Satire and Social Commentary The Life of George Cruikshank
  • The Duchess of Do-Good's Screen. Pierce Egan, Pierce Egan's Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic, in Their Pursuits through Line in and out of London. (London: George Virtue, 1830), 102.
  • Ignorance is bliss. William Makepeace Thackeray, "George Cruikshank," The Westminster Review 34 (June - Sept. 1840): 23.
  • Tell Tale. William Makepeace Thackeray, "George Cruikshank," The Westminster Review 34 (June - Sept. 1840): 25.
  • A Modern Head-dress, with a little Polite Conversation. Christopher Anstey, The new Bath: guide or memoirs of the B-n-r-d family, in a series of poetical epistles (London: Henry Washbourne, 1832): 91.
  • The Royal Extinguisher. "The Royal Extinguisher, or the King of Brobdingnag & the Lilliputians" Calisphere, University of California, http://www.oac.cdlib.org/affiliates/images/grunwald/gcga_1989.21.293_1_2.jpg, accessed 27 January 2009.
  • Merry Making on the Regents Birthday. 1812. "George Cruikshank," Wikipedia, Accessed 27 January 2009.
  • Dangerous to be Safe. Pierce Egan, Pierce Egan's Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic, in Their Pursuits through Line in and out of London. (London: George Virtue, 1830), 262.
  • Popular Gardens. Pierce Egan, Pierce Egan's Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic, in Their Pursuits through Line in and out of London. (London: George Virtue, 1830), 260.
  • The Wedding Day. Pierce Egan, Pierce Egan's Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic, in Their Pursuits through Line in and out of London. (London: George Virtue, 1830), 367.
  • Fagin in the Condemned Cell, from Oliver Twist. http://images.google.com, accessed 27 January 2009.
  • Alcohol, Death and the Devil. Cartoon Cornucopia, The J. Arthur Wood Jr. Collection of Cartoon Art, The Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/artwood/aw-illustration.html, accessed 27 January 2009.
  • The Worship of Bacchus. http://www.intaglio-fine-art.com/images/trj105c.jpg, accessed 27 January 2009.
  • Finish. Pierce Egan, Pierce Egan's Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic, in Their Pursuits through Line in and out of London. (London: George Virtue, 1830), frontispiece.
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Satire and Social Commentary The Life of George Cruikshank

George Cruikshank (1792-1878), one of the most prolific illustrators and satirists working in England, was praised as the "modern Hogarth"1 during his lifetime. He was a child of the eighteenth century and of the city of London. Born in the fashionable Bloomsbury district he was a member of the Cruikshank family of caricaturists and artists. His father Isaac was a well-known engraver and caricaturist. From an early age George worked at his side learning the techniques of etching, watercolor, and sketching. His older brother, Isaac Robert, was a less well known, but equally creative, caricaturist, illustrator, and portrait miniaturist.

In 1811 while George was still in his teens, he gained popular success with his series of political caricatures that he created for the periodical, The Scourge, a Monthly Expositor of Imposture and Folly. This publication lasted until 1816, during which time Cruikshank came to rival James Gillray, the leading English caricaturist of the preceding era. In fact, because their style was so similar as to be indistinguishable, Cruikshank was employed by Hannah Humphrey, James Gillray's publisher and landlady, to finish plates Gillray was too ill to complete.

The Prince of Wales was a favorite of the caricaturists of the period. The future George IV lived a life of great excess and was considered a libertine of the first water. Cruikshank delineated Tories, Whigs and Radicals impartially but he was especially fond of satirizing the Prince. This trenchant fashion reached its apex in early 1820 when the Prince ascended to the throne on the death of his father, George III. George IV tried to suppress the satirists and their publishers through the legal system but was unsuccessful. Then he turned to bribery. The royal archives at Windsor show that between 1819 and 1822 George IV spent £2,600 in payments for the silence of the satirists. A receipt in the Windsor archives records that on June 19, 1820 the king paid George Cruikshank £100, and his brother Robert £70, "in consideration of a pledge not to caricature His Majesty in any immoral situation."2 Cruikshank took the money more seriously than the pledge and continued to satirize the king. In August 1820, George and Robert were summoned to the Brighton Pavilion to negotiate "with the king" further limits on their satire. This effectively ended the Cruikshank's unbridled skewering of George IV.

In the 1820's, as the singular satirical etchings that Cruikshank was known for declined in popularity, he successfully shifted to book illustration. He became known for amiably humoristic illustrations, now deservedly esteemed for their unique perspective and sense of fun. Cruikshank took to book illustration with great fervor and illustrated many notable series of books. Among these were The Humorist (1819-21), Life in Paris (1822), and Life in London (1821), which he co-illustrated with his brother Robert. For Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, the eminent Brothers Grimm, he provided 22 illustrations for their Collection of German Popular Stories (1824-26).

Undoubtedly his most famous collaboration was with Charles Dickens. Cruikshank illustrated Sketches by Boz (1836) and Oliver Twist (1838) for him. George worked closely with Dickens on Oliver Twist, helping him to devise many of the plot developments in the book. Though Cruikshank was never acknowledged as more than illustrator for Oliver Twist, he always felt that he played a great part in the success of the novel and deserved more credit. On December 30, 1871 Cruikshank published a letter in The Times in which he claimed credit for writing much of the storyline of Oliver Twist. The letter launched a fierce controversy around who created the work and effectively ended what was until then a profitable working relationship.

In the 1830's he began campaigning against the abuses of alcohol, especially gin. In 1847 he renounced all alcohol and became an enthusiastic supporter of the Temperance Society in Great Britain, a sharp contrast to his early years when the wee hours of the morning often found him locked up in police custody for being drunk in public. Cruikshank produced a long series of pictures and illustrations, pictorial pamphlets and tracts for the Society. The best known of these are The Bottle, 8 plates (1847), and its sequel, The Drunkard's Children, 8 plates (1848).

Cruikshank's crusade against the evils of alcohol culminated in The Worship of Bacchus, published by subscription and based on the artist's vast oil painting of the same name, now in the Tate Gallery in London. George conceived the idea for the painting during an 1859 weekly meeting of the Committee of the National Temperance League. He planned a "monumental painting depicting all phases of drunkenness, from beggar to lord and cradle to grave."3 He began the huge painting in 1860 and completed it in 1862.

Along with the painting of the canvas, Cruikshank also worked with Charles Mottram to etch the plate for the engraving. The engravings were sold by subscription from the National Temperance League. The painting is more a panorama than a picture, with five horizontal bands divided at the midpoint by a skeletal Medusa on an altar raising a cup of alcohol to the crowd, while the Devil enjoins them to imbibe. At the top the sky is fouled by the smoke from the chimneys of breweries and distilleries. Across the second band are pubs, breweries and all the institutions necessitated by them: a police station, a reformatory, a house of correction, two hospitals, a cemetery, a workhouse, a jail and a lunatic asylum. The central band contains scenes of a sailor being flogged, a drunken picnic and a runaway locomotive. The fourth band shows interior scenes including one of a clergyman offering wine to a Muslim and a Hindu. The final band chronicles the major ceremonies of life at which alcohol is customarily offered: to toast a marriage and a christening, a young man reaching his majority, and to give comfort to grieving mourners.

George Cruikshank died February 1, 1878, at the age of 85. His desire was to be buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, the burial place of England's most revered artists, writers and heroes. But due to ongoing repairs at the Cathedral, his interment there had to be delayed for some months. George was first buried on February 8, 1878 in Kensal Green cemetery. He was removed from Kensal Green on November 29 and interred on the west side of the main aisle at St. Paul's. He rests not far from two of his lifelong heroes, Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. As many of his obituaries said, George was a warrior, fighting enemies foreign and domestic with his wit and satire. He would have relished the perpetual company he keeps.

When he died, the journal Punch published an obituary that began, "England is the poorer by what she can ill-spare - a man of genius. Good, kind, genial, honest, and enthusiastic George Cruikshank has passed away."4

1. Review of Punch and Judy, with illustrations designed and engraved by George Cruikshank, The Gentleman's Magazine, May 1828, 445.

2. Vic Gatrell, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London (New York: Walker & Company, 2007), 538.

3. Robert L. Patten, George Cruikshank's Life, Times, and Art, vol.2: 1835-1878 (London: The Lutterworth Press, 1996): 402.

4. Obituary, Punch (February 9, 1878).