Page:English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the nineteenth century.djvu/289

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THE SLEEP OF GENIUS.

Van Winkle slumber of thirty years' duration his reputation never once awoke. Out of the dreary desert of mental and artistic inactivity came forth at long distant intervals specimens of his handiwork, which served, it is true, to remind us of what he once was capable, but failed to restore him to the place he had for ever lost in public estimation; such were the illustrations to Angus Bethune Reach's "Clement Lorymer," to Robert Brough's "Life of Sir John Falstaff," to Smedley's "Frank Fairleigh," to George Raymond's "Life and Enterprises of Elliston," to his own so-called "Fairy Library." Good and excellent as this work was, it utterly failed to lend even a passing vitality to his departed reputation, a fact sufficiently and vexatiously proved when he essayed once more to start a magazine of his own, which met with such little encouragement that only two parts were issued.

Nevertheless, the designs of the "Life of Falstaff" and his own "Fairy Library" showed that, when the subject took hold of his fancy, the hand of Cruikshank had not altogether lost the cunning which characterized it in days of yore. To illustrate the so-called fairy stories, he had to read them,—no longer, alas! with his former love of fairy lore and legend,—no longer with the mind of a man free, vigorous, elastic, but with a mind warped and prejudiced with the study of a theme which was intellectually depressing and uninspiring. No one knows the origin of these fairy stories, they come to us from our Danish and Saxon ancestors, but are interwoven with the literature of every civilized nation under the sun, and are altogether beyond the sphere of modern criticism. Their primitive style is singularly adapted to enlist the sympathies of the little folk to whom they specially address themselves: their highest aim and object is not to instruct, but to amuse. All this the artist, in the ardour of his new crusade, lost sight of, and so dead had he become to the fairy fancies and reveries of his youth, that he placed sacrilegious hands on these time-honoured and favourite legends of our childhood, and converted them (with most indifferent literary ability) into something little better than temperance tracts!