As you all can easily understand, writing, especially writing about an era long gone, requires a good deal of research. Mistakes are made, discovered, denied. But, somewhere during this journey of discovery, through books and Google and the heaven sent Wikipedia, there are things discovered that can startle. Hidden treasures, they are the precious finds that you never would have known about if not for your book.
One of those finds, for me, were the caricatures of George Cruikshank.
Geroge Cruikshnk was born in 1792 and lived to be a ripe old eighty five years. During his lifetime he witnessed the madness of King George III, the debauchery of the court of George IV, the Industrial Revolution, the crowning of Victoria, the suffocating morality of the Victorian Age – in short, the best and worst of nineteeth century Britain. He recorded life as he saw it from coal miners to the Royal Court, he was a sort of photojournalist of his day, the founder of pictorial journalism. Without his sketches we would not have as clear a picture of the era we write about so lovingly. He could be brutally honest or annoyingly preachy, but he was never dull.
Here are a few examples of his great work…
This was a caricature of the future George IV, one of many unflattering ones made by Cruikshank, dancing with the wife of a friend. It shows the abandon of the times, the lack of restraint among the aristocracy. It is dated 1812 and was entitled ‘Merrymaking on the Regent’s Birthday.’
By 1820 he was given a royal bribe of 100 pounds to never again portray the King in any immoral situation. (Censorship of the press has a long and illustrious history.)
The ‘Peterloo Masacre’ depicted here took place on St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, 16 August, 1819. The end of the Napoleanic Wars had resulted in famine, massive unemployment, the hated Corn Laws – all of which fueled a new sort of Political Radicalism. A meeting to voice the people’s anger resulted in an attack by soldiers upon the 60,000 to 80,000 participants. As many as seventeen were killed, with 400 to 700 wounded. The caricature by George Cruikshank reads: “Down with ‘em! Chop em down my brave boys: give them no quarter they want to take our Beef & Pudding from us! —- & remember the more you kill the less poor rates you’ll have to pay so go at it Lads show your courage & your Loyalty!”
Besides recording in picture form the news events Cruikshank provided us with the visual impressions we have of balls, Vauxhall…
great ladies and earnest suitors…