George Cruikshank's exuberant illustration of the Whitsuntide revelry at Greenwich Park for the Second Series of "Scenes" in Sketches by Boz. Set on the slopes of Observatory Hill, Barnard's realisation of one of the scenes in the 16 April 1835 essay originally entitled "Sketches of London No. 9" is far more sedate and "wholesome" than the original copper-engraving Greenwich Fair, in which the dancers abandon strict propriety in matters of dress and embrace the spirit of the bachanal at the notorious Crown and Anchor dancing-booth.(wood-engraving). 1876. 10.7 cm high x 13.8 cm wide, framed. — Fred Barnard's response to
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The old pensioners, who, for the moderate charge of a penny, exhibit the mast-house, the Thames and shipping, the place where the men used to hang in chains, and other interesting sights, through a telescope, are asked questions about objects within the range of the glass, which it would puzzle a Solomon to answer; and requested to find out particular houses in particular streets, which it would have been a task of some difficulty for Mr. Horner (not the young gentleman who ate mince-pies with his thumb, but the man of Colosseum notoriety) to discover. Here and there, where some three or four couple are sitting on the grass together, you will see a sun-burnt woman in a red cloak "telling fortunes" and prophesying husbands, which it requires no extraordinary observation to describe, for the originals are before her. Thereupon, the lady concerned laughs and blushes, and ultimately buries her face in an imitation cambric handkerchief, and the gentleman described looks extremely foolish, and squeezes her hand, and fees the gipsy liberally; and the gipsy goes away, perfectly satisfied herself, and leaving those behind her perfectly satisfied also: and the prophecy, like many other prophecies of greater importance, fulfils itself in time. — p. 53.
Barnard's ninth illustration for Sketches by Boz, "Scenes," concerns the sights that greet the visitor to the Whitsuntide fair in the afternoon, ahead of the licentious revelry of the evening, in Chapter 12, "Greenwich Fair" — The gentleman described looks extremely foolish, and squeezes her hand, and fees the Gipsy liberally (p. 53). The illustration is ideally positioned in the chapter since it occurs on the same page as the passage illustrated, adding a detail not present in the essay, namely the gipsy-fortuneteller's having an infant. The young lady receiving the matrimonial prophecy turns to one side, not merely laughing and blushing, but also thoughtfully considering what she has just heard, and perhaps assessing the liberal gentleman at her side on the grass as a prospective husband.
The 21 May 1853 Illustrated London News wood-engraving by Phiz, who replaced Cruikshank as Dickens's chief illustrator, gives a panoramic impression of the innocuous afternoon entertainments, and features in the lower left a Greenwich Naval Pensioner's offering to conduct a guided tour of lurid local scenes in Whitsuntide at Greenwich Park (detail) while on the hill (upper right) while another such retiree offers to show "interesting sights" through a telescope.
The Cruikshank illustration, which is comparable in its specificity if not to its subject matter to that which appeared in the Illustrated London News, seventeen years later, suggests that Dickens's original illustrator had actually studied Greenwich Fair on the spot one Easter, although the date of publication preceded Whitsun in 1836, suggesting that the sketch (stimulated by Dickens's essay) is either of an earlier date or done from vivid memory. Since the fair in the evenings was something of a bacchanal, in his younger days Cruikshank may have even been a participant, but would as a thorough Londoner have known of the "night side" of the fair as well as its more "family friendly" afternoon scenes captured by Phiz in 1853 and Barnard in 1876.
Pertinent illustrations from 1836 and 1853
Above: Phiz's rather tamer image of the fair, just four years before the Home Secretary cancelled it, Whitsuntide at Greenwich Park/span> (21 May 1853). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
Left: George Cruikshank's original illustration for the same sketch, with
a scene quite different in its character from the charming
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Last modified 14 April 2017