We may mention Mr. Thompson's name as among the first of the engravers to whom Cruikshank's designs have been entrusted; and next to him (if we may be allowed to make such arbitrary distinctions) we may place Mr. Williams; and the reader is not possibly aware of the immense difficulties to be overcome in the rendering of these little sketches, which, traced by the designer in a few hours, require weeks' labor from the engraver. Mr. Cruikshank has not been educated in the regular schools of drawing (very luckily for him, as we think), and consequently has had to make a manner for himself, which is quite unlike that of any other draftsman. There is nothing in the least mechanical about it; to produce his particular effects he uses his own particular lines, which are queer, free, fantastical, and must be followed in all their infinite twists and vagaries by the careful tool of the engraver. Those three lovely heads, for instance, imagined out of the rinds of lemons, are worth examining, not so much for the jovial humor and wonderful variety of feature exhibited in these darling countenances as for the engraver's part of the work. See the infinite delicate cross-lines and hatchings which he is obliged to render; let him go, not a hair's breadth, but the hundredth part of a hair's breadth, beyond the given line, and the FEELING of it is ruined. He receives these little dots and specks, and fantastical quirks of the pencil, and cuts away with a little knife round each, not too much nor too little. Antonio's pound of flesh did not puzzle the Jew so much; and so well does the engraver succeed at last, that we never remember to have met with a single artist who did not vow that the wood-cutter had utterly ruined his design.
Of Messrs. Thompson and Williams we have spoken as the first engravers in point of rank; however, the regulations of professional precedence are certainly very difficult, and the rest of their brethren we shall not endeavor to class. Why should the artists who executed the cuts of the admirable "Three Courses" yield the pas to any one?
There, for instance, is an engraving by Mr. Landells, nearly as good in our opinion as the very best woodcut that ever was made after Cruikshank, and curiously happy in rendering the artist's peculiar manner: this cut does not come from the facetious publications which we have consulted; but is a contribution by Mr. Cruikshank to an elaborate and splendid botanical work upon the Orchidaceae of Mexico, by Mr. Bateman. Mr. Bateman despatched some extremely choice roots of this valuable plant to a friend in England, who, on the arrival of the case, consigned it to his gardener to unpack. A great deal of anxiety with regard to the contents was manifested by all concerned, but on the lid of the box being removed, there issued from it three or four fine specimens of the enormous Blatta beetle that had been preying upon the plants during the voyage; against these the gardeners, the grooms, the porters, and the porters' children, issued forth in arms, and this scene the artist has immortalized.
We have spoken of the admirable way in which Mr. Cruikshank has depicted Irish character and Cockney character; English country character is quite as faithfully delineated in the person of the stout porteress and her children, and of the "Chawbacon" with the shovel, on whose face is written "Zummerzetsheer." Chawbacon appears in another plate, or else Chawbacon's brother. He has come up to Lunnan, and is looking about him at raaces.
How distinct are these rustics from those whom we have just been examining! They hang about the purlieus of the metropolis: Brook Green, Epsom, Greenwich, Ascot, Goodwood, are their haunts. They visit London professionally once a year, and that is at the time of Bartholomew fair. How one may speculate upon the different degrees of rascality, as exhibited in each face of the thimblerigging trio, and form little histories for these worthies, charming Newgate romances, such as have been of late the fashion! Is any man so blind that he cannot see the exact face that is writhing under the thhnblerigged hero's hat? Like Timanthes of old, our artist expresses great passions without the aid of the human countenance. There is another specimen--a street row of inebriated bottles. Is there any need of having a face after this? "Come on!" says Claret- bottle, a dashing, genteel fellow, with his hat on one ear--"Come on! has any man a mind to tap me?" Claret-bottle is a little screwed (as one may see by his legs), but full of gayety and courage; not so that stout, apoplectic Bottle-of-rum, who has staggered against the wall, and has his hand upon his liver: the fellow hurts himself with smoking, that is clear, and is as sick as sick can be. See, Port is making away from the storm, and Double X is as flat as ditch-water. Against these, awful in their white robes, the sober watchmen come.
Our artist then can cover up faces, and yet show them quite clearly, as in the thimblerig group; or he can do without faces altogether; or he can, at a pinch, provide a countenance for a gentleman out of any given object--a beautiful Irish physiognomy being moulded upon a keg of whiskey; and a jolly English countenance frothing out of a pot of ale (the spirit of brave Toby Philpot come back to reanimate his clay); while in a fungus may be recognized the physiognomy of a mushroom peer. Finally, if he is at a loss, he can make a living head, body, and legs out of steel or tortoise-shell, as in the case of the vivacious pair of spectacles that are jockeying the nose of Caddy Cuddle.
Of late years Mr. Cruikshank has busied himself very much with steel engraving, and the consequences of that lucky invention have been, that his plates are now sold by thousands, where they could only be produced by hundreds before. He has made many a bookseller's and author's fortune (we trust that in so doing he may not have neglected his own). Twelve admirable plates, furnished yearly to that facetious little publication, the Comic Almanac, have gained for it a sale, as we hear, of nearly twenty thousand copies. The idea of the work was novel; there was, in the first number especially, a great deal of comic power, and Cruikshank's designs were so admirable that the Almanac at once became a vast favorite with the public, and has so remained ever since.
Besides the twelve plates, this almanac contains a prophetic woodcut, accompanying an awful Blarneyhum Astrologicum that appears in this and other almanacs. There is one that hints in pretty clear terms that with the Reform of Municipal Corporations the ruin of the great Lord Mayor of London is at hand. His lordship is meekly going to dine at an eightpenny ordinary, his giants in pawn, his men in armor dwindled to "one poor knight," his carriage to be sold, his stalwart aldermen vanished, his sheriffs, alas! and alas! in gaol! Another design shows that Rigdum, if a true, is also a moral and instructive prophet. John Bull is asleep, or rather in a vision; the cunning demon, Speculation, blowing a thousand bright bubbles about him. Meanwhile the rooks are busy at his fob, a knave has cut a cruel hole in his pocket, a rattlesnake has coiled safe round his feet, and will in a trice swallow Bull, chair, money and all; the rats are at his corn-bags (as if, poor devil, he had corn to spare); his faithful dog is bolting his leg-of-mutton--nay, a thief has gotten hold of his very candle, and there, by way of moral, is his ale-pot, which looks and winks in his face, and seems to say, O Bull, all this is froth, and a cruel satirical picture of a certain rustic who had a goose that laid certain golden eggs, which goose the rustic slew in expectation of finding all the eggs at once. This is goose and sage too, to borrow the pun of "learned Doctor Gill;" but we shrewdly suspect that Mr. Cruikshank is becoming a little conservative in his notions.