Read CHAPTER II of Old Coloured Books, free online book, by George Paston, on


In the early years of the nineteenth century, when Gillray was fast drinking himself into imbecility, and Rowlandson had turned his attention to book-illustration, English caricature, that once vigorous plant, showed signs of premature decay. In the opinion of all lovers of pictorial satire, the promise displayed in the as yet immature designs of a couple of youthful brothers, Robert and George Cruikshank, held out the best hopes for the future. The two boys were the sons of a Lowland Scotchman, Isaac Cruikshank (c. 1756-c. 1811), who came to London with his Highland wife some time in the “eighties,” and made a modest mark as a water-colour painter and caricaturist. He produced a large number of political caricatures in the style of Gillray, which were coloured by his wife and later by his two boys, who enjoyed but little schooling, and only so much artistic training as he could give them. It was owing, probably, to Isaac’s passion for Scotch whisky, which is said to have hastened his end, that the little household in Duke Street, Holborn, had a hard struggle to make both ends meet, and George (1792-1878), while yet a child himself, was set to illustrate children’s books for the trade. Before he was out of his teens he was producing coloured caricatures, of which the arrest of Sir Francis Burdett is the earliest important example, and contributing etchings to The Scourge (1811-16), a scurrilous publication, edited by “Mad Mitford.” The principal subjects of his somewhat crude satire were the Regent, Buonaparte, and a certain number of too notorious personages in “high life.” In 1814, George illustrated a Life of Napoleon in Hudibrastic verse, by Dr. Syntax, not our friend Combe, but some anonymous admirer of his hero. Young Cruikshank’s talent attracted the attention of William Hone of Table-Book fame, who employed him to illustrate a series of radical squibs, including The Political House that Jack built, The Political Alphabet, and The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder. It was for Hone that George designed his famous Bank-note “not to be imitated,” which, he fondly believed, put a stop to hanging for the forgery of one pound notes. Hone seems to have been a very poor paymaster, but his custom brought the young artist great notoriety, and by 1820 “the ingenious Mr. Cruikshank” was firmly established as a popular favourite.

After his father’s death, George continued to keep house with his mother, sister, and brother, and we are told that the wild ways of her two boys gave the thrifty, serious Mrs. Cruikshank a great deal of anxiety. She is reported to have chastised George with her own hands when he came home tipsy o’ nights, and she was accustomed to say, with more than maternal candour, “Take the pencil out of my sons’ hands, and they are no better than two boobies.” However, it was probably owing to their familiarity with “the haunts of dissipation” that they became acquainted with Pierce Egan (1772-1849), the pet of peers and pugilists, an accomplished professor of Cockney slang, and the greatest living authority on questions relating to boxing, bull-baiting, cock-fighting, and all such “manly sports.” Pierce, who handled a pen much as he might have handled a quarter-staff, had already won fame as a sporting reporter, and as the author of Boxiana, or Sketches of Modern Pugilists, published in 1818. In 1821 he conceived, or had suggested to him, the idea of a book on Life in London as seen by a young man about town, and he engaged the brothers Cruikshank to illustrate it. It has been claimed that the idea originated with Robert Cruikshank, who drew the characters of Corinthian Tom, Jerry Hawthorn, and Bob Logic, from himself, his brother, and Pierce Egan. George IV. gave permission for the proposed work to be dedicated to himself, and in July 1821 it began to appear in monthly numbers, under the title of Life in London; or the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis. The work was illustrated by fifty-six hand-coloured etchings by the two Cruikshanks, as well as numerous engravings on wood. The very first number took the town by storm, and the colourists were unable to keep pace with the demand. Scenes from the tale were painted on fans, screens, and tea-trays, numerous imitations were put forth, even before the book was issued in volume form, and more than one dramatised version appeared on the stage. Every street broil was transformed into a “Tom and Jerry row,” the Methodists distributed tracts at the doors of the theatres in which the piece was played, and it was declared that Egan had turned the period into an Age of Flash. But all protests were speedily drowned in a general chorus of admiration, to which the European Magazine put the climax with its public declaration that “Corinthian Tom gives finished portraits; with all the delicacy and precision of Gerard Douw, he unites the boldness of Rubens with the intimate knowledge of Teniers!” Thackeray, in a charming essay, has recalled his early delight in the book, in those far-off days when every schoolboy believed that the three heroes were types of the most elegant and fashionable young fellows the town afforded, and thought their occupations and amusements those of all high-bred English gentlemen. Twenty years later, Thackeray describes how he went to the British Museum to renew his acquaintance with his old favourite, and was disillusioned by the letterpress, which he found a little vulgar, “but the pictures,” he exclaims, “the pictures are noble still!”


The earliest imitation of Life in London was called Real Life in London, or the Rambles and Adventures of Bob Tallyho, Esq., and his Cousin the Hon. Tom Dashall. By an Amateur. This book, which some have supposed to be the work of Egan in rivalry with himself, was illustrated by Rowlandson, Alken, and Dighton. A year later, in 1822, came Life in Paris, Comprising the Rambles, Sprees, and Amours of Dick Wildfire and Squire Jenkins, by David Carey; while The English Spy, by Bernard Blackmantle, appeared in 1824. David Carey (1782-1824) was a young Scotchman, son of a manufacturer at Arbroath, who began his career in Constable’s publishing house in Edinburgh but presently came south, and devoted himself to literary journalism. He attracted some attention by means of a satire, called the The Ins and Outs, and also wrote some long-forgotten novels and sketches. In 1822 he went to Paris, where he wrote his account of life in that city; and then, his health breaking down, returned to his native town to die of consumption. It was claimed for the illustrations to his book, which were from the pencil of George Cruikshank, that “To accuracy of local delineation is added a happy exhibition of whatever is ludicrous and grotesque in character.” Now George had never been in France, and therefore was obliged to take his local colour from the “views” of other artists, but the ludicrous and grotesque side of French life and character came only too easily to his John Bullish imagination. To him, as Thackeray points out, all Frenchmen were either barbers or dancing-masters, with “spindle shanks, pig-tails, outstretched hands, shrugging shoulders, and queer hair and moustaches.” In his regenerate days, George was wont to assert, a propos of Life in London, that, finding the book was a guide to, rather than a warning against, the vicious haunts and amusements of the Metropolis, he had retired from the alliance with Egan, leaving about two-thirds of the plates to be executed by his brother Robert. If this be true, he showed some inconsistency in consenting to illustrate Carey’s book, which is a frank imitation of Egan’s, though in a French setting.


A more ambitious book in the same genre was The English Spy; an Original Work, Characteristic, Satirical, and Humorous, comprising Scenes and Sketches in every Rank of Society, being Portraits of the Illustrious, Eminent, Eccentric, and Notorious. The author, Charles Molloy Westmacott, alias Bernard Blackmantle, editor of The Age, has been described as a typical editor of the rowdy school of journalism. He claimed to be the son of Sir Richard Westmacott, the Royal Academician, by a certain Widow Molloy, who kept the King’s Arms at Kensington. The system of journalistic blackmail was brought to a higher degree of perfection by Westmacott than by any other free lance of the time. For the pieces justificatives relating to a certain scandalous intrigue in which various exalted personages were implicated, Westmacott is said to have received nearly L5000. With his ill-gotten gains he fitted up a villa near Richmond, where for a time he lived in luxury, though not, it would appear, in security. In 1830 he was soundly horsewhipped by Charles Kemble for an insulting allusion to his daughter Fanny in The Age, and he was threatened with the same punishment by Bulwer Lytton. In his portrait by Daniel Maclise he is represented with a heavy dog-whip, probably a necessary weapon of defence. In his later days Westmacott took refuge in Paris, where he died in 1868.

In 1823, Westmacott published his Points of Misery, illustrated by George Cruikshank, and in 1825 he brought out a roman a clef called Fitzalleyne of Berkeley, in which various scandals relating to the Berkeley family were introduced. The book was eagerly bought and read, and Westmacott, who had vainly tried to extort money for its suppression, must have made a handsome sum by its publication. The English Spy was brought out in two volumes, and contained seventy-two large coloured plates as well as numerous vignettes on wood, the majority being from the designs of Robert Cruikshank, who figures in the book under the pseudonym of “Robert Transit.” Two of the coloured plates were contributed by Thomas Rowlandson, notably a sketch of the Life Academy at Somerset House, with the R.A.’s of the period busily engaged in drawing from a female model. Most of the social celebrities of the time are introduced into the book, Beau Brummell, Colonel Berkeley, Pierce Egan, Charles Matthews, “Pea-green” Hayne, and “Golden” Ball; while life at the University, in sporting and fashionable London, and at the popular watering-places, is vividly described. On the last page is an interesting little vignette representing the author and artist in the act of handing the second volume of their work to an eagerly expectant bookseller. The success of this book, and of many other imitations of Life in London, induced Egan to compose a sequel to his work, which appeared in 1828 under the title of The Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic, in their Pursuits through Life in and out of London, illustrated by Robert Cruikshank. In this curious book an attempt is made to propitiate the Nonconformist conscience of that day by bringing the majority of the characters to a bad end. Corinthian Tom breaks his neck in a steeplechase, Corinthian Kate dies in misery, Bob Logic is also killed off, and Splendid Jem becomes a convict; but Jerry Hawthorn reforms, marries Mary Rosebud, a virtuous country maiden, and settles down at Hawthorn Hall as a Justice of the Peace and model landlord.


In 1824, Egan had started a weekly newspaper called Pierce Egan’s Life in London, which, being sold to a Mr. Bell, enjoyed a long period of popularity as Bell’s Life in London. In the same year Pierce published his Life of an Actor, dedicated to Edmund Kean, and illustrated by Theodore Lane. Lane, who was born at Isleworth in 1800, was the son of a drawing-master in poor circumstances. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to John Barrow, an artist and colourer of prints, who was living in St. Pancras. Thanks to the encouragement of his master, Lane early came into notice as a miniaturist and painter in water-colours, and he exhibited works of that class at the Academy between 1819 and 1826. But his real talent lay in the direction of the quaint and the humorous. In 1825 he made a series of thirty-six designs representing scenes in the life of an actor, which he took to Egan and begged that popular author to write the letterpress. After some hesitation, Egan undertook the task, chiefly, as he says, with the idea of introducing a meritorious young artist to the public. For his designs Lane received L150 from the publisher, and the book really proved a stepping-stone, not to fortune, but to regular employment. His work was praised by the two Cruikshanks, and a writer in The Monthly Critical Gazette declared that his designs would not discredit the pencil of Hogarth. Lane illustrated Egan’s Anecdotes Original and Selected of the Turf, the Chase, the Ring, and the Stage in 1827, and also published two or series of humorous designs. In 1825 the young artist, though left-handed, took up oil-painting with success, and attracted favourable notice by his pictures The Christmas Presents and Disturbed by Nightmare, which were exhibited at the Academy in 1827 and 1828. His best work, however, was The Enthusiast a gouty angler fishing in a tub of water which is now in the National Gallery. On 21st May 1828 poor Lane’s promising career was cut short in most tragical fashion. While waiting for a friend at the Horse Repository in the Gray’s Inn Road, he stepped upon a skylight, and, falling through, his brains were dashed out upon the pavement below. He left a widow and two children, for whose benefit Egan published a little work in verse called The Show Folks, with illustrations by Lane, as well as a short memoir of the unfortunate artist. Of Egan’s numerous other works it is only necessary to mention his Book of Sports and Mirror of Life (1832), and The Pilgrims of the Thames in Search of the National (1838), illustrated by his son, and dedicated by express permission to the young Queen Victoria. “The Fancy’s darling child,” as he has been aptly named, died at his house in Pentonville in 1849, respected by all who knew him -- vide Bell’s Life.


To return to George Cruikshank, who was now in the full tide of success and overwhelmed with commissions. It would be impossible here to give a complete list of his productions, but mention may be made of his illustrations to Peter Schlemihl, the Man without a Shadow, and to Grimm’s Popular Stories (1824), which were so much admired by Ruskin; of his Illustrations of Phrenology (1826), which marks his first appearance as an independent author; the famous Mornings at Bow Street (1815); the Comic Almanac, which began in 1835; the series of etchings for the Sketches by Boz (1836), and those for Oliver Twist in Bentley’s Miscellany (1839), which led to his claim that he had originated the story a claim that naturally put an end to his connection with Dickens. In 1839 began a long series of illustrations for the novels of Harrison Ainsworth (1805-82), the editor of Bentley’s Miscellany. Ainsworth was born at Manchester, and bred up to “the law,” but on coming to London to finish his legal studies, he neglected his law books for literature. He attained his first success with Rookwood in 1834, and in 1839 became editor of Bentley’s Miscellany, in which his novel Jack Sheppard, with illustrations by Cruikshank, first appeared. In 1842 he started Ainsworth’s Magazine, and engaged Cruikshank, who had quarrelled with Bentley, as illustrator-in-chief, at a salary of L40 a month. The engagement proved a fortunate one, resulting in the excellent designs to The Tower of London, The Miser’s Daughter, Windsor Castle, and other novels, which Cruikshank himself described as “a hundred and forty-four of the very best designs and etchings I ever produced.” The connection came to an end with the usual quarrel, Cruikshank claiming to have suggested the plot and characters of both The Miser’s Daughter and The Tower of London.

In 1847, Cruikshank was converted to teetotalism, and thenceforward laboured in the cause with almost fanatic zeal. It was in this year that he executed his famous group of eight designs called The Bottle, which was reproduced in glyphography, and circulated at a cheap price by temperance societies. In 1850 he was employed to illustrate the second edition of Smedley’s successful novel Frank Fairlegh. Frank Smedley was born at Great Marlow in 1818, and, being crippled by a malformation of the feet, he was educated at a private tutor’s instead of at a public school. He contributed his first story, The Life of a Private Pupil, to Sharpe’s Magazine in 1846-48, and a couple of years later it was published under the title of Frank Fairlegh. The book, in which Smedley’s love of open-air life and sympathy with outdoor sports are strongly manifested, made a decided hit, and was followed during the next few years by Lewis Arundel and Harry Coverdale’s Courtship. Smedley has left an amusing account of his first interview with George Cruikshank, who, on seeing a cripple in a wheeled chair, could not conceal his wonder, but kept exclaiming, “Good God! I thought you could gallop about on horses.” Smedley, who died of apoplexy in 1864, was editor of the ill-fated Cruikshank’s Magazine, started in 1853, which only reached its second number.

George Cruikshank’s last years were taken up in great measure with his work in the cause of temperance reform, and though he still occupied himself in book-illustration, it became increasingly evident that he had outlived his public. His large oil-painting, The Triumph of Bacchus, did not attract the multitude when exhibited at Exeter Hall in 1863, though he had devoted three years to its execution. Thanks to the kindness of his friends, and the grant of two small pensions, actual poverty was kept from his door, and he lived to a green old age, bright-eyed and alert, the best of good company over his glass of cold water, dancing a hornpipe at past eighty, or dressing up and singing The Loving Ballad of Lord Bateman, which he had illustrated in 1839. He was taken ill early in 1878, and died on 1st February, finding his final resting-place in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

George Cruikshank, his biographer Blanchard Jerrold tells us, always worked with great care and deliberation, thinking out his subject thoroughly before beginning to realise his conception. “He made, to begin with, a careful design upon paper, trying doubtful points upon the margin. The design was heightened by vigorous touches of colour. Then a careful tracing was made, and laid, pencil side down, upon the steel plate. This was carried to the printer, who, having placed it between damp paper and passed it through the press, returned it, the black-lead outline distinctly appearing on the etching ground. And then the work was straightforward to the artist’s firm hand.”