "being decidedly of his own make and composition, not imitated from any master;" another and a minor difficulty with the artist was a boot, which he invariably drew half a foot too long. George lived in the days of straps, and being strictly conservative in principle, when he met with a pair of trousers, his idea of the "fitness of things" was not satisfied until he pinned them to the wearer's feet with a pair of these most uncomfortable appendages.

Against these shortcomings, which are a sufficient answer to those who would give him credit for possessing the faculty of designing "Annunciations, Beatifications, Apotheoses," and the like, we must set his excellencies, the power and brilliancy of his imaginative faculties, his extraordinary talents of conception and realization, the delicacy of his manipulation and execution: in a word, the strong original "genius" with which Lockhart credited him from the moment he had seen his "Points of Humour." Examples of this "genius" might be cited by the thousand. Look only at the famous "Sketch Book;" its recent republication has placed it within the reach of every one of our readers. Look at the Sprig of Shelalegh, the rollicking, whiskey drinking, fighting, devil-may-care expression he has thrown into that piece of wood; turn to the sheet wherein he has recorded his Recollections of the Court of Common Pleas, and study the group of lawyers' and witnesses' faces therein contained. There is "genius" for you, if you will. If you are overworked, turn to them; they will do you good, for they will not only make you merry, but force upon you the conviction that the conception which created them was essentially original. It is this delightful originality of George Cruikshank which constitutes his genius.

"No plan!" "no ambition!" "not much industry!" so at least said Lockhart. We may doubt whether even at the time it was spoken this charge had any foundation of truth to rest upon; an answer to it at least will be found in the fact that, before the mysterious spell had fallen upon him we shall presently have to describe, this sterling and indefatigable genius had already produced thousands upon thousands of miraculous little drawings. From the mass of these wonderful creations we propose now to select a few examples, choosing them in the first instance from a graver type than some we shall presently have to consider.

"Greenwich Hospital" gives us one of the very best drawings which Cruikshank ever designed. The scene of the Point of Honour is laid on board the Triumph, at Spithead, at the time of the famous mutiny. A detachment of marines with shouldered arms are drawn up on the quarter deck, their drummer is beating to quarters, while all hands are assembled to witness a degrading and demoralizing spectacle,—a sailor, with his shoulders bare and his hands tied to the triangles, about to receive punishment for disobedience to orders. Conspicuous amongst the figures are two little middies, habited in the strange naval uniform of sixty years ago. The illustration to The Braintrees, at page 90 of the "Three Courses and a Dessert" is a marvellous specimen, not only of the graphic power of the artist, but a triumph of the wood-engraver's craft. In The Gin Shop ("Sketches by Boz"), the artist selected a subject which invariably enlisted his sympathy and called into action the full power of his graphic satire. Mark the flaming gas, the huge spirit vats, the gaudily painted pillars and mouldings; above all, the strange people: the young man with his hat on one side who chaffs the young ladies behind the bar, the gin-drinking female by his side, the gin-loving cripple, the small boy who brings the family bottle to be filled with gin, whose head barely reaches the counter, the gin-drinking charwoman to the left, and the quarrelsome gin-drinking Irish customers at the back. Everything in this picture reeks of gin; the only persons not imbibing it are the proprietor and his dowdy barmaids, whom I have no manner of doubt the artist intended to look captivating.

"What a fine touching picture of melancholy desolation," remarks Thackeray, "is that of 'Sikes and the dog.' The poor cur is not too well drawn, the landscape is stiff and formal; but in this case the faults, if faults they be, of execution rather add to than diminish the effect of the picture: it has a strange, wild, dreary, broken-hearted look; we fancy we see the landscape as it must have appeared to Sikes, when ghastly and with bloodshot eyes he looked at it." The etching of Jonathan Wild Discovering Darrell in the Loft ["Jack Sheppard"] reminds one, in its treatment, of Rembrandt, for the work of Cruikshank, be it observed, distinctly shows in its results that he studied both Hogarth and Rembrandt. The effect the artist has produced is wonderful; the ray of light thrown through the gloom upon the figure of Darrell as he stands against the wall, sword in hand, is capitally managed, "while the intricacies of the tile-work, and the mysterious twinkling of light among the beams are excellently felt and rendered."[87] Simon Renard and Winwike on the Roof of the White Tower ["Tower of London"] is another admirable drawing. The scene is laid on the platform of one of the antique guns which frown from the embrasures of the river face of the fortress. The head of Renard is not well drawn. The character of the ambassador gives one the idea of a Spanish Iago, a clever, calculating knave, whom we should credit with the possession of a broad and lofty forehead, indicative of deep and concentrated thought; in the etching, however, before us, he has none at all, a deficiency compensated by puffy cheeks and a preposterous beak. These imperfections, which in another artist would mar the drawing, serve only to throw its excellencies into prominent notice. The lights and shadows are most effectively rendered, and the setting sun throws a broad light upon the features of the warder, who has laid aside his arquebus while conversing with the wily Spaniard. Of the many who have noticed the well-known etching of Born a Genius and Born a Dwarf ["Comic Almanack, 1847"], not one (so far at least as we know) has ever mentioned its origin. The subject was prompted by one of the last entries in the diary of poor Benjamin Robert Haydon, who died by his own hand on the 22nd of June, 1846, his corpse being found at the foot of his colossal picture of Alfred the Great and the First British Jury. The entry runs as follows:—"Tom Thumb had 12,000 people last week, B. R. Haydon 133-1/2 (the 1/2 a little girl). Exquisite taste of the English people!" In the etching which shows us Randulph and Hilda Dancing in the Rotunda at Ranelagh ["Miser's Daughter"], he brings us face to face with our great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers; wherever he got his authority from, the huge circular hall with galleries and arches running round it, illuminated by a thousand lamps, and the curious orchestra with the old-fashioned sounding-board above, are no freak of the artist's imagination. The etching possesses a wondrous charm of reality. We find ourselves assisting, as it were, at one of the masquerades described in "Sir Charles Grandison"; many of the company are in fancy dresses, and we find it difficult to realize, in these broad-cloth days, that the gentlemen in the velvet coats, with gold-bound embroidered waistcoats, silk stockings, silver gilt rapiers, and laced hats, dancing minuets with Chinamen, harlequins, scaramouches, templars, and other fancifully-dressed persons, are simply wearing the every-day costume of men of fashion of the day.


Perhaps more than any other comic artist of past or present time, George is distinguished by his mannerisms. His horses, his women, the costumes of his male and female characters, the cut of their garments and of their boots, the arrangement of their hair, will proclaim his individuality anywhere; and yet, if you look at any of the designs which he executed in his best and brightest days, before he took up with the mania which contributed, as we shall presently see, so largely to the ruin of his artistic genius, fame, and fortunes, we cannot fail to be impressed with the quaintness of his imagination. In this quaintness and originality lie the charm and freshness which is the peculiar characteristic of his designs. Unlike those of other artists, you may turn over volume after volume of his sketches, and be conscious of no sense of weariness. Much of this no doubt is due to their constant variety. Unlike the generality of modern illustrators, he is not limited to the costumes and incidents of the every-day commonplace life of the nineteenth century; he does not confine himself to humour; his fancy takes a wider range, and revels in subjects of wonder, diablery, and romance. Gnomes and fairies, devils and goblins, knights, giants, jesters, and morris dancers are continually passing before us; there is an endless succession of novelties, treated with a quaintness of fancy which distinguishes it above all others; there is a ceaseless variety in his dramatis personae, while the characters are as various as the subjects. In these characteristics seem to lie the secret of the pleasure which his illustrations, whether they be drawn on wood or etched on the copper, never fail to inspire.

The sale and purchase of Peter Schlemihl's Shadow has been noticed by Thackeray. We see the Old Gentleman neatly packing up his purchase after the manner of an "old clo'" dealer; he has just "lifted the shadow of one leg; he is going to fold it back neatly, as one does the tails of a coat, and will stow it, without any creases or crumples, along with the other black garments that lie in that immense pocket of his."[88] Another illustration in the same book shows us Peter, after he has repented of his bargain (as vendors invariably do who indulge in mercantile transactions of this character) in ardent pursuit of his shadow, which the tantilizing purchaser has let out for the occasion. Can anything more ludicrous be imagined than this scampering piece of intangibility? The etching of Sailors Carousing ["Greenwich Hospital"], executed in 1826, before the artist had altogether discontinued the style and manner of Gillray, would have delighted the heart of that accomplished caricaturist. An old one-eyed salt presides over a vast bowl of punch, the contents of which he is engaged in distributing to the company. One enthusiastic tar foots it with such vigour that he cannons against a potman, upsetting him and the measure of scalding liquor he carries over another angry, blaspheming sailor man; another sea worthy, snoring drunk, has converted his quart pot into an impromptu pillow, his own recumbent form serving the purposes of a footstool to a companion. The females are a combination of the styles of Gillray and Cruikshank, and, with one exception, are old, ugly, and preposterously fat. A comical illustration in the same book is called, Paying off a Jew Pedlar. The unhappy man (who had cheated the sailors), innocent of danger, is seated on a grating with his combs, spy-glasses, necklaces, ribbons, and all the rest of his "Brummagem" trumpery, spread out before him. The men, who have slily hitched a rope to the grating, suddenly give it a hoist, and away slides Moses, with all his wares and trumpery, into the hold together! How poor Seymour would have revelled in that admirable tailpiece in "Three Courses and a Dessert," where an unhappy wight, pursued by a bull, manages to scramble atop of a gate-post (the only part free from spikes), to find his escape cut off on one side by a couple of bull-dogs, and on the other by a chevaux-de-frise terminating in a horse pond! We meet with a solemn piece of fun in Simpkin Dancing to the Musicians, one of the illustrations to the celebrated "New Bath Guide" of Christopher Anstey—

"And I thought it was right, as the music was come, To foot it a little in Tabitha's room."

The Last Cab Driver ["Sketches by Boz"] deserves a passing notice, because it has preserved from oblivion a class of vehicles which has long since disappeared from the London streets. It looked for all the world like the section of a coffin set on end, the seat (which was intended to accommodate only one person besides the driver) occupying the centre. The cabman being a very mauvais sujet, we find the surroundings (after the artist's practice) in strict keeping with his character. The building past which he drives is marked "Old Bailey"; whilst a snuff manufacturer in the street at the back advertises himself as the vendor of "Real Irish Blackguard."


The dry, quaint humour of the author of "Waverley" exactly suited the quaint imaginings of our artist. Both Scott and Cruikshank delighted in the supernatural and the marvellous, and this is why some of the most characteristic of the artist's designs are to be found in his illustrations to the "Waverley Novels." In one of these he shows us the illustrious Dominie at the moment, when reaching over to gather a water-lily, he falls souse into the Slough of Lochend, in which he forthwith became bogged up to the middle, his plight drawing from him of course his favourite ejaculation of amazement. By the assistance of some women the luckless Dominie was extracted from his position, justifying the remark of one of his assistants, that "the laird might as weel trust the care of his bairn to a potato-bogle." Which was the most helpless of the two men—the Laird of Dumbiedikes, or the illustrious Dominie—it would be difficult to say; both these most original characters took a powerful hold on the artist's imagination, and as a natural consequence the ideas of Scott were completely realized. A very comical design is that in which he shows us the worthy but witless laird with his laced cocked hat and empty tobacco pipe,[89] and his hand extended "like the claw of a heraldic griffin," when he managed to utter something beyond his usual morning greeting, and frightened Jeannie into the belief that he had so far "screwed his courage to the sticking place" as to venture on a matrimonial proposal, to which unwonted effort of imagination his intelligence, however, proved altogether unequal.


In the "Comic Almanack" will be found many examples of George's tendency to graphic alliteration. The Fall of the Leaf affords a capital specimen of the kind of design to which we allude. The leaf of the dinner-table has been so insecurely fastened that it falls, burying with it the mistress of the house, the fish, the champagne, a sherry decanter, a vase of flowers,—everything, in fact, to which it formed a treacherous and unreliable support; Gibbon's "Decline and Fall" lies in a corner of the room, and the walls are hung with appropriate subjects, such as the Fall of Foyers, the Falls of Niagara, Falls of the Clyde, and so on. An illustration of a similar kind will be found in Taurus—a Literary Bull. The animal has rushed into a printing office and scattered the compositors right and left; some seek shelter beneath their frames, one clambers wildly up the shelves of a paper case, while others scuttle over the frames, and one man, too wholly dismayed and bewildered to run, brandishes a stool in helpless imbecility. The bull is perhaps the most astonished of the dramatis personae, and evidently wonders into what manner of place fate has brought him. The walls are pasted with appropriate advertisements: "Some Account of the Pope's Bull," "A Cock and Bull Story," "Theatre Royal, Haymarket—John Bull" "To be Sold by Auction, the Bull Inn," "Abstract of the Act against Bull-baiting," and so on. In Libra Striking the Balance (same year), a dishonest tradesman has been detected in using false weights and measures. The beadle holds up a pair of scales, one of which weighs very much heavier than the other. The wretched culprit, conscious, all too late, that honesty would have proved "the best policy" for himself, leans against his shelves the picture of sullen and detected guilt. The window of the shop bears on it the painted legend of "The cheapest shop in London." Leaning against the counter we find a programme of the "City Theatre," announcing the performance of "Measure for Measure": to conclude with "Honest Thieves"; an officer outside (surrounded by a deeply interested crowd) is engaged in breaking up a second pair of dishonest scales. Chronology, difference in politics, character, tastes, and disposition, are most amusingly set at defiance in the etching entitled The Revolution at Madame Tussaud's [1847]: Mary Queen of Scots "treads a measure" with William Penn the Quaker; Fox and Pitt make long noses at each other from opposite sides of the room; O'Connell shakes hands with Freschi, to whom our old friend the elderly country gentleman offers a friendly pinch of snuff; William Shakespeare flirts with an almond-eyed Chinese woman; Henry the Eighth smokes a long churchwarden with Judge Jefferys; Lord Byron (with greater propriety) exchanges friendly greetings with Jean Jacques Rousseau; whilst the great Napoleon unbends, as chroniclers assert that he was wont to do, and waltzes round the room with Madame Tussaud, and Britannia (to the uproarious delight of Sir William Wallace) rasps her trident across her shield, by way of accompaniment to the fiddle of the Saturnine Paganini.

The fun of these side splitting designs is only equalled by their variety. The "Almanack" of 1838 introduces us to the inevitable row which forms the wind-up of a Hibernian festa; chairs, sticks, shovels,—anything that comes to hand is used without fear or favour; men, women, children struggle together in inextricable confusion amidst the debris of wrecked furniture, broken glass, and battered pewter; high above the din drone the nasal tones of the piper; while amidst the infernal clatter "the praist" vainly endeavours to re-establish order and make himself heard. Theatrical Fun Dinner (1841) represents the close of the banquet. Hamlet is already too far gone to know what he is doing; Othello belabours Iago with a bottle; Shylock and Antonio fraternize; whilst a reconciliation is established between Macbeth and Macduff, who chink glasses by way of cementing their friendship; Sir John Falstaff lights his pipe at Bardolph's nose; whilst Romeo hands up a glass of something short and strong to his Juliet in the balcony. 1842 gives us the celebrated etching of "Gone!" an auctioneer "knocking down" a bust of Socrates; at the word "gone" the flooring gives way, and auctioneer, buyers, and Socrates, with all their surroundings, descend with a simultaneous crash into the cellars below. Drowning men catch at straws, and the spectacled visage of the auctioneer, as he clings wildly to his rostrum, is a perfect study of terrified imbecility.

In looking at these quaint designs, the mind of any one possessed of any imagination at all cannot fail to be impressed with a sense of the original train of thought which must have characterized the man who could conceive and realize them. How appropriately and admirably, even in trivial matters, the details of the design are worked out! If the reader will refer to the etching in "St. James'," where the sergeant places the boot of his master, the Duke of Marlborough, on a map of Flanders, he will at once see what we mean. The action is accidental; and yet where could the boot have been placed with greater propriety? for surely if any country was under the heel of the great English captain, it was Flanders. Nothing to equal these designs are ever seen in these days, perhaps nothing like them will ever be seen again. There are many excellent comic designs produced by our artists of to-day; but with the exception, perhaps, of Mr. Caldicott and Colonel Seccombe, they lack character. You pass them by, and straightway forget them. Not so with these admirable little designs; you turn to them again and again, and each time with a refreshing sense of pleasure. Herein seems to lie the power of true genius—that its productions give not only a sense of freshness and delight, but that the sensation so conveyed will not die. There are people, I believe, on whom they produce no such impression; such people, as regards comic art, are for all practical purposes "dry bones," and to dry bones such as these the pencil of "honest George" will appeal in vain.

Some writers on the subject of Cruikshank and his work would have us believe that he developed his highest powers of imagination and fancy, and achieved his highest reputation, when depicting subjects of a fairy or supernatural order. Whether these scribes be right or whether they be wrong, there is no doubt that he discovered for himself an enchanted land of mountain and streamlet, of meadow and waterfall, of gnomes and fairies, of demons, witches, and of giants. The process by which he attained his excellence as an illustrator of fairy lore and legend has been related by himself in his own simple, unpolished words in the (so-called) "Fairy Library." Unquestionably the opportunity which these subjects afforded of exercising untrammelled his marvellous gifts of imagination and fancy, and of realizing objects which owe their being to the creative faculties of his mind, were eagerly embraced by the artist; but, although the results were singularly weird and often very beautiful, I find myself obliged to differ from those who would have us believe that in realizing subjects of this kind he attained his highest excellence. The charm of George Cruikshank's talent lies in the fact that notwithstanding his defects in drawing, everything he took in hand is impressed with the stamp of a strong and original genius; it is like nothing we have seen before; every one of his designs is marked with distinctive features of beauty, quaintness, or originality peculiar to himself.

The "German Popular Stories" probably contain the most striking specimens of Cruikshank's power as a designer of fairy subjects. In reference to these illustrations, our great critic, Mr. Ruskin, says: "They are of quite sterling and admirable art, in a class precisely parallel in elevation to the character of the tales which they illustrate; and the original etchings, as I have before said in the Appendix to my 'Elements of Drawing,' were unrivalled in masterfulness of touch since Rembrandt, in some qualities of delineation unrivalled even by him." "The Two Elves," says Hamerton, "especially the nearer one, who is putting on his breeches, are drawn with a point at once so precise and vivacious, so full of keen fun and inimitably happy invention, that I have not found their equal in comic etching anywhere ... the picturesque details of the room are etched with the same felicitous intelligence; but the marvel of the work is in the expression of the strange little faces, and the energy of the comical wee limbs."[90] In The Witches' Frolic ["Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft"], we find a happy blending of the terrible and the grotesque. Look at the old hags floating out to sea in their tubs; and the strange, uncanny thing with dreadful eyes bobbing up and down midway between the foremost old woman and the distant vessel. The thing may be a ship, it may be a fish, or it may be a fiend,—in the dim half light we cannot tell what,—but it is horribly suggestive of nightmare, and makes one laugh as well as shudder. Some ghostly goblins, the creations of George's weird fancy, will be found in "The Omnibus"; we see them following a ghostly ship manned by ghostly mariners, and we find in the same book ghostly Dutchmen playing a game of diabolical leap-frog with Australian kangaroos. In one illustration he introduces us to a cheerful assembly of ancestral ghosts: there is the ghostly saucer-eyed head of the family, with a ghostly hound peeping beneath his chair, a ghostly grandmother, half a dozen ghostly spinster aunts, a ghostly butler, a ghostly cook, a ghostly small boy, two ghostly candles; and lastly, a ghostly cat. Small wonder that under the influence of such ghostly surroundings the hair of the affrighted ghost-seer stands erect in the extremity of his terror.

This same book contains, too, the celebrated etching of Jack o'Lantern, probably the best illustration of the supernatural which we owe to the pencil and weird imagination of the artist. "Talk of Fuseli and his wind-bag, there is real vivid imagination enough in this to make a whole academy of Fuselis. It is just an Egyptian darkness, with breaking through it, above a bog-hole, some black bulrushes, and above them a bending, leathery goblin exulting over some drowned traveller, the meteor lamp he carries casting a downward flicker on the dark water. Such darkness, such wicked speed, such bad, Puck-like malice, such devilry, Hoffman and Poe together could not have better devised. Many a May exhibition has not half the genius in all its pictures that focuses in that gem of jet." The description is admirable; but Walter Thornbury has altogether misconceived the artist's idea. Jack o'Lantern is simply misguiding a belated traveller into a bog, and the elfin grin which pervades his countenance testifies to the delight he takes in his mischievous employment. The words of the song in Dryden's King Arthur convey the best possible description of this wondrous conception:—

"Hither this way, this way bend, Trust not that malicious fiend; Those are false, deluding lights, Wafted far and near by sprights; Trust 'em not, for they'll deceive ye, And in bog and marshes leave ye, If you step no danger thinking, Down you fall, a furlong sinking; 'Tis a fiend who has annoyed ye, Name but Heav'n, and he'll avoid ye."

By way of contrast to all these, I would turn to the celebrated and much-too-often-described Triumph of Cupid, of the "Table Book"; but as the praises of this remarkable composition may already be counted by the ream, I have no intention whatever of contributing a further addition.

A notice, however, of George Cruikshank's supernatural work would be incomplete without some reference to his devils. From time immemorial our idea of His Satanic Majesty has been associated with the distinguishing appendages of horns, hoofs, and a cow's tail. "A conceit there is," says old Sir Thomas Browne, "that the devil commonly appeareth with a cloven hoof, wherein, although it seems excessively ridiculous, there may be somewhat of truth, and the ground thereof at first might be his frequent appearing in the shape of a goat, which answers the description." George Cruikshank too well apprehended the cunning nature of His Satanic Majesty to suppose him idiotic enough to introduce his hoofs, his horns, or his tail into the company of all sorts and conditions of men. It will be remembered that Fitz Dottrel takes leave to doubt the identity of the devil who waits upon him in the character of a body servant. "You cannot," he says, "cozen me. Your shoe's not cloven, sir; you are whole hoofed." But "Pug" simply and unaffectedly assures him, "Sir, that's a popular error,—deceives many."[91] Like "Pug," George Cruikshank's devils accommodate themselves, their appearance, and their costume to the prejudices of the persons they design to serve. With saints and perverse sinners it is obvious that any attempt at disguise would be futile; but with so respectable a person as a Dutch burgher, or so suspicious an individual as an English lawyer, the case is altogether different. We have specimens of the respectable devil in the "long-legged bondholder" who appears to his unfortunate Dutch debtor; the portly, well-dressed little man in the "Gentleman in black"; and the seedy looking old clothes dealer of "Peter Schlemihl." Quite a different devil to any of these is the devil that interviews St. Nicholas, the devil whom St. Medard circumvented, or the simple-minded and unfortunate devil that fell into the clutches of St. Dunstan. This last is probably the most comical diabolique that Cruikshank ever designed. In an evil hour this miserable fiend had irritated the saint by mimicking his musical powers; and growing bolder with impunity, even ventured to challenge his skill as a mechanic, by doubting his ability to fit a shoe to his own diabolical hoof. The saint promptly whipped up the leg, and it was not until this simple devil found himself in the clutches of the saint, that he fully comprehended the prodigious powers of the holy personage he had ventured to chaff. In spite of his howls and frantic efforts to escape, the iron shoe is remorselessly fitted, and nail after nail driven into the quick. Imagine the sufferings of that poor devil; observe his comically distorted countenance as he bellows with agony and impotent rage; how his tail curls round his leg in the extremity of his anguish! The worst perhaps has to follow, for in spite of the agony of his crippled hoof, a deed will have to be "signed, sealed, and delivered," by which his claim to a legion of sinful souls has to be for ever released and extinguished. It is worthy of remark that George Cruikshank's devils—simple-minded, weak creatures, more mischievous than really wicked, in all their contests with the saints (Saint Anthony excepted) invariably come off second best.

In estimating his merits, the genius of George Cruikshank may not inaptly be compared to a diamond. One facet often emits more brilliant coruscations than any other; and if we may be permitted to compare his powers of realizing the grave, the comical, the supernatural, and the terrible to the facets of a diamond, we think the one which would be found to emit the most brilliant flashes of light would be the last. Thackeray, one of the most friendly and most competent of his critics, would seem to have considered that much of his power was shown in depicting subjects of this kind. "What a fine eye," he tells us, in his famous article which has supplied the backbone—the muscles—the very integuments of so many others,—"what a fine eye the artist has, what a skilful hand, and what a sympathy for the wild and dreadful!"

From an early period of his career as an etcher and designer, George had waged a deadly war with gin,—that potent, insidious, and evil spirit of London; the most priceless services he rendered to the cause of temperance being unquestionably given long before he had any notion of joining the ranks of the total abstainers. Like the Triumph of Cupid, the well-known Gin Juggernaut of the "Sketch Book" requires nothing more than a passing allusion. An example less known but quite as admirable will be found in the "Scraps and Sketches." It is called The Gin Shop,[92] and shows us the interior of a London gin palace. In place of the usual barrels, around the walls are ranged coffins, labelled respectively: "Deady's Cordial;" "Blue Ruin;" "Gin and Bitters;" the largest (a huge one) being marked "Old Tom." Death, habited as a watchman, has baited a huge gin trap, wherein stand five persons (two of them children, besides a baby in arms), all imbibing the deadly liquid. The wretched woman with the infant has actually placed her foot on the spring, and so great is the artist's power of realization, that we momentarily expect to see the horrible thing close with a snap! A skeleton, whose fleshless skull is masked with a pleasant female countenance, officiates as barmaid, and behind her yawns a pit, on the further side of which a circle of evil spirits curvet around a huge still. Just such a weird scene as would strike a sympathetic chord in the artist's fancy was found for him in Scott's novel of "Red Gauntlet." The episode selected for illustration is the frightful adventure of Hutcheon and Dougal MacCallum. "When midnight came, and the house was quiet as the grave, the silver whistle sounded as sharp and shrill as if Sir Robert was blowing it, and up got the two old serving-men and tottered into the room where the dead man lay. Hutcheon saw enough at the first glance; for there were torches in the room, which showed him the foul fiend in his ain shape, sitting on the laird's coffin! Ower he couped, as if he had been dead. He could not tell how long he lay in a trance at the door; but when he gathered himself, he cried on his neighbour, and getting nae answer, raised the house, when Dougal was found lying dead within twa steps of the bed where his master's coffin was placed. As for the whistle, it was lost ance and aye, but mony a time it was heard at the top of the house on the bartizan and among the auld chimneys and turrets, where the howlets have their nests." The coffin of the dead laird lies in state on a table covered with black cloth, richly ornamented with his armorial bearings; at the foot of the bier stands his black plumed helmet; while atop of the coffin crouches the grinning ape with the laird's whistle in his paw; on the ground, as they have been tossed about by the mischievous beast, lie his rapier, gauntlet, and other military trappings. The furniture, the fittings, the sombre hangings, the gloomy ancestral portraits, all are in keeping with the weird scene and its surroundings. The Death of Sikes, and Fagin in the Condemned Cell (especially the latter) have been described any number of times, and the circumstances, moreover, under which the latter design was conceived, told invariably wrong. In the Murder of Sir Rowland Trenchard ["Jack Sheppard"], we have a Rembrandtish etching, quite equalling in power and intensity that of Fagin in the Condemned Cell. The gloomy depths of the well hole are illumined only by the pine torch of the frightened Jew, as Wild hammers with his bludgeon on the fingers of the doomed wretch who, maimed and faint from loss of blood, clings with desperate tenacity to the bannister, from which his relaxing grip will presently plunge him into the black abyss below.

The "Tower of London" introduces us to two scenes of a dismal and terrible character in the etching entitled Xit Wedded to the Scavenger's Daughter, the artist carries us to a gloomy torture chamber, dimly lighted by a solitary lantern. On the framework of the rack sits the dwarf Xit, his limbs compressed in the grip of the frightful instrument called the "Scavenger's daughter," while Simon Renard, scarcely able to repress a smile, interrogates the comical little figure at his leisure. Behind him stands Sorrocold, the surgeon; and in the farther corner Mauger (the headsman), Nightgall, and an assistant torturer, recline against the wall. The feeble rays of the lantern throw an obscure light upon the gloomy walls decorated with the stock in trade of the torturers, thumb-screws, gauntlets, collars, pinchers, saws, chains, and other horrible and suggestive implements. Affixed to the ceiling is a steel pulley, the rope which traverses it terminating with an iron hook and two leathern shoulder straps. Facing the gloomy door stands a brazier filled with blazing coals, in which a huge pair of pinchers are suggestively heating. Reared against the side of a deep dark recess is a ponderous wheel—broad as that of a wagon, and twice the circumference; and next it the iron bar with which the bones of those condemned to die by this most horrible torture were broken while alive. The etching of Mauger Sharpening his Axe is nearly as celebrated as that of Fagin in the Condemned Cell. "A wonderful weird dusk, with no light but that which glimmers on the bald scalp of the hideous headsman, who, feeling the edge of his axe with his thumb, grins with a devilish foretaste of his pleasure on the morrow. I need scarcely say that all the poetry, dramatic force, mystery, and terror of the design is attributable to Cruikshank, and not to Ainsworth."[93] Scenes still more realistically terrible even than these, such as the Massacre at Tullabogue, The Rebel Camp on Vinegar Hill, and the Executions at Wexford Bridge, will be found in Maxwell's "History of the Irish Rebellion."

Mr. Lockhart, we may remember, advised the artist in the early part of his career to "think of Hogarth," and throughout the whole of George Cruikshank's designs of the graver caste the influence of the study of Rembrandt and of Hogarth will be apparent to those acquainted with the characteristics of these great artists. In the case of Rembrandt it is manifest in the deep shadows, penetrated by broad but skilfully treated rays of light, throwing the salient parts of the design into prominent but pleasing relief; in the case of Hogarth it is shown in minute attention to details of a character singularly appropriate to the designs. Delineators of subjects of greater pretension are frequently content to throw all their sympathies, their energies, into the elaboration of their leading figure or figures: the attitude, the face, the features, the hands, the costume, leave nothing to be desired, while the rest of the composition is slurred or neglected. This is not the case with Cruikshank, every part of his work bears witness to his careful attention to detail; no part of it is elaborated at the expense of the rest; from the tenants of the room down to the smallest and most insignificant ornament on the chimney-piece, everything appears as distinct as it would appear in actual every-day life.

But this study of Rembrandt and of Hogarth, this minute attention to detail, this careful and conscientious elaboration, would have done little for George Cruikshank if he had not possessed in an eminent degree that faculty of creation, otherwise of originality, which men call genius. Various descriptions of this gift have been attempted by eminent men, but the most felicitous seems to us to be that given by Robert William Elliston: "A true actor," says this distinguished comedian, "must possess the power of creation, which is genius, as well as the faculty of imitation, which is only talent." Substitute the word "artist" for the word "actor," and the remark will apply with equal felicity to the subject of our present chapter. It was this same gift of genius which, whilst it enabled the artist to lend a sentient expression to such unpromising subjects as a barrel, a wig-block, a jug of beer, a pair of bellows, or an oyster, imparted to his drawings a piquancy which has elevated these apparently insignificant designs into perfectly sterling works of art. The reader who is fortunate enough to number amongst his books the first half-dozen volumes of "Bentley's Miscellany" and "Ainsworth's Magazine," "The Omnibus," "The Table Book," "The Comic Almanack," possesses a series of designs, drawn and etched by the hand of the master himself, the value of which is yearly increasing, not only because they are becoming scarcer and scarcer every day, but because nothing like them—under the conditions in which book illustration is now produced—will ever be seen again.


[85] The "Sketch Book" and "Scraps and Sketches" have recently been republished; but the impressions from the sadly worn plates give but little idea of the exquisite originals.

[86] Sala, in Gentleman's Magazine, May, 1878.

[87] Thackeray, Westminster Review.

[88] Thackeray, in the Westminster Review, June, 1840.

[89] This idea of the empty pipe is splendid, there never is any tobacco in it; a better notion of absolute forgetfulness—of inability to exercise the most trifling effort of memory—could not be conveyed.

[90] "Etching and Etchers."

[91] Ben Jonson's "The Devil is an Ass."

[92] This was written, of course, before the recent republication, which lacks the colour and crispness of the early issue.

[93] "British Artists from Hogarth to Turner."




The artistic career of George Cruikshank presents probably one of the most singular problems to be met with in the history of satirical art. It may be divided into three portions, two of which we have already considered: the first represents that section wherein we have seen him described by Lockhart as "one of the most careless creatures alive," having "no plan, almost no ambition," doing "just what was suggested or thrown in his way," "quite contented to dine off the proceeds of a 'George the Fourth' to day, and those of a 'Hone' or a 'Cobbett' to morrow!" the second may be said to be embraced between the years 1822 and 1848, during which period we find this man without plan, ambition, or industry (to complete the charge of Lockhart), busily engaged in building up the reputation which the critic had so confidently and so truly predicted of him; the third and last section, the strangest surely of all, shows us this man of genius—in the full enjoyment of an assured and well-merited reputation, in the midst of his artistic vigour, at the height of a success altogether unexampled—deliberately throwing away his opportunities, and consigning himself to a slumber of thirty years, which might almost justify us in terming him the "Rip Van Winkle" of British art. The causes of this strange decadence, this singular mental inactivity, which seem to us to have been hitherto very little or at best very imperfectly understood, we now propose to consider.


Professor Bates, one of the ablest of the essayists who have written on George Cruikshank since the time when Thackeray penned his famous article, would have us believe that the causes which led up to his retirement from active life whilst yet in the enjoyment of his vigorous intellect, are due partly to the change which has befallen "the literature of fiction during the last thirty years," but principally to the fact of his embracing the temperance movement with more zeal than discretion. As a matter of fact, however, long before this step had been taken, there had been causes equally potent at work which seem to have escaped Mr. Bates' attention, and these causes, which appear to us the leading factors in the unfortunate final result, lay, as we shall endeavour to explain, in an entirely different direction.

People who knew and judged of George Cruikshank (as the majority of his contemporaries necessarily did) by his work alone, formed altogether an erroneous judgment of the character and disposition of the man. Because his later designs showed or seemed to show a love of little children, a liking for home and homely subjects, a delight in fairy lore and legend, it seems therefore to have been assumed that the artist was almost child-like in simplicity, innocence, and guilelessness of heart. Some even of those who have written upon him, acting apparently upon this impression, have given us to understand that "he never raised a laugh at the expense of decency"; that "satire never, in his hands, descended into scurrility"; that "a moral purpose ever underlaid his humour"; that "he sought to instruct and improve whenever he amused." The absurdity of this statement we have already exposed. In reference to a supposed singleness of heart and honesty of purpose, some writers have termed him "honest George." All this was very well. We all know, of course, that he "never pandered to sensuality" or "glorified vice"; but in spite of these facts, "honest George" himself, so far at least as we personally know, never assumed or set up, or even aimed at assuming, that he was one whit better than his neighbours.

In order that the reader may grasp the causes of his sudden decadence, it is important that he should understand the position and the peculiarities of the artist. As an illustrator of books he was dependent on a clientele composed exclusively of authors and publishers. "Honest George," however, laboured under a disadvantage common perhaps more or less to all men possessed of true genius. Hasty and hot-tempered, particularly in matters connected with his artistic labours, he was more than usually prone and ready to take offence. Almost invariably at war with some one or another of his employers, the story of George Cruikshank's skirmishes and quarrels with the authors and publishers with whom he was thrown in contact forms a most curious and interesting chapter in the history of artistic and literary squabbles.

At the time when Charles Dickens began to write, George Cruikshank had already achieved his reputation; and so well assured was this reputation, that the young novelist in his preface to his "Sketches by Boz," speaks of the nervousness he should have experienced in venturing alone before the public, and of his delight in securing the co-operation of an artist so distinguished as George Cruikshank. In 1838, however, the author like the artist had made his mark: "Pickwick" and "Nicholas Nickleby," and "Oliver Twist" had been written; and every vestige of the nervousness of which he speaks in the preface to his "Sketches" had disappeared for ever.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse