Unable to Obtain Employment, They Are Driven by Poverty into the Streets to Beg, and by This Means They Still Supply the Bottle. — George Cruikshank. 1847. Fourth illustration in The Bottle. Folio page: 46 x 36 cm (24 inches by 14.5​ inches), framed. The etchings were reproduced by glyphography, "enabling the publisher [David Bogue, London] to sell the entire​ series for one shilling" (Vogler, p. 159). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Richard A. Vogler’s "Notes on the Illustrations" emphasizes the irony of the off-license liquor-dispensary's promoting itself as a "family" emporium, when the addiction to which it panders has reduced the drunkard to rags, has made his son into a barefoot beggar, and has robbed the youngest child of her health.

The mother, father, and older daughter stand at the side entrance of a liquor store, through which is seen a young child buying liquor. The young son, now barefoot and unkempt, begs from a respectably dressed woman as two healthy and prim children walk by. The present condition of the family is not much better than that of the stray dog eating street refuse. The father, who has just replenished his bottle, wears a hardened expression in contrast to that of grief showing on his wife's face. Partially obscured in the background by a portico post, a porter carries a bundle which apparently contains a load of printed material intended for the publisher of The Bottle, since part of Bogue's name and address can be seen on it. Ironically, the words "Family Wines and Spirits" and "Best Cream Gin" are to be seen on the side of the liquor store. The family's stance over the street-level hatch for receiving deliveries foreshadows their imminent fall into a living hell. The graveyard in the background indicates their ultimate fate. [p. 160]

Although the fourth plate is the only exterior scene in the series, the liquor emporium has been an implied destination in the previous three illustrations. It is also the first plate that does not clearly depict the younger daughter, who is, in fact, being kept warm under her mother's shawl, and is probably quite ill. We see only her tiny legs — in the next frame, a tiny coffin represents her. In contrast, the adolescent daughter and the mother, although thin, have maintained a tidy, even respectable appearance, although the daughter appears to be barefoot, like her siblings. In contrast, the son is in rags, and the father's once-spruce clothing is in tatters. Although the mother gives her husband a look of entreaty, his determined gaze suggests that he will neither provide food for his dependants nor refrain from drinking to the dregs the contents of the bottle he is now pocketing. Although Cruikshank does not reveal the expression on the face of the adolescent daughter, by the direction of her gaze she appears to be studying her brother's begging a coin of the passing lady, and the two well-dressed passersby, who perhaps call to mind herself and her brother in better days. That a mere child (right) is picking up a liquor order implies both that other families are succumbing to the allure of gin, and that the child's parents are in no fit state to pick up the order themselves.

The portico at the centre of the composition divides the shop from the begging scene by an indeterminate area through the columns of which the viewer regards both the porter (who is presumably going down a passage on the far side of the shop) and the wall of the cemetery that runs behind the street scene. One figure, the teenaged daughter, corresponds to the vertically arrayed columns. Whereas the father has succumbed to gin and the son is begging for coins to buy some for his father, the adolescent daughter remains a pillar of rectitude who reflects the viewer's judgment of the scene. The scene includes another, not immediately apparent, significant vertical, — the skeletal tree in the graveyard, which rises in the area immediately behind the son and therefore symbolizes the emaciated and malnourished state that awaits the drunkard’s children. (Compare Cruikshank's deployment of this symbol with John Leech’s nightmarish vision of child poverty in A Christmas Carol four years earlier: Ignorance and Want). The veneer of high culture in the shop's chandelier and sunburst window-pane in the door to the off-license are visual analogues to the pretentious advertisements which use such positive nouns as "cream" and "family" on the side of the shop, above and below the elegant, leaded pane window.

Cruikshank has organized the composition using the tensions between the verticals of the figures and buildings and the horizontals of the wall and pavement. The diamonds on the three columns of the portico direct the eye away from the three family members on the right towards the begging scene on the right. The vertical element of the charitable lady takes the eye upward, towards the skeletal tree​and the substantial buildings beyond the cemetery where appear five tombstones, three full-sized grave-markers representing the fate of the teenaged daughter and her parents, the two smaller grave-markers indicating that of the younger children. The next frame offers immediate confirmation of the subtly embedded foreshadowing as a child's coffin, regarded by the surviving daughter, occupies the central upstage position in Plate 5.

Embedded in the hatch upon which the husband and wife are standing (its function suggested by the handle at the father's foot) is the text "Designed & engraved by Geo. Cruikshank," reminding the viewer of the observer and recorder of the family's failing fortunes. Also implied by an embedded text (the bill of lading on the parcel, "David Bogue, Publisher, No. 86 Fleet Street, LONDON") is the office of George Cruikshank's printer, affirming that these are not "historical" scenes, and that such domestic tragedies are to be found on those very streets that the purchasers of The Bottle daily tread: such things are going on under their very noses, even in the heart of Britain's print-medium industry. Here, the real world enters the frame, reinforcing the verisimilitude of Cruikshank's folio illustrations and his thesis that when the head-of-household's abuses alcohol abuse such alcoholism inevitably leads to suffering, poverty, malnutrition, and the dissolution of the family. The context in which the gin shop appears here (after the distraining of the family's furniture and belongings) makes one see shops that sell liquor in a very different light from that of those amicable gathering places that the same artist depicted in Dickens's Sketches by Boz and even the beer shop in Oliver Twist in the previous decade.

Cruikshank's illustrations of other liquor emporia, 1836-37

Left: The original Cruikshank engraving of an 1830s "Gin Palace," The Gin Shop (1836). Centre: Cruikshank's cancelled plate from Sketches by Boz of a social club whose principal activities are smoking and drinking, The Free and Easy (8 February 1836). Right: Cruikshank's illustration of one of the boozey haunts of housebreaker Bill Sikes, a beer shop, in Oliver claimed by his affectionate friends (September 1837). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Related Material


Chesson, Wilfred Hugh. George Cruikshank. The Popular Library of Art. London: Duckworth, 1908.

Cohen, Jane Rabb. Part One, "Dickens and His Early Illustrators: 1. George Cruikshank. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1980. Pp. 15-38.

James, Louis. "An Artist in Time: George Cruikshank in Three Eras." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 156-187.

Jerrold, Blanchard. "Epoch Two, 1848-1878. Chapter 2, The Bottle." The Life of George Cruikshank. In Two Epochs. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. 2 vols. London: Chatto and Windus, 1882. II, 248-255.

Kitton, Frederic G. "George Cruikshank." Dickens and His Illustrators. London: Chapman & Hall, 1899. Pp. 1-28.

McLean, Ruari. George Cruikshank: His Life and Work as a Book Illustrator. English Masters of Black-and-White. London: Art and Technics, 1948.

Meisel, Martin. Chapter 7, "From Hogarth to Cruikshank." Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1989. Pp. 97-141.

Mellby, Julie L. "More than 100,000 copies sold in the first few days." Graphic Arts: Exhibitions, acquisitions, and other highlights from the Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton University Library. Web. 13 April 2011. https://blogs.princeton.edu/graphicarts/2011/04/the_bottle.html

Vogler, Richard A. Graphic Works of George Cruikshank. Dover Pictorial Archive Series. New York: Dover, 1979.

Last modified 8 August 2017