Cruikshank, George (DNB00)
|←Cruden, William||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 13
|Cruikshank, Isaac (1756?-1811?)→|
CRUIKSHANK, GEORGE (1792–1878), artist and caricaturist, born 27 Sept. 1792, in Duke Street, Bloomsbury, was the second son of Isaac Cruikshank [q. v.], and the younger brother of Robert Cruikshank [q. v.] He was educated at a school at Mortlake, and afterwards at Edgware, but his school-days were of the briefest. His earliest inclination, it is said, was to go to sea; but his mother opposed this, and urged his father to give him some lessons in art, for which he already exhibited an aptitude. In the collection of his works at the Westminster Aquarium are a number of sketches described as ‘first’ or ‘early attempts,’ dated from 1799 to 1803, or when he was between eight and eleven years of age. To a ‘Children's Lottery Picture,’ dated 1804, is appended in the catalogue the further information, emanating from the artist, that it was ‘drawn and etched by George Cruikshank when about twelve years of age,’ and that it was ‘the first that G. C. was ever employed to do and paid for.’ In the following year come two etchings of ‘Horse Racing’ and ‘Donkey Racing,’ and he may be said to have been launched as a professional artist and designer. Of art training he seems to have had none. His father held that if he were destined to become an artist he would become one without instruction; and his own applications at the Academy were met by the rough permission of Fuseli ‘to fight for a place,’ a forlorn hope which he gave up after two attendances. Meanwhile, in default of learning to draw, he was drawing. In the Westminster collection are several water-colour sketches, caricatures, and illustrations of songs, which bear date between 1805 and 1810, in which latter year appeared ‘Sir Francis Burdett taken from his house, No. 80 Piccadilly, by warrant of the speaker of the House of Commons in April 1810, and delivered into the custody of Earl Moira, constable of the Tower of London,’ an occurrence which had also prompted his father's final caricature, ‘The Last Grand Ministerial Expedition.’ Sir Francis Burdett had been a frequent figure in many of the later efforts of Gillray, whose last work, ‘Interior of a Barber's Shop in Assize Time,’ after Bunbury [see Bunbury, Henry William], belongs to 1811. Thus, as has often been pointed out, Cruikshank takes up the succession as a political caricaturist. He was now a youth of twenty. One of the earliest recorded of his book-illustrations is a coloured frontispiece of ‘The Beggars' Carnival’ to Andrewes's ‘Dictionary of the Slang and Cant Languages,’ 1809. To this followed a number of etchings to a scurrilous satirical periodical entitled ‘The Scourge, a Monthly Expositor of Imposture and Folly,’ 1811–16, edited by an eccentric and dissolute writer named Mitford, now remembered, if remembered at all, chiefly as the author of ‘Johnny Newcome in the Navy.’ For a similar work, ‘The Meteor, or Monthly Censor,’ 1813–14, Cruikshank supplied seven designs. Other volumes illustrated by him at this time are ‘The Life of Napoleon,’ 1814–15, a Hudibrastic poem by ‘Dr. Syntax’ (William Combe), which contains thirty coarsely coloured plates; and ‘Fashion,’ 1817, published by J. J. Stockdale. Side by side with these he produced a number of caricatures in the Gillray manner, of which it would be impossible, as well as unnecessary, to give an account here. Many, as for example, ‘Quadrupeds, or Little Boney's Last Kick,’ 1813; ‘Little Boney gone to Pot,’ 1814; ‘Snuffing out Boney,’ 1814; ‘Broken Gingerbread,’ 1814; ‘Otium cum Dignitate, or a View of Elba,’ 1814; ‘The Congress Dissolved,’ 1815; ‘Return of the Paris Diligence, or Boney rode over,’ 1815, are, as the titles generally import, frank expressions of the popular antipathy to the terrible Corsican. Others deal with such contemporary themes as Joanna Southcott and her impostures, the corn laws and the property tax, the purchase of the Elgin marbles, the Princess Charlotte and her marriage, and last, but not least, the unhappy disagreements of the regent and his wife.
Most of Cruikshank's more successful efforts in connection with this ancient scandal were concocted for William Hone, the compiler of the ‘Table, Year, and Every-day Books,’ and the friend of Procter and Lamb. Already in 1816 Cruikshank had etched a portrait of Stephen Macdaniel for Hone's ‘History of the Blood Conspiracy,’ and in 1819 he produced with him the first of that series of pamphlet pasquinades in which the portly ‘dandy of sixty, who bowed with a grace, and had taste in wigs, collars, cuirasses, and lace,’ was held up in every aspect to opprobrium. ‘The Political House that Jack Built,’ 1819; the ‘Man in the Moon,’ 1820; the ‘Queen's Matrimonial Ladder’ (with its inimitable picture of the ‘first gentleman in Europe’ recovering from a debauch, and its curious ‘step scenes’ so dear to collectors), 1820; ‘Non mi ricordo,’ 1820; the ‘Political Showman,’ 1821; a ‘Slap at Slop, and the Bridge Street Gang,’ 1822, are some of the other names of these famous squibs. In 1827 Hone reissued them under the general title of ‘Facetiæ and Miscellanies,’ in a volume the vignette of which contained portraits of himself and Cruikshank in consultation. ‘Doll Tearsheet, alias the Countess “Je ne me rappelle pas,”’ was another of the artist's contributions to the popular topic of 1820. He also supplied two engravings to Nightingale's ‘Memoirs of the Queen’ [see Cruikshank, Robert], 1820, and ten coloured plates to the ‘Loyalist's Magazine, or Anti-Radical,’ 1821, a record of the ‘rise, reign, and fall of the Caroline contest.’
In Hone's volume, however, is included a plate which deserves more than a cursory notice. Cruikshank himself regarded it as the ‘great event of his artistic life,’ and referred to it on all occasions with much pardonable complacency. This was the so-called ‘Bank Restriction Note’ of 1818. Seeing on his way home in this year several women dangling from the gallows opposite Newgate Prison, for uttering forged one-pound notes, he was so impressed by the horror of the sight that he forthwith designed, with lavish decoration of fetters and figures pendant, a ‘Bank-note—not to be Imitated,’ a notion so happy in its instant reception by the public that Hone's shop in Ludgate Hill was besieged for copies, and the artist had to sit up all one night to etch another plate. ‘Mr. Hone,’ he says, ‘realised above 700l., and I had the satisfaction of knowing that no man or woman was ever hung after this for passing one-pound forged notes.’ ‘The issue of my “Bank-note not to be Imitated,”’ he says, in another account, ‘not only put a stop to the issue of any more Bank of England one pound notes, but also put a stop to the punishment of death for such an offence—not only for that but likewise for forgery—and then the late Sir Robert Peel revised the penal code; so that the final effect of my note was to stop the hanging for all minor offences, and has thus been the means of saving thousands of men and women from being hanged.’ It is probable that in this, as Mr. Jerrold says laconically, Cruikshank ‘assumed much,’ and he obviously makes too little of the efforts of the philanthropists who had long been advocating a milder code. But of the value of his à propos contribution to the cause of humanity there can be no doubt.
From 1820 to 1825 Cruikshank continued to throw off social and political caricatures, in which George IV and his amours, Frenchmen, and the eccentricities of fashionable costume and manners were freely ridiculed. But at the same time he was gradually turning his attention to book illustration. In 1819–21 he produced a series of coloured etchings to the ‘Humourist,’ a collection of entertaining tales, &c., in four volumes, ‘his first remarkable separate work.’ To this followed ‘Life in London,’ 1821, of which only part of the illustrations were his [see Cruikshank, Isaac Roberts]. A subsequent volume of a similar kind, David Carey's ‘Life in Paris,’ 1822, belongs, however, entirely to Cruikshank, and it is the more remarkable in that his opportunities for studying Gallic idiosyncrasies were even more limited than those of Hogarth, who did indeed make some stay at Calais, whereas, according to Jerrold, ‘a day at Boulogne comprehended all Cruikshank's continental experiences,’ and his pictures of the Boulevards and the Palais Royal were mere elaborations from the sketches of others. Previous to the ‘Life in Paris’ had appeared ‘The Progress of a Midshipman, exemplified in the Career of Master Blockhead,’ 1821, and in 1823 he supplied two coloured etchings to the ‘Ancient Mysteries Described’ of his friend Hone. But his chief achievement in the latter year was what may perhaps be styled his first thoroughly individual work, part i. of the ‘Points of Humour,’ a series of admirable etchings, illustrating comic passages from various authors and anecdotes or legends from different sources. Four of these, one of which represents Burns's ballad-singer ‘between his twa Deborahs,’ are from ‘The Jolly Beggars.’ A second part followed in 1824. In 1823 also came out a set of designs to the ‘shadowless man’ of Chamisso (‘Peter Schlemihl’), the grotesque diablerie of which is excellently caught. Passing over some illustrations to Ireland's ‘Life of Napoleon’ (1823–8), ‘Tales of Irish Life’ (1824), ‘Italian Tales’ (1824), and a set of woodcuts to the ‘Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Lord Byron’ (1824–5), the next, and, as it is ranked by many, the master-work of the artist, was the two volumes of etchings for Grimm's ‘Popular Stories’ (‘Kinder-und Haus-Märchen’), 1824–6, still faintly appreciable, to those who cannot obtain the original issue, in Hotten's reprint of 1868. These little-laboured compositions, dear alike to Ruskin and Thackeray, are full of Cruikshank's drollest and most whimsical spirit. Nothing could be more tricksy than his ‘pert fairies’ and ‘dapper elves,’ nothing more engaging than his picturesque backgrounds and fanciful accessories. After these, engraved chiefly on wood, come ‘Mornings at Bow Street,’ 1824, followed later by ‘More Mornings at Bow Street,’ 1827, the text in both cases being by John Wight of the ‘Morning Herald.’ Many examples from these volumes are reproduced in Jerrold's ‘Life of Cruikshank,’ 1883. Hugo's ‘Hans of Iceland,’ 1825, and ‘The Universal Songster,’ 1825–6, come next in the list of more notable works, preceding two capital and genuinely Cruikshankian efforts, the famous ‘Phrenological Illustrations,’ a series of six etched plates, each containing several subjects, and ‘Greenwich Hospital,’ by the ‘Old Sailor’ [see Barker, Matthew Henry], a book in which the artist gave full vent to his faculty for portraying the slack-trousered and pig-tailed tar of the period. Both of these were published in 1826. To 1827 belongs another sequence of detached plates, the ‘Illustrations of Time’ and the little volumes entitled ‘Philosophy in Sport made Science in Earnest.’ In 1828 Cruikshank executed for Prowett, the Pall Mall publisher, a number of scenes from ‘Punch and Judy,’ carefully studied from that popular exhibition itself, and remarkable, as Mr. Jerrold says neatly, for the power shown by the artist in ‘informing a puppet with life and keeping it wooden still.’ It would be impossible to chronicle here the work of Cruikshank for the next ten years. In many of his designs at this time wood-engraving was substituted for etching, and Branston, Bonner, the Williamses (T. and S.), Landells, and John Thompson vied with each other in reproducing the always significant quirks and twists of the artist's indefatigable pencil. Cowper's ‘John Gilpin,’ 1828; Hood's ‘Epping Hunt,’ 1829; Kane O'Hara's ‘Tom Thumb,’ 1830; Rhodes's ‘Bombastes Furioso,’ 1830; Clarke's ‘Three Courses and a Dessert,’ 1830 (which contains the inimitable deaf postilion); ‘The Gentleman in Black,’ 1831; ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ 1831; ‘Sunday in London,’ 1833; and ‘Rejected Addresses,’ 1833, are all illustrated by the graver. Among works wholly of the needle, or combined with woodcuts, come Anstey's ‘New Bath Guide,’ 1830; Scott's ‘Demonology and Witchcraft,’ 1830; and Roscoe's ‘Novelists' Library’ (which includes etchings to Smollett, Goldsmith, Fielding, Sterne, Le Sage, and Cervantes); ‘The Bee and the Wasp,’ 1832; ‘Lucien Greville,’ 1833; Bowring's ‘Minor Morals,’ 1834–9; Mogridge's ‘Mirth and Morality,’ 1835; and Defoe's ‘Journal of the Plague Year,’ 1835. In 1835 was also issued by McLean, under the title of ‘Cruikshankiana,’ a handsome folio containing some sixty-six plates by George Cruikshank and half a dozen by his brother Robert.
At first Cruikshank after his father's death had kept on the paternal house in Dorset Street, Salisbury Square, Fleet Street, where the brothers had a queer studio-of-all-work, much encumbered by the various ‘properties’ of two lively young men who, in addition to practising a good deal of miscellaneous art, also managed to see a good deal of miscellaneous life. After Robert's marriage and subsequent establishment in St. James's Place, George moved with his mother and his sister Eliza, herself no mean designer, to Claremont Square, Pentonville, in which neighbourhood he continued to reside after his own marriage. In 1836 the ‘Comic Alphabet’ was published from 23 Myddelton Terrace, Pentonville, to which he had removed from No. 22. At this time he was in the fulness of his powers. In 1835 he issued the first number of the ‘Comic Almanack,’ with a dozen ‘righte merrie’ cuts (etchings) ‘pertaining to the months’ by himself, and a few minor embellishments. Sometimes the letterpress was supplied by distinguished contributors. To the issue for 1839 Thackeray contributed ‘Stubbs's Calendar, or the Fatal Boots,’ to be followed in 1840 by ‘Barber Cox, and the Cutting of his Comb,’ afterwards called ‘Cox's Diary.’ The ‘Almanack’ continued until 1847 with unabated vigour. Then, in 1848, it changed its form, and was placed under the editorship of Horace Mayhew. In 1850 the old form was resumed, and retained until 1853, after which year the publication ceased to appear, being practically superseded by ‘Punch's Almanac.’ But 1853, when its epitaph was written, is long in advance of 1835, when it began. Another work, which belongs to the early days of its career, was Fisher's edition of the ‘Waverley Novels,’ 1836–9. ‘Sir Frizzle Pumpkin,’ ‘Nights at Mess,’ &c. (1836), and the ‘Land and Sea Tales’ of the ‘Old Sailor,’ belong also to 1836; while with ‘Rookwood’ (1836) begins his long connection with Harrison Ainsworth, and with the two series of ‘Sketches by Boz’ (1836 and 1837) his connection with Charles Dickens.
In 1837 Richard Bentley published the first number of his once famous ‘Miscellany,’ for which Cruikshank designed a cover, and supplied, as time went on, some 126 plates. Twenty-four of these were to Dickens's ‘Oliver Twist,’ afterwards issued in separate form in 1838, and twenty-seven to Ainsworth's ‘Jack Sheppard,’ 1839. Both of these books are highly prized by collectors; and ‘Fagin in the Condemned Cell,’ that wonder- ful if somewhat theatric rendering of the hook-nosed Jew gnawing his fingers in an agony of remorse and fear, ranks, with ‘Jack Sheppard carving his Name upon the Beam,’ as among the most desirable of the artist's performances. For Bentley also he did eight etchings to as many of the ‘Ingoldsby Legends,’ and seven to ‘Nights at Sea.’ Some of the illustrations which make up the tale of his contributions to the ‘Miscellany’ are very unequal in merit, and can only be accounted for by the supposition that he was out of sympathy with his work or fretting for other enterprises. One of them, that to a story called ‘Regular Habits,’ 1843, has a succès de scandale with the curious, owing to its obviously intentional badness. The only reasonable explanation which has been offered for its eccentricity is that Cruikshank sought by the sheer ineptitude of his performance to oblige the publisher to release him from what he held to be an unprofitable bondage. His object seems to have been attained, for ‘Regular Habits’ is one of the latest, if not the last, of his contributions to ‘Bentley's Miscellany,’ in which he was succeeded by John Leech.
With Harrison Ainsworth he still seems to have maintained his relations, and for him he illustrated ‘The Tower of London,’ 1840, and ‘Guy Fawkes,’ 1841. When later Ainsworth retired from ‘Bentley,’ in the editorship of which he had succeeded Dickens, he started ‘Ainsworth's Magazine’ with Cruikshank for his pictorial coadjutor, and there is a little woodcut (‘Our Library Table’) which represents the pair in council, Cruikshank characteristically laying down the law. For ‘Ainsworth's Magazine’ he illustrated the ‘Miser's Daughter,’ 1842, ‘Windsor Castle’ (in part), 1844, and ‘St. James's, or the Court of Queen Anne,’ 1844, thus making seven novels which he had embellished for the popular author of ‘Rookwood.’ In addition to these he illustrated for the same periodical Maginn's ‘John Manisty,’ Raymond's ‘Elliston Papers,’ and a ‘new Orlando Furioso’ entitled ‘Modern Chivalry,’ which was reprinted in 1843.
After the publication of ‘St. James's’ Ainsworth sold the magazine, and Cruikshank ceased to supply designs for its pages, the eighth and subsequent volumes to its conclusion in 1854 being illustrated by ‘Phiz’ (Hablot Knight Browne [q. v.]). Cruikshank, it is said, regarded this sale as a violation of a tacit engagement between himself and Ainsworth. In connection with this misunderstanding may be mentioned the curious claim which, mainly in his later years, he set up as regards his collaboration with both Ainsworth and Dickens. He asserted that he suggested the story and incidents of ‘Oliver Twist;’ he asserted also that he suggested the ‘title and general plan’ of the ‘Miser's Daughter’ and other of Ainsworth's romances. The charge, which in the case of Dickens was made after his death, was summarily dismissed by his biographer, Mr. Forster, while in a letter printed by Mr. Blanchard Jerrold in his ‘Life of Cruikshank’ (2nd ed. 1883, pp. 171–8), Ainsworth gives an equally unqualified denial to Cruikshank's allegations. Cruikshank's own ‘statement of facts’ is contained in a little pamphlet issued by him in 1872 under the title of ‘The Artist and the Author,’ after the appearance of vol. i. of Forster's ‘Life of Dickens.’ As may be inferred from his description of the results which followed the ‘Bank Restriction Note,’ he was not exempt from a certain ‘Roman infirmity’ of exaggerating the importance of his own performances—an infirmity which did not decrease with years. Whatever the amount of assistance he gave to Dickens and to Ainsworth, it is clear it was not rated by them at the value he placed upon it. That he did make suggestions, relevant or irrelevant, can scarcely be doubted, for it was part of his inventive and ever-projecting habit of mind. It must also be conceded that he most signally seconded the text by his graphic interpretations; but that this aid or these suggestions were of such a nature as to transfer the credit of the ‘Miser's Daughter’ and ‘Oliver Twist’ from the authors to himself is more than can reasonably be allowed. Those curious in this unpleasant chapter in Cruikshank's biography will find it fairly treated in Mr. Jerrold's book (ed. ut supra, pp. 137–81).
During the period of his connection with ‘Bentley's Miscellany,’ Cruikshank illustrated, besides the ‘Comic Almanack,’ several works that deserve mention. Among these are the ‘Memoirs of Grimaldi,’ edited by ‘Boz,’ 1838; Glasscock's ‘Land Sharks and Sea Gulls,’ 1838; Barker's ‘Topsail-Sheet Blocks,’ 1838 Moir's ‘Mansie Wauch,’ 1839; and ‘The Loving Ballad of Lord Bateman,’ 1839, the introduction and serio-comic notes to which were supplied by Charles Dickens. In 1841, when at variance with Bentley, though still under engagements to him, he started a magazine of his own, ‘The Omnibus,’ with Laman Blanchard for editor. Thackeray, who wrote in this ‘The King of Brentford's Testament,’ was one of the contributors, and Captain Marryat. When ‘Ainsworth's Magazine’ was sold, Cruikshank started another miscellany of a similar kind, ‘The Table Book,’ 1845, which contains two of the most famous of his larger plates, ‘The Triumph of Cupid’ and ‘The Folly of Crime.’ He also illustrated for the ‘Table Book’ Thackeray's ‘Legend of the Rhine,’ which here made its début. Between 1841 and 1845, the dates of the ‘Omnibus’ and ‘Table Book,’ come several minor productions: Dibdin's ‘Songs,’ 1841; ‘The Pic-nic Papers,’ 1841 (in part); À Beckett's ‘Comic Blackstone,’ 1844; the ‘Bachelor's Own Book,’ 1844; Lever's ‘Arthur O'Leary,’ 1844; Maxwell's ‘Irish Rebellion’ (one of his best efforts), 1845; Mrs. Gore's ‘Snow Storm,’ 1846; and the Mayhews' ‘Greatest Plague of Life,’ 1847, are some of these. Then, in 1847, comes one of his most popular successes, and the turning-point in his career, the publication of ‘The Bottle,’ 1847, and ‘The Drunkard's Children,’ 1848.
‘The Bottle’ was Cruikshank's first direct and outspoken contribution to the cause of teetotalism. In more than one of his earlier designs, and even in some of his caricatures, he had satirised the prevalent vice of drunkenness. Among the works of 1842 was a set of four etchings to ‘The Drunkard,’ a poem by John O'Neill; and other examples of his bias in this direction might be cited. But he capped them all in the eight plates of ‘The Bottle,’ which depict with a terrible downward march of degradation the tragedy of an entire family, from the first easy temptation of ‘a little drop’ to the final murder of the wife with the very instrument of their ruin. In ‘The Drunkard's Children,’ eight more plates, the remorseless moral is continued; the son becomes a thief, and dies in the hulks; the daughter, taking to the streets, ultimately throws herself over Waterloo Bridge. Reproduced by glyphography, and accompanied with ‘illustrative poems’ by Dr. Charles Mackay, these designs, which are on a larger scale than usual, have not the merit of Cruikshank's best work with the needle; but the dramatic power of the story, the steady progress of the incidents, the mute eloquence of the details, and the multitude of Hogarth-like minor touches (witness the crying girl who lifts aside the lid of the little coffin in plate v.), are undeniable. And the work had the merit of success. It prompted a fine sonnet by Matthew Arnold (‘Artist! whose hand, with horror wing'd, hath torn’); it was dramatised in eight theatres at once; and last, but not least, it was sold by tens of thousands. A further result seems to have been that it converted the artist himself. Hitherto he had not been a strict abstainer. He now became one, and henceforth he devoted himself, with all the energy of his nature, to the duty of advocating by his pencil and his practice the cause of total abstinence.
At this time he was a man of fifty-six—an age at which, whatever may be the amount of physical strength, the creative faculty seldom remains very vigorous. He had still thirty years to live. But his successes do not belong to this latter portion of his career. In some degree he had already survived the public of his prime; and in the enthusiasm of his new creed he afterwards too often weighted his productions with an unpalatable moral. Thus, in the ‘Fairy Library,’ 1853–4, a series of books in which he endeavoured to repeat the earlier successes of his illustrations to Grimm, he turned the time-honoured nursery stories into ‘temperance tales,’ a step which inter alia provoked the expostulations of an old friend and admirer, Charles Dickens, who, in ‘Household Words’ for 1 Oct., warmly remonstrated against these ‘Frauds on the Fairies.’ His best remaining efforts, apart from those more intimately connected with his crusade against strong drink, are ‘The Pentamerone,’ 1848; Mrs. Gore's ‘Inundation,’ 1848; Angus B. Reach's ‘Clement Lorimer,’ 1849; Smedley's ‘Frank Fairlegh,’ 1850; ‘1851; or, the Adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Sandboys’ [at the Exhibition], 1851; ‘Uncle Tom's Cabin,’ 1853; Brough's ‘Life of Sir John Falstaff,’ 1858; and Cole's ‘Lorimer Littlegood,’ republished in 1858 from Sharpe's ‘London Magazine.’ With Frank E. Smedley, the author of ‘Frank Fairlegh,’ he essayed a new ‘Cruikshank's Magazine’ in 1854, but only two parts of it were issued, No. 1 of which contains one of his most characteristic etchings, ‘Passing Events, or the Tail of the Comet of 1853.’ He continued to supply frontispieces to different books, e.g. Lowell's ‘Biglow Papers,’ 1859; Hunt's ‘Popular Romances of the West of England,’ 1865; and he issued two or three pamphlets besides the already mentioned ‘Artist and Author’ of 1872. One of these, entitled ‘A Pop Gun fired off by George Cruikshank in defence of the British volunteers of 1803,’ was issued in 1860, in reply to some aspersions of those patriots by General W. Napier; another was a ‘Discovery concerning Ghosts, with a Rap at the Spirit-Rappers,’ 1863. His last known illustration was a frontispiece to Mrs. Octavian Blewitt's ‘The Rose and the Lily,’ 1877, which bears the inscription, ‘Designed and etched by George Cruikshank, aged eighty-three, 1875.’ Early in 1878 he fell ill, and died at his house, 263 Hampstead Road (formerly 48 Mornington Place), on 1 Feb. He was buried temporarily at Kensal Green. On 29 Nov. his remains were removed to St. Paul's. His epitaph concludes with the following lines by his widow, Eliza Cruikshank, dated 9 Feb. 1880:—
In Memory of his Genius and his Art,
In Cruikshank's later years he made many essays in oil painting. Already, a pleasant tradition affirms, in the early 'Tom and Jerry ' days, he had preluded in the art with a signboard of 'Dusty Bob,' executed for an inn kept at Battle Bridge by Walbourn, a famous actor in one of the numerous plays founded on Egan's novel, and there is moreover at Westminster an actual oil sketch of 'a Cavalier,' which dates as far back as 1820. Ten years later there is another sketch of a 'Pilot Boat going out of Dover Harbour,' a performance in which we may perhaps trace the influence of his friend, Clarkson Stanfield, who is said to have counselled him to quit the needle for the brush. The first picture he exhibited at the Royal Academy was 'Bruce attacked by Assassins.' This was followed in 1830 by a more congenial subject, 'Moses dressing for the Fair' from the 'Vicar of Wakefield.' 'Grimaldi the Clown shaved by a Girl,' 1838; 'Disturbing the Congregation,' which was a commission from the prince consort, 1850; ' A New Situation,' and 'Dressing for the Day,' 1851; 'Tam o' Shanter,' 1852; 'Titania and Bottom the Weaver,' 1853; 'Cinderella' (now at South Kensington), 1854; 'A Runaway Knock,' 1855; 'A Fairy Ring' (a commission from Mr. Henry Miller of Preston, and one of the artist's most successful efforts in this line), 1856; 'The Merry Wives of Windsor,' 1857, are some of the others, all exhibited at the Academy or the British Institution. But his magnum opus in one sense, for it measures 7 feet 8 inches high by 13 feet 3 inches wide, is the huge cartoon crowded with groups and figures which he produced in 1862, with the title of the 'Worship of Bacchus; or, the Drinking Customs of Society.' This, a work of inexhaustible detail and intention, though, as he himself calls it, rather a map than a picture, was intended to be his formal and final protest against intemperance. The original oil painting is in the National Gallery, having been presented to the nation by a committee of subscribers in 1869. An engraving of the picture, all the outlines of the figures being etched by Cruikshank himself, was issued. In 1863 it was exhibited, with some other specimens of his work, in Wellington Street, Strand, and Thackeray wrote kindly of it in the 'Times.' But though it made the pilgrimage to Windsor for her majesty's inspection, and afterwards the tour of the provinces, the old artist's vogue was gone. Three years of his life had been consumed in this effort, and yet, with all the championship of enthusiastic friends, his gains, from the painting and engraving, amounted to no more than 2,053l. 7s. 6d. One result of his exhibition, however, was the assembling of those etchings and sketches in water-colour and oil which constitute the collection ultimately purchased by the Westminster Aquarium. The catalogue to this contains some useful biographical and explanatory notes by the artist himself; and it may be added, he also drew up, in his most characteristic style, a pamphlet or lecture describing his great temperance cartoon.
In person Cruikshank was a broad-chested, well-built man, rather below the middle height, with a high forehead, blue-grey eyes, a hook nose and a pair of fierce-looking whiskers of a decidedly original pattern. In his younger days he had been an adept at boxing and other manly sports; he was an effective volunteer (being ultimately lieutenant-colonel of the Havelocks, or 48th Middlesex Rifle Volunteers), and he preserved his energy and vitality almost to the last years of his life. Even at eighty he was as ready to dance a hornpipe as to sing his favourite ballad of 'Lord Bateman' 'in character' for the benefit of his friends, and he never tired of dilating upon the advantages of water drinking. Now he would recount how in his green old age he had captured a burglar single-handed; now how he had remained fresh at the end of a long field day simply sustained by an orange. 'He was,' says one who knew him well, 'to sum up, a light-hearted, merry, and, albeit a teetotaler, an essentially "jolly " old gentleman, full physically of humorous action and impulsive gesticulation, imitatively illustrating the anecdotes he related; somewhat dogged in assertion and combative in argument; strong rooted as the oldest of old oaks in old true British prejudices … but in every word and deed a God-fearing, queen-honouring, truth-loving, honest man.'
In his long life many portraits of him were taken. One of the best known of these is the sketch by Maclise in 'Fraser's Magazine' for August 1833, in which he is shown as a young man seated in a tap-room on a beer barrel, and using the crown of his hat as the desk for some rapid sketch. He often introduced himself in his own designs, e.g. in 'Sketches by Boz,' where he and Dickens figure as stewards at a public dinner. In the 'Triumph of Cupid,' 1845, which forms the frontispiece of the 'Table Book,' he is the central figure, smoking meditatively before his fire with a pet spaniel on his knee. (Smoking, it may be added in parenthesis, was one of the things that in later life he forswore with as much emphasis as he forswore drinking, although he had been a smoker of forty years' standing.) There is a portrait of him after Frank Stone in the ‘Omnibus,’ 1841, engraved by C. E. Wagstaff. It is needless to particularise any other likeness save the one in coloured chalks by his friend Mill, which is said to have been his own favourite. His bust by Behnes is included in the Westminster collection. To characterise briefly the work of so productive and indefatigable a worker as Cruikshank is by no means easy. As a caricaturist he was the legitimate successor of Rowlandson and Gillray; but both the broad grin of the one and the satiric ferocity of the other were mitigated in their pupil by a more genial spirit of fun and an altered environment. In his more serious designs he never, to the day of his death, lost the indications of his lack of early academic training, although even as a man of sixty he was to be seen patiently drawing from the antique at Burlington House. His horses to the last were unendurable; his wasp-waisted women have been not inaptly compared to hour-glasses; and most of his figures suffer from that defect which Shakespeare made a beauty in Rosalind; they have ‘two pitch-balls stuck in their faces for eyes.’ That he was ‘cockney’ and even ‘vulgar’ at times is more the fault of his age than his talent, as any one may see who will take the trouble to consult the popular literature of fifty years ago when he was in his prime. But all these are trifling drawbacks contrasted with his unflagging energy, his inexhaustible fertility of invention, his wonderful gift of characterisation, and his ever-watchful sense of the droll, the fantastic, and the grotesque. On a far lower level than Hogarth, who was a moralist like himself, he sometimes comes near to him in tragic intensity. Many of his etchings are masterpieces of grouping (he managed crowds as well as Rowlandson, or the painter of the ‘March to Finchley’), and of skilful light and shade. His illustrations for books have always this advantage, that they are honest and generally effective attempts to elucidate the text, not nowadays an ever-present ambition to the popular artist; but, like many other original designers, he is at his best when he freely follows his own conceptions. Humorous art underwent considerable alterations during his long life, and the breach is wide between his immediate forerunners and the modern Caldecotts and du Mauriers. Yet, in his own line, Cruikshank fills the greater part of the gap almost without a rival, and the comic gallery of the first fifty years of the nineteenth century would be poorer for his absence.
[It is obvious that a complete enumeration of Cruikshank's productions would far exceed the limits of an ordinary article for these pages. Pending the appearance of Mr. E. Truman's promised Cruikshank Dictionary and Dr. B. W. Richardson's long-expected Memoir, further particulars will be found in G. W. Reid's Descriptive Catalogue of the Works of G. C., 3 vols. 1871; and the already mentioned Royal Aquarium Catalogue, 1877. Jerrold's Life of G. C., 2nd edition, 1883; and Bates's G. C., 1878, 2nd and revised edition, with copious Bibliographical Appendix, 1879, should also be consulted. One of the most genial and appreciative of the earlier criticisms is by Thackeray, Westminster Review, August 1840, recently reprinted as a pamphlet. Among other authorities are Charles Kent's G. C., Illustrated Review, January 1872 (a sketch which had the honour of being approved by the artist himself); Walter Hamilton's G. C., 1878; art. by F. Wedmore, Temple Bar, April 1878; G. A. Sala's Life Memory, Gent. Mag. May 1878; art. in Scribner's Monthly, now the Century, June 1878; Bookseller, 2 March and 3 April 1878; Notes and Queries, 25 Oct. and 8 Nov. 1884. Palgrave's and Rossetti's Essays; Hamerton's Etching and Etchers, 1868, 2nd edition 1876; Buss's English Graphic Satire, 1874; Paget's Paradoxes and Puzzles, 1874; Everitt's English Caricaturists, 1886, also treat the subject at more or less length. Several of Cruikshank's books have been republished by Messrs. George Bell & Son, e.g. The Omnibus, The Table Book, The Irish Rebellion, The Fairy Library, and Lord Bateman. Under the title of Old Miscellany Days, Mr. Bentley reissued in 1886 many of the plates to the Miscellany; in 1870 Mr. Hotten republished Life in London, with lithograph facsimiles; Mornings at Bow Street has been reprinted with a preface by Mr. Sala; and Grimm's Hausmärchen with a preface by John Ruskin (Chatto & Windus). There is a good collection of Cruikshank's works in the British Museum print room, another at the Royal Aquarium, Westminster, and a third, including 3,481 drawings and etchings, was presented in 1884 to the South Kensington Museum by the artist's widow. Mrs. Cruikshank also gave the same institution the original water-colour sketch for the ‘Worship of Bacchus,’ inscribed ‘Designed and drawn by George Cruikshank, Teetotaler, 1860.’]