Monday, December 15, 2008

Scraps & Sketches

"Scraps and Sketches by George Cruikshank - To Be Published Occasionally", London : Published By The Artist, 22, Myddelton Terrace, Pentonville, and sold by James Robins & Co., Ivy Lane, Paternoster Row, the date was 1832.

In a preface he states that this was his third self-published work and then goes on in his cantankerous way to complain of `Bell's Life in London,' ( previously `Egan's Life in London' ) a sporting paper, puffing him in their columns. Cruikshank had a thin hide; he quarrelled with Dickens, Ainsworth and Bentley, and refused work from `Punch.' On the other foot, budding caricaturists Thackeray, George Augustus Sala and Charles Henry Ross would all recollect his kindness when timidly approached for an opinion on their maiden caricatural efforts.

The folio consisted of six leaves, 26 by 37 cm., with five or six illustrations to a page. On the bottom of each leaf is the legend `Designed, etched and published by Geo. Cruikshank, May 20th, 1828.' Most of these gems are no larger than two inches by two inches, but what a delicate touch, the spidery black lines are sometimes viewed as pale grays, and the engraving ink seems to hover above the yellowed paper. Some irrepressible comic urge led the original owner to watercolour over many of the engravings, a not uncommon practice at the time.

Thackeray, a young and enthusiastic fan, recorded his pleasure in collecting and coloring his Cruikshank pictures. "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 honour of drawing the first lot, and seized immediately upon "Philoprogenitiveness"- a marvellous print, (our copy is not at all improved by being coloured,which operation we performed on it ourselves) --"

The drawings are brilliant, the work of a comic genius who is in absolute control of his pen. The striking thing about these tiny vignettes is the use of modern-looking word balloons, widely used on each page, with clearly defined arrows (as in early Katzenjammers) pointing to the speakers, and quite literate dialogue.

Thackeray's essay The Genius of George Cruikshank, which originally appeared in the Westminster Review, Volume XXXIV. No. 1, illustrated, is a marvellously happy homage to a boyhood hero. He writes about the print shops and the contents of their windows with obvious delight, and it brings to mind memories of walks with my parents in the early fifties to stand in the crowd and watch the new-fangled TELEVISION, in dumb show, through the plate-glass windows of the hardware store.

"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 humour with a general sympathizing roar.- "

Cruikshank’s reaction to Thackeray's request to reprint illustrations in the Review piece were met with in his usual manner. "Let us offer our thanks to Messrs. Whitehead, Tilt, Robins, Darton and Clark, Thomas and Daly, proprietors of the Cruikshank cuts, who have lent us of their store. Only one man has imitated Mr. Tegg, and he, we are sorry to say, is no other than George Cruikshank himself, who, although besought by humble ambassadors, pestered by printer's -devils and penny post letters, did resolutely refuse to have any share in the blowing of his own trumpet, and showed our messenger to the door."

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