* Or his new work, "The Tower of London," which promises even to surpass Mr. Cruikshank's former productions.
A great deal of this random work of course every artist has done in his time; many men produce effects of which they never dreamed, and strike off excellences, haphazard, which gain for them reputation; but a fine quality in Mr. Cruikshank, the quality of his success, as we have said before, is the extraordinary earnestness and good faith with which he executes all he attempts--the ludicrous, the polite, the low, the terrible. In the second of these he often, in our fancy, fails, his figures lacking elegance and descending to caricature; but there is something fine in this too: it is good that he SHOULD fail, that he should have these honest naive notions regarding the beau monde, the characteristics of which a namby-pamby tea-party painter could hit off far better than he. He is a great deal too downright and manly to appreciate the flimsy delicacies of small society--you cannot expect a lion to roar you like any sucking dove, or frisk about a drawing-room like a lady's little spaniel.
If then, in the course of his life and business, he has been occasionally obliged to imitate the ways of such small animals, he has done so, let us say it at once, clumsily, and like as a lion should. Many artists, we hear, hold his works rather cheap; they prate about bad drawing, want of scientific knowledge:--they would have something vastly more neat, regular, anatomical.
Not one of the whole band most likely but can paint an Academy figure better than himself; nay, or a portrait of an alderman's lady and family of children. But look down the list of the painters and tell us who are they? How many among these men are POETS (makers), possessing the faculty to create, the greatest among the gifts with which Providence has endowed the mind of man? Say how many there are, count up what they have done, and see what in the course of some nine-and-twenty years has been done by this indefatigable man.
What amazing energetic fecundity do we find in him! As a boy he began to fight for bread, has been hungry (twice a day we trust) ever since, and has been obliged to sell his wit for his bread week by week. And his wit, sterling gold as it is, will find no such purchasers as the fashionable painter's thin pinchbeck, who can live comfortably for six weeks, when paid for and painting a portrait, and fancies his mind prodigiously occupied all the while. There was an artist in Paris, an artist hairdresser, who used to be fatigued and take restoratives after inventing a new coiffure. By no such gentle operation of head-dressing has Cruikshank lived: time was (we are told so in print) when for a picture with thirty heads in it he was paid three guineas--a poor week's pittance truly, and a dire week's labor. We make no doubt that the same labor would at present bring him twenty times the sum; but whether it be ill paid or well, what labor has Mr. Cruikshank's been! Week by week, for thirty years, to produce something new; some smiling offspring of painful labor, quite independent and distinct from its ten thousand jovial brethren; in what hours of sorrow and ill-health to be told by the world, "Make us laugh or you starve--Give us fresh fun; we have eaten up the old and are hungry. And all this has he been obliged to do--to wring laughter day by day, sometimes, perhaps, out of want, often certainly from ill-health or depression--to keep the fire of his brain perpetually alight: for the greedy public will give it no leisure to cool. This he has done and done well. He has told a thousand truths in as many strange and fascinating ways; he has given a thousand new and pleasant thoughts to millions of people; he has never used his wit dishonestly; he has never, in all the exuberance of his frolicsome humor, caused a single painful or guilty blush: how little do we think of the extraordinary power of this man, and how ungrateful we are to him!
Here, as we are come round to the charge of ingratitude, the starting-post from which we set out, perhaps we had better conclude. The reader will perhaps wonder at the high-flown tone in which we speak of the services and merits of an individual, whom he considers a humble scraper on steel, that is wonderfully popular already. But none of us remember all the benefits we owe him; they have come one by one, one driving out the memory of the other: it is only when we come to examine them all together, as the writer has done, who has a pile of books on the table before him--a heap of personal kindnesses from George Cruikshank (not presents, if you please, for we bought, borrowed, or stole every one of them)--that we feel what we owe him. Look at one of Mr. Cruikshank's works, and we pronounce him an excellent humorist. Look at all: his reputation is increased by a kind of geometrical progression; as a whole diamond is a hundred times more valuable than the hundred splinters into which it might be broken would be. A fine rough English diamond is this about which we have been writing.
George Sand, Some Aspects of Her Life and Writings
First published in 1910. This volume is dedicated to Madame