Page:English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the nineteenth century.djvu/290

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ENGLISH CARICATURISTS.

But happily not without protest. Charles Dickens, the champion of the injured fairies, set his lance in rest, and speedily rolled hapless Van Winkle in the dust. Into the details of this very absurd and very unequal contest there is no necessity for us to enter. George was at home with his pencil, his etching needle, or his tubes of water colour; but put a pen in his hand, and he forthwith would cut the funniest of capers. He argued (with every appearance of comical gravity and earnestness), that because Shakespeare might alter an Italian story, or Sir Walter Scott use history for the purposes of the drama, poetry, or romance, therefore, "any one might take the liberty of altering a common fairy story to suit his purpose and convey his opinions." Aye, and so he might, honest Rip; but he would set about his task in a very different fashion to Shakespeare or Sir Walter Scott, and I fear too that the literary results and value would be vastly different. It never seemed to occur to the mind of the honest but simple casuist that in putting "any one" on a par with William Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott, he was writing simple nonsense.

It is clear, therefore, that the change which had come over the literature of fiction during the past quarter of a century, and which Professor Bates would assign as one of the principal causes of the sterility which befel the genius of Cruikshank, had really very little to do with it. This calamity—for a national calamity it undoubtedly was—did not fall upon him, be it remembered, when he was old, but in the very acme and pride of artistic success. His fall was distinctly due to causes which were within his own control, and might have been avoided by the exercise of qualities which (it seems to me) he did not possess,—forethought, tact, and judgment. During the rest of his long life, the place which George Cruikshank deliberately ceded to others he never once regained; when he dropped behind, he became as completely forgotten as if he had ceased any longer to exist; men whose childhood he had delighted with his quaint imaginings, his own friends and contemporaries, died off; and so it came to pass, that before he knew it, for time moves quickly after youth is over, the old man was left standing alone