eorge Cruikshank only turned to book and magazine illustration in the 1820s, after King George the Fourth had essentially bribed him and his brother, Isaac Robert Cruikshank, to stop producing scurrilous visual satires of him in his private life. A member of the generation that preceded that which produced the first wave of great Victorian novelists, George Cruikshank was born into a respectable Bloomsbury family some twenty years before Dickens's birth in Portsmouth, far from the English metropolis that posterity would so closely associate with the novelist's works. It was only natural for George to follow in the footsteps of his father Isaac, an established artist from whom he learned the fundamentals of his art: caricature, illustration, etching on copper plates, and miniature portraiture. By the age of thirteen he was already executing the titles for his father's caricatures, adding appropriate backgrounds, conceiving of furniture for indoor scenes, and even inserting original dialogue. His satirical cartoons in the 1811 numbers of the London political periodical The Scourge: A Monthly Expositor of Imposture and Folly suddenly vaulted him into the public limelight as the acknowledged successor to visual social satirist William Hogarth. Hannah Humphrey, James Gillray's publisher (and landlady!), subsequently commissioned the nineteen-year-old Cruikshank to complete the plates that the severely ill Gillray had been unable to finish, their styles during that period being nearly identical. On 19 June 1820, summoned to the Brighton Pavilion with his brother by now King George the Fourth to receive the command that they should cease and desist in the production of the devastatingly witty cartoons that had pilloried him during his tenure as Prince of Wales, George Cruikshank gave up political cartooning in consideration of a bribe of one hundred pounds "not to caricature His Majesty in any immoral situation."

From this point he took up book and magazine illustration, scoring a notable success with the twenty-two plate pictorial program for Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm's Collection of German Popular Stories (2 volumes translated into English, 1824 and 1826). In the autumn of 1835 popular novelist William Harrison Ainsworth is reported to have introduced the forty-three-year-old veteran illustrator to an up-and-coming twenty-three-year-old writer of London "sketches" named Charles Dickens. Certainly the two would have met early in 1836 through the auspices of publisher John Macrone (1809-37) to work on the first series of Sketches by Boz, for which Cruikshank provided ten engravings.

As both a gifted caricaturist and thorough Londoner George Cruikshank was the ideal illustrator for three early Dickens works: Sketches by Boz, Series 1 and 2 (1836); The Mudfog Papers (1837-38); and the serialised picaresque novel The Adventures of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress in the new London literary magazine Bentley's Miscellany. When on 22 August 22 1836 London publisher Richard Bentley hired young novelist Charles Dickens of Pickwick Papers celebrity to become the editor of the magazine, he paired the writer of the new serial with the house illustrator in February 1837. Bentley even paid the well-known caricaturist £50 for the use of his name as illustrator of the new literary monthly. For each issue at the princely sum of twelve guineas Cruikshank would provide a single black-and-white steel engraving; from May 1837 onward the commission was for two such engravings, one for Oliver Twist, the second for another selection, not necessarily by Dickens.

The first number of the Miscellany was issued in January 1837, and in February appeared the initial chapter of the editor's story, entitled "Oliver Twist, or, the Parish Boy's Progress," which was continued in succeeding numbers until its completion in March 1839, with etchings by Cruikshank.

The dramatic character of this stirring romance of low London life afforded the artist unusual scope for the display of his talent; indeed, his powerful pencil was far more suited to the theme than that of any of his contemporaries. The principal scenes in the novel proved most attractive to him, and he fairly revelled in delineating the tragic episodes associated with the career of Fagin and Sikes. These twenty-four etchings are on the same scale as those in the first collected edition of the "Sketches," but they are broader and more effective in treatment. In October 1838, — that is, about five months before completion in the Miscellany, — the entire story was issued by Chapman & Hall in three volumes post octavo, and there can be no doubt that its remarkable success was brought about in no small measure by Cruikshank's inimitable pictures. Nearly eight years later (in January 1846) a cheaper edition, containing all the illustrations, was commenced in ten monthly parts, demy octavo, and subsequently published in one volume by Bradbury & Evans. On the cover for the monthly numbers Cruikshank has portrayed eleven of the leading incidents in the story, some of the subjects being entirely new, while others are practically a repetition of the etched designs. [Kitton 10]

Towards the end of the initial serial run, the author and the illustrator had a falling out over the issue of the final illustration for the novel as Dickens rejected the so-called "Fireside plate," Oliver and His Family, Dickens already having resigned his post as editor over Bentley's interference in editorial matters. In consequence, Oliver Twist was the only Dickens novel that Cruikshank illustrated. Dickens then founded his own, short-lived literary magazine, Master Humphrey's Clock (1841), for which he hired Hablot Knight Browne and George Cattermole rather than Cruikshank to illustrate the novels he ran in that journal,The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge. Meantime, Cruikshank, although once having actually been arrested for public intoxication, well aware that it was acute alcohol poisoning that had carried off his father in April 1811, had become a staunch supporter of the Temperance Society of Great Britain, for which he continued to proselytize by exposing the sordid consequences of alcohol abuse in The Bottle (eight illustrations, 1847) and its sequel, The Drunkard's Children (eight illustrations, 1848). The rift between Dickens and Cruikshank then widened when the artist, a former alcoholic, issued a Temperance-oriented version of traditional English fairy tales, The Fairy Library (1853), a Bowdlerised morality tract that Dickens denounced in the satirical essay Frauds on the Fairies in Household Words (1 October 1853).

The antipathy between Cruikshank and Dickens continued, despite the writer's arranging that Chapman and Hall should commission Cruikshank to supply a monthly wrapper for the 1846 "re-serialisation" of Oliver Twist, over the illustrator's sporadically asserting that the chief characters and situations of the novel had originated with him. By the 1860s the pair would avoid each other on the street. Dickens never fully acknowledged Cruikshank's role as co-creator. The controversy, simmering for years, boiled over on 30 December 1871, over a year after the novelist's death, when the brooding illustrator, long past his most productive period, published a letter in The Times in which he asserted that much of the storyline of the novel was his and not Dickens's invention.

Related material


Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.

Buchanan-Brown, John. Phiz! Illustrator of Dickens' World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.

Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980.

Darley, Felix Octavius Carr. Character Sketches from Dickens. Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1888.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.

Kitton, Frederic G. Dickens and His Illustrators. (1899). Rpt. Honolulu: university of Hawaii, 2004.

Patten, Robert L. Charles Dickens and His Publishers. Santa Cruz, Cal.: The Dickens Project, 1991; a rpt.. of the Oxford University Press edition of 1978.