Page:English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the nineteenth century.djvu/258

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ENGLISH CARICATURISTS.

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."[1] In The Witches'

  1. "Etching and Etchers."