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- George Cruikshank - 1/9 -


George Cruikshank

by William Makepeace Thackeray

* Reprinted from the Westminster Review for June, 1840. (No 66.)

Accusations of ingratitude, and just accusations no doubt, are made against every inhabitant of this wicked world, and the fact is, that a man who is ceaselessly engaged in its trouble and turmoil, borne hither and thither upon the fierce waves of the crowd, bustling, shifting, struggling to keep himself somewhat above water--fighting for reputation, or more likely for bread, and ceaselessly occupied to-day with plans for appeasing the eternal appetite of inevitable hunger to-morrow--a man in such straits has hardly time to think of anything but himself, and, as in a sinking ship, must make his own rush for the boats, and fight, struggle, and trample for safety. In the midst of such a combat as this, the "ingenious arts, which prevent the ferocity of the manners, and act upon them as an emollient" (as the philosophic bard remarks in the Latin Grammar) are likely to be jostled to death, and then forgotten. The world will allow no such compromises between it and that which does not belong to it--no two gods must we serve; but (as one has seen in some old portraits) the horrible glazed eyes of Necessity are always fixed upon you; fly away as you will, black Care sits behind you, and with his ceaseless gloomy croaking drowns the voice of all more cheerful companions. Happy he whose fortune has placed him where there is calm and plenty, and who has the wisdom not to give up his quiet in quest of visionary gain.

Here is, no doubt, the reason why a man, after the period of his boyhood, or first youth, makes so few friends. Want and ambition (new acquaintances which are introduced to him along with his beard) thrust away all other society from him. Some old friends remain, it is true, but these are become as a habit--a part of your selfishness; and, for new ones, they are selfish as you are. Neither member of the new partnership has the capital of affection and kindly feeling, or can even afford the time that is requisite for the establishment of the new firm. Damp and chill the shades of the prison-house begin to close round us, and that "vision splendid" which has accompanied our steps in our journey daily farther from the east, fades away and dies into the light of common day.

And what a common day! what a foggy, dull, shivering apology for light is this kind of muddy twilight through which we are about to tramp and flounder for the rest of our existence, wandering farther and farther from the beauty and freshness and from the kindly gushing springs of clear gladness that made all around us green in our youth! One wanders and gropes in a slough of stock-jobbing, one sinks or rises in a storm of politics, and in either case it is as good to fall as to rise--to mount a bubble on the crest of the wave, as to sink a stone to the bottom.

The reader who has seen the name affixed to the head of this article scarcely expected to be entertained with a declamation upon ingratitude, youth, and the vanity of human pursuits, which may seem at first sight to have little to do with the subject in hand. But (although we reserve the privilege of discoursing upon whatever subject shall suit us, and by no means admit the public has any right to ask in our sentences for any meaning, or any connection whatever) it happens that, in this particular instance, there is an undoubted connection. In Susan's case, as recorded by Wordsworth, what connection had the corner of Wood Street with a mountain ascending, a vision of trees, and a nest by the Dove? Why should the song of a thrush cause bright volumes of vapor to glide through Lothbury, and a river to flow on through the vale of Cheapside? As she stood at that corner of Wood Street, a mop and a pail in her hand most likely, she heard the bird singing, and straight-way began pining and yearning for the days of her youth, forgetting the proper business of the pail and mop. Even so we are moved by the sight of some of Mr. Cruikshank's works--the "Busen fuhlt sich jugendlich erschuttert," the "schwankende Gestalten" of youth flit before one again,--Cruikshank's thrush begins to pipe and carol, as in the days of boyhood; hence misty moralities, reflections, and sad and pleasant remembrances arise. He is the friend of the young especially. Have we not read, all the story-books that his wonderful pencil has illustrated? Did we not forego tarts, in order to buy his "Breaking-up," or his "Fashionable Monstrosities" of the year eighteen hundred and something? Have we not before us, at this very moment, a print,--one of the admirable "Illustrations of Phrenology"--which entire work was purchased by a joint-stock company of boys, each drawing lots afterwards for the separate prints, and taking his choice in rotation? The writer of this, too, had the honor of drawing the first lot, and seized immediately upon "Philoprogenitiveness"--a marvellous print (our copy is not at all improved by being colored, which operation we performed on it ourselves)--a marvellous print, indeed,--full of ingenuity and fine jovial humor. A father, possessor of an enormous nose and family, is surrounded by the latter, who are, some of them, embracing the former. The composition writhes and twists about like the Kermes of Rubens. No less than seven little men and women in nightcaps, in frocks, in bibs, in breeches, are clambering about the head, knees, and arms of the man with the nose; their noses, too, are preternaturally developed--the twins in the cradle have noses of the most considerable kind. The second daughter, who is watching them; the youngest but two, who sits squalling in a certain wicker chair; the eldest son, who is yawning; the eldest daughter, who is preparing with the gravy of two mutton-chops a savory dish of Yorkshire pudding for eighteen persons; the youths who are examining her operations (one a literary gentleman, in a remarkably neat nightcap and pinafore, who has just had his finger in the pudding); the genius who is at work on the slate, and the two honest lads who are hugging the good-humored washerwoman, their mother,--all, all, save, this worthy woman, have noses of the largest size. Not handsome certainly are they, and yet everybody must be charmed with the picture. It is full of grotesque beauty. The artist has at the back of his own skull, we are certain, a huge bump of philoprogenitiveness. He loves children in his heart; every one of those he has drawn is perfectly happy, and jovial, and affectionate, and innocent as possible. He makes them with large noses, but he loves them, and you always find something kind in the midst of his humor, and the ugliness redeemed by a sly touch of beauty. The smiling mother reconciles one with all the hideous family: they have all something of the mother in them--something kind, and generous, and tender.

Knight's, in Sweeting's Alley; Fairburn's, in a court off Ludgate Hill; Hone's, in Fleet Street--bright, enchanted palaces, which George Cruikshank used to people with grinning, fantastical imps, and merry, harmless sprites,--where are they? Fairburn's shop knows him no more; not only has Knight disappeared from Sweeting's Alley, but, as we are given to understand, Sweetings Alley has disappeared from the face of the globe. Slop, the atrocious Castlereagh, the sainted Caroline (in a tight pelisse, with feathers in her head), the "Dandy of sixty," who used to glance at us from Hone's friendly windows--where are they? Mr. Cruikshank may have drawn a thousand better things since the days when these were; but they are to us a thousand times more pleasing than anything else he has done. How we used to believe in them! to stray miles out of the way on holidays, in order to ponder for an hour before that delightful window in Sweeting's Alley! in walks through Fleet Street, to vanish abruptly down Fairburn's passage, and there make one at his "charming gratis" exhibition. There used to be a crowd round the window in those days, of grinning, good-natured mechanics, who spelt the songs, and spoke them out for the benefit of the company, and who received the points of humor with a general sympathizing roar. Where are these people now? You never hear any laughing at HB.; his pictures are a great deal too genteel for that--polite points of wit, which strike one as exceedingly clever and pretty, and cause one to smile in a quiet, gentleman-like kind of way.

There must be no smiling with Cruikshank. A man who does not laugh outright is a dullard, and has no heart; even the old dandy of sixty must have laughed at his own wondrous grotesque image, as they say Louis Philippe did, who saw all the caricatures that were made of himself. And there are some of Cruikshank's designs which have the blessed faculty of creating laughter as often as you see them. As Diggory says in the play, who is bidden by his master not to laugh while waiting at table--"Don't tell the story of Grouse in the Gun- room, master, or I can't help laughing." Repeat that history ever so often, and at the proper moment, honest Diggory is sure to explode. Every man, no doubt, who loves Cruikshank has his "Grouse in the Gun-room." There is a fellow in the "Points of Humor" who is offering to eat up a certain little general, that has made us happy any time these sixteen years: his huge mouth is a perpetual well of laughter--buckets full of fun can be drawn from it. We have formed no such friendships as that boyish one of the man with the mouth. But though, in our eyes, Mr. Cruikshank reached his apogee some eighteen years since, it must not be imagined that such is really the case. Eighteen sets of children have since then learned to love and admire him, and may many more of their successors be brought up in the same delightful faith. It is not the artist who fails, but the men who grow cold--the men, from whom the illusions (why illusions? realities) of youth disappear one by one; who have no leisure to be happy, no blessed holidays, but only fresh cares at Midsummer and Christmas, being the inevitable seasons which bring us bills instead of pleasures. Tom, who comes bounding home from school, has the doctor's account in his trunk, and his father goes to sleep at the pantomime to which he takes him. Pater infelix, you too have laughed at clown, and the magic wand of spangled harlequin; what delightful enchantment did it wave around you, in the golden days "when George the Third was king!" But our clown lies in his grave; and our harlequin, Ellar, prince of how many enchanted islands, was he not at Bow Street the other day,* in his dirty, tattered, faded motley--seized as a law-breaker, for acting at a penny theatre, after having wellnigh starved in the streets, where nobody would listen to his old guitar? No one gave a shilling to bless him: not one of us who owe him so much.

* This was written in 1840.

We know not if Mr. Cruikshank will be very well pleased at finding his name in such company as that of Clown and Harlequin; but he, like them, is certainly the children's friend. His drawings abound in feeling for these little ones, and hideous as in the course of his duty he is from time to time compelled to design them, he never sketches one without a certain pity for it, and imparting to the figure a certain grotesque grace. In happy schoolboys he revels; plum-pudding and holidays his needle has engraved over and over again; there is a design in one of the comic almanacs of some young gentlemen who are employed in administering to a schoolfellow the correction of the pump, which is as graceful and elegant as a drawing of Stothard. Dull books about children George Cruikshank makes bright with illustrations--there is one published by the ingenious and opulent Mr. Tegg. It is entitled "Mirth and


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