English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century/Chapter 1
OF THE ENGLISH CARICATURE AND ITS DECAY.
Definition of CaricatureIf you turn to the word "caricatura" in your Italian dictionary, it is just possible that you will be gratified by learning that it means "caricature"; but if you refer to the same word in old Dr. Johnson, he will tell you, with the plain, practical common-sense which distinguished him, that it signifies "an exaggerated resemblance in drawings," and this expresses exactly what it does mean. Any distinguishing feature or peculiarity, whether in face, figure, or dress, is exaggerated, and yet the likeness is preserved. A straight nose is presented unnaturally straight, a short nose unnaturally depressed; a prominent forehead is drawn unusually bulbous; a protuberant jaw unnaturally underhung; a fat man is depicted preternaturally fat, and a thin one correspondingly lean. This at least was the idea of caricature during the last century. Old Francis Grose, who, in 1791, wrote certain "Rules for Drawing Caricaturas," gives us the following explanation of their origin:—"The sculptors of ancient Greece," he tells us, "seem to have diligently observed the form and proportions constituting the European ideas of beauty, and upon them to have formed their statues. These measures are to be met with in many drawing books; a slight deviation from them by the predominancy of any feature constitutes what is called character, and serves to discriminate the owner thereof and to fix the idea of identity. This deviation or peculiarity aggravated, forms caricatura."
As a matter of fact, the strict definition of the word given by Francis Grose and Dr. Johnson is no longer applicable; the word caricature includes, and has for a very long time been understood to include, within its meaning any pictorial or graphic satire, political or otherwise, and whether the drawing be exaggerated or not: it is in this sense that Mr. Wright makes use of it in his "Caricature History of the Georges," and it is in this sense that we shall use it for the purposes of this present book.
Change in the Spirit of English Caricature.Since the commencement of the present century, and more especially during the last fifty years, a change has come over the spirit of English caricature. The fact is due to a variety of causes, amongst which must be reckoned the revolution in dress and manners; the extinction of the three-bottle men and topers; the change of thought, manners, and habits consequent on the introduction of steam, railways, and the electric telegraph. The casual observer meeting, as he sometimes will, with a portfolio of etchings representing the men with red and bloated features, elephantine limbs, and huge paunches, who figure in the caricatures of the last and the early part of the present century, may well be excused if he doubt whether such figures of fun ever had an actual existence. Our answer is that they not only existed, but were very far from uncommon. Our great-grandfathers of 1800 were jolly good fellows; washing down their beef-steaks with copious draughts of "York or Burton ale," or the porter for which Trenton, of Whitechapel, appears to have been famed, fortifying themselves afterwards with deeper draughts of generous wines—rich port, Madeira, claret, dashed with hermitage—they set up before they were old men
Rowlandson.][January 1st, 1796.
|THE TRUMPET AND THE BASSOON
"ANYTHING WILL DO FOR AN OFFICER"
[Face p. 2
The three great Caricaturists of the Last Century.In connection with the subject of graphic satire, the names of the three great caricaturists of the last century—Gillray, Rowlandson, and Bunbury—are indispensable. The last, a gentleman of family, fortune, and position, and equerry to the Duke of York, was, in truth, rather an amateur than an artist. Rowlandson was an able draughtsman, and something more; but his style and his tastes are essentially coarse and sensual, and his women are the overblown beauties of the Drury Lane and Covent Garden of his day. George Moutard Woodward, whose productions he sometimes honoured by etching, and whose distinguishing characteristics are carelessness and often bad drawing, follows him at a respectful distance. The genius of James Gillray has won him the title of the "Prince of Caricaturists," a title he well earned and thoroughly deserved. The only one of the nineteenth century caricaturists who touches him occasionally in caricature, but distances him in everything else, is our George Cruikshank.
Commencing work when George the Third was still a young man, Gillray and Rowlandson necessarily infused into it some of the coarseness and vulgarity of their century. With Gillray, indeed, this coarseness and vulgarity may be said to be rather the exception than the rule, whereas the exact contrary holds good of his able and too often careless contemporary. As might have been expected, every one who excites their ridicule or contempt is treated and (in their letterpress descriptions) spoken of in the broadest manner. Bonaparte is mentioned by both artists (in allusion to his supposed sanguinary propensities) as "Boney, the carcase butcher;" Josephine is represented by Gillray as a coarse fat woman, with the sensual habits of a Drury Lane strumpet; Talleyrand, by right of his club foot and limping gait, is invariably dubbed "Hopping Talley." The influence of both artists is felt by those who immediately succeeded them. The coarseness, for instance, of Robert Cruikshank, when he displays any at all, which is seldom, is directly traceable to the influence of Rowlandson, whom (until he followed the example of his greater brother) he at first copied.
Influence of Gillray on Cruikshank.Gillray wrought much the same influence upon George Cruikshank. I have seen it gravely asserted by some of those who have written upon him, that this great artist never executed a drawing which could call a blush into the cheek of modesty. But those who have written upon George Cruikshank—and their name is legion—instead of beginning at the beginning, and thus tracing the gradual and almost insensible formation of his style, appear to me to have plunged as it were into medias res, and commenced at the point when he dropped caricature and became an illustrator of books. Book illustration was scarcely an art until George Cruikshank made it so; and the most interesting period of his artistic career appears to us to be the one in which he pursued the path indicated by James Gillray, until his career of caricaturist merged into his later employment of a designer and etcher of book illustration, by which no doubt he achieved his reputation. In answer to those who tell us that he never produced a drawing which could call a blush into the cheek of modesty, and never raised a laugh at the expense of decency, we will only say that we can produce at least a score of instances to the contrary. To go no further than "The Scourge," we will refer them to three: his Dinner of the Four-in-Hand Club at Salthill, in vol. i.; his Return to Office (1st July, 1811), in vol. ii.; and his Coronation of the Empress of the Nares (1st September, 1812), in vol. iv.
As the century passed out of its infancy and attained the maturer age of thirty years, a gradual and almost imperceptible change came
But caricature was destined to receive its final blow at the hands of that useful craftsman the wood-engraver. The application of wood-engraving to all kinds of illustration, whether graphic or comic, and the mode in which time, labour, and expense are economised, by the large wood blocks being cut up into squares, and each square entrusted to the hands of a separate workman, has virtually superseded the old and far mere effective process of etching. Economy is now the order of the day in matters of graphic satire as in everything else; people are no longer found willing to pay a shilling for a caricature when they may obtain one for a penny. Hence it has come to pass, that whilst comic artists abound, the prevailing spirit of economy has reduced their productions to a dead level, and the work of an artist of inferior power and invention, may successfully compete for public favour with the work of a man of talent and genius like John Tenniel, a result surely to be deplored, seeing there never was a time which offered better opportunities for the pencil of a great and original caricaturist than the present.
Mistake of those who compare modern Caricaturists with Hogarth.It is a common practice, and I may add mistake, with writers on comic artists or caricaturists of our day, to compare them with Hogarth. Both Hogarth and the men of our day are graphic satirists, but there is so broad a distinction between the satire of each, and the circumstances of the times in which they respectively laboured, that comparison is impossible. Those who know anything of this great and original genius, must know that he entertained the greatest horror of being mistaken for a caricaturist pure and simple; and although he executed caricatures for special purposes, they may literally be counted on the fingers. "His pictures," says Hazlitt, "are not imitations of still life, or mere transcripts of incidental scenes and customs; but powerful moral satires, exposing vice and folly in their most ludicrous points of view, and with a profound insight into the weak sides of character and manners, in all their tendencies, combinations, and contrasts. There is not a single picture of his containing a representation of mere pictorial or domestic scenery. His object is not so much "to hold the mirror up to nature," as "to show vice her own feature, scorn her own image." "Folly is there seen at the height—the moon is at the full—it is the very error of the time. There is a perpetual error of eccentricities, a tilt and tournament of absurdities, pampered with all sorts of affectation, airy, extravagant, and ostentatious! Yet he is as little a caricaturist as he is a painter of still life. Criticism has not done him justice, though public opinion has." "A set of severer satires," says Charles Lamb, "(for they are not so much comedies, which they have been
Character of Hogarth's Satires.Hogarth was a stern moralist and satirist, but his satires have nothing in common with the satires of the nineteenth century; such men as the infamous Charteris and the quack Misaubin figure in his compositions, and their portraits are true to the life. Although his satire is relieved with flashes of humour, the reality and gravity of the satire remain undisturbed. The March to Finchley is one of the severest satires on the times; it shows us the utter depravity of the morals and manners of the day, the want of discipline of the king's officers and soldiers, which led to the routs of Preston and Falkirk, the headlong flight of Hawley and his licentious and cowardly dragoons. Some modern writers know so little of him that they have not only described his portrait of Wilkes as a caricature, but have cited the inscription on his veritable contemporary caricature of Churchill in proof of the assertion. Now what says this inscription? "The Bruiser (Churchill, once the Reverend), in the character of a Russian Hercules, regaling himself after having killed the monster Caricatura, that so severely galled his virtuous friend, the heaven-born Wilkes." Hogarth's use of the word caricatura conveys a meaning which is not patent at first sight; Wilkes's leer was the leer of a satyr, "his face," says Macaulay, "was so hideous that the caricaturists were forced in their own despite to flatter him." The real sting lies in the accuracy of Hogarth's portrait (a fact which Wilkes himself admitted), and it is in this sarcastic sense that Hogarth makes use of the word "caricatura."
Turning from Hogarth to a modern artist, in spite of his faults of most marvellous genius and inventive faculty, I frequently find critics of approved knowledge and sagacity describing the late Gustave Doré as a caricaturist. It may seem strange at first sight to introduce the name of Dore into a work dealing exclusively with Gustave Doré. English caricature art, and I do so, not by reason of the fact that his works are as familiar to us in England as in France, not because he has pictorially interpreted some of the finest thoughts in English literature, but because I find his name so constantly mentioned in comparison with English caricaturists and comic artists, and more especially with our George Cruikshank. Now Gustave Doré is, if possible, still less a caricaturist than our English Hogarth. I have seen the ghastly illustrations to the licentious "Contes Diolatiques" of Balzac cited in proof of his claims to be considered a caricaturist. I will not deny that Doré did try his hand once upon a time at caricature, and if we are to judge him by these attempts, we should pronounce him the worst French caricaturist the world ever saw, which would be saying a great deal; for a worse school than that of the modern French caricaturists (and I do not except even Gavarni, Cham, or Daumier), does not anywhere exist. That this man of marvellous genius had humour I do not for one moment deny; but it' was the grim humour of an inquisitor or torturer of the middle ages—of one that revels in a perfect nightmare of terror. Genius is said to be nearly allied to madness; and if one studies some of his weird creations—such, for instance, as The Judgment Day in the legend of "The Wandering Jew"—the thought involuntarily suggests itself that a brain teeming with such marvellous and often morbid conceptions, might have been pushed off its balance at any moment. Gustave Dore delights in lofty, mediæval-gabled buildings, with bartizans and antique galleries; in steep streets, dominated by gloomy turrets; in narrow entries, terminating in dark vistas; in gloomy forests, crowded with rocky pinnacles; in masses of struggling, mutilated men and horses; in monstrous forms of creeping, crawling, slimy, ghastly horror. By the side of the conceptions of Gustave Doré—teste for instance the weird pictures of "The Wandering Jew" already mentioned—George Cruikshank sinks at times into
Gustave Doré.][From "Contes Drolatiques.
Gustave Doré.][From "Contes Drolatiques.
"THE ABBOT OF THE MARMOUSTIERS."
[Back to p. 8.
Gustave Doré.][From "Contes Drolatiques.
"THE LANDLORD OF THE THREE BARBELS."
Gustave Doré.][From "Contes Drolatiques.
[Back to p. 9.
Mr. Hamerton's observations of CaricatureArtists and art critics not unnaturally regard caricature with some disfavour. "Art," says Hamerton, "with a great social or political purpose, is seldom pure fine art; artistic aims are usually lost sight of in the anxiety to hit the social or political mark, and though the caricaturist may have great natural facility for art, it has not a fair chance of cultivation." Writing of Cruikshank's "etchings" (and I presume he refers to those which are marked with comic or satirical characteristics), he says: "They are full of keen satire and happy invention, and their moral purpose is always good; but all these qualities are compatible with a carelessness of art which is not to be tolerated in any one but a professional caricaturist." Now all this is true, and moreover it is fairly and generously stated; on the other hand, Mr. Hamerton will probably admit that no artist is likely to succeed in graphic satire, unless he be a man of marked artistic power and invention.
While treating incidentally of the etchings of artists who have distinguished themselves as graphic satirists or designers, with etching itself as an art this work has no concern. For those who would be initiated into the mysteries of etching and dry point, negative and positive processes, soft grounds, mordants, or the like, the late Thomas Hood has left behind him a whimsical sketch of the process, which, imperfect as it is, will not only suffice for our purpose, but has the merit probably of being but little known:—
"Prepared by a hand that is skilful and nice,
* * * * *
Certain objects however may come in your sketch,
Wherefore add this particular rule to your code,
* * * * *
But the acid has duly been lower'd and bites
* * * * *
But before with the varnishing brush you proceed.
* * * * *
But before your own picture arrives at that pitch,
Then removing the ground and the wax at a heat,
* * * * *
Thus your etching complete, it remains but to hint
"Nor London singly can his porter boast,
Alike 'tis famed on every foreign coast;
For this the Frenchman leaves his Bordeaux wine,
And pours libations at our Thames's shrine;
Afric retails it 'mongst her swarthy sons,
And haughty Spain procures it for her Dons.
Wherever Britain's powerful flag has flown,
There London's celebrated porter's known."
—The Art of Living in London (6th edition 1805).
- One quotation shall suffice. Mr. [[Author:William Bates|]] tells us in his admirable "Maclise Portrait Gallery":—"He never transgressed the narrow line that separates wit from buffoonery, pandered to sensuality, glorified vice or raised a laugh at the expense of decency. Satire never in his hands degenerated into savagery or scurrility. A moral purpose ever underlaid his humour; he sought to instruct or improve when he amused." Mr. Bates will, we hope, pardon us if we say that this is not quite the fact. George Cruikshank in truth was no better or worse than his satirical brothers, and his tone necessarily improved from the moment he took to illustrating books.
- Since the above was written, strange to say, caricature appears to be showing symptoms of revival.
- "The Fine Arts." by William Hazlett, p. 29.
- "Critical and Historical Essays," vol. iii., p. 574.
- We can scarcely call the wonderful series of historical cartoons which he executed at sixteen caricatures, even in the modern sense of the word. Whatever humour they possess is neutralized by the grim irony which, even at this early period, characterized his work.
- "Etching and Etchers," by Philip Gilbert Hamerton, third edition, p. 246.
- Thomas Hood's "Etching Moralized," in New Monthly Magazine, 1843, vol. lxvii. p. 4, and seq.