Page:English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the nineteenth century.djvu/34

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

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,[1] 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

  1. 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.